New Southwest principal emphasizes ‘the good things’

By Kayla Baugh Published September 17, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Carrie Parsley, Southwest Middle School’s new principal, stands inside the school in Searcy. Parsley said she hopes to make a positive impact on students and help them feel more confident in themselves.

Carrie Parsley considers herself a simple woman who enjoys the little things in life.

She is passionate about the human spirit and loves seeing people grow into the best possible versions of themselves.

Parsley now has the opportunity to see positive growth firsthand in her new position as principal of Southwest Middle School in Searcy.

“I am beyond excited about my new position,” she said. “Sometimes it doesn’t seem real that I am the principal because I have been here for seven years, but the transition has been amazing. I feel so blessed to serve this campus and the wonderful people that are a part of it.

“When the principal position opened up, many of the teachers approached me and were encouraging me to apply for it. The love and support they showed me during that time will never be forgotten.”

Parsley served as assistant principal at Southwest Middle School for seven years, she said, from 2010-2017.

Prior to that, she was a special-education teacher in the North Little Rock Schools from 1996-1999 and 2004-2010, she said.

“I started college thinking I wanted to be an occupational therapist,” Parsley said. “I had to do some observation hours in a school setting, so I went to my Aunt Margaret’s classroom in Bald Knob. She was a special-education teacher. I fell in love with the students and decided through that experience that I wanted to teach instead.”

Parsley said she has never regretted the decision.

She earned an associate degree from Arkansas State University-Beebe, where she was elected as the first female student-body president.

She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in special education, a master’s degree in special education and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

Parsley said positivity is growing rapidly in her school, and she’s excited about the good vibes that staff members and students create daily.

“It feels good to walk anywhere on campus because people are smiling, greeting each other, being pleasant, helpful and supportive. This is especially encouraging to see with the students and their interactions with each other,” she said.

The school’s Capturing Kids’ Hearts system makes it a special place to be, she said, and Southwest is one of two schools in the Searcy School District that uses the system.

Teachers are trained in the process, and it all begins with greeting students at the door with a handshake, she said.

Classes create social contracts that everyone signs off on, she said, and they are referred to throughout the day as a reminder to students.

“Every day the students share ‘good things’ with each other,” she said. “This really helps the students learn more about each other and make deeper connections. We also have a strong emphasis on affirmations.”

Parsley said Capturing Kids’ Hearts has made a noticeable impact on the school, and discipline was down by 50 percent last year.

“I also love knowing that the kids are learning the simple skill of properly shaking someone’s hand,” she said. “Every spring, we have an Honors Assembly, and the students have to walk across the stage to receive their certificate. They wouldn’t know how to shake my hand and accept their certificate at the same time.

“This past spring, after a year of Capturing Kids’ Hearts, at the Honors Assembly, every single student shook my hand appropriately. I was so excited. We always tell them, ‘Give me the handshake that will get you the job.’ We really are working hard at preparing them with lifelong skills for success.”

Parsley said it’s important that she models the behavior she asks of her teachers and students, because it all starts from the top and trickles down.

Southwest runs like a well-oiled machine, she said, and she puts a lot of focus on her staff.

“If they have what they need emotionally, physically and mentally, they will be able to give the students what they need in the same way,” she said.

Parsley said she was born in Little Rock, but Searcy is her home.

She said she looks up to her parents, Jim and Brenda Brown, for their character and determination.

“We didn’t have much growing up, but we always had what we needed, and they always presented a positive and united front to me and my siblings. They instilled in me the qualities of never giving up, finding the good in every situation, being kind and respectful to everyone, counting my blessings, working hard and being loyal, trustworthy, responsible and dependable,” she said.

Being a mother is the most important thing in her life, she said, and her children are where most of her time and attention have always gone.

Parsley has five children: Kara, Stephanie, Matthew, Michael and Mary Grace.

“The best thing in my life is being their mother,” she said. “They all make me so very proud, and there are things about each of them that make them so unique and special to me. It’s crazy to think that I can love them all so much and yet so differently.”

Her daughters are independent and strong-willed, she said, and her sons are “tough softies” who love their mother.

Parsley said she’s proud of the strong women and responsible young men her children have become.

“They know just how to pull on my heartstrings with lots of hugs, sweet words and wanting me to cook,” she said. “I love when we are all together because we have a good time. They make me laugh with their funny personalities, and I really do enjoy their spirits. They are good for my heart and soul.”

In her free time, Parsley said, she enjoys relaxing on her deck, taking photos of her children, going to the gym or having dinner with family and friends.

Parsley said she also loves going to the beach and has traveled out of the country twice.

“I am really a simple person and enjoy places that are close by like Memphis or even New Orleans. I could sit in Jackson Square, eat beignets, listen to the music and people-watch all day,” she said.

Steve Lercher, assistant principal at Southwest Middle School, said Parsley is upbeat, energetic and nurturing.

“She loves her family and enjoys watching a good ballgame. Over the years working with Ms. Parsley, I have come to admire her ability to read people and to adjust accordingly,” he said.

Parsley truly cares for students and staff members, he said.

“Over the years, we have shared several memorable experiences, such as pies in the face when we were celebrating student success and middle-of-the-night school-security-alarm meetings. One recent memory that stands out is when the principal position came open here at Southwest. Carrie asked if I was going to apply, then asked how I felt about her applying; that truly represents Ms. Parsley,” he said.

Parsley said she hopes to make a positive impact on students and help them feel more confident in themselves.

“I hope to impact them by how I handle myself because I truly believe in modeling my expectations,” she said.

“Children are always watching what we do and sometimes listening to what we say, so every action has to count,” she said. “When they leave Southwest Middle School, I want them to leave feeling better about themselves than when they arrived.”

Lercher said he sees good things in the future for Southwest Middle School with Parsley as the principal.

“Southwest and Ms. Parsley fit like a good shoe,” he said, “and she does like her shoes!”

Staff writer Kayla Baugh can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or

None Kayla Baugh can be reached at 501-244-4307 or

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