Charter School Commission approves University Charter School

LIVINGSTON, Ala.—With the recent approval by the Alabama Public Charter Schools Commission for a new charter school in Sumter County, the University of West Alabama is preparing to transition the efforts of the planning team to the school’s founding board of directors in August. The University will continue to provide support and assistance to the Charter School to help ensure its long-term success.  

The school is set for opening August 2018, and the coming year will serve as the planning year. University Charter School becomes only the 4th charter school approved in the state since the passing of the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act in 2015.

University Charter School, which was proposed and developed by the University of West Alabama, will open its doors to students in pre-k through grade 5 in its first year, with plans to expand through grade 12 in subsequent years

The project has been led by a steering committee of community and civic leaders, as well as a planning committee from the University. Prior to the application submission on May 1, nearly $400k in support funds had been pledged from throughout the community. Although verbally approved by the Commission during a June 27 presentation, the school will be officially approved on July 26 at the APCSC’s quarterly meeting in Montgomery.

UWA President Ken Tucker has high expectations for the school and said that the University’s administration is confident that this is a step in the right direction for Sumter County and beyond.

“This innovative project has the potential to be transformative for Sumter County and our region, and we are confident that the model will have a positive and lasting impact on rural schools throughout the state, and even perhaps the nation, for many years to come,” Tucker said. 

“University Charter School is an innovative initiative that directly aligns with UWA’s mission to improve the region through education and outreach,” Tucker explained. 

University Charter School will be as unique as the histories, cultures, and landscapes of its constituents, resulting in the development of a rural, community-based school that will bring real opportunities to the children in our community.

University Charter School’s place-based instructional model is designed to ensure that students get to know their community and the people and opportunities in it. 

University Charter School also has the potential to breathe new economic life into our rural community,” Tucker said. As the first rural charter school in Alabama, we have an opportunity to do something unique, innovative and transformational, and we are very excited about the potential to positively impact the educational, economic and workforce development systems in our region.” 

Tucker said that the application team placed significant emphasis on the needs of the community while incorporating best practices known to enhance communities and work forces nationwide.

“By focusing on community cooperation and inclusiveness, and by providing students with a quality customized learning experience, we intend to graduate students with a skill set that prepares them for economic independence and success throughout their lives, whether it be college or career.” 

University Charter School was one of three applications presented to the Commission for the year. It was the only school to be granted full approval upon presentation, a unanimous vote of approval. Another was approved with condition, and another was denied approval.

What better time than this for all of you to rise up and make a difference in your county?” one commissioner said to the team. “Do well. Go forth and do well, do the best you can for the kids in your county.

Tucker said that he has high expectations for the school and is confident in the direction it is taking.

“Because of the unique approach and the newness of charter schools in Alabama, University Charter School will blaze a trail of educational innovation, collaboration, and development, empowering the next generation of leaders for our community, our region, and beyond,” Tucker said. “The ultimate goal for the application team has been to establish a holistic framework that will equip every person connected to University Charter School—whether as a student, an educator, or partner—to learn, grow, serve, and succeed in all academic and career endeavors.

Tucker commended the application team and said that the quality of work produced to develop the application confirms a need and provides a viable solution.

“The application team’s focus on maintaining integrity, transparency, professionalism, expertise, and commitment to serving others has been truly exemplary,” Tucker said. “The Commission’s stamp of full approval on the University Charter School application offers assurance that our dedicated team has fully addressed every aspect of establishing a charter school, from identifying the wide range of needs and validating those, to developing the strategic plans that offer an innovative and all-inclusive and realistic approach to addressing those needs, and an exemplary plan for curriculum and programming. This is a tremendous accomplishment for our county and region.”

To learn more about University Charter School, call 205-652-5459. Enrollment, employment, and other information about the school will be advertised as it continues to be developed. 

Demopolis BOE readies for new academic year in Monday meeting

Back-to-school preparations took up much of the Demopolis City Board of Education meeting Monday.

Board members voted on personnel changes, bids for services and other actions to get ready for the school year that starts in less than a month.

One of the actions taken was to approve an on-site counselor from West Alabama Mental Health to be at Demopolis Middle School to serve WAMH clients. The board pays nothing for the counselor but will provide an office, internet connection and phone in the library.

In addition to working with the WAMH clients, the counselor will also serve as a resource to the school counselor, said Kyle Kallhoff, superintendent. If the program works well this first year, it may be expanded to U.S. Jones or Westside Elementary Schools in 2018-2019.

Parents who want to pay on line for their child’s school lunch now use PayPams. The board voted to expand the service to allow parents to pay school fees on line as well.

