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DeSoto County Schools

DeSoto Digest Newsletter - May 2018

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DeSoto County School Board Votes for Teacher Pay Increase

     At the May 3rd board meeting, DeSoto County Schools' board members voted unanimously to approve a $1,000 increase to the teachers’ district salary supplement for the 2018-2019 school year.

     Teachers and teacher assistants receive a “step up” raise each year through the state teacher scale, but this money will be in addition to the yearly incremental raise.

     DeSoto County school board members also voted unanimously to approve pay increases for teacher assistants and other hourly employees for the 2018-2019 school year.  These raises were initiated by the school board members through savings and spending cuts.

     “As a school board, we all want to give our teachers and staff as much compensation as possible,” said School Board President Shelia Riley.  “Our superintendent and school board members have worked very hard over the last three years to cut spending at the district level so more money could go to our teachers, teacher assistants, and staff.  We have a great group of employees, and our board members are appreciative of their hard work.  They are very deserving of this pay increase.”

     "We have been working on this project for several months.  These pay increases are the direct result of strategic spending cuts in recent years, and we are extremely excited that these savings have allowed us to improve our local salary supplements," said Superintendent of Education Cory Uselton.  "We are incredibly appreciative of our teachers, teacher assistants, and staff."

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New Principals Named at DCS

      The DeSoto County Board of Education approved key administrative changes at the regular May board meeting.  Their positions will become effective on July 1.

     “We are very fortunate in DeSoto County to have such a qualified pool of administrative candidates within our school district.  We had 37 current DeSoto County Schools’ administrators that applied for 5 principal positions, and the principal interview committee did an outstanding job of evaluating the applicants,” said Superintendent Cory Uselton.

     Uselton added that the results of the interviews were very encouraging.

     “Not only will we have outstanding new principals in place for next school year, we also have an amazing group of future principals within the ranks or our current assistant principals.  I am very excited about our talent pool of administrators.”     

New Principal Hires:

Sherry Anderson (Principal – Lewisburg Elementary School). Anderson has served as an assistant principal at Oak Grove Central Elementary School and Overpark Elementary School.  She replaces Amanda Samples who has been named as Executive Director of Elementary Education for DeSoto County Schools.

Erica Armstrong (Principal – Walls Elementary School). Armstrong has served as assistant principal at Horn Lake Middle School, Olive Branch Intermediate School, Olive Branch Elementary School, and Shadow Oaks Elementary School. She replaces Elisa Goss who has been named as Director of Special Education for DeSoto County Schools.

Aisha Maxwell (Principal – Overpark Elementary School). Maxwell has served as assistant principal at Horn Lake Middle School.  She replaces Lisa Love who is retiring this summer.

Carrie Speck (Principal – Horn Lake Intermediate School). Speck has served as an assistant principal at Southaven Elementary School.  She replaces Rosie King who will be moving to Olive Branch Intermediate School this summer to serve as principal for the 2018-2019 school year.

Jennifer Stripling (Principal – Southaven Intermediate School). Stripling has served as an assistant principal at DeSoto Central Middle School.  She replaces Kenneth McKinney who will be moving to Hope Sullivan Elementary School this summer to serve as principal for the 2018-2019 school year.

     “We are very excited about all of our new principals, and we are confident that they will all thrive in their new roles,” Uselton said.

Pleasant Hill Elementary School

Jamie Loper has been the principal of Pleasant Hill Elementary School for 14 years. She is retiring June 30th.

The new principal will be Bettye Magee. She is currently the principal of Hope Sullivan Elementary School.  She has served as the principal at Hope Sullivan Elementary School for 5 years.

Magee will continue as principal at Hope Sullivan through June 30th. She will become principal of Pleasant Hill Elementary School on July 1st.

DeSoto County Alternative Center 

Daniel Cooperwood has been the principal of the DeSoto County Alternative Center for one year. He is retiring June 30th.

The new principal will be Chris Stafford. He previously served as an assistant principal at Hernando High School and as a Director at the district office.

Stafford is currently serving as assistant principal at the DeSoto County Alternative Center. He will become principal of the DeSoto County Alternative Center on July 1st.

