Guest column: It’s time to rebuild DCS tradition

By Jacob Kerby

Any organization can only be as strong as the foundation it is built upon. Our city school system has built a strong tradition of excellence over the years. It is now time to return to those strengths and rebuild for the future.

The hiring of a new superintendent is never an easy or straightforward task, but hiring the right leader will undoubtedly change not just the school, but the City of Demopolis tremendously.   Being a recent alumnus of Demopolis High School and having my Dad selected for the Board of Education gives me a unique perspective,  and  I would like to ask the board as well as the community to keep in mind a few concerns.

  1. Tradition

In what has the Demopolis City School system historically excelled? I personally never wanted to admit it, but our math department made learning fun; a not so easy feat.

Also, and many of my classmates would agree, quantitative classes in college were much easier for us compared to graduates of other schools. We have a great English department; teachers like Mrs. Leslie Gibbs and Mrs. Allene Jones always encouraged originality of thought, and I would not be writing this editorial without their influence.

We have incredible athletics programs, as well as music, art, and theater. There are countless other teachers that have balanced learning with discipline to the appropriate extent. Hire a leader that allows them the tools and freedom to perform their jobs, and I can assure you the school will be successful.

I am in full support of career tech programs, but those programs should not be implemented at the expense of the school’s core mission and previously successful programs. They were successful for a reason – they are important and they work. Math, science, reading, and history are the fundamentals of education, and without a strong background our students will be limited.

By all means create a first class career tech program, but do not lose focus on the rest of the school. The argument that we should prepare our graduates so that they stay in the area is not well constructed; our graduates should be equipped to go wherever their dreams take them, and it is the job of our leaders to develop industry that attracts our graduates back home.

  1. Mission

Part of the Demopolis City School’s mission statement is “to prepare graduates to achieve personal goals and be productive citizens in a globally competitive world.”   We need to continue to offer foreign languages to our students and make it a requirement for our top diploma track. It is a requirement for many degrees at most universities, and not being prepared for those classes will cause a major strain on students.

I understand that learning a new language is not for everyone, but when I was in school, I took two years of Spanish under Mrs. Sydney Chasteen. Her knowledge of the subject matter and great enthusiasm inspired me and gave me the confidence needed to obtain an undergraduate minor in Spanish and study abroad one summer in Spain.  That was a life changing experience for me, and it is of grave concern to me that students from Demopolis may no longer have that opportunity.

From my firsthand experience, online classes are typically not nearly as effective. The school system cannot fulfill its mission “in a globally competitive world” effectively if it discards programs which purposefully prepare students for the global world.

  1. Values

The three focuses stated on the Demopolis City School’s website are the three “A’s”:  Academics, Arts, and Athletics. While I am pro-arts and very pro-athletics, academics are listed number one for a reason.

When a school loses its focus on academics, everything else suffers as well.  I am hopeful that the board will revisit the diploma levels to ensure that every student has an appropriate path to follow.

Students planning to attend college but who have no desire to take Advanced Placement courses should not be forced to take those classes. There should be a middle level diploma track that offers college-bound classes at the right level for those students.

In the past, Demopolis High School has always exceeded the State of Alabama’s requirements in order to meet the needs of the local area students. We should never consider lowering our standards without open debate. Integrity should be the word placed above all three of those “A’s” mentioned before.  Integrity is the most important value of all, and if the school regains its focus on academics with integrity, the arts and athletics programs will naturally flourish also.

It has been proven time and time again that decisions being made without the options being fully discussed with openness and integrity lead to organizational meltdown. Let’s take pride in our schools again, and move forward with conviction. United with a commitment to excellence, the school system can quickly reclaim the high level of prestige it has always had.

The School Board currently faces a crucial decision for the direction of the school as well as the city. As I like to tell my Dad, “the only way to go from here is up.”