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DeSoto County Schools

DeSoto Digest Newsletter - December 2017

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DCS Board of Education Gets Special Recognition

Superintendent Cory Uselton, School Board Members -- Milton Nichols, Sarah Doss-Thomas, Michele Henley, Ann Jolley and Board President Shelia Riley. 

     At the Fall Leadership Conference of the Mississippi School Boards Association (MSBA), DeSoto County Schools’ board members walked away with a number of prestigious awards.  They were recognized for their efforts to refine their school governance skills above and beyond state-mandated training during the 2016-17 school year.

     In the “Whole Board Awards Category”, DeSoto County School District had first place spots for earning the most MSBA-approved training hours (269) during the 2016-17 school year.  This credential earned them the “Diploma Circle Honor Award” and the “Red Apple Attendance Award.”

     DCS board members earning the recognition for attendance include, Milton Nichols, Shelia Riley, Ann Jolley, Sarah Doss-Thomas and Michele Henley.

     In addition to the group awards, DCS Board Member Ann Jolley was named the “MSBA Board Member of the Year” for her dedication and commitment to the children of DeSoto County Schools through advocacy for public education, school governance and community involvement.

     Mrs. Jolley is in her 29th year serving on DeSoto County Schools’ Board of Education.  She has worked with five superintendents, including Albert Broadway, Erlend Nichols, Jerry Baird, Milton Kuykendall and Cory Uselton.

     “I lost my first election by 40 votes,” said Mrs. Jolley, in her humorous style.  “Harry Rasco won.  I won the second time I ran, defeating three opponents.”

     Because of her strong leadership skills and her reputation for level-headed, fair dealings on student issues, few opponents have challenged her position.

     “I like everything about the school business,” she said.  “My children and my grandchildren are involved in our schools, so I have always had a vested interest in what is happening on our campuses.  I love going into schools, reading to students, attending band concerts and being a part of this great school system."

     In almost three decades, Mrs. Jolley has seen DeSoto County Schools grow from 10,088 to 33,986 students and has played an important role in overseeing the construction of new facilities to accommodate this growth, often serving as board president.  Sixteen schools have been built in the last eleven years.

     Mrs. Jolley was not the only board member to be individually recognized.  Board President Shelia Riley was named Congressional District 1 Director by the Mississippi School Board Association.

     “The honors our school board received are a testament to their hard work to make our students successful,” DCS Superintendent Cory Uselton said at the board meeting.  “No school district has a more dedicated school board than we do.”

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Honorary Diploma Awarded to WWII Veteran

     Some things are worth the wait.

     For 96-year-old K.T. Robbins of Olive Branch, it took 75 years.

     DeSoto County school board members and Superintendent Cory Uselton presented Robbins with an honorary diploma from DeSoto County Schools. He was scheduled to graduate from Hurricane High School in Pontotoc County in 1942, but entered the military in 1939 and served in World War II.

     "The Mississippi Department of Education allows World War II and Korean War veterans to apply for an honorary diploma from the school district in which they currently reside if they were unable to graduate from high school because of their military service."  Superintendent Uselton explained.  After the presentation of the honorary diploma, the Hernando Hills Elementary School choir sang ‘God Bless America’ and presented him with many handmade cards of congratulations.

     Robbins entered the military on the eve of WWII.  He served in the Third Army under the command of legendary U. S. General George S. Patton in England and France.  After basic training at the age of 18, Robbins saw a sign asking for volunteers to be trained as bakers, and he stepped forward.  Trained at Ft. Dix in New Jersey, he learned how to bake mass quantities of bread for the troops, pack and deliver it.

     When their convoys were delivering bread and food, more than once his truck was hit by bullets from German war planes.

     “There were times when we had to lie in ditches to avoid being shot,” Robbins said.  “Other times we would take our convoy into an orchard so German planes would not see us.  We usually made deliveries at night.”

     During his five years in the military, Robbins got to meet both General George Patton and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

     After a three-year letter writing courtship, Robbins got married the week he got out of the service.  Robbins’ uncle “picked Lillian out” for his nephew.  His uncle and his future wife worked in a shirt factory in New Albany, MS, making military uniforms.  Robbins asked Lillian to marry him before he had seen her in person.

     "We were married for 70 years,” Robbins said.  “She was the love of my life.”

     “Mr. Robbins applied for a DeSoto County Schools diploma this fall, and we were honored to be able to help him,” said Superintendent Uselton.  

     Was this event worth the wait?

