DCS holds stakeholder luncheon

Demopolis City Schools honored its supporters Thursday at the second annual Stakeholder Luncheon held in the Demopolis High School library.

The event, explained Supt. Kyle Kallhoff, is a way of thanking all the people who support the school system and bring them up to date on its progress.

Each of the four Demopolis principals gave a brief overview of one thing the school was focusing on this year. Kallhoff stressed the upcoming 3-mil renewal vote on the Dec. 12 ballot in Demopolis and reported on enrollment and budget trends and the capital plan.

At the conclusion of the presentation, Kallhoff recognized two people who have worked tirelessly on behalf of the school system. Named 2017 Tiger Champions were J.R. Rivas and Jason Windham.

Kallhoff said the renewal of the 3-mil property tax is held every 10 years. It is limited to voters in District 2, who, 10 years ago, approved the renewal by 87 percent. The tax brings in up to $250,000 annually.

The financial support of the school system by local residents “is one of the things that separates us from the rest of the Black Belt,” said Kallhoff.

Enrollment in Demopolis schools is 2,331, the first time in five years it has gone over 2,300, he continued. The figures show a growth of 127 students since the 2013-2014 year, and this year’s totals do not include the pre-K enrollment of 51.

The school system must consider adding on to its campuses since they are reaching their capacity. “We need to accept growth or stop growth,” said Kallhoff.

One of the considerations is whether to accept students from outside the city limits. Demopolis has an open enrollment system, which means it welcomes students from Marengo and other counties and doesn’t charge tuition. Almost half the current enrollment – 1,067 – are from out of city.

Accepting those students greatly helps with state funding, said the superintendent, but local funding is not greatly impacted with higher out-of-system numbers.

Demopolis schools get 11 percent of its money from federal sources, 64 percent from the state and 22 percent from local funding. Another 3 percent come from school-based fees.

The local financial support is above average for the state, Kallhoff said. He also praised the Demopolis City Schools Foundation for, among other things, making it possible to purchase robots for coding and programming classes and for the broadcasting programs on the campuses.

He reviewed the nine Career Tech programs now offered at DHS, including the newest HVAC dual-enrollment curriculum with Shelton State. He said 68 percent of DHS students are involved in some career-based program.

Not included in the career tech curriculum is the broadcasting cluster. It is separate so that it can be more flexible and creative than what a state-sponsored curriculum would allow.

Kallhoff went over the Capital Plan Five-Year Plan submitted to the state every year. Of the eight priorities on the list, only the first two are being addressed with the funding available. They are adapting Demopolis Middle School to meet ADA requirements and remodeling all student restrooms in the schools.

Westside Elementary School principal Roshanda Jackson chose the Leader in Me process as her one area of focus to discuss. It is a whole school transformation that helps develop children to be competent individuals.

Both Leon Clark at USJ and Brandon Kiser at DMS spoke on the coding, programming and robotics courses at their schools. “We’re preparing our students for jobs that don’t exist yet,” said Kiser.

DHS principal Blaine Hathcock said he was disappointed that his school was not listed in among the top 50 in the state by ACT scores. “That’s not acceptable.”

DHS has instituted a school-wide effort focusing on ACT skills. While all the scores aren’t in yet, he said there has been remarkable progress among those that have been returned. Higher ACT scores can equate to thousands of dollars in scholarships for students.

“The bar is going to move,” he said. “We’re going to be in the top 50 or die trying.”

Demopolis High scholars bowl wins tournament

The Demopolis High School School teams won the Alabama Coastal Community College Scholars Bowl tournament Thursday in Livingston.

Attending the tournament for Demopolis were junior varsity competitors Jensen Hammons, Jim Lindsay, Olivia Lovette, Mussaraf Alnahan, Paul Frankowski, Tyree Tripop and Joseph Barnes. Varsity Tigers were Kyle Ruiz, Althea Yburan, Matt Dollar, Tristan Mullen, Emma Lewis, Sarah Margaret Veres and Luke Lindsay.

Demopolis had four individual players score in the top 10 including Tristan Mullen, Joseph Barnes, Luke Lindsay and Matt Dollar.

