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DeSoto County Schools

DeSoto Digest Newsletter - February 2019

DCS Teacher of the Year Concentrates on Project-Based Learning

     When a teacher encourages her 2nd grade students to use their creativity, curiosity, and imagination to collaborate with one another on service projects, inquiry and interest-based STEM activities, logic puzzles, robotics, gardening, and word studies, she can become DeSoto County Schools’ 2019 Teacher of the Year.
     Susan Powell, a Spotlight teacher at Pleasant Hill Elementary School, uses these teaching strategies on a daily basis, according to PHES Principal Bettye Magee. These are a few of the reasons Powell was selected as the Teacher of the Year for the District.
     “Mrs. Powell never hesitates when there is a job to be done. She chairs the PBIS Team at our school, sponsors the Chess Team, and organizes the Veterans’ Day program each year,” said Magee. “She is an exceptional teacher.”

     Powell’s gifted classroom is highly engaging, project-based, and student-centered. Powell believes that respect, cultivated and modeled, is paramount to a positive classroom culture. She uses small, self-directed groups organized by stations to emphasize critical thinking, creativity, and success skills as students accomplish goals and complete projects. One station, robotics and coding, allows students to complete original mazes using Sphero. This coding activity displays comprehension of embedded math skills, including direction, speed, and angles.
     “My goal is to help students learn to be problem solvers,” Powell said.   

     Service learning is incorporated in Powell’s classroom. Her 2nds graders learn how to operate one of four sewing machines in her classroom and tackle production-like projects. The students make “taggies,” blankets with tabs to stimulate senses, as a community service project. They have shipped their taggies to Native Americans in Arizona as well as orphanages in South America, China, and Africa.

     Powell earned regional, national, and international support by starting the non-profit Unknown Child Foundation, which evolved from her classroom “Pennies Project.” In 2009, Powell taught 7th grade Spotlight at Horn Lake Middle School, and the students were studying the Holocaust. Collaborating with another teacher, the goal was for students to gain an understanding of the extent of suffering. A total of 1.5 million pennies were collected – one for each child—to represent children who perished.
     “Susan started this journey, and never let go, even when she moved to another school,” said Diane McNeil, president of the Unknown Child Foundation. “It took 3.5 years to collect four tons (8,000+ pounds) of pennies, with many lessons taught and learned. Our Foundation has been entrusted with taking the pennies and creating a permanent Children’s Holocaust Memorial.”
     According to McNeil, land is under contract on the Circle G Ranch, formerly owned by Elvis Presley, on which the permanent Memorial will be built.
“Susan started this project, and this Mississippi teacher is the face behind the education component. Her classroom is now the world. She will be teaching years beyond what we can imagine,” McNeil added.

     Susan Powell’s application has been submitted to the Mississippi Department of Education as a candidate for “Mississippi’s Teacher of the Year.” MDE will announce the winner in the spring.
     “I am very humbled and very surprised to be named ‘DCS Teacher of the Year,’” Powell said. “So many outstanding teachers in our district deserve this honor. I have to say, I am happy and excited to come to work every day.“

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New Terms Begin for DeSoto County School Board

School Board Members Shelia Riley and Ann Jolley with Judge Percy Lynchard, Jr., and Supt. Cory Uselton

     Two returning members of the DeSoto County School Board were sworn in by Chancery Court Chancellor Percy Lynchard, Jr., at the Board of Education in front of school personnel, friends, and family members.
     Ann Jolley and Shelia Riley were re-elected to serve a six-year terms on the board. Other returning school board members include Board President Sarah Doss Thomas, Milton Nichols, and Michele Henley.
     Before Judge Lynchard gave the oath of office, he said, “You are charged with the education of the public’s children. There is absolutely nothing more important than that, and it starts with you.”

     Jolley is starting her 31st year on the school board and is one of the longest serving school board members in the state of Mississippi.
     “I love the school business, and I have children and grandchildren involved in the schools. I think this will be a big year for our school district.”
     Jolley was named the state Board Member of the Year by the Mississippi School Boards Association (MSBA) in 2013.

     Riley was re-elected to her second term in November. Riley also serves on the Board of Directors for MSBA.
     “I consider serving on the school board a privilege and an honor,” she said. “The only challenge I see is the rapid growth of the district. We’re having growth spurts all over DeSoto County, and we will have to be ready for more students when they come.”

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DCHS Softball Coach Is Nationally Recognized

     When DeSoto Central High’s Softball Coach Phyllis Hicks opened a letter at school as she was about to begin lunch duty, she stopped mid-sentence. She could not believe what she was reading. Principal Cliff Johnston was standing nearby and she told him, “I think I am the 2018 National Softball Coach of the Year.”
     Johnston took the letter, re-read it, and replied, “You are!”
     The letter was from the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS), the governing body of high school sports. They work with the state associations and select coaches for state, sectional, and national recognition.

