Black Warrior among 19 Alabama electric co-ops working in wake of Irma

Black Warrior Electric Membership Corporation is among 19 Alabama rural electric cooperatives that sent crews to Florida last week to help fellow electric cooperatives in that state restore power in the wake of Hurricane Irma. In all, a total of 210 linemen from Alabama cooperatives were dispatched to assist in Florida, where the hurricane left more than 75 percent of the state without electricity.

Confronting the aftermath of high winds and heavy rain, mutual aid linemen from more than 25 states are working at co-ops in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, according to the Alabama Rural Electric Association. In some spots, full restoration could take weeks, officials warned.

“Alabama’s cooperatives are always willing to help our fellow cooperatives when there is a need,” said Fred Braswell, president and CEO of the AREA, which represents Alabama’s 22 electric cooperatives.

Black Warrior EMC General Manager Daryl Jones said crews from Black Warrior left Tuesday headed for Florida.

“As usual, we had every field employee volunteer to assist our fellow cooperatives,” Jones said.  “Additional BWEMC crews will be swapped out later if needed.  This allows us to maintain reliability for our own members while helping others in need.”

The mutual aid among cooperatives is a nationwide network that provides assistance when disaster strikes.

Terry Barr, president of the Black Warrior Electric Board of Trustees, said cooperation among electric utilities in responding to widespread power outages is critical and benefits members of Black Warrior.

“Our crews are always prepared for when bad weather hits, but hurricanes and tropical storms are a special challenge,” Barr said. “Getting the lights back on quickly often requires additional manpower beyond what the local cooperative can provide on its own. So we are happy to assist other cooperatives when they need help, knowing they will be ready to help us when we need it.”

Alabama’s rural electric cooperatives deliver power to more than 1 million people, or a quarter of the state’s population, and they maintain more than 71,000 miles of power lines.

Black Warrior Electric Membership Corporation serves about 26,000 customers in 12 counties in west central Alabama. For information, go to www.blackwarrioremc.com.

Mobile District campsites host thousands displaced by Hurricane Irma

MOBILE, Ala. – Tina White’s family was relieved to call Carters Lake campground home over the weekend while she and her family rode out Hurricane Irma after being forced out of their southern Georgia homes.

White’s Carters Lake campsite was one of 535 sites at 10 project areas that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District made available to accommodate Hurricane Irma evacuees.

“Many district campgrounds remain open this time of year,” said Amy Cobb-Williams, program manager for the district’s Natural Resources Division, “and the district delayed scheduled seasonal closure of some campgrounds to meet the potential demand for evacuees displaced by the storm. In all, we estimate that we hosted thousands of Irma evacuees.”

Mobile District’s Commander, Col. James DeLapp, spearheaded the initiative to keep the additional campgrounds open for hurricane evacuees.

At another of Mobile District’s campsites, the Black Warrior-Tombigbee’s Foscue Creek Campground, many local campers gave up their campsites to accommodate the influx of evacuees fleeing the storm. In addition, local civic and church groups welcomed the evacuees by bringing them hot meals.

“This was a small initiative, but I was happy to see that so many people came to our campsites. If we kept one family safe from Hurricane Irma, it was worth it,” DeLapp said. “I really appreciate the efforts of all of our rangers and project staff who helped with this initiative. I am also grateful for the volunteer organizations, churches and Boy Scouts that delivered meals to the evacuees.”

White decided to ride out 2016’s Hurricane Matthew in her trailer home, located in Guyton, Ga., and vowed she would never do that again.

“Going to north Georgia was definitely a better plan,” she said. “Six family members and I left our home on Saturday and headed north to the Carters Lake campground. We didn’t have much money but we stopped and bought an $85, 10-man tent and reserved the campsite for $18 a night.”

White set up camp with her husband, two daughters, son-in-law, grandson, 11-month-old grandbaby and even her dogs and cats.

“It was nice weather the day we set up and then the rain and 60 mph wind came ripping through,” she said. “It was scary but no trees fell. The whole family was stuffed in there but we held up good. It was really a decent experience. The park rangers were nice and kept checking on us. The bathrooms were great and well-supplied. Everyone there was helpful.”

The family stayed through Monday and returned to their home in southern Georgia on Tuesday.

“There were a couple of limbs down and a lot of water but nothing major happened,” she said. “I’m definitely glad we left. It was important to get my family out of harm’s way. Protecting our lives was the most important thing. We were all dirty and it wasn’t fun but we managed and stuck together.”