Freeman, Hall visit DHS for Technology Tuesday

Technology Tuesday brought two guest speakers from the Marengo County Courthouse to DHS Sept. 12.  Probate Judge, Laurie Hall & Circuit Clerk, Kenny Freeman took time to talk with Mrs. Gandy’s Career Prep class about digital rights and responsibilities.

LHS 2017-2018 Student Council officers and representatives elected

On Sept. 13, the Linden High School student body voted to elect the students who will represent them as officers and class representatives on the 2017-2018 LHS Student Council. LHS Principal Mr. Roderick O. Hamilton is pleased to announce that the newly elected LHS Student Council roster includes President Jordan Thomas, Vice President Dajia Miller, Secretary Briana Johnson, Treasurer William Dukes, Sergeant-at-Arms Jessica Robertson, Senior Class Representative Isaiah Scott, Junior Class Representatives Anna Scott and Amber Jenkins, Sophomore Representatives Richell Bates and Kiyauna Alston, and Freshmen Representatives Mekhel Miller and Jakayla Rogers. The LHS Student Council sponsor is Mitzi Gates.

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.

Demopolis BOE holds first meeting of new academic year

Praising Demopolis City Schools for an “extremely smooth start,” School Supt. Kyle Kallhoff said it was the best he has experienced in his 20 years in education.

At the Board of Education meeting Monday, Kallhoff said the work on the buildings and the efforts by the teachers and administrators were reflected in the ease back into the school year for the system’s 2,300 students.

He showed the board a three-minute video of the first day of school at all four campuses.

The superintendent told board members the system is fully staffed with the exception of a nine-month custodian at Demopolis High School.

That said, the board still had work to do to complete the start-up for the 2017-2018 year, beginning with the need to advertise for a part-tiime LPN for Demopolis Middle School.

The 20-hour per week position is needed, Kallhoff said, because the health needs of the students have grown. The RN at the high school cannot divide her time among schools because of the increased number of students with diabetes at DHS.

Evelyn James, the CFO of the school system, said revenues are up by $883,000 over the same time in 2016, while expenses have decreased by $29,000. She said the system has 3.11 months of revenue in reserve. The state Board of Education requires a minimum of one month.

Her report was followed by the state auditor, Emily Tyler, reporting no problems found in the audit done for the 2015-2016 year.

To keep revenue flowing into the school system, the board approved a resolution presented by Kallhoff to petition the Marengo County Commission to consider a renewal of a three mill tax for District 2, which includes the city of Demopolis. The tax requires voter approval for renewal every 10 years. He asked members of the board to attend the Sept. 12 meeting of the Commission when he presents the request for the tax renewal.

First readings were held for two board policy changes, both required by the Alabama legislature. The first, the Jason Flatt Act, involves youth suicide awareness and prevention. It calls for employees to receive annual training to identify characteristics of students who may be considering suicide.

The Religious Liberties policy requires that there will be no discrimination of students or their parents for religious beliefs. A public hearing for both policies will be held Thursday, Sept. 7, beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Also approved by the board was a lease agreement with TEQlease for Impero Computer Monitoring Software. Kallhoff said the five-year lease, at $5,000 per year, would serve the school system in three ways:

First, it would allow the monitoring computers to restrict use to certain websites, preventing users from visiting inappropriate sites. Second would be a time-saving feature, allowing IT to install programs in multiple computers from one base unit instead of having to install programs individually.

The third feature allows those monitoring the use of school computers to flag any words or searches that could pose any dangers.

In other action the board approved:

  • The Equipment Financing Agreement with Government Capital Corporation for the Active Panel Promethian installation project.
  • Renewal of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Demopolis Police Department for two School Resource Officers. The school system will pay half their salaries.
  • A hold harmless agreement with the DPD for the use of the DMS football field for National Night Out on Sept. 12.
  • Contract for Susan Hollinger to provide psychometrist services to administer testing for special education and gifted students.
  • Overnight and/or out-of-state trips for the DHS cross country team Sept. 16 and Sept. 30 to Meridian, Miss., and Nov. 10-11 to Moulton.

