FISHER — Forgive Jim Moxley if he has a difficult time leaving Fisher Grade School.
“You could say my hand prints are all over the school,” Moxley said.
When Moxley was hired as principal of the school in 2000, the district was working on a referendum that voters would approve on the second try. Construction began during his third year.
“We still call it ‘the new building,’” the 57-year-old Moxley said.
He called overseeing the project “a tremendous learning experience, to be part of the design process with the architects.”
“I got to get involved in a lot of the building and different aspects,” attending numerous meetings with the construction management firm and helping to ensure that timelines were met.
Even later, Moxley painted the entire interior of the building by himself during the summers, doing 10 to 12 classrooms a year.
“I took a lot of pride in the building and just felt the community entrusted me with this facility and wanted to have it looking as good when I left as when I started,” Moxley said.
Moxley doesn’t live far from Fisher — in Mahomet with his wife, Bonnie — so he can come by whenever he wants to make sure the building, which sits beside the junior-senior high, remains in good shape.
Moxley won’t be there on a daily basis any longer. He will retire after 33 years in education at the end of the current school year. The year hasn’t been ideal for any retiring educator to go out.
“It’s disappointing, but a lot of people are dealing with disappointment for a lot of reasons,” Moxley said of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in classes being cancelled in March. “I’m just trying to have the best outlook I can and find ways to show my appreciation for the students and staff and community of Fisher.”
Moxley is writing thank-you notes to all of his teachers.
“I don’t get to say ‘good bye’ to the kids and teachers, really,” said Moxley, who has been principal at Fisher for a record 20 years, surpassing previous record-holder Jim Hires’ 14 years. Moxley also served as junior high athletic director for 17 years. He has been president of the Sangamon Valley Conference for the last nine years.
Moxley said he was taught in college the most important thing an administrator does is to hire good teachers. And he said Fisher has many of them.
“The impact of a teacher is long-reaching,” he said, “because most teachers stick around for around 35 years. I inherited a good staff 20 years ago. There will be only a handful left when I retire. The rest are my hires. I am proud of the talented and caring group of people I put together for Fisher Grade School. I think they will have a tremendous impact on the community long after I’m gone.”
Fisher Superintendent Barbara Thompson, who has been his boss for 15 years (he would greet her with ‘What’s up, boss?”) said she will miss Moxley, and considers him a friend.
She will miss Moxley’s stories of finding some unpleasant, aromatic situation left by a student and his “gag reflex” even in the retelling of the encounter.
Thompson said Moxley is also known for his penchant to sample food wherever he finds it.
“So if Jim comes into the unit office and there is food sitting out on someone’s desk, Jim helps himself,” said Thompson, who noted that on one occasion he made the mistake of grabbing some Flamin’ Hot flavor Cheetos. “His entire head started sweating,” Thompson said.
“All kidding aside, it has been an honor and pleasure working with Mr. Moxley,” Thompson said. “I have learned a lot from him over the years and consider him and his lovely wife, Bonnie, to be trusted friends.”
Moxley is proud of bringing discipline referrals and good news notes to Fisher. He said he didn’t want to be seen as the heavy-handed school official. He also wanted to give students recognition for their good work and said he would start the school day by listing, over the intercom, the students who had earned a good-news note. They would then come to his office and receive a prize.
Moxley will be remembered for two special days each year that he helped to start.
The Veterans Day program started 18 years ago, “and it was kind of my baby,” he said.
“I did most of the organizing of it. We get lots of student involvement in it. I want to recognize our veterans for their sacrifices and bring in probably 100 veterans or so every year. We just fill the gym with chairs.”
The students’ and staff’s favorite day is the one before Christmas break — a day that used to be a long drawn-out affair because not much got done academically and students were anxious to get off for Christmas. It was turned into a movie fun day. Instead of a gift exchange, students would pay for a ticket to a morning movie in Champaign attended by the entire school. The afternoon turned into the annual reindeer games assembly.
“We just did a lot of wacky games,” Moxley said. “Each grade level would do a game around the Christmas theme.”
A native of Eureka, Moxley earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Eureka College and a master’s degree in school administration from the University of Illinois. His first job was teaching and coaching in Mahomet. He taught fourth grade at Lincoln Trail Elementary for five years and then taught history and geography for eight years at Mahomet Junior High.
Moxley had a successful coaching career at Mahomet, serving as assistant coach for the 1989 state wrestling champions. He was then head wrestling coach at the junior high. The team brought home a state trophy eight years in a row, winning the state crown four times, finishing as runner up three times and fourth one year. He coached 15 individual state champs and was the grand marshal of the Illinois Elementary School Association state tournament in 2001. He was inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Hall of Fame. He referees wrestling and was scheduled to ref at his first state tournament before it was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his retirement, he and his wife, who is a retired teacher and coach in Mahomet, will remain active in their church, Grace Church, in Mahomet, where he is an elder. He is also involved in church camps and is on the camp AWANA board. Moxley’s other interests include bike riding, “lots of men’s softball” and golf, “all of which I hope to do.”
The Moxleys have three children — Matt, a teacher and coach in Kentucky; Tyler, who works at Carle Hospital and coaches wrestling at Mahomet Junior High; and daughter Blayne, who works at Carle and is an interim youth pastor at Grace Church.
Jake Palmer, dean of students at the junior/senior high school, will succeed Moxley as grade school principal.
“I have enjoyed my time at Fisher,” Moxley said, “and have great respect for the teachers and the community.”