The DeSoto Digest
A publication of DeSoto County Schools
December 2014
Kuykendall to retire December 2015


   Milton Kuykendall, 67, DeSoto County School District's Superintendent, announced he will not seek re-election for a fourth term and will retire when his term ends in December, 2015.

   "I plan to leave politics," Kuykendall stated. "I know what it takes to run a campaign and I want to give those seeking this office time to run. As superintendent for the last 12 years, I have accomplished every campaign promise I made."
   Kuykendall set three priorities for DeSoto County Schools-safety, academics, and extra-curricular activities. When he became superintendent, his vision was to make DeSoto County Schools a "STAR" or an "A" school district, an impossibility most said with the size of the district. DeSoto County Schools made history for the last two consecutive years, achieving an "A", Mississippi's highest accountability rating under the state's new, tougher regulations.

   Under his leadership, DeSoto County Schools has: 

  1. Opened 18 new schools, including an East Career and Technology Center (and has a West Career and Technology Center under construction now) to meet the requirements of a growing enrollment which is now 33,333 students, the largest in the state
  2. Achieved an "A" rating from the Mississippi Department of Education, the highest academic rating a school system can achieve
  3. Reduced the teacher/pupil ratio
  4. Provided teachers and principals resources and materials to do their jobs
  5. Enforced Mississippi Residency Laws
  6. Enhanced Performing Arts Facilities and Programs at every high school
  7. Addressed the teacher shortage
  8. Improved teacher recruitment and retention
  9. Renovated and improved all facilities in 42 schools
  10. Earned recognition as the only Mississippi School district to be named on the National Advanced Placement (AP) Honor Roll
  11. Saw the 2014 senior class receive a new record of $40 million in scholarship offers
  12. Produced 14 National Merit Semi-Finalists this year and achieved the highest ACT overall average in the District's history
  13. Secured three JROTC units-at Olive Branch, Horn Lake and Lake Cormorant-and has applications filed for the remaining five high schools
  14. Earned an "AA" rating by Moody's, the highest bond rating in the state and even higher than the State of Mississippi
  15. Has not changed the total millage rate in seven years, even absorbing $90 million in shortfalls
  16. Partnered with law enforcement agencies to provide SRO officers to schools and make buildings secure with surveillance equipment, double locking systems, fencing, and alarms
  17. Increased school nurses from 3 to 25
  18. Raised the local teacher supplement to an all-time high

   "When I became superintendent in 2003, many classes were being held in trailers and our fund balance was $23 million," Kuykendall said. "Today, we have no classroom trailers, and our fund balance is more than $74 million."

   Before Kuykendall was a principal and superintendent, he was a high school teacher and basketball coach and won three state championships and has now been inducted into four different Halls of Fame.  In 1995, he was named the "Mississippi High School Principal of the Year" and in 2010, he was named the "Mississippi Superintendent of the Year."  

   He has not only helped his own district.  He has served as the President of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents (MASS), served on Haley Barbour and Phil Bryant's transition teams, served on the executive board of the Mississippi Association of School Administrators, is chairman of the board of Northwest Mississippi Community College, and is serving on State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright's advisory board.

  "Milton Kuykendall spends a great deal of time and energy promoting and praising the students, teachers, and employees of DeSoto County," said Dr. Sam Bounds, executive director of MASS.  "He will tell you that he has the best students and the best teachers in the country.  But, what he won't tell you is DeSoto County is growing with leaps and bounds because of his personal drive, his passion for excellence and his powerful belief that the children of DeSoto County, Mississippi, are his most precious resource."

   "I know there will be many excellent candidates seeking this office so I will not endorse or support any candidate.   Being Superintendent of Education and serving the people of DeSoto County has been a true blessing in my life."

Rebecca Dearden Remembered at CHES

Dearden 6532

   A patriotic mural was dedicated at Center Hill Elementary School to honor the late Rebecca Dearden, the principal who opened CHES in 2002.  She died earlier this year from complications of a two-year battle with brain cancer. 

Dearden 6524

Dearden 6533   "Today we dedicated a beautiful mural in the rotunda at CHES in memory of our precious Mrs.Rebecca Dearden. Our students did a wonderful job singing her favorite song, "One Nation." She will forever be in our hearts and in our school," said Emy Rutland, a teacher at CHES.

