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Fall Branch School principal says it's hard to imagine life outside education

Brandon Paykamian • Feb 5, 2019 at 5:43 PM

Every day, Washington County Schools leaders like Fall Branch School Principal Mark Merriman work to collaborate with teachers and to support students.

It’s a tough job, but Merriman said he couldn’t imagine doing anything else after years of experience working in local education. He recently spoke with the Press to tell us more about what led him to become a principal and the challenges associated with working in education, as well as his personal interests and hobbies, which include music and outdoor recreation.

Mark Merriman Briefly:

Hobbies: Hiking, singing, reading, kayaking/river tubing

Favorite food: Indian food, saag paneer

Dogs or cats: Cats

Favorite musicians: Dolly Parton, Pentatonix and “many more.”

Latest Netflix binges: Ozark, Star Trek: DS9 and Dumpling

What led you to Washington County Schools and to your current position today?

As the principal of Fall Branch School, I many times look back at the wonderful educational opportunities I was given in this area and how those opportunities led to the position I am in today. Coming from a family with nine siblings and having a mom who is a professor, I was taught that getting an education was important — not to mention could provide scholarship money. I attended St. Mary’s Catholic School for my elementary and middle school years, and then had the pleasure to attend David Crockett High School. It was at DCHS that I knew I wanted to spend my life in education and was particularly drawn to the fine arts through the lens of music.

This continued at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I studied music education and performance. I taught for three years in a K-8 music classroom in an inner city school before being asked by my mentor and former high school choir director, Howard Henson, to apply for an open music position in Washington County. Since being given that opportunity to return to Washington County, I have been able to serve as a teacher, a coach, an assistant principal and now as a principal. I also have found time to pursue my master's degree in educational leadership at ETSU’s Clemmer College of Education and enjoy working on the side as a musician at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Johnson City.

What's your favorite thing about your job?

I believe that most principals probably have a similar response to this question. The best part about being a principal and perhaps the most important part involves supporting students, collaborating with teachers, connecting with parents and guiding the overall vision of the school that you serve. At Fall Branch, I am fortunate enough to be able to focus on these four areas regularly, and I believe that the majority of my fellow Washington County principals would say the same thing.

What kinds of qualities should a teacher or person working in education have to be successful?

Regardless of your position or job title, educators must first and foremost be student-focused. This means that as professionals, we foster a deep sense of empathy, an abundance of patience and the mantra that we are all lifelong learners.

What are the biggest challenges facing schools today, in your opinion?

In my opinion, many teachers and principals continue to see their job responsibilities expand without time, training and resources to adequately address the new responsibilities. Washington County strives to bridge these gaps, and it shows through the achievements in our district.

What do you hope to be doing after your education career?

It is hard for me to imagine life outside of an educational career. I often talk to retired educators who speak of how hard it is to retire “cold turkey.” With that being said, I recently bought a National Parks Passport book, and I would like to visit every park in our country and continue to explore our beautiful Appalachian region.

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