However, the original motion was modified to make sure PayPams lowers its service fee as the school year progresses and the amount declines.

The Child Nutrition Program (CNP) bids approved included Four Seasons Produce, $23,783.11; Borden Dairy, $83,769.01, and Ice Cream Warehouse, $11,170.

In other action the board approved:

  • An agreement with Shelton State Community College for the dual enrollment HVAC class.
  • Extra-curricula supplements.
  • Inventory disposition of four items, including a 1998 bus that will be offered for sale.

In consent items, the board voted for:

  • A memorandum of understanding to implement in the new pre-K program
  • A contract with Fleming Photography to take Demopolis High School pictures, including senior portraits, class photos and sports.
  • Re-advertising the Central Office secretary position and expand it to 10 months with a commiserate salary.
  • Advertising for a DMS English teacher.
  • Rotary Club dues for the superintendent.

The personnel report included the following:

  • Employment: Mary Ellen McCrory, CNP worker at WES; Nicole Jensen, Social Studies teacher at DMS; Tracey Stewart, 10-month assistant principal, split between WES and USJ; Jamie Webb, USJ teacher, and William Jackson, 12-month custodian at WES.
  • Resignations: Pam Morrison, Central Office secretary, and Allison Cobb, English/Language Arts teacher at DMS.
  • Transfers: Shawn Nikki Cobb, Special Education paraprofessional from USJ to DMS, and Ricky Richardson, Special Education paraprofessional from USJ to WES
  • Substitutes: Elaine Carter and Katie Poole
  • Miscellaneous: Brandi Dannelly, DHS girls P.E. teacher to a 10-month employee, and Norvie Womack, Career Prep teacher at DMS, to a 10-month employee.

Kallhoff gave the board a brief overview of the ACT, ACT Aspire and AP exam results for 2017, which will be shared with personnel at the Teacher’s Institute.

The board will hold a called meeting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2, to make final personnel changes. The next regularly scheduled meeting of the board will be Monday, Aug. 21, at 5:15 p.m.

Commission votes to purchase electronic poll books after debate

Marengo County Commissioner Freddie Armstead didn’t mince words at the meeting Tuesday morning when he let loose on the Republican-led Alabama legislature for requiring unfunded mandates to the state counties.

His comments arose when the commission was asked to pass a resolution to consent to the use of electronic poll books for elections in the county. Each poll book will cost some $850. The resolution needed to be passed at the July meeting since the primary election for the U.S. Senate will be in August.

“We don’t have the money. We don’t have the $13,000,” said Armstead.

Commissioner Jason Windham said poll books were used in Demopolis during the election last year on loan from the state to see how well they worked. “In my personal opinion, it makes (voting) twice as fast.”

Armstead said the primary reason for the poll books was to prevent people from crossing party lines to vote in a run-off election.

County attorney W.W. Dinning, Jr., agree that “It is no doubt it is politically motivated. He said the state is requiring counties to use electronic poll books, but the unfunded mandate lays the burden of paying for them on the counties.

“Why don’t we just tell them to go to hell,” joked Armstead. “It’s the Republicans putting something else on us to keep track of what you’re doing and to keep people from cross-over voting.”

After lengthy discussion the commission voted for the resolution and to purchase 12 poll books for the August election to be used at the polling places that have the most voters. The rest will be purchased before the mid-term elections in 2018.

Armstead also took issue that Revenue Commissioner Sharon Barkley was not at the meeting to explain the annual report to the state on insolvents, errors in assessments and taxes. He directed Meredith Hammond, the commission secretary, to have her attend the meeting.

Instead of Barkley, Whitney Niehoff, a clerk with the Revenue Commission, explained the report to commissioners and said that everything was reconciled in the department account.

In other action, the commission approved:

  • The Grand Jury report,
  • Keeping the User Fee CD at the First Bank of Linden
  • Going out for bids to pressure wash the courthouse, annex and jail. Bids will be opened at the next meeting on Aug. 8.

Non-resident students continuing to prop up Demopolis enrollment numbers

Much of west Alabama has been abuzz in recent weeks following the announced closing of AISA mainstay Sumter Academy. The end of the York-based private K-12 institution triggered some ripples in other nearby schools as parents scrambled to find their children new educational homes. As of Thursday morning, some 20 percent of the new non-resident student population set to enter Demopolis City Schools in August will transfer from Sumter Academy.

