U.S. Jones coding program earns CLAS Banner School distinction

U.S. Jones Elementary School now is recognized as ranking among the leaders in Alabama education.

The school has been named a CLAS Banner School by the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools. Through a rigorous application process, USJ was one of 24 schools out of 107 applicants to receive the honor.  Three schools from each district were named. The other two from District 5 are Pike County High School and Booker T. Washington High School in Macon County.

“We’re out there as one of the leading schools in this age group,” said Leon Clark,principal. The program USJ submitted began as a desire to have students understand technology and give them a chance to become creators instead of consumers, said Amelia Mackey, the teacher who spearheaded the project.

It first was offered to extended day students, but seeing how quickly they caught on, administrators wanted to offer all USJ students the opportunity to learn coding.

Mackey attended a workshop in the summer of 2016 to be trained to code using robots and STEM activities.

With grant support from the Demopolis City Schools Foundation, USJ began a weekly Coding and Robotics class for all its students.

With further DCSF funding in January 2017, USJ was able to purchase ministries for fifth grade students.

“We could not be where we are without our school Foundation,” said Clark.

“It did not take long to see that our students were very motivated and catching on quickly and that there was a need to have a more scaffold program,” said Mackey.

At first the coding curriculum was the same for all grades. It now employs a model with fourth and fifth graders building on what they have learned.

“The atmosphere has changed for all of our students,” Mackey continued. “There is no pressure to perform or memorize a lot of information. This is a learning experience where the students are excited, motivated and eager to try new things.”

Mackey added that other results have been seen.

“Sensory learning, improved socialization, hands-on innovations and the level of rigor have all increased due to the introduction of the curriculum.”

On Feb. 26 the school will be making a presentation before educators using a one-minute video of the school and its project. USJ students will do the filming and provide the narration, said Clark. But the video also will highlight other activities, he said.

“We’ll be showing off all the good things going on.”

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.”

Demopolis BOE eyes future with administrative changes

Administrative changes headlined an eventful agenda at Monday’s Demopolis City Schools Board of Education meeting, leaving system leadership with renewed optimism about the future.

“The trajectory of our school system just may have been shifted tonight and I’m excited about that,” Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff said, making note of the bevy of changes that also included the commissioning of a plan to purchase cutting edge smart board technology in the coming years.

The administrative shuffle includes the redefining of Stacy Luker’s role with the system. Luker, who will still coach football and oversee the sport’s operations while also teaching two classes, officially retired from full-time work and vacated his athletic director post in the process. Luker proceeded to sign a 12-month contract with the system to stay on in his role as football coach and part-time teacher.

“I see this as an opportunity to extend our time with him. He’s at the point in his career where he can retire if he wants. I think this is an unique situation that we’re in to extend his career with us,” Kallhoff said of the three-year contract the system has with Luker. “I really think our kids and this community benefit from his leadership, not just as a football coach. He’s a Christian guy and he’s a good role model. I’m excited. I think it’s pretty unique that we get to do this. For about a third of the money, we get the same quality person.”

Luker’s departure from the athletic director position created a vacancy the board opted to fill internally. Current Westside Elementary School principal Tony Pittman will move to Demopolis High School to serve as an assistant principal and athletic director.

“He is not losing pay. That’s very important. His pay is going to remain the same. He’s just going to be serving kids at the high school instead of Westside,” Kallhoff said. “I’ve got to constantly look a people’s skill sets and see how they can best serve our community. I cannot think of anyone better than Tony Pittman to fill that job as athletic director at the high school. He is very good at working with adolescents. He knows the kids. He’s one of the only employees we’ve had that has worked at every single school in our system. With Mr. Tangle at the high school, I think he can do a lot to complement there as well as do a lot with our athletics.”

The shifting of Pittman to the high school creates a void atop Westside Elementary School and the board approved the posting of that position Monday.

“I hope to fill that vacancy in our regular meeting in May. That’s only fair to that school and our regular teachers that we do that,” Kallhoff said.

Perhaps the most impactful change to come out of Monday’s meeting is the shifting of each of the school system’s counselors.

The transfers will see Valtina Bowden move from Westside Elementary to U.S. Jones Elementary. Leslie May will move from Demopolis High School to Westside Elementary School. Laura Holley shifts from U.S. Jones Elementary School to Demopolis Middle School. Traci Pearson goes from Demopolis Middle School to Demopolis High School. Bill Barley, who is currently at Demopolis High will spend approximately 60 percent of his time there and the remainder of it at Demopolis Middle School.

