HEBER SPRINGS — New Heber Springs High School Principal Bret Brown took a long time to get on the education track, but he said this job “is the last stop on the train.”
Brown, 54, who grew up in Quitman, started his new job July 1. Prior to being hired in Heber Springs, he had been an assistant principal at Jonesboro High School for the past four years.
He replaced former Heber Springs Principal Justin Johnston, who resigned effective at the end of the school year.
Brown said he found out about the Heber Springs job when he was dating his wife, Kim, who was the Walnut Ridge Elementary School principal. She told him about the job opening near his hometown, where his father, Morris Brown, still lives.
“As God would have it, I’m back home now. My dad is 84, and he lives on a farm outside of town here. I get to take care of Dad,” Brown said.
“We moved here from California when I was 7,” Brown said.
His father owned the Texaco in downtown Heber Springs and later became a contractor. His mother, the late Geraldine Brown, was a stay-at-home mom for him, his brother and two sisters.
Education was not Brown’s first love; it was music.
“We had a lot of music in our family,” he said. “My two sisters and myself did a lot of singing in church, and being raised in the country, you find things to do. We all learned to play the piano and guitar.”
Brown said he and his siblings sang in church-related events. His sister Deneen has the real claim to fame, so far, he said.
“She is super awesome. She got to go sing for Bill Clinton’s inauguration and his mother’s funeral,” Brown said.
After Brown graduated from Quitman High School, he went to the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and majored in business.
“I said, ‘This is not for me,’” he said.
Brown left college to go to the oil fields in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, because they were booming — until he got there.
“It wasn’t too long after I moved there that the oil boom busted. I remember getting my boots, walking out in the oil fields, and they said, ‘We sent everybody home today.’”
Brown worked in retail for about three years before moving back to Conway, at age 27, to enroll at UCA and finish his bachelor’s degree.
“I ended up in El Dorado with my first teaching job at 30 years old,” he said.
“I came to this realization — at 30 years old, I really wanted to make a difference in these young people’s lives.Yes, I had some grandiose dreams of really touching young people’s lives, and you know what, I have.”
After three years in the El Dorado School District, he moved to Mayflower and taught at McClellan High School in Little Rock.
From there, he became the business-education teacher at Glen Rose High School and moved to Benton.
He finished his master’s degree in education at UCA in 1993.
“Then I quit moving around the checkerboard,” he said.
While he still lived in Benton, he became dean of students at Hot Springs High School from 1997-2000.
“When you start getting into administration, you’re working more in assisting teachers. I tell my teachers, ‘My job is to make your job easier,’” he said.
Brown became an adjunct teacher in computer engineering for Pulaski Technical College, teaching at and serving as director of the Saline County Career Center in Bauxite, overseeing offerings such as cosmetology, aviation and automotive programs for area high school students.
He stayed at Pulaski Tech for almost six years.
“Then I took a unique turn,” he said. “I got totally out of education and got into sales. I jumped ship and went into sales for five years.”
He continued to live in Benton and worked at the CMH Inc. (Clayton Manufactured Homes) sales center in Alexander.
“A lot of it came down to, it was pay. It was significantly more, and they were wanting to prep me [for] a management position, and I became their sales manager there,” he said. “That’s when the manufactured-housing industry took a terrible slide with new regulations, federal regulations handed down.”
Brown said that’s when Kim told him about the opening in Jonesboro, well into the Jonesboro School District’s school year.
Although he enjoyed his tenure in Jonesboro, he wanted to be closer to home. The Heber Springs High School position was perfect.
Heber Springs board member Al Thomas said the board unanimously accepted a committee’s recommendation to hire Brown.
“We’re most excited about him being a visionary for our school,” Thomas said. He also said Brown will give stability to the position at the high school.
Brown said he relishes being able to be back near family. His brother, Roger, also lives in Heber Springs.
Brown said he has met individually with all the teachers in the 536-student high school.
“If they have any questions, they get to ask me. It’s a great about 30-minute session,” he said. “I think it’s very important to do that.
“That is huge for me this year, having a good understanding of the education culture. Strange as it is, every school district has its own unique culture,” he said.
It’s particularly important to interact with teachers because of the implementation of the Teacher Excellence and Support System, an evaluation method, he said. The system will be fully implemented in the 2014-15 school year.
Brown said his goal is to “improve quality,” and that means lots of questions and conversations “to find out where we are so we can move forward.”
Progress is being made in facilities on campus with several construction projects, including an approximately $7 million, 1,000-seat high school auditorium, which is right down Brown’s alley.
“I’m not a sports person; I enjoy music and performing,” he said.
“I have a small country CD out,” he said, and he plans to record a 15-song CD with Raney Recording Studio in Drasco.
Brown said he writes and composes his own music, and he has sent his work to Nashville, Tennessee.
“A studio from Nashville said, “Hey, I can do a great-quality CD — you’ve got some good-quality music here,’” Brown said.
“I got to play with Shania Twain’s steel player and her drummer in Nashville,” he said. The musicians were between tours and came to play at the studio.
“It’s probably one of the most amazing processes I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Brown also got to perform at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch and Family Campground in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville.
“It was kind of a bucket-list thing,” he said, laughing.
That, and moving back home.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.