BENTON—A retired educator with a passion for education in rural schools is fulfilling the temporary role of Superintendent of Benton Schools.
After one month in the part-time position, Laura Nelson tendered her resignation to return to Illinois and complete the requirements for her retirement. The Benton School Board opted to hire Tom Andres of Merrimac to fill the position temporarily.
Andres has been in the field of education for 47 years, serving as a social studies teacher, counselor and administrator.
After retirement, he started filling in for schools that needed assistance in one way or another.
“I was just sold on the fact that Benton needed assistance now because of the person they hired leaving so late,” Andres said.
He commutes approximately 90 miles several days a week to assist the Benton Schools.
Andres wants to impact others the way his teachers impacted him.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t have a father and was in a poverty situation,” Andres said “There were teachers in my life who made a huge difference. The power of teachers and the power of education can take people places and show them things that are beyond their imagination at times. I just think that teaching and working ineducation isn’t really a job or a career; I think it is a calling. You have to have a real heart for working with kids, and seeing where they are and where they can be.”
Andres has three degrees: a bachelor of science in broad field social studies for grades 7-12 from UW-La Crosse, a masters degree in counseling for pre-K-12 from UW-Oshkosh and a specialist degree in educational administration from UW-Superior.
The New Lisbon native started his teaching career in the Hillsboro School District in 1970. He later taught at Laconia High School in Rosendale before landing his first counseling role at River Falls High School in 1975. He was also the counselor for two years at Rhinelander High School before moving into the assistant principal and activities director roles at that school. In 1990, he took over as principal at Sauk Prairie High School in Prairie du Sac for 10 years, then spent four years as superintendent of that school.
In 2004, Andres followed his dream of coaching and served as assistant women’s basketball coach at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio, for two seasons.
“Shortly thereafter, the shooting occurred in Weston and my friend, who was the superintendent, asked me to come over and help,” Andres said. “I helped for a little while and then the board asked if I would stay as their superintendent. So, I stayed for six years at Weston and worked with them.”
He also spent two years as superintendent in his hometown, then two months as superintendent at River Ridge School District in 2015 and four months as superintendent of Grafton School District in 2016.
Andres has earned accolades such as 1994 and 1995 WBCA All-Star Team Coach, 1997 Wisconsin Principal of the Year, 2004 Wisconsin Superintendent of the Year, 2002 inducted into the Wisconsin Coaches Association Hall of Fame and 2013 WBCA District Administrator of the Year.
“The key thing to remember is that I’m pretty good when I’m surrounded by good people,” Andres said. “I am surrounded by some good people here. This is a good place for kids.”
Benton has new faces for nearly half of its staff this year.
“When you have new staff, there are things that have to be done,” Andres said. “You have to pay close attention because when a new teacher starts they can get overwhelmed, they can run into a negative situation or a road block and it can really turn them off to education. We’ve had a lot of really good people come in. We want to take advantage of their positiveness and then support them.”
Andres said the rural schools can’t compete with the salaries of bigger schools.
He said he understands the desire for some teachers to use rural schools as a starting point to move into bigger roles with more opportunities elsewhere.
“There are some who have been in small schools for a long time,” Andres said. “They are precious for those schools.”
Andres said he likes working at small schools because he finds it easier to try new things and get support to see results.
“I’m not sure how long I’ll be here,” Andres said. “I want to see what is best for the school as a whole.”
Andres and his wife, Roxeanne, have three children and 10 grandchildren.