     The letter said, “This award designates you among the most elite coaches in the country, as well as the state and sectional coach of the year for your sport (fastpitch softball). You should be proud of your contributions to your sport and community. You were specifically nominated by your state association, The Mississippi High School Activities Association, to receive this award. As an organization, the NFHS relies on our member state associations to help us recognize those who are leading their sport, shaping their athletes, and contributing in a positive way to their community.”

     An AP Calculus and PSAT teacher, Hicks describes herself as a “teacher first and coach second.” She began playing softball at Southaven High School and continued playing in college at the University of Mississippi. When she was hired at DeSoto Central High, she became the first and only softball coach, coaching freshmen and sophomores the first year the school opened. In her 16 years of coaching, her teams have compiled a 335-106-6 career record and have won North Half titles three times as well as the first MHSAA 6A State Championship in 2018.
     “I believe athletics is the other half of education,” Hicks said. “I am very proud of the fact that 70 percent of my players have received scholarships to play in college and at least one of my players annually has been selected to play in the Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star Games.”
     Last October, Hicks was named state Coach of the Year by the Mississippi High School Activities Association. This qualified her to be entered in the NFHS South Section Coach of the Year. After winning that award, she was entered in the national award competition. Twenty-three high school coaches from across the country were selected as 2018 National Coaches of the Year by NFHS in 2018. They honor coaches in 10 top girls’ sports and 10 top boys’ sports and two other sports, including a Spirit Award.

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Two HLHS Football Players Make Announcements as the Nation Watches

Horn Lake High School Football Coach Brad Boyette looks at the sea of reporters on hand for National Letter of Intent Division 1 and 2 Signing Day.

     National media had a live broadcast in the Horn Lake High School auditorium on National Signing Day to announce where Nakobe Dean, the top-ranked inside linebacker in the country, and Raydarious Jones, MVP quarterback in the state title game, were going to play college football.

Raydarious Jones reveals his university of choice as Louisiana State University.

     Jones, a four-star athlete, unzipped his jacket to reveal a purple LSU shirt. He then added an LSU cap to complete his outfit.
     “LSU felt like home from the start,” said Jones.

Nakobe Dean listens to ESPN reporters after announcing he will continue his football career at the University of Georgia. 

     A few minutes later, Dean set a shoe box on the table and pulled out a red, Georgia Bulldogs long-sleeve T-shirt.
     “I just had to make a decision for me and my family that would put me at peace, and I asked God, and he led me to UGA,” Dean said.
     Thunderous applause erupted from a packed crowd of students, teachers, family members, and friends after each announcement.
     “We have had players sign before, but Nakobe and Raydarious will play at two of the best places to play college football in the country. It was a good day for Horn Lake High School,” said HLHS Head Coach Brad Boyette.
     Boyette’s team had a 14-0 historic season, earning the title of 2018 MHSAA 6A state champions.

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Hernando Middle School Treble Choir to Perform at National Conference

     Hernando Middle School Treble Choir has been chosen to perform in Kansas City, MO, at the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) National Conference on February 27th.
     “There is no greater honor in choir than to perform before this group,” said Choir Director Reese Norris. “Approximately 14,000 of the best ears in the world will hear our choir.”
     There is a three-year audition process to earn the honor of performing. Approximately 220 choirs applied and 24 were selected.   

     “We are the first middle school treble choir in Mississippi to be selected to perform at the ACDA conference. The organization represents all choir directors in the United States,” Norris said. “While we have some anxiety about performing in front of such a discerning group, this opportunity gives us something higher to attain.”
     A number of parent chaperones and school administrators will accompany the 59 girls in two buses. The choir will be accompanied by an orchestra in the Kauffman Center. When the buses pull out of Hernando Middle School on February 26th, the Hernando Police Department is giving this group a police escort to the state line.

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Northwest Elects Board Officers

     Northwest Mississippi Community College President, Dr. Michael Heindl (left) congratulates newly re-elected board officers Dr. Adam Pugh (center), chairman, Lafayette County, and Cory Uselton (right), vice chairman, DeSoto County at the Jan. 10 meeting of the Board of Trustees. Not pictured is Dr. Daryl Scoggin, secretary, Tate County. The Board of Trustees, comprised of 22 members, is the governing body for the management and administration of the college. (Photo by Julie Bauer)

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Digital Media Class Applies What They Learn Through Community Involvement

