By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
LINDSAY – The only constant in the Lindsay Unified School District is change, and no one has witnessed more positive changes that have taken place in the educational system than Cheryl Cook.
Cook, proudly wrapped in her colorful wardrobe, began her career as a substitute teacher in Delano before taking a position as a kindergarten teacher in 1981 at Washington School, a K-1 school at that time. Cook would spend the next 30 years as a teacher, principal, administrator and librarian in the district, a big part of the reason she was named this year’s Woman of the Year. During her 17 years at Washington, she served as a dean of students, two years as vice principal and several years as principal before taking on that role at Jefferson School, then a school for grades 2 and 3, in 1998.
After one year at Jefferson, Cook was promoted to the district office to serve as Director of School and Community Services. In addition to overseeing bilingual education, migrant education and personnel, one of Cook’s most lasting jobs was to guide the district through its transformation to K-6 schools at Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.
“I have enjoyed every position I’ve held in the district because I was able to make a difference in the lives of children either directly or indirectly,” Cook said. “I also enjoyed working with parents to guide them through their child’s education, answer their questions and help them find answers.”
Cook retired in 2003 but took a special assignment as a librarian at Jefferson School shortly thereafter. As a librarian, Cook did far more than her job description by organizing Dr. Suess days, coaching and mentoring teachers, organizing school festival and carnivals and serving on School Site Council.
“I got to spend all of that time with the kids and had no stress,” Cook said. “It was one of the best jobs I have ever had.”
During her time at Jefferson, Cook also saw the switch to K-8 schools in Lindsay and the implementation of the Performance Based System (PBS). Cook said both new systems were part of a transformation within student culture. As siblings attended the same schools longer, younger students reported to their parents about their older siblings while older students set an example for their younger brothers and sisters to follow. The performance based system made behavior part of a students’ grade district wide, which drastically reduced bullying, gangs and violence on campus and made students more responsible for their own decisions and learning decisions.
“Having all of the kids at one school was a real advantage for families,” Cook said. “And PBS included kids in their own education. That’s made a huge difference in how many kids graduate and go on to do great things at four-year universities.”
Even after retirement, Cook continued to be a part of helping children on and off campus. When the Lindsay Kiwanis Club began to allow women to join, Cook was the first to sign up and remains a fixture in the service club to this day. She helped start the TERRIFIC Kids recognition program, organized bicycle rodeos and helped raise thousands of dollars for scholarships and community service projects, including new playground equipment for Centennial Park.
“Our mission is to change the world one child and one community at a time,” Cook said. “I have definitely been a part of a group that does that in Lindsay.”
Cheryl is also a member of a local PEO (Philanthropic Education Organization) chapter, embracing the friendship of the sisterhood that comes with faith and community service, as well as supporting the Lindsay HOW (Helping One Woman) dinners, setting tables for Lindsay Hospital Guild’s annual breakfast, and is a fan of the Red Hat Floozies group.
For the last five years, Cook has been a two-time board member and actor for the Lindsay Community Theater. She said it has been a struggle keeping the theater viable but that a core group of committed volunteers keeps live theater alive. Her favorite role was playing the Ghost of Christmas Past in the Redneck Christmas Carol. Cook said the productions bring people back to town and the concert series attract people from all over Tulare County. But, more importantly for Cook, the theater involves children in every play and even has a youth production that is only for children once every season.
“Giving back is just a part of who I am,” Cook said. “I will continue to volunteer as long as I can do it.”
Cook is supported by her husband Rusty and her grown children Rusty and Alyson. She is the proud grandmother of two but a motherly figure to generations of Lindsay school children. Cook said she routinely sees former students who recall her dressing up as Dr. Seuss, pushing them to be better students and now, in retirement, reminding them to do the same for their children. There are many positive changes in store for Lindsay youth, and, just like the last 30 years, Cook hopes to be part of that change.
“If everyone gives back something it makes Lindsay a better place to live and work and visit,” Cook said.