Interview by Dirk Webb | Photo courtesy of Dale Pickett
Like many Indiana school systems in the past generation, Anderson Community Schools has been a reflection of the struggles of its home community. What sets our local school district apart is the optimistic outlook from Superintendent, Terry Thompson.
Leading over 6,700 students and over 800 staff members is something Mr. Thompson relishes. “We get to work with great kids and great people in this community. Our school system had a bad reputation in the past and it is not at all deserved.”
A native of Lafayette, Terry Thompson graduated from Jefferson High School in 1972 and attended Purdue on a Baseball scholarship fully expecting to make the big leagues. His backup plan included a degree in Physical Education with a minor in Speech Communications. Mr. Thompson reports, “When I was young I stuttered but I was taught you can overcome anything.”
Taking teaching and coaching positions at the West Lafayette School Corporation, Mr. Thompson also continued his love of baseball as the head coach. He soon found himself in love with teaching as well. “I said to myself, ‘Look at all the people I can affect in a positive manner. I was a cheerleader at every level and genuinely loved the kids.”
He soon found himself teaching at Sheridan in 1989. “All I knew about Sheridan at the time was that they had a great football team.” Legendary coach, Bud Wright, led the Blackhawks for over 50 years, became the 'winningest' coach in Indiana High School football history. (Coincidentally, Mr. Thompson’s daughter married into Coach Wright’s family). Mr. Thompson found himself falling in love yet again as he met his wife, Roberta and married her soon after.
After a few years of teaching, Mr. Thompson felt he could extend his impact by moving into administration. Armed with a Master’s Degree in Teacher Education from Purdue and two graduate degrees from Butler, he embarked on a career that eventually would bring him to Anderson.
While teaching as an adjunct professor at Anderson University at Flagship, his teaching students encouraged him to explore the beleaguered Anderson school system. After one year as principal of Anderson High School, Terry Thompson was appointed Superintendent.
Says Mr. Thompson, “We want to expose our students to anything and everything they may want to do in life. We make sure we inspire all kids to be productive in this community knowing that not every kid will go to college. Previous generations learned by sitting at a desk in a row. We know now that students learn not only at different speeds but also in different environments.”
Yet another love for Mr. Thompson is his family. He and wife, Roberta have raised a small brood that includes son, J.J. and wife Keri. J.J. owns Rook Consulting, an award winning Security Company and his son just earned the Best and Brightest Award from Junior Achievement of Indianapolis and was nominated as finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year. J.J and Keri have two children, Jacob and Gracelyn who are the pride of Mr. Thompson.
Daughter Lee (Cosmetologist) and husband Brent Hume, soon to be an Optometrist using a Navy Scholarship, are parents to four-month-old Harrison who is a joy to his family.
Why here in Madison County?
“In 2006 when I started teaching as an adjunct at AU Flagship, I heard there was a need for someone who was a student advocate, and my wife and I began praying about coming to Anderson. We love this community. We go to every event we can. We eat here, we go to the Mall here. We love the people of Anderson. We’ve teamed well with businesses and added some incredible structures because of the generosity of the people in the business community. A $60,000 message board in front of AHS, $38,000 for auditorium curtains.
We’ve reopened the old Ebbert Career Center under the name District 26 and also offer the C.O.M.P.A.S.S (Community Organizations and Mentors Partnering in Anderson Student Success) program. We have 30 middle school and 30 high school students that need a different environment for learning”
What are your goals for the 2015-16 school year and beyond?
Then to grow District 26. We want to grow from a few students coming to D26 from other school districts to a minimum of 120 students and we would like to see over 500 AHS students take advantage of the career offerings. Advance Manufacturing, Health Sciences, Firefighting, Clothing and Textiles, Building Trades, Criminal Justice to not just Anderson or Madison County students but to students in adjacent counties and systems.”
Finally, to develop a culinary program that is second to none. Our vision is to create a school operated restaurant. We believe there are on-going and numerous opportunities statewide for culinary success.”
Who do you consider the most courageous person in history and why?
"Jesus Christ. How can anyone not look at Him as the most courageous person who ever walked the face of this earth and died for us bearing our sins. My wife and I pray together every morning that I would have the wisdom and knowledge to make impactful decisions for each student and staff member.”
If you were to take that person on a tour of the system, what one thing would you want them to see?
“The way people treat one another. Anderson students get a negative rap from historical issues. I have to say I’ve never had a student show disrespect to me and I will do anything to help them.
We would show how well they are integrated, how well they get along, and much they care for each other. It’s so very important to let them know that education and success in life is bigger than just themselves.”
What was the defining moment when you knew your service in education was making a difference in someone's life?
“On one side, I have to share in a family’s grief, then on the other hand, share in a family’s joy. I go to weddings, I go to funerals, and I go to every graduation party I’m invited to. One year I got 78 invitations and went to them all. My wife organizes that whole process.
“I believe that there are times we need to share in more than just the education of a child. We should be a part of the milestones of their lives because we all mark our own childhood by the divisions of grades levels and schools attended. We can all remember that one teacher that took a moment and made a significant difference in our lives. I hope that students would say that I truly cared for them individually and their future."