Tuesday, July 09, 2013

TOP STORY >> Principal gets job he applied for 29 years ago

Leader staff writer

Is Bill Barnes excited about being the new Jacksonville High School principal?

He was at his desk at 7 a.m. Friday, a day after the July 4th holiday, with nearly all of his staff on summer vacation, working on trying to find the right teachers for his vision of making the school the centerpiece of Jacksonville and of the Pulaski County Special School District.

“You know, I applied for this job 29 years ago. The district went with Jim Johnson, and I ended up at Mills. This school was the jewel of the district, and yes, it has fallen on hard times, but the potential is there,” he said. “It’s not in bad shape.”

Barnes, who was touring Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills on his Harley last month, said when the district first called he said no.

The principal, with about 40 years experience in education, said it was definitely nothing against Jacksonville, “but after three years, I had just finally figured out retirement.”

“But then they asked me to come in and just talk, he said. He thought there was no harm in that, plus he and (Superintendent) Jerry Guess went to college together, so they could talk about that.

“All the time they were talking to me, I was thinking of how to say no,” Barnes explained. But the more the district talked, the more excited Barnes got, and it went from no, to “when can I start?”

The strong support the community has for education is a big plus. “I’ve already received a number of calls from people just asking how can they help,” he said. “The community involvement is great. I didn’t have that at Mills.”

Barnes calls himself a cheerleader and someone who tries to be the best at everything. But he also knows how it feels to not make the grade.

Out of college, Barnes, was drafted by the Memphis Pros of the American Basketball Association.

“I was picked in the 11th round. The team signed 40 rookies. I made it to the top 12, but then they only took three or four.”

From that letdown, he signed a contract with the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots.

“I was in rookie camp, when I was told I needed knee surgery if I wanted a chance to play,” Barnes said, adding that the procedure was pretty barbaric back then with no guarantees. He decided not to have the surgery. It wasn’t until four years ago that Barnes finally had the knee worked on —arthroscopically.

With professional sports now just a dream, Barnes, who is from is from El Dorado, settled in at Hope and worked as a math teacher, coach and part-time assistant principal.

“When I left they had to hire three people to replace me,” he laughed.

As a cheerleader, he said it’s not about him, but about his team. “I look to hire smarter, harder working people than me,” he said.

Barnes said that when Mills High School was named one of the top schools in the nation “it wasn’t because of Bill Barnes. I just sat in that chair. It was the staff and students that earned us that accolade.”

He kiddingly said that after years of taking kids out of Jacksonville to go to Mills, he now wants to fight to keep every one of them here.

Barnes said the former principal, Henry Anderson, in his two years, built a good foundation. “I want to continue to do some of those things, but also step it up. We have to improve our graduation rate and making sure every student can read,” he said.

Barnes said JHS will also focus its third year of a $6 million grant ($2 million a year) on improving test scores.

Anderson will be the principal at McCellan High School in Little Rock.

Barnes said, “It is an exciting time for Jacksonville right now. There are so many possibilities. Something good is going to happen and we are all on the ground floor. We can compete with Cabot, Fayetteville, Bentonville and the likes.” He added that the high school was going to focusing strongly on education, but also be a happy place.

“We will weed out the negative,” Barnes promised.