Overpark ElementarySchool 

Lisa Love opened Overpark Elementary School and also served as principal of Chickasaw Elementary School. She has been a head principal for 18 years. She is retiring June 30th. 

Aisha Maxwell will be the principal.

“We are very appreciative of all the hard work of Daniel Cooperwood, Jamie Loper, and Lisa Love, and we wish them all the best in retirement,” Superintendent Uselton said.

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Center Hill High School Student Leads

     “Democracy must be learned by each generation.”

     That is the belief of the Mississippi Youth and Government organization. One senior at Center Hill High School is doing her part to encourage civic engagement and responsible citizenship.

     Morgan Atkins founded the Mississippi Youth and Government Club at CHHS last year and currently serves as president.  At the statewide Youth and Government conference in Jackson, she was named “Most Outstanding Senator.” She was selected to represent the state of Mississippi in the United States Senate Youth Program. She attended the national conference and told the Board of Education about her experiences in Washington, DC.

     “There were 104 students representing all 50 states,” Morgan said. “Getting to interact with the other delegates was an experience of a lifetime.”

     Though participating in model government sessions, students take over the roles of government officials through hands-on participatory experiences, such as writing a bill or lobbying to get a bill passed.

     At CHHS, Morgan serves as a senior class officer, is a member of the National Honor Society, Student Council, Superintendent’s Youth Leadership Council, Select Women’s Choir, and the Pony Express (school newspaper).

     Doug Payne, principal of CHHS, said, “Morgan is a natural leader.  She was a great representative of our school district at their national conference.  The event was sponsored by the Hearst Foundation.”

     Superintendent Cory Uselton recognized her accomplishments and presented her with a plaque at the April board meeting.

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DeSoto Central Elementary Students Start an Anti-Bullying Club

     Third grade student Andrew “Gus” Lafever launched an anti-bullying club at DeSoto Central Elementary School. In one week, he has signed up more than 100 members.

     “My goal is to potentially end bullying in this school,” said the authoritative eight-year-old who reads on an 11th grade level. He says he wants students to understand bullying is not one mean comment.  Rather, he says, it is a lot of repeated mean acts that can make a student sad and not want to come to school. 

     How will he and his committee accomplish this goal? He has lots of plans, but one of his beliefs proves his thinking is original.

     “We want bullies to join our club, so they will recognize what they are doing and change,” he said.

     Other key members of his committee include Emily Grace Billingsley, Reina Prince and Avery Faulkner.

     “They have worked very hard,” Gus said.  “This is not just about me.”

     When Gus came up with the idea of this club, he met with administrators to share his ideas on how students could help. After he received the green light, he and his committee began designing posters, a logo, a PowerPoint, goals and plans for upcoming events for the club.  Principal Lisa Nye said this anti-bullying club might emerge as the largest club on campus.

     “Kids listen to other students before they listen to adults. When one student stands up and says we respect each other, this makes more difference than all the adults put together,” Gus explained.  “We have one counselor and 756 students. She can’t do everything herself.  We can help.”

     Gus continued by saying, “’Putting others down will not lift you up.’  This is something I read on Pinterest. I have seen some kids follow a bully’s influence.  They don’t stand up and stop someone from being mean.”

     One idea involves having club members sign a pledge. The pledge will say:  I am a Student Against Bullying!  And I will:

    • SPEAK UP when I see bullying.
    • REACH OUT to others who are bullied.
    • BE A FRIEND whenever I see bullying.

     “Gus is a great example of seeing a problem that is a student problem and devising a plan to solve it,” Mrs. Nye said.  “I think this club has great potential.  The whole key is motivating the students, nurturing their enthusiasm and letting them take over.”  

