Lessons Taught & Visions Caught

Dispatches from Crowley’s Ridge Academy

We all hate masks

As our students and their families are acutely aware, our Board of Trustees will meet on Sunday. At the fore of everyone’s agenda is whether our mask mandate will be extended, altered, or allowed to expire.

This has been a topic of conversation and consternation for lots of folks. We have, sadly, lost students and families over it. They are missed, and I hope they will return to us. I have received messages from others that indicate they, too, might choose to leave if Sunday’s ruling doesn’t break the way they believe it should. That weighs heavily on me.

In advance of the Board’s deliberations and decision on Sunday, I want to share just a couple of things that have tumbled through my mind over the past few weeks.

First: Everyone hates masks. With the possible exception of mask manufacturers, I know of exactly nobody who is enthralled by the ubiquity of face masks. The sheer joy of having the backs of your ears in a perpetual state of chappery (chappedness? chappenstance?) is something to be experienced in small doses, just as is marinating in one’s own fetid breath all afternoon. (Listerine is my new post-lunch snack.) You hate masks. I hate masks. The students hate masks, and the teachers — who hate badgering students to keep their masks up — hate masks, too.

Second: Masks work. I’ve received emails telling me exactly which virus particles can get through a cloth mask and which can’t. I confess, the science of it all escapes me, so I wear a full coat of armor and some cling wrap to be on the safe side. Regardless, masks definitely work for us in this specific way: They allow us to keep healthy kids at school to learn. Here’s how:

The quarantine rules last year were cut and dried. If someone got COVID and you had been within 6 feet of them for 15 minutes, you were quarantined. End of story. Those rules changed late last spring. Now, if someone gets COVID, there are mechanisms to keep kids around them from automatically being quarantined. The first factor is: Were both the COVID-positive student AND the potentially exposed student wearing their masks at time of exposure? If both — and it has to be BOTH — were doing so, the potentially exposed student won’t have to quarantine, as long as he/she remains healthy. (There are also provisions for students who have been vaccinated, and for students who recently had COVID.) Since we put our mask rules in place at CRA, an estimated 100 students have been spared from having to quarantine. Why? Because kids wore masks.

No, that doesn’t mean the masks necessarily stopped any particles from flying up students’ noses. It just means that under the quarantine rules we have today, as set by the Department of Health, more healthy kids stayed at school. Whether you see masks as an efficient weapon in stopping the spread of COVID or as a complete waste of time, they’ve allowed us to have school as we all want.

I’m not going to attempt to predict what Sunday’s decision will be regarding our mask situation. I’ll send out text and email alerts shortly after the meeting concludes. I can predict with confidence that our board will run a thorough process in making this determination. The meetings in July and August featured robust but respectful debate and discussion. They view one another not as colleagues but as brothers and sisters, and this shows in the way they address one another.

May we all orient ourselves to treating one another in the same way, no matter the outcome of Sunday’s meeting.

A sky full of stars

From One ‘Ed’ To Another.
CRA sixth grader Edmund Botchway (2nd from left) received the Eddie Murray Ambassador for Christ Scholarship today. It was presented by Sherry (Pendergrass, ’75) Murray and Ryan Murray, who are pictured to Edmund’s left. Trista Botchway, Edmund’s mother, stands to his right.

There are a million great stories flying through the hallways of Crowley’s Ridge Academy. Some of my favorites are the ones that return to us, like Halley’s Comet, and remind us of their brilliance even after a number of years have passed. We are awestruck to witness them as they streak across our sky, reminding us once again of CRA’s historically great people and their connections and reconnections across decades.

Today we welcomed Sherry (Pendergrass, ‘75) Murray and her son, Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Murray, to campus. Sherry and her late husband, Eddie Murray (‘75), “met cute” at CRA during their days as students. They later married, started a family, and devoted their lives to ministry and Christian counseling across several states. Eventually, they settled in Wyoming, where Sherry still lives today.

Eddie, a minister and counselor, died in 2017 from cancer. But his CRA story lives on. Eddie and his siblings — Vicki (’76) and Randy — were orphaned at very young ages. Ralph and Lottie Edrington, grandparents of CRA graduates and current employees Leann (Douglas, ‘80) Pillow and Melanie (Douglas, ‘97) Estes, took in the three children. Friends of the Edringtons and of the Academy chipped in to pay tuition for the Murray kids to attend CRA.

