Students respect them. Colleagues count on them. Districts succeed because of them.
They lead with energy, enthusiasm and encouragement.
Two Clay County school officials have won state recognition for their work as administrators.
Clark Mershon, principal at Staley High School, and Aaron Money, director of fine arts for the Liberty School District, have earned Administrator of the Year awards.
Money was recognized by the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education. Mershon received the award from the Missouri Journalism Education Association at a surprise announcement April 21 at Staley.
Money was surprised with the award at the Fine Arts Education Day March 31 at the Capitol in Jefferson City. Money was there with 175 Liberty School District students supporting the value of arts in education.
Mershon also is the Greater Kansas City School Counselor Association nominee for state Administrator of the Year.
Both men were nominated for the consistent support they have shown to students, faculty and staff for programs in their districts.
What stands out in the nominations of the two winners is their willingness to go beyond the demands of the school day: they attend student activities after school and on weekends; take time to listen to teachers’ concerns; and respond when they see a need for equipment or supplies that will help students.
They care. A lot.
“He knows us by name and speaks to us in the hallways,” said Madison Lott about Mershon. Madison, a senior at Staley, is co-editor of the yearbook along with senior Kyndall Truelove.
Mershon does more than greet the students at Staley — a school of some 1,500 freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.
“He goes out of his way to know us individually,” Kyndall said. “He came into our classroom the day after J-Day and gave me a ‘high five’ for winning first place.”
Kyndall was referring to honors earned in the Missouri Interscholastic Press Association’s State Journalism Contest on April 6 in Columbia.
Kyndall and other yearbook students submitted an entry about teenage mothers at Staley and the time-consuming responsibility of raising a child while finishing high school.
Some might have seen the subject as controversial, Kyndall said. But when shown the yearbook spread, Mershon glanced at it and told her if yearbook adviser Cherie Burgett allowed it, then it met with his approval, too.
“He puts his full trust in the advisers and the student editors to make good decisions on content,” Burgett said.
Mershon’s support for journalism extends beyond Staley High School.
Now in its second year, the Northland Network-N2 Sports began as a vision Mershon had for a district-wide sports broadcasting program involving all four high schools in the North Kansas City School District. Through a partnership with an area broadcasting firm, high school students do all the directing and camera work necessary to cover home games on the Internet.
Last year, the N2 Sports students broadcast 39 sporting events in football stadiums, high school gyms, soccer fields and baseball diamonds.
During the broadcasts, Mershon often can be seen stopping by the press booth to see how the students are doing, offering water to camera crews and interacting with students personally, said Kelly Rule, sports marketing teacher for N2 Sports.
Mershon said his interest in journalism began when he was a student — as a staff member on the high school newspaper and later sports editor of the college newspaper.
“My experience with Mr. Mershon as a supportive administrator dates back to the spring of 1998,” said Carol A. Toney, gifted resource specialist at Staley.
Mershon had just finished his first year as principal at New Mark Middle School when he shared with Toney his vision for a new course. Toney was the speech-theater teacher at the time.
Mershon wanted to create a course that would allow eighth-graders to experience both broadcast and print journalism. The class came to be called communication technology, and it gave students the chance to produce, film and edit a daily news broadcast; to develop scrolling PowerPoint school announcements that played during lunch; and to create a hard-cover yearbook.
“This was the first time these journalism and speech concepts were taught in the classroom,” Toney said.
The class continues to be offered at New Mark.
Recently, Mershon received another honor: the Greater Kansas City School Counselor Association Administrator of the Year Award. He now advances to the state level of competition.
Mershon has been principal at Staley since the school opened in 2008.
“From the beginning, his vision for this brand-new school was to fill it with educators who not only had a passion for their area of expertise, but who also had a heart for students and building relationships,” said Rob Lundien, one of four counselors at Staley.
Lundien credits Mershon with providing encouragement and resources for counselors to be creative in reaching students through technology, college visits and presentations.
Mershon is quick to credit those who work with him for the award he received.
“I was surprised, humbled, and honored to have received this award,” he said. “I am the fortunate one to work closely with some of the best in education today.”
As director of fine arts, Aaron Money oversees 11 elementary schools, four middle schools and two high schools in the Liberty School District — a position he has held for six years now.
During that time, Money “has consistently put teachers and students above his own professional needs,” said Michelle Davis, Liberty High School orchestra director.
Even though his job description does not involve classroom teaching, he still works directly with students at times.
For example, Davis said she asked Money for help in organizing an after-school group bonding activity with the Liberty High School chamber orchestra.
“He came willingly and graciously and students really enjoyed the experience,” Davis said.
During concert seasons at the 17 schools, Money attends anywhere from one to four concerts, art shows or drama productions in a single night.
He does not go home at the end of the school day “but instead goes to our shows to make sure everything is going well and we are supported,” said Emily Myers, vocal music educator.
Money is not only supportive but also accessible.
“He has an open-door policy,” Myers said. “Ask any of his staff members and you will find that at one time or another, we have all been in his office, pouring our hearts out over the stresses that we face.”
At such times, Myers said Money listens patiently, without judgment, to find a way to ease the stress and solve the problem.
Humility is another attribute Myers admires in the director of fine arts.
For example, the district has been recognized for four years by the National Association of Music Merchants as one of the “Best Communities for Music Education.”
In notifying the fine arts teachers about the award this year, Money credited the teaching staff with earning the recognition. Yet, it is Money who makes the award possible, Myers said.
“If we did not have his constant support, there is no way we could accomplish the things we are able to do,” she said.
Money said he was drawn to the arts in elementary school as an outlet for creativity and self-expression. Later in high school, he played viola and sang in choirs and in plays and musical productions. In college, he was active in choir, theater and opera.
“Fine arts teaches vulnerability and compassion,” Money said. “Working with students and teachers gives me the opportunity to educate as many people as possible about the power of the fine arts.”
The Administrator of the Year Award, given by the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education, is designed to honor an outstanding school administrator who shows tremendous support for fine arts education and fine arts educators, explained Ben Martin, alliance executive director.
“Aaron is a stellar example of a district arts administrator who has not only received the enthusiastic support of arts teachers but also the trust and confidence of the district’s administration,” Martin said.