“It has had an impact. Within those numbers, I would say anywhere between 15 and 20 of those 75 (new non-resident students) are coming from Sumter Academy,” Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff said. “It appears that most of the children we’re getting from Sumter Academy are second, third, fourth, and fifth (graders). There’s a couple of them in the high school, maybe four or five in the middle school. But the majority seems like it is in that second through fifth span.”

Kallhoff presented the Demopolis City Schools Board of Education members with updated information pertaining to non-resident students during Thursday’s meeting. In particular, the superintendent noted the the school has 75 new students from outside the district with half of those registered for Kindergarten.

K 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
37 8 4 6 5 4 3 1 4 3 0 0 1

“Our kindergarten class has been around 150, sometimes a little lower. We really need it to be a little bit higher than that. We really need it to be anywhere from 185 to 200 per class to get our big number close to 2,300. When we have a couple of classes at 140, that’s not good. Most of your funding is coming off of your elementary,” Kallhoff said. “As they get to middle and high, the divisor is higher so you get fewer dollars. You want your classes to be at capacity in elementary so you get funding dollars the following year.”

While the Kindergarten influx is beneficial for the city school system’s foundational population, Kallhoff attributed the enrollment phenomenon to the reputation of Westside Elementary School.

“Westside is known around this area as a great school, a great K-2 school. The teachers at Westside, the nurturing, the loving, (WES Principal Rashida) Jackson, some of the programs we’ve had there and some that are coming,” Kallhoff said of the facets of WES that have garnered a strong reputation for the school. “What we do at Westside and what the tradition is at Westside is why you see 37 kindergartners there.”

With the incoming enrollees noted in Kallhoff’s report, some 35 percent of the school system’s overall student body is of the non-resident variety with Greensboro, York, Livingston and Eutaw among the most prevalent home bases among that group.

“They’re all over the place. That’s what you want. You want to make sure your school is a place people want to attend,” Kallhoff said. “But, at the same time, we watch these numbers closely because we want to make sure we’re providing the best education we can for the citizens of Demopolis.”

The influx of non-resident students comes less than four months after the school system evaluated whether or not to create a tuition charge for out-of-district pupils. While there are no plans to revisit the topic in the immediate future, the prospect of non-resident tuition remains plausible for the system.

“I think it will be revisited. I had a committee come together. On that committee were parents who do not live in Demopolis, although they all work here. Some were business owners. We tabled it,” Kallhoff said, recounting the exploration that preceded a March report that indicated the system’s administrators’ awareness of the need for non-resident tuition. “If we do it, we’re going to have to find the fair way. I think the fair way is to find the tax payer in Demopolis and how much of their property taxes go toward our schools. Find that number, and that’s what it should be. You would have to find the average because what you pay in taxes and what I pay may be different based on the values of our properties. But you find that average. If $327 is the average per household, that should be what you pay.

“In other words, if you have seven kids and you live in Sumter, you’re still coming from that one house. That’s only fair to the folks who pay taxes in Demopolis is that those who are coming in are paying the same that we pay for the same quality education.”

Should the system implement a non-resident tuition, the expectation is that existing students within the system would already be grandfathered in.

“I think that would be the fair thing to do. That would be something the board would have to agree on. But I, personally, think it’s the fair thing. You came under the assumption there’s no tuition,” Kallhoff said. “That number would start small, but as those kids grow, you’re going to collect more. I think that would be the fair thing. To me, that would be fair. It’s going to call for some work. I just don’t know when.”

In addition to consideration of a non-resident tuition in the future is also the reality that any set fee would have to alter along with property tax shifts should they ever occur.

“If we ever ask for an increase in property tax, it’s a no-brainer. That same increase has to go to the 35 percent (of non-resident students). With that being said, we do have a 3 mill renewal that’s coming up that needs to be renewed next year,” Kallhoff said. “We’re working now to get a vote lined up, maybe by the end of this year. This is not for new taxes. This is a renewal, a renewal of 3 mill. This is a county levied tax that is voted for by the citizens of Demopolis.”

For now, the superintendent is tasked more with helping to introduce and acclimate students to the school system rather than focusing on any of the financial implications of taking on non-resident pupils.

“Something I started last year, I meet with every parent of every child that’s new to our system that does not live in Demopolis. I did that when I was in Chickasaw and I do it here. I sit down with them and I explain what our non-resident policy is,” Kallhoff said. “The things I make sure they understand are we do reserve the rights to remove non-residents but not very frequently does that happen. The criteria in which that would happen is if attendance becomes an issue and behavior. With grades, if you’re coming to school and you stay out of trouble, then we’ll work with the grades. I make sure they understand that and I make sure they understand we do not provide transportation. I tell them to get involved in the PTO. If it is an older child, get involved in the band boosters, athletics. Whatever your child does, get involved because that’s what is going to make that transition smooth.”

