In 1968, Tom Wilson hadn’t planned to take his business degree from Louisiana Tech down a fork in the road leading to a fourth grade classroom in inner-city Houston, but that’s exactly where his steps led him. A friend who taught in North Forest ISD convinced him to apply and, before graduation, he got an offer to teach accounting, economics and civics. While he was finishing a graduate summer session at LSU , however, the job went to a certified person, and Tom was assigned to a 4th grade classroom.
Mid-year, he married his college sweetheart, Lillie Beth, also a teacher, who joined him at North Forest. Elementary turned out to be a good fit, and he enrolled in an alternative certification program leading to a Master’s degree at the University of Houston. A year after earning his credentials, he became an assistant principal. In 1971, he returned to UH for a teaching fellowship, where he worked on a doctorate and supervised student teachers. The next year, he interviewed for administrative positions in two international American schools. When he won a post at the Escuela Particular de Negritos in Peru, the Wilsons packed their bags for South America. After a crash course in Spanish, two years on the job, side-travel to Argentina, Columbia, Ecuador, Panama, and Macchu Picchu, and immersion in the geo-political reality of living abroad, Tom returned to the Houston area, first as an elementary supervisor in North Forest, then as a junior high teacher in Alief.
His debut in Katy ISD was as a teacher at West Memorial Elementary, where he later became assistant principal, then principal – the first in Katy to attend the Harvard Principals’ Academy. One of his students at WME was his daughter Carrie, who describes her dad’s “amazing ability to humanize his job as principal,” but admits that she was “treated no differently from anyone else” (including the time she got sent to his office for talking in class). “My father was not just some man who ran the school from behind closed doors; he interacted with the teachers and students on a regular basis. You saw him in the hallways; he participated in school plays and school functions. The students at West Memorial felt as if they all had something worthwhile to contribute to the world. Every child in every school should feel that way!”
When the district’s Personnel Department added a new coordinator position, they encouraged Tom, now principal at Wolfe Elementary, to apply. One of his greatest gifts as a recruiter was to see the hiring process through a principal’s eyes. “When you work in human resources, your most important people are principals. You have to develop a ‘feel’ for what they want in a teacher and help them find the right fit.”
In the days when cell phones were far from ordinary, he started taking his on recruiting trips. When he spotted good candidates, he called principals for impromptu long-distance interviews. Since his retirement from Katy ISD in 2007, he’s continued to develop young teachers as an adjunct instructor at the University of Houston main campus, UH Victoria, and Houston Community College. As a namesake, he says he’s still learning the job description, but has told TWE staff to “use me any way you want to.” He posts a schedule where teachers can sign up for him to do whatever they need: have lunch with a student, read to a class, or mentor. It’s no wonder that the children at TWE call out to him: “Hi, Tom!” “Hi, Tom Wilson!” and even “Hi, Mrtomwilson!” They think he is a Wolfpack member right along with them.