   The mural, a painting of two American flags, symbolized a patriotic tradition Mrs. Dearden started at her school with an all-school pledge the students did monthly as a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

   "Patriotism was very important to Mrs. Dearden," said Leslie Heyman, principal at CHES.  "I felt the mural would help brighten our rotunda as well as honor Mrs. Dearden's memory."

Dearden 6523

   Mrs. Dearden's family received a picture of the mural and plaque.

   Lisa Love, principal of Overpark Elementary School,  said, "Mrs. Dearden will always be in our hearts.  She certainly left her mark on this school and this community."

Dearden 6527

   Center Hill Elementary, under Mrs. Dearden's direction, was designated as a "Blue Ribbon School," the highest designation a public school can receive from the U.S. Department of Education.

Marine Cadets Grow in Confidence, Leadership
at New Field Training Facility at HLHS

HLHS Donald and Ronald Vanlandingham
   Donald and Ronald Vanlandingham, twin brothers in Horn Lake High's JROTC program, have had a weight loss journey, one losing 90 pounds and one losing 60 pounds.

   Part of their success is due to a new "Confidence Course," a field training facility with 15 obstacles built to Marine Corps standards near the practice field on the back of the HLHS campus.

   "In JROTC, we prepare mentally and physically to develop the courage and mindset that we can do these obstacles," said Donald Vanlandingham, the brother who lost 60 pounds.

HLHS Master Sergeant Ken Hicks

   Master Sergeant Ken Hicks, HLHS JROTC instructor, agreed.  "It's really a confidence booster for the cadets."

   He explained more than 50% of the cadets are frightened of heights when they begin the program.  But once they develop the upper body strength to soar to new heights, he says they want to do it again and again, and a success story like the Vanlandingham twins is commonplace.

HLHS 6293

   The Confidence Course consists of four high obstacles and 11 low obstacles with a foot of rubberized mulch on top to cushion slips and falls.

HLHS 6311    A dramatic anchor to the course is the rope climb where cadets use their feet as a braking mechanism to propel 20 feet upward.  The cadets climb to the top, touch the top log, and inch down to the ground, hand over hand.

   The double bar rollover is an obstacle where cadets learn to jump and grab the bar, roll upside down and do a "dead hang" before dropping down.  These bars are eight feet in the air.

HLHS Breanna Scott

   There are four vault logs where cadets climb on them, straddle over the top, and descend to the other side.  Next they have to tackle The Wall, an obstacle that takes practice to master.  Cadets have to scale the wall, reach the top, and jump with knees bent to the ground, picking up mulch as they land to ensure they are in a crouched position for safety.

  Rules govern all workouts with safety being a priority.  Master Sgt. Hicks guides and encourages all cadets to maneuver the obstacles with choreographed moves to prevent injuries and develop upper body strength.

HLHS 6307    The new $80,000 facility was built with grants, recycled materials, and the "sweat equity" of the cadets.   This project, four years in the making,  involved multiple community partners, including Entergy (recycled poles), the Horn Lake Fire Department (used fire hoses that cover the wooden poles to prevent splinters),  the Board of  Supervisors ($15,000 contribution,  and used tires), the Homer Skelton Foundation ($10,000 contribution), the City of Horn Lake (wood mulch), Unified Waste Systems (hauled debris), Shelby Railroad Service (railroad ties), and money and labor of  cadets and their parents.

  "Most of this project was built with reclaimed materials," said Lee Caldwell, president of the DeSoto County Board of Supervisorsand the director of the three Marine Corps Junior ROTC programs in DeSoto County.  "This training facility is open to our fire fighters and law enforcement officials.  We hope they will take advantage of this amazing facility and will come and work out with our cadets.  All will benefit."

HLHS 6313   Entergy Customer Service Manager Don Arnold said, "This is a wonderful partnership with DeSoto County Schools.  This gives life to poles we are no longer using.  Many poles are taken down when we abandon a line and are still in great shape.  When I look at these poles, I can't help but wonder how many times our linemen have climbed them.  These poles served us well, and now will be a great training resource ."

  Signature Research Inc. fom Douglasville, GA,  supervised the construction of the facility to be sure the system was built to code and to Marine Corps standards.  They helped with construction, installation, inspections and will maintain and repair the facility.

   The idea for the project stemmed from a trip the students made to Parris Island Recruit Depot in South Carolina to participate in a summer leadership program.  At that time Tyronne Hall was serving as the head of the JROTC program at HLHS.  He is now an assistant principal at HLHS.

