- Alma School District
Veteran Neihouse has endured, prospered during 36-year tenure
Veteran Neihouse has endured, prospered during 36-year tenure
By Kevin Taylor, Alma Schools
Lisa Neihouse was 22 years old when she extended her hand toward the late Charles B. Dyer, the longtime larger than life Alma Superintendent.
In his desk drawer, Dyer reached for a piece of paper. Young Lisa's eyes lit up.
"Most starting schools, even my home town of Morrilton, was around $13,000 (a year)," she said. "When he pulled that (offer) out of his desk, I was like, man, I want to come up here."
Alma's starting teacher salary in 1984 was $16,000. And there was one more perk: the school didn't begin until 9 a.m.
"Coming out of college in '84 and getting paid one of the highest salaries in Arkansas, and then going to work from 9-to-3, I was in heaven," Neihouse said. "I had been working a full-time job and going to college and now I had free time."
Thirty-six years later, Neihouse is sitting at her desk in one of the newer wings at a revamped AHS. A nameplate is adorned on the wall next to her door.
Bright flowers flutter in the late autumn breeze next to a flagpole; the parking lot, long ago paved, is clean of clutter.
"The '90s is when we had exponential growth," Neihouse said. "We added on and in the '90s, this community just had a huge growth explosion."
Back in the mid-80s, Alma High School was a little behind the times. Oh, there was love and fellowship. And despite having to change rooms every time the bell rang, the former Lisa McKuin had her foot in the door.
"No air conditioning, a gravel parking lot, and I changed rooms every period," Neihouse said. "The football field had rotted-out bleachers; this place looked like it was from an old village.
"It was like living in a different country; I've seen it transform from an ugly duckling to the beautiful swan."
Neihouse had an apartment at the top of Logtown road in Van Buren called Mount Vista behind the old City Heights Elementary school. "My rent was $200 and my car note was $200," she said. "I had it made."
Only after, she said, passing Dyer's teacher criteria.
"He asked me, 'Do you plan to get married and how long do you plan to stay here?' Usually, people that weren't married would stay a year or two and leave," she said. "He asked me if I was going to live in Alma, and at the time I really didn't know. There wasn't much rental property here then."
Dyer, who passed away in 2011 following a short illness, also gave young teachers some credible advice, Neihouse said.
"There were a bunch of us out of college," she explained. "Mr. Dyer took me, Toney McMurray, and three of us that were right out of college and gave us the talk. Here we are, we're 22, right out of college, and we're teaching 18-year-olds. He told us, 'I'm really proud of y'all, but if y'all want to ruin your career, you mess around with a kid and you will not teach anywhere in this state again.' That never crossed our minds, but looking back on it it was a good speech.
"You're young, and in a lot of ways, you can relate more to the kids than you can your peers and colleagues."
Neihouse grew up in Morrilton cheering for the Devil Dogs ("I was on the drill team") and yearning to become a school teacher. The second longest tenured teacher at AHS, Neihouse has taught science long enough that many of her former students - Shilo Blackwell, Chad Powell, Stacy Wood, and Manasseh Moore, among them — are now AHS peers. "I've had so many (students become teachers) I've lost count," she said.
"Back in 1984 I taught eighth and ninth grade with Rosemary Blasingame, and back then we still had eighth graders here before they built the middle school," Neihouse said. "When the middle school opened, Rosemary went to middle school and I stayed at the high school."
Alma has flourished in the years since Neihouse came to teach. Teachers have come and gone; administrators have not.
"We had two administrators when I came here; Mr. (Leonard) Daniel and Jerry Valentine," she said. "After Mr. Daniel passed away (1986), and Jerry took over, we've had just a few administrators — Mike McSpadden, Pamm Treece, Pat Widders, Gregg Grant, Mr. (Nick) Spencer) and Mr. (Brian) Kirkendoll."
"She came here during a time where all the classrooms, you got to them through exterior doors," Kirkendoll said. "There weren't interior hallways and there wasn't airconditioning.
"You had the school and you had Crabtree Gym sitting over there and the ag building, and a gravel parking lot."
Back To The Future
Neihouse contends kids are pretty much the same today as they were four decades ago.
"I don't think kids have changed a lot," she said. "I think they are a lot more sensitive to what's going on in the world than kids in the '80s ever were. Kids are exposed to a lot more news right when it happens, due to the Internet. I think kids mentally struggle a lot more than kids in the '80s and '90s did because a lot of them have seen more from their childhood than we've seen as adults.
"I think kids are exposed to a lot more than they should be."
Back in the '80s, kids asked to use one of four or five phones found on campus at the office. Now, they'll just text their parents.
"I think the Internet's been a good thing and a bad thing, and I think cell phones have been a good thing and a bad thing," Neihouse said. "I don't think a cell phone should be allowed in kids' hands until they're about 14 years old. I think it shuts them off from forming relationships and to be good communicators. It's hindering that process."
The process was on full display during the spring when students scrambled to get their daily work complete following the March COVID shutdown.
"Because the family unit is gone, kids are having to raise themselves," Neihouse said. "Back in the spring, when we had AMI, I would work 12 to 14-hour days, because I had kids who would not get online until 10 and 11 o'clock at night because they were having to raise their younger brothers and sisters during the day."
After figuring out how to present school, and waiting on word to know if the 2020-21 school would even happen, Neihouse is impressed with how smoothly things have gone.
"I think the fact that they (school officials) spray these rooms every night is huge," she said. "We're not having these outbreaks; we're keeping it (numbers) down.