By Roni Java
Special to Feather Publishing
Principal Thomas C. Brown strides down a quiet outdoor corridor of Quincy Junior-Senior High School (QHS) dressed in jeans, western boots and a bright red Trojan pullover.
“Hello,” he calls out with a friendly wave to his interviewer and takes a seat at a picnic table in the quad, a spot he refers to as his temporary office. “Please call me Tom, all my friends do.”
Welcome to Plumas County
Though QHS students are not yet back on campus as the COVID-19 health response continues, Brown, an amiable and award-winning principal from Reno who dedicated nearly three decades of his life to Nevada schools, has merged into his new post with ease.
In mid-April, the Plumas Unified School District (PUSD) appointed him to serve as principal for Quincy’s comprehensive junior-senior high school, a campus with history and fans stretching back generations.
Brown is a consummate leader and he lost no time getting to work supporting his students, teachers and staff. Online or otherwise, learning is still very much on track in Plumas County.
“We’re trying to do this in a totally different world now,” he explains. “But there is also an opportunity to reach out to our neighbors and friends with empathy and compassion. It’s an opportunity to connect, even in this weird time.”
With coronavirus safety issues added to the equation and logistical uncertainties on everyone’s minds for the rest of this school year and the beginning of the next, Plumas communities wonder when our campuses might reopen? Will distance learning continue? Under COVID-19 circumstances, it is taking the proverbial village, town and county to meet this extraordinary moment in education.
Optimism and opportunities
Optimism and experience are reflected in the blue eyes and smile of the seasoned administrator and educator. He describes today’s landscape as filled with “learning opportunities” and says he hopes local students and families are able to take advantage of everything PUSD is offering.
Countywide, the school district continues to advise students and families that the staff and teachers are uncompromisingly dedicated to providing a top education for every student. And PUSD’s team is making it happen each week.
“I loved teaching and it’s a super hard job,” Principal Brown says, looking back to his start in Reno classrooms. “You need support to be a great teacher and I’m here to support our Quincy teachers, to give them what they need and make sure they can do their job serving kids and families.”
He also takes a positive view of the future for Plumas County schools, describing his plans and hopes for the QHS campus that, as all schools do, means so much to the community.
“I love this area, it’s awesome, and I love what I do,” Brown says, citing some of the multiple rewards of his work. “Being a comprehensive high school principal — I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling. Supporting kids and teachers here, this feels like home.”
He’s a big proponent of building school spirit and a positive school culture where everyone works together.
“School pride and spirit come with those commitments and I love to see our kids cheering for their teams, their friends and their school,” he says.
Still a coach at heart, and part cheerleader too, Principal Brown concedes he’s a fan of going to games, hosting spaghetti feeds, seeing kids out there and involved, anything and everything that brings students together. He acknowledges how essential those milestones are in the lives of students, families and communities.
“I want school to be a place where parents are happy to bring their kids or put them on a bus to get them here, and I want students to be proud and happy to be here,” the principal says thoughtfully, explaining he has always held high hopes for his students.
“I want our kids to be able to do what they want to do when they leave here,” Brown muses. “I want them to be prepared for the world they are walking into and to be successful, well-rounded human beings who show kindness, empathy and respect for others.”
From East to West
Born in Radford, Virginia, Brown was raised partly in a small town of 5,028 people in the Ozarks of south central Missouri. His father was a mining supervisor around the country, overseeing everything from copper operations in Utah and aggregate rock in Arkansas to gold in Elko, Nevada. The Ozarks were a lot like Plumas County, Brown says, except trade out the pines and firs for oak trees.
“Yes, people ask me all the time about that Netflix series, Ozark,” he laughs and jokingly offers, “I tell them they might see some of my old neighbors!”
Brown’s mom built her career in real estate and his parents are now retired in Abilene, Texas near his sister. He has a brother in Wyoming, too.
The Reno region appealed to Brown and he stayed there to build his own life. He earned his B.S. in Education as a math major in 1992 at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) with a minor in physics. In 1999, he completed his M.A. in educational leadership at UNR as well. He is certified in school administration, math with calculus and physical sciences for grades seven through twelve.
Beginning in 1992, he dedicated 27 years to education in both the Washoe County School District and Elko County School District, much of that time as a math teacher and department chair.
