Gallion woman killed in Friday crash

A single-vehicle crash at 9:35 a.m. today, Feb. 9, claimed the life of a Gallion woman. Dawn Roberta Cressler Gates, 33, was killed when the 2001 Dodge Durango she was driving left the roadway and overturned. Gates, who was not using a seat belt, was pronounced dead at the scene. The crash occurred on Hale County 62 in the city limits of Gallion. Nothing further is available as Alabama State Troopers continue to investigate.

University Charter School welcomes John W. Cameron as founding principal

LIVINGSTON, Ala.—The Board of Directors for Sumter County’s new University Charter School has announced the hiring of its founding principal, John W. Cameron, Jr. His career in education has included all levels of public education from pre-k through 12th grade.

Before being named principal at University Charter School, Cameron has served the past three years as assistant director of the Hale County College & Career Academy. In this role, Cameron has been thoroughly involved with the Region 3 Workforce Development Committee, the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, the Alabama Simulated Workplace, and the Ready to Work program for high school students.

Cameron was named principal at the UCS Board of Directors meeting on Monday, Feb. 5. According to Board President Micky Smith, UCS received 109 applications for the position, selecting Cameron as the best person to help the school achieve its goals and fulfill its mission. His background is a blend of professional achievements that complement the UCS vision for education and student development.

“I have always believed that we have to start early in elementary school to teach students soft skills that they need to grow and learn,” Cameron said. “Ultimately, we have to make sure that even as young children they are learning to talk to people, present themselves, and be able to compete fairly for their achievements. As educators, we provide the tools and a path for them to succeed.”

Cameron earned an associate of science in 1992 from Shelton State Community College, where he played baseball on scholarship. He then earned a bachelor of science in physical education from Livingston University (now UWA) in 1995 and was named one of two outstanding graduating seniors by the University’s College of Education. In 2005, he earned a master’s in education administration from UWA.

From 2006 until 2013, Cameron served as assistant principal at Hale County High School and was also head coach of baseball and athletic director there. He was then named principal of the school in 2013, serving two years in that position until being transferred to the Hale County College & Career Academy to serve as assistant director.

Cameron’s wife, Alesia, is also an educator, a special education teacher. They have two daughters, Liz (17) and Baylee (14). He is an avid outdoorsman and enjoys hiking and fly fishing. He’s a former power lifter competitor and says he still enjoys fitness but no longer lifts competitively.

A Tuscaloosa native, Cameron brings a track record of success in education, including teaching, coaching, and administration. He began his career as a physical education teacher and baseball coach. He has both taught and coached throughout Tuscaloosa City Schools, from elementary to high school at Skyland Elementary, Stillman Heights Elementary, Eastwood Middle, and Northington Elementary schools. Additional coaching positions include Tuscaloosa Middle School, Tuscaloosa Academy, Central High School, Hillcrest High School, and Paul W. Bryant High School, all in Tuscaloosa.

Over the course of his coaching career, he coached nine players who went on to play professional baseball, eight of which played in the major leagues.

“To me, coaching is teaching,” Cameron explained. “It’s providing leadership and instruction that allows everyone to succeed.”

Cameron said that he wants to act as a bridge that helps to build a school culture of inclusivity, fairness, and achievement.

“Issues usually are a result of divides, and divides are a matter of perception,” Cameron said. “We will establish a transparent path of communication for the school, families, and the community. We all share a common goal, and that is to get kids ready for whatever path they’ll choose, whether it’s academia, military, or absolutely any profession.”

Cameron said that he fully expects the challenges that will surely come with establishing a new school, and he sees his role as principal as an opportunity to set a high standard.

“The standard is excellence,” Cameron said. “It’s something that was instilled in me as a college athlete in Livingston. Our coaches held us to a standard and helped us do what we needed to do to succeed. The work is hard, but it’s rewarding. It’s where we gain the sense of investment that moves us forward.”

Kallhoff: Changing standards jeopardize validity of first state report cards

Every public school and school system across Alabama Wednesday learned their grade in the first release of annual report cards.

