Dr. David Stephens, the new superintendent of the Vilonia School District, said he has no intentions of trying to fill the shoes of Dr. Frank Mitchell who retired in June.
"I brought my own shoes," he said, jokingly. That was a solid piece of advice that served him well when he was hired to replace a high school principal who he had attended classes under as a student in junior high.
Also, three of his junior high teachers became his employees. It worked out well, he said, in that situation because he heeded that advice and didn’t try to take the long-term principal’s place but instead carved out his own niche. That is what he plans to do in Vilonia.
He anticipates he will spend a lot of time his first year getting accustomed to the ins and outs of Arkansas education rules, such as those dealing with budgeting, finance and School Choice. He also plans to get to know his staff well and also the "stakeholders" in the district, including the parents and students. There will be opportunities to evaluate "where we are and where we want to be and what we believe in," he said. He plans to be active in the community.
"I look forward to meeting more people," he said.
His described his interviewing process in Vilonia as a "grueling" 12 hours. But, he said, when it was over, "I knew I wanted to be in this district." He believes he will be a good fit for Vilonia.
"When I meet a new group of people, I tell them I’m a Christian, a husband, a father and a superintendent in that order," he said. It was no different when he was being interviewed by the Board of Education in Vilonia, and that seemed to approve.
At a young age, Stephens said he knew he wanted to be in the education field, following in the footsteps of his grandmother and uncle. Now at age 52, he has worked 30 years in the education field serving in several capacities, including as a special education teacher, guidance counselor and principal. For the past six years, he has been serving as the superintendent of the Nevada R-V School District in Nevada, Mo.
He received his undergraduate degree at Missouri Southern State University, a master’s degree at Pittsburg State University and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis from the University of Missouri.
A Missouri native, Stephens’ wife, Kelly, is a native of Arkansas. Her parents live in Vilonia and own L&D Container. The two met in northwest Arkansas through friends. The couple has three children: Isabelle, 8, Lula, 6, and Samuel, 4. Stephens said an added bonus will be his mother moving to the area.
"We plan to be here a long time," he said.
His salary with the Vilonia School District is about $135,000 per year plus the issuance of a vehicle.