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DeSoto County Schools

DeSoto Digest Newsletter - December 2018

Center Hill Middle Named Blue Ribbon School

     Center Hill Middle School was named a 2018 National Blue Ribbon School, the highest award a school can receive, by the U.S. Department of Education. Students, teachers, administrators, and community leaders celebrated this accomplishment before their principal headed to Washington, D.C. to accept the award from Aba Kumi, Director, National Blue Ribbon Schools Program.

     Every year since 1982, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private elementary, middle, and high schools across the country for demonstrating superior academic performance for making substantial progress in closing student achievement gaps.

     Dr. Carey Wright, Mississippi State Department of Education Superintendent, attended the celebration. She was introduced by DCS Superintendent Cory Uselton.

     “Center Hill Middle is one of only three schools in Mississippi that will be recognized as a Blue Ribbon School this year,” Dr. Wright told students, teachers, and community leaders in an outside assembly in front of the school.  “Nationally, Center Hill is one of only 22 public middle schools receiving this award.  You are in the top .3 percent of schools in the nation. That is phenomenal!”     

“The Mississippi Department of Education nominated Center Hill Middle School because of the exceptional teaching and learning that takes place here,” she added.  ‘I am a firm believer that all students are capable of succeeding when they are challenged to reach high standards and provided with quality teaching and support. Center Hill is a model for the entire state because you have proven that all students can learn and achieve at the highest levels.”

     CHMS Principal Larry Hood opened the ceremony by giving special recognition to the former principals of CHMS for providing leadership, hiring the staff, and setting the tone of excellence that has made this school nationally recognized.

     “Jacob Stripling, principal at Olive Branch High, and Nick Toungett, principal of Horn Lake Middle, were principals here before me,” Hood said.  “Doug Payne, principal at Center Hill High, opened this school and served as principal for four years.  A school is only as strong as its weakest teacher.  I can tell you, we have no weak teachers.  Each person on this team has a passion for helping every student be the best he or she can be.”

     Hood explained in the 2016-2017 school year, Center Hill Middle School’s 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students were number 3 in the state in reading and math proficiency, number 1 in the state in reading growth and number 3 in math growth.

     “These rankings and scores represent a fraction of the hard work and dedication that our teachers and students put in to help make Center Hill Middle an exemplary place to receive a top education,” Hood added.

     Student ambassadors took school board members, community, and state leaders on a tour of their campus.  Following the ceremony, the PTO provided a reception in the library. 

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Eagles Soar to 6A MHSAA State Championship!!!!

     Horn Lake High School is the 2018 MHSAA 6A State Football Champion, ending the season with a perfect 15-0 record. The Eagles defeated the Oak Grove Warriors 31-27 in the championship game. 

     "It was an unbelievable game, and it was so great to see all of the excitement and support for this team on the field and in the community," said Superintendent Cory Uselton.  "I am so proud of our Horn Lake High School players and coaches.  This is an amazing accomplishment." 

     An interception in the fourth quarter and a 40-yard run by Eagles' senior defensive back Drew Leverson gave the team the final points they needed to seal the victory of a total team effort.     

     “The amount of happiness I have for these guys is like nothing I’ve ever felt,” HLHS Coach Brad Boyette told the DeSoto Times Tribune newspaper about his team’s success. “This is a group of guys that were 2-10 as freshmen. They got their teeth kicked in and decided they didn’t like it. It’s just unbelievable the work they have put in.”

    “We’re Horn Lake and people take a lot of pride in our community,” Boyette said. “When this group was playing seventh and eighth-grade ball, you could just see their love for the game and their athletic ability and the determination to win.”

     The football game was played Friday, Nov. 30 at M.M. Roberts Stadium on the Southern Miss campus (Photos Courtesy of Keith Warren, MHSAA).

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Cartwright Earns Individual MHSAA State Title

     Katelyn Cartwright, a senior at Hernando High School, won the 2018 MHSAA 6A Individual Championship in Cross Country.  Her winning time for running a 5K (3.1 miles) was 19:23.  The Hernando High Cross Country Team finished in second in the state competition. This is Katelyn’s second time to earn this honor.  Her sister, Jessica Cartwright, an 8th grade student at Hernando Middle, finished in 3rd place.  Last year Katelyn also won Individual Championships in 800 meter race, mile, and two mile races.   Katelyn has won a total of five state championships in the past two years.  

