October 2019

Report Card for DeSoto County Schools -- “A”

Lewisburg Middle School is the #1 ranked middle school in the state.

     DeSoto County Schools is an A-ranked school district, according to the Mississippi Department of Education. Only nine districts in Mississippi have achieved this honor for the last four consecutive years.

     “I am so proud of our students, teachers, administrators, and staff,” said Supt. Cory Uselton.  “This is a total team effort.  And, we are very fortunate to have tremendous support from our parents and the entire DeSoto County community.” 

Ryan Kuykendall, DCS Director of Accountability and Research

     Ryan Kuykendall, DCS Director of Accountability and Research, reported accountability report details to the Board of Education on September 19th. 

     “Acceleration was a huge increase for us.  We have a lot of students getting college credit with Dual Credit and AP courses,” Kuykendall noted.  “We also have students obtaining a National Certification for Industry with Career Tech.  This is so important for our students’ future.” 

     He shared various charts and graphs with board members and reported that 6th and 7th grade math scores are the strongest area for the district. He also revealed that DCS has the top two traditional middle schools in the state. 

     “Lewisburg Middle School is the #1 ranked middle school in the state, and Hernando Middle School is ranked #2.” Kuykendall said. 

     “DeSoto County Schools has two of the top five traditional high schools in the state,” he noted.  “Hernando High School is the #2 ranked high school, and Center Hill High School is the #5 ranked high school.” 

     College and Career Readiness was another area of improvement. 

     “Our percentage of seniors demonstrating college readiness on the ACT is up, and we are very pleased to see that,” Kuykendall said.  “The senior class of 2019 had the most 30+ ACT scores in the history of Desoto County Schools.  There were 148 seniors with an ACT score of 30 or higher.” 

     Kuykendall said one area of focus for the District is the ELA low-performing growth category. 

     “We now have almost 30% of our ELA students who are in the ELA low-performing category achieving at grade level.  This group is the hardest group to push to the next level.  This is a major focus for us.  We have a spreadsheet that will soon be in the hands of each teacher showing all data points so that they can shape their instruction for these students.  We are doing a lot of training and work on the Data to Instruction and PLC processes to do everything possible to grow these students,” he said. 

 Supt. Uselton is surrounded by School Board members Ann Jolley, Michele Henley, Shelia Riley, Sarah Doss-Thomas, and Milton Nichols.

     Supt. Uselton added, “As the largest school district in the state, we face unique challenges, but it’s all about teamwork.  Our teachers, staff, and administrators work hard to make sure that every student has an opportunity to be successful.” 

     “All school districts face the challenge of meeting the needs of every individual student,” Uselton added.  “Many students need extra remediation, while many other students need enrichment lessons to challenge them intellectually.  This test data helps us to look for ways that we can help the individual students.  We are always looking for ways to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all of our learners.”    

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Teachers Go To Class with Algebra Nation

SHS Teachers Angelia Roop and Jordan Williams learned how math resources could supplement what they are teaching in class. 

     Teachers from Northwest Mississippi attended an Algebra Nation workshop at DeSoto County Schools Central Services to learn how to use the program to assist students where they need it, when they need it. 

     Shauna Hedgepeth, assistant director of Algebra Nation and state lead for Mississippi, provided follow up training for teachers who used Algebra Nation last year and a separate session for new Algebra I teachers. 

     Fees for Algebra Nation are fully-funded by the Mississippi Legislature through the Mississippi Department of Education.  Aligned to the Mississippi Mathematics Standards by the Research and Curriculum Unit at Mississippi State University, Algebra Nation is customized to help students succeed in Algebra I and beyond.   

Shauna Hedgepeth shows the new materials offered by Algebra Nation.  

     “This year we have added a new geometry course,” said Hedgepeth.  “Both Algebra Nation and Geometry Nation have videos that students and their parents can watch with supplemental workbooks.” 

     Another component of the program is "The Wall,” where students can visit from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. and get real-time help from teachers and others peers across Mississippi. 

     “DeSoto County Schools was the first advocate for us to add a geometry component to our program,” Hedgepeth said.  “I know these resources are going to be helpful when students are preparing for the ACT.” 

     Cara Turner, a math teacher at Houlka Attendance Center, said, "I have used Algebra Nation for the last three years. My students' proficiency and advanced scores have gone from 5.9% to 69%. The extra support by Algebra Nation has turned my program around."

