Morrilton native hired as South Conway County superintendent

By Tammy Keith Originally Published June 6, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 5, 2013 at 1:56 p.m.
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Shawn Halbrook has to reorder business cards often.

Halbrook, 41, will take over July 1 as South Conway County School District superintendent in Morrilton.

He grew up in Morrilton and is a familiar face in that district — and in the Harrison School District, where he is assistant superintendent.

“I never intended to be an administrator,” Halbrook said.

In Morrilton, he was assistant principal at Northside Elementary, which became the primary school, and principal at the junior high school.

From 2007-2010, he was director of learning services in the South Conway County School District.

Once again, a job opening in Harrison pulled him back.

He started his third stint there in July 2010.

Halbrook was hired in April on a three-year, $115,000 annual contract.

He will replace Annette Henderson, who is leaving to become an assistant superintendent in the Fort Smith School District.

Halbrook said he’s looking forward to moving back to his hometown.

A son of Arlene Halbrook of Morrilton and the late Gary Halbrook, he said, “My mom actually worked for the South Conway County School District as a paraprofessional.”

Halbrook said that when he started attending Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, he resisted going into education.

“I initially went in and was wanting to be a physical therapist, then an economist,” but gave in to what he said was meant to be.

“It was a calling from God, much like a preacher is called,” he said. “I tried to fight it, but I couldn’t fight it long. I initially became a coach and started teaching.”

His first job was in Harrison as a football coach and history teacher, and he spent four years there.

From there, he went to the Clarksville School District for 11 months, also as a teacher and coach.

Then, he went back to Harrison for a three-year stint as a coach and elementary education teacher.

“It was a good experience for me,” he said.

“Being in the elementary setting was very beneficial,” he said. “Secondary and elementary are a little bit different. I got to see a different perspective of education, which to me was a process of helping me learn more as an educator.”

During his “second tour” in Harrison, as he put it, he started earning his Master’s of Science degree at the University of Central Arkansas via distance learning.

“Again, it was a God thing,” he said.

“I learned a lot, and that program made me a better teacher, a much better teacher,” he said. “It made me understand, really, the role of education in a child’s life. You always have that

inherent, there it is, but it really brought the research, this is how we can impact the child positively.

“Our job is to be hope-givers to all kids. We are to light a path, not necessarily tell kids what to do,” he said. “ We’re to light a path and get them to where their dreams take them.

“We’re hope-givers not dream-dashers — I know that sounds corny, but that’s something I believe.”

Halbrook said educators can’t control what happens outside the classroom, but they can affect what happens at school.

“An educator, or that teacher, or that person, a staff member in education, that may be the only smile that kid sees all day; that may be the only positive word of encouragement they hear all day,” he said.

Asked about his strengths as an administrator, Halbrook laughed. “That’s open to interpretation — I may think it’s a strength and someone else may not,” he said.

“I’m passionate about helping kids, and I think that’s a strength. I want every kid to help them succeed and help them achieve dreams.”

He said his role is “to provide the leadership, No. 1. I have to continuously look to improve. I have to be a lifelong learner. I have to be a servant leader. I have to try to be a futurist,” he said.

“I have to look at trends and where education is going; where the economy is going so we can prepare our kids” for jobs that don’t exist.

“Part of what I believe I’ve been called to do is develop leadership in a school district and develop leaders that want to move the organization forward toward the mission and the vision of preparing the scholars we serve for their future,” he said.

“Our kids are going to have to be able to problem solve; they’re going to have to be able to think logically and communicate and collaborate,” he said.

He said the South Conway County School District budget has “challenges, but there are challenges for every school district in Arkansas with increasing costs.”

“With Morrilton, the challenges are, you have a declining enrollment,” so funding is curtailed.

This school year, the district increased its enrollment by 19 students, from “roughly” 2,183 last year to 2,202 this year, he said.

“Five years ago, we were 2,373,” he said.

“How do we attract people to South Conway County School District? By taking care of kids.

“The education they’re going to get is going to be great — we want to maximize safety, learning and achievement,” Halbrook said.

Halbrook said serving as superintendent is another opportunity for him to grow.

“I want to be a passionate learner,” he said.

He and his wife, Jennifer, a stay-at-home mom, have son, Cade, 11; and daughters Ashlyn 9; Hannah, 4; and Kynsleigh, 10 months. Another daughter, Addison, died in 2007 at 5 days old.

“My family, aside from my faith, they’re the most important thing in my life,” he said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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