UWA’s freshman class grows by 22 percent for fall 2017

LIVINGSTON, Ala.—The University of West Alabama has announced its fall 2017 enrollment, including triple-digit growth percentages in freshman interest and an increase in overall on-campus enrollment for the third consecutive year.

UWA’s freshman enrollment is up 22 percent from last year, from 370 to 453. This is UWA’s highest freshman enrollment since 1995, the year the school’s name was changed to reflect its commitment as a regional institution providing not only quality education, but also improving the quality of life for the citizens of west Alabama.

According to Dr. Blake Bedsole, director of admissions and enrollment management at UWA, the significant increases are the results of several efforts to grow enrollment.

“Our University has made an intentional effort to improve our communication plans,” Bedsole explained. “We’ve expanded our multi-channel marketing efforts, and our traveling counselors and in-house admissions staff have worked extremely hard to produce this kind of result.”

The enrollment number is not the only significant increase. UWA saw a staggering increase in freshman applications for the fall 2017 semester, growing by triple-digit percentages in several categories.

“These numbers prove that UWA is becoming a top choice for many students, and that more students are considering UWA than ever before. Equally impressive is the fact that the significant growth of the freshman class comes with no degradation in academic quality,” Bedsole said.

In this year’s freshman class, the average ACT score is 21, and average high school GPA is 3.35. Many of these students were valedictorian or salutatorian of their high school graduating class.

UWA’s 2017 freshman class represents 57 of Alabama’s counties, 16 states in the U.S., and five other countries.

Overall on-campus enrollment is up 3 percent, from 1,772 in fall 2016 to 1,819 students enrolled in on-campus classes for fall 2017. This number does not include online enrollment, which when factored in increases overall enrollment by 18 percent, from 3,514 to 4,148.

“This year’s admissions and enrollment numbers are very encouraging for UWA, especially considering that enrollment is flat or declining in many institutions across the U.S.,” said UWA President Ken Tucker. “Our University is committed to building on these efforts and continuing to recruit outstanding students, growing our academic and student offerings, and providing a high-quality, safe, and enjoyable educational experience that will prove an excellent return on investment for students for years to come.”

Established in 1835, the University of West Alabama is a fully accredited, four-year public institution located on a 600-acre campus in Livingston, Ala. UWA offers nearly 60 undergraduate and nearly 40 graduate degree programs. For more information on admissions, visit enroll.uwa.edu.

University Charter School Board names Wedgworth Head of School

LIVINGSTON, Ala.—The Board of Directors for Sumter County’s new University Charter School has just completed an interest inventory in an effort to prepare for the school’s August 2018 opening. The survey has been conducted by the newly-named head of school, Dr. J.J. Wedgworth.

The interest inventory, conducted through a survey collected online and via hard copy distributed to accessible public locations throughout the county, was designed to gauge the current level of interest in enrollment, as well as the specific educational needs of families interested in enrolling at University Charter School.

“We are pleased with the level of response we received from the interest inventory, and we are already working to ensure that these needs are addressed in our planning efforts,” Wedgworth said. “In preparing our application over several months, the team worked diligently to identify our county’s needs, most of which are common throughout the Black Belt region and even other rural communities throughout the nation. Conducting this interest inventory gives us solid information from the families University Charter School will serve and helps ensure that we work through this planning year to address their needs.”

Named head of school in September, Wedgworth will be responsible for oversight of all academic programs and curricula; faculty and staff hiring, professional development, compensation, other personnel matters; and student enrollment, and attendance, and will also oversee budgeting, financial management, fundraising, technology, and management of school facilities.

Wedgworth will also assist and guide the board of directors in making decisions in all areas covered under school governance and contract guidelines with the Alabama Public Charter School Commission.

The head of school will work closely with the principal of the school after that position has been established and filled.

Wedgworth said that the board will soon announce employment opportunities as well as application and enrollment periods. Enrollment will be open first to Sumter County residents, followed by a subsequent enrollment period for non-Sumter County residents of Alabama. If enrollment exceeds the school’s capacity, a lottery will be held.

Wedgworth has played a lead role in the school’s establishment, from feasibility research to application preparation, which proved successful when the Alabama Public Charter Schools Commission voted unanimously in July to approve the application. The school was the only one of three applications approved unanimously, without condition for this application cycle.

Consistent among Wedgworth’s professional efforts are successful efforts in improving the region through education, from scholarly research presentations on solutions to public health issues and quality of life assessments in the region to expertise in managing data and implementation of programs and initiatives resulting from that research.