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Smith Wins Statewide Recognition

Supt. Cory Uselton, Principal Carol Smith, and Executive Director of Elementary Education Amanda Samples 

     Horn Lake Intermediate Principal Carol Smith was selected as Delta State University's 2018-2019 Mississippi Association of Colleges for Teacher Education's Outstanding Administrator Award recipient.     

     The DeSoto County Schools Board of Education recognized her for winning this statewide honor. MACTE presented her the award at their conference in Jackson. Smith previously served as the Principal of Lake Cormorant Elementary School. 

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Anti-Bullying Club Promotes Message of Kindness

DeSoto Central Elementary School's Anti-Bullying Club is changing the world one student at a time.

     Two years ago, a 3rd grade student saw another student at DeSoto Central Elementary School being bullied on the playground.   With the approval of his school principals, that student Andrew “Gus” Lafever launched an anti-bullying club at DeSoto Central Elementary School.  In one week, he signed up more than 100 members. 

     Today this 5th grade student and key members of his committee hold all-school events and grade-level events.  It has become the largest club on campus. 

     “Our upcoming event for 5th grade boys is about cyberbullying,’” he said.  “A lot of interactive websites have chat rooms and some people feel like they can say anything.” 

     When Gus came up with the idea of this club, he met with administrators and shared his ideas on how students could help.  He organized a committee with the original members being Emily Grace Billingsley, Reina Prince, and Avery Faulkner. Together they began designing posters, a logo, a Power Point presentation, goals, and plans for upcoming club events.  The club continuously changes messages on the posters displayed around the school. 

     “From the very beginning, this club has been student-led,” said DCES Principal Lisa Nye.  “Gus is a great example of seeing a problem that is a student problem and devising a plan to solve it.” 

     “Kids listen to other students before they listen to adults,” Gus said.  “When one student stands up and says we need to respect each other, this makes more of a difference than all the adults put together.”   

Local Cool Kid Gus Lafever is pictured with ABC News Anchor John Paul and his staff.

     “My goal is to end bullying in this school,” he said.  “Bullying is not one mean comment.  Rather, it is a lot of mean acts that can make a student sad and not want to come to school.  I think our club has raised awareness that kids should be kind.  They are getting the message.”   

     ABC 24 News Anchor John Paul featured Gus on the television station’s “Cool Kid” segment.  Click the button below to view the segment. 

Cool Kid Segment
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A Slam Dunk for Center Hill Elementary School

CHES Principal Leslie Heyman, Assistant Principal Kristy Hale, and Rotarian Dr. Greg Evans joined students on the new basketball court. 

     When a school is a part of their community and a community is a part of the school, great things happen -- like the newly constructed “Becky Dearden Basketball Court” at Center Hill Elementary School. 

     CHES was home to Dearden for ten years.  She helped open the school as the first head principal. She remained as their servant leader until her illness forced her to retire in 2013.  She passed away in 2014.

     The Olive Branch Rotary Club and Becky Dearden had a long history.  After joining the club, Dearden learned the Rotarians wanted to work on meaningful projects that would make a lasting difference in their city. Dearden had a vision of what she wanted for her new campus, which was previously a barren cornfield.   A partnership started taking shape. “Rotary Park” was born.  Her PTO collaborated with the club to build a playground and a walking trail in memory of deceased Rotarians.  The park grew year after year. 

     Besides its walking trail, there is a baseball field, an outdoor classroom, many pieces of play equipment, and Project Fit America equipment, granted from Blue Cross & Blue Shield Foundation.  

     The newest addition to Rotary Park is the basketball court. Rotarians Dr. Greg Evans and Lisa Love were instrumental in launching this project. Other Rotary committee members for Dearden’s Service Project included David Baker, Tracy Kirkley, David McNeeley, Miles Mitchell, George Sago, and Tommy Salmon. 

Principal Heyman and AP Kristy Hale “high 5” each other after making a slam dunk on their new basketball court. 

     “Mrs. Dearden loved God, family, CHES staff and students, and the Memphis Grizzlies Basketball Team,” said CHES Principal Leslie Heyman.  “When the Rotary Club learned the school and PTO wanted to build a basketball court in her honor, they graciously agreed to help CHES take on this project to celebrate Mrs. Dearden’s love of her school and basketball.  Together, the basketball court is now a reality.” 

     What would Mrs. Dearden think of the newest addition at CHES? 

     “I was the assistant principal with Mrs. Dearden for one year,” said AP Kristy Hale. “I can imagine her face.  I know she would be in tears.  She was a devoted Rotarian and loved the Memphis Grizzlies as well as her staff.  Our teachers came up with the idea.   I believe she would agree that the basketball court was the perfect way to honor her memory.” 

