Dr. Harold Jeffcoat feels he and his family have been blessed with the opportunity for him to be Van Buren School District’s new school superintendent.
Over the past couple of years, Jeffcoat had turned down other jobs to remain as deputy superintendent of the Cabot School District.
"I loved what I was doing and was not ready to take that next step," Jeffcoat said last week. "But, my wife and I are planners for the future and we were looking for the community and school district that would be good for our kids."
When the Van Buren position came open, Jeffcoat said he and his wife knew immediately that was the place they wanted to be for their family.
He said he turned down a job to have the opportunity to come to Van Buren.
"The worst that could have happened if I did not get the Van Buren job was that I would have to remain in Cabot where I was loving what I was doing," Jeffcoat said. "But the chance to come to Van Buren has felt right since I applied for the job. After I interviewed with the committees, I felt comfortable and felt like this was going to be the place we called home."
Committee members agreed and the Van Buren Board of Education voted 7-0 to hire Jeffcoat to replace Dr. Merle Dickerson. Jeffcoat became superintendent July 1.
Jeffcoat and his wife, Cindy, have four daughters who often "get to tag along with Daddy." Kyla, 9, is a fourth grade student at City Heights Elementary School and Kinley, 7, is a CHE second grader. Not yet in school are Kelsey, 3, and Kambri, 2.
"My daughters are the joy of my life," Jeffcoat said. "They realize there are time demands on me being superintendent, but also know there are fun things to do which they can be a part of. They know where to find the best popcorn."
This, he said, is what his family does to become part of the community.
"Cindy is a tremendous support for me," Jeffcoat said. "I could not do what I have to do without her encouragement and support… she is always behind me and a great motivation for me."
Jeffcoat said he has been overwhelmed by the community support of the Van Buren School District.
"I have had people not connected with the school district stop by my office to tell me they are happy for us to be here," Jeffcoat said. "This validates this is the right place for us."
Every morning, the superintendent tries to start his day at one of the 10 schools in the district.
"It is a good way to interact with our teachers and students to see the good things they are doing in our district," he said.
One recent morning, there was a delay at Parkview Elementary School which gave Jeffcoat the opportunity to roam.
"I was in the library looking for ‘Armadilly Chili,’ a fun book for children which my kids love," he recalls. "I like to take on the voice I think a character might have. I did not find ‘Armadilly Chili,’ but I did find ‘Bubba the Cowboy Prince.’"
Inspiration then took over.
"I asked if there was a class I could interrupt," he said.
Kindergarten teacher Jody Mabry obliged and the superintendent became Bubba.
"The kids loved it and I got 12 hugs on the way out," he said. "Not a better way to start a day than with hugs."
Jeffcoat said he knows no other way to do his job right than to be in the public eye.
"I don’t know any other way to do this job than to be in public," he said. "This job demands involvement in the community. I do it to improve our schools by connecting the district and the community. I don’t think you can do that without being involved every day."
Jeffcoat said Dr. Tony Thurman, the Cabot superintendent for whom he worked for seven years, was a role model for what a superintendent’s job should be.
"The success in Cabot is due to Dr. Thurman," he said. "He is a dear friend and mentor whose characteristics I hope to exhibit in growing the Van Buren School District."
There is not a typical day for Jeffcoat.
"Every day is different," he said. "There is a lot of time dedicated to after-school activities. Tuesday, went to a tennis match, to band practice, to a volleyball game, to a football scrimmage. Wait … some of that might have been Monday. You get the idea, though."
Days start early and end late. After the kids are in bed, Jeffcoat will be on the couch, checking his tweets to see what is being said about the Van Buren School District.
"Social media is an incredibly good tool for the school district," Jeffcoat said. "It is impossible to be at every activity. But, when schools share with everyone else it is much easier to stay connected. When one school shares, it is possible for others to see, which, hopefully they will take full advantage of."
Jeffcoat also believes it is important to be a part of groups and organizations which have a vested interest in the school district, such as civic organizations, Van Buren Chamber of Commerce and United Way of Fort Smith Area.
"The school district must be a part of the effort to propel people to move here by focusing on improving all areas," he said.
Jeffcoat said he tries to be that positive person who encourages and motivates others.
"I see every challenge as an opportunity to try to encourage others, especially the school district’s faculty and staff," he said.
It goes back to his high school days when he was a custodian, he said.
"I have been a substitute teacher and a classroom teacher, a job that left me exhausted at the end of the day," Jeffcoat said. "There is so much pressure to be a teacher and I am not so removed from the classroom that I don’t remember what the job was like," he said. "Teachers deserve a pat on the back."
Jeffcoat said he is not in Van Buren to build a career but to leave a legacy with the school district.
"We are not here for a long time," he said. "But when we look back on our lives we want to be able to say we contributed in a positive way. That is what I try to do every day."
He said local leaders have to look at what is in the best interest of the kids and the community.
"Then," Jeffcoat said, "We can rest easy at night knowing we are making good decisions."