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Relationship builder in music and words: Dr. Francis McBeth


I met Dr. Francis McBeth when I was a senior in high school. I made a phone call and set up a time to meet with him in his studio on a college visit day at Ouachita Baptist University. He gave me advice and spoke to me in a way that made me feel comfortable, eliminating the fear I should have felt in the presence of a world-famous composer and musician.

I ended up at Henderson State University, across the street, but continued to watch Dr. McBeth for years, enjoying the privilege of playing some of his compositions in manuscript as he listened and consulted with Wendell O. Evanson, Director of Bands at Henderson. Watching these great musicians’ friendship and professional respect for each other was a lesson in itself.

Well into his 80s, my wife and I saw Dr. McBeth and his wife at a restaurant in Arkadelphia. I introduced myself and Becca and then we enjoyed the same relaxed and friendly conversation I’d had with him years before.

He was not only a world famous musician, composer, and conductor. He was a great teacher! The following story from Dr. McBeth illustrates his influence and how he valued relationships with students.

W. Francis McBeth in 1997:
Some years ago in Knoxville, Tennessee I stepped into the hotel coffee shop following a concert and saw Wynton Marsalis sitting with his high school band director, Peter Dombourian. Because I knew Pete well, I thought it a great opportunity to meet this trumpet virtuoso.

Wynton MarsalisAs I approached the table Wynton Marsalis got up, walked toward me, and called me by name. I was so surprised and asked him if we had met before. He replied that he was in the Louisiana All State Band in Shreveport when I was the guest conductor.

Marsalis proceeded to list the entire program that we had played, piece by piece, and during our visit quoted many things that I had said. It was after this visit that I began to reflect on the seriousness of every comment in front of an ensemble. Here was a world-class performer who remembered what I had said when he was in high school. It brought home to me that anything I say in front of an honor band had better be correct, especially the criticism, because those students will never forget it. That’s a heavy responsibility.

That responsibility to use words carefully with others was something Dr. McBeth took seriously, whether he met you in an honor band or at an Arby’s Restaurant. When I praise a child for good work or give corrective comments, I often think of Dr. McBeth in hopes that my words will honor his legacy as a teacher who spoke with care, knowing that some of our words might influence children’s lives for years to come.

Burdick Rollins Clark Evanson McBeth

Dr. McBeth is pictured here with some of his musician/conductor friends and peers:  L to R: Dr. Jim Buckner, David Rollins, Dr. Bill Clark, Wendell Evanson, Dr. Francis McBeth

Here’s a musical sample: Masque by Dr. Francis McBeth

Alma Intermediate School Newsletter, September 2018

IMG_0175From the Principal…

The most significant learning in my life has often come as a result of discomfort or discontent. As a seventh grade percussionist (drummer), I auditioned for All-Region Band. While listening to some of the other players, I realized just how unprepared I was. I didn’t make All-Region that first year which hurt my pride.

However, my discomfort with the weakness of my performance caused me to practice and seek out players better than me so I could learn from them. I ordered music books and figured out ways to read difficult rhythms from musical notation.

The next year and every year after that, I made All-Region Band and then All-State in high school. Those were great experiences, but if I hadn’t had that early failure and the pain that resulted, I might never have understood the work and new learning required to perform better.

Fast-forward many years, and I’m a school principal in south Arkansas with just a few years of experience. Everyone seemed happy with what we were doing, so I thought things were fine.

Then, I attended the Arkansas Leadership Academy and what would later be called the Principals’ Institute. I was challenged to make big changes in my approach to working with teachers and students. I saw the ineffectiveness of what I had been doing, and it was a painful experience.

That discomfort pushed me to learn better practices as a principal. I’m still trying to improve today, but without that challenging and unpleasant experience, I might have continued for years without making changes to help my teachers and students reach higher levels of performance.

Learning can be a little painful sometimes, but it’s also exciting as we master new skills and knowledge. What both of these challenging learning experiences had in common was that caring and skillful teachers supported me through the process of gaining new skills. It excites me today to see our teachers work with our students in this same way every day as we all continue to grow and learn!

Link to open this month’s newsletter: News Alma Intermediate 0918

Seeing Mother

Family 8rr

My mother turned 87 on Wednesday, August 8th. When I see her, I see the total of who she has been throughout my life.