Eddie thrived at CRA. He loved being at school: loved learning about God and developing his own faith, loved playing basketball and running track, and loved to socialize with fellow students. He seized the opportunity afforded to him by the Edringtons and those who donated to help him be at CRA.

When Eddie died, Sherry wanted to do something in his memory that also honored the way he lived his life. She founded the Eddie Murray Ambassador for Christ Scholarship Fund. It provides tuition assistance for a CRA student who, like Eddie, might not have the CRA experience without a helping hand from others. Applicants for the scholarship must display Christian values in their daily walks as students, just as Eddie did as a student in the 70’s.

Nearly five decades later, the story of Eddie Murray visited us again today. The scholarship that bears his name and reflects his life values was presented to CRA sixth grader Edmund Botchway. In his application, Edmund wrote that he tries to be a good listener for his classmates when they have struggles, and to provide good advice to them whenever he can. It was a trait Sherry and Ryan remember well in their husband and father.

In chapel today, as Ryan and Sherry teared up sharing recollections of Eddie, they also beamed with pride at being able to invest in the spiritual growth of another young “Ed” — one with a bright future, one whose own story will someday orbit our hallways, thanks in no small part to the generosity, determination and legacy of the Murray family.

You can donate to the Ed Murray Ambassador for Christ Scholarship fund by sending a check (payable to Ed Murray Scholarship Fund) to:

Central Bank & Trust
Ed Murray Scholarship Fund
PO Box 393
Riverton, WY 82501

Pull up a chair

On Tuesday of this week, an 18-wheeler arrived on campus, loaded with several hundred boxes of auditorium chair parts. A crew of three men arrived at the same time and spent their day unloading it all. For the rest of the week, they put in 10- and 11-hour workdays installing those chairs. When I left campus on Friday afternoon, they were loading their equipment to head home to Northwest Arkansas.

That’s right: Our chairs are ready! When students arrive on campus next Tuesday, they’ll see (and sit in) them for the first time. While I’m not an unbiased party by any means, I have to say that the auditorium really looks great. Gone are the (very) old red chairs that capably served students and guests for 31 years. The new seats are a very dark gray with black trim. The rows and seats are neatly aligned, and numbered and lettered sequentially.

The Emmett Smith Auditorium is older than the Americans with Disabilities Act, which meant we had to make some adjustments to the floor plan with these new seats. There are seats in each aisle with fold-up armrests, allowing easier entry in and out of the seat for folks with mobility issues. The front row, which will be installed after new carpet goes down in a couple of weeks, will feature a few removable seats to accommodate wheelchairs and other transportation vehicles. (We’re losing a little space up front by the stage, but that’s a great trade-off.)

The improvements made this week, and those coming in the weeks ahead, were made possible by some herculean efforts through the summer by our employees. When school ended last May, they started tearing out the old chairs and carpet. They loaded hundreds of chairs in trailers and trucks, used a dozen methods to strip down old sealant and carpet glue on the bare concrete floors, broke off a thousand old bolts mounted in the concrete and then patched each hole. It was hot, frustrating and strenuous. We wouldn’t be seeing this week’s amazing improvements without the summertime labors of Joey Becerra, Daniel Summitt, Leann Pillow, and student workers Jude Stewart, Lathan Brinkley, and Cole Oxley.

I’m looking forward to the time when you can see the fruits of their labor. I think you’ll be impressed. As we put a bow on these improvements, I want to note that it’s really just Round 1 of improvements we need to make in the auditorium. Air conditioning, stage curtains, stage flooring, and better audiovisual equipment are all in the plans for Round 2, which is coming soon.

As I look at today’s improvements and dream of tomorrow’s, I am reminded of two groups. First, I think of the initial efforts to design, build, and furnish the auditorium in 1989 and 1990. The old seats weren’t brand new when they were installed, but they were what the school could afford and that was what mattered. We need to remember how the giants in our school’s past did the very best they could to set a foundation on which we build today. Their tireless work and sacrifice then pays dividends for us in 2021. Which brings me to the second group: You and I have the same opportunity and responsibility to build well for those who will follow us. It is neither cheap nor easy. I will call on you to help in numerous ways, and I hope you will respond, not just with an eye on what happens today, but on what it can mean for people 30 years from now.

