Thomas Tucker, superintendent of Ohio's Princeton City Schools, was named AASA's 2016 National Superintendent of the Year.
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When Thomas Tucker was a senior in college, his grandfather handed him a vial filled with cotton and cotton seeds.“Don’t forget where you came from,” the older man told him. “And don’t forget the struggle.”Tucker, now 50 and the recipient of AASA’s 2016 National Superintendent of the Year award, hasn’t forgotten. He remains rooted in Southern history and the lessons his maternal grandparents, Fred and Magnolia Campbell, instilled in him as he was growing up in Arkansas.“It was a life about lessons and that through these life lessons and hard work and being educated, you could lead a better life,” he says. “But in that process, you don’t forget where you came from, don’t forget your origins and don’t forget to pay it forward.”Tucker last summer took on the superintendency in Princeton, 25 miles north of downtown Cincinnati.He has a rich history from which to draw. His great-grandparents were born into slavery, and his grandparents were sharecroppers on a former slave plantation in Cotton Plant, Ark. Tucker’s parents grew cotton and raised livestock on their own 40 acres nearby, and as the youngest of 11 children, he pitched in.“I’m a true country boy,” he says.Tucker attended an all-black elementary school. He went on to Philander Smith College, a historically black college in Little Rock, where he finished first in his class. Then he moved on to teaching and administrative posts in Topeka, Kan., and Hilliard, Ohio, and to superintendencies in the Ohio districts of Licking Heights, Worthington and now Princeton.In Worthington, a district of 9,600 outside of Columbus, he paid particular attention to the inequities he saw in science and math. Boys participated in the STEM fields far more than girls, and middle-class students participated more than low-income students. He narrowed those gaps each year, partly by expanding the national Project Lead the Way program in the district.Tucker used his belief in the power of history to help pass a combined $40 million construction bond and $60 million operating levy in Worthington. He reminded the community of the value the town’s founders put on education. The first thing they did in 1803 was build a church, he told them. The second was to build a school.“We were able to link the past with the present,” he says. “We talked about our responsibility to pay it forward, just like my teachers in Cotton Plant paid it forward to me.”But it is Tucker’s high-powered focus on student learning that impresses Bobby Moore, a senior director at Battelle for Kids, a nonprofit education support organization. Moore says Tucker has raised student achievement wherever he has gone — from building principal to superintendent. “He creates an urgency that this is important,” Moore says.Tucker contends there’s no secret to raising achievement: Align clear standards with “taught curriculum” and assessment. “I tell everyone, if your schools are failing, regardless of poverty, regardless of socioeconomic status, they’re failing because there’s a misalignment,” he says. Tucker, married with four children, says he moved from Worthington to the 5,400-student Princeton district to take on a new challenge. Nearly 70 percent of Princeton’s students are low-income, and about 45 languages are spoken. Susan Wyder, Princeton’s school board president, says Tucker has quickly built support by reaching out to residents across the community.
“He knows the potential this district has,” she says, “and he’s going to steer us toward that potential.”Paul Riede is a journalism instructor at Cazenovia College in Cazenovia, N.Y. E-mail: email@example.comBIO STATS: THOMAS TUCKER
Currently: superintendent, Princeton Public Schools, Cincinnati, OhioPreviously: superintendent, Worthington, OhioAge: 50Greatest influence on career: My grandparents taught other sharecroppers in Arkansas how to read, write, calculate their debt and even market their cotton to buyers.Best professional day: On Monday, Aug. 13, 1989, at 7:30 a.m., I arrived at Jardine Middle School in Topeka, Kan., for the first time as a professional educator.Books at bedside: King James Study Bible and The New Articulate Executive: Look, Act and Sound Like a Leader by Granville N. ToogoodBiggest blooper: While being introduced by my board president at my first board meeting as superintendent, I realized I was wearing mismatched shoes. Actually, my precocious daughter who was standing next to me in front of the podium said, “Dad, your loafers don’t match. One’s dark brown, and the other is black!”
AASA ACKNOWLEDGES AND EXPRESSES SINCERE APPRECIATION TO THE NSOY AWARD SPONSORS: