McCool Junction — 19 years ago, there was a concern that McCool Junction would have to close its doors when its K-12 population dropped to 148. However, with community support and people like Curtis Cogswell, the school has almost doubled in size today.
“My first year here I walked into the gym, and I told the maintenance person that the gym needed to be painted,” Cogswell said. “He asked me who was going to paint it, and I told him to buy the paint because I would start it. The first night, my wife and I started painting the gym.” Cogswell said two seniors stopped when they saw them painting.
“They asked us if we needed help, and we said sure,” Cogswell said. “By the weekend, you should have seen how many people were helping. The gym was painted in a week.”
Curtis Cogswell originally grew up on a farm in Friend. His parents were farmers who encouraged him to do something he loved.
“When I was going to school, I knew I wanted to do something with people,” Cogswell
Cogswell attended Peru State to become a teacher. He received his master’s degree from University of Nebraska at Kearney, and he attended Texas Tech for training to be a superintendent. After starting as a superintendent at McCool, he went back to get a doctorate from Seton Hall.
“I started out in a small school called Chester-Hubbell-Byron. Then, I went to Elm Creek and on to Kearney. From Kearney, I went to Lubbock, Texas. From Lubbock, I went to McCool Junction. All 19 of my superintendent years have been at McCool.”
Both Cogswell and his wife were involved in the Lubbock School District. She was a teacher, and he was a principal.
“We knew we wanted to get back to Nebraska to raise our children in a smaller community,” Cogswell said. “When the job opened in McCool Junction, we knew where it was since we were both from the area. It has been a blessing to be here ever since.”
The entire K-12 population is housed in one building at McCool Junction.
“You get to know the kids from the start. The seniors know the elementary students,” Cogswell said. “The elementary kids look up to them. I’m blessed because both of my sons went to school here. My daughter-in-law went here, too. I am proud to have a representation of my family here.”
Cogswell said he puts responsibility on the older students to take care of the younger students. Each week, he has an assembly with the juniors and seniors to talk about the week.
“When I was in Lubbock, I was in an assembly where each grade of junior high filled an auditorium. I couldn’t do that. They only had assemblies once a year.”
At McCool, Cogswell said, even the elementary and middle school students have an assembly once a month.
“They get special recognition,” Cogswell said. “We recognize their birthdays. When students say where they’re going to college, we celebrate that as well. It truly is a family.”
Cogswell said that it’s special when alumni come back to visit. He has gotten several invitations to weddings, and past students often want to come back and talk with him.
“Kids who graduate from here can do anything,” Cogswell said. “We have doctors and lawyers. I have a kid who is in the Secret Service, and we have a kid who can do lung transplants. On the flip side, we have had great electricians and plumbers. People say you can’t do things because you’re from a small school. Yes, you can. You can do anything you want.”
Cogswell said that his biggest accomplishment isn’t about him; it is about the community of McCool.
“This community makes believers out of you,” Cogswell said. “Even though there were challenges, the community fought. They all said we are going to be all right. We’ve been in situations where we had to slow growth because we grew too fast. Every challenge that we are given, we are going to rise and meet it.”
Cogswell announced that he was retiring last fall. Even though he said he was hesitant about it at first, his wife taught at McCool with him for his last year.
“On my last day of school, I went up to my wife’s room,” Cogswell said. “I told her I had to leave. I couldn’t stay for the teacher lunch. I broke down in tears because this has meant the world to me. It’s become part of my life. You know you fell in love with the right profession when it’s your last day and you’re sobbing.”
This fall, Cogswell is going to be an assistant professor at Wayne State University. He will teach people preparing to becoming superintendents and principals.
Cogswell said an important thing he has learned is knowing when it’s the right time to pass leadership on to the next generation. He said the school board at McCool was the best he has worked with.
“It’s hard to find another school district that has doubled its size and almost doubled its facilities with private donations. It’s almost unheard of. No one asks us if we are going to close anymore.”
Cogswell said he has no doubt that teaching was his calling, and that he hopes he has inspired students.
“I can proudly say in my 35 years in public education that I have done something I have loved my entire life. The only thing that I regret is that the time went too fast.”
Curtis Cogswell is a Peru State alumnist, we're excited for Cogswell to continue his journey in education at Wayne State.
Read the original article by Blythe Dorrian at the Fremont Tribune