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Just in Case

As a recently retired school principal, these thoughts came to mind while listening to people opine on how our schools should operate with the current pandemic that is affecting many nations right now.

We do fire and tornado drills, not because we expect fires and tornados to strike our school. We want children to be prepared, and have a sense of safety, essential for learning. We do intruder drills, not because we expect intruders, but we want students to know what to do…just in case.

As a principal, I sometimes walked the school halls trying to mentally rehearse my actions if there were an intruder…just in case. After hours, I regularly tested my phone’s PA all-call function while monitoring our campus cameras…just in case. I sometimes walked the campus to rehearse our evacuation routes and be sure there were no obstacles…just in case. All staff, including bus drivers, custodians, maintenance, and cafeteria workers, completed emergency training…just in case. In cooperation with the Alma Police Department, our district made a huge investment to have a school resource officer on every campus…just in case.

Coronavirus requires these same levels of preparation and I’m pleased to say my school of the last nineteen years has made great efforts to prepare. Sadly, the very act of preparing is seen by some through a political lens. Our schools are preparing based on the best info they can get. Schools prepare with no helpful input from Betsy DeVos (National Sec. of Education) since she doesn’t know schools. Schools lack the necessary quick turn-around testing, and some don’t have disinfecting equipment. Fortunately, our schools have disinfecting equipment. I’m sure they’ll acquire faster testing when it becomes available.

Coronavirus doesn’t seem like a “just in case” problem. It’s a “probably and when” problem,” but true to tradition in America, political leaders and self-proclaimed “experts” stand at a distance to make decisions for our schools. Educators are strong and committed. What they need are lots of resources (money, supplies, tools, personnel) and real health experts’ advice.

face masks copy

Small note adds value to a book


I used this little book by Francis McBeth when I directed bands and found it helpful, especially for balancing and tuning the band.

Going through books yesterday, I started to put this in the give-away stack but paused to leaf through and noticed a note in the margin. I used brackets to mark spots but rarely underlined. The same pen that wrote the note underlined the text in ink. Dr. Kramer was rather large at the time, so this was a friendly jab at his good friend, Dr. McBeth, who was lacking in hair.



Dr. Kramer’s response to Dr. McBeth

I thought it was perfect that Dr. Don Kramer, who added so much humor to our time at HSU was still making me laugh over 40 years later. I’ll never forget how he and actor/comedian Red Buttons sparred during shows in Hot Springs. We all roared with laughter every night of that show.

Don Kramer was a remarkable trumpet player and musician. When I graduated, he said, “Warnock, when you become a teacher, you don’t become someone else. Be yourself. The kids will respond to that.”

I’ll be keeping this book with Dr. Kramer’s handwritten note.

A few years ago, while driving through Hot Springs, I remembered another funny time with Dr. Kramer. It’s shared in the post.  Memorable Burger at Bailey’s

Schools are important? Who’d a thought it!


We’re hearing a lot about the importance of schools from politicians and the media lately. Evidently, schools have an impact on the economics of a community, state, and country. Who’d a thought it!

I’m proud of the district I worked in and its focus on student safety. The district spent some big bucks on sanitizing equipment and involved our staff in making schools as safe as possible when the Corona Virus became an issue. Every school in Arkansas should have this type of equipment, and the supplies needed to combat viruses and bacteria now and in the future. Our schools need national and state coordinated testing with quick results to ensure students and staff are safe, with adjustments happening quickly when needed.

All students should have access to the internet and devices to access live face-to-face learning remotely when needed. I’m talking about hotspots in our most remote areas and high-speed signals that allow clear communication. In March, when we didn’t return from spring break, teachers did their best with the available technology for distance learning. They were amazing and parents were supportive, but every district in the state should have state-of-the-art distance learning technology fully funded so that we’re ready for any interruption in education, whether related to pandemics, weather, or student health. 

Schools need a small army of social workers to visit homes quickly when students become disengaged or at-risk. Social workers could help set up positive learning environments for students and deliver food or resources where needed when students are unable to attend school.