“We have five counselors and they’re a very strong group. I want to make sure that we’re all used to and familiar with the testing process. We don’t do state testing at Westside. By putting Valtina Bowden at U.S. Jones, it’s going to make her more familiar with testing,” Kallhoff said before noting the advantages to other the system’s other counselors. “They all have skill sets. They’re doing great where they are, but as we’re moving different shifts I thought this would be a great time to move our counselors around as well.”

The other significant transfer to take place Monday was the decision to move computer lab teacher Penny Stanford from U.S. Jones Elementary to Westside Elementary and move one of the WES computer lab aides to USJ.

“U.S. Jones has an outstanding computer lab situation. Amelia Mackey and Penny Stanford do a great job. The only way we can duplicate that at Westside is to move one of those teachers,” Kallhoff said.

Finalists set for DCS superintendent job

Two women and three men make up the five finalists for the position of superintendent of Demopolis City Schools.

Dr. Laura Ingram with the Alabama Association of School Boards, who led the search process for a new superintendent, presented the candidates to the board at its meeting Tuesday.

“You have five strong candidates,” she told the board, but added, “Don’t drag out the process. The quicker you can get somebody hired, the better it will be.”

She said the position is “an attractive job,” so much so that the AASB had 28 applicants from eight states, including Texas, Illinois, North Carolina, Michigan, Arkansas and Georgia, in addition to Alabama.

All five candidates, however, now hold positions in Alabama.

The next step begins Monday, July 20, when the first of the public interviews of the candidates begins. Each applicant will be interviewed separately on succeeding days from 5-7 p.m. in Rooster Hall.

Ingram encouraged everyone at the board meeting to attend the interviews and talk with the candidates during the “meet and greet” portion of the evening.

“If nobody comes, then don’t say, ‘That’s not who we wanted as superintendent’,” she said.

Her comments were echoed by board members. Connie Brown encouraged members of the audience to attend “and bring somebody with you.”

Board chairman Conrad Murdock said he realized everyone can’t attend each of the five interviews, but he stressed how important it was to have members of the community be on hand.

The board now is preparing the questions that will be asked of each of the candidates.

Dr. James Keith Davis has been the superintendent of Winfield City Schools since 2010. Prior to that he served as assistant superintendent with Corinth City Schools in Mississippi; principal of schools in both the Pontotoc City and Lafayette County Schools in Mississippi; assistant principal of Horn Lake Middle School in Mississippi and teacher at Southaven High School in Mississippi.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Arkansas State and his master’s and doctorate in Educational Leadership at the University of Mississippi.

Dr. Tena “Elisabeth” Davis is director of Curriculum and Instruction with Pelham City Schools. She served as assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction with Tuscaloosa City Schools and Distance Learning Instructor with the University of Alabama. She also held the positions of School Improvement Specialist and Program Specialist with Shelby County Schools and was both an assistant principal and a teacher in the system.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education/English from Jacksonville State, a master’s in Secondary Education and English Language Arts at UA and her doctorate in Education Leadership from Samford University.

Kyle S. Kallhoff is superintendent of Chickasaw City Schools since 2012. Prior to then he served as technology trainer with Software Technology Inc.; assistant superintendent and director of instruction with Clarke County Schools; assistant superintendent with Fairfield County Schools in South Carolina and testing and data specialist with Mobile County Schools.

Kalhoff earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Special Education from the University of South Alabama.

Dr. Donald R. McPherson has been superintendent of Coffee County Schools since 2011. He also has been Federal Programs Director with Cullman County Schools; 21st Century Director with Lawrence County Schools; assistant principal with Blount County, and a teacher in the Arab City schools.

McPherson earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in math education from Auburn University and his doctorate in Educational Leadership from UA.

Dr. Frances “Vicky” Spears is principal in Cullman County and also serves as adjunct professor at UA. Her past experience includes Federal Programs Director, Secondary Curriculum Coordinator, and teacher with Cullman County schools and a teacher in Autauga County.

Spears earned her bachelor’s degree from Athens State and her master’s and doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Alabama Birmingham.