     “This is the greatest day of my life,” Robbins told the standing-room only crowd.  “I hope young people will realize the importance of earning a diploma."

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Monsters, Monsters Everywhere at LCHS

     What happens when you pair pre-kindergarten students’ ideas with advanced art students’ talents?

     This was an experiment Lake Cormorant High Art Teacher Vickie Phillips wanted to test, and the outcomes were impressive.

     “The little ones pass by my classroom every day and they seem very interested in drawing.  I thought it would be a challenging activity to have my students work with them.   I came up with the concept of ‘Monster Class of 2017.’  The pre-K students each drew a monster.  They then took their drawings and met with my Visual Arts 2 students.  Everything the little students said had to be incorporated into my high school students’ artwork,” Phillips said.

     Phillips gave her art students questions for the pre-K students, such as “What color is your monster?  Where does it live? What does it like to do?”

     Sloan Rowell, 3, said, “My monster is red.  It likes to swim in the water, has one eye and is scary.”

     Junior Jesus Flores said he tried to respect Sloan’s ideas, and worked with him until Sloan said he got it right.  His picture resembled a red, one-eyed octopus.

     Bryce Gross, 4, described his monster as one who lives in a treehouse and plays music. 

     “My monster has 18 eyes and can see in all directions,” he added, as he perfectly counted the eyes in the picture. “My monster is nice and his name is Tristen.”

     Whalen Farrell, 4, named his monster after his sister, Mia.  Even though she is shown with horns, he told Junior Art Student Erica Pixley that his monster was his best friend.

     “She likes breakfast and that is why we put fruit on her head,” he explained.

     Averie Sartain and Hadley Waller are best friends, so they decided to design a “look alike monster” that Beth Priddy incorporated into picture.  Beth got very specific instructions from the twosome.  They said, “It is a yellow monster that likes to play.”

     Ms. Phillips showcased the pre-K artwork beside the advanced art students’ work in the hallway outside of her classroom.

     “The display has caused a lot of discussion,” Phillips said.  “My students really worked to incorporate the ideas that were inside the heads of our young students.  I told them to grab their ideas and they did.”   

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Foundation for Excellence in Education Awards Grants

     The DeSoto County Economic Council had a vision in 1989 to make a difference in schools to enhance educational opportunities and programs.

     Since 1989, the DeSoto County Foundation for Excellence in Education has awarded $1,191,364 in classroom teacher grants that have brought invaluable resources to classrooms in DeSoto County. New computers, math manipulatives, science games, microscopes, books, iPads, PE equipment, instructional programs and software, are but a few of the enrichment materials they have provided for the students of DeSoto County.

     This year, the Foundation awarded 133 teachers grants in the amount of $58,272.02. The grants were presented at DeSoto Hills Baptist Church.  

     “The Foundation has been blessed with broad support from many businesses, industries and individuals in the county,” said Foundation Director Susan Fernandez.  “Some of the major contributors are the United Way of the Mid-South, the Grainger Foundation, the Krewe of Hernando, Chick-fil-A, State Farm Insurance, BankPlus and many others who have made this organization a true service to our teachers in DeSoto County.”

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Medical Student Warns 4th Graders about the Dangers of Smoking

     Hunter McLendon, once a student at Oak Grove Central Elementary School, returned to remind students of the dangers of smoking. He encouraged the 4th grade group to stay tobacco free through discussion, activities and hand-out materials.

     McLendon, a 3rd year medical student at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, instantly connected with the students, sharing stories of his experiences as a 4th grade student in the classroom where he was giving the presentation. He is currently performing his family medicine rotation, working under the supervision of Dr. Edward Eldred in Olive Branch, a graduate of DeSoto County Schools.

     “My professor strongly suggested we make time to talk to students about the dangers of tobacco,” McLendon said.  “I wanted to come back to my elementary school, and enjoyed seeing the campus and the young students.”

     He used activities to make a point that cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causes many diseases, and reduces the health of smokers in general.  He passed out straws to half of the combined 4th grade class, asked them to hold their noses, jog for 60 seconds, and breathe through the straws. The other half of the class jogged but breathed normally. The students who had their air restricted were much more exhausted.

     “My grandfather and my uncle died from smoking,” McLendon said.  “You never want to start smoking.”

     He explained what is in a cigarette, with the most addictive ingredient being nicotine. He also said they have traces of other ingredients, including arsenic, methanol, acetic acid, ammonia, butane and acetic acid.

