OAKWOOD — Tim Lee has been able to do what few educators have: Teach and serve as principal at the same high school he attended as a wet-behind-the-ears student.
Soon — June 30, to be exact — that will end. The 55-year-old principal is retiring.
It will end 33 years as an educator, all but two of them at Oakwood, the last eight as principal.
“I go to work every day in the same building I went to school in,” the 1983 Oakwood High grad said. “I’ve been blessed to be here.”
He grew up north of Oakwood and still lives there.
After earning a degree in journalism with a goal of being a sports writer, Lee realized the error of his ways and went back to Eastern Illinois University to get a degree in education.
The Cincinnati Reds fan — he said the last 40 years have seen mostly tough times since the Big Red Machine ruled the National League — said he has “always enjoyed sports, and it’s still a big part of me.”
“I just realized there were a lot of late nights covering the games, and I didn’t know if that was the direction I wanted to go,” he said.
Lee has kept his hand in sports, coaching baseball, basketball and cross country.
“I filled in virtually every job when needed,” Lee said.
And he didn’t completely forsake the journalism side — he was adviser for the award-winning school newspaper, The Oakwood Times, for 15 years. This is the first year the newspaper has not been published. Chalk up another victim to the pandemic.
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The people have been one of the best things about Lee’s job in education — “the relationships that you build with the teachers and the students is probably the most rewarding,” he said. “The kids ... are great. I taught a lot of their parents.
“You go to a ball game and you reminisce and joke around, and you talk about the silly things they did in your class.”
Lee used to take his students on a local field trip, showing freshmen there is history in and around Oakwood.
“A lot of them come up and say they remember that,” he said. “‘This is where an old coal mine was; the railroad used to run through here; the little house where they claimed Lincoln stopped.’ Those stories hit home.”
Lee taught a lot of freshmen and got to watch them mature as they worked their way toward graduation. He remembers teaching them the school song and getting them fired up for pep assemblies.
On May 22, he will speak at the graduation for the class of 2021. It will, no doubt, be bittersweet for Lee, but he will keep it all about the seniors.
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Superintendent Larry Maynard said Lee’s greatest skills are “building a positive learning culture that is always focused on relationships, rigor, high expectations and growth.”
Lee is a “strong communicator,” Maynard said, pointing to Lee’s strong relationships with staff, students, parents and the community.
That relationship-building is shown by Lee’s knowing the names of all of his students “and greeting them by name on a daily basis,” he said.
Maynard called Lee “a master teacher and principal.”
Lee has seen enrollment at Oakwood decline from about 370 when he started to about 300 now.
He has seen a change in society mirrored in students. And the expectations placed on educators have risen.
“We are expected to do so much more,” he said. “It used to be communities, churches, local government did some of those things. More and more is being put on the schools.”
Still, he said the community is proud of the role Oakwood High School continues to play.
Lee doesn’t have any grand plans to start on when he retires. His wife, Dawn, is a counselor at the school, so no round-the-world trips are in the works until she retires. The Lees have three sons — Logan, Cameron and Parker.
Short trips, some baseball games and lots of reading are on his to-do list.
“People have offered coaching, subbing and reffing” jobs, but he isn’t sure if he’ll do that, he said. At least not right away.
Then again, if the Reds come calling ...