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2018 Salutatorians, Valedictorians, Star Students and Star Teachers with Superintendent Cory Uselton and the DCS Board of Education

Center Hill High School

Sal—Amber Terry

Val—Savannah Steen

Star Student –Jordan Riecke (35 ACT)

Star Teacher—Jared Ross

Principal—Doug Payne

DeSoto Central High School

Sal—Abigail Ransom

Val—Emma Peacock

Star Students—Jake Camp (35 ACT), Silas Nelson (35 ACT)

Star Teachers—Ashley Webb, Mary Kylie Ruff

Principal—Cliff Johnston

Hernando High School

Sal—Bradley Wallace

Val—Ireland Little

Star Student—Bradley Wallace (35 ACT)

Star Teacher—Emily Trapolino

Principal—Duane Case

Horn Lake High School

Sal—Kamiya Ingram

Val—Casey Tansey

Star Student—Jennifer Hinton (31 ACT)

Star Teacher—Mindalyn Hestir

Principal—Andy Orr

Lake Cormorant High School

Sal—Jaden Zinn

Val—Emma Merry

Star Student—Jaden Zinn (32 ACT)

Star Teacher—Lisa Hutchinson

Principal—Rhonda Guice

Lewisburg High School

Sal—Caitlin Luke

Val—Addison Green

Star Students—Addison Green (36 ACT) & Paul Winters (35 ACT)

Star Teachers—Maggie Dennis & Dana Cashion

Principal—Chris Fleming

Olive Branch High School

Sal—Mackensi Reno

Val—Julia Culver

Star Student—Julie Culver (35 ACT)

Star Teacher—Kristen Backus

Principal—Jacob Stripling

Southaven High School

Sal—Minh Sang La

Val—Hannah Witherspoon

Star Student—Bailey Jones (35 ACT)

Star Teacher-- Eddie Johnson (Not pictured)

Principal—Shane Jones

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Lewisburg Elementary Earns Regional Science Fair School Award

     The 30th annual region seven Mississippi Science and Engineering Fair (MSEF) for lower grades was held at the University of Mississippi campus in Oxford.

     The UM Office of Pre-College Programs welcomed over 400 first through sixth grade students to campus. The event brings together the top winners from local school science fair events in the 16-county region. Students in first-third grades made up the Class I participants while students in fourth-sixth grades made up Class II. There were over 13 categories of scientific study within each age group class.

     Students competing from Lewisburg Elementary School helped the school to win the Lower Fair School Award at the event. Included on the Lewisburg team were: Front (L to R): Danity Mattice, Caroline Price, Abigail Tierney, Marya Adame, Lucy Jasick, Riley Ware, Rydar Boslaugh and Makia Cinway. Second Row (L to R): Adalyn Hitchens, Tyler Anderson, Mikenzie White, Joshua Wade, Lee McNeil and Kate Johnson. Third Row (L to R): Andrea Ables, Laci Manuel, Savannah Badders, Josie Finch, Maylee Samples, Cooper Rye, Tori Benjamin, Scarlett Knight, Remlee Mattice, and Alma Ortiz. Back Row (L to R): Olivia Anderson, Alona Shankle, Brooks Berryhill, Dakota McGee, Shea Hascher, Rainey Coffman (teacher), Amanda Ready (teacher) and Baylee Burchyett.

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Light It Up Blue Hits Seventh Year Mark at Hernando High

     Hernando High Interact Club is dedicated to raising awareness about autism. The entire school and Hernando community “Light It Up Blue” during April. The courthouse and businesses on the Hernando Square go the extra mile by adding blue lights to their buildings for the month of April.

     A pep rally kicks off the month-long event. Students hear speakers, see videos, and experience sensory games that help them understand challenges autistic students face.

     “It's our seventh annual pep rally for Autism Awareness and Acceptance," English teacher Holly Neel said.  Neel is the Interact sponsor at HHS and oversees their activities. The Interact Club has received national recognition for their continuing efforts every year.

     Elizabeth Treadway is the executive director of The ARC of Northwest Mississippi.  She spoke at the assembly, challenging students to be better educated about autism. 

     “The brain works slightly different when someone has autism,” Treadway said.  “We need to accept that fact with kindness and step out to help them when given the opportunity.”       

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Stacy Harrison Nationally Recognized

     The National Elementary Honor Society selected Stacy Harrison, a Speech-Language pathologist at Pleasant Hill Elementary School, as one of two 2018 NEHS National Advisors of the Year.  Superintendent Cory Uselton recognized her honor before the DCS Board of Education.