The controversial report was mandated by the 2012 Alabama legislature with the Legislative School Performance Recognition Program Act, better known as the State Report Card Act. It assigns each system and school a grade based on an A-F scale.

The Demopolis system received a solid B at 80%. The three Demopolis campuses each received a C: DHS, 78%; DMS, 74%, and U.S. Jones Elementary, 77%. Westside Elementary received no grade since scores were based on assessments that begin in grade 3.

Demopolis School Supt. Kyle Kallhoff said the majority of the grades assigned to the schools is based on academic achievement and academic growth.

“In normal situations, one can see where this would make sense; however, the past four years of high- stakes assessments in Alabama have been anything but a ‘normal situation’,” he said.

For almost five years, a variety of education advocates and practitioners met to develop a reader-friendly report that would capture the many factors that contribute to a successful school or system.

Problems developed, however, when, in 2013, the state moved away from the Alabama Reading and Math Test for grades 3-8 and adopted the ACT Aspire as the “state assessment.” The thinking was to use a more rigorous test that aligns with the ACT, which is used as a college entrance instrument throughout our state and nation.

“Unfortunately,” said Kallhoff, “four years later we now know that the ACT Aspire is not the best choice of assessment for the students of Alabama.”

ACT Aspire provides a system of assessments to monitor progress toward college and career readiness from grade 3 through early high school, alignment with the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, and capability for predicting outcomes on the ACT.

“This sounds attractive if all of your students are college bound,” Kallhoff continued.  Most school systems in Alabama aim to prepare students for college, careers or the military. Fewer than 50 percent of high school graduates in Alabama actually go to college. Many graduates move directly into the workforce or enlist in the military.

The ACT Aspire is meant to be used to predict how a student would perform on the ACT, not as the primary instrument used to determine the final score in school and school system report cards.

“Thankfully in June of 2017, the Alabama State School Board unanimously voted to end the contract with ACT Aspire and is currently working on a state-wide assessment that will better serve the students of Alabama,” Kallhoff said.

In January of 2017, further problems developed when the U.S. Department of Education in a letter to former state superintendent Michael Sentence questioned the alignment of the ACT Aspire to state standards. In addition to the alignment issues, several school systems reported data anomalies after the 2016 and 2017 testing.

“The State Report Card Act forces transparency in public education, and transparency is paramount when dealing with students and tax dollars,” said Kallhoff, but the data must be explained in assigning grades to schools and school systems.

The public “needs to know the recent history of Alabama’s assessment program, especially on the heels of a report card that will be based on questionable data derived from these state-wide assessments,” the superintendent continued.

Kallhoff said the administrators of Demopolis City School System “are not satisfied with this grade (of B) and refuse to fall victim to complacency.” He hopes future state report cards will use a better formula “that considers the robust make-up of our schools” and one that is more in line with the standards that schools are mandated to teach.

“Measuring the effectiveness of schools should include more than one score,” he said.

Demopolis High senior killed in Friday car accident

Demopolis High senior Joshua Burrell was killed in a car accident Friday evening. Burrell is pictured here in a photo from April 2017. (Facebook)

A three-vehicle crash Friday, Feb. 2, claimed the life of a Demopolis teen. Joshua Deshan Burrell, 18, was killed when the 2012 Honda Civic he was driving was struck by a 2006 Peterbilt Tractor Trailer driven by Michael Dewayne Fudge, 47, of Dallas, Texas. Burrell, who was not using a seatbelt, was pronounced dead at the scene. A 1994 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera was involved after the initial collision. The crash occurred at 5:05 p.m. on U.S. 80 near the 28 mile marker, eight miles west of Demopolis. Nothing further is available as Alabama State Troopers continue to investigate.

Burrell was a senior at Demopolis High School and a beloved member of his class. The West Alabama Watchman extends its sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Joshua Burrell as well as the entire Demopolis community.

