When classes come to an end this year at North Hopkins Independent School District, the staff and students will be saying goodbye to Superintendent Tommy Long and his wife, Carolyn, who have spent a combined 44 years of leading students and teachers at the school. But many say it will be more like saying goodbye to members of their family than just a teacher and administrator.
“This truly is a family,” said Dee Melton, a resource teacher at the school. “It’ll be different.”
Barbara Cockrum, who’s been employed at the school for 34 years, said that the Long’s announcement earlier this year of retirement was “devastating news,” because of their impact on the school.
“Take all the good superlatives you can find,” she said, “and apply to them.”
Those who watched Tommy grow up at the school were neither surprised to see him pursue a career in education, nor that he was successful in stepping up to fill the role left when his father, Pete Long, retired in 1981.
“He turned out just like I expected,” said Ruby Wilburn, who not only went to school with Tommy at North Hopkins but has taught third grade there for more than 25 years. “He stepped in the role and has done one really great job. He seemed to follow in his father’s footsteps, and those were big shoes to fill. We’ll miss him. He’s a vital part of everything.”
Members of the Long family have been a vital part of the school since 1942, when Pete Long and others proposed consolidating the Posey, Addran, Macedonia, Birthright and Beckham schools in northern Hopkins County. “Mr. Pete,” as he was known to his students and teachers, took over as superintendent not long after the first school was built and guided the district until his retirement in 1981.
“I’ve been going to the school here since I can remember,” said Long, who not only graduated from North Hopkins High School 40 years ago, but spent a great deal of his early years on the campus. “It’s time for something else. I’m to the point I think its time to try something different, spend some time with my wife, just us together. It’s been a nice journey, but now I’m ready for another trip.”
His wife, Carolyn, also plans to end her 23-year career as a social studies teacher at North Hopkins High School at the end of the school year, as well.
“He has cows and other things to take care of,” said Carolyn, who said she’s got several little projects she’ll be taking care of in her retirement.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time — it’s time to do something different,” Tommy Long said. “It seems a good time, to give us options to pursue other things together, and not work every day.”
But don’t expect them to miss too much — they still plan to attend many school activities. In the past, one of, if not both of, the Longs has been at nearly every school activity during their tenure — a constant fixture.
“We’re not moving,” the superintendent reassures. “We’re staying in the community.”
Kenneth Cockrum, who coached Tommy Long in high school and also served on the board of education while Long was superintendent, said both Tommy and his brother, Sulphur Springs attorney and former district attorney Frank Long, grew up “as part of the school, not just students,” and described the family legacy as a part of the “institution,” not just school staff.
“We’re not looking forward to losing him,” Cockrum said. “We don’t want to see him go, but at the same time I think that we want him to be happy. I was pleased to work with him on the school board.”
Long credits the many staff and administrators he worked for during his early years in education from the mid 1970s through 1988, for their mentorship and tutelage which helped him develop the skills needed to become an administrator.
Right out of college, he started working for Harvey Milton at Fannindel ISD as a teacher, coach and bus driver, coaching for both girls and boys at the junior high level, including football, basketball, track and baseball.
Long remained in Fannindel for four years before moving back to Hopkins County to serve as physical education coordinator for Sulphur Springs schools.
“I taught PE at all the elementary schools,” he recalled. “I’d go to each school — there were five at the time— one day a week.”
He would sometimes help Danny Dunham, the assistant superintendent.
“In the old days, they’d keep registers of attendance by hand,” Long said. “The district would take [the results] from each school and compile them as a district as a whole. Once a week I’d get all the attendance and make a district summary. I was the accumulator.
“That was my early taste of paperwork,” Long said.
He said working with all the school principals helped him learn more about how schools function and “work.”
“I’ve been very fortunate to have good people to work with and for,” Long said.
He also credits Dunham as being very influential and helpful through the years.
“Mr. Dunham was very kind. He was my mentor. He tutored me and gave me a lot of advice over the years,” Long said.
He spent four years as the director of community education when current SSISD Superintendent Patsy Bolton was still the director of elementary education. He recalled when Paris Junior College began offering various community classes in Sulphur Springs at the high school, including yoga, dance, exercise classes and, of course, college courses.
“It was a lot of fun. It was a great time to work with that,” Long said.
Four years later, when Lem Plaxco was the superintendent, Long went to work as principal at Austin Elementary. In 1988, Long got the opportunity to truly go home as superintendent at North Hopkins school, where he soon jumped into an expansion project.
Expansion of school facilities was one of Long’s many accomplishments, Kenneth Cockrum said.
“He was very instrumental in construction. After he got here, we built all of this,” Cockrum stated, waving to the many facilities and structures the school now boasts. “His name is on most of the plaques.”
Long remembers the school had limited classroom space when he first arrived.
“There were two wings when I first came — well, two halls, really,” Long recalled. “When they finished, there were four rooms at that time, and eight in another wing.