      In the three years as an NEHS advisor, Harrison’s chapter has undertaken an array of service activities, serving both the local community and reaching beyond to support members of the armed services.  Her chapter also oversaw projects that raised $2,600 to purchase duffel bags and personal items for children in foster care; collected more than 3,600 food items to fill backpacks for students in the community; and gathered 580 shoeboxes to send to service members overseas.

     Harrison’s dedication is also recognized by her peers and administration.  In 2017, she was Teacher of the Year at Pleasant Hill Elementary, and also served on the Teacher Advisory Council of DCS.

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Two DeSoto County Schools Win Statewide Contest

From left to right, Lisa Love, principal of Overpark Elementary; Kelly Cook, Spotlight teacher; Michelle Kinggard, Spotlight teacher; Ray Laughter, director of Environmental Services; Jesse Medlin, DeSoto County Supervisor; and Brynn McCarver, Environmental Specialist.

     Two DeSoto County Schools were awarded grants for recycling programs. Overpark Elementary School earned a $1000 first place award. Walls Elementary School was awarded $500 for second place.

     Mississippi Recycling Coalition offers grants to schools to support new or expanding recycling programs.  This is the first time schools from DCS have received this grant.

     “Compost Kids” is a schoolwide composting program to eliminate the bulk of food waste in the Overpark Elementary School cafeteria. Spotlight teachers Michelle Kinggard and Kelley Cook applied for the grant.

     “We will construct a compost bin at our school, educate students about the importance of reducing food waste, and implement a system for onsite composting,” said Kinggard.  “Our long-term goal is to introduce the farm-to-table concept, plant a school garden, and use our compost to fertilize it.”

From left to right, Bill Russell, DeSoto County Supervisor;  Elisa Goss, principal of Walls Elementary; Ray Laughter, director of Environmental Services;  Carrie Lee, teacher; and Brynn McCarver, Environmental Specialist.

     “Recycling” is the grant at Walls Elementary School.  Spotlight students will get brightly colored vests and supplies to lead this program according to teacher Carrie Lee.  Lee will teach Spotlight next year.

     “The Recycling Project at Walls will give students a real world problem and a solution, something they can do to help the earth,” Lee said.  “We will be encouraging students to become more environmentally aware with this program.  We now have the funding to expand our current recycling program for containers and supplies.”

     Ray Laughter is DeSoto County’s director of environmental services.   He said he felt these two grants were selected because they involve young students.

     “’Start Young’ is the theme of the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors,” Laughter said.  “When children learn the correct way to handle waste, we should see a reduction in trash and reduce the cost of waste removal.”

     Laughter added, “The Board of Supervisors also adopted a slogan that I hope these award winners will note.  It is ‘Do Your Part, Fill the Cart.’  The advantages of recycling reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, conserve natural resources, prevent pollution and save energy.  I am proud of our DeSoto County winners.”

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Olive Branch Elementary School Wins True Value Foundation’s Painting a Brighter Future Grant

 DCS employee Gerald Faucher loads 30 gallons of paint donated by Ginger Johnson, owner of True Value Building Materials Store in Senatobia.

     A fresh coat of paint brightens any room, and this summer Olive Branch Elementary School will refresh its learning environment with donated paint.

     OBE was selected as the winner of a paint grant through True Value Building Materials Store in Senatobia. This store partnered with True Value Foundation’s Painting a Brighter Future Program.  This grant provided 30 gallons of paint to refresh OBE’s learning spaces.

     Ginger Johnson, a True Value store owner, nominated Olive Branch Elementary to receive the grant.

     “Through True Value Foundation’s Painting a Brighter Future Program, we’re able to help Olive Branch Elementary and give back to the communities we love to serve,” Johnson said.  “The donation will not only save DeSoto County Schools money, but more importantly, will create an environment that fosters learning, inspires creativity and instills community pride.”

     Johnson and her brother, Glover Johnson, own four True Value stores.