   "Chief Officer Hall had a vision that we needed a similar facility in DeSoto County," Caldwell said.  "He was relentless in his pursuit.  He wrote two grants and never gave up.  When he was turned down on a grant or two, he worked harder.  He knew that this facility would take our county-wide JROTC units to a new level, and he was right."

   Breanna Scottthe unit's Cadet Sergeant Major, has been in JROTC for four years and she says this program has been life-changing for her.

   "When I started, I could barely do one pull-up; now I can do 15 or 20," she said.  "I am joining the Marine Corps when I graduate.  They have a facility like this one at boot camp at Parris Island.  I am in much better shape mentally and physically and I can handle it," she added.

Winners, Winners Everywhere at DCS

State Winners 6395
Lewisburg High-Principal Chris Fleming, Hannah Ferguson,,  Anna Goldman, Volleyball Coach Gary Hentz, Band Director Kim Hallmark, Asst. Band Director Ben Bullock, Asst. Band Director Ben McClemore, Caleb Keathly, and Jessica Geraldson. 

   It is hard to be humble when your school district racks up four state championships in one weekend, breaks a state swimming record, walks away with two "Grand Champion" titles at a choral festival, and earns tickets to go national competition in Speech and Debate.

State Winners 6402DeSoto Central High-Chelsea Lamping, Volleyball Coach Margaret Falatko, Principal Cory Uselton, Atticus Nelson, Silas Nelson, and Emily Nelson

  The DeSoto County School Board got to recognize a long list of champions at a recent school board meeting honoring the principals, coaches, teachers and students who were state winners.
   "Since I have been superintendent, we have won 11 state championship band titles," said Supt. Milton Kuykendall.  "I am so proud of the hard work of our students and staff.  Our extra-curricular programs are strong, and without a doubt, we have people who teach and coach as a calling.  It is not easy to win a state title in any category.  It takes hours and hours of work and dedication."

State Winners Freddie Joseph Lauren Stephens Len Killough Victoria Jones and Brenon Eaton

Hernando High-Principal Freddie Joseph, Lauren Stephens, Band  Director  Len Killough, Victoria Jones, and Brenon Eaton.

    And the winners are:

  1. State Winners 6400 Hernando High-Principal Freddie Joseph, Stetson Lamb and Swimming Coach Ashley Rhodes.Lewisburg High School-Principal Chris Fleming *5A MHSAA Marching Band State Champion-Kim Hallmark, Band Director *Class II State Volleyball Champions-Gary Hentz, Volleyball Coach
  2. Hernando High School-Principal Freddie Joseph *6A MHSAA Marching Band State Champion-Len Killough, Band Director Note: in the 6a Category, DeSoto Central High won 2nd place, and Olive Branch High won 3rd.
  3. Hernando High School-Principal Freddie Joseph *Stetson Lamb-100 meter freestyle in Swimming-Broke state record-Ashley Rhodes, Coach
  4. DeSoto  Central High School-Principal State Winners 6404 Hernando Middle School-Principal Rob Chase and Choral Director Reese NorrisCory Uselton *Class III State Volleyball Champions-Margaret Falatko, Volleyball Coach *1st Place Varsity Public Forum Debate-Atticus Nelson and Silas Nelson-headed to Nationals
  5. Southaven High School-Principal Shane Jones *High School Grand Champions-Ole Miss Choral Festival-Alex Gieger, Assistant Choral Director, and Jabari Glass, Choral Director
  6. Hernando Middle School -Principal Rob Chase *Middle School Grand Champions-Ole Miss Choral Festival--Reese Norris, Choral Director
  7. Olive Branch High School-Principal Allyson Killough *1st Place Television-Speech and Debate-James Long-Headed to Nationals-Sam Jones, Coach
Olive Branch High School Principal Allyson Killough and DCS Director of Gifted Studies Emily Nelson
Southaven High-DCS Athletic Director Anthony Jenkins and Assistant Choral Director Alex Gieger

The DeSoto Digest is a publication of the
Communications Department
DeSoto County Schools
5 East South Street, Hernando
Mississippi 38632
Katherine Nelson, Director

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.
The DeSoto Digest is produced by the Communications Department and delivered to all employees and subscribers on the first of each month.

