Outgoing Madison superintendent Geoffrey Thomas reflects on 37-year career
REXBURG — To those who know Madison School District 321 Superintendent Dr. Geoffrey Thomas, it’s clear that the pursuit of education, both to himself and others, is very important.
After decades of teaching, himself being taught, and overseeing the teaching of others, the longtime administrator plans to retire and turn over the leadership of Rexburg’s school district to someone new.
To Thomas, education was about giving students the chance to grow, learn, and develop in their own way.
“Most times, if you open the door, people will walk through,” he said. “So we just need to make sure and provide as many services and classes and opportunities.”
Thomas began his 37-year career in schooling in Price, Utah as a teacher. He received a master’s degree from Utah State Universtiy in political science before teaching in Brigham City, Utah, and getting a second master’s degree in K-12 Education.
Afterward, Thomas moved to the Gem State, a place that would be his home for the next 30 years. His first Idaho job was as the assistant principal at Taylorview Junior High School in Idaho Falls during its first year. Four years later, he accepted the assistant principal position at Bonneville High School in Bonneville Joint School District 93 while also working on his K-12 education doctorate degree. Thomas then became the assistant superintendent of the Bonneville School District before taking the position of superintendent of Madison School District 321, a job he would have for the next 20 years before announcing retirement.
His time in education won’t end in Madison though. Thomas has also accepted a position as an assistant professor in the College of Education at Idaho State University, working with graduate students seeking to become principals and superintendents.
Throughout his career, Thomas loved working with, teaching, and helping students. He came to realize that through administration, he could affect a larger number of students’ lives.
“I was only able to reach x amount of students (as a teacher),” he told EastIdahoNews.com, “I thought, I can do something on a larger scale to positively impact more students.”
Each one of the nearly 5,400 students in Madison is different, and Thomas said he loves that their district has a place for everyone.
“That’s the beauty of public education,” he said. “Our doors are open to every child.”
In his career, Thomas attended as many concerts, plays, sporting events or vocational events as was possible. His theme throughout his career was to provide “A World of Opportunity” for his students, and he loved watching them take advantage of it.
“I want students involved in the arts. I want them involved in vocational programs. I want them involved in athletics. I just want kids involved,” Thomas said. “And when students are involved in something, generally the academics improve.”
It’s the memories that Thomas will keep with him for a long time. Whether it was hosting a graduation ceremony in the rain, breaking ground on a new Madison High School and especially seeing struggling students graduate, Thomas has loved the moments in his career that connected him with the students.
He held his position through the building of the current Madison High School, South Fork Elementary, Burton Elementary, Madison Academy (an alternative middle school) and Madison Online.
While others may refer to him as “Doctor” or “Superintendent,” many of his students have chosen to call him more personal titles like “Doughnut Dude.”
Some of Thomas’ favorite days were when he could go meet students in the elementary classes and ask their permission to return with doughnuts. Responses were typically positive.
“I’ve done it to dozens and dozens of classes over the years,” he said. “I always believe in world peace through baked goods.”
Since he has been able to work in the district for two decades, Thomas has seen many students go from kindergarten to graduation. Even in their high school days, many of these students still know Thomas as the Doughnut Dude.
One of the most important lessons of Thomas’ career was to always put people first.
“If you do what’s right for students and you try to do what’s right for staff, good things are going to happen,” he said.
In 2007, the Great Recession forced legislation to cut the budget of the district by 18% overnight without warning. However, this time of trial ended up being one of Thomas’ proudest accomplishments. He and his team were able to address the situation and not lay off a single employee. That was the same year that their students were able to win the state basketball championship, the state academic championship and the sportsmanship award.
Through the bittersweet feelings of leaving the district, Thomas’s legacy will continue to stand for a long time, as every administrator in the district was hired by him. He has full confidence in them because he always had the mindset of not micromanaging them but letting them bring their own expertise to the table.
“I’m not going to tell you everything that you need to do, or I don’t need you. I’ll fire you and just do your job and take the money,” he said he told them.
This includes Randy Lords, who will take over the mantle of superintendent in August. Thomas hired Lords as an assistant principal, then principal, and most recently, Lords has worked alongside Thomas as assistant superintendent for six years.
“He’s going to be great,” Thomas said. “I’ve had people say, ‘Will he do things differently than you?’ and I say, ‘I hope so!’
Thomas’ advice to his students is to always embrace the challenge in their life and grow through adversity. He stressed the importance of reading because “leaders are readers.”
“It has been a wonderful experience, and I’ve really cherished every day,” he said.