Dr. Thomas McInroy has been the superintendent of the Bellwood-Antis School District since November of 2014. In December, he announced his plans to retire, effective at the end of this academic term.
When he took over in the fall of that year, the winds of change were blowing. Teachers and administrators were locked in a contract dispute, building projects were underway, and the possibility of 1-to-1 technology was just in its infancy.
In the eight years since, B-A has changed significantly, beginning in 2016 with the introduction of iPads for every student in the district. Two years later the district increased it emphasis on school safety by beginning the process of hiring security guards, securing the physical space in which students learn, and purchasing signage throughout the entire district.
Dr. McInroy is also the leader who helped guide B-A through the COVID era, which encompassed everything from school closures to online learning to hybrid instruction.
Dr. Tom, as he is affectionately known, took some time to sit down with BluePrint reporters Aarron Laird and JoJo Caswell to talk about how he knew it was time to retire, what he sees as the future of education, and some of his best memories from working at Bellwood-Antis.
BLUEPRINT: How did you know it was the right time to retire?
Dr. McInroy: I don’t think you ever really know. I’ve been an administrator now for 24 years. In the past 24 years, I have been a superintendent for 16, so that makes me one of the senior superintendents in the state. You just kind of feel it. This wasn’t done haphazardly. As superintendent … you have contracts that are 3, 4 and 5 years long. I was going to go at the end of last year, and (the board) asked me if I would stay for five years instead of three years and I said how about we settle in the middle. You just feel it. Things that didn’t used to bother you now bother you. It kind of wears you down. Every decision you make you have somebody who’s happy with you and someone who is upset with you. After a while, you kind of get worn down. And there comes a point in time where, ‘Are you worn down to the point where you’re not doing the best for the kids?’ And that’s why I became a superintendent. I wanted to make a change for the better for the folks that I serve.
BLUEPRINT: Do you feel like it’s going to be hard to leave Bellwood-Antis?
Dr. McInroy: It is. I have a mixed set of feelings, and I never anticipated that. When I graduated from Mansfield University in 1988, I was the 67th member of my family to graduate in the field of education form that university. My mom and dad were my teachers. When they retired they were so excited they couldn’t stand it. I’m retiring with very mixed emotions. Most days, it’s like, is it really the right time? There’s so much more I want to do. We are always planning three, four, six months ahead, so right now we’re planning for fall. And I’m thinking, ‘I’m not going to be here.’ That’s a weird feeling. It’s not one I expected. I’m going to miss the kids. With COVID I haven’t been able to see the kids as much as I did pre-COVID. My secretaries used to say, ‘Go get your kid fix,’ (when) I was a little grumpy. Even if it was in the cafeteria, the gym, or a classroom, I was instantly better. I haven’t had that for several years. The state has thrown a lot on us that we didn’t have before.
BLUEPRINT: What is your favorite memory from your time at Bellwood-Antis?
McInroy: There have been a lot of favorite memories. The girls basketball team winning states was fun two years in a row. Watching the kid play football, going to concerts, the plays, and all of the fun things that make school fun for kids. Helping improve the education for kids, too. We hadn’t bought text books in eleven years when I first arrived here, which was crazy. We went with the iPads and we learned from that. Trying to make things better for the kids is what makes me tick.
BLUEPRINT: What do you feel you accomplished here?
Dr. McInroy: I believe in a team philosophy, so it wasn’t me that did anything. It was us as a team. When I say us, I mean the other administrators, the teachers, the para-professionals, the custodians, the cafeteria workers – anybody who is employed here. We all came together and worked with the community to make things better. I don’t think I’ve done anything. It’s always been us as a team working really hard to make things better.
BLUEPRINT: What kind of an impact do you think you have made?
Dr. McInroy: Here’s what I hope happens. I hope that when I am gone, that I have made this place better than when I found it. Better for student life, with the media center. You have someplace to go where you can just kind of hang out and relax, maybe get a cup of coffee, be with your friends, get homework done. That’s kind of like a student union in college. The iPads and getting kids ready for the future, whether they go into some kind of post-secondary education or into the workforce or military. I’m hoping the teachers have the resources to do the best job they can possibly do, and the same with the administration and support staff. So I’m just hoping I leave the place better than when I found it. That’s what I’m hoping people say.
BLUEPRINT: What do you plan to do after retiring?