     Digital Media students at Career Technology Center—West, are experiencing unique opportunities to put textbook situations aside and work for real clients.
     Teri Gordon teaches Digital Media Technology. She contacted Robert Lee Long, the new curator of the Historic DeSoto Museum and former editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune, asking if her students could tour the facility to learn more about the history of DeSoto County. Long quickly realized working with these students could be mutually beneficial. They could learn more about the place they live and help him with his vision for the facility.
     Long said one of his first projects is to help the museum come alive. He believes the facility can be more than just items on displays. He believes the Digital Media Technology students can help transform the museum.
     “It’s going to be interactive,” Long said. “When you come through the Civil War area, you’ll hear the cannons boom, you’ll hear the clashing of the swords and sabers, and you’ll hear the shouts of soldiers. It will be the same thing with Jerry Lee Lewis and his music and blues music exhibit. The Digital Media students are going to help me do this with sound recordings and video footage,” Long said.

     Students came to the museum with cameras and microphones, and efficiently recorded Long interviewing Tom Pittman, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi and former editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.
     “When edited, this piece will be the new welcoming video for visitors,” Long said.
     Ms. Gordon said her students have been working on other projects in the community including graphic design work and a video for DeSoto Economic Council’s Career Expo dubbed "Pathways2Possibilities.” It is an interactive technical career fair for all DeSoto County eighth graders to explore different career pathways highlighting local companies. Justin Jaggers with Northcentral Electric Company guided the students on the development of these projects.
     “When students’ work is published and used, it provides great resume builders,” she said.
     Carson Culver, a librarian at Horn Lake, has worked with Ms. Gordon and her students to interview Olive Branch historians, Lyn and Dorothy Herron, for the “Miss Jewelbox Project,” a national living history project that will be shown around the country.
     “Our Digital Media class is creating real-world experiences in the classroom with technology,” Ms. Gordon said. “The relevance makes students love this class. They are learning skills they can apply in every area of their lives.”

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Williams Now Holds Five State Titles

     Taylor Williams of Center Hill High School was recognized by the Board of Education for winning his 5th MHSAA state championship in swimming. Williams set a state record winning the boys’ 200 yard intermediate medley in a time of 1:53:06. He also won the boys’ 100 yard breaststroke in a time of 57.24 seconds. From left, Swim Coach Josh Barrett, Asst. Principal Zack Sims, Williams, and Supt. Cory Uselton.

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2018 6A Medium Varsity State Championship in Cheer

     DeSoto Central High School won the 6A MHSAA Medium Varsity State Championship in Cheerleading in December and is getting ready for national competition in Orlando, Florida.
     “There were several other schools that we competed against, but really we do not look at that. We compete against ourselves. We study our own scores and make personal goals from one competition to the next,” said Sponsor Marie Harlow, who coaches with Joseph Arkansas.
     “Last year this team won a National Championship. We knew they were a special, talented group. We never gave up, and we never settled. This team pushed themselves to be the best. After winning the state title, we are back in the gym working on even harder material to compete at Nationals in Orlando in February. Each girl on this team is a part of this cheer family.”
     Members of this award-winning team include: Front row, left to right: Makenzie McIntyre, Brianna Brewer, Molly McNeer, Amber Avent; middle row, left to right: Skylar Byram, Adyn Gutierrez, Makayla Edwards, Reagan Mathews, Emma Stewart, Hartley Houston, Katie Beth Ferguson, Riley McPhail, Leah Emmich, Gracie Giamportone, Hayleigh Malone, Natalie Satchfield; and back row, left to right, Joseph Arkansas, Fallon Echols, Martha Chandler Riley, Sarah Klinck, Rivers Reich, Ashlynn Toney, Alainna Martinez, Emma McNeer, Shanna Wallace, Journey Norris, McKenzie House, Alyssa Nichols, Anna Jones, Marie Harlow.

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Center Hill High Wins State Dance Titles

     Center Hill High School won two MHSAA state dance titles in December and will now head to UDA Nationals in Orlando, Florida. It was the second straight year for Center Hill to achieve state titles in both Hip Hop and Pom.
     “Our motto all season has been, ‘Stay humble. Stay hungry. Keep working hard.’ These are the very last words said at the end of every practice and a perfect summary of our season,” said Sponsor Kerry Matthews. “Our new coach and choreographer, Chrissy Rodefer, definitely raised the bar this year. Both of our routines, Pom and Hip Hop, are at a higher level of difficulty so that we can be even more competitive at the national level in February.”

     The group includes: Front row, left to right, Coach: Chrissy Rodefer, Sponsor: Kerry Matthews; second row, left to right, Laura Illoube, Brittnie Sandridge, Kennedi Evans, Devyn Baker, Tiana Baldwin, Lydia Walker, Emma Freeze, Mia TenEyck; third row, left to right: Kenzie Sandridge, Jillian Wiggins, Kaitlyn Wilty, Alex Edwards, Katie Huey, Shea Johnson, Jesse Wells; and fourth row, left to right, Ly’Nia Randolph, Abby Le, Kynnedy Terry, Sam Lockyer, and Jaela Brown.