I don’t have the space here to discuss the professional development and training teachers are trying to squeeze in this summer due to the current pandemic. Much more training than usual is necessary to prepare for new ways of instruction for an unknown future. Additional training means added expenses for districts and a sacrifice of time for teachers.

Right now, I personally know teachers who are sewing or hiring someone to sew masks so their students will have fashionable masks and no one will be uncomfortable with an ugly mask. As a principal, I witnessed teachers spending their own money for the extras they wanted for their students. Before 2018, teachers could deduct these teaching expenses, but they’re now limited to $250 which is a joke. Most spend much more. 

As a country, we’ve scraped by on the cheap for years in the area of public education. If airlines, banks, auto plants, or other essential businesses need funds to stay open, we spend lavishly. I use the word “lavishly” because it’s so alien to our thinking about education. It’s now time to spend lavishly and without apologies on public schools. Schools impact on our economy and quality of life. As an added benefit, investing in schools will give us healthier citizens with good judgment and hopeful futures. These are the types of people I want in my community.



Becca and Jim Warnock

I put a hold on earlier plans for a retirement gathering, fearing that it might allow COVID-19 to spread. I wouldn’t want that to be the legacy I leave. Alternative plans were very nice and included a “trail” walk down one hallway with photos and writing from staff members at evenly spaced tables. Becca has worked in special education in Alma for eighteen years, and I’ve been principal at AIS for nineteen years.


Becca and I enjoyed reading through this path and collecting notes from staff for careful reading at home. Here are a couple of excerpts from the walk. The first references our grandson, Sam, and the second talks about our trail buddy, Hiker-dog.



We practiced social distancing as Mr. Woolly addressed the group and presented the traditional retirement clocks to Becca and me. The cake reflected the southwest region of our country where I love to backpack during the summer.

We’re thankful for everyone who is a part of our school community. The support of parents and enthusiasm of students has been a joy to witness. I’m thankful for our staff’s skills, talents, enthusiasm, and love for the students. It has been Becca’s and my greatest honor to serve as teacher and principal at AIS.


Kristen Wagner, Kim Loughridge, and Ralynn Wilkinson

Shortly after our time of celebration, Ralynn Wilkinson, my assistant principal, was working alongside our new principal, Kim Loughridge and counselor, Kristen Wagner. They were working on student placement and planning for great learning next year!

Here’s a little list I typed on May 21st.

Retirement to-do list.001

Family Stories

Nat'ral Truth cover

Below is a link to The Nat’ral Truth by Arch Warnock. We called him Grampie. My mother, Elsie, put it together with artwork by her brother, Reese. I remember watching some of the reel-to-reel recordings made in our living room on Calion Hwy. It took a little warming up from Mother to get Grampie to tell his stories. This little book has become a treasure for our family.

Beyond these tall tales that Grampie told, we collected family stories passed down over the years. Some are in writing, but many are passed along verbally. I would encourage families to tell stories of their childhood and what they remember about parents and grandparents. It’s comforting for children to know they’re part of a family’s story.

Click link to open the book: The Natural Truth by Arch Warnock Elsie Warnock Reese Kennedy 1970

Nat'ral Truth2


Cliches of Teaching by Elsie Warnock

Cliches of Teaching coverFollow the link for the entire text:  Cliches of Teaching Elsie Warnock 1978

Bill Craig, Musician and Teacher: A friendship that began with a drum lesson

Bill Craig

Bill Craig, band director at Barton Junior High in El Dorado, stayed after school one day to give a snare drum lesson to a third-grader. The student was to play Little Drummer Boy in his church choir program. Though saxophone was Bill’s primary instrument, he easily gave fundamental instruction and encouragement to this beginner.

A few years later, Mr. Craig directed the district-wide beginner band, and that kid, now in 6th-grade, was in the back playing snare.

Around twenty-years later, that kid, now a music teacher, played drum set with Bill’s jazz band in El Dorado. A most memorable gig was playing drums at a birthday party Bill organized for his wife, Dorothy. Seeing Bill Craig’s commitment and love for his family was inspiring.

