Superintendent looks back on decades of work

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published December 23, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 21, 2012 at 10:07 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Howard Morris, superintendent of the Riverview School District in Searcy, is retiring after 38 years as an educator. He will officially retire from his role on June 30.

— It’s a rare thing for a person to forget his retirement date.

Howard Morris isn’t having trouble with his memory; he’s just surprised the date came up so fast. It’s a testament to how much he loves his work.

After more than 30 years in education, Morris will retire June 30 from his role as superintendent for the Riverview School District in Searcy.

“There have been so many days where I’d wake up and really look forward to going into work,” Mitchell said. “Most days, I’d think, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting paid do to this.’ That’s how I knew I was doing the right thing.”

Mitchell grew up in a family of educators and always knew he’d be going to college, but he wasn’t always sure he’d go into the family business. Growing up, Morris had thoughts of being a cowboy and working on a ranch.

“It was the era of Will Rogers,” Morris said, laughing.

In high school, Morris served on the Student Council, was active in athletics and the Beta Club and Spanish Club. But he still hadn’t declared a major as he headed to Harding University, his parents’ alma mater, as a freshman.

“I knew I wanted a degree, but at that point I didn’t have a focus,” Morris said.

It wasn’t until his junior year of college that Morris decided on history, keeping teaching in mind as a fallback plan. After a few summers working, he’d had an offer to work in management at an Alabama-based clothing company after graduation, but Morris decided to delay the move.

After graduating in December 1975 with a degree in history, Morris stayed in Searcy through the summer as a student teacher. Just before he left for his new job in Alabama, he put in an application to teach at Kensett High School. Two weeks into the summer, the school district superintendent called and offered him a job teaching history and PE.

“I thought, ‘What am I gonna do?’” Morris said. “I had really enjoyed student teaching, but I was working with such a good company. It was one of those crossroads situations.”

The people Morris worked for in Alabama encouraged him to go back to Searcy to try teaching if the thought he might enjoy it. His management job would be waiting for him if he came back to Alabama. But he didn’t. Morris stayed in his teaching position at the high school for 18 years.

“My main challenge was to motivate students that didn’t see a need for education,” Morris said. “Some students came from a background where education was not emphasized in the same way it was in my household, so it was a challenge to find the right motivation.”

Eventually, Morris’ teaching broadened to include economics and geography classes. He started coaching boys basketball, cross country and track and started the school’s first baseball program in the late ’80s.

“One of the hardest things for me to do in coaching was to apply tough love,” Morris said. “It’s necessary but not always easy. Most [new coaches] are not used to having to discipline people.”

Balancing his teaching and coaching duties was grueling. Many days involved teaching all day and going straight into nights of games, practice or scouting.

“They were long days, but I wouldn’t trade the opportunity,” Morris said. “I had a chance to work with these youths on a closer level than my students in class. You have them in class for maybe 50 minutes during the day. But you have players for hours a day all week. You develop a bond.”

Several of Morris’ former players still live in the area

and stay in touch. When Riverview took home a state boys basketball championship a few years ago, three of the players were the sons of men Morris had coached years before.

“It was neat to be sitting up there in the bleachers watching with their dads,” Morris said.

During his time at Kensett High School, the area schools consolidated to become the Riverview district. In 1994, Morris was hired as principal for Riverview Junior High School, where he would work for six years.

“No day was the same,” Morris said of his first administrative role.

Though Morris missed the constant contact with students that he’d had teaching, he soon learned to love getting the chance to work more closely with teachers. In 2000, Morris became the district’s assistant superintendent before becoming superintendent in 2007.

“I liked having the opportunity to impact all the children in the district and to work with the school board closely,” Morris said of the transition.

This fall, Morris decided it was time to leave the district he’d worked in for more than 30 years.

“I decided I wanted to have more time with my family, especially my father at home in Alabama,” Morris said.

Morris also plans to work more in his church, the College Church of Christ, where he met his wife, Debbie, years ago. Though the couple have children, Morris pointed out that he has “a lot of kids right here [at the school].”

Looking back on his long career, Morris said his proudest moments have come from seeing the students and men he’s coached become good, productive citizens.

“That’s what’s most satisfying,” Morris said. “I wouldn’t change any of it.”

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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