'Nontraditional' local school official takes a bow
Health reasons force Cook to retire
July 21, 2010 | 08:50 AM
|FAMILY MAN -
Craig Cook has been many things to hundreds of people, but it's the people in his family who have helped him and made him proud.
His wife, Jody, is the deputy clerk for the town of Geneva. "She's always been my strength and inspiration," Craig said.
His son, Craig Jr., works for Honeywell Aerospace, subcontractors with NASA. Craig Sr. said his son works in the Goddard Complex in Washington D.C.
"My son really is a rocket scientist," Craig Sr. said.
His daughter, Cara, is in her junior year at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse majoring in theater management. Currently, she's the assistant stage manager for the musical "Rent."|
Craig Cook has left an indelible mark on the community as a prinicipal of Eastview and Denison schools and administrator of Woods School.
But his 30-plus years in education began with the end of his career in rock music.
"Being the nontraditional guy that I am, I joined a band and went on the road for eight years," Cook said.
After receiving his bachelor's degree in December 1971 from the University of Illinois-Chicago, Cook played guitar in the band Peppermill.
"Old people around here probably know the name because we worked at Top Deck," he said. "We played there every holiday week for eight years — Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. We always considered that to be our vacation."
The Seventies were a time when even bands such as The Who, REO Speedwagon and Steppenwolf played venues in the Lake Geneva area prior to their ascension into the annals of rock history.
For Cook, it was a great time to be in a band.
Then disco happened.
According to Cook, disc jockeys started snatching the gigs which would have gone to live bands.
"We would be booked for two to three years in advance, but then came the disco phase (and) it was time to start my career in education," he said.
A teacher and a rock star
Cook said he loves music and teaching equally.
"I always owed my teaching career to my dad," he said. "I was a musician through college and prior, but my dad made me promise I'd get my degree."
The first time Cook stepped into a classroom as a teacher was in 1979 in Markham, Ill.
The subject was math, the students were seventh- and eighth-graders and he worked to receive a master's degree while teaching for six years.
It would be the last job Cook would have strictly teaching.
In 1986, he became interim superintendent for the Markham School District.
"This was a large district that had seven elementary schools and one junior high," he said.
Later that year, Cook also served as assistant principal at different schools in that district.
"The superintendent I worked under was well-known for training people," he said. "He had some military (training) in his background."
Then, in 1989, Cook said he "got the itch" to work in a different school district.
Cook was hired as the principal of Eastview School, after the retirement of Hollis Herbison.
Five years later, he became principal at Denison Middle School.
On July 1, 1996, Cook officially began his career as Woods School administrator.
He said he "always had an eye" on the school because of how its student body comprises elementary and middle school age groups.
"So, when the Woods job came open, and it's a K-8 school, it was kind of a natural thing for me to apply," Cook said. "I was fortunate enough to get it."
But he said no matter where he was, there was one constant factor.
"My whole career, I always lived by one statement: What's best for kids," Cook said.
One common thread among teachers is their love of their students. That's the same for Cook, and then some.
"I always had an affinity toward kids who struggled, either academically, behaviorally, socially — what have you," he said. "It always gave me great satisfaction to help."
Then there's juggling the numbers.
"Probably the most challenging part was keeping the school district healthy and solvent in these economic times," he said. "There's always the balancing act of what's best for kids versus what's best for the budget."
Cook said he wasn't entirely ready to end his educational career. Throughout the 2009-10 school year at Woods, Cook was on medical leave. Nevertheless, his retirement became official Feb. 1. "I didn't want to retire, but health reasons forced me to," Cook said.
He wouldn't elaborate any further about his health.
However, probably one of the most memorable surprises of Cook's career was his late May retirement party, which was organized by Kelly Pankonin and Peggy Nielsen, of the Woods Parent Teacher Group.
"Over 400 people came," Cook said. "It was a humbling experience. I thought I'd just greet people and mingle for a little while, (but) the line of people just never stopped. ... I had no idea there would be that many people. I guess you don't realize how many people you touch in the community."
He also enjoyed another welcome surprise from his former staff at Woods School.
"They gave me a beautiful engraved bench, which is in my backyard," Cook said.
His advice for Ed Brzinski, the former Lake Geneva Middle School Spanish teacher who's taking Cook's place, is simple. "I would just listen and communicate," Cook said. "When you're a new guy, you've got to absorb everything."