We stand on the shoulders of giants today. Someday, someone will stand on our shoulders. How high will they be able to reach?

Election Day

Our high school students elected their student council officers today. At the time of this writing, the winners have not been announced, but I anticipate several days of recounts and protests. That’s how we do things these days.

When I was a student at CRA, student council elections were held in the spring of the school year prior to the year of service. As a sophomore in the spring of 1989, I decided to run for the office of Student Council President, a position that typically went to a senior-to-be. Somehow, I won the vote.

Riding high on a wave of popularity and, let’s be honest here, a healthy dose of arrogance, I proceeded to clown-shoe my way through my junior year’s presidency. I can’t look back and tell you anything negative that occurred under my watch, but nor can I recall a single positive accomplishment. Although I wanted the title and the accolades, I was content to fly by the seat of my pants when it came time to do the actual work. By the end of that year, my act must’ve worn pretty thin with my fellow students.

Still, because they were all such good people — patient and forgiving of my immature fun-at-all-costs demeanor — no student was going to run against me in my campaign for reelection. We had to coax out an opponent — a sophomore himself, to run against me, if only for the sake of having an opponent.

But this sophomore, a kind, unassuming guy from Jonesboro named David Smith, mounted a tough campaign. He was (and still is) bright, engaging, and authentic. Most of all, he was a true leader.

You’ve jumped ahead of me by this point, right? Well, David Smith sure did. He whooped me, and he deserved to win. He went on to serve the two consecutive successful terms I had expected would be mine, and he did a great job. David and I became close friends in the years after high school. He lives in Searcy now, and I rarely get to see him, which is yet another loss for me.

Even though I know I deserved to lose that race so many years ago, I can still remember sitting in Mr. Jearl Howard’s classroom when the results were read over the intercom. I remember the loud cheers that rumbled through the classroom walls, as students in adjacent rooms celebrated David’s win. Our classroom was eerily silent, and I sat there feeling small and conquered. Mr. Howard said something thoughtful and kind about how difficult winning and losing could be, and I appreciated his effort to comfort. But I was numb and heartsick.

Someone else may feel that way today. Every true contest has a winner and someone who won’t win. Some kids can shrug off the loss and move forward. My inadequacy and my lack of leadership cost me dearly that day, and even though our student body made what I knew was a good decision in electing David, I will always remember the sting of what felt like their rejection.

Today, as I think about the great kids who put their names on the line to run for office here at CRA, I am thinking especially of those who will not win. It will hurt, and I will hurt along with them.

So much to say

Greetings from CRA!

The launch of the 2021-2022 school year provides an opportunity to also launch a new communication channel. I plan to write a couple of times each week — more, if time (and time management) allows — and I hope you’ll check in to catch up whenever you can.

We’ve had some changes around CRA over the last few months — more on those in future posts — and the timing seems right for a blog. New CRA Communications Officer Amber Oxley will handle our social media and lots of other outreach, and I’ll use this blog to augment her efforts.

My intent is to share all sorts of information about our school. Whether it’s a recap after a thrilling ballgame, or a recollection of my days as a student (these will mostly be stories of how Joey Becerra broke a rule and somehow got me in trouble for it), or just a side note that might otherwise go unpublished, I hope something here will be helpful and interesting.

So follow along if you will, and I’d be honored if you’d share the address of this blog with other CRA folks (past and present) you know. If you attended CRA in years past, please check in with me and update me on your life. (My contact info is in the biography info on the main page of the blog. Use it!)

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Author Notes

Terry Austin has served as CRA’s Administrator/CEO since June 2020. He is a 1990 graduate of the school. Some school employees call him The Commodore, probably not because he is easy like Sunday morning. Others call him much worse things. You can call (or text) him at 870.565.0393 or drop him an email.

Earlier Posts

A sky full of stars

From One ‘Ed’ To Another.CRA sixth grader Edmund Botchway (2nd from left) received the Eddie Murray Ambassador for Christ Scholarship today. It was presented by

Read More »

Pull up a chair

On Tuesday of this week, an 18-wheeler arrived on campus, loaded with several hundred boxes of auditorium chair parts. A crew of three men arrived

Read More »

Election Day

Our high school students elected their student council officers today. At the time of this writing, the winners have not been announced, but I anticipate

Read More »

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Crowley’s Ridge Academy

606 Academy Dr

Paragould, AR  72450


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