Over the years, Bill and I exchanged Christmas cards. We shared our books with each other, his (The Tall Pines of Union County) about significant people in Union County, and mine (Five Star Trails: The Ozarks) about hiking trails. On several occasions, I picked up classic jazz recordings from Bill, and on a couple of occasions, he sent me CDs of jazz he performed and recorded.

I’m thankful that Bill was willing to stay after school that afternoon. I doubt that either of us had an inkling of the friendship that would develop from that snare drum lesson. Through his example, Bill Craig taught the importance of building positive relationships with students. I’m thankful for his life and positive influence on our community and countless former students.  ~ Jim Warnock


The Gift of Imperfection

Jim Elsie Jimmy

Elsie and Jimmy Warnock with their son, Jim

I’m thankful to have been raised by courageous parents. If Mother didn’t know how to do something, she’d read up and dive right in. She tried to do things right, but often said, “Some things are worth doing poorly.” She didn’t hold others to perfection, often saying, “When in doubt, take a step.” You might learn something new. She practiced this all of her life to the benefit of those around her, especially her children.

When Becca and I had our first daughter, Elsie gave us permission not to be perfect parents. She reminded me of the time she took me to the bank when I was 10 to deposit eight silver dollars my grandmother had given me over several years. The bank teller repeatedly asked if she was sure we wanted to do this. Mother later learned the silver dollars were worth much more than any interest from a savings account would bring.

Following our first daughter’s birth, Mother gave me a small framed set of eight silver dollars with a lettered message: “No one said parents are perfect.” No, perfection wasn’t required but viewed from a distance, my parents were pretty darn close.


Gift from Elsie to Jim and Becca on the birth of Christen in 1987. The frame and lettering were done by Reese Kennedy, Elsie’s brother.

My mother died on February 25. During the last few weeks, I visited my mother daily to assist with her evening meals. On one of these visits, I leaned over her bed and clearly said, “You were an amazing mother!” It felt awkward to say something so obvious. Her eyes filled with tears and she smiled. Over the weeks as she became less responsive, I read from a little book of memories she wrote in hopes that she would still hear me.

On February 24, I found some poems in the back of one of her books. I hadn’t seen them before and one caught my attention. It was the response to a writing assignment that she titled A Poem for Jimmy. She called my father Jimmy.

Mother would say it’s not great poetry. I would say it’s heartfelt and poetry at least worth reading. This  was the last thing I read to Mother during our last visit.

A Poem for Jimmy
By Elsie Warnock

This is a poem for Jimmy
Who made my life begin.
Who has doubled life’s joys
And halved its sorrows.
We have worked together;
We have laughed together;
We have grieved together.
I will remember always
The marvelous quiet times of our lives.
This is a poem for you.

JC and Elsie with vase

Social Emotional Learning: Fluff or Essential?

If you hang around some of my teachers, you’ll probably hear us comment about the importance of Social Emotional Learning (SEL). It should come as no surprise that we learn best from those we like and those who like, and value, us. But it goes much deeper than that.

SEL has gained popularity in education circles, but practices tend to get blurry when they become “popular.” Concepts or programs get distorted as soon as they’re assigned an acronym, like SEL.

Blurry concepts eventually lose their meaning and become all talk and no action. Sometimes, there’s the temptation to pay lip service to a topic, giving the illusion that it’s being implemented. I think this often happens with Social Emotional Learning.

Some might say that all this SEL stuff is just fluff. Some think we go too far in our emphasis of social emotional learning, saying, “it’s too much of a good thing.” To that, I say, we haven’t even scratched the surface.

Don’t let my emphasis on social emotional learning confuse you into thinking I place less value on academic expectations. Experience has taught me that deep learning doesn’t have a chance without positive and trusting relationships, a central component of SEL. Learning will be much greater when we make responsible decisions and manage our emotions, also essential components of SEL.

Inez Taylor

Inez Taylor close to the time I was in her class.

When I was a student, my best teachers built strong relationships around a shared love for the subject or discipline. This didn’t mean I was always happy with the teacher who said, “I’m sorry, that needs to be better.” I remember Inez Taylor, my high school English teacher, challenging the assumptions of something I’d written. I was upset but learned from her hard questions. I rewrote the assignment and made it better because we had a relationship based on mutual respect. I still think of Inez Taylor with fondness.

