published Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Signal Mountain Principal Tom McCullough retiring; replaced by Sale Creek's Robin Copp

Signal Mountain Middle and High School will have a new principal next fall.
Signal Mountain Middle and High School will have a new principal next fall.

Principal assignments

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith announced a second round of principal assignments for the 2012-13 school year:

• LeAndrea Ware, currently principal at East Lake Academy, will become the director of the school district's new "Innovation Zone" (I-Zone).

• LaKesha Carson, currently assistant principal at Orchard Knob Middle school, will become principal at East Lake Academy, replacing Ware.

• Tobin Davidson, currently principal at Soddy-Daisy Middle School, will become principal at Sale Creek Middle/High School.

• Blake Freeman, currently assistant principal at Normal Park (upper school), will become principal at Soddy-Daisy Middle School.

• Lee Sims, currently interim principal at Hixson High School, will become the principal of that school.

• Stephanie Hinton, currently principal at Red Bank Elementary School, will become principal at East Side Elementary.

• Haley Brown, currently assistant principal at Normal Park (lower school), will become principal at Red Bank Elementary.

• Kelly Coffelt, currently assistant principal at Chattanooga School for Liberal Arts, will become principal at Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences (K-5).

• Joyce Lancaster, currently assistant principal at East Lake Elementary, will become principal at East Lake Elementary.

• Kimberly Roden, currently assistant principal at Battle Academy, will become principal at Soddy Elementary.

The day after the licenses of five Signal Mountain Middle/High staff members were flagged by the state for alcohol-related incidents, Principal Tom McCullough announced he would retire from a job he called "one of the most difficult" and "most rewarding."

McCullough, 66, has headed the school for three years and had said he wanted to stay for two more. But in an email Wednesday, McCullough said it was "time to give a younger person an opportunity at this wonderful school."

He said he has been weighing whether to retire this semester and decided after graduation. He told his District 2 school board representative, Chip Baker, Saturday, Baker said.

McCullough is retiring in a swarm of controversies, including fallout from a March senior trip that resulted in students and staff members being disciplined for drinking. That followed the October ruling from the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association that an Eagles player was ineligible, which forced the school to vacate six wins.

McCullough said while these incidents and the "stress of a large high school" have taken a toll on him, none directly influenced his decision.

"It would be hard for me to say they have absolutely not affected me. Anytime a school principal has to deal with issues like this, it can cause a lot of stress," he said. "But there wasn't anything in particular."

Baker said McCullough has handled the pressure well.

"Tom really studied the school and kept it moving forward, especially academically," Baker said. "He came in at a difficult time for the school. ... And the school has been tremendously successful in a much faster period than we could have expected."

Under McCullough, Signal Middle/High has implemented an International Baccalaureate program and students' test scores have reached the top 5 percent of state and international academic standards.

McCullough said no one from the central office "discussed retirement with me in any way." But county schools leaders on Wednesday introduced Sale Creek High School Principal Robin Copp as his successor.

Copp, who has been with Hamilton County Schools since 1988, did not return requests for comment Wednesday.

Schools Superintendent Rick Smith also did not respond to requests for comment.

Baker said Wednesday morning he ideally hoped that a "cadre" of school stakeholders could be involved in McCullough's replacement. He did not return calls for comment after Copp's appointment was announced.

McCullough has spent 42 years in education and was previously principal of Hixson High, dean at Chattanooga State Community College, superintendent of Chattooga County and Early County schools in Georgia and headmaster of David Brainerd Christian School.

He said he will weigh options for future work in the field, possibly as a consultant.

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