Last Day of School for Dr. Thomas McCannLast Edited:
Junior class officer Marilyn Miquel had no idea she would have to give a testimonial for retiring Vineland High School principal Thomas McCann, but when put on the spot recently out the blue, the thoughts just flowed like she was just waiting to be asked.
“You can really feel his spirit," said Miquel, who has worked with McCann and watched him interact with her follow classmates for the past three years as one of Vineland's student leaders.
“He really loves Vineland High School and he really believes in us as students. That's something we're all going to miss. How welcoming he is to all of us. He's really good at boosting morale among all the students," Miquel continued.
After 36 years as a public school administrator and the longest serving principal in the history of Vineland Public Schools, McCann will retire at the end of the month. He has spent the last 12 years as principal at Vineland High School and is not shy about saying that he still loves his job.
He will say goodbye to many of the students when Vineland H.S. closes for the summer on June 20th.
"I will miss it tremendously," McCann said earlier this month about his upcoming departure from education full time. "I really don't want to retire. I feel like I have to retire. I enjoy going to school. I've been eating lunch with students for the past 36 years. I will sit down and reach the newspaper in the lunchroom at times and sometimes the students will come and sit with me. The kids make you go. I'm going to miss it more than the kids."
McCann, a former vice principal and then principal at Landis Intermediate School before becoming principal at Vineland High School, has showed his love for the school and the students by words and action.
The sport of rowing would likely not be at Vineland if it was not for McCann and he made sure the program stayed alive this year, despite his myriad of duties as principal.
"In 2001, my daughter was a senior at Vineland and she and her friends wanted to start new sport," McCann said, adding that he instructed her to go to the athletic director and others there, leading to the birth of the sport at the school.
“They got the club started and Holy Spirit gave them a boat for free," McCann said. "They got a coach for free in me. Since it was my daughter and I did crew when I was (a student) at Temple, I coached it. It really worked out well and now it's a sport."
McCann had left coaching the sport when he became principal at Vineland, but in March he returned one last time when the current crew coach quit. He said he was approached by the athletic director about it since the late resignation left the program in a pinch.
"It was too late to get someone else to do it," McCann said. "I said [to the athletic director], 'I have no time, but yes.' We had a very successful year. Paul Myers, our soccer coach, coached the team as well.
"I didn't want the sport to die. If it's all about kids, I care. This program can't die. By the time we would have gotten board approval, the school year's over. I was there every day on the river with the kids. That's how that happened."
If there is a problem, he knows how to fix it, no matter how complicated it is.
Myers, who also works with McCann as a counselor at Vineland, said his time with the principal coaching the students was invaluable.
"The first time we started coaching together, he took me on the tour of the boat house," Myers said. "Just how his spirit lights up while he was showing me all the different types of boats and the original boat that was donated to us in 2001 when the program started was special.
"Crew is certainly a family tradition with him. It's in their blood. We would not have crew without Dr. McCann. Him being a mentor to me has been tremendous," Myers added.
Terry Kuhnreich said she first met McCann when she served as Vineland School Board president and he was principal at Landis. She said McCann offered her office space for her visits, but more than that a listening ear and jovial spirit that made her feel part of the school.
When she was later hired by the district as a teacher, Kuhreich said McCann was "nothing but supportive" with the Search for Conscious classes, an elective that tackles tough issues like diversity, inclusion and immigration. She said McCann would often personally greet guest speakers to her class.
"[McCann's] character is a genuine like for people," Kuhnreich said. "He takes you for who you are and that's pretty big. A lot of people don't do that and have preconceived ideas about you. He's the real deal.
"He's a real person. He doesn't keep you at arm's length. You don't feel pressure of being obligated to speak to him. You want to talk with them. I'm a talker, too, so three hours later the conversation stops," Kuhnreich added.
McCann said that he loved pushing school clubs and initiatives during his time as principal. With school clubs, McCann said he believed if a student did not do well in school he or she would keep coming and stay engaged because the club gave them a reason to be there.
He said initiatives like getting a working air-condition system for the high school and receiving accreditation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools were must-dos before retiring.
McCann said it took four years to get air-conditioning installed into the high school building — which did not have it — and still had to work out various "kinks." The Middle Schools accreditation was completed last fall, securing Vineland High's standing for the next seven years.
Carole Dallago, veteran Vineland teacher and advisor for the school's National Honor Society, said her children attended Landis when McCann served as an administrator there and they had strong feelings for him.
"If there is a problem, he knows how to fix it, no matter how complicated it is," said Dallago, who has been at the school for 31 years and confirmed McCann's commitment to school clubs at the high school. "He just has the right charisma. He loves the students but he also loves the staff. There's nothing not to like about him."
Dallago said she remembered in 2014 when the honor society picked McCann as one of two "Superhero Role Models" in a vote of more than 100 of its student members. The moment was memorialized in pictures and newspaper articles.
"He was very touched by that," Dallago said. "The kids like him because he listens to them. He doesn't accuse."
Two of what can be called "McCann-isms" came up repeatedly in talking with Vineland staffers. One saying McCann often repeated was, "Celebrate your victories," regardless how small.
McCann said he often used the phrase to make sure students appreciated their accomplishments because "victories don't come all the time."
“I don't care if they celebrated with a coffee at Wawa," McCann said, who has thrown parties for sports wins and award accomplishments. "Don't take any victory lightly. It doesn't always happen that way. That's where that saying manifested from."
Another McCann saying, "Let's talk over coffee," he admitted had little to do with coffee at all, but creating a relaxing atmosphere in talking with students and staff.
"I love coffee, but coffee in that sense is a metaphor," McCann said. "It was a way of saying: we're not having a conference; we're not having a meeting. It changes to the tone. It relaxes the kids. We would have meetings and there was no coffee in sight, but it was a way to just relax and talk with people."
McCann talked about many other initiatives like the school store run by students, establishing a meeting office for students, and the Vineland high school history and memorabilia he helped establish over the years.
Miquel said, though, what she will remember the most are the times McCann would high-five students in the hallway or the time he stopped her to congratulate her on appearing in a local newspaper.
"He's like a grandfather or father figure to the kids," Kuhnreich said. "They know him and depend on him. It's hard for some staff members to see him go. He's overall a good guy that cares for staff, students and parents. He doesn't put himself above other people. He wants to be on the same level.
"When you talk with him, you know he will pay attention to you and make you feel special," she added. "You feel valued after talking with him. We expect to see him back in some capacity. He will be missed."
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