By 2003, Brown was promoted to curriculum assistant principal at Reno’s Galena High School. In 2006, he became the school’s principal and served in that role for 13 years, through 2019, and led Galena to become a top comprehensive high school in Nevada.
Best Principal three times
In 2017, Brown earned distinction as Washoe County School District’s High School Principal of the Year and was named their Overall Principal of the Year, too. Soon after, the Nevada Association of School Boards awarded him their 2018 Principal of the Year honor.
Just prior to joining PUSD, Brown served in a director capacity for two Reno charter schools, the Mariposa Academy of Language and Learning and the Honors Academy of Literature.
Brown is passionate about education and schools. He also has a long history of leadership and professional commitment, including mentoring his colleagues, advising students, running Washoe County’s math test writing team and teaching SAT prep classes.
He has developed STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math) and served on many task forces addressing diversity, equity, special education, academies, fundraising and other issues.
A coaching turn-around
Though he is a self-described “math and physics guy,” you can also call him Coach Brown because he is an avid athlete and has coached baseball, basketball, soccer and football.
In fact, his entire career in education began by accident and basketball was at the heart of it. Brown was on track to become an engineer at the University of Nevada Reno when a friend and fellow sophomore asked him to come and help coach some youth basketball at the YMCA. It sounded like fun. The two buddies loved sports and had a great time coaching the kids. Before he knew it, Tom started a YMCA kindergarten program, too.
“I found I loved working with the kids and changed my major to education,” Brown recalls, without so much as a backward look to engineering. “So I always tell students to go out and find out what you love to do!”
Hoping big hopes for QHS kids
While so many treasured traditions of junior-senior high school and its events, sports and celebration activities are temporarily on hold in Quincy and across the nation, Principal Brown is sensitive to the deep impact of the COVID-19 circumstances.
“It’s about helping each other to look forward in tough times,” he affirms. “And when you develop a positive culture for your students, those graduates walk across the stage proud of their time here.”
With so much still up in the air, graduation plans included, Brown encourages every community in the region to celebrate its seniors and is glad to see there are signs up everywhere. The principal is also laser focused on creating as many optimal experiences for students as possible, including being part of the Friday-night efforts to celebrate seniors by lighting up Plumas communities, homes and businesses each week.
“If we get any days at all this school year (to return to campus for classes),” Principal Brown says hopefully, “we will make every day count and pack as many things as possible into those days for the kids, especially the seniors.”
As things are now, school reopenings are still undecided but the work of serving students continues. Teachers have adapted their lesson plans to suit online learning and kids are doing course work at home, in their rooms and wherever they can, Internet access permitting.
In fact, Principal Brown is enjoying a few opportunities to get out and about and acquainted with students and families at their homes, when the chance comes up. He recently had fun presenting a Trojan Pride prize to QHS sophomore Jacob McAllister who had earned recognition and chose fishing lures as his reward.
“I encourage people to find some positives during this time,” Brown advises. “I’m embracing the opportunity to get to know people and the community. Education is critical to our youth and our communities; we’re all in it together. Connections and relationships are the most important things we do.”
Each encounter with his students gives him an opportunity to share encouragement and urge the students to stay engaged with their school, academically challenge themselves and be involved in activities, even in these times that demand flexibility and creativity.
“If we do those things well,” Brown says, “Our students will develop kindness, empathy and respect and we’re going to have a good school.”
At home in the Lost Sierra
Filling his role as Quincy’s new principal is a big job and a busy one, too, but in his free time Brown is discovering more of Plumas County. He says he is looking forward to mountain biking here and he’s especially glad to see so many families together.
Not really a stranger to the area, Brown has enjoyed years of outdoor time at Lake Almanor and Tahoe with his wife, Michelle, also a school employee, and their three children who are now grown. Andrew, 26, is an engineer in Reno; Haley, 22, is a psychology student working on her master’s; and Nicholas, 20, is following the family tradition and studying engineering at UNR.
Tom is staying in Quincy during the COVID-19 pandemic response while Michelle has remained under proactive quarantine at home near Mt. Rose in Nevada for a very big event. The Browns welcomed their first grandchild, Brandon Nicholas Brown, on May 4. Born to Andrew and Kaylie Brown, the little fellow arrived at 7 lbs. 9 oz. and 19.5 inches long, bringing great joy with him. Perhaps he’ll become an engineer.