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Growing, Growing, Growing…

A bright new hallway greeted students at Hope Sullivan when they began the new school year.

     Summer is rarely vacation time for the Plant Maintenance Department.   

     DeSoto County Schools conducts construction projects over the summer to upgrade and improve facilities, according to Jerry White, director of plant maintenance. He gave a report to the Board of Education, reviewing the projects completed and the projects on the drawing board. 

     “All of the new classrooms were completed before school started, with the exception of Hernando Elementary,” White said.  “Weather delayed the start of this project, so we did not finish it until the first week in September.  Their new building contains two kindergarten classrooms, and two first grade classrooms in a ‘stand alone’ building in the middle of their school campus,” he said. 

     “We are so grateful to have these four beautiful new classrooms,” said HES Principal Renee Triplett.  “Students, parents, and teachers love this new state-of-the-art facility.” 

     Other construction projects included new flooring at Hernando High School (resurfaced office and reception area), Southaven High School (gym lobby), Shadow Oaks Elementary School (cafeteria), Hope Sullivan Elementary School  (19 classrooms and two hallways), Horn Lake Intermediate School (main foyer), and Southaven Middle School (PE building and counselors wing).   

     Windows were installed and doors were replaced at Olive Branch Intermediate School.  A lighting project to upgrade efficient LED lighting at Center Hill Elementary School was completed.  Hernando High School finished phase II of their HVAC project to upgrade and replace their cooling and heating systems.  At Lewisburg High School, tennis courts were resurfaced.  

      Supt. Cory Uselton also discussed two large construction projects in the works with the School Board.  DeSoto Central High School will add a ninth grade academy building, set to be completed in 2020, and Lewisburg attendance area will get a new Lewisburg Middle School in 2021. 

The 9th Grade Academy at DeSoto Central will be patterned after the two-story 9th Grade Academy at Southaven High.

    "The new ninth grade academy will be built on the northern portion of the DeSoto Central High School campus, and it will be attached to the existing structure," Uselton said.

     The state Department of Education recently approved DCS plans to build a new middle school for the Lewisburg attendance zone.  Seeing the need, Supt. Uselton said the district has been working toward this addition for two years.  Plans are to locate the new facility six miles to the south on land south of the Coldwater River on the west side of state Highway 305. 

     “The current Lewisburg school zone has experienced a 13 percent increase in enrollment since 2016, and demographers project a similar growth to continue throughout the upcoming decade,” Supt. Uselton said. 

     “The current Lewisburg primary, elementary, and middle schools have all expanded within the last three years, but are all still near or at capacity,” he said.   

     Supt. Uselton also announced plans for upcoming classroom additions at DeSoto Central Middle School, Hernando Hills Elementary School, and Hernando Middle School.

     “Because of conservative financial practices, DeSoto County Schools will be able to complete these construction projects without raising taxes,” Uselton said.

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It Is Football Season at CHHS

     Center Hill High School was the first DCS high school to celebrate Homecoming. 

    Their challenger was the Germantown High School Red Devils. However, homecoming is more than football at CHHS.  A parade involving all aspects of the school—band, art club, volleyball team, soccer team, dance team, cheerleaders, and other clubs and organizations—lined up to march from their school to the neighboring Center Hill schools.  It was hot, but no one seemed to notice.  They were there to support the Mustangs. As sirens roared from the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department and the Olive Branch Police Department, the floats began to roll.  It was a show of wonderful community and school support.    

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Community Leaders Connect Public Education to DeSoto County’s Economic Development

 From left, Northwest Mississippi Community College President Dr. Michael Heindl, Realtor Corie Haynes, Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi President Tom Pittman, and Superintendent Cory Uselton. 

     “Ideas on Tap: The Future of Public Education,” a public forum presented  by the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Phil Hardin Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, focused on the connection between public education and economic development. 

     “Public schools are why people are moving to DeSoto County,” said Tom Pittman with the Community Foundation and moderator for the panel. 

     Other members of the panel included Supt. Cory Uselton, Realtor Corie Haynes, and Northwest Community College President Dr. Michael Heindl. Held in the DeSoto Arts Council building in Hernando on Sept. 17, the forum was the second of a two part series.  The first program looked at education on the statewide level and included public education and charter schools. 

      “DeSoto County Schools are what sells homes in DeSoto County,” said Haynes.   

