A Lawrence educator who started her career teaching students to use manual typewriters and went on to oversee the first junior high computer lab in the district is being inducted today in the Kansas Teachers’ Hall of Fame.
Brilla Highfill Scott, who taught business classes at Lawrence High School and was principal at West Middle School, is one of nine teachers being honored in Dodge City today. Scott spent 44 years in the education field and continues to work part time as the executive director of the Kansas Association of Retired School Personnel.
“These people really represent the finest of all teachers in the state,” said Dennis Doris with the Kansas Teachers’ Hall of Fame.
A Winfield native, Scott comes from a family of educators. Her father was a college professor and her mother a teacher. Her brother Ken Highfill taught biology at Lawrence High School. She also married a teacher, Larrie Scott, who taught vocational education and driver’s education courses at LHS.
A graduate of Southwestern College, Scott started teaching in 1959 at her high school alma mater, where some of her siblings still attended. In 1966, she moved to Lawrence and spent two years teaching business education at West Junior High School and another eight years at LHS.
“She had a real caring attitude toward all students and was willing to give the time to make it possible to have activities,” said Bill Medley, who was principal at LHS during Scott’s tenure.
Medley also had Scott in a high school psychology class in Winfield and then helped bring her back to that school to begin teaching.
“It was a pretty easy decision to make,” Medley said of giving Scott her first job.
From teacher to administrator
At Lawrence High, Scott taught a roomful of 55 students how to type. And while electric typewriters were on the market then, schools couldn’t afford to buy them in large quantities.
“Those were the days that the philosophy was you could handle any number of students,” Scott said of the large classroom.
With so many students, Scott could grade one set of papers a night, which met students could get about one grade per week.
“My biggest concern with 55 students in the class, and of course the class was about that long in minutes, was the ability to give attention to each student,” she said.
Learning how to manage those students gave Scott confidence to move into an administrative position.
“I thought if I could handle 55 teenagers an hour, I might have the skills to be a school administrator,” Scott said.
In 1976, Scott became the assistant principal at West and then its principal in 1981. It was a position she would have for four years.
“She had great organizational abilities and, like any administrator, was willing to work hard. So when teachers saw her willing to give time and effort to make things better, many of them came on board to do the same thing,” Medley said.
While female administrators were common in elementary schools, at that time they were still rare at the secondary level. When applying for the job, Scott was asked if she thought she could keep discipline in the school, something she thought was an interesting question because mothers back then were the ones who usually did the discipline.
“I did feel a real sense of responsibility. In the back of my mind I was thinking if you flub this, you mess it up for all kinds of women who want to do it as well,” Scott said. It was also during her time at West that, Scott remembers, one of her teachers pursued a grant to start a computer lab in the school.
“It just seemed like from that point on everything changed,” Scott said of the new technology.
The second half of Scott’s career focused on representing the state’s school administrators. She spent 18 years at the United School Administrators of Kansas as associate executive director and executive director. During that time, she put on professional development trainings across the state and lobbied on behalf of school administrators.
Medley said Scott could call many of those administrators by their first name.
“Her ability to meet and know people and remember people is just amazing,” he said.
In 2003, Scott retired. Then in 2010, she returned to part-time work when the Kansas Association of Retired School Personnel asked her to become its executive director.
Of all the places and positions Scott has had, among her favorite memories in education were teaching two one-handed girls how to type. Early in her career, Scott was at a conference in Chicago where information was provided on teaching one-armed students.
One of the girls went to West and was ready to join the beginning typing class after three weeks of after-school work with Scott.
The other student went to Valley Center, where Scott’s mother taught. Her mother promised the girl in elementary school that her daughter would teach her how to type one day. In high school, the girl contacted Scott, who by that time was a principal at West. Over several long weekends, Scott taught that girl how to type until she was ready to enroll in regular classes.
“They were both so good at it,” Scott said about what she calls one of her prouder moments in teaching.
As for being named into the Kansas Teachers’ Hall of Fame, Scott said she is left a bit speechless.
“It’s just really special,” she said.
Scott is the ninth Lawrence educator to be named into the state’s hall of fame.