Four regional educators were inducted into the Third Annual Educational Leadership Hall of Fame at Southern Arkansas University on Tuesday, March 12, 2019.
The 2019 Educational Leadership Hall of Fame inductees included: Opal Anderson, director of Federal Programs and Curriculum at Lafayette County Schools; Dr. Bobby Hart, superintendent of Hope Public School District in Hope, Arkansas; Susan Nelson, Horatio Elementary School principal in Horatio, Arkansas, and Jay Wylie, Paul Pewitt High School principal in Omaha, Texas.
Also at the event, the Educational Leadership Excellence Award was given to Steve and Deborah Nipper of Magnolia, Arkansas. This award is given to an SAU faculty, staff or community member who has contributed to and supported educational leadership.
Beth Anne Rankin, associate director of development at SAU, welcomed the audience, and Dr. Ivy Pfeffer, deputy commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education, delivered the keynote address. Dr. Connie Wilson, assistant professor and director of the Educational Administration and Supervision Program at SAU, introduced the guests. Cait Light, 2019 Miss SAU, helped induct the educators along with Rankin and Dr. David Lanoue, provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Rankin said the event celebrates leaders, those who “turn vision into reality in our schools. If you inspire others, you are a leader.”
Pfeffer told the audience there are 71,000 public school employees in the state “who are impacting our students every day, in the schools and in our communities. That’s why we have to make sure leadership stays at the top of our list.”
On receiving the Leadership Excellence Award, Deborah Nipper, who taught for 37 years in the Magnolia schools, praised the tremendous work done by the College of Education at SAU. “Thank you for making a difference in the lives of students every single day.”
Steve Nipper, retired bank president and current member of the Magnolia City Council, also praised the COE, noting that plans to construct a new building for the College “fits in nicely” with the overall growth of the campus.
He reminded the audience that SAU is an “economic engine for Columbia County.”
On being inducted into the Educational Leadership Hall of Fame, Anderson thanked SAU’s faculty and staff for providing her the resources she needed to become a successful leader. “My education here is second to none. Our professors wanted us to apply our skills and knowledge so that we could learn from each other.”
Anderson received her Master’s degree in reading, building-level licensure, curriculum specialist and district-level licensure from SAU. She has been involved in education for 31 years and is a board member for the Arkansas Association of School Personnel Administrators, Arkansas Association of Curriculum Development, Arkansas Association of Curriculum and Instruction, and 2A/3A principal’s association. Her awards include the U.S. Army G4 Award of Excellence Medallion, Patriotic Employer Award from the Office of the Secretary of Defense Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, and the Rose of Sharon Masonic Lodge No. 100 Superior Educator Award.
On his induction, Hart said he is an example of a student from challenging circumstances succeeding thanks to his education. “You have no idea what you as educators do for kids from free-and-reduced homes,” Hart said, in an emotional address.
Hart has been the superintendent of Hope schools since 2012. He completed his district-level licensure program at SAU. Previously, he was a coach and teacher at Clarendon High School, Van-Cove High School, and Augusta High School. At both Clarendon and Augusta, he served as athletic director and head football coach.
Nelson thanked her faculty and staff at Horatio and praised her experience at SAU, where she earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. She leads many initiatives to enrich the lives of her students. Horatio Elementary has a three-year trend for improved student attendance and is in the final stages for School of Innovation designation. She is in her third year as lead principal for Leadership Quest for DeQueen-Mena ESC.
Wylie, on his induction, said leadership “stresses the importance of relationships” in schools. Leaders “look for people who want to grow and foster that growth.”
Wylie earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from SAU, where he was an active and outstanding leader. He was a resident assistant, a residence hall director, and Student Government Association president. He also received the prestigious Vice-President’s Award, which is given to the most outstanding student leader on campus.