     “Quitting smoking lowers your risk for smoking-related diseases and can add years to your life,” he said.

     When students answered questions correctly, he rewarded them with bracelets that said, "Be smart, don’t start tobacco use.”

     Oak Grove Elementary Principal Stacey Pirtle said, “Hunter did an outstanding job, and gave students a lot of important information. Being younger and having ties to our school, helped him instantly relate. I believe his advice today will be life-changing for these students.”

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Teamwork Rewarded at Olive Branch Elementary School

     Olive Branch Elementary School teachers say they have been working to enhance their instruction by enhancing their collegial work environment with one another.

     They have had a series of long team building activities.

     “During the week, teams were formed into totally random groups who worked together to accomplish missions each day. This concluded with an after-school faculty meeting filled with games and challenges,” said OES Principal Leighanne Wamble.

     “Teachers rose to the challenge and wound up having a fantastic time and truly bonding with one another,” she added.

     The winning team received a very special prize. The culinary class at Career & Technical Center West cooked brunch for them.  The menu included quiche, parmesan scalloped potatoes, fresh fruit and yogurt ramekins, wild blueberry and vanilla cupcakes or chocolate ganache cupcakes.

     “The food was incredible.  The culinary class saw it as a great opportunity to conduct a real catering job. My teachers saw it as a chance for them to get a gourmet breakfast due to their hard work,” Wamble added.

     “I want to thank Mrs.Rochelle for making my teachers feel special.” Wamble added.

     Team building efforts are being continued at OBES.  Teachers and staff are working toward 100 acts of kindness which will earn them a full blue jean week before the holidays. 

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Schools Partner with Baptist DeSoto Hospital to Honor Soldiers

     Three schools in DeSoto County took first, second and third place in the Baptist Memorial Hospital DeSoto Shoeboxes for Soldiers project that sends shoeboxes filled with treats and letters to troops stationed overseas.

     Students at schools in North Mississippi’s DeSoto, Marshall, Tate and Tunica counties participated in the program. Personal items including snacks, toothpaste, wet wipes and handwritten notes filled the boxes.

     Third place went to Overpark Elementary with 481 boxes.  Their physical education program received a $500 grant.  Second place went to Pleasant Hill Elementary with 606 boxes.  They received a $750 grant. First place went to Center Hill Elementary with 890 boxes.  They received a $1,000 grant.

     The grants were awarded at Baptist DeSoto Hospital’s annual Veterans’ Day Celebration.  Olive Branch’s JROTC Color Guard opened the ceremony.  Center Hill Elementary students sand “We Are One Nation” and received a standing ovation.

     “I am excited about this program,” said Jason Ketchum, SIS PE teacher who applied for the grant.  “This is a great addition to our school.” 

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Lake Cormorant High School Students Celebrate Volleyball Team

     When the Lake Cormorant High School volleyball team returned home after the MHSAA championship game, they were welcomed as champions with banners and posters from their classmates.

     Lake Cormorant finished their season (27-16) as the runner-up to Vancleave (29-6), losing 3-2 in Starkville. 

     “We had a great season,” said Coach Christina Morgan.  “I told my team I couldn’t be prouder of them because they fought all the way to the end, worked hard, and never gave up.”

     The Lady Gators have won the Class II MHSAA state championship three times.

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Engineering and Robotics Team Gets Ready for Competition

     It is a well- known fact that win or lose, competition makes you stronger.

     The Engineering & Robotics Program students at Career Tech West is working on their robots to compete in the VEX Robotics Competition in Collierville, TN.

     VEX Competitions bring STEM skills to life by tasking teams of students with designing and building a robot to play against other teams in a game-based engineering challenge.

   “This year the task is to program your robot to stack cones and move sticks they call goals,” said Engineering and Robotics Teacher Theresa Holland.

   She says for students to do this, they must learn programming, physics and the mechanics of engineering.

     “If the robot falls over while picking up a cone, then they know to add weight to the robot to counter balance the movement,” Holland said.  “The prospect of competition motivates students to learn.”

     Another advantage of going to competitions is that it gives students an opportunity to network with other students who have similar interests.

     “This will be our first year to compete,” she said.  “I think once these students try competitions, they will push to be their best.  Also, it makes everything we are learning relevant.”

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New Clubs at Chickasaw Elementary Develop Character in Students

     There are two new clubs at Chickasaw Elementary School where prominent figures in the community speak to students on the importance of developing good character.