Personnel matters included:

  • Hiring Rebecca Hasty as bookkeeper at DMS.
  • Substitute hiring of Annie Collins and Betsy Stephens.
  • Head tennis coach changed from Sam Mosley to Dana Hill.
  • Maternity leave request for Whitney Mosley, USJ, to begin Feb. 18, 2018.
  • Maternity leave request for Kristi Stokes, USJ, to begin Jan. 3, 2018.
  • Family medical leave request for Tammi Western-Scott, DMS teacher.
  • Katrina Sprinkle as long-term substitute for Western-Scott.
  • Rodney Lewis as DMS assistant football coach for supplement of $1,189.
  • Norvie Womack as DMS athletic director for supplement of $1,400.
  • Name correction from Aug. 2 personnel report from Javalynn Williams to Javalynn Wilson Henderson.
  • In a special called meeting Wednesday, Aug. 2, the board accepted the resignation of Annette Gwin, the DHS culinary arts instructor. Gwin had been a teacher in the system for 16 years.

The superintendent set public hearings for the 2017-2018 budget For Sept. 7 at 10 a.m. and Sept. 11 at 4:30 p.m., followed by a called meeting at 5 p.m. to approve the budget.

He also invited board members to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 15 at 9 a.m. for the new Pre-K program at Westside Elementary School.

At the same time there will be dedication of wooden planter boxes. The brainchild of a UWA student, the boxes were constructed by Cemex employees. Three have been placed at all four campuses.

The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be Monday, Sept. 18, at 5:15 p.m.

Robertson Bank gives surprise gift to four DCS employees

Robertson Banking Company’s Katie Windham and Allen Bishop were on hand at Demopolis City Schools’ Institute Friday to present a $100 to a staff member of each of the four DCS campuses.

Demopolis test scores trend positive though ACT Aspire results questioned by state

Test scores taken last spring in Demopolis City Schools show terrific gains in some areas and challenges in others.

Results of the ACT Aspire, ACT and AP course tests were to be shared at the Teacher Institute Friday prior to the start of the new school year.

“There hasn’t been a lot of bragging in the past few years,” said Supt. Kyle Kallhoff, but after the results of the tests in the spring, “I immediately went out and bought five pizzas” to celebrate with students and teachers.

However, the ACT Aspire scores are being called into question by several school systems in the state who reported large flaws in the details of the test results. Kallhoff attended a meeting in Montgomery August 4 in which concerns about the test were aired with DOE officials. The DOE will be reviewing the results – including those in Demopolis – within the next several weeks.

Kallhoff said the ACT Aspire test, administered to students in grades 3-8, will be replaced for the 2017-2018 year with Scantron while the state Board of Education decides on another standardized test to monitor progress.

So far the DOE hasn’t given superintendents a lot of input on the interim test and has yet to issue guidelines for using it, leaving school systems scrambling to determine how to administer it this fall and evaluate the results.

The new test is supposed to show teachers the readiness data of their students so they can adjust instruction accordingly.

“If it were up to me, I would use (ACT Aspire) one more year,” said Kallhoff, even though he feels the test “is not good for everybody.”

ACT Aspire aligns with the ACT test given to every junior in Alabama. The test assesses a student’s progress to be ready for college and covers reading, English, math, science and writing.

The problem, said Kallhoff, is that not every student will go on to college or technical training after high school.

Still, Kallhoff was pleased with several results, which also was a reflection of the emphasis placed on different subjects. For instance, he said, 19 percent of the DHS juniors tested at or above the benchmark score for mathematics on the ACT, an indication they would make an A or B in a college algebra course. That is the highest percentage ever for DHS.

Scores showed professional development for teachers have a great impact on students taking the ACT Aspire. A full 69 percent of students in 6th grade scored proficiently on writing, a jump from only 5 percent when those students were in fifth grade.

A similar, although less dramatic increase, was shown in 5th grade students over their scores in 4th grade, from 9 to 40 percent.

The 6th grade math scores rose three points to 57 percent. All other grades stayed the same or showed a decrease over the previous year of anywhere between 5 and 22 percentage points.

Middle school math is always a challenge, said Kallhoff.

Fifth grade reading scores on the ACT Aspire jumped to 44 percent of students ready or exceeding the benchmark, reflecting the professional development teachers received. The scores have risen over the last three years.

