Learning to say goodbye

Saturday, November 7, 2020
Educators have the unique opportunity at times to transform their jobs based on the limits of their imaginations. Former Monett Superintendent Russ Moreland, right, started one of his days in December 2018 at the third- and fourth-grade blended class taught by his daughter, McKenzie Moreland, left, who asked him to come and read a book about Santa Claus. Students, from left, are: Jazmin Martinez, Noe DeLoera and Ashton Shideler. The children attentively listened and confirmed their love of reading as Moreland concluded. File photo/The Monett Times

Moreland remembered for dedication, friendship

Hearts remain heavy in Monett and across southwest Missouri this week as friends and colleagues mourn the loss of Russ Moreland, Monett school district superintendent who is remembered for his dedication to his work and as a great friend to many.

A.J. Bahl, Monett Board of Education president, said describing Moreland’s strengths was tough because he had so many of them.

“He was a really good guy, and he did so many things so well,” Bahl said. “He set a very high standard for himself.”

Bahl said one of his greatest qualities was his leadership ability.

“He brought people together by communicating his vision of where we needed to go, and he did it in a way that everyone eagerly joined him,” Bahl said.

David Jones, former Pierce City Board of Education president, echoed how Moreland’s leadership skills were second to none.

“He never had a problem helping out with projects, and he was a very hands-on leader,” Jones said. “If we were doing things like ball field cleanup, painting or power washing, he was right there helping.”

Moreland’s dedication to education is recorded again and again throughout his career. A graduate of Crane High School in 1988, he earned a bachelor of science in education in 1993 from Southwest Missouri State University; a masters degree in educational administration, secondary level, from Southwest Missouri State in 2001; and his specialist in education from William Woods University in 2006. He was continuing his education at the time of his passing, working toward a PhD in educational leadership.

Moreland taught sixth grade in Monett at the start of his career and coached junior high basketball, eventually moving to Marionville High School where he taught and continued to coach.

He then moved to Pierce City to become high school principal and superintendent. Under his tenure as principal, starting in 2001, Pierce City received the Missouri Gold Star Award and the National Blue Ribbon Award in 2006. In 2007, the district received the “U.S. News and World Report” Bronze Award.

During his tenure as superintendent, beginning in 2006, the district earned Distinction in Performance from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for five consecutive years.

After a two-year stint as director of the Scott Regional Technology Center in Monett, he returned to the Pierce City superintendent role before being named Monett’s superintendent in 2018.

“He was always looking out for what was best for our kids,” Jones said. “He completed several projects while he was here, and he spent a lot of time working to improve the district.”

Bahl said Moreland’s love for the educational process was what drove him to success.

“His strength as an educator was rooted in how much he loved the process,” Bahl said. “I can’t stress the word ‘love’ enough, and that goes for the kids and the administrative teams. He loved the process of educating them and seeing their improvement.”

One of Moreland’s biggest successes in Pierce City was convincing voters in 2018 to pass a $2.4 million no tax-increase bond issue by a 64-36 margin. It funded a number of projects throughout the district, including a new high school office, new gym roof, new football field lighting and rebuilding and expanding the 1967-era elementary school restrooms, among other projects.

The success came after a 35-cent tax levy failed in the district in 2014 and a 31-cent proposal failed in 2017, speaking to Moreland’s determination to find solutions and ability to get results.

Those results continued as he moved on to Monett. In the June election, moved from April due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Moreland led the movement to pass a $21 million bond issue in Monett, by a 61-39 margin. The issue will reshape the district, as it will build a new middle school, establish an early childhood center and reorganize the district’s campuses to relieve expected crowding as the student population grows.

Outside of his educational career, Moreland also made an impact in the community. Organizations in which he served include: The Monett YMCA, Monett Area Community Foundation, Monett Chamber of Commerce, Monett Chamber Foundation, Southwest Center of Educational Excellence and the Clark Center. He was also a member of Monett Kiwanis, the School Superintendent’s National Association, the Southwest District of the Missouri Association of School Administrators (past president), the Big 8 Conference of Superintendents and the Spring River Valley Conference (past president).

Richard Asbill, Cassville superintendent, said he and Moreland developed a strong friendship over their years in education together.

“He was a small-town boy from Crane and I was a small-town boy from Pierce City, and we were fortunate to have crossed paths and become good friends,” Asbill said. “We worked together off and on while he was at Pierce City, at Monett and as the director of Scott Tech. He has been a trusted friend, and we enjoyed exchanging practical jokes and teasing one another in a productive way — we just had a lot of fun.”

Asbill said some of the pair shenanigans included when Moreland convinced Asbill to pose for a photo with a group of people in Monett shirts, then tweeted the photo thanking Asbill for his support of Monett schools. In return, Asbill managed to get onto Moreland’s computer at one point and changed his Zoom profile picture to the Cassville Wildcat logo.

“It was about a week or more before someone finally asked what was up with his Wildcat logo,” Asbill said. “Obviously, the Cassville-Monett relationship is important to the schools and the communities, and we were not afraid to engage in a little banter from time to time.

“We would also always ride together to meetings and share stories. One time, when we weren’t riding together, I got to the location before him and set up just inside the door and jump scared him as he walked in. Russ really enjoyed laughing, making other people laugh and laughing with you.”

Jones said he had witnessed Moreland’s love of laughter on more than one occasion.

“He did have a really sly sense of humor,” Jones said.

Moreland’s style of humor was on display frequently with his dog, Moose, who frequented the halls of the Monett school district and was “consulted” on decisions to close school for inclement weather. The pup was so popular at the district, T-shirts and other materials were made featuring the tagline, “Moose on the loose.”

Asbill said another one of Moreland’s strengths was being a complementary friend, as he had a way of making people around him feel heard.

“There are friends that complement you, friends who are just like you and friends who are not at all like you, and Russ and I were very complementary of each other,” Asbill said. “He may not have been saying anything, but when we were engaged in conversation, I always felt he valued what I said and what others said. He may have disagreed, but he always respected other people’s viewpoints.

“That was an enjoyable quality and trait of his that in this current environment is something I will always remember and miss a lot.”

Asbill said while they had fun as friends, he also valued their professional relationship immensely.

“I gleaned as much information as I could from Russ as a friend and as a colleague,” Asbill said. “We shared a lot, and that made me better because I would ask him questions and he would give me answers. I am proud of those professional exchanges we had.”

Ultimately, Asbill said his disposition is much like many people in the rest of the area.

“I miss my friend,” he said.

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