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DeSoto County Schools

DeSoto Digest Newsletter - November 2017

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DeSoto County Schools earns ‘A’ rating

     DeSoto County Schools earned the highest possible academic rating for the 2017-18 school year.

     According to results released by the Mississippi Department of Education, the DeSoto County School District is an “A” rated school district and is one of only nine school districts in Mississippi to receive an “A” ranking for both the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years. 

     “I am excited that DeSoto County Schools received an “A” rating and that we finished in the top 10 percent of school districts in the state,” said Superintendent Cory Uselton.  “It is definitely a team effort in our school district, and I am very proud of the hard work and dedication of all of our teachers, our students, our administrators and our staff.  Our theme for this current school year is ‘Raise The Bar.’  We want to learn from this test data that we received and focus on continuous improvement in all of our schools,” he added.

     The A-F grading system is set by state law and is designed to inform parents and communities how well their schools are educating students.

     The grading system considers several indicators including how well students perform on state tests, whether students are showing improvement on those tests from year to year and whether students are graduating on time. The system also factors in how well schools are helping their lowest achieving students make progress toward proficiency.

     Highlights from the accountability report are:

  • During the 2015-16 school year, DeSoto County Schools was five points above the A/B cutoff. During the 2016-17 school year, DeSoto County Schools was 15 points above the A/B cutoff.
  • Lewisburg High School is the #1 high school in the state and Hernando High School is the #2 high school in the state.
  • Lewisburg Middle School is the #1 middle school in the state, DeSoto Central Middle School is the #2 middle school in the state and Center Hill Middle School is the #3 middle school in the state. Two other middle schools ranked in the top 10: Hernando Middle School at #8, and Olive Branch Middle School at #9.
  • Lewisburg High School, Hernando High School, DeSoto Central High School and Center Hill High School are in the top 10 schools in the state for English II proficiency.
  • Lewisburg High School, Hernando High School, DeSoto Central High School and Center Hill High School are in the top 10 schools in the state for Algebra I proficiency.
  • Out of 361 grade 3-5 schools in the state, we have three schools in the top 10 in math proficiency (Hernando Hills Elementary, Center Hill Elementary School and Pleasant Hill Elementary School).
  • Out of 361 grade 3-5 schools in the state, we have three schools in the top 10 in science proficiency (Pleasant Hill Elementary School, Lewisburg Elementary School, and Oak Grove Central Elementary School).
  • Our middle schools overall ranked 5th in the state in 6th grade math proficiency, 5th in the state in 7th grade math proficiency, and 4th in the state in 8th grade math proficiency.
  • Six of the top 11 middle schools in the state in student growth are DeSoto County Schools. DeSoto Central Middle School is #1, Lewisburg Middle School is #3, Center Hill Middle School is #4, Olive Branch Middle School is #5. Horn Lake Middle School and Hernando Middle School are tied at #10.  
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A Healthier Me

      A national launch of a digital program took place in a Pleasant Hill Elementary School’s 3rd grade classroom.

     EVERFI’s Healthier Me is an innovative digital course that arms elementary school students with the tools to make healthy, informed decisions when it comes to nutrition and fitness.  With Healthier Me, students embark on fun wellness adventures through interactive games and a spunky monster sidekick named Chester.  From choosing how to get to school to creating a well-balanced cafeteria lunch, students experiment with true-to-life scenarios to achieve positive wellness outcomes.

     “Healthier Me teaches you good things to eat, but it is also fun to play,” Paisley Walls, a third grade student at Pleasant Hill Elementary.

     The launch took place in Todd Willis’ classroom.  Willis is a former DCS’ Teacher of the Year who uses sustainable school gardens to transform his classroom and surrounding school grounds into an agricultural learning lab where his students learn about math, science and social studies through hands-on projects.

     On any given school day, Willis' third-graders are busy feeding chickens, gathering eggs and getting their hands dirty in an outdoor garden where they grow lettuce, strawberries, wheat, sweet corn and other crops.

     “I like this digital program,” Willis said.  “Initially, I did not think a work station model would work well with a garden, but it does.  This program provides an element of curriculum that enriches their knowledge of sustainable school gardens. It is easy to use and complements what we are doing in my classroom."

     EVERFI partnered with the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi to underwrite the program.  A Healthier Me is provided to schools at no cost thanks to an anonymous donor who works through the CFNM. This is the second digital program the Community Foundation has sponsored in DeSoto County Schools.  The first was the Community Digital Scholars Program, a digital platform that informs students on critical life skills like financial literacy, digital citizenship, entrepreneurship, diversity and inclusion.

