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.

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 issues statement on non-resident tuition for Demopolis City Schools

A committee appointed in February has made a recommendation regarding tuition for non-resident students attending Demopolis City Schools according to a letter issued from DCS Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff Friday.

The seven member committee, who has requested to remain anonymous, is comprised of Kallhoff, a DCS Board of Education member, a city schools administrative representative, a Demopolis City Council member, and three parents of non-resident students.

“After meeting with the committee and analyzing the data, the financial numbers certainly indicate that there is a need for a reasonable annual tuition or fee for non-resident students,” Kallhoff said. “However, the timing is not right. With the push for charter schools in West Alabama and the questioning of the quality of public education from state leaders, we do not want to risk losing any of our students.”

Kallhoff first broached the subject of non-resident tuition in the board’s Feb. 20 meeting, as previously reported by The West Alabama Watchman.

In that meeting, Kallhoff announced his intentions to appoint a committee to begin exploring the possibility of charging a reasonable tuition for those students living outside of the 36732 ZIP code.

“We receive funding for all students through the state, but of course that does not cover all services we provide,” Kallhoff told The Watchman on Friday. “We use revenue generated by county and city taxes to cover those additional services such as speech classes, special education testing, as well as transportation and maintenance.”

Of the system’s approximately 2,300 students, Kallhoff said 38 percent, roughly 874 students, are considered out of district.

While the committee opted to not move on the issue immediately, Kallhoff said that a per-household rate of $300-$500 was discussed by the committee, rather than a per-student rate.

“While there is a demonstrated need there, we felt it best to not make any changes at this time,” said Kallhoff. “We want to continue to attract and maintain excellent students from around the entire area and ensure the high quality education we provide is not impacted.”

For Kallhoff’s letter in its entirety, click here.

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.

Robertson Bank donates $1,400 to Westside Elementary

Westside Elementary School principal Tony Pittman receives a $1,400 check from Robertson Banking Company's Katie Windham and Allen Bishop.

Westside Elementary School principal Tony Pittman receives a $1,400 check from Robertson Banking Company’s Katie Windham and Allen Bishop.

Robertson Banking Company donated $1,400 to Adopt-A-School partner Westside Elementary School Friday. The funds will be used for incentive rewards and student handbooks as part of the school’s accelerated reader program.

Students who achieve certain levels within the program are able to engage in rewards such as pizza parties and movie days at the Demopolis High School Auditorium.

Westside Kindergarten pre-registration set for Feb. 22-26

Westside Elementary School Kindergarten pre-registration is set to take place from Monday, Feb. 22 through Friday, Feb. 26 from 8 a.m. until 11:30 a.m.

Children do not have to be present for pre-registration, but will need to accompany parents to Kindergarten registration set for March 16 and March 17.

Children eligible for WES Kindergarten must be five years old on or before Sept. 2, 2016. Each child will need a certified birth certificate, original social security card, original blue immunization form and two proofs of residency in order to be eligible to apply.

All information packets must be filled out on campus and no packets will be allowed off campus.


Demopolis BOE discusses early school dismissal


By Jan McDonald

At their meeting Monday, Demopolis City School Board members discussed the difficulties of closing schools early for athletic events held outside of Demopolis and the problems many working parents have trying to find a way to pick up and care for their children.

Linda Russell and Olen Kerby both said they had received calls from concerned parents, as did superintendent Kyle Kallhoff. Russell said she has talked with members of other school boards and found they have the same problems.

One of the problems of the early dismissals is that the same classes are missed. Kerby suggested flipping the schedule and holding afternoon classes in the morning. Board member Carolyn Moore said shortening the class time but holding all classes might be a solution.

“Work comes to a halt when parents have to get kids from school early,” said Jim Stanford.

The board took no action but suggested that each school work out how to address the problems involved.

Continuing the practice of honoring outstanding students and teachers from the schools, Kallhoff recognized science teacher Ashley Brock and student Brandon Franklin from Demopolis Middle School and teacher Beth Fleming and Gabriel Deerman from Westside Elementary.

