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Kirkendoll stresses vaccination - 7/16/21

Kirkendoll stresses vaccination


By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


Brian Kirkendoll sometimes finds himself driving past Alma High School at 7 o’clock in the evening — the doors are locked, the parking lot empty. 


"Sometimes when I'm driving around,  I'll drive by the building to make sure nothing crazy is going on," Kirkendoll said. "It's overwhelming to think that this is my building — this is my responsibility. 


“Sometimes, we get overwhelmed with all the things that are going on instead of just enjoying the moment."


This time a year ago, the parking lot was empty morning, afternoon, and night, the result of the COVID-19 shutdown. These were unprecedented times.


By mid-July of 2020, school administrators, Kirkendoll included, didn’t know what the 2020-21 school year would look like. 


Do we start school?


Do we stay remote?


Later this month, Kirkendoll will be sitting among his peers at the Marriott Hotel and Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock, talking about the upcoming calendar school year. Considering what he and other administrators went through in 2020-21, two days of keynote speakers and informative breakout sessions among colleagues never sounded so fun. 


There is a plan in place for the 2021-22 school year. 


"There's less stress, for sure, and less anxiety," Kirkendoll said. "Last summer was the great unknown; we just didn't know what our future was going to be as far as starting school ... or if we were even going to have school.


"I think it looks a little more solid right now."


Though the new Delta variant of COVID-19 is cause for concern, Kirkendoll and his staff figure to be better prepared if something should force schools to temporarily close their doors again. 


“Sometimes I worry about things I shouldn’t worry about,” Kirkendoll said. “(But) it was a place we had never been to. Worst-case scenario, even if we went back to where we were, we can’t say we’ve never done this before.


“We already know what we’re getting into.”


That said, Kirkendoll knows the key to beating COVID is to get vaccinated. 


"I'm a little worried, but I'm not as worried as I was last summer," he said. "We have a vaccine; there is a solution if people will just utilize it. 


"I don't think there is any way to mandate (vaccines); there are going to be 30 percent of the population who isn't going to do it."


Last month, the Delta variant announced itself. Weeks later, most active COVID cases are the result of those yet to be vaccinated, health care officials say. And it’s not just targeting the elderly, either. 


"The main difference is we have a vaccine now — it's just being underutilized," Kirkendoll said. "It seems like you get condemned if you say everybody should get the vaccine, but if you look at all the cases that are breaking out in the state of Arkansas, they're saying 90 percent of those (cases) are from unvaccinated people. 


"Get the vaccine."


Last winter, Kirkendoll had a front-row seat to COVID-19 and its side effects when he tested positive for COVID. 


"I was so sick with COVID; nobody wants that," Kirkendoll said. "There are always going to be risks in life. Some people threw a fit several years ago when they said we have to wear seatbelts. 


"(But) seatbelts save lives; vaccines save lives."


In the spring of 2019, Kirkendoll was chosen unanimously to replace Jerry Valentine as Alma High School's new principal. Since 1985, Alma’s had just three principals — Leonard Danie, Valentine, and now Kirkendoll. 


"I know I need to be the educational leader, but I feel like I'm more of a mentor and helper," Kirkendoll. "We have quality people here. 


"I just want to stay out of their way."


Kirkendoll grew up in Van Buren, spent time in the U.S. Navy, then went to school to become a school teacher. 


Now, he has the keys to the building. 


"I have such a love for our community and our kids," Kirkendoll said. "I'm very passionate about trying to do right and make it a safer place that people care about and love and want to be a part of.


"I want my role to be there for our faculty and our kids."