I see a loving mother, a committed wife to my dad, and a devoted member of her extended family. I’ve seen her strength in the face of tragedy, illness, and loss. Her small frame stood firm through any challenges that came her way.

Elsie Warnock Yocum 1959

The principal and mother’s class at a school built in 1928 and still in use today. Her son would eventually serve as principal at Yocum from 1994-2001 (long after her retirement).

When I look at my mother, I see a teacher with an amazing work-ethic who invested herself in the lives of children throughout her career. I see someone dedicated to her faith and church. She could write thoughtful and beautiful stories. If a community group needed a directory, she’d organize and type it up. If her church needed a play or program, she’d write and direct it. The little lady got stuff done!


Painting by mother’s brother, Reese Kennedy

I see a mother who was patient with my reluctance to read and obsession with drumming and all things music. She gave me space to explore and follow my interests. She was interested in what I was doing but didn’t hover, or try to control the outcome of everything. Ironically, music led me to greater learning in all areas. She seemed to understand that both of her children were unique and would grow healthier if given love, emotional safety, and the freedom to travel their individual paths in life.

Someone recently lamented the fact that I hadn’t been on any long hiking trips lately due to my parents’ health. I said with a laugh, “They let me live through those rebellious teenage years. The least I can do is help out now.” I’m thankful for the times I’ve been able to serve and assist her during physical struggles. I need the chance to give more than she needs the assistance.

When I see mother today, I do see her loss of mobility and declining eyesight, two things that she finds frustrating because they limit her ability to serve and stay connected to others. More importantly, though, I see a person of dignity in the face of physical challenges. Her humor and kind words for others still brighten a room. Her commitment to my dad is still on full display.

I’m thankful for my mother and grateful for the memories and and vibrant personality that weave into the image I see when I’m with her today.

Mother and Daddy 1

Jimmy & Elsie Warnock

Gratitude to a Surgeon, Especially on the Hills


The end of a climb in the Richland Creek Wilderness Area

I mentioned in the preface of my Ozarks trail guide that medical advancements cause me to hike with a thankful heart, literally.

When I was 16, Dr. Henry Rogers, our family doctor, discovered the blood pressure between my arms and lower legs was different during a routine exam. He recommended some tests in Little Rock. The doctor there referred me to Houston for more tests.

I remember with fascination as doctors conducted a catheterization to inspect the valves and chambers of my heart. I was awake and could see the small tube as it moved through my heart.

Denton Cooley 1

The next day, Dr. Denton Cooley and an entourage of interns, whispering in several languages, entered my room. He listened to my heart with his stethoscope, turned to my parents and said, “We’ll fix him up in the morning.” He was pleasant but moved on quickly.

The following morning he corrected the coarctation of my aorta, a routine surgery for him. Without this procedure, my life would probably have been cut short as a young adult.

Following a short time of recovery, I was able to ride my bike, play sports, march in the high school band, and years later, march through the Ozarks and other beautiful locations. I sent Dr. Cooley a thank you note when I completed my first 100-mile bicycle ride in the 1990s.

Recently I was overcome with a sense of gratitude while climbing a hill in the Ozarks. This led me to search for information about Denton Cooley who died at the age of 96 in 2016.  I discovered a couple of videos and his Heart Institute that I will link below.

Denton Cooley 2

Denton Cooley in college

Seeing video clips of Dr. Cooley made it seem like yesterday that he said, “We’ll fix him up in the morning.” He possessed confidence without arrogance, and I learned from the video that he cared greatly about his patients.

He also valued teaching and research, making sure that the Texas Heart Institute maintained a focus on research and teaching young surgeons.

I learned that he played basketball in high school and college. He credited basketball with helping him understand how to lead a team as well as maintain physical endurance for his work. His coach encouraged him to stay at the University of Texas for his full four years of eligibility which resulted in him pursuing medical school instead of another route. As an adult, he played upright bass in a band called The Heartbeats and commented that creativity and imagination were important in his work.

Denton Cooley 3I’m thankful that Dr. Cooley was a part of innovations that made much of what I’ve enjoyed for years possible. Dr. Cooley thought he was in the right place at the right time. I agree!