     Dr. Heindl noted that a major reason for the growth of Northwest Community College is the growth of DeSoto County. He said Northwest is now the third-largest community college in Mississippi. He also predicted that more jobs of the future will need a background in career-based education. 

     “Our job as educators is to prepare students for their next step if they are college bound or if they are going straight into the workforce,” said Uselton.  “We are exposing students to career choices at earlier ages.” 

     He also noted that the DeSoto County Economic Council has an upcoming Career Fair for 8th grade students.  

      “The school district brings every 8th grade student to this event where he or she has real world, hands-on activities relating to future careers,” he said. 

     Uselton also discussed the challenges of school funding and school security, noting that the district has increased funding for school resource officers over the last two school years. 

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HMS Student Receives National Recognition

 Supt. Cory Uselton, HMS Student Emma Kate Farris, and Executive Director of Academic Services Jerry Darnell.

     Emma Kate Farris, a student at Hernando Middle School, received “The President’s Volunteer Service Award.”  DeSoto County Schools’ Board of Education recognized this accomplishment. 

     Jerry Darnell, the Executive Director of Academic Services for DCS, asked Emma Kate to come forward at the board meeting as he read the letter from President Donald J. Trump aloud. 

     “Over this past year, you have served as a model of the American spirit.  Your many hours of service have strengthened the bonds of cooperation and trust that bring people together, while helping to address some of the greatest challenges of our time,” the letter stated. 

     “As we reflect on your many acts of kindness and charity over the past year, our Nation draws inspiration from those who answer the call to help their communities and our Nation.  With your continued efforts to build on our Nation’s culture of service, America will proudly remain a land of freedom and opportunity for all.” 

     The letter concluded by thanking Emma Kate for her commitment to service and asked her to continue her work for “the betterment of others and an even stronger future for the American people.” 

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Parent Advisory Council’s Parent Celebration

  Federal Programs employees, from left, Anna Brant, Jori Putts, and Carol Ingram

     Nearly 475 students wrote essays about why they believe they have “superior” parents for the bi-annual Parent Advisory Council Celebration. 

     “The program was designed to get parents excited about participating in school and district activities and make them feel appreciated, thus bridging the gap between school and home, and ultimately improving students’ academic performance,” said Carol Ingram, Director of Federal Programs. 

     Every parent or guardian mentioned in the essays received a Certificate of Excellence and a copy of their student’s essay. 

     “We want to get our parents fully involved with the schools,” Ingram said.  “The amount of parental involvement that is done dictates how successful our students will be.  Parental involvement, students’ academics, student performance, all go hand in hand.” 

     The program included performances by the choral groups of Southaven High School and Olive Branch Middle School and poetry readings from students.  School-based Mental Health Therapist Ashley Haliburton and DCS Nurse Patty Davis talked about the mental and physical health of students. 

     If a student wrote an essay, their parents’ names were entered in a gift card drawing.  Twenty-five names were drawn. 

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What Time Is It? It’s Integrity Time at LPS

     Individual student recognition is one small part of ABC Integrity Time, which is an ongoing program at Lewisburg Primary School. 

     “Our students just love it,” said LPS Counselor Penny Martin.  “Everyone here knows to have integrity is to choose what is true, good, and right.  Teaching Integrity Time is one of the highlights of my week.” 

     Every day, in every class, teachers recognize students who make good choices by completing integrity forms with the students’ names,  what they did to deserve recognition, and the teacher’s name.  Every Thursday, a drawing takes place in the cafeteria.  If a student’s slip is chosen, he or she gets to choose an item from the “Integrity Prize Cart.”  

      Caleb Cross’ slip was recently chosen.  His teacher entered him in the contest for “being willing to learn and trying his best.”  Clayton Bush was also selected for “having a great attitude about learning to read.” 

     Every time a winner was named, the students cheered.  

     Assistant Principal Kim Bridges coordinated the award presentations for the kindergarten classes.  Principal Jeannie Treadway distributed the awards for the first graders, and Counselor Penny Martin handled the second grade classes. 

      “Integrity Time teaches our students character education on a primary level. Students can comprehend and apply concepts presented in this wonderful format,” said Treadway.  “It makes children aware of others’ feelings.  They take Integrity Time with them wherever they go.” 

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Band Is the Key to International Career

  Whalum was photographed with senior LCHS band members.

     Musician and entertainer with pop powerhouse Bruno Mars and the Hooligans, Kameron Whalum, came to speak and play his trombone for the band students at Lake Cormorant Middle and High Schools. 