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Swim State Champs

Taylor Williams, Center Hill High, left; Nic Thornton, Hernando High, right.

     Two DeSoto County School District swimmers earned MHSAA state championships at the state meet at the Tupelo Aquatic Center.

     Taylor Williams of Center Hill High School and Nic Thornton of Hernando High won first place in two categories. Williams set a state record in winning the boys’ 200 yard intermediate medley in a time of 1:53:06 and also won the boys’ 100 yard breaststroke in a time of 57.24 seconds. Thornton won both the 50 yard freestyle event in a time of 21.47 seconds and the 100 yard freestyle in 48.16 seconds.     

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Foundation for Excellence in Education Grants Awarded

     For Mike Doss, it means several small drones that students will use to help with inventory control in their Career Tech Center-East Transportation/Logistics classes.

     At Overpark Elementary, Michelle Kinggard’s Spotlight students will get to experience Crime Scene Investigations through the use of CSI kits, which encourage students to use their critical thinking skills to solve mysteries.

     Suzan Gavrock’s 8th grade science students at Center Hill Middle School will better understand abstract physics principles because of the hands-on equipment she is adding to her classroom.

     These three teachers were among 133 award winners who received a DeSoto County Foundation for Excellence in Education grant. Winners were selected from a group of 405 applications. Since 1989, the nonprofit has awarded annual grants to help teachers cover classroom expenses for special projects and activities. The Foundation is a part of the DeSoto Economic Development Council.

     Teachers from public and private schools in the county received $57,669 in grants this year. The checks were presented to winning teachers during a ceremony at DeSoto Hills Baptist Church in Southaven. Teachers at all of the DeSoto County school system's 42 public schools received grants.

     Under the grant program, teachers submit a proposal for how they would use a grant if chosen. Those selected receive up to $500 to fund their projects. Teachers can apply each year. Since the non-profit foundation was established in 1989, it's distributed $1,113,273 to purchase classroom resources.

     “This is a great event for all of the schools in DeSoto County,” said Supt. Cory Uselton.  “We appreciate the tremendous amount of work the DeSoto County Economic Development Council puts into this program. It’s a great example of the partnerships between schools and the business community.  All the teachers here, both public and private, took extra time to write the grants because they wanted to do that little extra for their students. This is an example of teachers going the extra mile to make sure their students succeed.”

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Birthday Cupcakes at SES

     For the last three years, The Cake Lady Bakery has made monthly visits to Southaven Elementary School to celebrate all 758 students’ birthdays with special cupcakes.  The owner of the bakery is Lauren Rhodes. Markova Reed, Channel 3 News Anchor, came to SES to see students enjoy their sweet treats and feature the bakery and school on her “Bright Spots” segment.

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Hernando High Band Wins State Championship

Click here to watch the award winning performance.

     Hernando High School is the 2018 MHSAA/Mississippi Bandmasters Association 6A Marching Band State Champion. This is the third time this band has earned this title, also winning in 2014 and in 2015.

     Len Killough, the band director at Hernando High School for seven years, also team teaches band at Hernando Middle School.  He has taught his 27 seniors since 7th grade. 

     "These students know me and knew my expectations before they come to the high school.  I am kind of gruff.  I want every student to be the best they can be," he added.

     "All the DCS bands are fantastic.  All are doing a great job.  Dennis Cox, the band director at DeSoto Central High, was the first person to walk over and congratulate me after our win.  Kim Hallmark, band director of the 5A State Champion Lewisburg High, is one of my former students.  We support each other. All of the band directors are close. "

     "One of the greatest statistics about DCS band programs is that 100% of our band students are offered band scholarships at the state universities," he said.  “This says a lot about the band programs at DeSoto County Schools.”

     The name of his award winning show was "Fleeting Bloom:  The Life of a Cherry Blossom.” The music was written by Julie Giroux of Madison, MS, and featured her symphony, "Postcards from Japan."

