Little Rock high schools held graduation ceremonies last week and new Superintendent Baker Kurrus delivered a surprise — unscripted  acapella singing of Leon Russell after he decided his prepared speech wasn’t going over so well.

He had brief remarks ready for his first go-round in the superintendent’s customary speaking spot. It was about two minutes long, he said. I presume it was of the this-is-a-beginning-not-an-ending variety. He elaborated:


The first graduation was McClellan. I gave the speech I had prepared, and laid an egg. I didn’t blame them for not listening. It was dull. Parkview was next, the same night. I was trying to figure out a way to get the attention of the grads. In the 30 minutes between the graduations I decided to sing something. “Song for You” by Leon Russell popped into my head.

I sang the first couple of lines and the students perked up. 

Kurrus continued singing on future rounds. Nancy Rousseau, principal at Central High, has promised a video when she can lay her hands on one. But she said: “He was FABULOUS!!! The kids and the adults loved his singing!”

Kurrus has some musical experience.


I do play in a good band that is called APB, which is short for Asbury Prison Band or all points bulletin. We just play prison gigs, with a few exceptions. It is a dedicated group of people who have a heart for prison ministry. We are not “churchy” but we generally play things with a message. I play guitar and harmonica, and sing a little. We have some great musicians and a dedicated sound guy that is the most important member of the group.

Leon Russell’s song opens:

I’ve been so many places
In my life and time
I’ve sung a lot of songs
I’ve made some bad rhymes
I’ve acted out my life in stages
With ten thousand people watching
But we’re ‘lone now and
I’m singing this song to you

I talked with Kurrus, too, about school matters. His head is exploding with ideas and recitations of all the places — from administration to teacher recruitment to school leadership to classrooms — that the district must improve. There are going to be many stages. With hundreds of thousands watching. But I heard more in an hour of Kurrus’ thoughts about specific, achievable aims in the district than I’ve heard in sum the last decade from superintendents long on platitudes but short on delivery.


As I wrote in a column this week, I’ve known Kurrus for years and I’m an admirer. He’s going to meet naysayers. He knows that. But he’s taken the fire-at-will job without a contract at $150,000, far less than dozens of education administrators make for less demanding jobs. He’s given up the superintendent’s preferred parking space as a symbol of collegiality. It will be interesting to watch to see if administrators rise to the broadened responsibility Kurrus is giving them.