Principal Closes Out 30-Year Ca­reer

‘STUM­BLED’ ON JOB AF­TER CALL TO WRONG SCHOOL

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Lynn Kutter

FARM­ING­TON — Bob Echols, principal of Farm­ing­ton’s Fresh­man Academy, will end a 30-year ca­reer with Farm­ing­ton in June, a ca­reer he says he stum­bled on with a fol­low-up phone call to the wrong school.

Look­ing back, Echols says he thought he was call­ing Prairie Grove School District to see if any jobs for his­tory teach­ers were avail­able.

The Farm­ing­ton

High School sec­re­tary asked him to wait a minute and then she re­turned to the phone to see if he could come in for an in­ter­view.

Echols was hired as a his­tory teacher on the Fri­day be­fore school started Mon­day morn­ing in Au­gust 1988.

Echols grad­u­ated from Har­ri­son High School, started col­lege and then re­turned later to the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas as a non-tra­di­tional stu­dent. When he grad­u­ated at age 33, there were not a lot of his­tory po­si­tions to be found.

He ap­plied in south­west Mis­souri, cen­tral and north­west Arkansas, mainly con­sid­er­ing smaller school dis­tricts, sim­i­lar to his ex­pe­ri­ence in Har­ri­son. Noth­ing ma­te­ri­al­ized and Echols said

he be­gan mak­ing phone calls again try­ing to find open­ings.

He still re­mem­bers the phone call to what he thought was Prairie Grove: “May I help you?”

Echols be­gan his ca­reer as a ninth-grade civics teacher. Over the years, he has taught mid­dle school and high school stu­dents in eco­nom­ics, ge­og­ra­phy, Amer­i­can his­tory and civics.

He started in the high school and then moved to the new mid­dle school from 2000-2003, un­der for­mer Principal Carolyn Odom. In 2003, he said he was asked if he would be in­ter­ested in mov­ing into ad­min­is­tra­tion and Echols be­came dean of stu­dents at the high school.

He earned his masters of ed­u­ca­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion and was pro­moted to assistant principal un­der for­mer Principal Blaine Hipes in 2006. Echols served as in­terim principal for one year af­ter an in­ci­dent con­cern­ing for­mer Principal Chris Webb.

In 2013, Echols was named principal for the school’s new Fresh­man Academy.

Dur­ing his 30 years, Echols said he only ap­plied for one job out­side the district and that was at the en­cour­age­ment of a friend in Spring­dale School District. It was a so­cial stud­ies po­si­tion and he would have been teach­ing us­ing a cart. He would not have his own class­room.

Echols said his quick re­ply was “Thank you very much,” but no.

“That’s the only time I ap­plied any­where else and that was 18 to 20 years ago,” Echols said. “I just never wanted to go any­where else. This is a great com­mu­nity and I have been ap­pre­cia­tive of the kids we have had here and the sup­port we get from the par­ents and the cen­tral of­fice.”

He added, “There wasn’t any rea­son to go any­where else.”

Echols has seen the district’s stu­dent en­roll­ment grow from 1,000 stu­dents in 1988 to 2,500 stu­dents to­day. Dur­ing the past 30 years, Farm­ing­ton has built five new schools: Led­bet­ter In­ter­me­di­ate, Lynch Mid­dle School, two ele­men­tary schools and a new high school.

Echols has been im­pressed with the com­mu­nity’s sup­port of the district, es­pe­cially at the polls. Any­time the district has asked for a mill­age in­crease or to is­sue new bonds, vot­ers have voted in fa­vor of the re­quest.

“The com­mu­nity also comes through to help the school,” he said.

Bryan Law, su­per­in­ten­dent of schools, said Echols is a “won­der­ful peo­ple per­son” and has had a great re­la­tion­ship with the staff, stu­dents and par­ents. Law re­mem­bers bus duty with Echols and how Echols would speak to ev­ery­one and al­ways had some­thing to say to each stu­dent.

Law cred­its Echols with turn­ing the district’s Fresh­man Academy into one of Farm­ing­ton’s best pro­grams.

“He’s an ex­cel­lent school man and he’ll be greatly missed here at the school,” Law said.

Farm­ing­ton High assistant principal Clay­ton Wil­liams worked along­side Echols for many years in sev­eral roles.

“I think one of the things that al­ways im­pressed me with Mr. Echols is that he would have these re­la­tion­ships with stu­dents and keep track of them,” Wil­liams said. “He had a knack for main­tain­ing stu­dent re­la­tion­ships af­ter they left his class and school.”

Echols al­ways was shak­ing a stu­dent’s hand or con­grat­u­lat­ing them, Wil­liams said, adding Echols had a re­spect for stu­dents and their achieve­ments.

Echols said an eighth­grade teacher in­spired him to be a so­cial stud­ies teacher.

“I’m glad I made that de­ci­sion,” he said. “It’s been good. I hope in some way I’ve in­flu­enced some kids along the way.”

Echols said he would tell any stu­dent ask­ing about a ca­reer in ed­u­ca­tion, “You have to have your heart in it be­cause it’s hard. You don’t come into this for head­lines, ac­co­lades or pats on the back. You come into it for the kids.”

Be­ing a teacher is de­mand­ing, he said, but for the right per­son, it’s great.

Echols’ fu­ture plans are “to do what Bob wants to do.” Though, he’s not sure yet what that is. Ideas are to travel, do some land­scap­ing, gar­den­ing and catch up on his read­ing — “I still like to turn the pages of a book.” His wife is still work­ing so he said he’ll also be a house hus­band.

“I’m go­ing to turn the cell­phone off, sit on the back porch and have cof­fee in the morn­ings.”

Echols

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