Education officials from southwest Missouri are mourning Monett Superintendent Russ Moreland, who died unexpectedly Tuesday.
Moreland, 50, grew up in Stone County and spent his entire career as a teacher, coach and school leader in Barry and Lawrence counties.
Monett Assistant Superintendent Mark Drake said the community was “deeply saddened by the unexpected loss.”
“The loss of Mr. Moreland is felt by all of our staff, students and parents. Our hearts go out to his family and we join them in grief,” he said.
Moreland was well-known in Monett, where he started his teaching career and spent two years as director of the Scott Regional Technology Center.
In 2018, he was unanimously chosen to serve as the superintendent, beating out more than 20 other applicants.
“It is a great district to work for,” Moreland told the News-Leader shortly after taking the job. “They’re respected in the community and in the area.”
Scott Cook, president of the Southwest Missouri Association of School Administrators, said Moreland was a well-respected leader who will be missed by area colleagues.
“We are a really sad group right now,” he said.
Cook, the superintendent in Mt. Vernon, urged support for the Monett community and Moreland’s family.
“Russ was a good friend and a trusted colleague,” Cool said. “He was often the first person I’d call if I had a question or needed support.”
Area leaders, upset by the loss, have been calling and emailing each other.
Cassville Superintendent Richard Asbill has known Moreland for 20 years and they were friends.
“Russ was an honorable, good friend. He was professional and caring,” he said. “Russ was dedicated to helping students succeed and that was either through helping teachers or helping students directly.”
Asbill said Moreland had a “kind heart” and good sense of humor. The two, who worked in rival districts for a time, exchanged good-natured teasing.
“We enjoyed that rivalry in a true friendship fashion,” he said. “I truly miss my friend.”
He said Moreland will be remembered fondly. Among other things, he raised money to help pay off lunch debt for students whose parents were struggling to make ends meet.
“I’m going to remember Russ for his dedication to kids. He had way of just quietly caring and quietly moving support so it would be directed on the right children or the right effort to help children,” he said.
“His family and the school family need a lot of prayer and support. This is a time to look at how Russ would want us to help one another.”
Moreland and his wife, Kellie, have two grown children, Mason and McKenzie.
Crisis counselors were available in schools Wednesday and are expected to remain as long as they are needed.
“Our immediate focus is on supporting our staff and students by providing the resources they need to process this unexpected news and begin the process of grieving together,” said Drake, the assistant superintendent in Monett.
“In addition, resources will be shared to help staff and parents talk with children about loss and to provide reassurance that our caring team is here to surround them.”
Moreland, a 1988 graduate of Crane High School, also taught in Marionville and was a high school principal and superintendent in neighboring Pierce City, just five miles from Monett. He lived between the two cities.
Under his leadership, voters in Pierce City and Monett passed school bond issues. He was president of the Southwest Missouri Association of School Administrators during the 2018-19 year.
During his time at the helm, Pierce City voters approved a $2.4-million bond issue, even though passing a bond issue historically had been difficult in the district. Since taking the Monett job, voters there had also passed a bond issue.
“He was a transformational leader,” Cook said.
Moreland, a 1988 graduate of Crane High School, taught in Monett and Marionville.
Moreland’s death was investigated by the Barry County Sheriff’s Office. Detective Doug Henry said Moreland died at home Tuesday morning and foul play was not suspected. No additional details were released.
The Monett school board met in executive session Tuesday evening to discuss the next steps, including who might lead the district for the rest of the school year. No decisions have been announced.
Andrew Bahl, president of the Monett school board, called Moreland a “valued mentor, colleague and friend.”
“He will be missed by us all,” he said.
Bahl said the administrative team is strong and will have the “full support” of the board moving forward.
“Regular updates will be provided to the community in the coming days,” he said.
The Monett community is invited to attend a public memorial service honoring the life of Russ Moreland at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Burl Fowler Stadium, which is where Monett football games are played.
The family will have a private service at a later date. Cards may be sent to Buchanan Funeral Home in Monett.
The Russ Moreland Memorial Fund was established by the family to benefit education needs in the future. To donate, go to may be made at http://cfozarks.org/moreland.
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to email@example.com.