Signal Mountain Middle/High School principal Dr. Tom McCullough won't be returning to his post next year, but he still isn't sure what he'll do next.
"I will look at opportunities not so demanding as a middle/high school principal," said the three-year SMMHS head administrator.
McCullough had previously retired from Chattanooga Public Schools, for which he served eight years as principal of Hixson High School. He was also headmaster of the now-closed private David Brainerd Christian School for five years, worked as a school superintendent in Georgia for five years and spent eight as dean of instruction at Chattanooga State Community College.
"I've thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Signal, but it's been very, very demanding," he said. "It's one of the most demanding and complex jobs I've ever had."
McCullough said his job's greatest challenge has been leading a school that is a melding of a 50-year-old middle school and a brand new high school.
Five out of seven SMHS faculty members suspended for alcohol-related infractions on a school-sponsored senior trip recently received notice their licenses had been flagged by the Tennessee State Board of Education.
The notices arrived May 16, the same day the school's principal Dr. Tom McCullough announced his retirement.
Faculty receiving notice of a flagged license, which could result in a one-year suspension from teaching, include assistant principal Jason McKinney, teacher Steve Redman and counselors Anne Cushing, LeAnn Welch and Leslie Sharpe.
SMHS college access advisor Sandy Mitchum and registrar Lizetta Paturalski were also suspended for 10 days for alcohol-related infractions on the trip, but were not recommended for one-year suspensions by the state.
He has served as the 4-year-old school's principal since fall 2009, when he was selected for the position following the suspension of former head administrator Eddie Gravitte. Principal of SMMHS for the school's opening year in 2008-2009, Gravitte was suspended by former Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales for allowing a non-certified instructor to teach high school math and for falsifying reports to the state.
Turning 66 in the coming year, McCullough said his four grandchildren were a large part of his decision to retire.
"I'm always torn between a school activity and one of their activities," he said.
He said he will miss being an advocate for the students, supporting the teachers and communicating with parents at SMMHS.
Although there had been talk of having two head administrators for SMMHS this year, the decision was made to stick with the current model of one principal and three assistant principals, according to Robert Sharpe, Hamilton County Schools assistant superintendent of secondary education.
McCullough and the principal of one the county's other largest middle/high schools - East Hamilton School - decided to retire from their posts in June after just three years in their positions, both giving the demanding nature of the job as part of the reasoning behind their decision.
Robin Copp, principal at Sale Creek Middle/High, will replace McCullough.
"It's an extremely demanding job, but on the other hand it's extremely rewarding," said Copp of leading a school for grades six through 12, adding that she regularly worked 12- to 14-hour days at SCMHS. "I know there's a challenge ... and I know I can do the job."
As a sitting principal in Hamilton County, Copp was not required to submit an application to become SMMHS' new principal. When considering transferring a sitting principal to another school, Sharpe said Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith looks at the needs of the administrator as well as their skill set and strengths, then makes a decision based on where he believes that person can make the greatest impact within a particular school and the system as a whole.
"Robin is a veteran of our district and has experience in the Signal Mountain community," Sharpe said of Copp, a Thrasher teacher for seven years. "Most importantly, she knows the 6-12 alignment and has done very successful work at Sale Creek Middle/High School."
He said Copp possesses a range of qualities which make her an ideal administrator for SMMHS.
"It was an opportunity I wanted, and I felt like it was something that would be a challenging position," said Copp, who in her new role at SMMHS will lead double the number of students than at SCMHS, which had slightly more than 500 enrolled in 2011-2012. "[Signal Mountain] reminds me a lot of Sale Creek in that it is a tight-knit community very supportive of education," said Copp, a Soddy-Daisy resident.
She said her first administrative position was at Sale Creek, where she started as an Honors biology teacher and moved her way up the principal. Copp also taught at Lookout Mountain and McConnell elementaries and worked as an adaptive physical education teacher for kindergarten through 12th grade in 10 Hamilton County schools. In addition, she taught at Atlanta's K-12 St. Francis Day School and at Calhoun High School.