By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — With 29 years of an education career under his belt, including roles as teacher, coach, principal and adjunct professor, new Anderson High School Principal Terry Thompson quickly began work on new initiatives with his team of administrators and faculty to provide “consistency” to the nearly 2,000 students of Anderson High.
Thompson, who has taught at Anderson University and also served as a Lafayette police officer, says he wants to get more parents involved in the education of their children.
And, he wants Anderson High’s educators to help students keep their options for the future open.
“I’m interested in making sure kids understand we have very high expectations,” Thompson says, “but that we’re not just going to throw them (the students) away.”
Thompson is married to Roberta Thompson, who was a teacher and then become a stay-at-home mom when they had children. There is son Jonathan, 32, who lives in Noblesville and works in business consulting and daughter Lee, 22, who lives in Bloomington and is a cosmetologist.
The Herald Bulletin asked him some questions recently
THB: You’ve had vast experiences in education, what have they taught you?
Thompson: That you have got to be flexible. Everything was black and white (when I started teaching). I guess that may have been a little bit from the law enforcement background. In every different setting, there are so many different needs that we really don’t know about until you get in them. If I had that original mindset of everything is black and white, I could not survive.
I want us to make sure that we create that environment for kids to learn in that’s safe. But I also want to make sure I share with the kids the importance of an education because, as you know, you either open or close that door on yourself depending on what you do in high school. I absolutely believe that.
So our job is to make sure that they have the skill sets they need to go on. Go on to college, military, vocational. I don’t care what it is, but you’ve got to go on. I want people to go with their hearts. My daughter is a great example. She went into cosmetology and thought I would be upset. I wasn’t upset in the least because I believe that everyone’s got a different passion.
THB: What do you believe it takes to be a good administrator and how do you approach the job?
Thompson: I believe that to be a good administrator I have to be a servant leader. And what I mean by that is my job is to make sure that the teachers do their jobs. By providing them resources. By providing them tools. By staying abreast of anything new out there that may be beneficial for students.
My job is to be supportive of them, to help them anyway I can. But just as important, my job is to be a cheerleader for the students and to make sure they know that we care about them, and that we will do anything we can for them. And I think that is what an administrator should do. I don’t think my job is to be a dictator when it comes to discipline. That’s what I have assistants to do. My job is to develop relationships in the community. That’s the third part of it; to develop those relationships so we can all work together in helping raise these kids, young adults. I guess the fourth would be that I believe in treating students as young adults.
THB: What is it about Anderson that attracted you to the job?
Thompson: The staff and students. And there is a lot of history. Incredible history. ... I went to Lafayette Jeff (Lafayette Jefferson High School). We were a part of the NCC (North Central Conference) so the NCC means a lot to me, too — the tradition behind the conference. I just see so many great things going on. The potential here, I think, is endless. I think the mayor is doing a lot of great things to attract business. But if it says the schools are ‘D’ or ‘F’ schools (as determined by the Indiana Department of Education), how is that going to attract people? So we have to do our job and get those scores up. But we can’t do any of that until we get the behavior parameter set. But that was my main attraction. The history, the faculty being very, very strong and then the kids’ spirit. Those three things.
THB: So what would you like to build on at Anderson High School and what are some of the challenges the school is still facing?
Thompson: Well, let me focus on build on because one of my expectations here is that we will build the Anderson High School College Career Readiness Center. Ebbert will reopen in August 2014. We have a moral, ethical responsibility to make sure that’s successful. And what I mean by moral and ethical is that there is no excuse for students graduating from Anderson High School not being prepared to enter the workforce if they choose to do that. ... And then we can provide the community the workforce that they need for businesses to be brought in. ..
I think the main challenge, I’ll just focus this way, is literacy. I think a challenge for the entire corporation is to make sure that we have students entering high school that are at grade level when it comes to reading and comprehension.
THB: Are there any particular student success stories that have really stuck with you over the years?
Thompson: Back in 2005, I had a young Hispanic girl come to me crying and she said, ‘I want to withdraw from school. I just can’t take it any longer.’ She was probably a level two or three with her English skills so she didn’t comprehend real well. And she was also getting a lot of pushback from the Hispanic community because she was working really hard in school. So some of her friends were teasing her about that and some boys starting teasing her. She didn’t feel safe so she just thought ‘well, I’m going to withdraw.’ I said, ‘you’re absolutely not going to withdraw.’ So I hooked her up with some adult mentors as well as student mentors. She ended up graduating near the top of her class in 2006 and she’s gone on and graduated from college and is doing very, very well. I can tell you about a hundred stories.