Mark Tyler of Morrilton always liked history, and he said law school and education were his two choices for his career goals.
Tyler, the principal of St. John Catholic School in Russellville, chose education and hasn’t looked back.
“I grew up in Conway and went to St. Joseph all 12 years,” he said.
His father, the late Edgar Tyler, was superintendent of mails for the U.S. post office in Conway and “a convert to the Catholic religion,” he said. Mark’s mother, the late Catherine Moix Tyler, was a homemaker.
Mark Tyler, now 60, went to the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, which he said was State College of Arkansas his first semester, and majored in history with an emphasis in social studies and an English minor.
“My first job was at Sacred Heart in Morrilton teaching social studies, English and religion when there were still nuns there,” he said.
“I had grown up with them at St. Joseph, you know, so that wasn’t totally foreign to me. When I started in elementary school, they had the full-blown habit — you couldn’t see anything but their faces. They had a big rosary hanging from their belts, big black boots and granny glasses,” he said. “They had the bluff in on us — we didn’t want to mess with them too much.”
He said it was a good experience, and he got a good education.
“My class, I want to say we had over 40. Nobody thought about splitting the classroom; you just had what you had,” he said.
After teaching at Sacred Heart in Morrilton from 1977-79, he left to teach in the Bigelow School District.
“During that time, I got married and decided I needed a little more money, so I went into public school,” he said.
“I bounced around a lot.”
After teaching at Bigelow for five years, a job came open for K-12 principal of St. Joseph Catholic School in Conway, and he jumped at going back to his old stomping grounds.
It was his first foray into administration, and he oversaw 450 students, K-12, for two years — 1984-86.
Tyler has two master’s degrees — one in history from UCA and a master’s of education administration from the University of Arkansas — having taken classes at night and in the summers.
He and his wife, Sharon, had a growing family, and he made another move.
“I went back into public school and went south to Little River County to Winthrop, a K-12 public school,” he said.
“By that time we had three children, so we pulled up stakes, and they provided us a little house.
“They paid more money, and that’s where I thought my future was at that time, in public education.”
He obviously didn’t have a crystal ball.
“I saw an ad in Arkansas Catholic for a principal at Sacred Heart, and I had been there before,” he said.
“We got a little bit homesick.”
During all the moves he made, he said, the couple kept their home in Morrilton.
Tyler said he negotiated to have Sacred Heart pay his moving expenses, “which was a big thing.”
He went to work as principal in 1988 but left three years later, in 1991, for Bigelow again, this time as superintendent.
“That was a good job, and we made a lot of improvements on the campus,” Tyler said.
“We added a middle-level annex and put the preschool on the elementary campus. I think it was about $3 million worth of improvements,” he said.
Tyler’s road map of education jobs wasn’t complete.
“This is where it gets weird,” he said with a laugh.
“We went down south again, and I went back to the high school level at Mineral Springs as principal.
“I really kind of missed being in the school setting. As superintendent, you’re a little bit removed. I wanted to be more directly involved with the instruction,” he said.
“That was a great experience because it was my first brush with, oh, it was more at-risk children,” Tyler said. “We did a lot with high poverty, high minority; that was a great challenge. That was a great growth time.”
He and his family lived in Morrilton from 1988 on — he lived in Conway prior to that, he said.
After three years as principal in Mineral Springs, he “retired” in May 2010.
Tyler said that when he taught at Mineral Springs, he and his wife would go home on Friday evenings to Morrilton, read the mail, mow the yard and pack to go back on Sunday nights, he said.
His retirement was short-lived.
“As far as sitting and not doing anything, it wasn’t very long,” he said.
Tyler took the job in fall 2010 as principal at St. John Catholic School, pre-K through fifth grade, in Russellville, which was created in 1947 and affiliated with St. John Catholic Church.
“The school was really struggling; it was down to 49 children. There was talk of whether they needed to continue,” Tyler said.
The first year he took over, enrollment increased from 49 to 66.
The Catholic newspaper did a story with the headline Miracle on Main Street, he recalled.
“We built it up every year; now we have 112,” he said.
“We’ve done a lot of public
relations work. Of course, the school’s always been well thought of; it’s got a great reputation,” he said.
Russellville “is a great public school,” Tyler said, adding that the schools work well together.
Public-school teachers “love to get our kids,” Tyler said.
Growing the Catholic school took “getting involved in the community,” he said. “I belong to the Lions Club; [St. John is] active in the chamber of commerce,” he said.
Tyler sends photos of St. John students’ activities and accomplishments “to everybody” in the media, he said.
“We do open houses; we do tours,” he said. “I think Catholic education is a very important thing.”
Tyler said his four children graduated from a Catholic school. One is a Catholic priest, one is a nurse practitioner, one is news and sports director at a radio station, and the other is a math teacher.
Tyler said he’s enjoying the elementary school atmosphere, a change for him.
“It is neat; it is very different. Most of my background has been in secondary education. It’s just a different world,” he said.
“I work very close with parents now, work very close with teachers. I’m just enjoying myself.”
Terri Kobs, who teaches fourth and fifth grades at St. John, said Tyler has been a stabilizing force.
“We had so much turnover every year, and Mr. Tyler came, and he stayed with us, and he’s committed to the school,” she said.
“We were very close to closing our doors, and now we’ve doubled in size. We have great staff, and we all work together so well, and it’s under his leadership,” Kobs said.
Unlike public school systems where the board is governing, a Catholic school board is “consultative,” Tyler said.
“I try to run it for the benefit of the children and parents,” Tyler said.
“Body, mind and soul is what we say. The complete person is what we want to educate.”
Tyler said he’d like to see sixth grade added to the school.
“I will probably finish my career at St. John School. I would like to add a grade — or two, or three.
“I think that would be great,” he said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.