- Alma School District
AHS Principal; Brian Kirkendoll
By Kevin Taylor, Alma Schools
Brian Kirkendoll is sitting in a deer stand somewhere in south L.A.
Or, to phrase it in simpler terms, "Lower Arkansas."
It's Saturday, his day off, and the second-year Alma principal is trying to unplug. Which, in the COVID-19-world we call 2020 is like trying to build an igloo in mid-July.
But Kirkendoll, never afraid of the curveballs he’s been faced with since replacing Jerry Valentine as Alma’s high school principal, is not the type to back down from a challenge.
Floods, pandemics, zoom meetings, remote teaching — this wasn’t in the “how to become a principal” manual.
“As a first year head principal, Mr. Kirkendoll had many situations that didn't happen to 30-year veteran principals,” Alma assistant superintendent Travis Biggs said. “He had to handle a flood, a pandemic, and teacher and students deaths. He handled every situation very professionally and proper. He never allowed a tough situation to get in the way of what is best for the students and staff.”
Reared in Crawford County, Kirkendoll wasn’t unlike many high school students before him and past who didn’t know what they wanted to do following high school graduation.
So he joined the Navy.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do, which is why I went into the Navy, to begin with," he said."When I was on active duty, I had decided that I was probably going to go into education, and I was going to probably teach history.
"As crazy as this sounds, I went to the library on the submarine base in New London (Ct.) and actually checked out history books."
Kirkendoll read every word.
"On one long deployment, I actually read two history books," he said. "I came back and through the Navy College, I did two CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) exams and knocked out World History 1 and (World History) II. I knew then, too, that I probably wanted to go into administration to some degree."
After moving back to Arkansas, Kirkendoll enrolled at Central Arkansas on his GI Bill. Before long, his new journey was under way.
"I taught at Bigelow for a year and then this job came open and Jerry Valentine called me," Kirkendoll said. "He asked me, 'What do you see yourself doing in the future?'
"I told him, 'I want your job.' And that's what happened."
Not all at once, of course.
Kirkendoll taught for six years at Alma High School before delving into administration for the next five years — four in Paris and another at Cedarville.
Including that one year at Bigelow, Kirkendoll’s been in education for 21 years.
Along the way, he’s picked up little trinkets from different administrators and fused them into his way of doing things. Running a school is tough enough without the hazards he’s endured over the course of his first 18 months as Alma’s principal.
"My year I was with Dr. (Dan) Foreman (Cedarville), it was me and him,” Kirkendoll said. “There were other buildings, but we kind of just ran the district. I learned a lot from him. I learned a lot from Jerry, too. It's just about exposure.
"There are things that come up and it's (experience) just from exposure."
Kirkendoll took Valentine's keys in June of 2019 and with the exception of celebrating his beloved Kansas City Chiefs' climatic Super Bowl run early last February, hasn't come up for air.
"There would have been a time where somebody might have said, 'Jerry Valentine's ready to retire, are you ready? I would have been like, oh my gosh!’' But I didn't feel that way when he retired,” Kirkendoll said. “It was time, and that's just because of the time I've done."
Kirkendoll is the Arkansas State Coordinator for the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) — a position he’s held since 2016.
In addition, Kirkendoll is the President-Elect of Arkansas Association of Education Administrators and he’s on the board of directors of the Arkansas Association of Secondary School Principals, a group he’s been actively involved with since 2013.
"I'm actually the state coordinator for national associations for principals — there's one for every state," he said. "I'm the person that publicizes that, but it's a little bit different this year. (COVID) has taken away some of the glamour and some of the happiness, because you can't see people in person.
“My association with AAEA, I’ve learned a lot from that. With administrators, I've learned a lot, meeting people from all over.”
Last week, Kirkendoll met with other administrators across the state, all of whom are fighting the same COVID-19 battles.
"I was just on a zoom today with other principles — I'm a mentor for nine assistant principals across the state, Harrison, Marion, Greenbrier, Van Buren, Greenwood, Paragould and Conway. It’s the same for students all across the state; they (a lot of remote students) aren’t doing anything and we’re all trying to figure out how to handle it.”
In 2015, Kirkendoll was named Arkansas Association of Secondary School Principals Assistant Principal of the Year.
Now, as he sits in the catbird seat, so to speak, overseeing AHS, he’s had time to reflect.
"Being a high school principal is probably the hardest job in the school district," Kirkendoll said. "Being the assistant principal, I was very busy. But I didn't lay awake at night worrying about stuff I had no control over, especially in the time we live in with so much social media. The vulnerability ... you (public) can say whatever you want and there's no recourse. I just don't think it's right. Public officials and school (teachers), you're vulnerable.