For 33 years, Dean Stanley has followed his passion of coaching and teaching students. As he has moved from teacher to principal to superintendent in various school districts, he said he has done all he can to stay engaged with the kids in his schools.
“The hardest part about being an administrator is being away from the kids,” he said. “When I was a principal, I made it a point to know every one of my kids, and I knew them by name. Even as a superintendent, I’ve made it one of my goals to stay engaged with kids. I’ve been blessed with being able to go into the classrooms to stay around the kids.”
Stanley will retire from the field of education in June. He has been serving as the Midland School District superintendent for six years, culminating a career that began with serving as a teacher and coach at White County Central High School, moving to the position of principal of the high school in McRae and then to principal at White County Central Middle School.
Growing up, Stanley said, he was not chasing a particular career. His grandfather was a preacher, and the prospect of going into ministry was always in the back of Stanley’s mind, but when he attended Harding University, he discovered his love for teaching and coaching.
“I got involved in the basketball program at Harding and knew I wanted to coach at some point,” he said. “I’ve just been blessed by being around a lot of quality educators who have taught me a lot through the years.”
When Stanley was in high school, he was in a large class and graduated with more than 500 students. He said he dealt with a little culture shock working in schools that were smaller than his graduating class, but he said the smaller schools definitely have an advantage.
“I would take the small school over the large school now, having experienced both,” he said. “I have seen relationships develop a lot better, and, as a result, teachers can get involved better in the kids’ lives. Because of that, there’s more of a caring aspect, I think. Kids see that and respond.”
One thing Stanley recognizes from his experiences as a classroom teacher and as an administrator is that a teacher with passion is going to be effective.
“Passion obviously is what fuels people in all of their careers,” he said. “I found a quote a few years ago that says, ‘If you have no passion, then you have no mission. If you have no mission, then you have no calling. If you have no calling, then you can’t understand the privilege of being called.’ It’s kind of fit me through the years.”
As far as passion goes, Stanley said, he has also seen the community come out in support of the schools with zeal. In 2006, the Midland School District was in fiscal distress, and the district was in danger of being taken over by the state and annexed to another district. Local citizens raised $400,000 in a month, and the schools were saved from annexation.
“I was the first superintendent after that in 2008, and because of the type of people that are here and the care that they have for the district, it made [it] a very, very special place to be,” he said.
As an educator, Stanley said, he has tried to bring new opportunities to children. One of the more memorable trips he can recount was when he was coaching the White County Central High School baseball team. He said he took the team to see the Cardinals play in St. Louis, Mo., and one of his players, who had some special needs, had never been outside of White County, let alone outside of Arkansas.
“We passed a recreation sports complex, and he asked if that’s where the Cardinals play,” Stanley said. “We went on to St. Louis, and being able to put him in that opportunity, just seeing the joy in his eyes, was very special to me. Part of what I try to do is to put kids in situations that they might not ever get a chance to do again.”
At Midland schools, these opportunities have manifested themselves through the Discovery Education program. Five years ago, media specialist Karen Wells helped facilitate a scholarship for five students to go to South Africa. Since then, Midland students have had opportunities to go to Europe with the program.
“It’s not just sightseeing. They’re doing educational things,” Stanley said. “In South Africa, they went to a penguin refuge area where they got to work with the penguins. Those type of things — I just feel blessed to have let some kids experience things like that.”
With retirement from education, Stanley plans to take a job with a company that installs gym floors, as well as spend time with his family. He has four grandchildren who all live within five miles of his home. His wife, Debbie, teaches third grade in the White County Central District and plans to continue teaching for a few more years.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.