It’s not uncommon for a school district to have one of its long-time administrators to retire at the close of a school year. But for West County, all four of its administrators are leaving their leadership roles.
Eric Moyers has worked in the West County School District for 35 years. He officially retires Feb. 1.
“I’ve told people that when I came to work at West County in 1984 that I didn’t know I was coming to my home, but that’s the way I feel about this community and district,” said Moyers. “So many of my former students and members of this staff and community have become lifelong friends that I will always cherish.”
Moyers has spent all of his years in education at West County. He started out as a social studies teacher and then high school counselor, middle school principal and finally high school principal for 19 years. He also coached middle school boys and girls basketball, was assistant coach for high school girls basketball, assistant high school baseball, athletic director, and Scholar Bowl assistant coach.
With more than three decades of experience, it’s difficult for Moyers to pinpoint his best memories. There are too many, he said, to just name a few. “I will say that it was an honor to work with the students, staff and community of the West County School District for the past 35 years.”
Moyers said he took pride in seeing the district be successful and consistently recognized by the state as a Distinction in Performance School District.
“This was a reflection on everyone’s hard work throughout the district," he said.
He said it was also exciting to be the first high school principal in the new building. Personally, he was selected as the MASSP Southeast Missouri High School Principal of the Year in 2016, which he said was an honor to be selected by his peers throughout Southeast Missouri.
Over the years, Moyers has empowered teachers of the district.
“I have always tried to let the teachers on my staff run their classrooms the way they felt provided the best education for the students in their classrooms,” he said. “I expected the teachers to be the experts in their subject matter and wanted them to make their rooms educational and fun for the students. I wanted them to be innovative and creative in their teaching styles.”
He continued by saying principals should “trust and support your staff because they are a great group of educators and make every decision based on what you believe is in their best interests for the students.”
Moyers said there are many important aspects of being a school principal, particularly setting the tone of the building.
“The best aspects for any educator, regardless of your role, is seeing the students graduate and become successful in their lives after school.”
With so many years of experience, Moyers has impacted many lives. He recalled one situation when he received a call from an Army officer in Iraq who said one of his students wanted to talk to him. It was a former student who was experiencing some difficulties while being stationed so far away, and he just needed to talk to someone he trusted.
“It was an honor to realize with what he was going through and where he was stationed, he wanted to hear from me.”
He recalls a funny incident from years ago when seniors had Saran-wrapped the entire perimeter of the school property. Moyers had to call in a custodian, and together they spent the next hour taking it all down.
For Moyers, a typical day was a full day. He started school at 5 a.m. to get as many jobs as possible done before the school day started so he could handle whatever occurred throughout the day. After the regular school day, he supervised ball games and other school-related activities. His days sometimes ended as late as 9 or 10 p.m.
A never-ending challenge has been trying to find ways to meet all state guidelines. But with this challenge and any other, Moyers said he believes principals must be adaptable with their leadership style based on the situation.
“I always tried to have a shared leadership style where all parties were stakeholders in the decisions that were made,” he said, “and I think we are just one part, and that the whole staff needs to be involved in helping form the plans and direction for the school.”
“For programs or schools to be successful, everyone must feel that they are part of the decision-making process.”
His wife, Lisa, has been instrumental in his career by always supporting him and encouraging him while he earned his counseling and school administrator degrees and worked long days. His two children, son Josh and daughter Erica with husband Trever, have also been supportive, along with his parents Ron and Shirley Moyers.
As for what he will miss the most, Moyers said it will be the daily interactions with staff and students.
He intends to spend his time now with his family and doing some traveling.
West County Superintendent Stacy Stevens, who is also retiring, said Moyers came to West County midway through his senior year. Since that time, Stevens has worked with Moyers for a number of years. He describes Moyers as “an excellent teacher, counselor, middle school principal, and high school principal.” He said he admires Moyers’ dedication to the district.
“He always wanted to be at the events of his students to show them support,” Stevens said. “We would laugh when he would say he thought he had been there for a while because he had some former students who had grandkids in the building.”
Stevens said under Moyers’ leadership, the students have had a great deal of academic and extracurricular successes, including Moyers and wife Lisa leading their Scholar Bowl team to a sixth-place state finish two years ago.
“Eric is a vital part of this community and is beloved by a great deal of present and former students,” said Stevens.
Family time is something Todd Watson, principal at West County Elementary, also plans to do after retirement.
What many people likely don’t know about his family is that they are from northwestern Ohio, a family consisting of generations of farmers.
“In 1978, God called my father from the pasture to pastor a small rural Missouri church in Leadwood,” he said. At that time, Watson was just beginning eighth grade. To say the family was happy about leaving friends and family was an understatement. They did not have any friends or relatives in Missouri. However, the community welcomed them with open arms, and the Watsons have called Leadwood home since then. Watson graduated from West County in 1983 and married his high school sweetheart, Julie, five years later.