     DeSoto County Schools Employee Gerald Faucher retrieved the paint in Senatobia and is transporting it to OBE where classrooms will be painted during the summer months.

     “We appreciate this donation from True Value.  Freshly painted classrooms can have an impact on student attitudes and academic performance,” said Leighanne Wamble, principal of Olive Branch Elementary School.  “We are always looking for ways to make our school visually attractive for our 550 kindergarten and first grade students.”

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DeSoto County Schools Honored by DoD with Award

     Mississippi Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense (DoD) office, announced that DeSoto County Schools was honored with two awards — “Seven Seals Award” and “Above & Beyond Award” in recognition of extraordinary support of its employees who serve in the Mississippi Guard and Reserve.

     Daniel Shing, ESGR Training Director, appeared before the Board of Education to present these awards. Emily Ballard, SPED Supervisor at the Magnolia School, accepted the “Seven Seas Award.” Freddie Joseph, former principal at Hernando High School and now executive director of safety and risk management, accepted the “Above & Beyond Award.”

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Update on Elected/Appointed Superintendent

     The DeSoto County School Board voted unanimously to make Cory Uselton the appointed Superintendent of Education for DeSoto County Schools, effective July 1, 2018.

     “Our board members realize the importance of having a proven leader in that position, and we believe that it is important to appoint Mr. Uselton as superintendent in order to maintain continuity and stability in our school district,” said School Board President Shelia Riley.

     Cory Uselton was elected in 2015 as Superintendent of Education for DeSoto County Schools.  In 2016, the Mississippi Legislature voted to eliminate superintendent elections and assign local school boards the responsibility of appointing their school district’s superintendent.

     “Our board members have been very pleased that Mr. Uselton has managed the district in a financially conservative manner while also leading a school district that is recognized as one of the top performers in the state,” Riley said. “Our board members wanted to take care of this matter in advance so the primary focus can remain on our students and teachers,” Riley said.

     “I am thankful for our teachers, administrators, and staff.  The success of our school district is a team effort, and we are very blessed to have such a great group of people in our school district.  We will continue to build on our culture of teamwork throughout our district, and we will do all that we can to ensure that our students are receiving the best education possible. I love the students and employees of DeSoto County Schools, and I look forward to the future of our wonderful school district," Uselton added.

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Lonely Chick Finds a New Home

     When only one baby chick hatches in a classroom project, what does a teacher do?

     Jamie Williamson, a 3rd grade teacher at Walls Elementary, did not want her baby chick to be all alone. She knew this tiny bird needed a family.   After finding out that Lake Cormorant High had a chick hatching project with much better results, she knew this was where her chick needed to be. Lake Cormorant High assistant principal Sarah Jane Russell said the fledgling could join her brood.     

     The question: How could the precious cargo could be transported?

     The answer:  Send the chick on the PONY mail.

     Greg Fort carries the interoffice mail each day to 42 schools. He volunteered to take the little peep down the road to Lake Cormorant High.

     While he said this is the first time he has delivered any mail that chirped, he was glad to take the lonely chick to a new home.  That way, this bird of a feather could stick together with his new chicken family.

     The fertilized egg projects across the district were donated  by Dr. Jason Coleman.

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New Flags Will Fly at DeSoto County Schools

     Two patriotic groups were recognized by the Superintendent of Education and the DeSoto County Board of Education for their contribution to the DCS Flag Replacement Program, a program designed to provide new American flags at all 42 schools.

     The Felix LaBauve Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the WoodmenLife Insurance Company donated a total of 62 United States flags.

     Sandy Brent and Pat Corrigan represented the DAR. Jo Cox and Jean Martin represented WoodmenLife.

     “Some of our schools have multiple flag poles,” said Superintendent Cory Uselton.  “This will insure that beautiful new flags will be flying on all of our campuses.  We must replace our flags on a regular basis, and these groups help us to meet this need.  We are very appreciative of these generous contributions."

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Oh, The Places Horn Lake Middle Students Will Go!

     Imagine exploring the Great Barrier Reef in Australia as you swim with sharks, or climbing Machu Picchu in Peru as you look at panoramic views and 15th century structures.

