As new Tri-Creek Superintendent Andy Anderson circulated among the 400+ staff members present at the ‘Opening Day Staff Luncheon’ the enthusiasm was clear. Some were former students and some were former colleagues, but all were eager to welcome back to Lowell the new Superintendent and the more than 3,000 students who attend Tri-Creek schools. All Red Devils will return in-person to their respective schools and classrooms to once again enjoy the Tri-Creek experience that for some may seem like a distant memory.
The luncheon kicked off with greetings from Athletic Director, Patti McCormack. It was her ‘house’ that hosted the gathering and her words that fired up the Red Devil crowd. McCormack was recognized prior to her words with a gift from her golden retriever, Charlie, who sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers just before the event began.
McCormack asked her Assistant Athletic Director, Mike Magley, what he thought teachers would want to hear. His response; “Nothing.” In actuality, he suggested she keep her comments short and funny. She did just that taking a panoramic selfie shot of the entire fieldhouse full of smiling teachers and staff. “I’m doing this on an IPhone 3 with about 30 seconds of memory,” she said ensuring those gathered would be chuckling and smiling as she took the photo. She closed her brief remarks with some of her favorite quotes, including one from Nelson Mandela; “It always seems impossible, until it’s done.”
The words seemed almost prophetic based on the comments of veteran teacher Lora Cooksley from Lowell Middle School who will start her 39th year as a teacher in Tri-Creek. Her address focused on the moments that have brought about fundamental changes in her life. “Life is made up of a number of firsts,” she said describing her first day of school in first grade and climbing aboard, “that big ole’ bus.” She remembered her first day of lunch at school and her Barbie lunchbox made of a shiny plastic. She recalled her first car, a 1970’s something Buick, her first week of college and, of course, who doesn’t remember their first sip of an adult beverage. “Many of you right now are remembering the birth of your first child, the memory of sending them off to their first day of school. Some of you are remembering the birth of your first grandchild…” She described her first year as a teacher in Tri-Creek schools, noting: “I would not have made it through that first year without the guidance and helpfulness of every teacher I came in contact with, and I hope that all of us can support each other…and ensure a powerful experience with a transformative effect and lasting memory for those joining our Tri-Creek family today.”
Following the luncheon Cooksley admitted that the first day of school is special, but that every first day of school has similarities. She added with a chuckle; “I’m breaking in another superintendent. I mean, I’ve been through five. This is number six, and I believe it is exciting to have that opportunity. We are always, all in this together.”
New teacher Kevin Heiser who will teach at Oak Hill Elementary School has an extensive background in Hammond schools including two years teaching 6th grade special education at Gavit Middle School. “For me it will be about building positive relationships with the kids…to celebrate the good days together.” Heiser noted that many of his new second-grade students will be experiencing a classroom setting for the first time since their kindergarten year following the virtual setting during the pandemic. “They’ll be learning how to be in a room together and how to work together.”
Whitney Cross, the new Lowell High School Ag Teacher and FFA sponsor, is a Lowell High School graduate, Class of 2015. She is excited to bring the community connections she experienced back to life in her classroom and in FFA. Cross will have a little over 200 students in the 2021-2022 school year. “The trades are really starting to boom here, and it’s pretty exciting to be a part of that,” said Cross. Her greatest hope is that students who are in her class leave as; “more educated consumers with a greater appreciation about where their food comes from. I always tell my kids the first day of school, I don’t care if you leave my classroom on the last day of school not knowing anything about agriculture. If I’ve helped you make more educated consumer choices, then I have done my job.” She feels exactly the same way about FFA. “Not every kid in FFA is going to become a farmer. Some of them might not ever set foot on a farm or touch livestock, but they will all be consumers.”
New teachers from each school participated in the traditional parade of new staff, led by each building administrator. Teri Crussen, Principal of Lowell Middle School, had her new teachers and staff bring life to their parade by throwing candy to fellow educators and staff. Other highlights included words of appreciation from Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Jason Wathen and School Board President Doug Ward. Ward thanked all of the teachers and staff for sacrificing so much for the well-being of Tri-Creek students. He noted that while there may be disagreements in the days ahead, ultimately; “We will all work together to make the 2021-2022 school year a successful and rewarding one for our students.”
Human Resources Coordinator Annemarie Moen and Jay Blackman, Director of Educational Technology, took the stage to recognize the years of service of more than 50 employees who are celebrating 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 35 or in the case of Karen Kirchenstien (Bus Driver), Wendy Magley (LHS ELA Teacher) and Louis Meltzer (Custodian) a remarkable 40 years of service. Moen was proud to announce that Tri-Creek schools has a retention rate of double the national average in the field of education.
Dana Bogathy, Business Manager for Tri-Creek schools, outlined construction projects and announced the exciting and pending on-site Health Clinic for Tri-Creek staff before turning the mic over to Dennis Keithley of the Tri-Creek Education Foundation who acknowledged that the bulk of the $193,000 in scholarships and grants awarded to teachers and students came from regular payroll deduction contributions from employees.
Director of Curriculum Kevin Deal and Superintendent Andy Anderson joined together to address issues recently raised by parents, helping provide a framework for teachers before school begins and noting that every child will be heard, respected, and supported.
The final message from Anderson was that he sees individuals as human beings first. “We are all on the same team.” He offered four principles he will lead by and asked his teachers and staff to follow his deeply held principles. “Don’t Quit – Invest,” urging them to invest time in getting to know each other. “Appreciate your differences, listen, and work as a team.”