Watson started at West County in 1989 working as a special education classroom paraprofessional. A few years later, he taught third grade and actually had no intention of becoming a principal.
“I loved being in the classroom and felt this was my life calling,” he said. But there would be more to his story.
In October 1997, the school district’s superintendent showed up at his classroom door. What he said to Watson that day changed the course of his life. He asked Watson to take over the duties as elementary principal that Friday, and he needed an answer by Monday.
“What did I know about becoming a principal?” Watson questioned himself. But he had an overwhelming feeling that this was God’s plan for him, so he accepted the position and immediately enrolled in administration classes. Eighteen months later, he earned his master’s degree in school administration.
The rest, they say, is history. Watson has now been principal for the last 21 years. He’s also served the district in a number of roles, from bus driving and custodial work to coaching middle school basketball. He has also been the director of the Title I program, curriculum and food services.
Like Moyers, Watson has served all of his 30 years in education at West County. He said he hopes he has been a leader who has promoted a team approach and has always tried to be respectful of others’ ideas and opinions in decision-making. “I feel that providing an environment that promotes collaboration makes everyone better.”
Watson has encountered many challenges throughout his career. Initiating any kind of change is a big challenge. One of those changes was when the school went from an open-door environment to a locked-doors campus to maintain safety for everyone. This change was tough for visitors at first, but they soon realized the slight inconvenience kept students and staff safe.
Another challenge has been communicating and making changes regarding curriculum. He and staff held community meetings to explain and discuss Common Core State Standards, which eventually led to the state creating their own Missouri Learning Standards.
Over the course of his career, Watson has had many fond memories, many of them special days spent with students having fun, field trips where he would race students to the top of Cahokia Mounds, taking a group of summer school kids to the old Busch Stadium and to the Arch and on the riverboat cruise. He hadn’t realized at the time that so many of his students had never been to St. Louis, so seeing the amazement on their faces was priceless. He also recalled the first time he took students fishing. Although all he did was bait hooks and untangle lines, he will never forget it. He’s also grilled hot dogs for lunch on the school’s annual Maramec Springs and for the annual MAP test reward day at Leadwood Park. The kids thought Watson was the best cook because his hot dogs tasted “better than their moms'.” He even had parents ask how he made them because the kids didn’t want to eat them any other way than how Watson had cooked them. He told them it was his special barbecue sauce that he made.
There were also plenty of fun field days where kids and parents played and had fun, monthly all-school assemblies where students and teachers played games, students’ first dances, and monthly family nights where everyone enjoyed fun time at school.
As principal, Watson has been the guinea pig of sorts over the years, from being taped to a wall, kissing a pig, pies in the face, dressing up in funny costumes, and a host of other things. And he’s enjoyed every minute of it.
Through all of the school activities and community events, he got to know so many people and been able to make lifelong friends through his experiences as principal.
“I have had the privilege of getting to know wonderful people, generations of West County families, and a magnificent West County family of faculty and staff. I rarely go anywhere in the Mineral Area that I don’t run into someone who I know.”
Besides the fun, there was plenty of work. A typical day for him begins at 7 a.m. and ends around 6 p.m. after the last student gets off the After-School Achievement Program bus. He also does morning and after-school duty every day. Although most teachers dread this task, it is something he has thoroughly enjoyed.
“I found it to be a joy watching children play early in the morning,” Watson said. “For me, it is a good start to the day.”
After duty, he makes the daily announcements over the intercom, students recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the character education habit for the month is reviewed, and then he ends with the joke of the day. After that, Watson’s day is not predictable because every day is different. His overall plan is to go into classrooms to observe students and teachers do what they do best, but that varies based on what else happens, including constant decision making and problem solving.
“At the end of the day, I am mentally exhausted but I have enjoyed every minute of it,” said Watson.
Watson’s first mission as principal was to figure out why his school was not performing well on the state test. He worked to unite the building in a more collaborative effort. He had been reading a book about Professional Learning Communities and decided to give it a try. They started making changes to curriculum and instruction. They wrote and received some major reading grants which helped to provide ongoing professional development in reading and funded the purchase of new reading materials.
Watson said the next thing they knew, test scores increased dramatically; they were awarded the Missouri Gold Star School award. What followed was many years of Academic Distinction and a new atmosphere of high expectations, which continues today. One of the greatest awards which Watson felt the district received is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, which has made a huge impact on the community. It has provided students with academic support, extracurricular activities, enrichment opportunities and free daily before- and after-school safe childcare.
Watson has always encouraged his teachers to be continuous learners and has provided opportunities for ongoing professional development.
“I think when teachers learn new things and stay up with today’s best practices, they feel better about themselves and teach with more confidence,” he said. “The reward is when you see your students perform better.”
He has also encouraged teachers to become involved by joining committees or implementing new ideas or programs. This, he said, helps teachers to have “buy-in.”
“Having a part in the decision-making can be empowering and helps keep you motivated.”
His words of wisdom have been the same over the years: always show respect, kindness and love toward others. To administrators, he said to “set high expectations for yourself, staff and students, not just academic, but also good moral character. Always keep the students’ best interest in mind when making decisions.”
He credits several people for his 30 years of success.
“It started with wonderful Christian parents who instilled in me a good work ethic, the importance of a good reputation, and the importance of treating people with kindness and respect no matter who they are.”
He also credits Betty McIntyre, an excellent teacher and dear friend, who encouraged him to be a better person each day. She was his mentor who shared with him wisdom about education and life. Most of all, he credits his wife Julie who has been the biggest influence in him being a teacher and principal. She is an outstanding educator who loves kids and is passionate about teaching. It was Julie who first encouraged Watson to become a teacher and supported him as he worked his way through Mineral Area College and Central Methodist College, and then later Southeast Missouri State University and University of Missouri-St. Louis for his master’s and specialist degrees.
“I would not have made it without her,” he said.
Superintendent Stevens said Watson has been a “rock” of the Leadwood and West County community since his family moved to the area. He describes Watson as a “wonderful principal and an even better person.” Under Watson’s direction, Stevens said the elementary has achieved remarkable success over the years in academics.
“A district couldn’t ask for a better person to be the principal of a building in which it is a child’s (and parents’) first experience with a school district,” said Stevens. “He puts in countless hours doing all types of things for the district and does all of them well.”
Watson’s official retirement date is June 30.
“I don’t have any definite plans yet, but I’m sure it will include lots of ‘honey-do’ jobs,” said Watson. “I love to be outdoors and have quite a few hobbies and interests like beekeeping, gardening, hunting and fishing, which I hope to find a little time for.” He also has two grandbabies to share his time.
Watson’s family includes son Torey, a pharmacist, and his wife Muriel, a teacher, and their 6-month-old son Rorey; son Tate, a Farmers Insurance agent and wife Macey, soon to be a teacher, and their 10-month-old daughter Blair; and Tucker, a 2018 WCHS graduate and current MAC student who plans to transfer to SEMO to major in business administration.
He said he will really miss the kids. From the preschoolers to fifth grade, he gets lots of daily hugs and greetings.
“They treat me like a famous celebrity wherever they see me.”
There is one thing he won’t miss: the daily worry of keeping nearly 1,000 children safe, which he said is extremely stressful and a huge responsibility.
Watson said he hopes he has made an impact on a lot of students’ lives.
“It is amazing how many former students tell me things I did or said to them that has made a positive impact on them, and the sad thing is I don’t even remember. To me, being an educator is impacting students in a positive manner so they can grow up to be kind, contributing adults. I made a conscious effort to be as good a role model as I could possibly be.”
Although his time in his own classroom was short and his impact was on a smaller number of students, Watson’s impact as principal has been far reaching and long lasting.
“I am grateful to have had a positive effect on the lives of many students in a larger way,” he said. “I have truly enjoyed working for the West County School District, and I sincerely appreciate the support provided to me during my 30 years as part of the district.”
He said waking up and coming to school each day has been a pleasure. While he looks forward to retirement, he will miss being part of the West County family.
“I trust that the friendships I have developed here will last a lifetime,” he said, “and I have considered it an honor to serve the board, students, and parents of this community. My hope is that I have left behind the legacy of respect and kindness to all.”
West County Middle School Principal Kevin Coffman, who has held the position for the last 16 years, has been in education for a total of 26 years. Although he is not leaving the district, he will be leaving the middle school to take over the district reins after Superintendent Stevens’ retirement later this year.
Another long-time West County employee who is retiring is Lori Knox. She has been in the district’s central office for 20 years. According to Stevens, things are constantly changing with regard to the expectations of Knox’s job from local, state and federal levels.
“She is excellent at what she does,” said Stevens, “and she has always managed to adjust quickly and get the job done.” She and co-worker Holly Brown have worked together for the last 18 years.
He said Knox and Brown’s combined efforts have made his job so much easier with their efficiency and effectiveness.
“I never had to, and couldn’t have imagined, doing my job without Lori being a part of this office the entire time," he said.
Stevens said he is blessed to have had such great people in some of the most important positions in the district for such a long time.
“We are friends and very much like a family who are and have done the best they could to help kids,” he said. “I believe they have been ultra-successful at it. They will be missed.”