September 2019

DCS’ “Dandy Half-Dozen”

     Each year the Memphis Commercial Appeal selects the Dandy Dozen, “a collection of the top 12 college football prospects for the Class of 2020 from the Mid-South as picked by the newspaper.” The Jackson Clarion Ledger also has a Dandy Dozen list of the 12 best football players in Mississippi.

     This year five of the 12 picks from the Commercial Appeal and two of the 12 picks from the Clarion Ledger were from DeSoto County Schools. One student, Xavier Hill, was on both lists.  They represent Lewisburg High, Southaven High, Olive Branch High, and Horn Lake High Schools.  While they are great representatives of DeSoto County Schools, their coaches all said they are young men who take care of their academics as well as their athletics.  Meet DeSoto County Schools “Dandy Half-Dozen.”

     #11 Cameron Threatt—Lewisburg High School

     An interest in football developed when Cameron was four-years-old. 

     “My parents have been very supportive of my interests in sports,” he said.  “They let me start in the Olive Branch City League football at four and have made it possible for me to play soccer, basketball, baseball, and track.  I have really played football all my life.”

     This 6’1” 160 lb. player grew up in the Lewisburg schools.  LHS Head Football Coach Matt Gehrke said he noticed Cameron in the 8th grade when he was at a track competition running the 800-meter hurdles. 

      “He finished the race two hurdles ahead of the others.  I knew he had talent,” Coach Gehrke said.  “I later found out he also had a lot of internal drive and work ethic.”

     This cornerback plans to graduate from LHS in December and enroll at Mississippi State University for the spring semester."

     “I want to hit the weight room and learn the playbook.”

     Cameron plans to major in business with hopes of pursuing a career in sports administration.

     #10 Kahlil Benson—Southaven High School

     At 6’6” and 325 lbs., Kahlil is an imposing offensive tackle who has committed to Ole Miss.

     “I wanted to get it done, so I could focus on my education and senior season at Southaven High,” he said.  “I also wanted to stay close to home, so if my mother needs something, I can be nearby.”

     Kahlil has attended Southaven area schools since first grade.   A student ambassador for SHS, Kahlil said, “How I stand out as a person is as important to me as how I stand out in athletics.”

     SHS Head Coach John Stevenson said while Kahlil loves to compete, he is the first person to help wherever he is needed.

     In addition to football, Kahlil is on the SHS track team and throws the shot put.

     His long-range goals are to major in criminal justice at Ole Miss, and possibly work for the FBI.

     Kahlil said he learned early in life not to listen to naysayers who told him he would never play football at a major university.  And what does he say now?

     With confidence of a true champion, he responded, “Well, I’m here.”

     #9 Caleb Offord—Southaven High School

     Tall and slim at 6’1”, Caleb said he was surprised when he got a telephone call from the University of Notre Dame.

     “Their coaches follow me on Twitter. They asked if they came to Southaven, could we set up a workout on a Saturday,” he said.  “Two of their assistant coaches came and watched me through a workout and made a video.  A couple of days later, they called and said I had earned a place on their team.”

     The next step was to visit the Notre Dame campus, known for being one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation.

     The Golden Dome on the main building and a mural known as “Touchdown Jesus” made quite an impression.

     “I am a Christian.  When I saw the 14-story mural of Jesus on the north end zone of the stadium,   it made quite an impact,” said Caleb.

     SHS Coach John Stevenson said, “Caleb has great athletic skills, and great ball skills.  His long arms enable him to catch the ball.”  

     Caleb and Kahlil said their long-term friendship encouraged them to set goals for themselves and each other.  They grew up playing together and knew early on that they both had physical gifts.

     “We have stayed in the Word and done what our parents told us to do,” Caleb said.  “A lot of people said we wouldn’t make it—but we are, and we are blessed.”

     #8 Xavier Hill—Olive Branch High School

     Xavier, a left tackle, plans to attend the University of Alabama.  He was listed in both the Commercial Appeal’s Dandy Dozen and The Clarion Ledger’s Dandy Dozen as one of the 12 best football players in Mississippi.

