NORTH SMITHFIELD – “There’s good in every kid.”
The mantra – clearly among the ideas that have guided Principal Timothy McGee in his seven years leading North Smithfield High School – were a part of his brief and humble speech as district officials announced his retirement this week.
McGee, a resident of North Smithfield, began his career in education when he was hired as technology instructor and department chairman for the West Warwick School Department in 1990. In 1999, he took a job in North Smithfield as a technology education instructor. He was named assistant principal of NSHS in 2010, and moved up to the role of principal after Robert Mezzanotte left the school in 2015.
He has a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in technology education from Rhode Island College.
But it was neither his education or vast experience that were the focus on Tuesday, May 17 as his colleagues spoke of their respect for the educator and his success in leading the school.
“When I first heard about this, I said to myself, ‘please say it isn’t so,’ because I really didn’t want Mr. McGee to leave us,” said School Committee Vice Chairperson Jean Meo. “I have to say that your commitment, your dedication and your efforts have influenced so many students, and you have made such a difference in this school. I hope you’re proud of yourself because we are very proud of you.”
“I’ve always noticed is that you caught the kids that nobody seemed to pay attention to,” said Committee member Peg Votta.
Whether delivering a rhyming commencement speech in a hat fit for a Dr. Seuss character, or performing in his down time as the bass guitarist in the band Black Plain Road, it is clear McGee has left his mark at NSHS in a way that defies the cliched vision of principal as stuffy disciplinarian. When he was named to the position in 2015, McGee said his interests outside of the classroom included architectural design, cabinet making, motorcycles and restoration of classic cars.
“Your skill set: you weren’t just the principal. You weren’t just a teacher,” said Votta. “You were there fixing speakers. You’re out there in the shop class helping people build stuff.”
“You have such a great way about you,” Votta added. “We were honored to have you and you will be greatly, greatly missed.”
Supt. Michael St. Jean said he has gotten along so well with the school leader that he had to keep his remarks short, lest they turned into a roast.
“He is the most dignified gentleman, the kindest person, I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” St. Jean said.
“I have always looked to you for advice and council and I’m going to miss you,” said School Committee Chairman James Lombardi, who later presented McGee with a plaque to thank him for his service.
Lombardi later told NRI NOW that a selection committee is in the process of choosing McGee’s successor. St. Jean said the committee consists of the district’s assistant superintendent; director of pupil personnel; the NSHS assistant principal; four department heads from NSHS and one parent.
As of Wednesday, May 25, a new principal for the school had not been named.
For his part, the outgoing principal remained modest as he delivered remarks on his tenure.
“It’s a nice place to work. My entire staff is unbelievable, so I was put in a position where you can’t fail,” McGee said.
He also had kind words for the students, noting just recently a speaker at the school commented on how respectful they were.
“They listen. They pay attention,” McGee said. “They don’t get that everywhere. I hear that time and time again about my students.”
“All the years I’ve been teaching I’ve had a handful of kids that were just misguided. There’s good in every kid,” McGee said. “The kids are great. I always tell them I’m the weak link. I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”
“That speech was so like you – giving credit to everyone else and not taking any for yourself,” said Meo. “Thank you for everything you’ve done.”
Editor’s note: The above article has been updated to include the makeup of the selection committee.