“There were 250 to 260 kids. when I came. At Austin, which was just elementary, there were 280,” Long said. “Now there are about 440, and we’ve seen steady growth, an average of eight to 10 students a year. We’ve been being about 450 to 460 and have been as big as 475.”
In 1994-1995, eight additional classrooms were constructed to accommodate that growth. The older section was renovated into space for a library, and a media center and a new gym were added.
More recently, the district has added portable buildings such as the shop facility. The maintenance shop has been “redone,” and last year a new cafeteria was constructed to seat up to 500. The old cafeteria was renovated to make two classrooms, a science lab and offices.
Long said a lot of the credit for the successful expansion of the facilities goes to the members of the community and school board.
“We’ve been able to adapt and add on and use space wisely,” said Long. “The community has been super, passing bond issues to do the buildings, and there’s not really been a lot of complaint about taxes. People in the community are willing to support the kids.
“The kids deserve as good as anyone else does. The community really supports the school.”
The student population and facility aren’t the only increases on campus Long has seen. Since he started working at the school in 1988, the staff has grown from 18 teachers to 40.
Not one to take the spotlight, Tommy Long says NHISD has simply been very fortunate to have a relatively stable staff, with few changes over the years.
But others say Long has shown an innate ability to select faculty members who complement the close “family” at NHISD.
“One of his greatest accomplishments is putting together a staff that’s not only competent, but that works well together, who think of themselves as family,” Kenneth Cockrum explained. “They’re competent and pull together, work well together.”
“Our faculty is one big extended family,” Carolyn Long said. “We’re very close.”
The faculty even includes former students, such as Tonya Griner, and Tommy and Carolyn’s oldest son John, who after obtaining their education degrees were hired to teach at their alma mater.
“We have several kids that have graduated and want to come back and have developed into great teachers. They’ve really done us a good job,” Long said. “Others have also gone on to teach at other schools. It’s always nice to see them be successful at other schools too.”
Like most Texas schools, there have been areas that have proven challenging in recent years at NH, such as finding highly qualified teachers to fill vacancies in special areas such as foreign language, science and math.
Fortunately, employee retention is such that, aside from a few teachers leaving due to family moves, retirement and the like, most spend their careers at NHISD.
Long also says the district has “great students” and “school leadership with quality people serving on the school board who make the school what it is.”
“They made my job easier. They provide for the needs of the school,” Long said of the board.
Both Carolyn and Tommy Long said that while both their sons, John and Reid, graduated from NHHS, they consider all of the students at NHISD “our kids.”
“We’ve had a whole lot of children graduate here. We want to give all students at North Hopkins all the opportunity we can to come here. The goal is for every child to have every possible option to prove that every student can be successful.”
One area he’s proud to see develop has been the North Hopkins Scholarship Foundation, which grew out of one teacher’s idea to give students a good start on the future. For about a dozen years, the school and community members have continued to raise quite a bit of money, which is awarded to graduates in the form of scholarships. This year, the foundation raised $20,000 “which will help a lot of students start college at least.”
Businesses, Long noted, have also been very supportive in helping the district’s success over the years.
Also, as the trend has increased to include more students pursuing a college degree, the school has also continued to improve its curriculum to offer college preparatory classes.
Carolyn has had a pivotal role at the school, too, but shines her light in the classroom by shaping young minds.
Danna Lewis, NHHS science teacher and volleyball coach, credited Mrs. Long’s social studies lessons as preparing her for and getting her through the subject in college.
“They’re all our kids. Half of Reid’s class calls me mom. Having them was just like having any other kids. Our students’ kids are like our grandkids,” noted Carolyn.
She’s also been the school’s academic coordinator for at least 13 years, which continued the schools impressive record of 17 district UIL championships in the last 18 years.
Of course, she credits the students “who put a lot of effort and time into what they do, and do it really well. We’ve been fortunate.”
This year, NHISD was paired into a more challenging academic district by UIL. Despite the fact that the school didn’t earn the sweepstakes championship this year, they still had three students qualify for the state UIL meet.
Barbara Cockrum said all other schools within the UIL district will miss Carolyn Long’s organization and efficiency at the academic meets — she’s the one they call when they have questions.
Johnny Lennon, agriculture teacher and junior class sponsor along with Carolyn Long, said he will truly miss Mrs. Long, who he has worked side by side with in planning and carrying out the junior/senior prom for more than 20 years.
“They’re wonderful people. They’re going to be missed very much. North Hopkins will never be the same without either of them,” said Lewis, who notes that “there was never an event that I didn’t see either of them there.”
“They support all programs,” Lewis added. “I had Mrs. Long, and Mr. Long is my superintendent here. Mr. Long called all my lines in my games.”
“I’ve worked with them 13 years,” said music teacher Debra Wood. “They’re wonderful people.”
“They’ve done so much,” said Sharlene Brice, school secretary. “I can’t imagine the school without them.”
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