We are delighted to introduce you to a woman who, like most working moms, wears many hats. The director of Buntyn Preschool, Shelley Arthur, is a native Memphian whose thirst for knowledge, energy and faith ushered her back into the workforce as an administrator when she least expected it. Somehow, in the midst of a capital campaign, and with three children of her own and a husband, she finds the time and endless love to lead preschoolers with passion, poise and purpose.
Some may call your role as director of a preschool somewhat of an encore performance. What led you here?
An encore performance? Well, you are right that I didn’t expect to be here.
After undergrad at Southern Methodist University I had planned to go to law school and practice international environmental law. Long story short, I met this guy on a blind date, married him three years later and went to grad school here instead (at Christian Brothers University). It just made sense that I would choose education.
I taught for Memphis City Schools for several years and then became a stay-at-home mom, always very involved in the lives of two boys, pregnant with the third. I was on the board at Buntyn and the hiring committee as we searched for a new director. During the interviews I commented that if I wasn’t pregnant, I would take the job in a heartbeat. Two short years later another school lured the former director away with an attractive offer, and she recommended that the board hire me. Our third child was a mere 18 months old, and I would never have taken the job had it been anywhere else. Alas, you don’t get to choose the perfect timing of everything. Sometimes God just puts things in your lap, and you have to just have faith.
The support I receive from my family, friends, parents at school, members of Buntyn Presbyterian Church and administrators from other schools makes it all worth it. I’m not sure I would call this my encore performance because I don’t see myself taking that final bow anytime soon. I’m having way too much fun.
Did you always know that you wanted to pursue a career in education?
My mother told me from a very young age that an education is the one thing no one can ever take from you. It can’t be broken or stolen or lost in a divorce. That sounds very dramatic, but it has always resonated with me. I have always loved school, and even still, I constantly want to be learning something new. My grandmother is a retired principal. Education was her life. She and I are very much alike, and I have always considered her my greatest influence. She’s now 92 years young, still encouraging me to do great things!
How has being a mom set you up for success at Buntyn?
I have been married to Coors Arthur for 13 years. We have three boys, ages 11, 7 and 4. Being a mom and wife requires many hats. Add a full-time job to that, and you must quadruple the organization skills required! I was a Buntyn parent before becoming the director. I utilize my parent perspective in almost every decision made here. I believe it makes me a better director.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love the kids. I love the parents. I love our staff. I love this sweet, nostalgic preschool. I love watching it thrive. There’s nothing I enjoy the “most” per se. Rather, it’s the collective thrill of feeling that my being here is making a difference in the foundational years of these children.
What are three special things most people might not know about Buntyn?
1. The preschool is 67 years old and still going strong!
2. Buntyn Preschool offers a parallel program for children displaying the signs of autism, with or without a diagnosis.
3. In addition to our other extracurricular activities during the regular school day, we also offer speech therapy, behavioral therapy, occupational therapy and social skills groups, so parents don’t have to drive all over town to get to various appointments.
4. I’m throwing in a fourth: I don’t know of another program in the area that offers parents the flexibility we do. It really sets us apart. I do my very best to work with the needs of each family here. Happy parents make for a successful school!
What are three tips you can offer for gracefully striking a balance in life?
I am seriously laughing at the way you phrased this question! No one who knows me would ever describe me as “gracefully balanced.” There are, however, a few rules I live by:
1. Patience with whatever throws a kink in the day you’ve mapped out.
2. Being willing to get off the “busy bus” of social obligations with no regrets.
3. Scheduling free time for you the same way you would for your spouse or children. If you are not recharged and rejuvenated, you are only able to give them your leftovers. No one benefits from a worn-out woman!
What are your special interests, hobbies or ways you like to unwind and de-stress?
I am a firm believer in the benefits of a personal yoga practice and meditation. I run. I needlepoint. I enjoy a good glass of wine. I sing and dance (not necessarily well) when no one is looking. I love on my dogs every chance I get.
What is the Memphis event you are most looking forward to in 2014?
ONE? Memphis is full of spectacular things to do, and 2014 should be event-“full.” I am looking forward to the opening of the Hampline, which will connect the Overton Park trails with the Shelby Farms Greenline. I cannot wait to see if Bass Pro Shops will make use of the Pyramid by November. I am a grocery store fanatic and a supporter of local restaurants. Now that the new Whole Foods is open, I am anxiously awaiting what happens to the Union Avenue Kroger, the arrival of a Fresh Market location in Midtown, and the confirmation or denial regarding rumors of a possible Memphis Trader Joe’s. There are a ton of restaurant openings to get excited about, and oooh, anyone want to take a guess at what the French Quarter will become?
What are three favorite places you and your family enjoy in Memphis?
What books are you reading, or have you most enjoyed reading lately?
Being a working mom of three doesn’t leave much time to read, and lately, it’s all been work-related. My interests, however, vary greatly when time allows for a good book. Relatively recently, I enjoyed The $64 Tomato by William Alexander and Unglued by Lysa TerKeurst. Those who know me would understand why I relate to the characters so well.
Favorite vacation or travel destination?
We spend most vacation time in Destin, FL. I love the courtyard at Silver Dunes. Many childhood memories are from there for both Coors and me. The same will be for our boys. My personal favorite destination, however, is Austin, TX. Whether it’s the music of Sixth Street, outdoor activities on/around Lake Travis, or the relaxation of Lake Austin Spa, I always have the best time, and no two trips are ever the same!
What three lighthearted things could you not live without?
1. My yoga mat
2. Mini bell peppers, especially the red ones (I eat about a bag a day!)
3. Music. I need a good playlist, whatever the occasion.
What are you most proud of?
I am so proud of the experience Buntyn Preschool offers and the team assembled to deliver such success. I earned my Tennessee Administrator Credential, and Buntyn began serving spectrum children through the SEED program last year. Through the hard work and dedication of our teachers, Buntyn is a candidate for NAEYC accreditation this spring. The generosity of our donors has ensured we will be completing Phase II of our construction plan over the summer. Buntyn will be offering kindergarten for the 2014-15 school year. I am proud we offer Memphis children a high-quality educational experience, without the price tag that often comes with a private-school education. I have witnessed so much growth, both personally and professionally, in a relatively short period of time. It is very humbling. To be affiliated with this most wonderful place and the staff here is quite an accomplishment.
Thank you, Shelley, not only for leading and loving my son at Buntyn, but for being an inspirational FACE of Memphis for so many. And thank you to Christen Jones Photography for these lovely images.