Five minutes into talking with Ken Schuster, you can see how he had so much success as a coach. Thirty minutes in, you're ready to run through a brick wall for him.
Hired in July, Lincolnwood may be Schuster's first job as principal, but the 27-year education veteran knows what he wants to do.
"The biggest thing is I wanted to be able to affect change. I wanted to continue to lead, as I did as a coach, and impact students from the standpoint of a greater whole," explained Schuster, who won a girls basketball state title in 2008 and a second place trophy in 2009 with West Hancock. "Not just athletes or students in your class, but every student."
For Schuster, that impacting students is more of a labor of love than a job, one that dates back to his own days at Carthage High School.
"School was always a positive place for me. I had good teachers and good coaches," he said. "Through that positive environment, it influenced me to be a teacher and a coach myself. They had quite an impact on me."
For 22 years, Schuster was a social studies teacher and a coach, manning the helm of just about every sport you can think of "except the cribbage team." But after two decades, he decided it was time for a new challenge, one that will allow him to have an even greater impact, with a similarly rigourous schedule.
"You get to the point that you realize that you're tired. It's long hours. You do have to be young and full of energy," Schuster said. "Although, now you second guess yourself because you're spending the same amount of hours as an administrator, if not more. I kind of went straight from the frying pan into the fire."
He's enjoying the opportunity though. When looking at his future plans, Schuster sought out a smaller community, like the one he grew up in.
"It reminded me of home. That's what drew me here, the relationships that you can build with your students. I'm not only trying to sell that to kids, but that's what I believe," he said. "It made me seek out a job as a principal in a small school. It's not about anything else than the sense of family and community that you don't get in the cities."
Schuster said that he hopes he can influence students at Lincolnwood into having the same mindset. In a time when students are often looking for career opportunities away from smaller communities, he wants to emphasize the benefits of growing up in a town that cares so much about its people.
"Most of our kids have been looking outward and I get that in terms of economy, but there is something to be said about the type of life and lifestyle that you have in a small community," Schuster said. "To bring that out in their everyday educational experience, that's important. You want them to have the accountability to say, 'This is my education. This is why I'm proud to be a Lincolnwood Lancer.'"
That accountability piece is key to Schuster's philosophy. He believes that everyone is a learner and a teacher, from the students to the teachers to the janitor.
"It's really about what you bring. Are you a ready learner? Are you ready to expand your horizons? Are you ready to educate yourself?" Schuster said. "Everybody teaches and everybody learns. That's what I want to get across."
Another focus of Schuster's is negativity and the obstacle that it is for students and teachers.
"If you were here on the 19th you would hear me talk about loving what you do, loving where you're at and loving the people that you're close to, because it's so important that they get that understanding," he explained. "It breaks my heart that we have people that dread coming to work as a teacher or dread coming to school as a student. That's a miserable existence. Let's find the positive. Let's build up on those things and find the good. Not everyday is a good day, but there is something good about every day."
Schuster emphasizes a philosophy that encourages students to find something good about school or their current situation, or work to change what you don't like.
"If there's nothing good here, what are you going to do about it?" Schuster said. "I think that's the mentality that we've lost in our students. We're quick to give up. We're quick to blame. And that leads to other problems."
Schuster's goal is to change the apathy and negativity that seems to have taken hold and turn it toward the positive. In an environment where everyone seems quick to point out what's wrong, he strives to focus on what's right.
"I don't have to push you very far to find the negative, but I think if you come into Lincolnwood Junior/Senior High, you're going to find a lot of positives in these kids and in these teachers," Schuster said. "And you didn't really have to go that far either. You just have to ask the right questions."
He knows that's a challenge for students at Lincolnwood who have had to deal with more than their fair share of tragedy, most recently the death of Austin Krager last May during his senior year.
"They've dealt with enough tragedy, but how are you going to respond to it," Schuster said. "Life's not without its challenges, but somehow or another, the good Lord will show you the way."
While he's already working on curriculum improvements at Lincolnwood, including increasing dual credit classes and expanding vocational opportunities, the focus for him is more on the who, than the what.
"People are really what's important. That's the thing that I'll be starting on day one, investing in my teachers and my students," Schuster said. "No matter how much they want you to think you're failing, you're not. You're a lot closer to success then you think you are. You just have to stand up and dust yourself off."
Schuster is hoping that investment will result in success at Lincolnwood, the kind of success that isn't measured by grade point average.
"You measure success based on quality relationships," Schuster said. "If kids in this school can become more positive and bright in the things we are doing, we're more successful, no matter what our test scores tell us."