BROWNSTOWN

Brownstown Elementary School Principal Tom McCool recently continued his annual tradition of reading “The Polar Express” to all classrooms.

He said he likes doing that because when he began his education career in 1994, he was an elementary classroom teacher.

After spending the past 16 years as an administrator, McCool said he is ready to go back to where he started.

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Beginning with the 2016-17 school year, he will be a teacher at Brownstown Elementary.

With one son recently starting his first year of college and the other one in fifth grade, McCool decided he wanted to be able to spend more time with his family.

“I told the staff, ‘There are priorities in your life, and No. 1 should be God, second should be your family and third is your job,’” he said. “I somehow was missing some of those family events. … The time is what you can’t get back. I just thought, ‘I think it’s time just to make a change.’ I’m still in education. It’s just time for a change.”

During a recent school board meeting, Superintendent Greg Walker read a letter from McCool that asked for him to be reassigned to a teaching position at the elementary.

“I’m excited that he will be returning to his passion and using his talents as a classroom teacher to continue to serve the students of Brownstown Elementary,” Walker said.

Walker said the goal is to have the principal position filled by July 1. McCool said he will be filling a position left vacant by one of the retiring teachers, but he doesn’t yet know what grade he will be teaching.

“That was another thing, I knew there was going to be that opportunity,” he said. “Some years, we didn’t (have any teachers retiring). I was out at Freetown for six years, and I never did replace any of my teachers out there, and I didn’t replace any of my teachers here until the last four years.”

After McCool graduated from Boonville High School in 1981, he headed to the Purdue University School of Agriculture with hopes of becoming a veterinarian. But he wound up earning a business degree from that school and spent several years in sales for a food company after graduation.

At one point, he decided to work toward an education degree. In 1993, he earned that from University of Southern Indiana.

“You have to really love the kids. That’s one thing about it. We’re in the kids’ business, and it was a calling. I really felt that that’s where I needed to go,” he said. “I had quite a few aunts and cousins that were in education. But sometimes, it takes a little bit of time to figure out where your niche is at.”

In 1994, he landed a job as a teacher at an elementary school in West Salem, Illinois.

He spent six years teaching there and also earned his administrator’s license from Indiana State University during that time. He said a couple of principals he worked with and one of his college professors inspired him to go that avenue.

“They were just very motivational, and I could see where that was leading me, so I went that path and have been very pleased with that, very happy,” McCool said.

He learned of an opening at Freetown Elementary School and became principal there in 2000. For the first two years, he also was a remediation teacher. But once No Child Left Behind was introduced, school corporation leaders decided he needed to focus all of his attention on being principal.

Then in 2006, an opening came up at Brownstown Elementary, and McCool jumped at the opportunity.

That was a big transition, going from working with about 100 students and 15 staff members at Freetown to more than 600 students and 80 staff members at Brownstown. Freetown Elementary closed in 2010, and Brownstown’s enrollment bumped up to more than 700.

During his tenure at Brownstown, McCool said he has made it a priority to be out in front of the students and parents. That starts each year with the school’s back-to-school celebration.

“We have almost 100 percent participation,” he said. “If you ever come in here whenever that date is in August, it’s full. I stand out front, and for two solid hours, I’m greeting the parents. I think it’s good for the parents knowing we’re here for them.”

McCool said he is proud of the school improvement plan, working out a safe system in the parking lot for parents to drop off their kids and maintaining funding for Child Care Network’s Jump Start Kindergarten program.

McCool also touted the work of his teachers.

“The teachers are very professional. They are very hard- working. That’s the thing we have to understand — they truly care about the kids,” he said.

“I think the standards that we’ve incorporated, I believe that our curriculum is top-notch. We expect the kids to be prepared when they go to the middle school,” he said. “My staff, they look at the data, and they switch gears, and they do it before the company even changes the curriculum in the textbooks. They understand the importance of challenging the kids.”

He said the best part about being an administrator is knowing you are making a difference in children’s lives.

“I think any time that I can help them receive a better education, that’s really what this is all about,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s the school board or it’s a cleaning person — if it wasn’t for the kids, we wouldn’t be here. I think that’s what we really all need to keep in mind.”

Administrators have to be on call around the clock, and McCool said he decided it’s time to step away from that, at least for now.

“I just want it to be a very easy transition,” he said of going back into the classroom. “I’ve got about another eight years until I can officially retire. I came in as a teacher, I did 16 years (in administration) and it’s time to go out. I feel blessed that I can do that, and I can still be active in the community.”

McCool said he also has applied to be an adjunct professor at area colleges. If that works out, he could teach at Brownstown during the day and teach at one of the colleges some evenings or weekends.

“That sounds intriguing to me because I thought I can use my degrees that I have and my education plus my experience here at the elementary,” he said.

A bonus for McCool’s successor is that he will still be in the building to answer that person’s questions.

“My thing is to make them successful, which makes the school successful,” he said. “Each one is going to have a different way of doing it. I think the main thing is to put the kids first. We have a very awesome community here, and the kids are all special.”

Down the road, McCool said he may consider getting back into an administrator’s role. But for now, he’s excited about being a teacher again.

“Getting back into the classroom with the standards, the technology, all of that, I’ve seen it, but I’ve never actually used it,” he said. “It’s going to be really eye-opening to me to see how things actually work.”

McCool file

Name: Tom McCool

Age: 53

Hometown: Boonville

Residence: Brownstown

Education: Boonville High School (1981); Purdue University (bachelor’s degree in business, 1985); University of Southern Indiana (bachelor’s degree in education, 1993); Indiana State University (administrator’s license, 1999)

Employment background: Elementary classroom teacher in West Salem, Illinois (1994-2000); Principal at Freetown Elementary School (2000-2006); Principal at Brownstown Elementary School (2006-present)

Family: Wife, Shawnna McCool; sons, Jordan McCool and Joshua McCool

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.