     “The foundation is introducing a pilot of Healthier Me in DeSoto County,” said CFNM President Tom Pittman.  “It complements both an elementary and middle school curriculum and is aligned to the National Health Education Standards.”

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Preparing English Language Learners for Academic Success at SES

     Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 –October 15) was cause to celebrate at Southaven Elementary, according to SES Principal Christy Johnston.

     There are 116 out of 748 students at SES who can trace their roots to Spain, Mexico, and the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.  EL Teachers Whitney Knight and Sonya Nipp said they studied Hispanic cultures and traditions to help their students become proficient in English. 

     “We have the best job ever,” said Nipp.  “Our students have a desire to master English, and they learn so quickly.  We have the opportunity to see rapid growth and it is fun to teach when students want to learn.”

     Journaling is one way these EL teachers encourage students to practice their English skills and improve their vocabulary.  To help students get started, these teachers offer students “writing prompts” about current events. After students make several journal entries, the teachers encourage them to pick their favorite writing piece and read it to the class on a custom-made stage in their classroom.

     Nipp's father built the stage, and it has become a popular learning tool. 

     “Say it loud, and say it proud” is an expression the teachers often say to the performers.

     “Our stage helps students build confidence in a small setting,” Nipp said.  “Just as when learning an instrument one must practice to improve, practicing reading, writing and speaking strengthens students’ language skills.”

     The teaching duo has also organized a Spanish Club that meets after school.

     “We hammer English at school,” Nipp said.  “During Spanish Club we get to celebrate their native language and compare/contrast their holidays with American holidays. Students feel like their language is important as they learn how to read and write Spanish, the language many speak at home.”

     Besides Hispanic English Language Learners, the teachers work with students from Yemen and China.

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Farm to School at DCS

     Farm-fresh, local foods are being served in the cafeterias at DeSoto County Schools so students can enjoy great nutrition and learn to like fruits and vegetables.

     October is “Farm-to-School Month,” according to Director of Child Nutrition Alex Hallmark.  Part of her Department of Defense school lunch funds could be allocated to buy local produce.

     Students have munched on watermelon, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, yellow squash and zucchini, all grown on farms in Mississippi.

     How did the kids like squash and zucchini?

     “They liked it,” Hallmark said.  “Elementary students had an added incentive—they got a sticker if they tried it.  The sticker said ‘I tried a local food today.’”

     While the sticker encouraged them to pick up a vegetable cup, the question is:  Did the students eat it?

     The cafeteria staffs monitored plate waste and reported there were a majority of empty cups on trays. The squash and zucchini, cooked with a little butter and salt, was artfully displayed. Teachers told students about how the food was grown nearby, creating curiosity about vegetables some had never tasted.'

     Hallmark said purchasing farm-fresh Mississippi foods supports Mississippi farmers and local economies.  She also said local foods are fresher and more nutrient-dense when there is less time between harvest and consumption.

     Cafeteria staff, dressed in farm attire, also encouraged students to try new foods.

     “I was very pleased with the extra effort of our staff,” Hallmark said.  “Local farmers delivered their produce here, and our area supervisors took the food to 39 school sites.”

    Mississippi Farm to School Network provided the stickers and sent every school locally grown herbs that are displayed in cafeterias and will be planted in school gardens next month. 

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Chefs of CTC West

     They walked in to win, and their strategy worked.

     The “Chefs of CTC West,” a five member cooking team, entered the Savor the Flavor Cooking Competition at Delta State University with an air of confidence. They had developed their own recipe and experimented with seven different chicken seasonings before they felt the recipe was perfected.

     “I told the team they had a winning recipe—just replicate what they had prepared in class time and time again,” said Christy Rochelle, Culinary Arts teacher at CTC West.

     With starched jackets and crisp chef hats, the team began preparing a dish of chicken, brown rice and black beans with surgical precision.  Their creation was named “Cuban Fresca Chicken.”

     “Each one of us had a specific task,” said Ericka McGriff.  “Jonathan Bell was responsible for the preparation of all vegetables and garnishes, as well as making the Pico de Gallo. Julia McGarah and I had to prepare the lemon pepper chicken with orange bastings. Sara Schmidt was responsible for cooking the rice, including the seasonings, corn, beans and pepper garnish. I would describe our team as chaotic cohesiveness.

   What were lessons the team learned from this competition?