Birmingham man killed in Greene County crash

A single-vehicle crash at 8:45 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31, claimed one life and injured another. Demarcus Lataurus Avery, 25, of Birmingham was killed when the 2016 Nissan Altima in which he was a passenger left the roadway, struck a ditch and overturned.

Avery was ejected and was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver, JaJuan Martez Hudson, 24, also of Birmingham, was ejected and transported to DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa. Neither were using seat belts.

The crash occurred on Alabama 14 near the 41 mile marker, approximately four miles northwest of Eutaw. Although the circumstances surrounding the crash are still under investigation, speed is believed to be a factor. Nothing further is available as Alabama State Troopers continue to investigate.

Demopolis man dies from injuries sustained in car accident

Demopolis Public Safety Director Tommie Reese confirms that Earl Lee “Monk” Lewis, 52, of Demopolis has succumbed to his injuries following a traffic accident.

On Monday, Jan. 29 at approximately 6 p.m., the Demopolis police and fire departments were dispatched to a two vehicle accident with injuires at the intersection of U.S. Highway 80 and U.S. Highway 43.

Reese said that a tractor-trailer truck owned by Tuggle Trucking collided with a tan pickup truck, causing severe damage to the passenger’s side. Reese stated that the driver and the passenger of the pickup were transported by ambulance to Bryan Whitfield emergency room for treatment. Lewis was the passenger of the pickup truck. The driver of the tractor-trailer was not injured in the accident.

The cause of the accident is still under investigation. Reese asks the community to keep the Lewis and Mitchell families in its prayers.

Demopolis BOE moves to fund STEAM initiatvies

In keeping with the focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) education, the Demopolis Board of Education Monday voted to redeem two certificates of deposit at their maturity Feb. 1 to finance projects at Demopolis Middle and U.S. Jones Elementary Schools.

The funds, totaling about $268,000, will be used to repurpose the old shop building at DMS into a STEAM center and construct an outdoor classroom at USJ.

The board also okayed hiring McKee and Associates Architecture and Interior Designs to spearhead the work.

Once the funds are redeemed, some $2.6 million will be left in CDs, said Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff. The projects have been in development since October, he added. Local industry and educators were consulted on the projects.

The superintendent opened the meeting by recognizing board members during School Board Appreciation Month. Each of the five members received a gift from the Central Office or from one of the campuses.
In his remarks, Kallhoff said emphasis on ACT preparation at the high school is showing results.

This time last year, he said, five seniors had scored 25 or more on the ACT. This year the number has jumped to 29. Already, he said, four seniors and four juniors have scored 30 or more on the test.
In keeping with the Strategic Plan, Kallhoff has scheduled five community meetings in March to give a report on the state of the school system.

The board voted to transfer William Jackson from custodian at Westside Elementary to WES lunchroom as a CNP worker, and Mary Ellen McCrory from CNP worker to custodian at WES.

Jenna Morgan and Veronica Long were approved as substitutes, and Whitney Mosley and Pam Morgan were granted leaves of absence.

Consent was given for overnight travel for band students, DECA, HOSA and BETA clubs and the DHS track team.

DHS senior Tristan Mullen, one of two Alabama students selected to serve in the U.S. Senate youth program, asked to speak to the board at its March meeting to report on his experience. He will be in Washington, D.C. March 3-10.

The next meeting of the board will be Feb. 19.

Marengo County Schools celebrating board members

Marengo County Schools will join school systems throughout the state to salute their local education leaders during Alabama’s annual School Board Member Recognition Month in January.

The commemorative month is designed to recognize the contributions made by Alabama’s more than 800 local school board members, including the members of the Marengo County Board of Education, who are charged with governing public education under state law.

Alabama school board members are chosen by their communities through election of appointment to manage local schools. They oversee multimillion-dollar budgets which fund education programs for more than 744,930 Alabama schoolchildren. Your local school board members are part of a statewide team that supervises 91,277 employees, including 46,539 teachers, 3,110 administrators, and 35,712 support workers and others in 1,467 schools.