Demopolis BOE hires five in Thursday meeting

The Demopolis City Schools Board of Education made five hires Thursday morning during a brief called meeting. The personnel moves are as follows:

  • Hired Rachel White as English/Language Arts Teacher at Demopolis High School
  • Hired Brandi Dannelly as girls Physical Education Teacher at Demopolis High School
  • Hired Aubrey McElroy as Science Teacher at Demopolis Middle School
  • Hired Ieasha Morris as Lunchroom Worker at Westside Elementary School
  • Hired Norvie Womack as Career Prep Teacher at Demopolis Middle School.

Womack will assume varsity boys basketball head coaching duties. Additionally, the board voted to move Virginia Goodlett to a 12-month assistant principals position at Demopolis High School. Goodlett spent the previous academic year as an assistant principal at both Westside and U.S. Jones.

“She can hit the ground running. She has been in the high school. She knows the high school,” Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff said of the logical fit that places Goodlett under the direction of DHS Principal Blaine Hathcock. “That’s what Mr. Hathcock needs. He needs someone to come in and hit the ground running. She is going to work with instruction. She’s going to work with the upperclassmen and do more with instruction. She knows the teachers there. She knows the staff. She is just going to compliment Mr. Hathcock and Mr. Pittman well.”

Goodlett’s return to DHS also puts the school back near its full administrative strength after it carried only one assistant principals for the 2016-2017 school year.

“Traditionally (the second assistant principal position at DHS) has been there. We did not have it there last year, but we are putting it back this year. Our numbers are going to be up a little bit,” Kallhoff said. “You know, 750 is that magic number where you want to have that second administrator. I don’t know that we’ll get to 750, but we’re going to be very close to 750 at the high school. We lost a small senior class and I think there’s a 50 student difference in our freshman class that’s coming up.”

In a corresponding move, the board will post the split assistant principal spot that Goodlett is vacating in her return to the high school. The elementary assistant principal position will be posted for 14 days and should be filled at the July 17 board meeting.

“I feel very good. The principals know what their needs are at their schools. We’re still lucky to have quite a few applicants, especially at our elementary level. It’s difficult to fill some of the math and science openings or special ed, but we haven’t had many of those this summer,” Kallhoff said of where the system stands with only six weeks until teachers report for Institute. “I feel good. We’re bringing our staffs together. There’s just a few small little openings that are left, but we’ve got another month where I think we can get those gaps filled.”

The board also approved the school system’s Foster Care Plan, a protocol that satisfies the state mandate of accommodating students in foster homes.

“It is due during the summer. They want to know what your plan is and how you’re going to accommodate foster care students within your system. Last year we had seven. This year we anticipate nine. You want to make sure you remove any barriers,” Kallhoff explained. “Of course you want to remove barriers for any student, but you certainly want to remove barriers for foster care students who have had challenges they’ve had to go through already in their young lives. You want to make sure their school life is as smooth as it can be.”

As part of that plan, Demopolis High will partner with the Marengo County office of the Department of Human Resources to afford students in foster care every possible resource.

“It talks about the partnership with DHR, removing any barriers as far as lunch status, and just make sure they’re comfortable and things are going well in school,” Kallhoff said. “Dawn Hewitt is our go-to person. It’s communication. It’s her knowing that she has a direct line to Gina Johnston, our principals, our counselors, me. When they have a student they’re having to deal with for whatever reason, they’re not having to go through red tape and we’re making sure we can identify that child that particular school day and just make things as smooth as possible for that child.”

Shelton State Saturday offers look at local college programs

Shelton State Community College will host “Shelton State Saturday” on Saturday, June 24 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Demopolis Higher Education Center. This free, drop-in event will highlight the College’s programs in a fun, relaxed atmosphere.

“We are excited about the continued expansion of Shelton State’s educational and training opportunities in Demopolis and Marengo County,” said Joye Jones, Dean of Instruction and Workforce Development. “We look forward to this event and to providing information and answering questions about educational planning and workforce training.”

In addition to program and workforce training information, assistance will be available for individuals needing assistance with enrollment, placement testing, and financial aid. The first 50 guests will receive door prizes, and all attendees will be entered to win a grand prize.

The Demopolis Higher Education Center is located at 186 Field of Dreams Drive in Demopolis, Alabama. For more information, visit sheltonstate.edu.

Graduation date change among Demopolis BOE moves

Demopolis City Schools, starting with Westside Elementary, will begin implementing the program “Leader in Me” to teach 21st century leadership and life skills to students.

