Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of stories introducing new faces in the Farmington R-7 School District
When Mark Phillips begins this school year as the new principal of Jefferson Elementary, he may seem familiar to some of the parents and staff members. After an 11 year absence from the Farmington School District, Phillips is excited about returning.
“My first year of teaching was with the Central School District,” Phillips said. “But then, I taught fifth and sixth grade at Lincoln Intermediate before moving to Perryville 11 years ago to be an assistant principal and then principal.”
According to Phillips, there are many reasons to return to Farmington – one of which is personal.
“My family and my wife’s family are all from this area,” Phillips said. “Our parents are getting older, and even though Perryville is not that far away, when they need something, you are still an hour away. My mom and dad both have had some health issues, so it’s nice to be closer to home. Now, I can be at my wife’s folks or mine in 10 minutes.”
The Parkland area is not just home to his parents and in-laws, it is also home for Phillips as well.
“I grew up in Park Hills. I moved there when I was five, so it’s all I remember,” Phillips said. “I went to Central High School and then to Mineral Area College on a music scholarship, before finishing out there at Central Methodist.”
Even after graduating from Central Methodist, Phillips didn’t travel too far from home for graduate school, choosing to go to Southeast Missouri State University.
When deciding to make the move from the Perryville School District back to Farmington, Phillips had one advantage that many people do not when changing jobs – familiarity.
“Coming back here is easy because I know the community,” Phillips said. “When my wife and I went to Perryville, we didn’t know anyone or anything, but over the course of time, we got to know a lot of people and made some lifelong friends. Over the last 11 years, we spent a lot of time up here as well.
“Farmington has always been, to me at least, a community that loves its schools, what they do and they support it. It’s nice to see a community have such a great relationship with its school system.”
When considering a position with a school district, most educators look at how well the district performs on a variety of levels, including test scores and taking the initiative on new ideas and technology. For Phillips, Farmington’s reputation and his past experience with the district made him feel comfortable about making the change.
“First of all, when you are looking at a school, you have to look at the test scores, and Farmington’s have always been high – higher than a lot schools in the state,” Phillips said. “I think a lot of people look to Farmington to be on the cutting edge, on the forefront of new things coming in, new ideas and new programs. They have never been afraid of try them.”
Phillips concedes that not everything the district tried worked, but he has always been impressed with the effort the district gave to trying something new.
With the summer giving Phillips the chance to settle in behind his desk and giving him a chance to take a closer look at his new school, the new principal is very happy with what he sees and doesn’t really see the need to change anything, at least for the first year.
“Coming into a school and seeing the teachers and what they have going here is a great experience to walk in to,” Phillips said. “They are very passionate about what they do. They like doing it, and they love the kids. It’s that excitement that drew me back here.”
Phillips doesn’t see himself as the typical principal; in fact, he sees himself as just a guy who is going to help teachers make it through the day.
“Mainly, it’s my job to make sure teachers are comfortable, feel good and like what they are doing,” Phillips said. “I tell people all the time that I have the least amount of effect on the students. Teachers are the ones in the trenches. I just provide them with what they need so they can do the best job they can. I want to help the teacher succeed which ultimately allows the kids to succeed which is what we are here for anyway.”
Phillips philosophy on education is based on him doing what is best for his students. Whether it is making the hard decisions that some may not like, or helping his teachers out, Phillips will stick behind his charges.
“Parents give us their child every day and that is a big trust factor,” Phillips said. “It is our responsibility to do right by them, so any decision I make will always be what is best for the kids.”
Craig Vaughn is a reporter for the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-518-3629 or at firstname.lastname@example.org