   “One misstep can ruin the entire dish affecting the taste, texture and flavor. We practiced and practiced and practiced some more so we knew what to do under pressure,” said Julia.

   The group agreed that they soon learned they had to improvise because the test kitchen at Delta State did not have all the cooking trays and equipment they had at CTC West.

   “You need a backup plan when you run into a problem, and we had multiple backup plans including improvising when we found ourselves without cooking pans for the chicken,” said Ericka.  “We used aluminum foil for our chicken and it worked.”

   All team members agreed their winning ingredient may have been an Italian parsley they grew. 

   “We had to follow the Mississippi School Guidelines for School Lunches,” said Julie.  “We were required to use two ingredients that were local and grown in Mississippi.”

   The competition was sponsored by the Mississippi Department of Child Nutrition and Viking.  The CTC West team won the North Regional Championship.  The statewide competition will be January 24th. If they win this state title, they will move on to compete in the national competition at Louisville, Kentucky, the top prize being a full ride to Sullivan University in Kentucky, valued at $57,000 per student.  If they win the statewide competition, their recipe will be served in the Mississippi school lunch program.

    “We are seniors, but if we win state and our recipe is prepared and served in schools, we will have to come back and see it, “said Jonathan.

     Christy Rochelle teaches the culinary class.  She has been a teacher for DCS for about 15 years, but has also run a catering business and a restaurant.

     “I was so proud when the judges congratulated our group on teamwork and communication skills,” Rochelle said.  “All five members are leaders, so developing a cohesive team was a process.  Win or lose this team has made me very proud.  They did their absolute best to create an original recipe and they learned how to quickly prepare it to perfection.”

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Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation Brings Project Fit America! To SIS

Blue Cross & Blue Shield Health & Wellness Coordinator Eugenia King, SIS Principal Kenneth McKinney and Olympic Medalist Dr. Rochelle Stevens

     It was ribbon cutting time at Southaven Intermediate School and students’ energy levels were high.

     The award-winning Southaven High School band played the National Anthem, an Olympic medalist spoke on a lifetime of fitness, and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation representatives told about a vision they have for a healthier Mississippi.

     Students celebrated a $28,000 grant that Blue Cross & Blue Shield of MS Foundation awarded to Southaven Intermediate School to establish the 14th Project Fit America system in DeSoto County Schools, bringing their total investment in DCS to $370,000. The Blue Cross & Blue Shield representative was Eugenia King, health and wellness coordinator.

     Project Fit America’s mission is to support schools in their endeavor to create children of healthy mind and body, and to work to embrace heart healthy lifestyles.

     The Project Fit program is a core curriculum consisting of indoor activities, outdoor activities, physical games and lesson plans with a goal to get students more physically active.

     Dr. Rochelle Stevens, two-time Olympic track medalist and Memphis native, spoke to the students on the importance of setting goals and working hard to achieve those goals.  She told students her routine for getting in shape for the Olympics included doing 2,000 sit-ups per day. She was a 1996 Olympic gold medalist for the United States in the women’s 4/400-meter relay.  She was a part of the team that won the silver medal in the same event and 6th in the world in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

     In her address to the students she encouraged them to achieve the two C’s of success: choice and challenge.  The choice is to be active and educated and to accept the challenge of pursuing your dreams. After her talk, she mixed and mingled with students, freely giving high 5’s and hugs to all who passed her.

     After the address, SIS students demonstrated how the Project Fit America equipment is used by jumping over vault bars, climbing poles, swinging across horizontal bars, working out on parallel bars and doing chin-ups and step-ups on the equipment.

     “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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Hope Sullivan Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Will Petty, Yamileth Garfias and Sam Moncivaez received tips from their parents to look like 1960 kids.

     What were people doing in 1967, the year Hope Sullivan Elementary School opened its doors?

     According to 2nd Grader Will Petty, “They were smashing butter, cutting logs and hunting like the Pilgrims.”

     Kindergartener Miyah Johnson said, “They were not riding in cars or buses.  They did not have electricity.  They had to walk on their feet.”

     For the 700 K-2 students, 50 years ago is so far in the past, they could not imagine what life was like. They all agreed that life had to be primitive and couldn’t understand what children did without their iPads.   

     To celebrate HSES’ 50th birthday, teachers, staff and students entered classrooms with sounds of the Monkees playing “I’m A Believer” in the background. Teachers were dressed in white go-go boots, wearing tie-dyed shirts, headbands and flowered shirts. Students learned brief facts about the history of their school and the 1960s, finding out that times might not have been as rough as they imagined.