U.S. Jones among libraries receiving books from UA

TUSCALOOSA — The University of Alabama School of Library and Information Studies is awarding a record $15,400 in new, free books to elementary, middle and high school libraries in the Black Belt region of the state during February and March.

It does so via the SLIS Book Bonanza for the BlackBelt & Beyond Program.

School librarians in the Black Belt region were asked to apply for the book giveaway program from January to mid-February. From a record 33 applications, the committee chose seven school libraries to receive more than $2,000 each in new children’s and young adult books.

The judging of the applications was rigorous, as every school exemplified a significant need.

Beginning with this year’s program, committee members also selected a Book Bonanza Beyond winner. The Beyond winner is a low-income private school in the Black Belt Region of the state or a public school in an economically disadvantaged area of the state outside of the Black Belt.

The purpose is to give one equally deserving school library that is not eligible to be a Book Bonanza for the Black Belt winner a one-time opportunity to address literacy needs in their school community.

Book Bonanza Black Belt Winners:

Booker T. Washington High, serving grades 9-12 (Macon County)

Bruce Craig Elementary, serving grades 3-5 (Dallas County)

Deborah Cannon Wolfe Elementary, serving grades K-6 (Macon County)

Goshen High, serving grades 7-12 (Pike County)

U.S. Jones Elementary, serving grades 3-5 (Marengo County)

York West End Junior High, serving grades PreK-8 (Sumter County)

Book Bonanza Beyond Winner:

Marion Academy, serving grades PreK-12 (Perry County)

Established in 2009 by Dr. Jamie Naidoo, a UA associate professor in the School of Library and Information Studies, the SLIS Book Bonanza for the Black Belt (& Beyond) is an annual program that provides free, new books to school libraries in the Black Belt region of state.

Schools in the Black Belt region are encouraged to apply again next year for a chance to receive free books for their school libraries during the next SLIS Book Bonanza for the Black Belt & Beyond Program. Low-income private schools in the Black Belt Region or schools in economically disadvantaged areas of the state outside the Black Belt are encouraged to apply next year to be a Beyond winner.

For additional information about the program, contact Naidoo at jcnaidoo@slis.ua.edu or SLIS at 205-348-4610.

Photo of the Day: Nov. 19, 2014

Broadcasting 2014

DMS and USJ at UWA Tiger Pause Broadcasting Studio Monday. Students were able to view and participate in a broadcast.

First day of school (gallery)

Lilly and Kairi

Lilly Clink and Kairi Gentry on their first day of Kindergarten at Westside Elementary School.


Gabe Paulk on his first day of Kindergarten at Westside Elementary School.

Neely Atkinson

Neely Atkinson on her first day of third grade at U.S. Jones Elementary School.

Payne and Ness Smith

Payne (sixth grade) and Ness Smith (fourth grade) ready to begin their school year at Marengo Academy.

U.S. Jones find education through service in unique project

U.S. Jones fifth grade enrichment students crowd around the mixer in the school cafeteria to prepare cookie dough.

U.S. Jones fifth grade enrichment students crowd around the mixer in the school cafeteria to prepare cookie dough.

U.S. Jones fifth grade enrichment students unwrap and sort sticks of butter to be used in the cookies destined for Donaldson Correctional Facility.

U.S. Jones fifth grade enrichment students unwrap and sort sticks of butter to be used in the cookies destined for Donaldson Correctional Facility.

The fifth grade enrichment students at U.S. Jones Elementary School are in the midst of a project that will benefit Kairos International Prison Ministry and, subsequently, inmates at the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer.

As a group of local Kairos workers ready to address the inmates later this week, each speaker is required to take some 12 dozen cookies to the facility.

Rather than having the Kairos speakers purchase the cookies, USJ fifth grade enrichment students are baking 50 dozen to be sent to Donaldson.

“I think it is a community service. It gets them involved in community service and doing for other people,” U.S. Jones fifth grade enrichment teacher Stephanie Polk said.

“I told them everybody is only a couple of decisions away from maybe being in their position anyway,” USJ enrichment teacher Dana Hill added. “We’re just trying to support and not be judgmental and make somebody’s day a little bit better.”

The project has been underway for approximately three weeks with the initial stages involving fundraising for the cookies’ ingredients.

The majority of that funding has come from the students themselves.

U.S. Jones enrichment students wrap and store cookie dough.

U.S. Jones enrichment students wrap and store cookie dough.