     “I went to Alabama on junior day,” said the 6’4” 320 lb. senior. “As I waited to meet the best coach in football, I was very nervous.  I remember having butterflies in my stomach.  Coach Nick Saban walked into the room and was all business.  He crossed his arms and told me I have an opportunity to play for Alabama.”

     “When you are around Coach Saban, you have to really be on your toes,” he added.

     OBHS Tyler Turner said Xavier is known for “finishing blocks and for his explosive movements.”

     Until his sophomore year, Xavier considered basketball as his sport of choice.  Coach Turner changed that by introducing him to his weight room and assigning him a practice partner, Fabien Lovett, now a football player at Mississippi State University.

     “I have watched Xavier grow in the classroom and on the field. He has a strong work ethic,” Coach Turner added. “Working out with Fabien was a great experience for him and helped him develop quickly. Xavier already had the physical gifts.”

     Xavier had other scholarship offers from Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, LSU, and Florida. He has attended Olive Branch Schools since 8th grade.  He says he plans to take culinary classes with hopes of becoming a top chef.

     Jevon Banks—Olive Branch High School

     Jevon Banks from Olive Branch High School joined his teammate Xavier Hill in The Clarion Ledger's Dandy Dozen.

     Jevon plays outside linebacker and has committed to Mississippi State University. He hopes to become a defensive lineman for MSU.

     This 6’2” 270 lb.  senior is known for his physical strength. 

      “Jevon squats over 500 lbs. and power cleans 300 lbs.,” Coach Turner said.  “He is an explosive kid.  I don’t think he has ever had a bad day of practice.  As he has gotten bigger and stronger, I have seen him develop confidence in the position he is playing.”

     Deciding to play for Mississippi State was an easy choice for him.

     “I wanted the opportunity to play for Head Coach Joe Moorhead.” Jevon said.  

     “When you watch film from our games, Jevon and Xavier stand out.  Both are well-disciplined players and great kids,” Coach Turner said.

     #4 Josaih Hayes—Horn Lake High School

     Josaih knows how winning feels.  He was a defensive lineman for Horn Lake High School when they won the 6A MHSAA football state championship last season.  He plans to attend Ole Miss.

     “I hope I can help get Ole Miss back to their winning days,” he said.

     “I think Coach Matt Luke will help me develop as a player and as a man,” Josaih said. “I also feel like I will have a shot to play as a freshman.”   

     Josaih, a 6’2” 296 lb. senior, has been a starter since his sophomore year in high school.

     He credits a lot of his success to Head Coach Brad Boyette.

     “Coach Boyette is a good, caring coach.  He takes the time to know you,” Josaih said.

     Other schools offered Josaih scholarships, including Mississippi State, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Kentucky, Tennessee, Memphis, Oregon, Oklahoma, Southern Mississippi, and Florida.  

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The Night Before School Starts Bedtime Story

     It is a fact that kids may get nervous about starting a new school year.  Chickasaw Elementary Principal Selina Nichols took an innovative way to calm her student’ fears—she read a bedtime story on Facebook Live!

     She obviously filled a need since more than 5,000 viewers watched as she read School’s First Day of School, a story about the 1st day of school from the school building’s perspective.

     As parents registered their students, flyers were given out advertising the event.  Social media invited others to watch.   Word spread and viewers tuned in to see the CES Principal reading a colorful book about everyone being just a little bit nervous, especially the school itself.

     “We got great feedback online and many positive comments from parents and students,” said Nichols.

     Kathy Cooper, a former teacher, posted, “I taught first grade for many years, and I know the nervousness of the night before…(for the teacher and students).  This is the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen done in preparation for the first day.” 

     Parent Stephanie Garvin said, “Thank you for sharing this.  My son is starting 2nd grade at CES, and he is very excited.  Both of my children really enjoyed watching and listening to you read.”

     Nichols is considering a plan to make online bedtime stories a regular event by involving parents and celebrity readers from the community.

     “Some of our working parents who cannot volunteer could do this from home,” she said.  “Reading aloud is fun for everyone.”

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Chick-fil-A Supporting Classrooms, Building Futures

Teachers gathered school supplies that were donated by Chick-fil-A to take to their schools.

