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Roberts: Tax hike referendum must for schools

The biggest challenge facing Demopolis High School and state education in general is proration, said DHS Principal Ronald Roberts. "As a leader of the high school, it is something on your mind all the time. You want state funding to be at a level which you can really do some things with."

These are "very scary times," he said.

He received a new three-year contract June 18 from the Demopolis City Board of Education. He has served as principal for three years after moving to Demopolis from a position at Murphy High School in Mobile. There were 2,400 students at Murphy; there are 600 at DHS.

Roberts said the Demopolis school system needs to improve its facilities as well as its academic programs.

He pointed out the emphasis on the Reading Initiative. "We need to be doing the same thing with math in all grades, which would require additional funding."

Roberts said the high school wants to maintain current programs such as the marching band. "We want to offer golf, our tennis teams, soccer…and things like that. Sometimes it’s difficult. Dr. (Wesley) Hill (school superintendent) feels strongly, and I feel strongly about having a good overall program, having something that every student can find their nitch at. Every student …needs a chance to be successful."

Without passage of the governor’s program September 9 the public school system will have to find funding for improvements where possible. "We’ve had things on our capital outlay plan for several years…but when you need a roof on an elementary school it’s hard to justify building a football stadium or a track stadium," Roberts said.

Does the local system prepare students for high school or is there some catch up? "I think with the resources that we have available and the funding we get from the state, we doing a pretty decent job of getting them as prepared as we can.

How much pressure does the Graduation Exit Exam put on students? There is added pressure, "especially on the lower level students that have always struggled academically. We do probably as good a job as anybody in the state with remediation on this exam. We dedicate a single teacher unit – in a school that is not that big – to passing the graduation exam. We have a good track record of that. But, if one student does not pass it; it still hurts.

How do keep from teaching to the test? The test questions are very broad, Roberts said. "You have to cover the material. In a lot of cases the questions are thought provoking…it’s not dates and things like that.

Roberts seems to have a vision of DHS as more a modern, city high school with the expectation of academic and extracurricular activities. "It’s probably from where I came from," he said. "…I want all of our programs, be it academic…or athletic…to be top notch. I want our students to really benefit from being involved in these.

Roberts also said he has enjoyed great support from superintendent Hill. "I don’t think he gets enough credit sometimes."