DCS holds stakeholder luncheon

Demopolis City Schools honored its supporters Thursday at the second annual Stakeholder Luncheon held in the Demopolis High School library.

The event, explained Supt. Kyle Kallhoff, is a way of thanking all the people who support the school system and bring them up to date on its progress.

Each of the four Demopolis principals gave a brief overview of one thing the school was focusing on this year. Kallhoff stressed the upcoming 3-mil renewal vote on the Dec. 12 ballot in Demopolis and reported on enrollment and budget trends and the capital plan.

At the conclusion of the presentation, Kallhoff recognized two people who have worked tirelessly on behalf of the school system. Named 2017 Tiger Champions were J.R. Rivas and Jason Windham.

Kallhoff said the renewal of the 3-mil property tax is held every 10 years. It is limited to voters in District 2, who, 10 years ago, approved the renewal by 87 percent. The tax brings in up to $250,000 annually.

The financial support of the school system by local residents “is one of the things that separates us from the rest of the Black Belt,” said Kallhoff.

Enrollment in Demopolis schools is 2,331, the first time in five years it has gone over 2,300, he continued. The figures show a growth of 127 students since the 2013-2014 year, and this year’s totals do not include the pre-K enrollment of 51.

The school system must consider adding on to its campuses since they are reaching their capacity. “We need to accept growth or stop growth,” said Kallhoff.

One of the considerations is whether to accept students from outside the city limits. Demopolis has an open enrollment system, which means it welcomes students from Marengo and other counties and doesn’t charge tuition. Almost half the current enrollment – 1,067 – are from out of city.

Accepting those students greatly helps with state funding, said the superintendent, but local funding is not greatly impacted with higher out-of-system numbers.

Demopolis schools get 11 percent of its money from federal sources, 64 percent from the state and 22 percent from local funding. Another 3 percent come from school-based fees.

The local financial support is above average for the state, Kallhoff said. He also praised the Demopolis City Schools Foundation for, among other things, making it possible to purchase robots for coding and programming classes and for the broadcasting programs on the campuses.

He reviewed the nine Career Tech programs now offered at DHS, including the newest HVAC dual-enrollment curriculum with Shelton State. He said 68 percent of DHS students are involved in some career-based program.

Not included in the career tech curriculum is the broadcasting cluster. It is separate so that it can be more flexible and creative than what a state-sponsored curriculum would allow.

Kallhoff went over the Capital Plan Five-Year Plan submitted to the state every year. Of the eight priorities on the list, only the first two are being addressed with the funding available. They are adapting Demopolis Middle School to meet ADA requirements and remodeling all student restrooms in the schools.

Westside Elementary School principal Roshanda Jackson chose the Leader in Me process as her one area of focus to discuss. It is a whole school transformation that helps develop children to be competent individuals.

Both Leon Clark at USJ and Brandon Kiser at DMS spoke on the coding, programming and robotics courses at their schools. “We’re preparing our students for jobs that don’t exist yet,” said Kiser.

DHS principal Blaine Hathcock said he was disappointed that his school was not listed in among the top 50 in the state by ACT scores. “That’s not acceptable.”

DHS has instituted a school-wide effort focusing on ACT skills. While all the scores aren’t in yet, he said there has been remarkable progress among those that have been returned. Higher ACT scores can equate to thousands of dollars in scholarships for students.

“The bar is going to move,” he said. “We’re going to be in the top 50 or die trying.”

DCS Board looks to expand ‘Leader in Me’ to second campus

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Pleased with the “Leader in Me” process now being implemented at Westside Elementary School, the Demopolis City Board of Education Monday approved funding to expand into U.S. Jones Elementary School beginning next fall.

The BOE meeting was held a week early because of the Thanksgiving holidays.

A part of the Franklin Covey series of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” “Leader in Me” is designed for elementary-aged students. The three-year, $40,000 cost for USJ will be paid for with federal Title I funding, said Supt. Kyle Kallhoff.

Eventually, he hopes to include Demopolis Middle and Demopolis High schools with the process that is adapted for adolescents.

The first reading of federal Child Nutrition Policies – one new and changes to two others – was made. A public hearing on the policies will be held Dec. 12 at 4 p.m.

The two revisions involve meal patterns and wellness, and the new policy concerns price and payment.

The personnel report approved by the board saw the conditional employment of Donald Richardson as a DHS custodian, substitute licenses for Janice Coats and Victoria Gandy and medical leave of absence for Tammi Western-Scott, DMS teacher.

The board approved travel for a DHS teacher to attend the Association of Foreign Language Conference in Nashville, Tenn., paid for with state professional development money. It also okayed the disposition of equipment beyond repair.

