New Bernalillo High School Principal Tim McCorkle talks with school secretary Melissa Garcia in his office.
(Gary Herron/ Rio Rancho Observer)

BERNALILLO — Tim McCorkle has been a Hornet, a Mustang, a Matador, a Bulldog and, briefly, a retiree.

Now he’s a Spartan, recently appointed as the new principal at Bernalillo High School. He’s planning to keep that “ship” steered in the right direction while also improving graduation rates, something he’s done before and received national notoriety for.

McCorkle has a reputation in the metro area as one of the proverbial good guys, with much of that instilled by his father, who spent 25 years in the U.S. Air Force and last served at Kirtland Air Force Base.

McCorkle, who dreamed of being another Willie Mays baseball player in center field but was instead groomed by his father to play shortstop, graduated from Highland High School in 1974. He received a half-academic, half-athletic scholarship to play baseball at the University of New Mexico, but incurred a serious thumb injury, which ended his big-league dreams, but not his dream of remaining in the game.

His knowledge of the game got him a job in 1978 as the 21-year-old varsity baseball coach at Highland High. But his education — he majored in journalism and minored in speech communication at UNM — got him a teaching job in 1979 at West Mesa High School, which also needed a junior varsity baseball coach.

It was an easy decision to make: HHS didn’t have an available need for what he could teach, but WMHS did.

He stayed there, teaching ninth-grade English and journalism, and said he “had a blast” as the school newspaper’s advisor and manager.

He coached the varsity baseball team from 1983-2000. For five years (1995-2000), he served as the Mustangs’ athletic director — Rio Rancho resident Shonn Schroer has that job now — and assistant principal.

Disappointed when he wasn’t promoted to become the WMHS principal when that position opened, he took the job as assistant principal at Sandia High School (2004-06). When another Albuquerque Public Schools principal job became available, McCorkle interviewed and was hired at Albuquerque High, proudly becoming the first African-American male high-school principal in APS.

“The principal should be a role model for all students,” McCorkle believes.

During his tenure in Bulldog City (2007-18), AHS was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as the sixth-best high school in the state and among the top 6 percent of all high schools in the nation.

The next year (2015), AHS was noted by that magazine as the fifth-best high school in the state and among the top 2 percent in the nation. The New Mexico Public Education Department bestowed an “A” on AHS twice in his last seven years there.

More importantly, during the McCorkle regime at AHS, the graduation rate increased from 47.3 percent to just over 70 percent.

Despite his love of the job and success, much attributed to his respect for diversity, he told his wife Anndra — also an APS educator — he was going to retire at age 63.

How did that work out? He started driving west on I-40 daily to be the physical education teacher at Laguna Middle School, and then tossed his hat into the ring for the opening at Bernalillo High School.

Rio Rancho High School baseball coach Ron Murphy, whose Rams faced McCorkle’s Mustangs twice a year when they were district rivals, knows McCorkle is the right man for the job.

“(He’s) one of my all-time favorite friends and  coaches,” Murphy said, upon hearing McCorkle was selected to head BHS. “I was a JV and B-Legion coach at Sandia when I first met Tim.

“He treated me with respect like I was a varsity coach and never looked down on me, and he was one of the veteran coaches who went to bat for me when I was trying to get the head job at St Pius. Then we coached against each other for many years,” Murphy said. “He’s a man of respect and character at all times. I love Tim like a brother — Bernalillo is lucky to get him.”

Bernalillo Public Schools Superintendent Keith Cowan, a former principal at BHS (2011-17), said, “Based on his experience — 39 years in education, 11 at Albuquerque High School — I felt he would bring that expertise and the knowledge to take Bernalillo to that next level.

“The things that we want to see happen here at Bernalillo High School is we want to see our graduation rates increase,” Cowan said. “We want to see our attendance rates increase; we want to see higher engagement with all of our extracurricular, academics, athletics — we want to see more kids get involved in these types of activities.”

When they do, there’s a good chance they’ll see McCorkle there watching: He estimated he attended about 150 AHS events annually and he’s not about to change that.

He also likes to get out of his office, which has two posters emphasizing teamwork and another stressing attitude, to go with a button that says “That was easy” when pushed.

“Education is different nowadays,” McCorkle said, after a short discussion about how social media has impacted almost every walk of life. “We live in a whole different world.

“The principal is the face of the school,” he explained. “I love visiting classrooms; I love to watch the beauty of teaching.”

He hopes that some of the ideas that turned AHS around can help Bernalillo High School improve, but he’s also an old-school guy in believing that old chestnut, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“I’m here to steer the ship,” he said. “I want to put my mark on Bernalillo to be the best high school in the state of New Mexico.”