Wedgworth said that as head of school, her mission is to do what’s best for students in every scenario.

“My mission is to have the courage to do the right thing for the children, day in and day out,” she said. “I will strive to successfully consult and collaborate to bring out the best in others in support of the students. I envision the faculty and staff of UCS as one that embodies a sustained, relentless commitment to improvement and to becoming a better version of themselves.”

According to Wedgworth, instilling that commitment will provide a single-minded focus to working on behalf of the students in the long-term, despite inevitable ups and downs. She hopes to continue building on the foundation of support that has brought the project to this point.

“We have received such strong support from the UWA Board of Trustees and from President Tucker, with their leadership and commitment to the mission. Mr. Johnnie Aycock and the application team worked diligently to develop an amazing framework for our school, and our community has shown tremendous support through this process.”

The University Charter School Founding Board of Directors includes President Mr. Micky Smith, Vice President Rev. Byron Franklin, Secretary Mr. Kyle Edmonds, Treasurer Ms. Veronica Triplett, Dr. Robert Witt, Ms. Leslie Prystup Emory, Mr. Anthony Crear, and Dr. Jan Miller.

“We have embarked on a mission to equip children to pursue their passions and to create a better future for themselves and our area,” Wedgworth said. “The coming year will be filled with promise and possibility, and fresh opportunities to learn, and grow and inspire.  I will strive to place ‘passion for students’ above everything else, and I will always consider it a privilege to serve in this role.”

Prior to this position, Wedgworth served as director of research integrity in UWA’s Office of Sponsored Programs and Research, having served in the department since 2014. During her tenure in this department, she facilitated the development of many successful grant applications campus-wide, developed a research compliance infrastructure for the university, and was also successful in co-authoring two major grants, including a National Science Foundation award and funding to establish the Steelcase Active Learning Center in UWA’s Lyon Hall. She has also served as an adjunct instructor for eight years, teaching classes for both the College of Education and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Before coming to UWA, Wedgworth was employed at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa as a research project manager for more than six years, as well as a tutor for athletic student services.

A Sumter County native, Wedgworth is a 2002 graduate of Sumter Academy and returned as a faculty member teaching high school science classes there while also coaching volleyball and softball. She holds a bachelor of science in biomedical science and psychology from Auburn University; a master of science in human environmental science with emphasis on rural health from the University of Alabama; and a doctorate in environmental microbiology, also from the University of Alabama.

To learn more about University Charter School, call 205-652-5459 or visit www.uwa.edu/charterschool. The page also includes a link to submit the interest survey or download a printable copy. Frequently asked questions are also addressed on the page. Enrollment, employment, and other information about the school will be advertised as it continues to be developed.

Homestead exemption for property owners at hand

Property owners over age 65 may qualify for an extra ad valorem tax discount on their homesteads, but they must register for it per Alabama law. To make it easier for residents to understand their required actions for claiming this exemption, Revenue Commissioner Sharon Barkley will be going to the Demopolis and Linden Senior Centers to talk about homestead exemptions.

On Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 11 a.m. Barkley will be in Demopolis at the West Alabama Senior Center and on Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 11:30 a.m. Barkley will be at the Meals for Elderly Building in Linden. Those who have never applied for the exemption before are encouraged to attend. Inquiries and concerns are directed to the Revenue Commissioner’s Office at 334-295-2214.

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.

Local landowners invited to Soggy Bottom Lodge tour

Blackbelt area landowners are invited to a tour of Soggy Bottom Lodge Thursday, Sept. 28, from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Registration will begin at 8 a.m. and the tour will start at 9 a.m.  Tour topics will include the lodges, deer breeding facilities, duck pond, native grasses and recreational fish pond management.  Lunch will be provided for tour participants.

There is no cost to attend this tour, however those who want to take part are asked to call the Marengo County Extension Office at 334-295-5959 to register.  To properly plan for lunch please call and register before the deadline of 4:30 p.m. of Monday Sept. 25.

Registration numbers will be capped at 50 participants. Soggy Bottom Lodge is located at 18618 Hwy 43, south of Linden.

UWA’s College of Business and Technology reaffirmed by ACBSP

Dr. Wayne Bedford and Dr. Aliquippa Allen (center) represented UWA’s College of Business and Technology at the annual ACBSP conference in California.

LIVINGSTON, Ala.—The University of West Alabama’s College of Business andTechnology was recently awarded reaffirmation of its programs by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). COBT leaders attended the organization’s annual conference in Anaheim, Calif., to be recognized by ACBSP’s baccalaureate/graduate degree board of commissioners.

