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.”

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.”

Kallhoff presents five-year capital plan in Monday meeting (includes PDFs)

DCS Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff presents a five year capital plan to the Demopolis BOE in its Monday meeting (WAW | Jan McDonald)

DCS Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff presents a five year capital plan to the Demopolis BOE in its Monday meeting (WAW | Jan McDonald)

An ambitious, not to say pricey, capital plan for the next five years was unveiled Monday night at the Demopolis City Schools Board of Education meeting after more than two months of work.

Supt. Kyle Kallhoff has divided the plan into four priorities totaling $30,300,000.

“I am going to push hard for priorities 1-3,” said Kallhoff. “We must address our aging facilities if we want to keep families and/or attract families to Demopolis. The city is going to have to come together to make this a priority and brainstorm on how to fund these priorities.”

The most expensive and far-reaching is the first priority involving Westside and U.S. Jones elementary schools. The plan would make WES a pre-K through fifth grade campus, with the capacity for 1,300 students, and convert USJ to the career technology center for the school system. The estimated cost of the work is $18,435,000, he said.

Three new wings housing 10 classrooms each for fourth, fifth and sixth grades would be added to WES. The school would be flipped so that the main entrance would face Maria Street. Student pick-up would have a new drive with an entrance and exit on Herbert Street.

As the career tech center, USJ not only would provide class space for such curricula as finance and insurance, marketing, allied health serviced, industrial maintenance, welding and HVAC, but would provide space for an alternative school, Head Start, a virtual resource center and have room for expansion. The building would be available for evening classes for community adult education courses.

The other three priorities of the plan involve additions and renovations to Demopolis Middle and High schools, including additional classrooms, gymnasiums, parking and cafeterias.

The fourth priority would be a new gymnasium at DMS on the current baseball field and a new practice facility at the high school. Kallhoff hopes the athletic booster clubs would step in to help find the funding for the projects.

He said the plan will be presented to the Demopolis City Council in December. He hopes a joint meeting can be set up to find ways to pay for the ambitious plan.

The school system receives about $630,000 annually for capital improvements, he said. Most of that goes toward paying for the stadium, geo-thermal system and auditorium projects at the high school, leaving about $140,000 to cover other costs.

This year, when working on the capital plan, the committee took a long-term look at what will be needed in the next five, 10, or 30 years, he said.

“There are capital needs that we must take care of in the next five years,” Kallhoff told the board.

The capital plan is broken down as follows:

Priority One (2017-2018)

U.S. Jones ($2,390,000)

  • Convert to Career Technical Center
  • Include Industrial Maintenance Program
  • Include Welding Program
  • Create HVAC Program
  • Include Allied Health Program
  • Create Education and Training Program
  • Create Alternative School setting
  • Create Virtual School Resource Center
  • Have room to expand to meet workforce needs of the Demopolis area
  • Purchase school bus to transport students from Westside to the Ratliff Center Daily
  • Purchase school bus to transport students from DHS to the Career Center Daily

Westside ($16,045,000)

  • Create Pre K-5th grade campus (1,300 student capacity)
  • Update original building (floors, walls, doors, cabinetry, and paint)
  • Convert old cafeteria into extended day center and indoor playground
  • Convert old gym to two severe special needs classrooms with common physical and occupational therapy areas
  • Convert old library to AMSTI/STEM lab
  • Flip campus to face Maria Avenue
  • Include carpool lanes, parking, and bus/van pick-up areas to stack traffic on campus
  • Build three new 10 classroom wings
  • Build new administrative/elective building (media center, art room and patio, music room, a second AMSTI/STEM lab and offices)
  • Build new cafeteria
  • Build new multipurpose building with stage

Priority Two (2017-2018)

Demopolis Middle School ($3,425,000)

  • Renovate Interior of existing building (floors, walls, doors, cabinetry, and paint)
  • Create dining addition to current cafeteria
  • Build parking lot and carpool lanes on east side of campus

Demopolis High School ($515,000)

