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New Sumter School District superintendent pushes unity, strength

About 1,500 attend district's kickoff rally at Sumter County Civic Center

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 8/17/19

Sumter School District's annual opening meeting is considered a pep rally, of sorts, for teachers, administrators and staff, and Friday's event at Sumter County Civic Center was right on cue.

With an outside welcome from Sumter's three public …

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New Sumter School District superintendent pushes unity, strength

About 1,500 attend district's kickoff rally at Sumter County Civic Center

Posted

Sumter School District's annual opening meeting is considered a pep rally, of sorts, for teachers, administrators and staff, and Friday's event at Sumter County Civic Center was right on cue.

With an outside welcome from Sumter's three public high school marching bands and inside cheers from Gators, Knights and Gamecocks cheerleaders, the opening meeting of about 1,500 attendees had plenty of chants, callouts and music as schools gear up for Tuesday, the first day for students.

State 2019 Teacher of the Year Jeff Maxey from Anderson School District 3 in the Upstate provided a motivational speech on everything that a teacher is to his or her students, and new district Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox also shared a little on her leadership philosophy.

She said the district's theme for this year is "Together Sumter: Every school, every student, every day."

Martin-Knox is promoting a unified district, where academic success is possible no matter the zip code, she said.

Her emphasis is on quality academic instruction first and school climate and culture second.

"You can't have one without the other," Martin-Knox said. "Children are not going to learn if they feel like they are not welcome or don't belong."

She challenged teachers to get to know their students beginning on Tuesday and said she thinks those relationships are critical.

"You get to know them, and they will eat out of the palm of your hands," Martin-Knox said.

She said she's going to do a lot of listening, learning and observing this year, and working collectively, she wants to help the district become the best in the nation. That will take unity, positive attitudes, fortitude and a no-excuses mentality. "Sumter Strong" is another catchphrase, Martin-Knox said, and the district has set up a Twitter page at #SumterStrong.

After the meeting, Crestwood High School Principal Shirley Gamble and Lakewood High School math teacher Stefanie Durham said they were excited and looking forward to the school year.

"More than half of your discipline is kids knowing how much you care about them," Durham said. "When they know how much you care about them, then students actually behave well for you. That's always been my discipline policy from the start, and that's what Dr. Martin-Knox is promoting, so I am excited."