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DCMS Cheerleaders Win State Championship

     DeSoto Central Middle School cheer squad won the state Junior High Game Day Championship.
     “This year our cheerleaders competed against five other junior high cheer teams from Mississippi,” said sponsor Kim McDaniel. “I am extremely proud of how well our girls performed. They have diligently practiced, and it paid off.”
     McDaniel and Caitlin Stark are the team sponsors from the school. Trey Griffin is their coach. While winning a state championship is a big accomplishment, DCMS now will compete in a national and a world contest at Disney World in Orlando during February.
     The 21 member team includes: Front Row: (left to right) Mabry Gaines, Tristen Smith, Ava Holley, Bella Bisbee, Addison Dye, Delilah Mahfood, sponsor Caitlin Stark; Second Row: Lexi Moorehouse, Gracie Kyle, Maggie Langston, Katie Wood, Haley Green, Emma Avent, Kaylee Crain; Third Row: Coach Trey Griffin, Dallas Lane, Avery Thomas, Lily Andersen, Riley McIntyre, Kate McAnally, Pierce Callicott, Madison Jackson, Andria Armstrong, and Sponsor Kim McDaniel.

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SYLC Recognized by School Board

     Members of the Superintendent’s Youth Leadership Council were recognized by the Board of Education. These students were selected for their leadership and academic skills. This is a two-year program. One year the students study entrepreneurship and hear from many business professionals. In the spring, the Council travels to New York City.
     On alternating years, the students study government and politics. The students study local, state, and national politics through reading, meeting local politicians, taking a trip to Jackson to attend a legislative session, and going to Washington, DC.

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DeSoto County Schools Reading Fair

  First place winners were, from l to r, Ayralin Sneddon, DeSoto Central Elementary School; Klaeree Smith, Oak Grove Central Elementary School; Kyleigh Steele, Northpoint Christian School; Banks Wardlaw, Chickasaw Elementary School; and Kacy Carson, Center Hill Middle School.

     More than 75 winners attended the Desoto County Reading Fair. The students were winners from their respective public or private DeSoto County School, and were competing in the District Reading Fair, held at the Board of Education in Hernando. All participants received a medal.
     Students stood by their reading projects and waited for the judges to come and ask questions. The judges for the event involved librarians from public and school libraries.
     Competitors 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.

Top winners in the afternoon competition, from l to r, Sawyer Thomas, Lewisburg Primary School; Brooks Bourbonais, Overpark Elementary School; and group winners Ella O’Conner and Reagan Evans, Lake Cormorant Elementary School.

     The Reading Fair gives students the opportunity to share their favorite book through a storyboard display or a media presentation, the first year for this category. 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. The Mississippi Department of Education will host the State Reading Fair when the Regional Reading Fairs are complete.

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Sorority Stocks Shelves with School Supplies at Walls Elementary School

  From l to r—Telitha Ball, Assistant Principal at Lake Cormorant High School; Amy Cobb, Assistant Principal at Walls Elementary School; Ruth Ball, retired principal from South Panola High School, Erica Armstrong, Principal at Walls Elementary School; and Shirley Garrett, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Project Manager.

     Delta Sigma Theta Sorority members in DeSoto County have been collecting school supplies all year to donate to Walls Elementary School.
     “Some of our members are teachers and knew school supplies would be appreciated in the second semester when supplies start running low,” said Shirley Garrett, vice president of the DeSoto Chapter of 93 college-educated women.
     In addition to paper, pencils, pens, colors, glue, markers and spiral notebooks, there were flash cards and an assortment of educational games. The supplies were organized in bins and filled a pickup truck.
     “It is a blessing for our students to get this unexpected donation at the perfect time,” said Walls Principal Erica Armstrong. “Everything they brought will be put to good use.”

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"Raise the Bar" Award Winners

     Congratulations to Center Hill Elementary School for winning a DeSoto County Schools “Raise the Bar” award. CHES improved in 6 of the 7 proficiency and growth categories from 2017 to 2018 and also maintained their “A” rating from the MDE. 

     Congratulations to Overpark Elementary School for winning a DeSoto County Schools “Raise the Bar” award. OES improved in 6 of the 7 proficiency and growth categories from 2017 to 2018. OES also raised their MDE letter grade from a “B” to an “A".

     Congratulations to Pleasant Hill Elementary School for winning a DeSoto County Schools “Raise the Bar” award. PHES improved in all 7 of the proficiency and growth categories from 2017 to 2018, and also maintained their “A” rating from the MDE. 

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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