CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Graduating seniors are not the only ones who say good-bye to school each spring. Retiring teachers do, too.
Among this spring’s retiring educators is Ron Hill, a veteran teacher and principal who has been a mentor over the years for young administrators, including some in the Tennessee Department of Education.
He has been an educator for more than three decades, including 12 years as the first principal at the combined Blythe-Bower Elementary School.
Q: You are usually described by your own words, “Be a servant/leader.”
A: Some of that comes from my work as a pastor. I tell people you can only truly lead if people allow you to lead. Part of being a leader is to be a servant. Sometimes people get that confused. But being a leader doesn’t mean shouting out orders.
Q. This school has a high percentage of pupils on free and reduced lunch programs. And it also has racked up a number of academic awards. What goes into that?
A. Just like what goes into a lot of things. The first year or so I was here I concentrated on building relationships. It’s like the old saying, “I don’t care how much you know as long as I know how much you care.”
So it is about building relationships with the staff and with the students, the families and the community. Just making everybody that comes in feel welcome and explaining where we wanted to go.
We gradually saw our scores come up. They have really increased over the last five or six years.
Q. When Blythe combined with Bower, was that a difficult time?
A. I told my staff no one here is a stepchild. The Blythe staff and students were coming to our campus and we wanted them to know they are part of our family, too. The teachers drew numbers for their rooms. It just all worked out. Now we don’t even say Blythe and Bower. It’s Blythe-Bower. Just like one word.
Q. This is a huge school. How does a principal keep up with it all?
A. You are talking about at least 130,000 square feet. It’s a quarter of a mile from my office to kindergarten and back. But I have a wonderful assistant, (Kelly) Kiser, and we have walkie-talkies. But you walk down the hallways and you know classes are going on, education is going on.
Q. Every educator has stories, touching ones and funny ones. What’s one of yours?
A. This was years ago. A young man walked through the front door. I wondered why he was there. Classes were changing. A lot of people were in the hallway. He came straight to me.
I said, “Young man how are you doing?”
He said, “Mr. Hill, I just came to thank you. Because of you and my father, I am going to seminary. I am going into ministry.”
We shook hands and he said that’s all he wanted to say. That stuck with me. Wow. He was ranking me with his dad. That’s powerful.
Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...