Kallhoff ready to help Demopolis schools “bring it all together”

Kyle Kallhoff talks with community members following his interview Wednesday at Rooster Hall. (Photo by Jan McDonald)

Kyle Kallhoff talks with community members following his interview Wednesday at Rooster Hall. (Photo by Jan McDonald)

Kyle Kallhoff knows the task that lies immediately ahead of him. The husband and father of four must help his family become acclimated to a new community and a new school system as he readies for the challenge of overseeing that system.

“The timing is difficult right now with school being so quick to starting. We have two of them in transition years, one being a sixth grader and one being a kindergartener. So we want to make this as smooth as we can,” Kallhoff, the new Demopolis City Schools superintendent, told The West Alabama Watchman Tuesday morning, just hours after being approved for hire by the DCS board.

Smooth is the focus for Kallhoff, who will look to transition seamlessly into his new role atop the school system while helping his wife Kristina and children Carson (11), KaraLynn (8), John Curtis (5) and Anna Claire (3) adjust to the new surroundings that await them.

“Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast,” he reminds himself, calling upon a preferred mantra from a well-regarded book on education.

That mantra has served him well in his previous stops as the superintendent of Chickasaw City Schools, the assistant superintendent and director of instruction for Clarke County Schools, the assistant superintendent of Fairfield County (S.C.) Schools and as a member of the central office team for Mobile County Schools. His is a varied resume that also includes a year working in professional development with Software Technology Incorporated.

“Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast,” he will likely have to tell himself often in the coming weeks as the personal and professional transitions hasten into reality.

“We have a lot of contacts in Mobile. My wife was raised here. She moved here when she was 12 years old, so she’s got a lot of friends here. That part is hard for her and it’s hard for us to leave. Her mom is still here. Her sister is still here. That part is difficult,” Kallhoff said. “But on the other side, we know that once we get through this transition and the move that Demopolis is such a great place that it’s going to be easy for us to get in the community and for our kids to make friends, for us to make friends and get involved with a church and just get involved with civic activities.”

The personal transitions may well be the greatest challenge for Kallhoff, who is eager to begin his next professional chapter, a setting that will allow him to call upon the same penchants and affinities that made his previous stops successful.

“I take pride in being an instructional leader. We talked a lot about that in the interview. I’m an instructional leader. I make recommendations and decisions based on what’s best for students, not just randomly but based on what data indicates. I understand instruction. I know what good teaching looks like. I am a motivator,” Kallhoff said. “It’s hard now in education. Teachers don’t get paid what they deserve and we all know that. So you have to find different ways to offer incentives and to keep teachers motivated, especially when we get into the spring time of the year when everyone is getting tired.”

Kallhoff understands the grind that the 187-day school year can have on educators and support staff. As such, he is dedicated to alleviating as much of that pressure as possible through endorsement and support of the employees that make the system go.

“I’m a huge advocate for teaching and good teaching. I sell that. As a superintendent, part of my job is selling that and letting people know the great things that are going on in schools. Teachers like that. Employees like that, to know that they’re valued,” Kallhoff said. “I let folks know that they’re valued.”

Selling is a key tool in Kallhoff’s proverbial belt. It’s a job he readily states is high on his list of responsibilities and one whose proper execution requires the embracing of modern avenues of communication.

“I’m not the most savvy technology person in the world, but I do understand social media. I do understand its power. I do understand how we can get our message out and we can share with the community – not just Demopolis but with the state and with the world – the great things going on in our school system,” Kallhoff said.  “I capitalize the use of social media to do that.”

A self-proclaimed optimist, the message Kallhoff broadcasts to the world at large is overtly positive. That’s largely because his vision of and for Demopolis City Schools is teeming with positivity.

“Demopolis has all the puzzle pieces to be one of the Top 10 school systems in the state of Alabama. I want to lead the process of putting the pieces together,” Kallhoff said. “There are some outstanding educators and there are some great administrators in Demopolis. I want to be the quarterback to bring it all together and put the pieces together, to put Demopolis where it needs to be as far as school systems in the state of Alabama.”

The journey toward assembling those pieces and propelling Demopolis to the lofty heights Kallhoff knows it will reach begins with stakeholder engagement and linking the school system’s varied constituents up behind a collective vision.

“There’s going to be multiple things going on at once. I can’t say which one is most important. One is stakeholder relationship. I want stakeholders and supporters and city leaders to trust me, but more importantly to trust the school system. That’s something that I’ll work hard on. It’s the same things with teachers. I want to develop a relationship, not just with teachers, but with employees. I’m very optimistic. I’m a high energy type of person. That’s my style and I think they’re going to see that right off the bat. The glass is always half full in my book and they’re going to see that. I want to establish relationships and trust,” Kallhoff said. “After a while, we’ll start establishing advisory councils where not just teachers but students will have an opportunity to sit with me and discuss what’s going on. I think that’s important that they feel they have a voice and they can speak.”

In the midst of that process, Kallhoff will also undertake the task of familiarizing himself with the ins and outs of the system he now calls home.

“I’m going to have to spend a lot of time with (interim Demopolis City Schools superintendent Dr.)Frank Costanzo with the transition. I can’t wait to see organizational charts, budgets, continuous improvement plans from the schools,” Kallhoff said. “What are the goals at the schools? What are they working for? What are the strategies? Are they working? Are we looking at the data? Numerous things.”

Kallhoff’s passion for the task at hand is almost palpable as he outlines his approaching tasks.

“Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast,” he reminds himself.

“There’s a book a lot of us in education read about 10 to 12 years ago called Failure Is Not an Option. There’s a line out of that book that I try to remember any time I’m going into something new. It’s ‘Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast,’” he said. “I try my best with that, but sometimes you get into a situation and you see things that need to be addressed immediately and you really can’t be slow. You have to address them. I’m going to try to be slow, but at the same time, if there’s something pressing, then we’ll certainly address it.”

For Kallhoff, eager and optimistic, it seems that process can hardly start soon enough.