The board approved:

  • An agreement with West Alabama Public Transportation to provide bus service for students at 76 cents per mile and $12.28, paid for by the students.
  • A contract with Cornerstone Educational Consultants, LLC to modify and update comprehensive salary schedule to go into effect Oct. 1, 2016. Kallhoff said no employee will be affected negatively.
  • Non-renewal of two certificates of deposit with Trustmark Bank for $160,000 each. The board will review available rates and take out more CDs after the first of the year.

In personnel matters, the board approved:

  • Maternity leave for Elaine Wright, Nicole Greene and Patricia Bolden, all from U.S. Jones Elementary.
  • Resignations of Jeremiah Dial, technology coordinator, and Lillie Granger, WES lunchroom worker.
  • Elouise McKnight as a substitute and removed Roy Brown from the sub roster.
  • Laura Davidson to sub for April Johnson, DHS receptionist, out on medical leave, and Sherry Feller, to return as needed to complete work while Jessica Dial, central office secretary, is out for maternity leave.
  • Posting the position of Technology Coordinator.

The next meeting of the board will be held Dec. 14.

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.

Theo continues to be ‘hero’ to Demopolis youngsters

Westside Elementary second graders received a gift of literacy and a boost of motivation from Theo Ratliff, Demopolis native and former NBA star this week.

Ratliff is the subject of the new children’s book, “Theo the Hero​”, in which he relates how he overcame the uncertainty of transitioning to a new school campus and the challenges that came with it.

pic - theo the heroSince Westside’s second graders are facing the same uncertainty when they transition to US Jones in the fall, “Theo the Hero”  provided them with some tools to use next year.

Ratliff, a product of Demopolis City Schools who went on to a highly successful college and professional basketball career, sent a personal message with each book encouraging students to make third grade a positive experience.

The former NBA All-Star’s letter to the Westside students read:

“Hello Everyone! How are you doing today? I am so happy to hear that you are going to a new school campus for 3rd grade. That sounds very fun and exciting. I know how that feels because I have had to move to new cities and new teams many times when I was playing in the NBA. It was not always what I wanted to do but I kept a smile on my face and made the best of it for me and my family. I was able to meet new friends and learn new things that helped me to become a better person.

“So I am asking that you do the same thing that I did – make the best of your new school. Put a smile on your face, meet new friends and make good grades. I know that you can do it because you want to to make your parents and your teachers proud of you.

“I want to see you in the summer at the Theo Ratliff Activity Center on June 15-16 when I come for the basketball camp. Please tell me about what you plan to do to make next year at US Jones a great year.

Your super tall Friend – Theo the Hero”

“I got the idea for all of this after I read ‘Theo the Hero’,” said Westside Elementary School Reading Coach Terri Speegle.  ​”As most teachers do, I immediately related this to our students and the fact that they will be transitioning to a new school, just the same as Theo did.”

She said Ratliff’s message became very relevent to the young students “since Theo grew up here and went to the same school they do and many of them know him from the Ratliff Center.  I contacted Ed Ward at the Ratliff Center and he and Coach Ricky Richardson put me in contact with Theo. Mr. Ward and Coach Richardson handled the delivery of the books to me.”

Westside observing Down Syndrome Awareness Month

Jada-Down Syndrome DayWestside Elementary School kicked off Down Syndrome Awareness month on Oct. 1 by wearing blue and yellow to school.

Mrs. Braswell’s first grade class and Mrs. Kennedy’s special education class made posters and participated in a celebration in support of Jada Morris (a first grade student at Westside). On this day, Governor Robert Bentley also declared October 1st as Alabama Down Syndrome Day.

The students and teachers at Westside were very excited to kick off Down Syndrome Awareness month in support of the children and families in our community affected by Down Syndrome!

Braswell- Down Syndrome Day

Kennedy-Down Syndrome Day