  • Create four lane entrance (two lanes from Hwy. 80 to field house and two lanes from the tennis courts to Hwy. 80)
  • Update all restrooms
  • Update all hallway floors
  • Update all carpeted areas

Priority Three (2018-2019)

Demopolis Middle School ($1,825,000)

  • Build new wing (STEM/robotics, art, broadcasting, severe special needs, two classrooms)
  • Update entrance and office space
  • Remove cut through and replace with common area/courtyard
  • Exterior enhancements

Demopolis High School ($1,500,000)

  • Build multipurpose activity/physical education gym on southwest of campus west of the auditorium

Priority Four (2020-2021)

Demopolis Middle School ($2,100,000)

  • Build 14,000 square foot gym on current baseball field

Demopolis High School ($2,500,000)

  • Build 20,000-square-foot indoor multipurpose indoor practice facility
  • Turf football field
  • Parking lot on southeast corner of campus

PDF renderings of proposed changes at each campus are included below:

Westside Elementary School

U.S. Jones Elementary School

Demopolis Middle School

Demopolis High School

Photo of the Day


Trustmark National Bank recently sponsored the U.S. Jones Elementary All-A Trip. There were 96 students who made all As for the entire school year. These students were treated to bowling at Bama Lanes in Tuscaloosa and lunch at Chick-fil-a. Shown below are Stewart Crawford of Trustmark Bank (right) presenting a check for $ 1,179.10 to U.S. Jones Principal, Leon Clark, while several of the All A students look on.  (Photo by Valley Harrison)

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.

Demopolis PTA raising funds for new playground equipment

The Demopolis PTA recently kicked off its fundraiser for the fall 2015 semester at U.S. Jones Elementary School. The goal of this semester’s fundraiser is to upgrade the playground equipment at the school.

“Our goal is to raise the majority of the money to fund this project,” said Betsy Stephens, PTA president.USJ_option1 copy

The project includes new playground equipment, a concrete pad around the blue wall on the playground, and a 900-foot walking path around the perimeter of the playground, allowing students to enjoy outside play regardless of ground conditions.

As part of the fundraiser, students from U.S. Jones are selling gift items, wrapping paper, cookie dough, and a variety of candy. As part of the fundraiser, the homeroom class selling the most items in each grade will receive an ice cream sundae party, as well as extra time in P.E. class. Individual students selling more than 18 items will win a limousine ride and a pizza party.

“The current playground has a lot of fitness items that require a lot of upper body strength, so we wanted to install something that can be more play and less work while the students are at recess,” said Stephens. “The potential units have a tunnel and slides of multiple heights, so children of varying heights, ages, and confidence levels are all able to play on or with the equipment.”

The fundraiser runs through Oct. 2, at which point the group will be able to determine how much more funding will be required to reach their goal.

USJ-option2 copy“In total, we’re looking at about a $52,000 project,” said Stephens. “The playground equipment with volunteer installation will be $30,000, the concrete pad will be about $4,800, and the walking path will be about $17,000.”

Anyone wishing to purchase items from the fundraiser should contact any U.S. Jones student, or visit http://www.gaschoolstore.com and enter school ID 4160552. Alternatively, donations can be made at the U.S. Jones office or mailed to the school at the address below:

U.S. Jones Elementary School


715 East Jackson Street

Demopolis, AL 36732

USJ celebrating Grandparents’ Week with breakfast, bookfair

US Jones Elementary is celebrating Grandparents Week Sept. 22-24. Grandparents of students are invited to come have breakfast with their student on their designated day. Breakfast is served from 7:15 a.m. to 8 a.m. Visitor breakfast price is $1.50, and breakfast for students is $1.00. Days are designated below:

3rd grade- Tuesday, Sept. 22nd

4th grade- Wednesday., Sept. 23rd

5th grade- Thursday, Sept. 24th

4th grade students attending 4H camp can bring their grandparents on Thursday, the 24th.

The annual book fair will also be taking place during the same ​week. For more information, contact Emily Windham, school librarian, at 289.0426.

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.

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.