As an insecure teenager, I was bothered by the 7-inch scar on the left side of my rib cage. Today I’m thankful for that scar and the health that resulted from the skillful minds and hands of medical professionals. I’d like to give a word of thanks to Dr. Henry Rogers, Dr. Denton Cooley, and my current physician, Dr. Ron Schlabach, for helping me stay on the trails!

Texas Heart Institute (THI), founded by world-renowned cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Denton A. Cooley in 1962

Video interview of Dr. Cooley from 1991 – This is one hour in length but filled with many lessons from his life and example.

Seven-minute video showing Dr. Cooley’s life history.

Five-minute video interview of Dr. Cooley three years prior to his death. This included several photos from developments during his working years.

God not allowed in schools?

God in school quote

This meme consisting of a question from a concerned student and God’s alleged reply makes the rounds on social media regularly. In any of its variations, the message conflicts with my understanding of school and God.

Those who espouse this meme are also likely to say that God is omnipotent (able to do anything) and omnipresent (everywhere at the same time). Then it is said that God is not allowed in schools and implied that this is the reason innocent children in some schools experience terrible violence. I also read and hear that “prayer has been taken out of the schools” which is simply not true. 

In public schools, we don’t dictate what individuals should believe or lead students in acts of worship, but everyone within a school has the right to their spiritual and prayer life, or lack thereof.

As a school principal who watches the miraculous work of teachers, I’ve seen evidence of divine work, guidance, and intervention in the lives of children. I’m saddened by statements like this meme that reduce the Creator of all that is known to a little boxy god that can be placed inside some institutions and supposedly removed or banned from others.

Sorry about the sermon…
Jim Warnock 


AIS Newsletter for April, 2018

Lieutenant Jim Warnock

My father, Lieutenant Jim Warnock in the early 1950s

From the Principal…

I’m proud of my father. We had our disagreements, especially during my teenage years, but he became wiser in my eyes with each passing year as I entered adulthood. He served in Korea in the 1950s before I was born. Recently, he almost apologized that there wasn’t much fierce combat during his time there. I didn’t think any apology was necessary.

A favorite story told of him is that his platoon was crossing a minefield when one of the men froze and wouldn’t move forward. My father moved in front of him and told him and the others to follow in his steps as he led the group through this dangerous area, knowing that he risked death by being the first in line.

When he returned to the United States, he worked to provide for his family and was involved in his community. He always enjoyed service projects. In his early 80s, he was still “building ramps to help the elderly folks.”

Like my father impacted my life, our students’ fathers can have a positive influence on our school. The mere presence of a man for lunch and recess improves the atmosphere, shows students that men think education is important and gives students the opportunity to see men involved in their community.

Join us for Dads on Duty when your schedule allows. Moms are always welcome, too! Simply drop by the office and say you want to sign up, then come to lunch and recess and enjoy being part of our school. You’ll have fun, and you’ll have a positive impact on our students.

~ Mr. Warnock

Click to open the whole newsletter: News Alma Intermediate Editr0418

Newsletter for March, 2018

From the Principal…

The day was overcast, and I had hiked away from the trail for what seemed like a short distance. A few minutes later, disoriented and unsure of a path back to the trail, I realized there’s nothing like the feeling of being lost. To make matters worse, I had not packed my compass or map of the area. I experienced several minutes of embarrassment over this. I did know that the worst thing would be to continue walking, so I stood quietly for several minutes and thought I heard water. I began to walk toward the sound knowing it would lead me back to an intersection with the trail.

I learned a couple of lessons that day.
1. Always carry your compass and map.
2. When you leave the familiar trail, pay attention to your surroundings.

Why did I share this embarrassing moment with you? There are similarities between continuous school improvement and making your way through the woods without getting lost.

As we look at our students’ achievement data and curriculum planning, we’re studying maps that show us where we are and give guidance for moving forward without getting lost.

On our path of continuous improvement, paying attention to our surroundings means knowing our students and responding to their needs. Our school’s mission and vision are like open views from high bluffs, inspiring us to continue our journey.

Enthusiasm and commitment will keep us moving together over obstacles toward our goals. We’re thankful for students and parents who share this journey as we travel and learn together.