Overnight and out-of-state trips approved included:

  • DHS Boys Basketball to Wallace Hanceville Community College Nov. 21 and Dec. 20.
  • DHS Girls Basketball to Alabaster Dec. 27-29.
  • DHS Boys Basketball to Corinth, Miss., Dec. 28-29.
  • USJ fifth-graders to Washington, D.C. in April.
  • DMS Honor Band students Dec. 7-9.

The board also accepted a volunteer staffing agreement between Compass Rose Events, sponsored by Georgia-Pacific, and the DHS Band. The band received $2,000 for its efforts.

Also approved were the Career Tech Education Work-Based Learning Manual, a sign at the DHS Spring Sports Complex, disposal of out-of-date textbooks at DMS and DHS and Kallhoff’s attendance at the 2017 Alabama Association of School Boards convention in Birmingham Dec. 7-9.

In his report, Kallhoff said student enrollment continues to grow, with 26 more students attending Demopolis schools this year over last.

He said the 3-mil property tax renewal is coming before voters in Demopolis, an issue that requires approval every 10 years. Kallhoff said Demopolis residents traditionally have shown support for their schools by endorsing the tax renewal when it comes up for vote.

Recognized for outstanding performance were teachers, staff and students from WES and DMS. From WES were Penny Stanford, teacher; Sherron Brown, staff, and Kameron Besteder, student. At DMS, the honorees were teacher Charlene Jackson, staff member Tracy Stein, and student Taliah Isaac.

The next meeting will be held Dec. 18.

Partnership with BWWMH first of its kind for UAB

For more than a year the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority board worked long hours to form a partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System.

The hard work became official Oct. 1 when the two entities signed a Management and Affiliation Agreement.

At the Wednesday meeting of the Demopolis Rotary Club, Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital board vice chairman Alan Bishop explained the benefits of the partnership with the hospital and to the Demopolis area. He told local Rotarians that the process has been “quite a journey.”

“The time that has been spent has been unbelievable,” he said.

Cooperation started early with the formation of a transition team of representatives from the hospital, UAB, the city and the county. Former Robertson Banking Company President Al Garrett came out of retirement to chair the team.

While UAB has expanded its medical services to Montgomery and other larger communities, the partnership with BWWMH is the first venture into rural health care. The move was made possible because of legislation in 2016 opening the door for University Health Authorities to help rural systems. The collaboration brings with it the Birmingham-based hospital’s management and expertise, marketing, physician recruitment and purchasing, Bishop said.

Such affiliation also brings with it UAB’s reputation strength, he continued.

Already in place was a recently opened branch of the University Medical Center in the Outpatient Building of the hospital, joining UMC’s two other locations in Tuscaloosa and Northport.

Two UAB officials now serve on the BWWMH board. “I thought they’d send down a couple of middle managers,” said Bishop. Instead, the two are Don Lilly, senior vice president of network development and affiliate operations, and Sean Tenney, chief operations officer for the Medical West Hospital. The two sat in their first board meeting on Oct. 26.

UAB is very conscious of its brand. Within the next two to three months, an approved UAB sign will be erected on U.S. Hwy. 80 to let everyone know of the relationship between UAB and BWWMH.

While the link with the Demopolis hospital is the first venture into rural health care for UAB, Bishop said it probably won’t be the last. Lilly’s focus has been to expand UAB’s outreach.

Such a partnership is a win-win for both facilities. With BWWMH handling cases that normally would be transferred to UAB, beds will be freed in Birmingham for more acute medical needs.

“UAB is not here just to be a nice guy,” said Bishop. “UAB is here to make money.”

The new partner is studying the survey that BWWMH conducted to determine what services are needed in the area.

State Attorney General addresses Demopolis Rotary

Mayor John Laney, Attorney General Steve Marshall and Demopolis Police Department Chief Tommie Reese.

Alabama ranks No. 1 in the country for the number of prescriptions written per capita for opioids state Attorney General Steve Marshall told the Demopolis Rotary Club Wednesday.

Opioid use is one of the most pressing issues facing the nation today, he said. Some 147 people die daily from opioid overdose, more fatalities in three weeks than died in the 9/11 disaster.

Marshall said he is among those appointed by Gov. Kay Ivey to a task force to determine what actions can be taken to stem the use of addictive prescription drugs, what he said is more a public health issue than one of law enforcement. He is firmly convinced of the need to actively take steps to solve the problem rather than just talking and studying the issue.

He referred to previous success in curtailing meth labs in the state. Because of steps taken, the number of meth labs plummeted 90 percent in just five years.

