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.

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“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.”

Kiser prepared to lead Demopolis Middle School

Brandon Kiser did not grow up with the intention of entering education but he has since done a lot of his growing up in education. The new Demopolis Middle School principal, Kiser has spent five years in administrative roles despite only being in his early 30s.

“Initially it was, there is a scholarship available,” Kiser, who is nearing his fourth degree in education, said of the decision to pursue the field. “In high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. There was a scholarship available for education at Auburn. I took it and went with it. I really enjoyed getting the know the students and developing those relationships. It really started to take off when I was getting my master’s. I was really enjoying what I was doing and making a difference in people’s lives.”

Kiser got his Bachelor’s in General Science Education from Auburn before obtaining a Master’s in Instructional Leadership from Troy-Phenix City. He went on to get his Ed.S. in Educational Leadership from Auburn and is now only a dissertation away from completing his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership.

He spent two years as an assistant principal at the middle school level in Russell County before working for two years as the principal at Oliver Elementary in Seale, Alabama. Kiser spent last year as a science teacher while also filling administrative duties at Eufaula.

“Any experience that you can get is going to help you regardless of the level. Definitely there were some things being a secondary teacher I didn’t have a lot of experience with. Some of those things at the elementary and middle school levels help you with the way you look at things,” Kiser said of his varied experiences. “I definitely saw those things that are unique things to the middle school, the challenges they face and the things they need.”

“Mr. Brandon Kiser will be a good fit for the students and staff at DMS as well as the Demopolis community,” Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff said. “he has administrative experience at the elementary, middle and high school levels and understands the importance of instructional leadership.”

As he readies to take over his new post, Kiser is keenly aware of some of the interpersonal challenges that accompany the middle school level, particularly as they relate to students.

“Those interpersonal relationships. Students are learning how to interact with each other. I think that’s one of the things that’s important as a leader is to have things in place so that students can learn how to interact with each other,” Kiser said. “That’s definitely one of the things I noticed as an assistant principal is that it’s good to have something like that in place.”

Kiser takes over Demopolis Middle School after Rollie McCall served as interim principal during the spring semester. McCall, who was filling in after Blaine Hathcock departed the role for the same seat at Demopolis High School, will return to his assistant principal duties for the coming school year.

“He is inheriting a staff who are tight knit and will work hard to provide the best education possible for the 500 students we serve at the middle school,” Kallhoff said. “I look forward to great things that will take place at DMS under Mr. Kiser’s leadership.”

A native of Abilene, Texas, Kiser ultimately graduated from Athens High School and will relocate to Demopolis with his family, which includes his wife Lauren, daughter Ella Kate (7) and son Evan (3). A meet-and-greet with Kiser is set for Wednesday, June 14.

Demopolis BOE hires three

In a called meeting Wednesday, the Demopolis City School Board of Education approved hiring three people, tabled hiring another and started plans for a gifted program in the system.

Leslie May, formerly of John Essex High School, was hired as the new counselor at Demopolis High School. The new DHS science teacher is Gresha Thurmond, recently of Anniston, and Robert Peterson was hired for the Child Nutrition Program at Demopolis Middle School.

The board tabled hiring a secretary for the central office to replace Sherry Feller.

Board attorney Alex Braswell was appointed to head a committee to look into setting up a gifted program for the school system.

In other action the board approved:

• Overnight travel for the DHS cheerleaders to Tuscaloosa for Cheerleader Camp.

• Overnight and out-of-state travel for DMS cheerleaders to Starkville, Miss., for Cheerleader Camp.

• Changing signatures for the system’s checking account at Robertson Banking Company.

• A second budget amendment to move funds for textbooks and career tech education supplies.