Siblings share love of education

Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Brother and sister, Chris Ferrell and LeAnn Helms, enjoy working together. Mr. Ferrell is principal of Manila High School and Mrs. Helms is principal of Manila Middle School.

Siblings Chris Ferrell and LeAnn Ferrell Helms share more than parents. They share a love of their alma mater, Manila Public School. They are happy to be in leadership roles giving back to the system that helped form their successes in the educational field. Chris is principal at Manila High School and LeAnn serves as principal at Manila Middle School.

Chris, a 1989 graduate of Manila High School, arrived at MHS his sophomore year when Missco School merged with Manila School.

LeAnn started kindergarten the first year Missco campus was part of the Manila District. She attended school on the Missco campus at West Ridge until she was in the fourth grade. At the end of the first nine weeks of her fourth grade year, all of the students came to Manila campus.

LeAnn said her social studies teacher, Carol Benson, welcomed her.

"Mrs. Benson was one of the best teachers and because she made social studies so interesting it inspired me to become a social studies/history teacher," Mrs. Helms said.

Chris and LeAnn are the children of Roger and Judy Ferrell and were raised in the West Ridge area. Chris is 10 years and one month older than his sister and they have always been close. At LeAnn's wedding, both her dad and her brother had the honor of escorting her down the aisle.

Big brother Chris has always been protective of his baby sister, LeAnn.

"With the age difference I was always very protective of her," Chris said. "I've always called her a walking miracle. She was born premature and the doctors told us she would not live five minutes. I prayed as hard as a 10 year old boy could. She spent her first six weeks in the newborn center in Memphis. I have always considered every second we have spent together special because it is something we almost didn't have."

Chris even came home from college and coached LeAnn's elementary basketball team. They have always shared a special bond.

Chris graduated from Arkansas State University in 1994 and LeAnn graduated from ASU in 2003. Chris had several very successful years of coaching and teaching at Dell, Ark., and went on to Tennessee and Mississippi. He has taught in private schools and public schools.

LeAnn was also enjoying teaching starting out at Marked Tree High School. She has taught social studies, FCCLA classes, and AP history before becoming principal. She never thought she would want to be in administration. Manila Superintendent Pam Castor asked her about an open position as assistant principal in 2011. LeAnn decided to accept it and it has proven to be a good decision for her as she "absolutely loves" middle school.

Like LeAnn, Chris was enjoying his coaching career and had taken his basketball team to state championship games three consecutive years.

"It was the first time these kids had gone to state," Ferrell said. "I was enjoying the moment. A gentleman who I had great respect for asked me if I had ever considered doing for 500 kids what I did for 15. He said he felt I would make a good administrator. I had never thought about it, but his words got my attention."

Chris actually signed up LeAnn for the Master's program at Union University when he enrolled.

The two shared the experience together. For a year and half they met on Saturdays in Germantown, went to classes together and shared projects. They graduated with the Master's Degrees in 2005.

Chris went on to earn his Educational Specialist Degree at Union. LeAnn is working on her Educational Specialist Degree. When LeAnn earns her specialist degree, the two plan to start their doctorate studies together.

The siblings have a decade age difference but share the same values and goals. They give their parents credit.

"I think we got our desire to teach from our mother," Chris said. "She had a vision problem but it did not stop her from taking an interest in education. She served as a volunteer for 22 years at Missco and Manila. She taught us by example."

They agree they got the best of both of their parents, their dad's grit and work ethics and their mom's compassionate side.

Chris said he worked his way back home. It took him a little longer than it did LeAnn. He said he always had a desire to come back home. For 20 years it seemed when the time was right for him to return, there was not an opening at Manila and when there was an opening in Manila, the time was not right for him to move.

Finally, it all came together and Chris returned to Manila last year as assistant superintendent. He learned a little about patience and knowing the right time instead of his time.

"I enjoyed the experience of serving as assistant superintendent and learning the business aspects of the school but when the principal's position opened I was happy to accept it," Ferrell said. "LeAnn does an excellent job in the middle school and Principal Jason Evers does a good job in the elementary. We are blessed to have the school system we have. When the students come to middle school they are ready and when they get to high school they are ready. We want our kids moving forward from K-12.

"We have great kids, teachers and parents," LeAnn said

Manila Middle School, grades 5-8, was established in 2008. LeAnn started in 2011. She said she is proud of the teachers and students.

"We want every kid to have a place in the school system," Helms said. "We have added double blocks in math and literacy in the middle school. Our goal for middle school is to be a school of innovation and we are off to a good start. We have 10 robotics teams."

Mrs. Helms calls middle school an amazing race and said the Manila students are competing well.

Mr. Ferrell said the students today no longer have to compete locally, they have to compete globally. He is proud to live in a country where all kids have the opportunity to education. Chris and LeAnn agree they want to do what is right and what is best for the kids.

LeAnn is married to Danny Helms, teacher and assistant coach at Manila, and they have a daughter, Chloe, in the first grade.

Chris is married to the former Shannon Brothers, a native of Rivercrest. Shannon is a registered nurse. They have three sons, Chad, who is married and works at Plum Point Power Plant; Chase, who is in college; and Buck, 10, a student at Manila Middle School.

Chris and LeAnn are happy to be home. They both agree they had wonderful influences throughout their lives starting with their parents, teachers and coaches. They want to continue the legacy that inspired them to do their best.

Chris wants to inspire in his students the sense of pride for MHS that he had during his high school years and still has today.

Another example of their family ties - LeAnn and Danny opened their home to Chris and his family. They are living there until they decide to build or purchase a home.

"We are all so busy, there is hardly a time when we are all home together at the same time," LeAnn said.

Both agree they are looking forward to the future as Manila School District continues to grow.

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