Law enforcement officers are becoming mental health professionals today, Marshall continued, and jails are more often than not turned into detox facilities. He said the country has to get over the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues.

Former Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Marshall to become Alabama’s attorney general to finish out the term vacated by Luther Strange, the former AG, who Bentley appointed to the U.S. Senate. Marshall said he already had been planning to run for the post and is expected to campaign for the job in the next regular election.

The attorney general post is the last state elected job he will strive for, he promised. “I don’t want to be your governor. I don’t want to be your senator,” he told Rotarians.

When he took the AG post, Marshall asked people what they expected of him.

“Don’t embarrass us,” was the response he got most, which he said was very sad.

“We should be held to a higher standard,” he stated.

Calling himself a storyteller, Marshall related three cases he tried in which he learned lessons that have stayed with him since his start in Marshall County. The first concerned a young woman who was an addict and drug dealer murdered by an irate client. While the prevailing attitude was that the community was better off with one less dealer, Marshall treated her case the same as any other, and the murderer received a 108-year sentence.

The woman’s mother said her daughter had made some bad mistakes in her life, but her murder “took away her chance to change.”

Through his actions, he said, the community began to see law enforcement in a new way. Distrustful residents began to cooperate with police officers. “We saw a safer place.”

The second case saw Marshall prosecuting a respected police officer who offered to make tickets or arrests disappear if certain women he cited would do him a favor. His accusers were a stripper, drug addict, thief and body piercer, none of whom ordinarily would gain sympathy from a jury.

“I have a responsibility to enforce the law,” said Marshall. “I did the right thing for the right reason,” and the officer is serving jail time.

Every day we get to change lives, he said, as he told a third story. A 12-year-old girl testified against her step-grandfather for sexual abuse, which he denied. After the man’s conviction, the young girl looked into Marshall’s eyes for the first time and thanked him for believing in her when no one else would.

Among those attending the Rotary meeting were three Demopolis police officers, including Marshall’s good friend Chief Tommie Reese. When Marshall was asked if law enforcement is as well respected around the state as the officers are in Demopolis, the AG said, “I don’t know of anyone more respected than Tommie Reese.”

Smaller communities have a kinship that can be lacking in larger cities, Marshall continued, and added he is willing “to work with those who are willing to risk their lives for total strangers.”

UMW Bazaar kicks off Christmas Season Nov. 8

Eleanor Park shows an afghan made by Jackie Brooker that will be given away at the Bazaar. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

For more than 60 years the women of the First United Methodist Church of Demopolis have unofficially started the Christmas season in the city with their annual bazaar.

It is time again for the UMW Bazaar, an event that is anticipated—and worked on—throughout the year.

The bazaar will be held Wednesday, Nov. 8, in the Methodist Church education building, and all the favorites will be back: baked goods, Attic Treasures, silent auction, handmade gifts and, of course, the luncheon featuring the traditional chicken salad plate.

Doors are open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the luncheon will be served beginning at 11 a.m.

Demopolis schools to invest in new ID system

The Demopolis City Schools Board of Education met in the newly-renovated Demopolis High School library Monday.

By the first of the new year all four Demopolis City schools will have a new identification system in place to better monitor visitors and volunteers.

The Board of Education approved the system Monday at its meeting held in the Demopolis High School library.

The initial cost of the scanning system from Alabama Card Systems, Inc., is $13,000. Thereafter, the school system will pay $250 annually to renew and update the federal sexual predator database.

Supt. Kyle Kallhoff said his office has been working for about six months on setting up a better way to supervise who will be working closely with individual students. Before the ID monitors are set up, he will meet with the schools’ principals to set up business rules and guidelines for those on campus.

Federal funding will be used to pay for the visitor management system.

Kallhoff said this is the first step in a more comprehensive monitoring system that he hopes to set up in the city’s schools.

The board gave approval to Kallhoff’s request that he and board attorney Alex Braswell continue “negotiations and execution” of the US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights Resolution Agreement for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards at Demopolis Middle School.

The issue stems from a complaint filed with the school system in April of 2015.

Kallhoff said if the negotiations are not approved, it can jeopardize federal funding for Demopolis schools.

Along with the negotiation approval, the board gave the okay to hire Ward Scott Architecture to conduct an accessibility survey and plan and oversee bidding and construction work related to the ADA compliance at DMS.

The $50,000 cost for the work at DMS is included in the capital funding budget approved in September.