These volunteer leaders also are responsible for formulating school system policy, approving curricula, maintaining school facilities, and adhering to state and federal education law. Legal concerns and the complexities of school finance, including budgeting and taxation, require them to spend many hours in board training programs and personal study to enhance their understanding of these issues.

“Our deepest appreciation is extended to the dedicated men and women who make it possible for local citizens to participate in education in our community,” a release from Marengo County Schools announcing the observance, read. “We salute the public servants of the Marengo County school system whose commitment and civic responsibility make local control of public schools in our community possible: Mr. Freddie Charleston, Mrs. Lynda Joiner, Mr. Mike McAlpine, Mr. Chester Moore and Mr. Randy Smith. Please join us by saying ‘thanks’ to our school board members during Alabama’s 25th School Board Member Recognition Month.”

Demopolis High’s Mullen one of two state students to receive national honor

Demopolis High School’s Tristan Mullen

Demopolis High School senior Tristan Mullen is set to receive a substantial scholarship along with a very unique opportunity courtesy of the United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP). Mullen will join Senator Richard Shelby and Senator Doug Jones in representing Alabama in the nation’s capital during the 56th annual USSYP Washington Week to be held March 3-10.

Mullen and Trussville’s Logan Cobb are the only two students in the state of Alabama to receive the honor, which includes a $10,000 college scholarship for undergraduate study. Mullen was selected from among the state’s top student leaders to be part of the 104-member delegation comprised of students from across the country.

The USSYP was created by Senate Resolution 324 in 1962 and has been sponsored by the Senate and fully funded by The Hearst Foundations since inception. Originally proposed by Senators Kuchel, Mansfield, Dirksen, and Humphrey, the impetus for the program as stated in Senate testimony is “to increase young Americans’ understanding of the interrelationships of the three branches of government, learn the caliber and responsibilities of federally elected and appointed officials, and emphasize the vital importance of democratic decision making not only for America but for people around the world.

Each year this extremely competitive merit-based program brings 104 of the most outstanding high school students – two form each state, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity – to Washington, D.C. for an intensive week-long study of the federal government and the people who lead it. The overall mission of the program is to help instill within each class of USSYP student delegates more profound knowledge of the American political process and a lifelong commitment to public service.

In addition to the program week, The Hearst Foundations provide each student with a $10,000 undergraduate college scholarship with encouragement to continue coursework in government, history, and public affairs. Transportation and all expenses for Washington Week are also provided by The Hearst Foundations; as stipulated in S.Res.324, no government funds are utilized.

Mullen attends Demopolis High School and has served on the Student Council since his freshman year. Other leadership positions that he has held while at Demopolis High include service as the Student Council historian, co-captain of the Scholars Bowl team, president of Tiger Arts Guild and drum major the River City Blue Marching Band. He has also served as a class representative for YOUth Lead Demopolis, a youth leadership program located within Marengo County. He plans to obtain a bachelor’s degree in political science and then attend law school to become a civil rights attorney.

Delegates and alternates are selected by the state departments of education nationwide and the District of Columbia and Department of Defense Education Activity, after nomination by teachers and principals. The chief state school officer for each jurisdiction confirms the final selection. This year’s Alabama delegates and alternates were designated by Mr. Ed Richardson, Interim State Superintendent of Education.

While in Washington the student delegates attend meetings and briefings with senators members of the House of Representatives, Congressional staff, the president, a justice of the Supreme Court, leaders of cabinet agencies, an ambassador to the United State and senior members of the national media. The students will also tour many of the national monuments and several museums and they will stay at the historic Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C.

WINTER WEATHER: Closures for Wednesday, Jan. 17

Demopolis City Schools
Linden City Schools
Marengo County Schools
Marengo Academy
Patrician Academy
Little Horns Daycare
First Baptist Church WEE School (Demopolis)
Tender Years
Funtastic Tots Learning Center
West Alabama Christian School and Daycare
Bright Beginnings Daycare
Kids World Learning Center
Marengo County Courthouse
Demopolis Public Library