     Pencils, markers, glue sticks, notebooks, facial tissue, hand sanitizer, paper, folders, and composition books were gifts Chick-fil-A donated to DeSoto County Schools through their “Topple the Truck” program.

     Southaven Restaurant Operator Stuart Davidson, Olive Branch/Getwell Road Operator Brandon Paulsen, and their managers brought box after box of school supplies to Central Services.  Teachers in professional development training eagerly gathered these supplies to fill closets in their classrooms for students who need them.    

Stuart Davidson, School Board Member Ann Jolley, Superintendent Cory Uselton, and Brandon Paulsen. 

     In addition to the school supplies, the two restaurant operators presented a check for $3,769.31 to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the teacher grant program administered through the DeSoto County Economic Council.  Since the grant program was organized in 1989, more than $1.25 million has been granted to support classroom programs in public and private schools in DeSoto County.

     “Supporting educators is our pleasure,” said Stuart Davidson.  "We provide these resources to help teachers.  We know teachers often use their own personal funds when the need arises.  We wanted to help.”

     Heartland Hands also donated 30 cases of facial tissues that they collected after holding a competition among the Olive Branch, Hernando, Southaven, and Horn Lake Chambers of Commerce.

     “The Horn Lake Chamber donated the greatest number of boxes,” said Heartland Hands Director Connie James. 

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Small Change Can Make A Big Difference

     Twenty-five dollars can easily be spent at a fast food restaurant. What if that amount was automatically saved each month on a pre-tax basis?  According to Mississippi Deferred Compensation (MDC), at age 65, a 25- year-old employee may have saved $49,787*.

      “A new teacher usually does not think about retirement—but MDC can make saving for the future much easier,” said Rob Crawford, retirement plan counselor for Mississippi Deferred Compensation Plan.

     MDC allows an employee to save money on a pre-tax basis, which means savings are deducted from paychecks before any taxes are taken out.  The deductions happen automatically. Because these are pre-tax dollars, there is little impact on an employee’s check.

     Participants can take advantage of free online advice. This service can help an employee identify how much he or she should save, which investment options to choose, and what retirement income may look like.  Online Advice is provided at no additional cost as a participant in MDC.

     “The money you save through MDC can be accessed without penalties for retirement, severance of employment, death (your beneficiary receives the benefits), unforeseeable emergency (as defined by the Internal Revenue Code),” said Crawford.  “If an employee waits to withdraw funds until they are 59 ½, he or she pays no state income tax, only federal income tax.”

      For more information about the MDC, go to or call Rob Crawford at 901 305 1406. 

     *This assumes monthly contributions, an annual 6% hypothetical rate of return, reinvestment of earnings, retirement age of 65, and no withdrawals.

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USDA Helps DCS Make Lunchrooms “Smarter” as Students Head Back to Class Grant

Alex Hallmark, Child Nutrition Director

     As students begin a new school year, many will find that they are offered healthy meals and snacks at DeSoto County Schools.  Nineteen DCS schools that serve both breakfast and lunch received Smarter Lunchroom Grants, according to the USDA.

     Child Nutrition Director Alex Hallmark applied for the HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC), a voluntary program that provides financial awards to schools that choose to take steps to encourage kids to make heathy choices and be more physically active. HUSSC certifies schools that meet specific criteria at four award levels: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Gold Award of Distinction.

     “We had 19 schools recognized—13 received $4,000 for attaining the Silver Award Level, and 5 earned $2,000 for reaching the Bronze Award Level. All 19 schools earned a plaque and a banner that designates their school has a ‘Smarter Lunchroom’ designation,” Hallmark said.    

Smarter Lunchroom Grant Recipients

     Smarter Lunchrooms is a set of best practices that have been shown to help encourage kids to make healthy choices.  By using environmental cues such as better product placement and using creative names for healthier foods, these practical, research-based techniques increase student selection of healthier items and reduce plate waste.    

     “The majority of our students like healthier meals,” said Hallmark.  “Our goal is to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables.  Our snacks at school will offer students more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, leaner protein, lower-fat dairy—while decreasing foods with excessive amounts of added sugar, solid fats, and sodium.”