     The two clubs are The Young Ladies’ Club and The Young Men’s Club.  There are six short assemblies with prominent female figures speaking to the girls, and prominent male figures speaking to the boys. Students are asked to dress in their best attire on assembly days, and all role models address how to be respectful ladies and gentlemen as they grow up, with specific emphasis on respecting the opposite sex.

    “Modeling positive behavior helps create a positive environment where students feel safe,” said CES Principal Selina Hall.  “My job is to keep everyone safe while they learn. I also know young students can easily learn behavioral skills they will use the rest of their lives, and this program brings in leaders in our community to help do that.”

     Patty Burse, Olive Branch High School cheer sponsor, and Allen Bailey Saffold, Miss Olive Branch, were guest speakers at the first meeting of the Young Ladies’ Club.  Burse shared four things girl leaders do:

  • They respect adults. They listen without being told, pay attention and give their best.
  • They respect their classmates and follow the Golden Rule.
  • They respect their school and their classmates. They take pride in their school.
  • They respect themselves in how they dress, talk and in the choice of music and TV shows they watch.

     “Miss Saffold shared how making right decisions creates a good reputation," Hall said.

         Olive Branch High Football Coach Tyler Turner and Superintendent Cory Uselton spoke to The Young Men’s Club. Both told the second and third grade boys the importance of a proper handshake and looking someone in the eye. Key points both made were:

  • Respect your teachers and your classmates.
  • Respect other people through words and actions such as saying please, thank you, yes ma’am and yes sir.
  • Respect yourself in your dress and appearance.
  • Respect your classmates.

     “When you are kind to other people, it has a ripple effect,” said Superintendent Uselton.  “It is similar to skipping a stone on the water.  After it makes a splash, ripples go out from it.  A kind word has the same effect.  You can make your classroom better, your town better, your friends’ lives better, by kind words and actions,” he added.

     As each student left the assembly, both Superintendent Uselton and Coach Turner modeled what they taught and shook every student's hand.

     Other speakers include Lucy Hasselman, DCS Director of Special Education; Scott Phillips, mayor of Olive Branch; Stacy Phillips, health care professional; Brandon Paulson, owner of Chick-fil-A in Olive Branch; Leanne Nastasi, owner of Pink’s Coffee Shop; Detective Carlos Wilson, Olive Branch Police Department; and Detective Ashley Holiday, Olive Branch Police Department.

     When asked what lessons students are learning from these talks, Third Grader Braden McDurmon said, “I learned you should not ever be rude.  We need to be respectful.  People will be nice if I am nice to them.  And kind words are thank you and please.”

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DeSoto County Schools Hosts Legislative Breakfast

     DeSoto County school board members and Superintendent Cory Uselton met with Mississippi legislators for a breakfast sponsored by SouthGroup Insurance.  Attending, from left, DCS Superintendent Cory Uselton, Sen. Kevin Blackwell, Rep. Ashley Henley, Rep. Steve Hopkins, Board President Shelia Riley, Sen. David Parker, Board Member Ann Jolley, Board Member Sarah Doss-Thomas, Rep. Dana Criswell, Board Member Michele Henley, Rep. Bill Kinkade, Rep. Dan Eubanks, and Board Member Milton Nichols.

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DeSoto County School District Reading Fair Held at the Board of Education in Hernando

First place group winners are:  Lucy Thomas and Cora Thomas, Lewisburg Primary School; and Ryan Bass, Jayla Moss, and Kohyn Hays, Walls Elementary School. Superintendent Cory Uselton congratulated the winners.

     More than 60 winners attended the DeSoto County Reading Fair.

     The students were all winners from their respective DeSoto County School, and were competing in the District Reading Fair, held at the Board of Education in Hernando on November 3rd.

     Students stood by their reading projects and waited for the judges to come and ask questions.

     They had to know obvious facts about their book--author, title, plot, climax, setting, characters--or any question a judge might ask. 

      "I was impressed with the quality of the students' projects," said Debbie Stafford, textbook coordinator for DeSoto County Schools and coordinator of the countywide event.  

     The judges for the event involved librarians from public and school libraries.

     The Reading Fair gives students the opportunity to share their favorite fiction book through a storyboard display. Many of the students also dressed like their main character.

     “The goal of the reading fair is to instill a lifelong love of reading in students as they experience a deeper enjoyment and pleasure from reading gained through participating in the process,” said Stafford.

     Students may enter one of three categories: individual, group project or family project. With each category, students are judged in divisions based on grade level.

