July 20, 2011 Edition

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Mark Manchester assumes
leadership role at WRHS

Mark Manchester is getting settled in his office as the new principal at Walnut Ridge High School.

John Bland

Mark Manchester, a native of Rector, began his duties as new principal at Walnut Ridge High School on July 5. He replaces Charles Lee, who served as WRHS principal the past 10 years and has accepted an administrative position in the Rogers School District.

"Charles Lee did a great job. I hope to build on what he accomplished here," Manchester said on Friday, having returned the previous day from a principal's training conference. "We can always be better," he added.

"I'm really proud to be in Walnut Ridge," he said. "This is a community that supports its school and kids. I look forward to getting more involved in the community."

"I have been impressed with the staff I've met," Manchester said. "Mr. Belcher (superintendant) and the board are committed to supplying the resources students need for success. We are going to try and help our kids succeed.

"In rural Northeast Arkansas, a lot of kids grow up in poverty," he said. "Education is the answer to breaking that cycle. These (school) walls have something to help you have a better life."

He noted that 20 or so years ago, a young person with limited education could get a fairly good job just down the road, but today those jobs don't exist. "They are going to have to have an education," he said.

Family roots in Rector

Manchester has spent the majority of his life in Rector, where four generations of his family have lived. His parents, sister and youngest brother live there, while another brother lives in Jonesboro.

He has a bachelor of science in education in social studies with a coaching endorsement and certification in physical education and health from Arkansas State University.

Before completing his bachelor's degree, he also spent time working for the Clay County Democrat in Rector and other affiliated newspapers in Northeast Arkansas. His newspaper work included a little bit of everything and a lot of writing. He also spent a year at the Northeast Arkansas Tribune in Paragould.

Having finished his degree in December of 1998, Manchester was working at the Rector newspaper in early January when he received a teaching job offer. A teacher in Harrisburg was ill, and Manchester was hired to teach social studies, primarily world history to sophomores, for the semester.

He described his next school year at Harrisburg as "the greatest learning experience a young teacher could have."

That year, Manchester helped coach both junior and senior high football teams, coached both tennis teams and served as assistant senior high and head junior high basketball coach. He also taught four world history classes and one Arkansas history class.

"I was there till 8:30 at night. It was a full day," he said.

He spent the following three years at the Bay School District, where they had an opening for girls' basketball coach. "I had a great coaching experience there." His teams were conference champs two of those three years.

Besides coaching basketball at Bay, he also taught two classes and served as head baseball coach.

Manchester then had the opportunity to return to Rector. He said he would never forget the day he interviewed for the Rector position. While Manchester did receive the job at Rector, it was also a day marked with tragedy.

Shawn Tillery was his friend and the boys' basketball coach at Bay. Tillery was also interviewing for a coaching job in his hometown of Harrisburg. Manchester had repeatedly called Tillery throughout that day but had had no response. Then, that night he received a call that Tillery had died that day of a sudden heart attack.

While at Rector, Manchester served as boys basketball coach and more recently girls basketball coach, taught social studies and assumed the duties of athletic director. He also assisted with administrative duties.

While at Rector, Manchester completed a master's degree in education administration from Williams Woods. Beyond his school activities and advanced degree work, he was also very active in the community.

Advocate of community service

"I am a huge believer of being actively involved in the community," Manchester said.

In Rector, he served on the parks and recreation committee and co-chaired the Rector Labor Day Picnic for the last two years. The picnic is a major event in Rector, he added.

For the past five years, Manchester has served on the board of the Rector High School Helping Hands Foundation. "I have been fortunate to serve on that board," he said.

"It's been a really positive influence on the community."

Three prominent 1950s graduates of Rector High School established the foundation. They are Bill Carter, a former manager of the Rolling Stones; George Barker, a retired three-star general; and Sherland Hamilton of Rector.

The foundation board is a nice mix of present and former residents of Rector.

Manchester said the foundation is currently providing approximately 14 Rector graduates with college scholarships. It was started to help the short-term needs of Rector students and does so by providing such necessities as eyeglasses, clothes, haircuts and field trip money.

He stressed that the foundation is not a charity but provides a helping hand to help young people help themselves.

"I had eight wonderful years there," said Manchester of his time in Rector.

However, he was also ready to move forward in his career. "I had been wanting to be an administrator for several years and knew the reputation of this school."

"I am looking forward to doing a good job. I fully expect to help move this school forward," Manchester said.

"With every decision I make, I ask, "is this going to help the kids?' You must have a passion to help kids, and I love to watch kids succeed."

In talking with Manchester, it is evident that he possesses this passion.

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