I remember my best teachers’ passion and sense of urgency. If they got emotional, even bordering on a little angry, it was about our shared commitment to the discipline, the learning. That didn’t damage our relationship but ultimately strengthened it because we realized what we were doing was important.

The following elements are all necessary for deep and lasting learning: social (relationships), emotional (resilience and stability), content, skills, and application of skills to new challenges. I want my kids to have all of this stuff! I think they’re going to need it.

Inez Taylor EHS 1965

Inez Taylor on the left with Elsie Warnock on the right. Approximately 1965

When I asked El Dorado friends if they had photos of Inez Taylor, Mamie Polk found the above photo in a 1965 yearbook. I was pleased to see my mother in the photo. By the time I got to El Dorado High School, she had moved to Barton Junior High School in El Dorado. My mother always avoided teaching in the school I attended. I never knew if this was a coincidence or intentional.

Here’s a post I wrote about others who’ve impacted my learning, including Dee Post, an El Dorado High School teacher who influenced me after I became a teacher. When In Doubt, Write

Thank you to AIS and the Alma School District

Warnock020620I wanted to share my retirement letter with students and parents, so it appears at the bottom of this post. I shared the following four points with our School Board on February 6.

I’ve spent 19 years as a part of the Alma School District and have the following observations:   1) Alma has shown an ever-increasing focus on student achievement over these years.  2) Alma has made huge leaps in providing relevant technology for students.  3) Alma has demonstrated a constant focus on hiring great people and then providing professional growth opportunities throughout their careers.  4) Alma is a “both/and” district that balances student achievement efforts with an emphasis on the arts. Alma is a place where students can add relevance and engagement to their education through music, dance, drama, and the visual arts.

I didn’t mention this, but it’s evident in so many ways that the Alma District and community are committed to student and staff safety. We have our own Alma Police Department SRO, secure facilities, and well-trained staff and students. This means so much to me as a parent and an educator.

I’m thankful for the way the Alma School District has impacted my family, and my many students and staff.

January 31, 2020

Mr. David Woolly and the Alma School Board

I will be resigning as principal at Alma Intermediate School on June 30, 2020. My goal has always been to conclude my career in education still excited about learning and working with students. Being part of the Alma School District made this goal easy to accomplish.

I delayed my original retirement date by one year so that we could work with staff to plan and implement our Alternative Learning Environment (ALE). Writing that plan last year and then watching the teacher in our new ALE this year meeting the needs of our most at-risk students has been a highlight of my career.

I’ve had the privilege of working with great superintendents, most notably, Bob Watson in El Dorado, and Charles B. Dyer and David Woolly in Alma. I have also enjoyed my association with school board members who volunteer to serve our schools in continuous improvement efforts. My assistant principals, Geneva Moss (El Dorado), Suzy Ferguson, and Ralynn Wilkinson, have influenced my professional growth and done many things to increase the success of schools I’ve served.

While teaching music and completing my master’s in counseling earlier in my career, I could never have imagined that my journey would lead to a great school like Alma Intermediate. Thank you for giving me this privilege.

It has been an honor to work with teachers and play a role in their professional and personal growth. Watching them has taught me much about teaching and learning and the significance of their service. I often brag that my best talent is recognizing talent and core values in hiring teachers. I will genuinely miss hiring and watching the development of teachers.

Completing Phase III of the Arkansas Leadership Academy Principals’ Institute, being designated Arkansas’ Principal of the Year, and serving as president of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators were opportunities to bring positive attention to Alma. Still, my highest personal honor has been to work with students and take actions to enhance their learning. Watching their growth and development is the greatest joy of my work in education. I hope to continue working with students in the future in some capacity, maybe an occasional bucket drum club, or sharing an outdoor adventure from time to time.

I have many interests to pursue. Between family, trails, photography, writing, and drumming, I fear not having enough time and health to get it all done! Thank you to the leaders of the Alma School District for being such a significant part of my career. Education has been a rewarding way to spend a large portion of my life, and I look forward to serving our community and schools as a volunteer in the future.


Jim Warnock


Backpacking in the Ozarks

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