For additional news about DeSoto County Schools, please visit  DCS News or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Katherine Nelson
Director of Communications
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Shoeboxes for Soldiers

Veteran's Day Celebration

Veterans Day Overpark was the Grand Award Winner
Overpark Elementary was the grand award winner in the collection of Shoeboxes for Soldiers. JJ. Downs, PE teacher at OES, (center), accepted the $1000 PE grant from Baptist Memorial Hospital DeSoto employees Claire Hick and James Huffman.

     It was a red, white and blue day at Baptist Memorial Hospital DeSoto, and students from DeSoto County Schools helped join in the celebration to honor veterans.

Veterans Day 6485

   A massive three-story American flag was the backdrop for the Veterans' Day Celebration that took place in the lobby of Baptist DeSoto.  As visitors entered the hospital, a group of saxophone players from Southaven High School played patriotic music.  A hot breakfast was served and free health screenings were offered.  Risers were filled with school students who had worked all year filling shoeboxes to help soldiers.  They also came to the event to sing patriotic songs.


   "I smell bacon," said one excited Pleasant Hill Elementary student as he entered the hospital lobby.

Veterans Day 6476
Saxophone players from Southaven High School are, from left to right, JD Balser, Francisco Santos, Jahrell Harris, & Eric Harper. They played the National Anthem at the Baptist DeSoto Veterans' Celebration.

   The Shoeboxes Project collects personal items and letters and sends them to soldiers serving in active duty.  All the boxes collected, totaling more than 8,000 this year from students at schools in DeSoto, Tate, Marshall, and Tunica counties, were picked up by the Army National Guard.  Baptist DeSoto sponsors the event and has arranged for the boxes to be shipped.  Most go to soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.

Veterans Day 6472
The Southaven Police Department Color Guard presented the colors at the ceremony. Southaven High Principal Shane Jones (right) came to see his students play the National Anthem.

"This is our eighth year to collect shoeboxes for soldiers from schools, our community and hospital team members," said James Huffman, administrator of Baptist Memorial Hospital DeSoto. "Currently, 202 of our employees at Baptist DeSoto have family members in the military."

Veterans Day 6461
Claire Hick, director of marketing for Baptist DeSoto,  Representative Wanda Jennings, and James Huffman, administrator for Baptist DeSoto Hospital, talk before the Veterans' Day Celebration. 


   State Representative Wanda Jennings is chairman of the Military Affairs Committee for the Mississippi House of Representatives and complimented the students for their hard work making surprise packages for soldiers.

   "Many of our troops have returned from overseas, and told me how touched they were to get your packages," she said.  "It means a lot to them."
Veterans Day 6501


   Baptist DeSoto awarded physical education grants to the schools who gave the largest donation of boxes.  Overpark Elementary  received a $1000 grant for collecting 768; Pleasant Hill Elementary received $750 grant for collecting 362; and Center Hill Elementary received a $500 grant for collecting 297.

Veterans Day 6467-65-66
Overpark Elementary students Kyla Wicks, Madeline House, Dionna Crawford
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LHS Extra Chicken Tender Days


When students improve their daily attendance rate at Lewisburg High School, they can earn "extra chicken tender days" in the cafeteria.  LHS Principal Chris Fleming is about to enjoy the students' favorite meal in the cafeteria.

Lighthouse School
Beacon Award 2014 
(From L to R) Keith Treadway-School Board Attorney, Milton Kuykendall-Superintendent, Shelia Riley-School Board Member, Milton Nichols-School Board President, and School Board Members Steve Dodd, Ann Jolley, Theron Long.

    DeSoto County School District is being recognized by the Mississippi Schools Boards Association for being an "A" school district, one of 17 statewide.  The award is called the Lighthouse School Beacon Award.


2014 - 2015 School Year


November 26th-28th

Thanksgiving Holidays


December 22nd (Monday)

- January 2nd
Christmas Holidays

and New Year's


January 2nd (Friday)

Teachers Return


January 5th (Monday)

Students Return


January 19th

Lee/King Holiday


February 13th (Friday)

Professional Development


February 16th

Washington's Birthday


March 9th-13th

Spring Break


April 3rd

Good Friday


April 6th (Monday)

Easter Holiday


May 22nd (Friday)

Students Last Day


May 25th

Memorial Day


May 26th (Tuesday) 

Teachers Last Day


Scheduled makeup days are

December 22
February 13
February 16 

April 6

Hernando Hills Elementary Kicks Off "Just Read, DeSoto"