     Len Killough is quick to tell you the MHSAA 6A State Championship is not about him, adding, however, “This has been a crazy year.”  Currently, he is president of the MS Band Masters, the state organization for all MS Bands. Hernando High School won the Band Master's Grand Championship in Memphis, a title that a Memphis school has held for more than 20 years; and he was recorded standing in front of a sprinkler during a competition to protect his flag girls from getting wet. The video got more than 2 million hits on Facebook and was shown on "The Today Show" and "The Tonight Show."  Talk show host Jimmy Fallon said, "This is a great example of a servant leader."

     Killough said he takes great pride in how this group of 156 students represent Hernando High at all performances.  "Our kids are complementary of other bands and clap and root for them.  They congratulate other competitors. I am constantly told how respectful they are of other teams."

     Killough is from Booneville MS, and was a senior offensive tackle on his football team when they went 11-0 to become state champions.  His football coach and band director allowed him to play football and march with the band at halftime, wearing his football pads, and carrying his trombone.  Killough allows HHS football players to do the same.

     Producing the award-winning production started in December 2017 and demanded a year-long effort.  Band camp lasted two weeks in July and often required 14 hour days at work, from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. -- except on Wednesdays and Sundays when Killough serves at the choir director at Gracewood Baptist Church.

     "My wife (Allyson Killough, principal of Career & Technical Center West) allows me to live my dreams," he said. 

     Killough is an operatic tenor and has a double major from Delta State University in instrument and vocal education.  He earned his Master's degree from Ole Miss and a Master’s degree in administration from Arkansas State University.

     Killough says he "tries to make sure that band is about the experiences they have and not the number of trophies."

     Assistant band directors are Victoria Jones, Joe Quinnelly, and Tyler Harris.  "We set students up to do well.  They do all the work."

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SHS Government Club

     Timothy Gardner, Southaven High AP U.S. History teacher, took his SHS Government Club to Jackson to represent DeSoto County Schools at the Mississippi Youth Legislature.

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Local Schools Received Grants for Collecting Supplies for Troops

     Two DeSoto County schools received physical education grants for collecting a combined 2,323 boxes filled with toiletries, snacks, and handwritten letters for North Mississippi troops deployed overseas.

     The supplies were collected during Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto’s annual Shoeboxes for Soldiers drive and were presented to members of the Army National Guard’s Project Package program during Baptist DeSoto’s Veterans Day event on Nov. 8th. More than 30 schools participated in the drive and collected 5,000 shoeboxes. U.S. Marine Corps Reserves Col. John Caldwell (Retired) was the featured speaker.

     “It is our privilege to continue this wonderful tradition,” said James Huffman, CEO and administrator of Baptist DeSoto. “For more than a decade, our community has responded to our call to help support our servicemen and women who sacrifice their well-being for our freedom. Shoeboxes for Soldiers is one small way we can thank them for their dedication.” 

     Baptist DeSoto awarded grants to Pleasant Hill Elementary School and Center Hill Elementary School.

Pleasant Hill Elementary won a $1,000 grant for collecting 1,408 shoeboxes.

Center Hill Elementary won a $750 grant for collecting 915 shoeboxes.

     The program began with Olive Branch High’s JROTC presenting the colors.  Pleasant Hill Elementary honor choir sang The National Anthem.  It was led by Kelli Boulton.  Center Hill Elementary choir sang We Are One People.  Their choir director was Anna Fortenberry. 

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School Board Recognizes Two State Champs

     Lewisburg High School won the 2018 Mississippi High School Activities Association/Mississippi Bandmasters Association 5A State Champion.  Not only did they win the overall crown for the seventh time in school history, but they also placed first in all of the categories the 13 organizations were judged on during their performance—color guard, percussion, general effect, music performance and visual performance.  The band director is Kim Hallmark.  She brought her senior band members to the school board meeting to be recognized.

     Hernando High School is the 2018 Mississippi High School Activities Association/Mississippi Bandmasters Association 6A State Champion. They also won the Bandmaster’s Grand Championship in Memphis.  Len Killough, band director, has been teaching his 27 seniors since the 7th grade.  They have reigned as state champions three times in the last seven years.

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High School Students Get “Two for One”

Caroline Ponder gets a copy of her transcript before she applies for enrollment in her dual credit history class.

