Principal Closes Out 30-Year Career
‘STUMBLED’ ON JOB AFTER CALL TO WRONG SCHOOL
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.
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.”