Rock Hill Schools new superintendent Tommy Schmolze: ‘Rock Hill is in my DNA’

·4 min read

Some might know him as Mr. Schmolze. Others might refer to him as Dr. Schmolze. Or Tommy. Or just “Coach.”

It’s Tuesday night at South Pointe High School — still several weeks before Tommy Schmolze begins his tenure as Rock Hill Schools superintendent on Jan. 31 — and the man who responds to a bunch of well-worn names is shaking the hands of the people he’ll lead in 2022 and beyond.

He’s met many of them before. Some were even former students, he said. Knowing this community is a product of living in the city of Rock Hill for over two decades and spending a chunk of his teaching career here.

It’s also a result, it appears, of just being who he is.

Schmolze (pronounced Sh-mall-zee) was named the Rock Hill school district’s new superintendent in early December. The district set up meet-and-greets like the one on Tuesday in the district’s three high schools so families and staff and other community leaders can hear his “philosophy as an educational leader.”

In a nutshell?

“The word you can write in capital letters is ‘relationships,’” Schmolze told The Herald, shedding an energetic smile. “That’s what this is all about.”

Schmolze grew up in a 70,000-person town called Waukesha in Wisconsin. When he was 15, he moved to South Carolina and attended North Augusta High School before enrolling at Clemson University.

In 1993, upon graduating from Clemson, he got his first job in education as an English teacher at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill. He also coached several sports: He was the head boys’ tennis coach and an assistant on the volleyball and girls’ basketball teams. (He played volleyball throughout high school and college, he said.)

He spent six years at Northwestern. After that, he bounced around York County professionally but never stopped living in Rock Hill. He first went to Fort Mill Middle School — spending six years as an assistant principal then three years as principal — and then served as principal at Clover High School for two years.

In 2011, he returned to Fort Mill as the district’s assistant superintendent, having a hand in executing the district’s most impactful decisions as the area witnessed a decade’s worth of rapid population growth. He said the key to sustaining and managing the growth centered on never losing sight of the fact that each new student needed to be cared for — that “even though they were one of 17,000, as opposed to one in 3,000 15 years ago, we still wanted to make that opportunity so special to that family.”

And that will be the crux of his philosophy as head of Rock Hill Schools, he said.

“As a school leader, I’ve got to work hand-in-hand to welcome these families,” Schmolze said. “That’s one thing about public schools that I love: We serve everybody. Doesn’t matter if you’re from Waukesha, Wisconsin, or if you grew up right across the street. We’re going to love on ya.”

Schmolze is replacing Bill Cook, who had been the district’s superintendent since 2018 before unexpectedly resigning one week into the 2021-22 school year. John Jones has acted as the district’s superintendent in the interim.

New Rock Hill Schools Superintendent Tommy Schmolze, right, shakes hands with South Pointe Assistant Principal Marek Marshall during a meet-and-greet.
New Rock Hill Schools Superintendent Tommy Schmolze, right, shakes hands with South Pointe Assistant Principal Marek Marshall during a meet-and-greet.

When asked about his specific goals, Schmolze said he’s leery of leaders who come in and implement change before truly learning where they are and who they’re working for.

That said, he mentioned several action items he considers “paramount.”

Among them: providing adequate mental health resources to students (a priority Schmolze shares with his predecessor); valuing choice schools and neighborhood schools; boosting the district’s test scores; attracting and retaining teachers (an issue that all districts across the state are facing); and making district staff and school administrators visible in the classroom.

“One of the goals that I can share is, I want us at the district office to get out to schools as much as we can,” Schmolze said. “We have experts in the field. I don’t want them in an office on Main Street. I want them rubbing shoulders with principals and teachers. That’s where the rubber meets the road. That’s what we’re here to do on a daily basis.”

Fort Mill administrator Tommy Schmolze has been named the new superintendent of the Rock Hill South Carolina school district. 
Fort Mill administrator Tommy Schmolze has been named the new superintendent of the Rock Hill South Carolina school district.

Schmolze lives with his wife, Karen, and is the father of two sons, Kam (24) and Collin (21). He also lives with two dogs, Duke and Jager.

And they’ve all, because of different moments over the years, called Rock Hill home, Schmolze said.

“I distinctly remember the first year I was here, and we went to the Come See Me parade and activities. The whole community was there,” he said.

The longtime resident added that he’s played pickup basketball for years in the community and has “watched kids go from diapers to dunking on me. And that’s a humbling experience.

“But that’s how it’s been. That’s who I am. Rock Hill is in my DNA.”

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