Lisa Miller is the new principal of Southside High School, taking over for former principal and now Fort Smith mayoral candidate Wayne Haver. But unlike her predecessor, Miller doesn’t plan on playing the harmonica.
Referencing Haver’s tradition of playing the instrument during the school’s fight song, Miller joked a friend had asked her in a practice interview, “‘On a scale of 1-5, I want you to rate your harmonica skills.’ And I said, ‘Oh my gosh if that’s a qualification of the job, I’ll be in real trouble.”
Aside from that, the former math and American history teacher at Kimmons and Ramsey junior high schools appears well-equipped for the position Haver held for 34 years. Since 2010, Miller has served as the principal of the Freshman Academy in the Van Buren School District. She also is the first secondary principal in Arkansas to earn the designation of Master Principal, and she is projected to complete her doctorate in educational leadership at Arkansas Tech University in 2020.
Reading from a prepared statement, Fort Smith Public Schools (FSPS) Superintendent Dr. Doug Brubaker said Miller “brings experience using data and collaborative processes to increase student achievement, working with others to develop a student-centered school culture, and contributing to the success of capital improvement projects” to the position. “I believe that she will do a great job of building on the tradition of success at Southside.”
Miller said she was “absolutely honored” to have her “dream job” of leading Southside through the changes ahead.
“To me, it’s not a challenge as much as it is an opportunity. I think there are some amazing things coming for Southside High School,” Miller told Talk Business & Politics in an interview after the school board meeting on Monday (June 25). She anticipates “being a student right along with the kids” in her first 90 days and commended Fort Smith voters on passing the millage, from which her school will receive the largest allocation of the estimated $120.822 million raised.
“While we’re getting a look at the (upcoming millage) construction, I want to keep the education of our students at the forefront while managing construction in a manner that doesn’t impact student education. And I’m just so impressed by the community of Fort Smith for putting their confidence in Fort Smith Public Schools.”
Salary data on Miller’s position was unavailable Monday. FSPS Communications Director Zena Featherston Marshall said the “math” was still being worked out on the 2018-2019 salary schedule. According to the 2017-2018 schedule, high school principals receive a base pay amount for their “step” as documented on the “certified staff” teacher salary scale. Marshall said Miller would come in at “around step 21,” which is the highest. But her pay also is calculated based on variables such as responsibility factors, extra days worked, and credit for administrative experience.
Southside is set to receive $43.824 million in improvements including a $15.579 million “extensive renovation” of the gymnasium. The earliest date for completing the planning and construction of all projects will be August 2021.
Also Monday, the school board extended Brubaker’s contract for another year, ending in 2021. Brubaker, who was part of a successful community campaign to pass the millage increase on May 22, said he was “thrilled” by the vote of confidence.
“My family and I love living here. We really enjoy this community and are thrilled to continue the work we’re doing, with the Millage 2018 implementation and the Vision 2023 strategic plan.”
In January 2017, Brubaker filled the post vacated by former Superintendent Dr. Benny Gooden. His annual starting salary was reported as $210,000. The new contract will include a 1.3% cost of living increase and a car allowance for a vehicle the board must later approve. Brubaker is currently compensated for mileage.
Other administrative appointments Monday night included the following:
• Travis Biggs, Supervisor of Maintenance and Construction within the Buildings and Grounds Department: Biggs has been promoted from assistant principal at Southside High School for the position. He will oversee much of the $120.822 million in construction projects arising out of the 2018 millage.
• Lori Yates, Supervisor of Information Services: The department maintains student data, compiles reports, and manages the uploads that are used to provision student accounts in all of the district’s electronic resources. Yates has been with the department since 2005.
• Dawn Childress, principal at Raymond F. Orr Elementary School: Childress served as assistant principal at Barling and Woods Elementary Schools for the 2017-2018 school year, during which Barling was named an “Arkansas A+ School.”
ª Tony Jones, director of Belle Point Academy: Jones has served as the School Improvement Specialist/Assistant Principal at Northside High School since 2016. He is projected to complete a doctorate in educational leadership from Arkansas Tech University in 2019.
• Martin Mahan, assistant superintendent for Human Resources and campus support: Mahan served as the executive director of human resources during the 2017-2018 school year. He will take on a wider scope of responsibilities with District Technology and Student Achievement and Accountability. Mahan has previously served as principal at Kimmons Junior High and Northside High Schools and the district’s Director of Secondary Education.