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Spartan Chat

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Welcome to Spartan Chat — a podcast from Sycamore Community School District 427, where we connect with you to tell the stories of our community.

Co-hosted by Superintendent Steve Wilder and Manager of Communications and Community Engagement David Olson, Spartan Chat is another way for us to connect with you — our community. In this podcast, we'll answer your questions, convey important information, and tell our story.

Staff, students, and families are invited to participate by sharing feedback and joining us as guests on the podcast. Connect with us by emailing

Our Latest Episode

S01E03 Introducing Tom Rucker

NARRATOR: This is Spartan Chat, a podcast from Sycamore Community School District 427, where we connect with you to tell the stories of our community.

STEVE: Hello and welcome to the Spartan Chat podcast. My name is Steve Wilder. I'm Superintendent of Schools here in Sycamore. Today, I'm joined by Tom Rucker, who is the new principal at South Prairie Elementary School. Tom just started July 1st, so it has been a short timeline for Tom and his transition into the community here at South Prairie as well as Sycamore in general. So, Tom, thanks for joining me today.

TOM: Thanks for having me.

STEVE: Yeah. The podcasts that we've started really have been general topics that we talk about, but Tom, this is really an opportunity for you to get to know the community a little bit, give them a chance to get to know you, so we'll just jump into it.

TOM: All right.

STEVE: And this is going to feel, it's going to sound like an interview. Don't take it that way.

TOM: What's this light in here? Just kidding. There's no light.

STEVE: Just so you listeners know, there's no spotlight on Tom at all. There's nothing like that. So Mr. Rucker, do you want to start by just telling us a little bit about yourself, maybe your background in education?

TOM: Yeah, sure. I grew up in Wauconda, Illinois, son of a firefighter and a career volunteer. Then I went to NIU to study music education. And then out of college, my first job was Genoa-Kingston High School. I was the band director there as well as fifth grade, and I spent 10 years there and developed a good relationship with that community while living in Sycamore. So I also developed a great relationship with Sycamore and a great appreciation for the community. I've marched in the Sycamore Pumpkin Parade 12 times. So this will be hopefully the first year I'm getting to witness it from the side and what I've seen so many times. What a beautiful scene. And afterGenoa, I went to Belvidere for one year as the Dean of Students and really learned about a bigger community. And when I found this opportunity to join the Sycamore community and Sycamore team, I jumped at it because I've always appreciated this community a great deal.

STEVE: So you mentioned the Pumpkin Fest and I'm just starting my second year here, and that was a big selling point. Whenever I came for an interview or talked to people in the community, they always talked about Pumpkin Fest and how awesome it was. And I can't wait to see it, but because of COVID, I didn't have the opportunity last year. I'm looking forward to it this year. And like you, I'll get to watch it from the sidelines, not necessarily have to participate. So that'll be good. We'll both look forward to that.

TOM: Yeah.

STEVE: When it comes to education, Mr. Rucker, over the years maybe whether it was what you learned during your undergraduate training or just what you've developed over your years as an educator, what would you describe maybe as your core values or your philosophy about education and what we do in schools?

TOM: I think number one is developing positive relationships with students and those families. I became a band director to help develop a community within that school that spanned more than one year. In Genoa, it was eight years. I had a relationship with those students and families, and then I went to the next level admin to help create the community feel within the community and affect positive change. Schools are an important — imperative part of the community and those relationships are the number one most important thing. We want students to feel safe and we want parents to have that relationship with the staff and admin and feel comfortable with that. And that's why I'm really looking forward to Sycamore because it's always been an extremely positive community, and I've known many staff members for many years, and they've always bragged about how great this community and school district is.

STEVE: Well, I'm a huge believer in culture and relationships, and even though I've been here a short time, we experienced a lot last year and although there were challenges, and I've had great conversations with people over the last year or so, super understanding about the circumstances that we were in. Didn't always agree with the decisions that we made, but I always tell people, by and large, people have been super respectful when I had conversations with them, whether it was via email or a phone call or saw them out in the community. So I would say that I've seen that firsthand, that positive energy and that friendliness within the town and the community. Excited to have you be a part of that.

TOM: Thank you.

STEVE: For listeners, one of the typical interview questions is, "Okay, when you step into this position, what's your plan for the first 100 days or first couple of months or weeks?" Maybe give listeners just a taste for, as you transition here, and it's a quick transition over the summer, starting last Thursday and really have jumped in the deep end, but as you transition into your role here at South Prairie and in the community, what are some of the goals that you've got just to make that a smooth transition?

TOM: Yeah, well, it's important more now than ever, because that pandemic was, is, was tough on every stakeholder, everybody, staff, students, parents, community members that don't have students in the district, it was rough on everybody. And I think coming into this as a building leader schools need to be that hub where the community can lean, the children need to feel comfortable now more than ever, and engage with each other and with staff that feel supported and grow and develop those relationships. There are silver linings from this pandemic where technology, I think we value that face to face even more so, and I'm a big face-to-face guy, I'm a big smiley guy, and I am looking forward to seeing those smiling faces on day one and making those students feel more comfortable than ever in our schools here at Sycamore.

STEVE: Yeah, that was one of the things that we talked about during the interview, of course, before you were hired and as we transition to this year, and you said the pandemic is almost in the rear view mirror, it's not quite there yet, but we're moving in that direction. And as we move in that direction, totally agree, it's a matter of I think really resetting that comfort level for students and staff. I'm really excited to get updated guidance from the state and finalize some decisions about what next school year is going to look like. But I would totally agree, resetting that comfort level, restoring that confidence, and just somewhat of a sense of normalcy while we continue to learn from those silver linings from last year. So I think that's a really good point.

TOM: Right.

STEVE: This is a little bit shorter podcast than we've done on other topics. It's a really an opportunity for Mr. Rucker to introduce himself and talk a little bit about himself. Tom, I don't know how comfortable you are with this, but is there a little known fact about you that people in the community may or may not know that you're willing to share?

TOM: Oh, sure. I'm an open book here. But being the musician that I am, I do perform out regularly in a couple of groups as well as solo in the community. I play out at PJ's. I play at the wineries around the area and, again, the same way I approach education is I'm there to share music and make people smile and have a good time. And so if you see me out there, please feel free to say hi. I'm looking forward to meeting as many people in the community and being a part of this community as quickly as possible and as deeply as possible.

STEVE: Do you charge for autographs if people approach you in between sets or anything like that?

TOM: All free. I haven't talked to my publicist, which I don't have one, so there is an opening if anybody's looking for it.

STEVE: Well, Mr. Rucker, we're super excited to have you here in the community, excited to have you as part of South Prairie, but also the entire school district and Sycamore community. So, welcome. I know it's going to be fast and furious for the remainder of the summer until we get started, but I'm really excited. And I know you're going to do a great job and hopefully the listeners got a chance to get to know you a little bit better through this podcast. And they'll say hi when they see you in person. So thank you very much.

TOM: Thanks for the opportunity. I'm ready to hit the ground running.

NARRATOR: Thanks for listening to this episode of Spartan Chat, connect with us by emailing your comments, questions, and suggestions to


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