     For some, applying to college is no small undertaking. It requires an ACT score, a letter of recommendation, personal data, a transcript, and the ability to complete an online application. The process has been streamlined at DeSoto County Schools through the Dual Credit Program at all eight high schools. A team of DCS counselors, business personnel, and administrators partnered with six Northwest Community College employees to guide and assist students with this process.   

Lashan Robinson, back left, Ann-Marie Perkins, back right, Stacy Hadley, front left, and Linda Sheley, front right, handled accounting issues for students to register for the dual credit classes.

     Caroline Ponder, a junior at Southaven High School, attended the event to enroll in Dual Credit U. S. History. She said everything she needed was in one place and the entire application process took less than 15 minutes. If she had a question, twelve adults were there to help her.

     Northwest Community College dual credit classes cost $50 plus the cost of textbooks. The regular fee for a community college class is $375 plus textbook fees.

     “I think this is the cheapest and best way to start college,” said Ponder. “Both of my sisters took dual credit classes and started full time college with a number of college hours and no debt.”

Dr. Jeremy Isome and Jennifer Weeks worked together to coordinate the admissions days for dual credit classes at DeSoto County Schools’ eight high schools.

     DeSoto County Schools has offered dual credit classes for several years, but the District expanded the program in 2015-16. Dual credit online classes were added in 2017-18. In 2015-16, 511 students participated in the program. The number of dual credit courses taken almost doubled to 935 in 2016-17. The addition of the online courses increased participation to 1,875 in 2017-18, and the District is on track to exceed 2,500 dual credit courses taken in 2018-19. Dual credit classes are also offered through Delta State University.

     “This program offers challenging courses, helps students prepare for college, gives students access to university resources, and saves money,” said Jennifer Weeks, assistant superintendent. “These are some of the main benefits. We appreciate the help and support of Northwest to streamline registration. Every semester we do this, we are incorporating our best practices to simplify the process. We had a great team effort this semester.”

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"Raise the Bar" Award Winners

     Congratulations to Southaven Intermediate School for winning a DeSoto County Schools “Raise The Bar” award! SIS improved in 5 of the 7 proficiency and growth categories from 2017 to 2018. They also raised their MDE letter grade from a “C” to a “B.”

     Congratulations to Oak Grove Central Elementary School for winning a DeSoto County Schools “Raise The Bar” award! OGCES improved in 6 of the 7 proficiency and growth categories from 2017 to 2018 and received an “A” rating from the Mississippi Department of Education.

     Congratulations to Southaven Elementary School for winning a DeSoto County Schools “Raise The Bar” award! They improved in all 7 proficiency and growth categories from 2017 to 2018. They also raised their MDE letter grade from a “D” to a “B." 

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Sacrifices Remembered at LCES in Observance of Veterans Day

     “Veterans are ordinary people, who in extreme conditions, do extraordinary things,” said Kristofer Beck, a science teacher at Lake Cormorant Elementary School and the keynote speaker at the school’s Veteran Day Celebration.

     Beck speaks with authority.  He served four years of active duty at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.  He also completed three tours in the Middle East, one in Saudi Arabia, and two in Jordan. He left active duty with a rank of Senior Airman, an E4 rating. 

     “A soldier is not just a person in uniform—a true soldier forms specific character traits over the years.  These values are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage,” he said to a packed audience of 600+ LCES students, many guest veterans, and the LCHS band and chorus.

     The Lake Cormorant High JROTC presented the colors, and the elementary students sang You're a Grand Old Flag and America the Beautiful, under the direction of Choir Teacher Krista Horton. The LCHS Choir sang Thank You Soldier. LCHS Band Director Jamie Young conducted This Flag We Fly, and veterans stood as their service song was played. The elementary students’ last poem and song was We Wish for Peace.

     “We thank our soldiers for their service,” said LCES Principal Carol Smith in closing.  “Today we remember and honor all those who made sacrifices to protect our freedom.”

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Compass Intervention Center

     Tajuana Williams, DCS’ Director of Mental Health, left, and Lisa Smith, CEO of Compass Intervention Center, coordinated a conference on building a trauma informed system of care.  More than 160 mental health professionals and school counselors collaborated on mental health issues to address the social and emotional needs of all students. Sponsorships and enrollment fees raised $2,616.16 for DeSoto Economic Council’s Foundation for Excellence in Education.  Smith made the presentation to Supt. Cory Uselton, and he presented the funds to the Council for their teacher grant program.