Click here to see the complete newsletter and calendar:News Alma Intermediate 0318

Relationships: Essential to Teaching

Bob Brewer

Bob Brewer

Thanks to Bob Brewer for allowing me to share his February 15, 2018 post. I knew Bob as an excellent tuba player and musician. He has had a distinguished performance and teaching career. 

I used many stories of my past teaching experiences in my methods classes as a professor preparing band directors but I don’t think I ever shared this one. I was teaching Junior High Band in an Ozark mountain town. Tommy, not his real name, was a drummer who was not much different to me than most drummers other than he was bigger than most of the other kids in 9th grade. He liked playing well, was funny, obviously liked to have a good time, got into a little mischief if not kept busy but when provoked he had a dark side. If a disagreement came up Tommy took it as a personal challenge which could escalate to a fist fight. But if I kept the section busy and light-hearted, things rocked along just fine.

Tommy was described by his other teachers with words like incorrigible, violent, explosive, even dangerous. I never met his parents and knew nothing first hand about his home life, only unsubstantiated stories told to me by the other teachers and a few of his friends. I liked Tommy and got along with him well but even so, I sort of kept an eye out for trouble.

We were loading buses on a Saturday morning for marching contest and it had already been a trying morning. The equipment van was late causing the load up to be disorganized, the high school band was loading up around the corner waiting on us and there was the normal “mad dash” for the best seats at the back of the bus when a shouting match erupted on one of the buses.

I was first approached by Tommy’s girlfriend who was pleading with me to help Tommy. “He just blew up over nothing and it’s really not that big of a deal. I don’t know how to help him.” I could see in her face she was really scared. Then came Tommy. He was red-faced mad and shaking; stomping as he approached and blathering something about not being respected.

So there we stood, toe to toe, both of us red-faced mad and shaking all over. To this day I don’t know where the words came from. “Tommy,” I said, “Life doesn’t always have to be this way. You cannot demand respect from others, you have to earn it. If you will just pay attention and LISTEN to me, I will teach you how to do that!” There was a long pause while we both stood there shaking. Then I was surprised to see Tommy’s eyes water, he reached out and hugged me. I hugged him back and held on as his anger came out in sobs. I looked at his girlfriend who was also crying through a smile as she mouthed to me, “Thank you”. It was actually over in seconds.

Tommy was the most helpful student on that trip and I never had another moments trouble with him all year. I left after that year for graduate school and have always wondered what happened to Tommy. Did he find another mentor? Did he learn about respect? Did he graduate? I hope I find out someday. I’d like to hug him again.

The most important aspect of teaching is love. We forget about love because we are so wrapped up in the “stuff” of today’s education: standards, curriculum, assessments, team meetings, classroom walk-throughs, TESS and a million other things that take up our time and cloud our vision.

Love your students as individuals, love music and show that love every day in your own life. And they will learn by your example.

Alma Intermediate School News for Feb. 2018

From the Principal…

Here’s my to-do list from childhood: Take out the trash then feed the dog and my sister’s horse. On Saturday, I’d help my father mow the yard and sometimes work in his iron shop grinding welds on the railing he built for porches and stairwells.

Beyond that, there were the following “required” activities: Walking, running, or riding my bicycle in the woods behind our house; Climbing a large pine tree with my dad’s camera; Fishing in a small creek that ran under a bridge about one mile down the highway; Throwing a football or frisbee with my dad or neighbors; Playing the drums.

Kevin Taylor’s article in the Times Record reminded me of those active, yet relaxed, childhood days. If we’re not careful, we’ll pressure the joy right out of childhood as we rush from one activity to another. We can also squeeze the pleasure from childhood by undue pressure to “win” or “be the best,” long before it even matters.

Yes, performance is important, but a relaxed and creative mind performs better than a fearful, pressured mind. Today I’m at my creative best when walking, reading, or working with others.

Outstanding performance comes from those who are balanced physically, mentally, and spiritually. Childhood sets the stage for lifelong learning. Let’s set the stage well and equip our children to be enthusiastic and clear thinkers as they move through life.

Read the whole newsletter: News Alma Intermediate 0218r

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