7 Questions with Mark Fruitt

Name: Mark Fruitt

Current title: Principal of the Elementary Division

Current organisation: Presbyterian Day School in Memphis.

Mark Fruitt serves as Elementary Principal of Presbyterian Day School (PDS), an independent school serving boys in grades PK-6 in Memphis.

Born and raised in Memphis, Fruitt earned his undergraduate and master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Memphis. Before coming to PDS in 2004, he served as a teacher, head varsity boys basketball coach, assistant varsity football coach and Dean of Students at First Assembly Christian School. Also during this time, he served as director of the family life center at First Assembly of God Church.

Over the years Mark’s professional development has included Project Zero at Harvard, Leading Today’s Changing Middle School, the National Association of Independent School Conference, and many others. He has also attended numerous coaching clinics, including: Alabama, Penn State, Nebraska, and Indiana to name a few.

Mark was awarded the Most Valuable Teacher Award while teaching at First Assembly and earned coach of the year honors in 2000. Mark enjoys spending time with his family, playing golf, and reading. Mark is married to Amy and they have one daughter. They are members of Grace Community Church.

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1. What have you found most challenging as a Christian school leader?

My biggest challenge is being in the moment, being present. There are times when the complexities of the job rob me of truly connecting with staff, students, and parents. I still have to go to battle daily with the tyranny of the urgent. I read a great article in the American scholar about William Zinsser. He gave a talk to the students of his alma mater, Deerfield Academy. In it, he says; “Life is people–men and women and children going about the business of being people. Give every encounter as much time as it needs, and give it your undivided attention.” I love the last sentence.

2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Most days, I am up at 5:00 for a 45-minute workout. After the workout, I have my quiet time. I arrive at work by 7:20. I generally answer emails as soon as I get to my office. I try to tackle the most pressing needs in the morning. When possible, my afternoons are for planning and big ideas. I coach football and basketball. During those seasons, I usually leave campus between 5:30-6:00. I try to read between 8:00-9:15 before going to sleep.

3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

It wasn’t recent, but the leadership lesson that has had the biggest impact on me occurred over 20 years ago. My former boss and Head of School was announcing his retirement after a long and distinguished career. The line that has stayed with me all these years was, “There need to be some changes around here, and I am too old and lack the courage to make them.” His ability to put ego aside and keep the school the number 1 priority summed up who he was as a leader. He was beloved, revered, and respected by all because of his humility and always looking out for the school's best interest.

4. What one book has had the most profound impact on your Christian school leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. The impact comes from a line in the book that says… “It's easy to be emotionally invested and infatuated with your own work. Any and every narcissist can do that. What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence, and self-awareness. In our world today of self-branding and always trying to produce the “next best thing,” it is so easy to lose focus on the goal. As Simon Sinek calls it “our why.”

5. How do you find and keep great Christian teachers?

Like most Christian schools, word of mouth. I also believe our storied history and track record attract great teachers. I also believe our mission statement, which hasn’t changed in over 70 years, helps attract great teachers. To develop boys in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man. Teachers know they are a part of something that has eternal implications. I hope we retain our teachers because of the culture that is at our school. It is something that we think about and are always trying to improve.

6. What's most important as a Christian school leader for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?

I will go back to my answer in #1. I think it is imperative that leaders are present, in the moment. That they “give each encounter as much time as it needs, and give it your undivided attention.” I also think everyone must understand the importance of the mission statement. It is always front and center in everything you do as a school, which is frequently assessed and critiqued. You get good at what you measure and assess.

7. If you had to pick just one story, what would be the most meaningful story from your time as a Christian school leader so far?

I am not sure I could pick just one. Some of the most meaningful times I get to spend in my job are at chapel on Fridays. Our elementary division is altogether in the sanctuary. When you hear the voices of 350 elementary-aged boys singing about the love of God, there is a purity to how they sing worship songs that brings everything into focus that’s important. I am always reminded that I am far more broken than I care to admit and far more loved than I could ever imagine.