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March 16, 2010

Educator had big impact in Vigo schools

TERRE HAUTE — Those who knew Julie McLaughlin say her kindness, concern and positive attitude had a huge impact on Vigo County School Corp. students and staff.

The longtime educator died Monday in Indianapolis while awaiting a liver transplant. She was 53.

McLaughlin had been a VCSC teacher, Terre Haute North Vigo High School assistant principal and, most recently, a central office curriculum coordinator.

Adam Azar, now a West Vigo Middle School social studies teacher, said McLaughlin inspired him to become a better high school student when she was his teacher at North. She helped him improve his writing and become a more conscientious writer, he said. She also encouraged him to enter some writing competitions.

Once he entered college at Indiana State University, she checked in with him periodically to see how he was doing. “She was an all-out caring person,” he said.

She took a sincere interest in students, both personally and academically, he said. “She saw the good aspects in all kids … She didn’t let them fall through the cracks.”

When Azar became a teacher, she continued to take an interest in his career and would ask him how things were going. “She will be sadly missed,” he said.

North Principal Stacy Mason worked with McLaughlin for many years at the high school, and they were assistant principals at the same time. “She was very helpful to me as a first-year administrator, as she was very knowledgeable and patient,” Mason said. “She never hesitated to stop what she was doing to talk to me. In her time here as an assistant principal, she mentored many future administrators.”

Mason described McLaughlin as someone who “always had a smile on her face and really and truly put everyone else first.”

McLaughlin had a great relationship with students, and every decision she made “was truly made with the best interest of our students in mind,” Mason said. “She guided and molded students of all ability levels along their academic paths.”

Mason found McLaughlin to be “one of the most dedicated and hard-working administrators that I have known.”

Steve Weatherford, now a punter with the New York Jets, credits McLaughlin with having a major impact on his life.

“I wasn’t the most well-behaved kid in high school,” he said. “She was constantly encouraging me … She always told me that I was going to do something great with my life.”

McLaughlin was his ninth-grade English teacher. “I was 15 and a screwup, but she always believed in me,” he said. Even when she became assistant principal, “She always took a lot of extra time to make sure I was doing OK.”

Several times, she told him that if he needed to talk, he could eat lunch in her office. “She was a great woman,” he said.

Weatherford was on his way to visit her in the hospital when he learned that she had died. “A lot of people will miss her, and a lot of kids will miss out on the opportunity to get to know her,” he said.

His mother, Lisa Weatherford, a school district bus driver, said she had four children go through North, and with every one of them, McLaughlin “went out of her way to help.”

Her oldest son said McLaughlin taught one of the most useful classes he had ever taken – how to write a college paper.

“Sometimes when I would get frustrated with Steve, she was always positive,” Lisa Weatherford said. “We are going to miss her. She was a blessing.”

Mick Newport, Vigo County executive director of secondary education, said McLaughlin “not only touched a lot of students’ lives, she touched a lot of people’s lives in general.”

He was North’s principal when McLaughlin became an assistant principal.

She was committed to students and involved in all aspects of student life, he said. As an assistant principal, she might keep score at a basketball game one night and support a team in academic competition the next day. She also helped guide students as they attempted to find the right college and gain admission.

“She was always there counseling kids. She did it all,” Newport said.

McLaughlin taught French at Terre Haute South one year. She later taught English/journalism at North from 1992 to 2000 and was an assistant principal from 2000 to 2008. Most recently, she was the districtwide math and science curriculum coordinator for about 1 1/2 years.

As the district math and science coordinator, McLaughlin helped with numerous summer and after-school math programs for students, said Karen Goeller, deputy superintendent. “She had a genuine and caring attitude about the welfare of all students,” she said.

Last summer, rain or shine, McLaughlin was at one of the schools each morning to help distribute breakfast to students before they got on the bus for summer school.

It might be hot and humid, “But she was out there to make sure everyone got their breakfast,” Goeller said.

McLaughlin also worked many weekends writing grants to ensure that teachers had many different professional development opportunities in math and science, thereby providing the best education possible for students, Goeller said. 

Signs in front of VCSC schools recognized her contributions and offered condolences.

“It’s a very sad day in the Vigo County School Corp.,” said Superintendent Dan Tanoos.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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