Then & Now: Bentonville educator advances dual careers

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 485 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Aug. 30issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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Melissa Thomas has spent the past 17 years as an educator for Bentonville Schools and the past three as a real estate agent serving Northwest Arkansas.

Thomas has taught seventh-grade English at Grimsley Junior High School in Centerton since it opened in August 2020. This school year, she has about 85 students. The building, opened last year as the fourth junior high for the school district of more than 18,000 students, is at 85% capacity with about 835 students.

“Having kids come into the building breathes life into it,” she said when asked about the first day of school. “And I don’t mean to say that in a platitude type of way. The kids are excited. They’re scared, and they’re nervous. They’ve never been to junior high. They see how big the building is, but it’s so comforting to be able to comfort another to say, ‘It’s OK. We can make it. I’ll walk you there.’ — to help them not be scared. So the first day went great.”

Throughout her teaching career, she has also taught math and social studies. Her first teaching role was as a sixth-grade math teacher at Spring Hill Middle School in Bentonville. She taught for 16 years at the school, which has since been renamed Ardis Ann Middle School.

Over the summer, Thomas, 52, earned a broker license. She has sold about $10 million in real estate so far this year. In 2020, she sold $12 million.

In June 2018, she became a Realtor for Keller Williams and was on the No. 3 producing team there. In January 2020, she joined First Real Estate in Bentonville and is the No. 2 producer on her team of 10 Realtors, who were formerly with Keller Williams. One of her goals as an executive broker is to start another branch on her team. She said her success in real estate has allowed her to pay off debt and travel.

In 2012, she earned a master’s degree in education from Arkansas State University. In 2004, she earned a teaching certificate through a nontraditional state program allowing college graduates to complete it in one year. In 1993, she earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration from the University of Arkansas.

“My high school and college counselors both said I should be a teacher, and I kept saying, ‘No,’” Thomas said. “Then, I homeschooled my kids, and I realized I enjoy teaching.”

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she started teaching her students virtually and adapted to the challenges of engaging with them via virtual platforms.

Students returned to class for the 2020-21 school year with masks and physical distancing requirements, while teachers adhered to new cleaning standards. Thomas noted she was healthier last year and did not get the flu or other illnesses like usual. But the distancing requirements limited hands-on activities, which the students and teachers missed.

Some of the restrictions have eased this school year, and students can again go to the library or use paper materials.

“It’s a little more normal,” she said about this school year compared to the past one.

The Rogers native was director of community development for the Rogers Area Chamber of Commerce when the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named her to the Forty Under 40 class in 1997.

Afterward, Thomas added to her title the role of education director. She helped to start the leadership and junior leadership programs for the chamber, which became the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce while she was there. The junior leadership program was a partnership with the school district, and developing it provided her initial exposure to the education field. She remained with the chamber until 1999 when her husband was transferred to Minnesota for his role with Walmart Inc. They returned to the area in 2001 after also moving to Mississippi and Tennessee.

She and her husband, Mike, have two daughters and recently moved to Centerton from Bentonville. She is a volunteer for Catalyst Church in Bentonville and enjoys traveling.

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