Community Luncheon welcomes Cullman City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kalloff and Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette as guest speakers for August meeting

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(Janet Chandler for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Chamber of Commerce Community Luncheon returned to Stonebridge Farms on Thursday, and guest speakers Cullman City Schools Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff and Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnett took the stage to discuss the great things happening within the school systems of Cullman County.  

Kallhoff spoke first, recognizing his City Board of Education members in attendance for all their support and hard work. He shared, “I want to thank every teacher, every educator for what they are doing right now, and I want to challenge you guys, before Shane or I finish today, I want you to text a teacher, any teacher, and thank them for what they are doing right now. They are warriors. For the last 18 months they have been, and they need to be appreciated. Do not wait until May for Teacher Appreciation Week.” 

Kallhoff tackled three main topics while speaking: enrollment, school programs, and upcoming construction. He began, “In our city system, we are serving 3,220. I got that number yesterday. — Our largest level is ninth grade with 274 students. The second largest is Kindergarten with 263. We try to maintain 250 per grade level but it fluctuates. Our lowest grade level is fifth grade with 222. At our high school this year, we have over 1,000 students.” He continued, “East and West are where second – sixth grade branches off and we are about evenly distributed at each level. Except sixth grade for some reason, we have about 20 more students at East than West in sixth grade. Only 42 of our 3,200 students this year are doing school virtually. – The majority of the students who chose that are in the eleventh and twelfth grade.” 

On school programs, Kallhoff also shared, “The opportunities for students in the Arts is extremely impressive for a rural area. – Starting in Cullman City Primary (K – 1st grade) every student does take art and music. That is not common in rural systems. Even at East and West Elementary Schools, there is art and music, and as you get to the middle school, there is a great band program, piano, choral. There is even a jazz band! If you went to the Strawberry Festival this year, you saw the jazz band. They played about 11:30 a.m. – maybe noon. That is the middle school, that’s not the high school, that’s the middle school jazz band!” He continued, “And of course, the high school is the same thing. Marching band, concert, symphonic, jazz band, choral program, piano, an award-winning theatre program and, of course, art. That is impressive.” 

In reference to upcoming construction, he discussed details on the three-year construction plan at Cullman Middle School (CMS) which includes the construction of 18 additional classrooms, including a tornado shelter, library, agriscience class, band and choral areas, family and consumer science, the removal of the circular building and the transition of sixth grade to CMS. He also spoke on the two-year construction plan on Cullman City Primary School (CCPS), which includes the construction of a 12-classroom wing, including a tornado shelter, cafeteria, a multipurpose center, and the transition of second grade to CCPS.  

East and West Elementary will receive $2 million each for various renovations. The gym floor and bleachers will be replaced in the high school’s athletic facilities. Synthetic turf will also be installed on the softball field, along with the new scoreboard. 

Cullman County Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnett then approached the podium and expounded on Kallhoff’s earlier statement on appreciating teachers with a smile, “Let your teachers know how much you appreciate them. If you know a school nurse, do not just text them. Buy them a car. They are incredible right now. – I do not know what we would do without them.” 

Dr. Barnett shared, “Our enrollment is up. Little over 140 students between this year and last year. We have about 9,500 kids all across Cullman County and it goes up and down from one campus to another every single day. – If I can get in front of a group, I am going to say this, when you think about as many people in this room that graduated from a county school. I attended Cullman County schools and many of you did, we have a lot of country kids out there and for six years in a row, we have increased our graduation rate! And yes, that is something you should applaud!” 

He continued, “When the state department first started measuring college and career readiness, that indicator is a percentage that we get every year. Every school system gets it. They measure how ready that young person is. We were probably at the middle of the pack when they first started measuring a little over five years ago. We were at 72% and the state average was probably about 68%. We have increased every single year. The last measurement we got we were at 99.04% of our kids that get a diploma, they are ready for that next step.” 

He also discussed the county’s offering of AP programs, and the number of students who participate in Dual Enrollment that graduate Wallace alongside high school in May. He also recognized Billy Troutman for his winning of Alabama Career Tech Administrator of the Year. With exciting upcoming possibilities for Cullman County Schools, Dr. Barnett expects lots of great things in the future. 

In response to learning loss, Dr. Barnett discussed the Build-It-Better program, which will be introduced in Cullman County Schools this fall. More details can be found by visiting https://www.cullmantribune.com/2021/07/14/build-it-better-program-begins-fall-2021-for-eighth-graders-countywide/?highlight=build%20it%20better.  

Dr. Barnett discussed the growing issue with mental health and announced the hiring of four mental health social workers to work with groups and individual kids. “It is so important to us that we meet these needs because it is hard for us to teach kids math and reading when their family and their home life is a mess, and it is falling apart. That is the last thing they want to do is learn about math and reading. So, we are blessed to have them.” 

The county Pre-K program has been expanded by adding seven Pre-K programs across the county district. Sixteen classrooms will be added at Hanceville Elementary School, along with a lunchroom. Good Hope Middle School with be getting a new office complex, library and a new gym. Cold Springs High School will be receiving a new gym as well. All lights are being changed to LED and all county high school gyms will soon have full air conditioning units. HVAC systems are also being changed to improve air circulation in schools. 

The luncheon speeches concluded with Dr. Barnett’s final words to all in attendance, “Yes, we are in the middle of a lot of challenges but there are great things going on. And I think a great example of that is the graduation rate. Through all of the craziness (hybrid, non-hybrid, full virtual) we went through last year, our graduation rate still increased. We are resilient people that live in Cullman, is what I am trying to say. We are going to achieve, we are going to overcome this, and we are going to be better because of it. So, regardless of the challenges that we are facing right now, you should be proud that you live in Cullman County because we are doing great things.” 

(Janet Chandler for The Cullman Tribune) 

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