Former Fisher principal savors chance to fill in at the helm of elementary school

Former Fisher principal savors chance to fill in at the helm of elementary school

PAXTON — Being brought out of retirement may mean fewer walks on the trails of Mahomet's Lake of the Woods and fewer lunches with his friends, but Tom Shallenberger would have it no other way.

The 58-year-old Mahomet resident, who retired in June 2017 after a career in education that culminated in a nine-year run as principal of Fisher Junior/Senior High, has been having a blast in his new — although temporary — position at Clara Peterson Elementary in Paxton.

"I love these little kids," said Shallenberger, who is serving as the school's interim leader through the first 45 days of the 2018-19 school year, as Principal Amanda Wetherell is on maternity leave.

"I've dealt with junior/senior high school kids for most of my career, but it's kind of fun to hang out with these little kids. And the staff here is top-notch, so it's been a great experience."

Shallenberger was supposed to begin his duties at Clara Peterson on Aug. 23, but he ended up starting earlier because Wetherell's baby girl arrived sooner than expected.

Shallenberger said he gladly accepted the interim role when Paxton-Buckley-Loda Superintendent Cliff McClure contacted him to ask if he'd be interested in filling in. The two had established a friendship years ago, back when McClure was coaching high school football at Hoopeston Area and Shallenberger at Mahomet-Seymour. But Shallenberger's willingness to fill the void had little to do with a favor for a friend.

"I love being around kids, and I just thought, 'I can do this for a little while,'" Shallenberger said. "I thought it's kind of nice, ya know, that I don't have to do it the whole year — I've just got to do it for a couple of months. "I'm enjoying myself, and I'm enjoying being around the kids."

The ongoing construction of an addition to Clara Peterson has caused few problems, he said — "other than (the school has) lost a few classrooms because they had to block off (the construction area) because they're adding on."

Shallenberger is expected to continue working there through Oct. 16. After that, he plans to return to retired life.

"I'm sure that my wife will have things for me to do," he said with a laugh.

Shallenberger also plans to get back to his walks on the trails of Lake of the Woods, which is "real close" to his Mahomet home. He also plans to get back to having lunches with his friends and "just enjoy the retired life," he said.

Shallenberger's career in education began as a physical education and health teacher at Mahomet-Seymour. He then was involved in a new alternative-education program at that high school before landing a job as Fisher's principal.

Throughout his career, Shallenberger also spent time coaching football at M-S, eventually landing in the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

When Shallenberger retired from Fisher, the district's superintendent, Barb Thompson, credited him with "an absolute and complete turnaround of morale in that building." Thompson said the turnaround began when Shallenberger initiated the changing of the hallways' paint from institutional green to the black-and-orange school colors.

Before arriving for work in Paxton earlier this month, Shallenberger had been to the Ford County community several times before. He said he likes the "nice, little town" and has taken a particular liking to The Humble Hog barbecue restaurant.

Shallenberger said Paxton is fortunate to have the school system it does.

"I just think that this town's very fortunate to have the dedicated staff that they have at this school — and, I'm sure, all the other schools — and Cliff is a top-notch administrator, too," he said.

Will Brumleve is editor of the Ford County Record, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit

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