Established in 1988, ACBSP is the only organization offering specialized business accreditation for all degree levels, from associate to baccalaureate to doctoral degree programs. ACBSP accreditation certifies that the teaching and learning processes offered through the College of Business and Technology at The University of West Alabama meet the rigorous educational standards established by ACBSP.

The business programs at UWA were first accredited by ACBSP in 1997. The University is required to go through the reaffirmation process every 10 years to maintain ACBSP accreditation.

“The University of West Alabama has shown their commitment to teaching excellence and to the process of quality improvement by participating in the accreditation process,” said ACBSP Chief Accreditation Officer Dr. Steve Parscale, who presented the Certificate of Reaffirmation of Accreditation at ACBSP Conference.

“This reaffirmation of accreditation is evidence that UWA and the College of Business and Technology are committed to maintaining the highest quality business education for their students for the next 10 years, just as they have done for two decades,” said Parscale.

According to UWA’s president, Dr. Ken Tucker, this reaffirmation is a reflection of the University’s commitment to providing top quality education and application-oriented experiences to students in the college, as well as the growing capacity across all of UWA’s colleges to make a positive impact on the region it serves.

“UWA’s mission includes improving the quality of life in the Black Belt through education and outreach,” Tucker said. “By preparing our students to be the best in their professional fields, equipping them with the knowledge and skills necessary to best serve business and industry, enhancing the overall quality of life in our service area, and continuing to establish partnerships that lead to job placement for our graduates, the College of Business and Technology at UWA is fulfilling that mission. On behalf of the entire administration, I commend the faculty and staff for their tireless efforts in achieving reaffirmation through this highly-esteemed accrediting body.”

“The faculty and staff in the College of Business and Technology are very proud of the business programs we offer and work very hard to ensure our graduates are well prepared for success in the business world. Whether pursuing the bachelor or master of business administration degree, students know that we are dedicated to giving them our very best,” said Dean of the College of Business and Technology, Dr. Wayne Bedford, now retired.

UWA provides opportunities for students to pursue a quality education through associate, baccalaureate, master’s, and education specialist degrees in liberal arts, natural sciences and mathematics, pre-professional programs, nursing, technology, business, and education. Importance is placed on providing opportunities within the curricula for the development of enhanced skills in critical thinking, communication, leadership, and computer literacy.

The University also seeks to provide students opportunities for growth beyond the classroom through a wide range of extracurricular activities, programs, and services and through the maintenance of an environment of cultural and intellectual diversity.

Through the total educational experience that it provides and through its encouragement of the free exchange of ideas among faculty, administration, and students, the University attempts to assist its students in developing the important qualities of independent thinking and respect for the ideas of others and in building firm foundations of personal integrity and character in order to realize their quests for a philosophy of life and for self-fulfillment.

 

Authorities capture St. Louis fugitive in Boligee

Boligee, Ala. – On Wednesday, Sept. 13 at approximately 7:30 p.m., law enforcement officials from the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, the 17th Judicial Circuit’s Drug Task Force and the Eutaw Police Department apprehended, Andre Lemoyne Williams, 32, of St. Louis, Mo. without incident. Williams was wanted by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for First Degree Murder and a parole violation in which there is a $1 million cash bond. Williams is being held at the Greene County Jail awaiting extradition.

We would like to thank all of the agencies that assisted us with this apprehension including the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Aviation Unit. This is a prime example of what can be achieved when we all work together as one,” the Greene County Sheriff’s Department stated via press release.

Kallhoff named as District 2 Superintendent of the Year

Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff was recently selected as the District 2 Superintendent of the Year for Alabama. Kallhoff is one of nine finalists for Superintendent of the Year, which will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 10.  District 2, which consists of school systems in the Black Belt region of the state, includes Autauga, Butler, Choctaw, Dallas, Lowndes, Marengo, Perry, Sumter, and Wilcox County School Systems as well as Selma, Linden, and Demopolis City School Systems.

“A successful leader is only as good as the people with which he surrounds himself. I am blessed to work with great people here in Demopolis,” Kallhoff said. “It begins with the community, stakeholders and board of education and from there it filters down to my staff, the principals and the employees at each of the four schools in Demopolis. It is an honor to represent the superintendents in District 2, which stretches from Butler County to Sumter County.  There are several superintendents in this district who are known as veterans in Alabama and continuously make an impact on the students in the Black Belt region of this state. I am fortunate to be able to work with these educational leaders and learn from them each school year.”