In other action, the board approved:

  • The Continuous Improvement Plans for all four schools and the school system.
  • Out-of-town travel for the DHS JROTC to Birmingham.
  • Second and final installment for A-Plus Software of $10,000. The initial $30,000 was paid in 2016. The school system now will only pay an annual licensing fee.
  • An agreement with the Blackbelt Community Foundation Head Start and U.S. Jones Elementary to prepare and provide lunches that Head Start will pay for.

Personnel action included:

  • Conditional employment of Major Walker as Transportation/Maintenance Assistant.
  • Madoline Huff and Geraldine Walker as substitutes, with Walker also as a nurse.
  • Transfer of Reginald Atkins from DMS to DHS.

Continuing the practice of recognizing outstanding teachers, students and support staff, the board honored from USJ: Anne Johnson, teacher; Sylvia Tate, support staff, and Fernando Mancilla-Otero, fifth grader.

Honored from DHS were Lisa Lawrence, teacher; Pam Morgan, support, and Xavier Jackson, senior.

The next meeting of the board will be held Nov. 13.

Sylvia Tate

U.S. Jones Elementary School fifth grader Fernando Mancilla-Otero

DHS librarian Lisa Lawrence

DHS paraprofessional Pam Morgan

Demopolis High senior Xavier Jackson

U.S. Jones Elementary Teacher Anne Jones

County Commission holds short meeting Tuesday

In what had to be one of the shortest meetings on record, the Marengo County Commission Tuesday still took care of several items of business.

Commissioners amended the cancellation policy at Chickasaw Park requiring those who cancel reservations to pay a $10 fee. The fee will cover the cost of the lodging tax that the county must pay to the state.

Jason Windham received approved from fellow commissioners for a resolution supporting the Demopolis Babe Ruth league. After a recent visit from New York by the vice president of Babe Ruth, the city was awarded the 2019 Southwest Regional Championship. Windham said some 10-16 teams will travel to Demopolis to take part in the tournament.

Members also approved a renewal of the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission (ATRC) Agency on Aging Contract.

The commission approved Request for Proposals on repainting the jail and parts of the courthouse after steam cleaning stripped some of the paint from the buildings.

The commission tabled any action concerning Medicaid coverage for county inmates until it can receive further clarification on the matter.

The commission also approved a proclamation in honor of Woodrow Campbell who has coached at Marengo High School for 39 years. The high school will be naming the athletic field in Campbell’s honor.

A phone scam gone wrong

Scam artists targeting Marengo County didn’t do their homework, and Sheriff Richard Bates enjoyed it greatly.

Laura Bates, the sheriff’s daughter, had just gotten off the phone at her dad’s house and asked him, “Daddy have ya’ll got a warrant on me?”

It seems the phone call was from the “Marengo County Warrant Division,” and the man on the line told Laura there was a warrant for her arrest for not showing up for jury duty.

Bates, realizing it was a hoax, had her call back the number the scammer had given her and listened in on speakerphone. It sounded very legitimate, said the sheriff. The voice prompt listed a menu of offices to select, including the Warrant Division.

The Marengo County Sheriff’s Office is so small, “we do not have a ‘warrant division’,” said Bates.

When Laura, at Bates silent urging, asked “Lt. Daniels” if there were a warrant on her, “You can actually hear paper rustling in the background,” said the sheriff.

The scammer gave detailed instructions on purchasing a gift card to cover the cost of the fine plus the bail bond fee and where to deliver the card.

Laura then said she didn’t understand how everything worked and would put her father on the phone.

“Write down my name,” Bates told the scammer. “Write down my phone number. When you call the number, they will tell you that I am the sheriff of Marengo County.

“You idiot,” he said. “You called my daughter at my house.”

The scammer laughed and said he was just trying to raise some money to help his mother pay some bills.

Bates traced the phone to Montgomery, but the trail ended there.

While Bates realized the call was not legitimate, others in the county fell for the scam, he said. There was one couple who followed the instructions and took out a card for $1,900. Fortunately, the instructions the scammer told them to follow were incorrect, but the hoax was so real that the victims were convinced to pay up.

“I tell everybody, we do not tell anyone to get money to pay fines,” said Bates. “The most important thing for people to remember is not to send money.”

WES ceremony dedicates planter boxes, cuts ribbon for new Pre-K unit

First grader Tucker Wilson is handing a program to Amanda Barnes, director of the Demopolis City Schools Foundation.

“This is exactly what education is supposed to be.”

Jeana Ross, secretary of the state’s Department of Early Childhood Education spoke enthusiastically about Westside Elementary School and its Pre-K program Friday.