Dr. McInroy: That’s a really good question. I won’t have to get up at 4:30 and check the roads to see if we go or don’t go for snow days. There is a lot of things. I love wood working and I was an art teacher for 10 years and if I wasn’t an art teacher I probably would have been a shop teacher because I love wood working, metal working, and that kind of stuff. I am already in process of getting my shop ready. I would also play golf. I haven’t played golf in 3 years and that’s something my wife and I love to do together. We haven’t been able to do it because I haven’t had time. Basically I work 7 days a week. Even when I’m on vacation I’m still working. I look forward to having time, being with the grandkids, travel and I can’t just sit around. I’m not the kind of guy that just wakes up in the morning and watches the news and then waits for Rachel Wray to come on, so I’ll probably pick up a consulting job somewhere or part time job to keep my mind sharp.
BLUEPRINT: Where do you see the future going for education, both at Bellwood and in general?
Dr. McInroy: Well, lets start with the general first because the general will impact what happens here at Bellwood. The school board controls 3-5% of what happens in the school. The mandates are what the schools have to follow and what happens is that the people making the mandates don’t know much about education and they don’t think things through, and we are left picking up the pieces. I see cyber charter schools cutting into education, and that’s hard. So here’s an example. I was the vice-president of the CPDLF, which is the cyber charter school run by the superintendents in Altoona. The average costs to educate a student in a cyber charter school is $5,600. Our average cost (at B-A) is $11,00 and that’s because we have the facilities, busing, cafeteria, we have all the extra-curricular activities. There is a whole series of things that come with having a brick and mortar school. So, we have to pay them $11,00 per kid, at least with CPDLF because it’s a really good school and we have good people running the school. If you go to something like PA Cyber, their version of me (a superintendent) is making half a million dollars a year and the quality of education is atrocious, so what are they doing with all that extra money? You know, $5600 to $11,000 is significant change there. What are they doing with it? They are so flush with cash that they can’t spend it fast enough, and so they give their money – and this is taxpayer dollars – to a group … and those people give money to politicians. These are tax payer dollars that they are giving away for campaign contributions. Look around us. We need that money, and some of these cyber charter schools’ moral compasses aren’t pointing in the right direction. They will take an average student and they will find a (learning support issue), like a speech problem, and that $11,000 now becomes $18,000. Usually most kids are identified by second grade, and these kids are in middle school and high school. Don’t get me wrong. If they grave a problem we will do what we can to help them out, but they make up problems to get extra money, and that’s not appropriate. Why would you do that to kids to get extra money. That’s a real issue because when that money leaves the district, that means there is less money in the district for the kids in school, and that’s a problem.
The other problem we have, and its globally not just in Bellwood, is the number of people going into education. So the cost of 4 years off schooling is about $100,000. You’re going to spend $100,000 only make $45,000. The math isn’t there. I can go be a truck driver and work for Sheetz and make between $80,000 and $100,000 a year, and had no money laid out for college. Our competition to recruit people here is so severely eroded. We’re in a crisis. In 2008, I worked at Shanksville, which is a very small school, graduates about 30 kids a year. Tiny. We hardly paid anything. We had 176 applicants for one position. Here at Bellwood just recently, we’re happy if we have five people apply for a job. We do a very good job at making sure we get the best people out there. But when you have that pool go from so many to so few, what does that mean for the future of education?
BLUEPRINT: Is there anyone you want to thank here from Bellwood?
Dr. McInroy: Everybody, sincerely. Here’s the thing that impresses me. I walk down the hallway and I see the kids and they say ‘Hi.’ I’m not a big part of your life. I’m really not. You see me once in a blue moon and the fact that you can still say hello and to me is really cool. To me that what’s its all about, and I really apricate that kids take time out of their day and talk to an old guy like me, and the same with the teachers and community. We did a lot of changing here and change is hard and they were all about it. There are a lot of people to thank, way to many that I could just give you a list. There are a lot of people to thank and a lot of people I am going to really miss.
BLUEPRINT: What’s are some words of wisdom you’d like to leave with the student body?
Dr. McInroy: Love one another. When you guys graduate, everyone is going to go their separate ways. While you have each other, enjoy one another, be kind to one another, have patience for one another. I grew up in western New York and I see no one I graduated with ever. It’s hard, it’s different, but you’ll get new friends and a new life, so while you have each other in school, take care of each other, enjoy each other, be there for each other. That’s the best words of wisdom I can give you. And love your parents and grandparents. You’re not going to have them forever. Love them and be with them. Sometimes its hard to be nice to someone when they are mad at you and you still need to love them and get through what you’re going through.