It is time to prepare for a new year. As a community, it is important for us to look back and reflect on a year of news and events that have brought us to where we are today. At times, the news around us is full of conflict and divisiveness, which quite often drowns out the news we should be celebrating in our community. There is so much happening in Decatur and Morgan County that shows our high quality of life, and we as a community need to tell that story.
With that thought in mind, the Chamber would like to share the top five stories from 2017 that make us excited to be in Decatur-Morgan County.
A new superintendent for Decatur City Schools
In August, Dr. Michael Douglas took the lead as the new superintendent of Decatur City Schools – the largest school system and employer in Morgan County. Coming to Decatur from Oneonta, Ala., where he led their city school system for three years. Douglas quickly established himself as a community partner and leader in initiatives like the One Decatur comprehensive plan, meeting in town hall settings with members of the Decatur City Council and their constituents, and participating in the Chamber’s State of Decatur City Schools after merely two months on the job. With students being at the front of his mind, first priority, Douglas began addressing instructional challenges like tracking data and reorganizing a vertically aligned feeder system, which organizes where students will attend schools as they move through the system. Along with taking on the logistics of opening two new high schools for the 2018-2019 school year, Douglas has created an environment of community excitement as he has transitioned into this new leadership role.
Area schools recognized for excellence
This year, each school system in Morgan County was recognized for excellence, which continues a tradition of educational achievement in our area. In the Morgan County Schools system, Priceville Elementary earned recognition as a “Lighthouse School” through the international Leader in Me program. Decatur City’s Leon Sheffield Elementary was named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence – one of five in Alabama – for the second time in nine years, while Dr. Teddi Jackson, principal of Decatur's Somerville Road Elementary was named the District 1 nominee for Alabama’s national Distinguished Principal Award. In Hartselle, Crestline Elementary, F.E. Burleson Elementary, and Hartselle High School earned the Blue Ribbon Lighthouse School of Excellence status. Also in Decatur City, the system was recognized as the most diverse system in the State of Alabama by niche.com after Austin High was ranked number two and Decatur High was ranked number seven in school diversity rankings. State, national, and international recognition for our systems shows the strength of our schools and how our educators are creating opportunities to prepare the next generation of leaders and learners.
Daikin gives $200,000 for community development projects
In May, Daikin America announced plans to donate $200,000 to community development and beautification projects in Morgan County. From that gift, the City of Decatur received $100,000 for much needed renovations to the historic marquee of the Princess Theater Center for the Performing Arts in downtown, a location listed on the National Historic Registry. The Morgan County Commission, in conjunction with Morgan County Schools, are planning to build a baseball field located on the campus of Sparkman School in Hartselle for children with special needs to participate in sports and physical education classes. Daikin’s generosity spurred collaboration between private industry, non-profits, government and school systems where thousands will benefit in our community.
Grocery stores drive development
During the year, two grocery stores announced new locations in Decatur that will both serve growing population areas while spurring other retail development options for our community. Lidl, a German-based grocer with 10,000 locations in 27 countries around the world, announced in September that Decatur would serve as their first Alabama location as the company opens their second round of stores in the United States. Located on the Beltline, Lidl developers noted the area’s high traffic count and the Highway 67 “retail corridor” as appealing qualities to build on the former Calvary Assembly Church property. In March, Publix announced a second store to serve as the anchor tenant in the Point Mallard Centre development located at the intersection of Highway 67 and Indian Hills Road. The development, which will feature outparcels as well as other adjacent retail space, will serve the Burningtree Mountain area of the city while capturing traffic from Interstate 65 and the Priceville community. Both developments show confidence in a growing local economy and serve as additional opportunities for Decatur-Morgan County residents to shop locally and help grow our tax base.
Beautification and community clean-up efforts
This year a particular focus on an initiative to spend more resources and attention on cleaning up the community and recognizing its impact on our quality of life has made a significant impact. As an issue addressed in the One Decatur comprehensive plan for the city, interest is growing from residents for better utilization of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and our natural resources. In the fall, a collaboration of city departments and non-profit partners, as well as private investors, began the clearing and cleaning of the west boundary of the Refuge along Country Club Road, which will later feature walking and biking trails. Later, Dry Branch Creek in northwest Decatur was cleaned in areas adjacent to Decatur Cemetery. In early 2018, other areas of the city will be targeted for clean-up, including tributaries along the Tennessee River. With a long list of community partners taking an active role – both with volunteer hours and financial resources – in beautification, Decatur’s spirit of putting our best foot forward can be seen in “first impression” opportunities by visitors and potential new residents. Also, the campaign is a reminder to long-time residents about the beauty all around us in the River City. In both cases, it’s an increased quality of life and an investment in our city with great returns!