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Students Compete in District Chess Tournament

Avery Brewer set a new record when he won 1st place for the third year as the high school chess champion.

     More than 500 students and a large number of volunteers took part in DeSoto County Schools’ Chess Championship held at Longview Heights Baptist Church. The chess tournament is the largest annual chess tournament in the state of Mississippi. 

     The Tournament began in 1994 between Hernando Elementary and Southaven Elementary and now encompasses all schools, giving students a chance to test their wit and strategy against their peers. It is coordinated by Emily Nelson, DCS’ Executive Director of Leadership Development.

     The students compete for individual awards as well as team awards. Four schools earn team trophies for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. At the middle and high school levels, five students take home individual trophies.  At the elementary level, 10 students from each grade earn a trophy.  The Swiss System of Scoring, where winners play winners for 5 rounds, is used.  If there is a tie, a computer program determines the champion.

     “The students love to take home the hardware,” said Nelson. “We want to give that opportunity to lots of students, but we also want winning an award to be a special honor.  At the moment, I think we have the right balance.”

      Avery Brewer, a junior at DeSoto Central High, is the tournament’s 1st Place High School Champion for three years in a row.  His win sets a new record for the tournament.

     We could not run this event without our volunteers,” said Nelson. “Our tournament director for ten years is Jeff Bolhuis. Even though his children are no longer involved, he takes two days of vacation to run our chess tournament. No one could do a better job.”

     Craig Saurage, a computer engineer and Mississippi’s 2016-2017 state Chess Champion, helped at the tournament and coaches Oak Grove Central Elementary chess program for several hours each week. His daughter, Madison, is nine-years-old and is on the team.  He also has a four-year-old daughter, Hadley, who knows how to play chess. 

     “It’s cool to have him here," said Madison.

     “This tournament gave me an outlet and a challenge when I attended Olive Branch Intermediate School,” said Kevin Diehl, the music teacher at Southaven Elementary School and former longtime tournament competitor.  “I have enjoyed coming back and being a part of the event.”

     And the winners are…

Grade 4 

3rd - Anderson Smith (LES)

2nd - Madison Saurage (OGCES)

1st - Isaac Carey (SIS)

1st Place Team- LES

Grade 5

3rd - Caleb Rucker (DCES)

2nd - Camden Lunsford (LES)

1st - Hayden Polk (OGCES)

1st Place Team - OGCES

Grade 6
3rd - Ryan Terry (CHMS)
2nd - Ben Ellis (LMS)
1st - Taylor Cook (LMS)

1st Place Team - LMS

Grade 7 & 8

3rd Place - Grazielle Laureta (SMS)

2nd Place - Mason-Harrell Cook (DCMS)

1st Place - Johnathan Kiesel (LMS)

1st Place Team - DCMS

High School
3rd - Conner Roberson (SHS)
2nd - Bailey Terrell (HHS)
1st - Avery Brewer (DCHS)

1st Place Team - HHS

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Students Plant “Historical” Trees Around DeSoto County

     Students in Todd Willis’ Spotlight class at Pleasant Hill Elementary planted a “George Washington Sycamore Tree” on the grounds of the Courthouse in Hernando.  The tree grew from a seed of a tree at Mount Vernon. His students can tell you that George Washington, the father of our country, was also a horticulturist, farmer, and landscape designer at heart.  With funds from a grant from the Mississippi Soil and Water Conservation Commission, Willis partnered with American Heritage Trees to secure “historical trees” to plant around DeSoto County. Supervisor Lee Caldwell helped the students find places in the county to plant the trees. Students took turns digging holes and planting the trees.

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The ARC Awards iPads to Teachers

     Rebecca Treadway, executive director of The ARC Northwest Mississippi, center, awarded 25 iPADS to teachers who completed a two-night CEU on “Using iPADS with Special Needs Students.”  Funders for this program included Wayne Bartley with the Autism Golf Tournament, the Northwest MS Association of Realtors, and the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi.  This is the second year teachers in DeSoto and surrounding counties have had the opportunity to learn about  iPAD settings, functions, accessibility features, accessories and Apps for students with special needs.

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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


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