WES hosted a ribbon-cutting for its second Pre-K classroom made possible through funding by the Office of School Readiness. The event was held in conjunction with the unveiling of planter boxes built at all four Demopolis school campuses, part of a service project for a Black Belt Teacher Corps project.

Some 50 state and local dignitaries, administrators, teachers, school board members and parents braved the bright sun to celebrate the opening of the newest Pre-K program. Joining them were the children in the school’s Pre-K classes.

“It warms my heart” to see the crowd, said WES principal Roshanda Jackson. She also made a pitch for funding to open more classrooms. “In case there’s more funding, we have a waiting list,” she said.

Each Pre-K class holds 18 four-year-olds. Another Pre-K class of children ages 3 and 4 has 13 students, including six who are special needs, funded by other grants.

Ross said the classroom program is expected to have a 25 percent match from the community. Looking at those attending, she said Demopolis support looks more like 100 percent.

“This school is loved,” she said.

Early childhood education “is closing the achievement gap,” she continued. It also lessens the numbers of student in special education and lowers absenteeism.

Tracye Strichik, director of the Office of School Readiness, said Alabama has been Number One in the nation in Pre-K education for the past seven years. The program provides one-on-one support to teachers to enable them to provide the best education to the youngest students.

Dr. Ken Tucker, president of the University of West Alabama, said the idea for the Black Belt Teacher Corps arose because teachers were hard to recruit to the most rural and poor section of the state.

Patterned after Teach for America, the students who receiving scholarships with the BBTC are required to teach in Black Belt schools for three years after graduation.

The funding for the corps began two years ago when money was found in the state Department of Education budget. Almost all of the initial $250,000 has gone to $10,000 scholarships.

Recipients also are required to take part in leadership training and to conduct a service project that meets identified needs in the community.

Allie Marques of Livingston chose to build three planter boxes on each campus for her “Sprouting Minds Garden” project. The vegetables grown in them are changed every season. This fall each box has pumpkin plants.

Marques, who grew up on a farm, believed students would better understand and enjoy their food if they had a part in planting it and watching it grow. She designed curricula to be in line with state standards for each grade level.

Helping her with the project were CEMEX, United Rentals and Poppies.

Marengo County Commission approves $20M budget in Tuesday meeting

Phillip Spence, right, post surgeon for the Marengo County unit of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, accepts a resolution from Commission Chairman John Crawford Jr., passed by the Commission to proclaim Sept. 15 as POW/MIA Recognition Day. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

Marengo County will operate with $20,118,622.52 for the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 after the County Commission voted to adopt the budget Tuesday. Estimated expenses for the year are expected to be $17,369,274.28.

That will leave a difference of restricted funds of $2,749,348.24.

The Commission made it possible for Demopolis voters will have a chance to approve a 3 mil tax renewal for Demopolis schools by putting the issue on the December ballot.

Demopolis City Schools Supt. Kyle Kallhoff said the tax is renewed every 10 years and brings in some $225,000 per year to the school system.  He said the funds in the past have been used for nurses, transportation and School Resource officers.

Only ballots in Demopolis will have the tax issue.

Phillip Spence, post surgeon for the Marengo County unit of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, accepted a resolution passed by the Commission to proclaim Sept. 15 as POW/MIA Recognition Day.

The resolution “honors the commitments and the sacrifices made by our nation’s prisons of war and those who are still missing in action.

County Engineer Ken Atkins presented bids on road repair materials. Commissioners approved the lowest bidder for each item with the stipulation that the bids meet specifications.

Also approved at the meeting was a contract with the Dallas County Juvenile Detention Center. The contract, renewed annually, guarantees one bed per day.

Juvenile Probation Officer Darren Glass said if the county uses more than 365 days, it will be charged $60 per bed per day.

Commissioner Jason Windham forwarded a request from the Demopolis Industrial Development Board for a contribution toward the ribbon-cutting for Two Rivers Lumber Company, now set for Oct. 19.

Windham said the Marengo County Economic Development Authority and the IDB also are helping to pay for the event.

The Commission voted to contribute $1,000, but the money was made as a budget amendment to MCEDA, since the county cannot directly give to the company.

Probate Judge Laurie Hall told commissioners that the primary election went well, with only one complaint about moving a polling place.

Commissioner Freddie Armstead thanked all of Marengo County for the effort to help Hurricane Harvey victims. He said the Demopolis Fire Department especially went above and beyond to man the trailers that held the items that were donated.

In other action, the Commission approved:

  • Leaving the Tobacco Tax CD at Sweet Water State Bank.
  • The Grand Jury Report.
  • The first step in declaring Peace Lane a public road.
  • A consultant for work on Sparks Road.