     Horn Lake Middle students are going to do this without leaving their classrooms. Their school won a $30,000 STEM Grant from the Mississippi Department of Education. Only 12 grants were awarded statewide.

     Assistant principal Aisha Maxwell met with eighth grade science teachers (Michael Cavataio and Jennifer Morris) and learned of an initiative called “Virtual Reality Education via Google Expedition Kits.” Cavataio and Morris saw the Virtual Learning demonstration at the Mississippi Science Teachers Conference last summer and longed for their students to connect to content and invest in learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) opportunities in a new creative way.  The trio worked collaboratively to write a winning grant.

     “The state science curriculum is changing to focus more on the investigation, exploration, research and analysis of information applicable to earth science, physics, chemistry, and biology,” Maxwell said.

     With this grant, HLMS will purchase three Google Expedition Kits that will have 30 Virtual Reality headset devices, a teacher device, and a storage case housed with the other mobile technology units.

     “Every grade will have a classroom set,” Maxwell said.  “It will bring lessons to life.”   

     HLMS Principal Nick Toungett said, “Math and science are important. Our school is data driven. Formative assessments will evaluate the impact the Google Kits have on learning in the STEM subjects. We are excited and appreciative that our school was selected to expand STEM awareness in a new, creative way.”

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Students at CTC-West Learn Interviewing Skills

Dr. David Rosenthal drafted Britton Wright to get her “to tell him about herself,” a regular question on a job interview that can stump students when they have not thought of a response beforehand.

     Students at Career & Technical Center West had the opportunity to learn job interview skills from Dr. David Rosenthal, Professor & Chair of Health Care Management, Baptist College of Health Sciences.

     “A good resume gets you the interview.  A good  interview gets you the job,” said Dr. Rosenthal. 

     Here are some interviewing steps he shared:

  1. Research the organization. Have information of the company and familiarize yourself with their website. Check current press releases and stock market quotes.
  2. An opener in almost every interview is to respond to the prompt, “Tell us about yourself.” Rosenthal's suggestion to students -- write a brief script to this statement, type it and practice a response. State your capabilities, what you want to learn and where you want to go in your career. 
  3. Be prepared to answer a question about your strengths and weaknesses. Again, script a response. Take a reflective moment and glance at your notes. This shows a person’s character. 
  4. Don’t overshare on social media. Your interviewer will look at your social media feeds and realize a lot about you. Edit your pages beforehand to prevent any posts or pictures that could ruin your chances of working for a company.
  5. Dress appropriately. A conservative look is best for both young women and men.
  6. When ending the interview, have a solid, firm handshake. Ask for the interviewer’s business card, so you can write an email and thank them for their time.
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New Historical Marker Honors East Side High

     A new historical marker in Olive Branch was unveiled at Olive Branch Intermediate School.

     Former teachers, distinguished alumni, DeSoto County School Superintendent of Education and School Board members came together to honor the history of East Side High School, a segregated high school for African-American students from 1958-1970.

     Federal Judge Bernice Donald (6th Circuit Judge, US), an East Side graduate in the sixties, told the group how the teachers at East Side prepared her for her college and career.

     Superintendent Cory Uselton said, “The students and staff of East Side High School left a legacy of excellence, and it is up to our generation to make sure that their legacy is protected for generations to come.”

     East Side High’s first principal was Reverend R.C George. Over the years, the building has been an elementary, intermediate, middle and high school. Currently, 510 4th and 5th grade students attend Olive Branch Intermediate School. 

     Others who spoke at the celebration include Olive Branch Mayor Scott Phillips, Reverend Bobby Williams, former East Side teacher Elizabeth McKinney and James Bacchus.

     Tonja Hellums, principal of OBIS, said, “We are thrilled and honored that the new historical marker will stand to show others what this school represents. It is my hope that this historical marker will encourage others to know what has and will happen here as we continue to light the fire of learning. This is truly an amazing place.“

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State Champs

     The Lady Mustangs earned the 2018 5A girls' state championship title in track. Congratulations to Coach JJ Downs, coaches, parents, volunteers, and team for an amazing year.

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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