Thomas Christie decided at eight years old that he wanted to be an educator - for reasons that most eight-year-olds would understand.
“My aunt babysat for a man who was a teacher and a football coach. He had a car and a house and I thought that looked pretty good,” Christie recalled with a laugh.
A considerable time later, at the end of June, Christie will retire from Lincoln Public Schools where he’s spent the last 43 years as a teacher, coach and administrator. The payoff, he said, has been so much more than the car and house he dreamt of as a child.
“The relationships - I’ll really miss the relationships,” he said.
LPS and the Lincoln community have certainly reaped the rewards of Christie’s work, said LPS Superintendent Steve Joel.
“Everywhere I travel with Thomas in Lincoln, we invariably are approached by someone from Lincoln who knows him. These interactions clearly demonstrate the impact this great LPS leader has had not only on the lives of students and staff but also many members of our community,” Joel said.
Christie has been the LPS multicultural school/community administrator for nearly 22 years. Prior to that, he was an administrator at Lincoln Northeast High School for four years. He started his LPS career as a sociology teacher and coach at Lincoln High School for 17 years.
His road to Lincoln High was bumpy at times, with plenty of twists and turns. Christie was born in South Carolina, where his mother died two weeks after giving birth to him. His father, a sharecropper and bootlegger, left Christie and his four siblings shortly thereafter. Christie moved to Philadelphia as a child and eventually to Lincoln when he was 12. By the time he was in 10th grade, he was a ward of the state.
He attended Whittier Junior High School - which closed in 1977 - and then Lincoln High. He was a student leader in sports and the Destinaers Club, an organization started by community leaders to encourage minority students to attend college. Christie was among the roughly 70 percent of club members to attend college. He graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University with a bachelor’s degree and later the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a master’s degree.
After a two-year stint as assistant director of the Clyde Malone Community Center, Christie joined Lincoln High in 1975. Besides teaching, he was head wrestling coach and assistant football coach. His 1992 Links wrestling team won the state championship and two other teams finished second.
But his success as a coach wasn’t measured only on the mat. Christie had his wrestlers attend a team study hall every day before practice, where they helped each other with homework. He knew they might be too tired to properly study by the time they dragged themselves home from practice.
“I wanted to make sure that if I had a kid who had a chance of going to college, that he was capable of doing so. Teachers loved it, parents loved it - it was the right thing to do,” Christie said. “When they came to practice I had their full attention. I really think that was one of the things that led to our success. It also sent a message to them and their parents that I cared about them.”
Christie defines multicultural education as “the infusion of the missing information and correcting the misinformation.” He’s proud of his efforts to do just that in his current role with LPS. He points to two initiatives in particular: the annual LPS Multicultural Institute, which brings in national speakers to address multicultural issues; and the district’s ongoing efforts in a variety of ways to increase employees’ cultural proficiency. In 2009, the National Association for Multicultural Education honored LPS for its work in this area.
Christie is retiring from his day job but he’ll continue his work in the community. He serves on multiple boards, including the Lincoln Mayor’s Multicultural Committee and the University of Nebraska President Advisory Council. He’ll stay involved with the TeamMates Mentoring Program, which he currently oversees in his role with LPS. He’s mentor to a high school junior and wants to continue efforts to recruit more diverse mentors.
“That’s really a major goal of mine,” he said.
Jose Soto is vice president for access/equity/diversity at Southeast Community College and a longtime friend and colleague of Christie’s. He said Christie’s impact on LPS and the community is deep and lasting.
“He has reminded us of our responsibilities to respect, honor and celebrate our differences, to always be inclusive, to ensure that we each meet our responsibility to take action toward achieving social justice, and that we hold each other accountable,” Soto said.
Superintendent Joel said Christie “reminds us that we are ultimately measured by the people we help and he has modeled that for all of us to continue the important work.
“He will be greatly missed.”
LPS is hosting a community open house to bid a fond farewell to Christie. The celebration will be held from 2-4 p.m. Sunday, May 20, in the library media center at Lincoln High. A program is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served.
Published: May 17, 2018, Updated: May 22, 2018