ABOUT THE FINALIST
Name: Mark Bean
Education: Bachelor of science degree in education from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; master's of administration and supervision at Trevecca Nazarene University.
Years at school: 22, last three as principal; 30 years in education
Family: Wife Penny; sons Joel and Peter, daughter Jordan.
"The best part about my job is being around the students every day, working with them, watching them grow and seeing them become young adults who I know will become successful members of society. If I ever lose the passion, the desire and the drive to help kids, then I'll retire." - Principal Mark Bean
He spent 19 years as an assistant football coach under three different head coaches while a faculty member at Ooltewah and was the Owls' head baseball coach for 12 years. He guided his baseball teams to more than 175 victories in that time and had more than 20 student-athletes sign college scholarships. One was University of Kentucky signee Rod Bolton, who went on to pitch for the Chicago White Sox.
Ooltewah High School Principal Mark Bean was far from his office the day he came up with his school's slogan.
"I was bush-hogging on my tractor," Mr. Bean said. "That's usually when I get my best ideas, working on my tractor, out there by myself."
He wanted an expression that was simply the best way to describe the excellence he was striving for when he realized, "That's it," he said. "Simply the Best."
The catch phrase can be seen displayed at the school where Mr. Bean is in his third year as principal. He spent his first 19 years in education as a teacher and coach at Ooltewah. In the late 1990s, then-principal Theresa Harvey approached him about pursuing work in school administration.
"She gave me the greatest compliment I've ever had," he said. "Every time I ask you to do something, I know A, it's going to get done, and B, it's going to get done correctly. You've been successful as a baseball and football coach and in the classroom. You have influenced kids' lives. As a high school principal, you could influence thousands instead of hundreds.'"
His first job in administration was as an assistant principal at Central High School starting in the 2000-01 school year.
Four years later he was hired as principal at East Ridge High School, where he spent another four years. He was hired as Ooltewah's principal after Ed Foster retired in June 2009 after 11 years.
"I've lived in this community all of my adult life," Mr. Bean said. "My kids went to school here. I think it adds something to the school because I don't want Ooltewah not to be successful. I want to see us at the top."
The job has its difficulties, he acknowledged. Trying to be accountable for things beyond a principal's control can be the most challenging part of the job.
Angela Turner is an English teacher at Ooltewah. In her nomination of Bean for Times Free Press Excellence in Education award, she wrote: "Mr. Bean is always in the hallway between classes to greet students and create the unique relationship that only he can. Although our school has almost 1,500 students, Mr. Bean has created the atmosphere of a smaller school by getting to know the students and their stories personally. He cares about their four years through our school to graduation.
"He also cares about his staff. He always has a birthday card or a kind work of support. Parents know that Mr. Bean is at the school with his door open, or a phone call away to settle any problem."
More parental involvement would be helpful in an effort to make public education better, Bean said.
Although his work day starts at 6:15 a.m. and could last well after dark, Bean and assistant principals Jim Jarvis, Sylvia Hutsell and Dr. Sonja Rich do their part, but that's only so much.
"Some children come to school because they know someone is going to put their arm around them and ask them how they're doing today," Mr. Bean said. "I firmly believe students want structure and discipline."
Many coaches like using mottos and catchy slogans to inspire their teams, thus the drive to make his school "Simply the Best." Mr. Bean draws his inspiration from a quote he attributes to legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi, for whom the Super Bowl winning trophy is named.
"You'll never reach perfection," he said, "but as long as you continue to strive for perfection, you're going to reach excellence."
Contact staff writer Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653.