Tuesday, August 17, 2010

TOP STORY > >Cabot teachers celebrate

Leader staff writer

Dr. Tony Thurman, the superintendent of Cabot schools, was – by his own admission – outside his comfort zone Monday morning as he donned a Hawaiian-print shirt and rattled an assortment of percussion instruments as he tried to sing along with a variation of the classic “Margaritaville” that described what going back to school is like for teachers.

The oil spill kept many from the beach this summer, Thurman said, so he, along with Assistant Superintendent Jim Dalton and
songwriter and lead singer Dr. Joey Walters, the assistant director of the Arkansas Activities Association, intended to bring the beach to them.

“Lost teacher’s edition,” “Dr. Thurman’s fault” and “Prozac” were all included in the rewrite that elicited thunderous applause from the 900 or so staff members who filled the cafeteria at Junior High North.

Essentially, he had been bullied into participation by his wife and close staff members who thought he needed to show his employees that he did know how to loosen up, Thurman said by way of an apology before the performance started.

The occasion was the annual district assembly, a mandatory gathering of teachers and administrators to kick off the beginning of the school year.

“The purpose is to provide information and to provide motivation and direction for the upcoming school year,” Thurman told
The Leader in an interview. “We are very appreciative of our staff and take this as an opportunity for the administration and school board to say thanks for their dedication to the students of our district.

“Our district is becoming so large that many of our staff never have the opportunity to visit with staff from other schools within the district. This gives the entire district the opportunity to come together at one time and hear one consistent message from our administration,” he said.

Also singing backup were Candace Thomason, who teaches fourth grade at Ward Central Elementary, and Mary Smithey who teaches business education at Junior High South. 

They were rewarded for their effort with framed pictures of Dalton and an Apple iPad for their classrooms.

The performance followed several speakers including Charles George, a former principal who was also an honoree at last year’s Cabot Schools Hall of Fame banquet who called Cabot schools “the jewel of this area” and told the teachers to become friends with their students but always maintain “a line of respect.”

While the students were out for the summer, Thurman gave the administrators a required reading list which included a book by John Maxwell that Dalton said contained noteworthy quotes that applied to the importance of body language and keeping a positive attitude when dealing with students. And he included several in his opening remarks for the assembly.

“Everyone communicates but few connect,” Dalton quoted Maxwell as writing. “Your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear your words. If your face is going to say something, it may as well say something positive. People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.”

He also told the teachers and principals to keep this in mind as the new school year gets under way: “If it weren’t for our students, we wouldn’t have a job.”

Since the assembly was also intended to inform, not just motivate and entertain, Thurman’s presentation included test scores that showed the district is above the state average in most areas and a building update.

He also said the district is financially sound. The 2009-2010 school year started with a $4.8 million carryover from the previous year, he said. This year’s carryover is $5.4 million which is about 8.1 percent of the budget.

The state watches school budgets and becomes concerned if a district doesn’t have enough for emergencies, he said. At one time, Cabot’s low carryover was a concern, but no longer, he said.

Mountain Springs Elementary is open, he said. But the $13 million combination cafeteria, health, physical-education and recreation complex at the high school is behind schedule and won’t be completed in the spring.

“We hoped it would be ready but that’s not going to happen,” Thurman told his staff.