Rexburg – There is a common theme when people talk about Scott Shirley, who recently retired as principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Rexburg after 35 years in the Madison school district.
“Mr. Shirley knew every student by name, and took the time to greet them every morning with knuckles or fives, and was really concerned about every single one of them,” says Amber Wolford, a teacher at Lincoln.
Parents note, too.
“Mr. Shirley always knew my kids’ names and remembered they belonged to me,” says Jessica Hansen. “He knew who they were. Not because they were in trouble and were sent to the principal’s office. He knew them because they were his students whom he cared for and loved. This is exactly what it is.”
Shirley’s ability to remember his students by name extended well beyond the years they were his students.
“You could tell that Mr. Shirley loves his job and the students,” says Elaine Lake. “He knew the names of all my kids and he’s still asking me how they’re doing, years after they left Lincoln.”
Mr. Shirley’s knack for making names was intentional. It’s one of the ways he showed the children in Lincoln that they were important to him.
“Maybe the thing that helped me with my brand was that I tried to figure out the names of all the babies,” Shirley says. “If they know my name, I should know theirs. The kids enjoyed the fact that I knew their names, and not just because they were in trouble.”
Shirley grew up a few miles away in Sugar Town. As a child, he loved sports but did not consider himself one of the most prominent.
“I was good enough to be the team but not good enough to really play,” he says. “About our sophomore year, we organized a rock ‘n’ roll band. We just toured and really made some money in the ’60s.”
His love and talent for music have been an essential asset in his long career with the Madison School District.
“Music has been a huge part of my life,” he says. “I play several instruments. This is good for entertaining the children.”
Shirley began his career in the area about 35 years ago when he was hired as an assistant at Archer Elementary School.
After graduating from college, he already had a teaching job at Lyman Elementary.
“The district actually offered me a contract before I graduated, so I thought that was kind of cool,” he says.
Over the next few years, Shirley was promoted to principal, then teaching director at Archer Elementary, and then spent time as principal of Archer and Lyman Elementary. He was asked to add Burton to the list when the school was new, and he agreed to try it for a week.
“For one week, I tried to work with three staff members, three faculty chairs and try to hold faculty meetings,” he says. “I was on the road the whole time between these three schools.”
He decided that “three schools were too many”.
After that, he spent seven years as principal of Kennedy Elementary, then two years at Hibbard, followed by three years as assistant principal at Madison Middle School. Finally, Shirley finished his management career with nine years at Lincoln Elementary School.
“I’ve been to just about every school,” he says. “Parents have been wonderful everywhere I have been. Amazing children come from wonderful parents. … It’s about kids and parents. Parents are our customers, and we enjoy trying to make them as happy as possible. It’s their school.”
Shirley says helping the kids get excited about being there was so important.
“When the kids wake up in the morning, they’re excited to go to school,” he says. “If we can do that, everything will look right.”
Shirley says it’s easy to get caught up in the procedural side of things, but he did his best to see that each student was more important.
“Knowing something about children is money in the bank,” he says. “Kids should be excited to go to school every day. If they are not, we sleep at the switch.”
Shirley places great importance on hiring great teachers and staff.
“My motto has always been to hire people who are smarter and more talented than me, and that hasn’t been a problem,” he says. “Having hired people who are smarter and more talented than me, I give them the training materials and the time they need to do their work. I’m not the kind of micromanager. I didn’t like being micromanaged in any job I ever worked, so I give a lot of freedom movement for teachers, and that has paid off.”
Shirley retired from his position as principal at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, but it did not. He will still work in the district, make educational videos and be available to fill in with school administrators as needed.
Taking his place as Lincoln’s new principal is Dr. Josh Petty, who was most recently the assistant principal at Burton Elementary School. Shirley says the school and students will be in good hands with Betty.
“When you’re a manager, it’s not about you, it’s about the kids,” Shirley says. “So what we do is hold the wand like a relay race, and when it’s time to pass the wand, you pass the wand to the next person, and they start a new card.”
Betty spent 17 years as a school psychologist before switching to management. He says he is happy with the change, as it allows him to get to know the students on a more personal level.
“I’m so excited,” he says. “As a school psychologist, I was in a lot of schools, and I didn’t get to know the kids or the faculty either. Now I get to know the kids and their names, they get to know me, so I love it.”