Chatting with our High School Leaders: McKinney High School’s Stewart Herrington
Chatting with our High School Leaders: McKinney High School's Stewart Herrington
Stewart Herrington is at home in education. As he explains his educational philosophy using rock ‘n’ roll lyrics and sports metaphors, you can see this is a person who thinks deeply about every aspect of working with children, parents, teachers and today’s educational systems. Here is a look at the man behind the McKinney Lions.
Herrington had an unusual childhood, spending eight of his first nine years in Malaysia where his parents were missionaries. He moved back to the United States in fourth grade and grew up in Denton where he graduated from Denton High School. It was there that he met his wife, Robin, with whom he has an eight-year-old daughter, Kacie. Herrington earned his bachelors and masters degrees in physical education at the University of North Texas, and later returned to get a second masters in education administration.
Tell us about your early childhood in Malaysia.
We were there in the 1960s when Vietnam was in its heyday. It’s definitely a different perspective on life when you grow up in that type of environment and culture. We had very limited contact with our family. We would send airmail letters and reel-to-reel tapes back and forth. I never returned to Asia, but in high school, I was an exchange student one summer to Germany after my ninth grade year, and the next year I qualified for a Symphony orchestra that toured Europe for about eight weeks.
Do you have any hobbies?
I started playing the violin in the fourth grade, and it’s become a lifelong hobby. I’ll play from time to time with our orchestra or choir here.
If you could change one thing about your past, what would it be?
My mom passed away when I was 19, after my freshman year of college, rather unexpectedly. I was certainly a challenge. You always wonder, “what if”…
Did you ever go to the principal’s office?
A few times. In junior high, I was in the history club and in orchestra. Our history club was planning to make a presentation to the Denton County Commissioners Court to advocate for establishing a Denton County Historical Museum in the Courthouse. I got in trouble for going to that instead of orchestra rehearsal.
What is one thing you wish parents knew about today’s education system?
It takes a different kind of person to be a teacher today than in decades past. Students have a lower tolerance for boredom. They’re not as prone to sit quietly by as things go on that they have no interest in. A lot of that has to do with the amount of technology that is around them, it just makes a different kind of kid. We’ve got to find a way to make schoolwork challenging to them. What a lot of people may say is a distraction to the educational process, may be an attraction to the educational process.
Favorite song or band?
In the car, I listen to talk radio – either political or sports. My iPod has philharmonic, ‘50s music. I grew up on ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll. Pink Floyd, Rush, Boston, Steve Miller Band, Aerosmith.
That [Pink Floyd] song, “we don’t need no education,” did a lot of shaping of my education philosophy. It’s not about “we don’t need to be smart, intelligent.” It is about, “I don’t need some teacher up there screaming at me.” You don’t need the old industrial model of education. It’s about needing to open things up and making things more alive and meaningful to kids, as opposed to something that’s just drudgery every day. It’s not anti-education, it’s anti boring education. We need to let our kids learn to think for themselves.
Fantasy dinner guests?
My mom. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Coke or Pepsi?
What is the top thing left on your bucket list?
I have a pretty big bucket list. I want to travel more. I want to get back to Europe.
What advice would you give to high school parents to help their children succeed?
Most high school kids want and need their parents to be involved in their lives, more so even than when they were in elementary. Kids face challenges in the high school level — some would call it temptation — to do things that maybe aren’t as wholesome or healthy as we might want. I see some parents who just so “OK. Go. I trust you” without talking to them about how they make decisions.
I want to make sure I always have the ability to talk to my kid about anything and everything. That’s a challenge because it’s a redefining of the relationship. I think that you wait 15, 16 years to be the parent of a teen-ager, because it takes more experience to be the parent of a teen-ager.
When they say, “Don’t come up to school.” or “don’t call that teacher, mom.” Really what they’re saying is, “don’t call that teacher and do the same things you did when I was in third grade.” But you do need to call that teacher and establish a relationship with that staff member.
We’ve got to let our children grow and spread their own wings and be there to appreciate those new wings. We need to realize that the really cool times we had when they were eight or four, I miss those, but if I’m not careful I’m going to miss the ones I’m having right now. The bottom line is you get one shot at every day, you have to be like a professional baseball player and whatever happened yesterday cannot impact what you do today. It’s a long season. The last at bat, whether it’s a home run or a strike out, you have to put it behind you and realize that there’s another opportunity coming.
“Field of Dreams”
What would you do if you won the lottery?
I’d probably just go back to work the next day. I love what I do. I’d make sure that my family was taken care of, and I might fly instead of drive.
Biggest Pet Peeve?
The people I have the least patience with are the folks that don’t realize that it’s a long game. When things come up that in the long scheme of things aren’t that big a deal, but they just want to make a whole issue of it right now. That’s not just in education, that’s a lot of people … politics, religion. People who just don’t have a lot of patience. They need to realize it’s about getting better at what we do, not being good all the time.
If you could trade places with anyone in the world or history for one week, who would it be?
I would have enjoyed being, maybe not one of the big guns in the American Revolution, like Jefferson or Franklin, but maybe one of the people nobody knows who still signed. Because I would have liked to have been there just to watch the goings on at those revolutionary conventions.
What would students be surprised to learn about you?
I think what I want my kids to know about me, and I hope it is not a surprise to them, is that I value their experience at this high school and I have a desire to make this a high school of, for and about them. It is hard to make 2000 kids believe that fact. Their accomplishments are important to me.
It’s a long season. The last at bat, whether it’s a home run or a strike out, you have to put it behind you and realize that there’s another opportunity coming.