ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA — December 10, 2009 — Mr. Noel Tillman, Principal of Galer Elementary School, in the Department of Defense Education Activity's (DoDEA) Ft. Stewart, S.C./Cuba School District will retire on January 1, 2010, after completing 38+ years of federal service.
After serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1965-1972 as a military instructor, Tillman returned to his native state of Massachusetts, where he earned a Bachelor's Degree in Education. For just over four years, he subsequently pursued a Master's Degree in Education with an emphasis in supervision and curriculum from Boston University while also teaching grades 4th, 5th, and 6th in public schools near Boston.
"I was enrolled in a graduate program in Boston and met some great educators who had worked overseas and they convinced me that I should apply to the Department of Defense Schools," Tillman said. Although he is currently stationed in the United States, Tillman's initial tour took him to Nuremburg, Germany in 1978 as a classroom teacher.
What began as a short sojourn from his roots in Massachusetts, turned out to be a three-decade adventure in Europe for Tillman, where he served military students and their families as a teacher, principal, administrator, and public information officer.
From a classroom in Nuremburg, he went on to serve in a variety of administrative positions. Tillman said his first administrative job was at a large elementary school with 1,200 students. "We only had two administrators to cover classrooms in 36 buildings that were scattered over a large military housing area," Tillman added.
Other positions he held included a two-year assignment as a gifted program coordinator, which he felt was one of the best jobs he ever held.
"I got to take gifted high school students from 10 high schools in central Germany all over Europe, England, Austria, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Greece, as part of an extended campus-gifted education program," he said.
Tillman may be best known in the DoD schools for his work as a former public information officer for school operations in Europe.
"It was the most interesting job I ever held even though I worked six days a week, 10 hours a day, for eight years as the spokesperson for 200+ schools in Europe," he said. "I loved getting to see the best that each school had to offer, and then telling commanders, parents, and hundreds of other groups about how successful the system, our students and their teachers were...and it really was good!"
Tillman was the first person to occupy a dedicated position in public affairs/public relations for DoD Schools overseas. He was a pioneer in the field of school public relations for the DoD system.
Tillman said, "I have always believed in three principles: communication, communication, communication. You cannot stop, slow down or make assumptions that everybody knows about your program, remembers something you wrote, or heard and recalls what you said the first time. Tell 'em and tell 'em again," Tillman said.
Tillman added that the 4th principle is, "Don't walk away from the truth even if it hurts. Address issues head on, and plan to be part of the solution to a problem if that is the issue."
Frank O'Gara, Communications Chief for DoDEA, said that Noel's contributions were significant and will be long remembered.
"Long before the system as a whole invested in a strategic approach to communication, Noel Tillman was building communication systems in Europe to better meet the needs of our customers and our employees," said O'Gara.
"Noel understood the value of communication. He knew that we had an important story to tell and that there was a strategic way to do it," O'Gara said. "He helped school leaders to see the benefits of establishing effective communications methods and tools designed to meet the needs of parents, commanders, communities, and our employees. Noel Tillman deserves great credit for starting the system on a path that has served us and our customers well over the years."
Tillman also served a tour of duty as a district school business manager, a challenging four-year job supervising safety, security, administrative and secretary training, budget, travel, and general fiscal policy for 25 schools in central Germany.
Tillman said he loved his elementary and middle school administrator roles the most. Each of them was quite different. He offered one example.
"I was at a K-8 school for three years, that later became a K-10 operation." There he simultaneously served as the administrator of the DoD Europe Outdoor Education Center in the Bavarian Alps. Tillman savored those days "with very cold and deep snow in the winter, and the bluest skies and greenest Alp pastures in the summe."
For a total of 22 years, he served military families overseas in Germany in multiple locations including Nurnberg, Spangdahlem, Wiesbaden, Darmstadt, Bad Aibling, Berchtesgaden, Frankfurt, and Rhein Main AB.
In SY 2000-2001, Mr. Tillman returned to the US and worked at Bolden ES (Laurel Bay, S.C., then known as School #2), with Principal Barbara Hazzard for three years. Another three years was spent as Principal at Brittin Elementary School on Ft. Stewart, GA and finally back to Beaufort for three and one-half years at Galer ES. Tillman remembers the teachers and staff he has worked with at these locations as "caring, loving, nurturing people who gave 100% to the job and the kids." When folks ask him what he does for a living, he proudly replies, "I am a teacher!"
In his 31+ years with DoDEA, Tillman has seen DoDEA evolve as an organization.
"It has always remained dynamic," he said. "It has always embraced change and brought in the most knowledgeable educational leaders in America to share their insights with all of us...administrators and teachers."
Tillman doesn't shy away from offering advice on what should be the most important priority for DoDEA. He believes that teachers are at the heart of everything the organization does and serving and helping military families and students is the mission.
"Keeping great educators flowing in and out of the system is critical," says Tillman. "Only take the best of those that apply. Be selective and tolerate nothing but 100% commitment to the job, the kids and the mission we support."
Tillman's summed up how he'd like to be remembered and how he'd like to leave his career.
"He laughed out loud, a lot. He loved kids and he never gave less than 110% to any job," Tillman said, "...I just had a lot of energy and ideas and I could not wait to try them out! That's how I'd like to be remembered."
While he said he will always treasure the people and the places of DoDEA, as retirement begins, Tillman will dedicate his efforts to a different focus. "Family, Friends, Freedom" is his new mantra. Noel and his wife, Cathy, who was the 1999 DoDEA Teacher of the Year, and a recent retiree from Bolden Elementary/Middle School, will retire in Beaufort, S.C. on Cat Island because of the lifestyle and proximity to family residing in the area. Noel and Cathy hope that friends and colleagues will stay in touch. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Noel, thanks to your devotion and commitment to military families and DoDEA for so many years. DoDEA, the Department of Defense, and indeed the nation are in your debt. You will be missed and remembered fondly. Best wishes on your retirement.