     On a brief hiatus from touring, Whalum credited LCMS Band Director Jonathan Young as the teacher who made sure he did not quit music at the first sign of struggle. 

  Whalum, LCHS Band Director Jamie Young, and LCMS Band Director Jonathan Young 

      “Mr. Young was my band teacher from the 5th to the 8th grade in Memphis,” Whalum said.  “He put the first trombone in my hand.  Mr. Young saw a talent in me I did not know I had.” 

     In the 8th grade, Whalum said basketball almost trumped music.  

     “I was not the best student in middle school.  My 8th grade year, I quit band for basketball, but Mr. Young did not give up on me. I would not have the career I have if he had not pulled me back into music,” he said.  

     Young responded, “I kept teaching him after school every once in a while during 8th grade.  I kept him signed up for honor bands and the all-west honor bands.” 

     Whalum’s purpose in visiting Lake Cormorant Middle School was to say thank you to a teacher who made a difference in his life. 

     “I really appreciate how you helped me,” Whalum said as he turned toward his former teacher. “Your leadership and direction are principles I carry with me today.”

  Whalum and LCMS Assistant Band Director O’Neal Douglas

     Whalum also credited LCMS Assistant Band Director O’Neal Douglas with helping develop his musical career. 

     “Mr. Douglas gave me my first trombone lesson,” he said.  “Let’s give him a hand.” 

     Whalum graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta.  He attended the New School for Jazz in New York City from 2009 to 2011 when Bruno Mars enlisted him for his band.  He is beginning his 9th year working for Bruno and performed with Beyonce, Rihanna, Sting, the Marley Brothers, Queen B, Charlie Wilson, Jessie J, and Justin Timberlake, just to name a few of the world’s favorite pop artists. 

  Whalum makes his living playing the trombone.

     “I make my living with that trombone,” Whalum told students as he nodded toward his trombone and stand.  “That instrument has taken me around the world, to two Super Bowl Halftime Shows,  the Grammy Awards, and more than 300 concerts with Bruno Mars.” 

  Whalum plays the trombone for students. 

     His mother, Sheila Whalum, accompanied him.  He described her as “the strongest woman I know.”   

      “I have three musical sons,” said Mrs. Whalum. “My oldest Kenneth Whalum, III, plays with Jay-Z, P. Diddy, and Maxell.  My second son, Kortland, is a singer and musical instructor.  They were all raised in church, grounded in church.  Their father is the pastor of The New Olivet Worship Center in Cordova, TN. All  have experimented with music.” 

  Students asked Whalum for his autograph, and he patiently went from table to table signing. 

     In closing, one student raised his hand and asked, “Are you ever nervous performing in front of so many people?” 

     Whalum replied, “Yes, there were times I felt terrified, particularly at first. Now I see all performances as an adventure. I do not let other people control how I am feeling. I have learned to relax, enjoy what I am doing, and be happy.” 

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Shop Until They Dropped

     Shadow Oaks was chosen to receive $1000.00 in Trend materials from The Knowledge Tree. Principal Michaela Smith and Assistant Principal Tiffany Ketchum  experienced an educational shopping spree. 

     “We did not apply. Knowledge Tree called and told us that they chose three Tennessee schools, one Arkansas school, and one Mississippi school. We got to select wonderful materials,” said Smith.  “The items range from bookmarks, stickers, charts, bulletin boards to flashcards, center games and practice books. We are very appreciative of this generous donation and are so glad they chose our school.”  

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Revopay Awards Prizes to Parents

  Beau Black received his new Apple iPad from DCS’ Assistant Financial Officer Stacey Hadley. 

     Lewisburg Elementary School parent Beau Black made an online payment of $17.50 for his daughter’s school field trip. That payment qualified him for a contest, and he won an Apple iPad. 

     Black was the Grand Prize Winner in an online payment system contest sponsored by Revopay.   

     “Revopay is an online system where parents can pay school fees from their computer, tablet, smartphone, or in person.” said Connie Joseph, accounting supervisor and coordinator of the online credit payment system. 

     Fifty dollar gift cards were also awarded to 29 parents, one for every school who participated in Revopay program, Joseph noted.   

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PERKS: DCS Educator Discounts - UPDATED!

     Click the PERKS logo (above) to view a complete list of businesses that partner with DeSoto County Schools to provide educator discounts and special offers. To receive your special offer or discount, you must show your DCS ID badge. These offers are for DCS employees only and are not extended to family members unless otherwise stated.

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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

Katherine Nelson, Director, Communications

Geri Hill, Graphic Designer

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