     DCS District Reading Fair winners in each division will advance to Lafayette High School in Oxford for the Regional Reading Fair in January. The Mississippi Department of Education will host the State Reading Fair when Regional Reading Fairs are completed.

     First place elementary school winners were Layne Grinnell, Olive Branch Elementary School; Brooks Tidwell, Overpark Elementary School; Clint Dye, Lewisburg Primary School; Millie Martin, Lewisburg Elementary School; Ryan Nolan Olive Branch Intermediate School; Lundyn Wilson, Lake Cormorant Middle School; Keona Douglas, DeSoto Central Elementary School; and Kacy Carson, Center Hill Middle School.

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Veterans’ Day Parade

     DeSoto County celebrated those who have served in the Armed Forces as well as those who have fallen defending the country with the first Hernando Veterans’ Day Parade. 

     Twenty-four school buses unloaded excited students to march in the parade and showcase their talents. Commerce Street was lined with approving bystanders wearing red, white and blue and the parade participants wrapped around the Historic Square in Hernando.

     More than 800 students marched, including students from three high school bands—Hernando High, Horn Lake High, and Center Hill High. Between the bands were veterans in vintage automobiles, tanks and fire trucks.  

     “The veterans were very grateful for everything that was done for them.  What we did today showed that we respect our veterans and our flag,” said Carolyn Young, Hernando Veterans’ Parade organizer.

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Hernando Park Named to Honor Former Superintendent Kuykendall

     One of the most utilized parks in Hernando now carries the name of long-time DeSoto County Schools’ Superintendent of Education Milton Kuykendall.

     The former Hernando Sports and Fitness Park was officially renamed as the “Milton Kuykendall Sports and Fitness Park.” Hernando Mayor Tom Ferguson led the park dedication ceremony. The park is adjacent to the Central Services Building on East South Street, and was the football field of the original Hernando High School (1927-1990).  After a fire in 1994, and the Board of Education decided to rebuild the unused facility, making it the hub for the growing school district, now known as Central Services.  While a football field and stands were a big part of Hernando High, there was no need for the field after the new school was built on Dilworth Lane.

     Superintendent Cory Uselton praised Kuykendall for having the vision to organize a partnership between the city of Hernando and the DeSoto County School District and make the track and grounds a family-friendly park.

     “This field had not been used in several years,” noted Kuykendall to a group of more than 100 friends, fellow educators and Hernando city officials.  “It needed work.  After Hernando Parks and Recreation took over the facility, it was transformed once again into a hub of recreational activity, being used as the main field for the Hernando Youth Football League, track and field events, soccer programs and as a public walking track.”

     Kuykendall is a believer in physical fitness. He led the charge to put certified physical education teachers in all schools and expanded many athletic programs.

     “I am very grateful for the honor the city has bestowed upon me,” Kuykendall said.  I’m proud to have been a part of DeSoto County Schools.  I have been in the kid business for 45 years.  In the Book of Matthew, it talks about children.  Children are the most precious thing in the eyes of God.  I am thankful I got to spend my career working with young people."

     “I personally want to thank Mr. Kuykendall for all your years of service to our community and our school system,” Mayor Ferguson said.  “You made a tremendous impact on our children, our teachers, and our community.  Thank you for being a leader in our community and for working so hard to ensure young children achieve academic success and pursue healthy lifestyles.”

     Superintendent Uselton noted that Kuykendall was superintendent during a critical time in the growth and development of DeSoto County Schools.

     “During his tenure as superintendent, DCS had tremendous growth,” Superintendent Uselton said.  “With all of this growth, we would have never been so successful without his leadership.  Naming the park in his honor is well-deserved.”  

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Another DCS Teacher Selected for the Mississippi Teacher Council

     Shuntay Chester, a language arts teacher at Southaven Middle School, was selected by the Mississippi Department of Education to be a member of the Mississippi Teacher Council. She joins a team of other DeSoto County School teachers to serve in this capacity.

     Chester will provide feedback on the initiatives of the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi State Board of Education from a teacher's perspective. Shuntay was recommended by Tyrone Hall, Assistant Principal of Southaven Middle School.

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The DeSoto County School District does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age in its programs and activities and provides equal access to the Boy Scouts and other designated youth groups.

DeSoto County Schools

Communications Department
Katherine Nelson, Director

Geri Hill, Graphic Designer

5 East South Street
Hernando, Mississippi 38632
Phone: 662-429-5271
Fax: 662-429-4198