By Johannes Brann
The Northeast Vernon County (NEVC) R-1 School District has announced that, beginning Aug. 1, the new principal for its elementary school in Schell City will be Eric Rhodes. Currently, Rhodes is the Elementary Title 1 Math teacher in the El Dorado Springs R-2 School District. The current elementary principal, Kendall Ogburn, will retire at the end of July; he has been with the R-1 district since its formation in 1996.
Rhodes took time this past week to look forward to the challenges he is about to take on and share some things on his life and career.
“Working with students who have struggles has definitely pushed me to reflect on how I want school to be for all students,” began Rhodes. “Sometimes in education we try to do too much all at once. We need to be specific about what needs to be learned and adopt the best strategies to teach those things. And when students struggle, we need to partner with parents and really listen and think so we can help students learn and succeed.”
Rhodes stated he had sought out the position in Schell City as he wanted to work in a smaller, family oriented community and said he is both delighted and grateful for the opportunity and challenges which lie ahead. Before giving some specifics about his vision for the education process, the principal-to-be first provided some personal background.
He was born in Cortez, Colorado, near both Mesa Verde National Park and the so-called “four corners” region where the states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico all meet. Born a fraternal twin, he has two sisters.
“You could say the first school I attended was a real throwback,” noted Rhodes; “it was literally a three-room school containing the first through third grades and, at the time, had about 20 students.”
His family moved several times across Kansas and so he found himself in Mineola, Dodge City and finally Louisburg, where he was a December high school graduate in 2009. Rhodes worked at a bank for a while before starting college at the Ottawa campus of Neosho County Community College. In Dec. 2014, he received his undergraduate degree in elementary education from Missouri State University.
“I had the unusual experience of being hired as a first grade teacher in El Dorado Springs and my student teaching was built into that,” said the principal-to-be. “I started in first grade but soon moved to being the Title 1 Math teacher and have been in the El Dorado Springs R-II district a total of nine years.”
In 2018, Rhodes was awarded a Master’s degree in education administration from William Woods College in Fulton.
“My dad has been a Baptist pastor and while serving in Louisburg, Kansas, it was at church I met my wife, Grace,” said Rhodes. She is and plans to remain an elementary music teacher at the El Dorado Springs R-2 District; the couple have a daughter and a son.
“In teaching students who struggle with elementary math, I’ve learned to keep things simple and break down big problems into small attainable steps,” explained Rhodes.
Continued Rhodes, “That way, both parents and students say, ‘Oh, I can do this” and the parents become an important part of learning and support. That way, you create a partnership and together – students, parents and school – we achieve the results we all want.”
He also mentioned how, in elementary school, it is often negative behaviors and poor performance which receive attention but students who are well-behaved and perform well are often overlooked.
“I want to be sure to recognize the good things which are going on every day, whether on the school website, in the building as well as notes going home,” said Rhodes. “Learning matters and good matters and I think recognizing them helps keep the good things going.”
The soon-to-be elementary principal also spoke of how his desire for clarity and simplification of the education process involves a close examination of curricula and testing data.
“As students, we think of tests as being about grades but for teachers and administrators, testing tells you what’s going right, what’s been missed and gives you direction for what to teach,” he explained.
Rhodes recalled being a bit overwhelmed when, as a new teacher, he was handed a long list of things to be taught (education standards) as well as other expectations.
“That’s why I plan to meet with each teacher and say, just for example, these are the nine standards to be met over the course of the year, and then break those down into simple concepts. We’ve really got to focus on basic skills and find ways for every student to master them.”
As he tries to focus on basic skills he will be asking parents to spend at least 10-minutes, each night, reading with their child and reviewing math facts.
“It’s like constructing a multi-story building,” said Rhodes. “You won’t be able to add a second or third floor if the foundation is shaky. Reading, numbers and simple math are that foundation.”
Asked if he has thoughts of using the position at Schell City as a stepping stone to a larger district he replied, “My family has lived in El Dorado Springs for three years.” I have no plans of leaving the area but I do plan on being here for a good while.”
Then he added, “I am excited to get to know the teachers, along with the parents and students and working with them. We’re all in this together; we’re one team!”