When Shawn Higginbotham started working for the Lake Hamilton School District, U.S. 70 divided the campus, and now that the highway has moved, Adam Brown Road runs through the center of the campus, which looks completely different to alumni who come back for a visit.
“They don’t recognize it because it is completely new,” Higginbotham said. “I’ve seen [the district] transform in the past 13 years.”
Higginbotham, who has served as associate superintendent for the district for 13 years, has officially been hired as the new superintendent. He will replace Steve Anderson, who will retire June 30. Higginbotham’s first day as superintendent will be July 1.
The board approved hiring Higginbotham on a two-year contract with a salary of $167,500.
Higginbotham has been with Lake Hamilton since 2001, joining the school as an assistant principal for the high school for one year, then served as junior high principal for four years.
“He has a proven track record with what he has done, and he is a great individual,” board president Vance Dobyns said of Higginbotham. “We feel like he will be a good leader in our district.
“He knows the community, he knows the staff, and I think he has the ability to take Lake Hamilton schools to the next level.”
Dobyns said the district had multiple applicants for the position and later narrowed them down to three whom they wanted to interview. He said that what separated Higginbotham from the others was the fact that he is “a strong leader and has a vision for the school.”
“We are very supportive of him, and we are looking forward to working with him in the future,” Dobyns said. “As one of our board members said, ‘This is an opportunity for [Higginbotham] to shine.’”
Dobyns said Higginbotham is recognized around the state for his finance knowledge, and he teaches courses to other superintendents.
“One of the many things that he shines as is his work with finances in the public schools,” Dobyns said. “He is very strong in the finance department.
“This is something that is an ongoing challenge, and he has proven himself to us.”
“We want to continue to grow, not just the student population, but also grow programs that benefit students that prepare them for the next level of learning and life,” Higginbotham said. “My vision is less important than our vision — it has to be collective and shared in the process moving forward.
“We want to be the type of school that the community and city want and our kids deserve. My purpose is to drive that force to create that vision and to create that school.”
Higginbotham is originally from Hamburg, Arkansas, having graduated from high school there in 1996. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history and social studies from the University of Arkansas at Monticello in 1990 and a master’s degree in educational administration from Northeast Louisiana University — now the University of Louisiana-Monroe — in 1996.
“He’s a constant professional, and he is extremely intelligent,” Anderson said. “I could not have asked for a better right-hand man for the past 13 years. He is a hard worker, and he is just very diligent in everything he does.
“He always strives to find ways to do things better.”
Anderson said sometimes as the No. 2 person, “you are overshadowed a little bit, but there is nothing that we have accomplished in my 13 years as superintendent that Mr. Higginbotham wasn’t integrally involved in.”
“We have had two successful millage campaigns, and Shawn was very involved in that and all the facility expansions that we have done …,” Anderson said. “I always felt like he had my back.
“When I first took over, I told my top leadership people what I was looking for, and I told them I wasn’t looking for them to be ‘Yes Men.’ ‘If you think I need to look at it differently, then you have the freedom and guts to step up and tell me,’ and Shawn has done that.”
Anderson has worked in public education for 38 years, and he wanted to make sure that when he turned the reins over to someone else, Lake Hamilton was in a good place.
“It has been a great career, and I feel real good about my decision,” Anderson said. “I’m ready for the next phase of my life. I look forward to doing different things but also remaining in this community and being actively involved.
“I want to continue to support public education.”
Higginbotham said there are approximately 4,400 students in the Lake Hamilton School District and 450 staff members. He joked that the school resembles a small Arkansas town on a daily basis, which leads to some traffic congestion.
“It’s a larger school for Arkansas, but it still has a small-school feel,” he said. “The district is the hub of the community. … The school is the hub of the community. We are the center of things for our community and the residents of our district.”
Brandi Higginbotham, Shawn Higginbotham’s wife, is originally from Percy, and he said that when she moved back to Lake Hamilton for a job, he followed her.
“She coaches basketball and has coached other sports as well, but basketball is her mainstay,” Shawn said.
Brandi coached the varsity Lady Wolves basketball team for 10 years, winning the Class 6A state championship in 2009. She also won the Class 5A state championship in softball in 2000.
“Shawn will do a great job; everyone around here knows about him,” Anderson said. “He is a boy from the Delta and is very well thought of in that area of the state.
“He has had leadership opportunities there and moved up fast in the ranks. … He is a very intelligent man and is very respected by various school administrators and organizations.”
Higginbotham is primarily responsible for the district’s finances and personnel, and he said has coordinated the finance for all the building projects and capital improvement for the past 13 years. He said he has been involved in about 18 projects during that time.
“We have had improvements on every campus,” Higginbotham said. “We have had two brand-new schools, an intermediate school and the middle school, that from the ground up have been funded with bond issues and millage campaigns.
“We also added the Lake Hamilton Wolf Arena, the Lake Hamilton Career and Tech building, as well as classroom additions on every campus.”
He said that when he first started at Lake Hamilton, there wasn’t an alternative learning program or a Pre-K program.
“It has been very successful for our at-risk students who are in need of additional preparation before kindergarten,” Higginbotham said. “We also have an audiovisual program that we just started a couple of years ago.
“They help produce every home football and basketball game.”
Higginbotham said it is the goal of the school to continue to improve and for “every facet of our program to be excellent.”
“The challenge is looking at our current reality, assessing where we are and determining where we need to improve as a group, collectively,” he said.
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or email@example.com.