Kindergarten Teacher Assistant Rosey Denton and Kindergarten Teacher Jane Blalock showed students the fashions of the ‘60s.

      “In 1967, people did have electricity, cars and buses,” said Jane Blalock, a kindergarten teacher who began her education at HSES.  “It was in style to dress differently.”

     The land for the school was donated by Hope P. Sullivan and the School Board named the school in his honor.

     Faculty at HSES moved into their new building in Southaven the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  Most of Sullivan’s teachers moved the books and school supplies from Southaven Elementary School in their personal cars.  It began as a 1-8 school.  Next it was a K-5 school, and after Southaven Intermediate School opened, it became at K-2 school.

     Melton McMasters was the principal for the first three years.  A two-story addition of twelve classrooms was added.  At one time, there was a 1300-plus student population. Other principals included James Hutchison, Jim Ferguson, Patricia Hefley, Lynn House, Joann Walton, Joan Davis- Robertson, Jerry Darnell, Emily Ballard, Amanda Samples and current principal Bettye Magee.

     "It is an honor to serve as principal in a school with a rich history.  One characteristic has been a constant for 50 years--we treat all students as if they were our own.  That is why many of our grandparents and parents have their children here," said Principal Magee.

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1st Annual Elementary Relay Races in Olive Branch

     Life is better for kids if they are running.

     That is a belief of Overpark Coach JJ Downs, and he has a plan to get more elementary students involved.  He kicked off the “1st Annual Elementary Relay Races in Olive Branch” with a competition between Overpark Elementary and Center Hill Elementary Schools.

     “The purpose of the races between the two schools was to provide us with a starting point for future races among all the schools in DeSoto County.  I wanted to start the relay races in hopes to have a full track meet for all the elementary schools in DeSoto County in the future,” Coach Downs said.

     He loves to promote running for all ages in DeSoto County and believes healthy competition helps to expose the kids to the sport of track and field and improve behavior.  To participate in his meet, students had to have good conduct/behavior, good grades, low absenteeism and parental approval. 

     “Kids raced during physical education each week and came up with the fastest twelve boys and girls for each grade.  Then we made three teams of four for the 4x100m relay. Each kid ran 100 meters and then handed the baton off to their teammate,” Downs said.

     “We gave out 1st, 2nd and 3rd place ribbons and the others got participation ribbons. We had six teams racing, three from each school.  We had 144 girls and 144 boys to run with a total of 288 kids that got to run over the two day event,” he added.

     Next year he plans to add Lewisburg and Olive Branch schools.

     “We hope to grow every year until we have a district wide event,” he added. 

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Hernando Elementary Tigers Give Hope

HES raised $20,000 to donate to St. Jude.  

     St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has a life-changing impact on the lives of children and families.  This fact became relevant in the Hernando community a few years ago when a young student and his family experienced St. Jude care firsthand.  Since that time, there have been other DCS students who have become St. Jude patients.  Hernando Elementary School began working with St. Jude because of the difference St. Jude made, not only with the patient, but with the entire family.  HES considers their students, parents, staff and community as family and if one family member is hurting, everyone feels the pain.  

     HES Principal Renee Triplett said, “We cannot predict the future; it could be us in need tomorrow.  This is the reason we support St. Jude.  It is an honor to work together for the greater good and give to St. Jude.”  

     How did Hernando Elementary raise $20,000 to donate to St. Jude?  The month of September was dedicated to the effort.  There were dress up Fridays, a coin drive, dunk tanks, t-shirts, a balloon release and the September 21 Walk on St. Jude's campus.  Triplett said this was their school's opportunity to show gratitude and thankfulness for places like St. Jude.

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Move to Learn Comes to PHES

     Pleasant Hill Elementary students learned all about “brain breaks”.

     Students in kindergarten through fifth grade moved their heads, ran in place and pumped their arms as they kept pace with the “Move to Learn” exercise videos that played in the school’s gym.

     The Bower Foundation of Mississippi and the Office of Healthy Schools has produced 51 videos that are free of charge and may be downloaded at

     No stranger to DeSoto County Schools, Clinton PE teacher Larry Calhoun featured in the videos,  led the action-packed presentation.  Students looked at their visitor as nothing short of a rock star.

     The objective of the program is for elementary students to exercise to the music videos, giving them an opportunity to both burn off energy and stimulate their brains.

     The original idea for “brain breaks” originated at Shadow Oaks Elementary where students made short videos that got students moving.  The Bower Foundation learned about these daily activities and decided to back the idea in time, resources and talent.