     Part of the awarded funds have been used to purchase bagging/sealing systems for every school.  “Sliced apples, oranges, carrots, and fresh local cucumbers are bagged and sealed,” explained Hallmark. “If a student does not want to eat the produce at lunch, it can go into a backpack for a healthy snack later.”   

     The Silver Award Schools are Chickasaw Elementary, Greenbrook Elementary, Hope Sullivan Elementary, Horn Lake Elementary, Horn Lake Intermediate, Lake Cormorant Elementary, Olive Branch Elementary, Olive Branch Intermediate, Overpark Elementary, Shadow Oaks Elementary, Southaven Elementary, Southaven Intermediate, and Walls Elementary.

     The Bronze Award Schools are Center Hill Elementary, Hernando Elementary, Hernando Hills Elementary, Lewisburg Elementary, Lewisburg Primary, and Oak Grove Central Elementary.   

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Gifted Teachers Learn from Gifted Education Leaders

Connie West, President of MAGC; Jen Cornett, MDE Gifted Specialist; and Emily Nelson, Director of Leadership Development and Gifted Studies for DCS

     State leaders in gifted education conducted a Continuing Education Unit (CEU) for DeSoto County Schools’ gifted teaching team as a means to kick off a successful school year.

Kelley Cook, Lewisburg Elementary and Angel Lashlee, Lewisburg Elementary

     Jen Cornett, Mississippi Department of Education Gifted Specialist, and Connie West, president of MAGC (Mississippi Association of Gifted Children), supplied training relevant to the education of gifted children and youth, information for teachers and families of gifted children, and updates on the newest research-based teaching strategies to teach some of the district’s brightest minds.   

Susan Powell, Pleasant Hill Elementary, and Beth Gardner, Southaven Intermediate

     "When you leave here today, I hope you will have a grab bag of things you can immediately take back for your classrooms,” said Cornett.

      Emily Nelson is the Director for Leadership Development and Gifted Studies for DeSoto County Schools and coordinator for the event.

     “Jen Cornett offers several open CEU sessions around the state each summer,” said Nelson.  “We were so lucky to get her to come to DCS.”

Dr. Nannett Brown helps test students for gifted studies.

     “Mindfulness” was a term Cornett discussed that helps students manage their emotions.  She   followed her discussion with a calming exercise.

     “Taking a minute to get students to focus on themselves, make wise decisions, calm themselves, can help them get ready to learn and focus on the present,” Cornett said.  “Mornings can be wild for gifted kids.”  

Kathryn Lander, Southaven Intermediate, and Melinda Skinner, Southaven Elementary and Olive Branch Intermediate

     MAGC President Connie West discussed the importance of parental involvement.

     “Ms. West reminded us how better involvement with parents is something to continually work toward so parents are informed and supportive of our program,” said Pleasant Hill Elementary Gifted Teacher Helene Weigel.

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Foundation for Excellence in Education Grant Program Open!

Click here to apply for a DeSoto County Foundation for Excellence in Education classroom grant.

     An online grant application for classroom grants is live, according to the DeSoto Economic Council. Teachers will have until September 4th to apply.

     A DeSoto County teacher may apply for one grant for up to $500. Groups of teachers may not apply for the same grant. Each grant should be original and academically-based to provide classroom enrichment materials beyond what other funding sources cover. The budget should reflect the actual cost of the requested items, similar to a purchase order.

     The DeSoto Economic Council’s Foundation for Excellence in Education Grant Program crossed the $1 million mark four years ago, providing classroom grants to DeSoto County teachers since 1989.

     “We are on to our next million now,” said Susan Fernandez, who coordinates the non-profit program for the Council.

     Funded by donors such as United Way, State Farm, Chick-fil-A, Krewe of Hernando, City of Walls, Entergy, Atmos Energy, Baptist Hospital-DeSoto, Grainger, other industries, businesses, and individuals, the organization raised $57,699.65 in 2018 and awarded 133 grants to teachers in DeSoto County.

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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 discounts and special offers to our educators. 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