The Board of Education approved the program, developed by Franklin Covey of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” at its meeting Thursday morning.

Title I professional development funds will be used to pay for the initial year of training for every adult at WES. The cost is $41,343 for the first year and $16,500 for years two and three, said Supt. Kyle Kallhoff.

The program will extend to U.S. Jones Elementary the second year and eventually to Demopolis Middle School, he said.

The idea behind “Leader in Me” is that every child can be a leader. As the student develops, he also acquires responsibility, problem solving, teamwork and creativity, among other traits.

The board also approved Anderson Plumbing and Heating to do emergency repairs and maintenance work on the HVAC system recently installed in the high school.

No cost of the work could be set since the extent of the repairs and what is required for the job is not known.

After the meeting, Kallhoff said that while the new system works, “At the end of the day it’s got to work properly.”

He said some of the companies involved in the installation have gone out of business, and litigation is expected for the school system to receive reimbursement for whatever costs are incurred.

The board voted to move the date of graduation from May 25 to May 18, 2018. Kallhoff said it was being done for two reasons: to move the ceremony out of the last week of school and to keep it from being over the Memorial Day weekend.

Sharing enrollment projections for the next year, Kallhoff told board members that several Sumter County parents have called to ask about transferring their children to Demopolis schools.

He said there is room to accept more children and invited Sumter parents to meet with principals and visit the schools.

Ricky Montz, whose daughter plays softball for the high school, had at first approached the board about the locks being changed on the softball field. When he understood that the school system is liable for any injury incurred if there is no board employee on site, he said he understood.

Kallhoff said only three people have keys to the field now. He told the board it will have to take up the matter of limiting access to other school athletic facilities because of liability, especially since the system is getting ready to invest another $5,000 for upgrades to the track.

In other action, the board approved:

  • The purchase of a 2013 72-passenger school bus for $60,000.
  • Disposition of items no longer usable.
  • Travel for Kallhoff to attend several conferences and training sessions in June and July.
  • Out-of-state travel for the USJ 21st Century Camp in Meridian, Miss.

The following personnel hires were approved:

  • Darius Waters, WES custodian
  • Eric Hendricks, PE teacher at WES
  • Sierra Allen-Galusha, special education teacher at WES
  • Kamie Johnson, First Class Pre-K Grant Lead Teacher at WES
  • Claire Bell, First Class Pre-K Grant Auxiliary Teacher at WES.

Also approved were two transfers: Brian Allen, English teacher, and Robert Wilkerson, Social Studies teacher, both from DHS to DMS.

Kallhoff called a special meeting for June 29 at 9 a.m. for action on new basketball and softball coaches for the high school. The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be July 17 at 5:15 p.m.

Demopolis man charged with murder after Friday shooting

A local man faces murder charges after a shooting left one dead Friday. Demopolis Police Department officers responded to a shooting call at 171 Starmont Road in Gallion Friday. Upon arrival, officers located a female suffering from a gunshot wound. The victim, whose name is being withheld pending notification of her family, later died after having been transported by emergency personnel to Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital.

DPD officers later arrested Dalton Martin Jowers, 19, of Demopolis and charged him with murder in the case. Further details are unavailable at this time as the case remains under investigation.

Sumter duo arrested for burglary in Mississippi

Authorities in Lauderdale County, Mississippi arrested two local men for burglary charges this week. Keenan Law and Quindarius Jackson face charges of burglary after Mississippi investigators say they were caught in the act.

Chief Deputy Ward Calhoun of the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department indicated that a concerned citizen reported seeing a car slowly towing a lawn mower without a trailer. When deputies pulled the car over, they found that Law and Jackson had taken multiple items from a camp house in the area.

The Lauderdale County office worked alongside the Sumter County Sheriff’s Department late Tuesday to recover more stolen items found at a residence in the Morningstar community. Calhoun indicated that investigators believe the duo had been to the camp house multiple times throughout the day.

Jackson is also charged with possession of cocaine. His bond is set at $20,000. Law’s bond is $10,000.

Myrtlewood man charged with murder

The Marengo County Sheriff’s Department along with the Linden Police Department worked to arrest Joseph McDonald Miles May 31 on murder charges. Miles, 26 of Myrtlewood, is charged with the murder of Chadrick Kornegay, 46. The shooting death occurred May 30 in Kornegay’s front yard in Half Acre.

Kornegay was shot in the chest and later died on the scene. Marengo County Sheriff Ben Bates said the murder is the first in the county this year.