     Some teachers report that they use the short videos when they transition between math and language arts, saying that students think they are resting, but they are really getting  ready for the next subject.

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Southaven Intermediate Gets $10,000 Grant from Burlington

Burlington presented a $10,000 grant to Southaven Intermediate School.  From left, Supt. Cory Uselton, Asst. Store Manager Yolanda Gillard, Southaven Intermediate School Principal Kenneth McKinney, DCS School Board Member Michele Henley, and Store Manager Russ Thigpun.

     Teachers at Southaven Intermediate got an unexpected surprise—a $10,000 grant from Burlington store in Southaven.

     “We are committed to the communities where we live and work,” said Burlington Store Manager Russ Thigpun.

     Burlington moved from Stateline Road in Southaven to 225 Goodman Rd W, in Southaven, the former location of Sports Authority. To celebrate their grand opening, they teamed up with  This organization selected Southaven Intermediate School based on the needs of the school and proximity to the new store.

     “We know teachers spend money out of their own pockets on classroom materials each year,” Thigpun told the 1,200 students and teachers in the school’s gymnasium.  “This program provides gift cards for school supplies so teachers can purchase exactly what they need.”

     Kenneth McKinney, principal at Southaven Intermediate, kept the grant a surprise.

     “This is a true blessing for our school,” McKinney said.  “The best surprises are the unexpected ones.  What a great start to a new school year.  We appreciate Burlington for sponsoring a program to provide wonderful resources for our classrooms.”

     On hand for the announcement was School Board Member Michele Henley and DeSoto County Schools’ Superintendent Cory Uselton.

     “Burlington has a company-wide initiative to give back to teachers in the towns they serve,” McKinney said.  “The cool thing about this is that it is local.  All of the money goes to a local school.  This is going to be a tremendous help to our teachers and we are so appreciative of their support.” 

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Students Honor Community Heroes in Hernando

OGCES Principal Stacey Pirtle and Assistant Principal Sherry Anderson

     A giant flag was hanging in the atrium of Oak Grove Central Elementary School.

     The lines in the flag were handwritten note cards of thanks to the police officers, sheriff’s deputies, firemen, EMTs, and dispatchers.  Teachers provided tables of food from their best recipes.  The idea was to honor Hernando’s Community Heroes.

     “Part of our positive behavior plan is to show gratitude and give affirmation,” said OGCES Principal Stacey Pirtle. 

     The guests of honor took a lot of time reading the note cards students wrote, enjoying the delicious food and talking to students. 

     “Thank you for your bravery and service for saving people and catching bad guys,” was on the card written by Caleb Ries.

     Wilson Crain’s card read, “Thank you for protecting our country.  Every day you are so brave and fearless.”

     Oak Grove Ambassadors greeted all who came to the event, directing the visitors to the food lines or offering a tour of their school.

     “Our 5th grade classes did the flag banner,” Pirtle said.  “One of our goals is for community involvement and service.”

     Students from a self-contained classroom greeted visitors, passed out forks and napkins and looked visitors in the eye.

     The first round of visitors was from the Hernando Police Department, followed by a steady stream of firefighters and deputies who all commented on the welcoming atmosphere.

     What did students learn from the event?

     “We are here to help,” said Hernando Police Chief Scott Worsham. 

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Go Jim Go Program Glides through DeSoto County

     There was dancing in the streets at seven DeSoto County Schools.

     It was time to celebrate. Students, faculty and parents worked hard to raise money for the “Go Jim Go” project,  a six-day telethon on wheels featuring Jim Jaggers, WREG News Channel 3 meteorologist.  Jim and the ‘Go Jim Go’ cycling team rode 333 miles throughout the region raising money for Le Bonheur Children's Hospital. Since its inception, Go Jim Go has raised more than $2 million for Le Bonheur. 

     Lewisburg Primary School and Lewisburg Elementary School joined forces to raise money, and together, they set a new record for school giving of $19,763. Other DCS schools participating included Horn Lake Intermediate, Shadow Oaks Elementary, Horn Lake Elementary, Hope Sullivan Elementary and Greenbrook Elementary.

     Superintendent Uselton was invited to attend the festivities at Lewisburg.  He was asked to throw a bucket of water on Jaggers to revive him after he saw the Lewisburg check. Students loved seeing the well-known weatherman get soaked.  Jaggers made a quick recovery, hopped on his bike, and was off with this bicycling team, to the next DCS school. He paused to “high 5” a number of students on a job well done.

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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


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