Eighth grade reading scores also rose to 38 percent, a rise of 8 points. The other grades slipped slightly or stayed the same over the previous years.

In reading, science and English, classes mostly held their own from one year to the next. The biggest decline was 4th grade English which slipped by 16 percentage points, and the biggest gain was in 8th grade science scores that jumped by 6 percent.

The ACT test is given to all high school juniors in the fall. Those who want to improve their scores can opt to take it again on their own.

The ACT test sets benchmark scores in four subjects: English, math, reading and science. After a dip last year, DHS juniors came roaring back last spring with some of the best scores ever, including the aforementioned math.

In English, 53 percent taking the test met or exceeded the benchmark, a jump from 40 percent the previous year. Math was up from 12 percent; reading climbed to 28 from 22 percent, and science showed the biggest gain to 20 percent from 8 percent in 2015-2016.

What pleased Kallhoff is that 11 percent of the juniors who took the test met the benchmark scores in all four subject areas, an increase over 3 percent the previous year.

Advanced Placement courses are offered at DHS for students who need extra challenge in certain subjects or who want to receive college credit before enrolling.

Each student can take more than one AP exam at the end of the year, depending on how many AP courses he is taking. This year 328 tests were administered. Of those, 58 percent ranked in the extremely well qualified level, which almost ensures students of receiving college credit. Another 38 percent ranked well qualified, which usually is considered credit-worthy by colleges, and 19 percent scored on the qualified level, which may or may not be accepted.

The superintendent, now beginning his third year, said he is excited “where we are with our principals.” With the addition of Brandon Kiser at DMS and Blaine Hathcock moving to DHS, he believes the school system is building a solid foundation for the future.

“Things are right now where they need to be.”

DCS board makes last-minute moves before 17-18 school year

In a flurry of votes Wednesday morning, the Demopolis City Board of Education approved personnel changes and several contracts before the new school year begins.

Conditional employment approval was granted to:

  • Kelly Easter, U.S. Jones Elementary.
  • Rodney Lewis, JROTC NCO at Demopolis High School.
  • Javalynn Williams, Demopolis Middle School.
  • Timothy “Cain” Sutton, DMS.
  • Traci Spiller, Central Office administrative assistant.

The board accepted resignations from Nicole Jensen at DMS and Nicole Greene at USJ.

Substitute teachers approved were Tamyla James, Carrie Williams and Sherri Peterson.

Miscellaneous personnel changes included:

  • Michael McClain, Family Medical Leave.
  • George Mullens, substitute in the USJ lunchroom for McClain.
  • Carrie Williams as a long-term sub at DHS.
  • Andrea Turberville from adjunct teacher to part-time teacher at DHS.
  • Jesse Bell, DMS assistant football coaching supplement: $1,189, and DMS head basketball coaching supplement, $1,901, was approved on a 4-1 vote with Jim Stanford voting no.

Remington Keene received a one-year contract as an adjunct teacher at DHS to teach three Spanish classes per day. The board renewed Susan Clark’s one-year contract for speech services and that of Genesis Rehabilitation to provide physical and occupational therapy.

In other action, the board approved:

  • An agreement with the website management company “edlio” to provide services for the school system. Supt. Kyle Kallhoff explained the current website is much better than several years ago, but there is a push to have it more user friendly for teachers. The initial start-up cost will be higher, but the annual cost will be about $500 less than the company now being used.
  • An agreement with WSLY-FM radio to provide live coverage of the DHS football games.
  • A contract with Centerplate of the University of Alabama and the DHS Band to allow band members to work the concession stands at UA home football games as a fundraiser.
  • Advertising for a 12-month bookkeeper position at DMS.
  • A finance agreement with John Deere and DHS to make two annual payments on a new Gator, a general utility vehicle. Board member Olen Kerby said the vehicle that is being replaced should have lasted longer. He asked that someone be put in charge of the new vehicle’s maintenance.

Kalhoff said budget hearings will be scheduled between now and the deadline for approval on Sept. 15. The next regularly scheduled board meeting is Monday, Aug. 21, at 5:15 p.mn.

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.

K 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
37 8 4 6 5 4 3 1 4 3 0 0 1

“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.”