By John Balch
The Dierks School District will start the new school year under new management.
The superintendent’s office is now occupied by Jody Cowart, who was promoted to the job in January after the resignation of Holly Cothren.
Cowart is in his fifth year at Dierks where he has served as high school principal and athletic director.
Cowart, a 1995 Kirby Trojan, has an extensive sports background having coached basketball and track at Bismarck, De Queen and Prescott since graduating Henderson State University and Harding University.
Cowart said that already being familiar with the territory, along with his office support staff, helped make the short transition a few doors down from his old office when he officially took over July 1.
“Everyone’s done a great job in making this transition much easier for me,” Cowart said of support staffers – new district treasurer Kayla Jones, front secretary Michala Young, Bobby Neal on payroll and insurance, Michelle Kitchens with accounts receivable and Kristi Janes handling accounts payable.
In addition to a new treasurer, the district hired 14 new employees, including high school principal and 1977 Dierks High School graduate Jeff Jones, whose wife, Michelle, was also hired on at the elementary.
Also among the new hires is elementary principal Lori Finley, whose husband, Todd, has been hired as head girls basketball coach, assistant softball and football coach.
Other new hires for elementary include: Mindy Efird, Cassie Kirby, Rebecca Steward, Raisa Whisenhunt and Katie Winer. New high school employees are Phillip Binkley, Chelsea Sayre, Terri Shelton and Andrew Sirmon. Lindsey Stokes in the district’s new nurse.
Jones, 59, was most recently working in the area as principal of Wickes High School and as head football coach of the rival Murfreesboro Rattlers. Jones said he is excited to be “back in blue” and humbled by the opportunity to return.
“I’ve got to get busy figuring out the scheme of things here, but my main goal is to serve the teachers,” he said. “Our teachers are the experts in their fields so I’m just going to try and provide a helping hand where they need it and help them do their jobs better.”
Jones said he will have no problem fighting off the urge to get back down on the gridiron. “I get to just be a fan,” he said. “Twenty-nine years was enough of that.”
Speaking of football, the Outlaw program is now working under new head coach Jarrod Fannin, a 1999 DHS graduate.
Fannin was promoted to the top Outlaw job after Jonathan Bates left following a 1-9 season. Fannin is working his second time at Dierks and has been on staff since May 2017. He is also the head Outlaw baseball coach with experience at Ashdown, Lafayette County and De Queen.
“I think the football program is in good hands,” said Superintendent Cowart.
At the elementary, new principal Lori Finley is starting her 24th year in public education. Finley replaces longtime principal Karla Byrne, who was “wonderful” in helping the newcomer settle into her new role.
Finley and her coach husband are from Hot Springs and have worked together at several districts. Finley has worked in administration for the Nevada and Bald Knob districts. She is a former classroom teacher and also worked as public relations coordinator for the Hope School District where she honed communication skills.
“I’m excited to be here,” Finley said. “I’m looking forward to working with our faculty, staff and community members. I hope I do everybody proud.”
Superintendent Cowart and staff will welcome approximately 575 students – 325 elementary, 250 high school – when school opens Aug. 13.