With the announcement of his July retirement behind him, Dr. Thomas McInroy, superintendent of the Bellwood-Antis School District, recently reflected on a successful career in education that spanned over three decades. McInroy sees education as a calling, one that he has loved.
Dr. McInroy came from a long line of educators, including both of his parents. He grew up in Tioga County. In 1988, he was the 67th member of his family to graduate from Mansfield University in the field of education. After earning his bachelors degree, for 10 years Dr. McInroy was a K-12 art teacher at Forbes Road. During that time, he earned his masters degree and then his principal papers. He left Forbes Road to become the assistant high school principal at Everett; then went to Westmont Hilltop to become the assistant middle school principal; and then spent three years at Tussey Mountain as the elementary principal. Having experience with all of the age groups of students throughout his career, McInroy said that he really doesn’t have a favorite. They all come with their own unique personalities and strengths, he said.
In 2006, Dr. McInroy began working as superintendent in Shanksville-Stonycreek, the district where Flight 93 crashed into a farm field in 2001. He was there for the five-year anniversary of 9-1-1. During his time there, he finished his doctorate. At that small school, McInroy said he had a hand in almost everything, due to the nature of the district. He planned to retire in 2018, after logging 30 years in education.
The opening for a superintendent at Bellwood-Antis, though, changed his plans. He had B-A in his sights before, as it was “a good school,” he said, “with a really good reputation.” At the end of his educational journey, Dr. McInroy spent seven years in Bellwood-Antis, in a whirlwind of changes and innovation.
In his first initiative at B-A, Dr. McInroy worked hard with his new team to turn the budget around. He said that most neighboring districts had over 30 percent reserved; but B-A had only 14 percent at the time. “We were one bad day away,” McInroy said. If COVID had come at that time, it would have been devastating for the local district. McInroy, the school board, and the rest of the team made some quick changes during his first year and were able to put $1.1 million back into reserve; then $1.5 million in year two; and $1.1 million again in year three; and eventually, the district got back to where they should be, McInroy said.
With the budget in hand, Dr. McInroy was able to begin working on better staffing, bringing back positions that had been lost. One focus was the mental health needs of the students. There had been just one guidance counselor and one social worker. A guidance counselor was added in each building and they brought back the special education students, who had been going to other districts beginning in fifth grade.
Facilities were also addressed. A $2.1 million much-needed roof replacement was completed, a new phone system was installed. The security system was completely revamped, with new systems for check-ins, new/additional security staff, and more than 100 security cameras.
Textbooks which hadn’t been updated in 11 years were replaced in a new and innovative way. McInroy said that the team compared the cost of textbooks with the cost of iPads. “Every kid could have one versus the textbook series, that would only be grades five to 12,” he said, “so it made sense.” When the team decided to go the route of new technology, it also necessitated the upgrade of the district’s infrastructure. “[Technology] has to work in the classroom every time,” McInroy said.
Overall, moving to iPads was a big project, necessitating an upgrade of the district’s backbone and wireless features. The district chose the iPads over Chromebooks to allow for asynchronous education. McInroy said that the decision was made so all would have the opportunity for an equal education, not increasing the disparity between those who could afford internet and those who could not.
This move into technology also caused the team to rethink the use of space in the middle/high school. The large library, which had been increasingly unused much of the time, was revamped into a media center. There, students are able to connect, to study, to work on group projects, and even to grab a cup of coffee, hot cocoa, or a snack – much like a student hub on a college campus.
The middle/high school has basically been rebuilt from top to bottom and from the inside out: the budget, the roof, overhead paging, phones, technology, water pipes — it has been a lot of improvement in just seven years.
In the elementary school, too, a lot of change has been happening – much of it, teacher-driven. McInroy explained, “It’s a safe place to try new things and to be innovative. That innovation has led not to one documentary, but four… To have one of those in a career is unheard of; but to have four is kind of like winning the Super Bowl four years in a row. I’m really proud of the people that are here. This doesn’t happen just anywhere.”
Dr. McInroy said, “The plan has been from the very beginning to not only fix things, but when you have to fix things, to be progressive when you fix them. If you have to do it over again anyway, why not just do it right.” The improvements were change not just for the sake of change, but for a purpose.
McInroy was quick to point out that all of the progress is very much a team effort. “We’re a team,” he said, “from the school board, through the administration, through the faculty, through the support staff, through the kids, through the parents, through our volunteers – we are one team.”
When again considering his retirement, Dr. McInroy kept the team in mind. He said he had long conversations to come up with an exit plan to ensure a smooth transition.
Looking towards the end of his career, McInroy is pleased; but the end is bittersweet. He has a lot of mixed emotions. “I love kids,” he said. “The time with the kids is what energizes me.” Following his retirement, McInroy said that he will probably step in and do some interim work as a superintendent here and there, a few months at a time.
He also has his real estate license, and may sometimes work with his wife, Cheryl, who owns a real estate agency in Bedford. The couple has three grown children and two grandchildren, so he is looking forward to having more time with family. And McInroy has diverse interests, including flying — he is a licensed pilot, traveling — he would love to go to Italy, woodworking, and golf. “I’ll find something,” he said. “I can’t just sit.”
Whatever he is doing beyond education, McInroy will look back fondly on his time in Bellwood-Antis. “It’s just a good place to be. It’s a good place to raise your kids. It’s a good place to have your kids come to school. It’s amazing... The people who work here are incredibly intelligent and always put the kids first.” He hopes that the next person sitting in his office will also value the people, be thoughtful, and be a part of the team moving forward.