Finding a way to belong: New Vale High School principal credits influence of middle school teacher as key to his success

VALE – The moment a person’s life trajectory changes often occurs nearly unnoticed, barely a whisper across the span of years.
For Lucas Tackman, the new Vale High School principal, the shift in his life occurred after a tough time in Burns during elementary school and revolved around a middle school teacher and a Hannah Montana wig.
“In elementary school my friends and I spent a lot of time at the skate park. I guess I sort of dressed as a skate punk. The principal (at the elementary school) was very clean and she didn’t like how we presented ourselves,” said Tackman.
The principal, said Tackman, didn’t refrain from expressing her displeasure about Tackman’s friends and lifestyle.
“She just found ways to make me feel like I didn’t belong,” said Tackman.
The principal’s words made an impact.
“It was really tough because I’d go home, and I thought I was a really good kid. I got good grades,” said Tackman.
When Tackman entered middle school in Burns he still struggled with the principal’s words and attitude.
Then a social studies teacher made a lasting impact.
“One day her daughter, who was really young at the time, left this wig behind in the class. I put the wig on as a joke,” said Tackman.
The teacher, said Tuckman, thought it “was the funniest thing ever.”
“We just kind of made a running joke that I would be Hannah Montana, and she just kind of turned the tide for me. She found a way to make education important. She did it by building relationships, connecting so when I walked into the classroom I felt like I belonged,” said Tackman.
It was a small thing, a wig of a fictional character and a young middle school student. Yet that year in middle school, along with the example set by his father, steered Tackman down a road toward teaching.
“My dad coached everything and volunteered for everything and really put himself behind the needs of others. Now that I am an adult I would like to emulate that as much as possible,” said Tackman.
That sense of service is a key building block for the former Vale resident who stepped into the principal’s position earlier this summer.
Tackman replaces longtime principal Mary Jo Sharpe, who retired.
Tackman said he is anxious for school to begin Aug. 19.
“I cannot wait to get kids in this building,” he said.
Tackman, who taught sixth grade at Alameda Elementary School in the Ontario School District for the past five years, is in a way returning to his roots.
“Right out of high school I was an instructional assistant here in Vale. When I started college, the Vale School District was a huge support,” he said.
Tackman said Alisha McBride, Vale school superintendent, contacted him last spring about the opening at the high school.
“She said ‘I think you should apply for it.’ I thought I might as well shoot for it and I thought it was a good opportunity to come back to the place that always supported me,” he said.
Tackman said he plans to make a difference by connecting with students.
“I want to focus on the student experience here. I feel like it is our job to get kids to fall in love with coming here,” he said.
Tackman said while the high school will be his obvious focus he also believes the town and its residents are an important part of school.
“I have a huge desire to foster community in these kids. We will do everything we can to do that, to uphold the values of the community and set these kids up for success,” said Tackman.
Tackman’s own experience as a student, he said, also plays a role in his education methods.
“I look at budgets and schedules but my real job is it all boils down to kids. How do I create a really good student experience every day?” he said.
That experience, he said, includes ensuring students feel like they belong and are not isolated.
“I’ve always been good at connecting with kids. I feel like through that I can sometimes reach kids at a deeper level,” he said.
A good example, he said, was a student he taught at Alameda Elementary School.
“My second year teaching I was the only male teaching sixth grade. I got this student, he was one of those students people warned me about. He was loud and very disruptive,” said Tackman.
Tackman said he decided he was going to “find out what was going on with this kid.”
“It turns out he is a bright young man. He was just going through some stuff with his family that kind of caused him to come to school and feel anxious,” said Tackman.
Tackman worked with him every school day.
“On the last day of school, he was there in the middle of my classroom crying and he thanked me. He thanked me for being different. They all just labeled him as this loud kid and they wrote him off,” said Tackman.
Tackman still keeps tabs on the student, now in high school.
“He is doing a fantastic job,” said Tackman.
The Vale School District is dedicated to the same type of commitment to its students, Tackman said.
“Everybody is really invested in these kids,” he said.
Tackman said he does face some early obstacles.
“The biggest challenge is adjusting from this elementary mindset to one at the high school level. Every day at the high school there are so many things happening,” he said.
Tackman, 28, said he’s learned how important it is to always be sincere.
“Kids are limited to what you tell them. Or how you believe in them,” he said. “Kids perceive what you believe about them very well. I’ve learned that really good educators always believe in kids. Kids buy into that.
“They know who believes in them and who doesn’t.”

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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