“We told them whatever they could bring to bring it, whether it was a penny, a quarter, $5,” Polk said. “You had people that were digging in their pockets and giving up that snack money to help.”

“The whole project is probably a little under $200,” Hill said.

With the ingredients purchased, the enrichment students invaded the school’s lunchroom kitchen last Friday afternoon to mix and sort the batter before wrapping the newly-made dough in foil and freezing it for future use.

“This was a big deal that we could use the lunchroom with the mixer,” Hill said, noting that U.S. Jones principal Leon Clark and the school’s cafeteria staff made the facility available for the project. “Mr. Clark kind of made all that happen. We were going to freeze (the cookies) and everybody was going to take them home and cook at home.”

Instead, the enrichment students will return to the cafeteria Wednesday to bake the cookies in order to have the treats ready to send with Kairos workers Thursday.

photo 2“Kids who aren’t in enrichment have asked if they can help. I would say school wide people have wanted to join us. We’ve got 50 helping us,” Hill said of the project’s impact on the school.

Additionally, Hill and Polk noted, the project has provided educational value on a number of levels, including its congruence with state math standards.

“It kind of goes along with your state standards, measuring, multiplying, fractions. It also kind of teaches them how to be enterprising,” Hill said.

U.S. Jones celebrates Read Across America

U.S. Jones students participated in several “Read Across America” events during the week of March 3. The school had a birthday party for Dr. Seuss.

party1Pictured with a cake donated by Vowell’s are Miley Lee, Abbie Hathcock, Essence Pearce and Keyerra Jones.

art4USJ also had an art contest. Students had to redesign the cover of a book. Pictured are the winners from each grade level. Left to right- 5th grade – Tori Horne, 3rd grade- Neela Larkin, 4th grade- Molly Katharine Harrison.

Alabama’s First Lady visits U.S. Jones Elementary

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley reads to students at U.S. Jones Elementary School Thursday.

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley reads to students at U.S. Jones Elementary School Thursday.

When Alabama’s First Lady Dianne Bentley arrived at U.S. Jones Elementary School Thursday afternoon, she encountered quite the welcoming party.

The small crowd assembled to greet Bentley included USJ principal Leon Clark, Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Dr. A. Griffin, USJ counselor Laura Holley, USJ librarian Emily Windham, Gina Johnston and Kim Logan. Stephen Campbell’s class of third graders were also on hand to greet her with a welcome sign.

Members of the honor club then escorted the First Lady on a tour of the school. During the tour, Bentley visited the gym where she participated in a Wii Bowling game.

Childhood literacy is a key issue on Bentley’s platform because she believes in the importance of encouraging students to read and expand their minds in the midst of today’s technological distractions. After the tour, she read to classes from 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade and told them about her love for reading.

She donated a signed copy of one of the books she shared to the library. Afterwards, she shared her binder of state symbols from the state flower to the state marine mammal. The most fun reactions from the students, however, came from showing photos of the Governor’s Mansion and the Alabama-shaped swimming pool.

Students were then allowed to ask questions, which ranged from “What are your responsibilities as the governors wife” to “Do you have a maid and a limo?”

(All photos courtesy Emily Windham)

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley with Stephen Campbell's third grade class.

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley with Stephen Campbell’s third grade class.

Mrs. Pittman's fourth grade class with Alabama's First Lady Dianne Bentley.

Mrs. Pittman’s fourth grade class with Alabama’s First Lady Dianne Bentley.

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley with Stephen Campbell's third grade class.

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley with Stephen Campbell’s third grade class.

Jay Holley, Tori Horne, Ja'Kara Taylor and Earl Jones, members of the U.S. Jones Elementary School Honor Club, acted as tour guides for Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley Thursday.

Jay Holley, Tori Horne, Ja’Kara Taylor and Earl Jones, members of the U.S. Jones Elementary School Honor Club, acted as tour guides for Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley Thursday.

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley reads to students at U.S. Jones Elementary School Thursday.

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley reads to students at U.S. Jones Elementary School Thursday.

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley reads to students at U.S. Jones Elementary School Thursday.

Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley reads to students at U.S. Jones Elementary School Thursday.

Mrs. Stokes' third grade class with Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley

Mrs. Stokes’ third grade class with Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley

Stephanie Polk's 5th grade class with Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley.

Stephanie Polk’s 5th grade class with Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley.