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Upper School’s “Relationship Keeper”

With more than 20 years at CSD, and a strong understanding of the Basic School philosophy, Amy Tomalis leads an Upper School where relationships and education go hand-in-hand.
Image courtesy of CSD Shield yearbook and St. John’s Photography
With more than 20 years at CSD, and a strong understanding of the Basic School philosophy, Amy Tomalis leads an upper school where relationships and education go hand-in-hand.

Head of Upper School, Amy Tomalis, is the definition of an OG at the Community School of Davidson (CSD). She has been at CSD since its start more than twenty years ago, and both her experience and educational philosophy now help her lead the more than 550 high school Spartans who fill the halls and classrooms.

Tomalis fell in love with and joined the school after going to an open house hosted by founder and retired executive director, Joy Warner, who initially conceptualized the idea for CSD. Warner had been teaching in a traditionally structured public school while simultaneously researching the Basic School approach toward running a  school.

 The message she shared resonated with Tomalis. The idea that “teachers are empowered with real leadership, parents are partners, resources are rich, and the curriculum is coherent and centralized” was powerful. 

Warner presented the concept of starting a North Carolina charter school based on the Basic School model and Tomalis was hooked. 

“It was before anything had gotten started and (it) was still very early on in the process and I boohooed and ugly cried because it was everything I believed should be part of education,” Amy Tomalis said. “So I signed on the next day.”

A short time later, CSD received its charter and opened its doors as the Children’s Community School offering early elementary education classes with a small and dedicated staff which included Tomalis. 

Growing up in western Pennsylvania with a teacher for a dad, Tomalis always loved working with kids, be it babysitting or playing school with her doll babies and friends. 

She attended the Indiana University of Pennsylvania and, after her matriculation and a stint teaching up north, Tomalis moved to North Carolina in 1997 to teach in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schoosl system at University Meadows Elementary while also working towards her master’s at UNC Charlotte when CSD came into her vision.

Tomalis was teaching preschoolers when a coworker of hers named Jill Holshouser, who is still involved today at CSD’s Lower School, mentioned the meeting Ms. Joy was having.

Fast forward two decades and Tomalis now has more experience across the entire spectrum of elementary, middle  and high school classrooms than most would imagine. 

In the Lower School, Tomalis has taught every grade of elementary and middle school, first starting as a second-grade teacher before looping into third grade with the same class. She then moved to fourth and fifth and did that two year cycle for several years before becoming a middle school social studies teacher. 

Then came high school. Tomalis began as an Exceptional Children (EC) teacher, then EC department director before joining the administration team and finally accepting the position as Head of Upper School.

“You know what, I loved teaching each grade, and every time I would say to myself that that particular age was my favorite,” Tomalis said with a laugh. “And I have to say, I never thought I’d land in a high school but I love high schoolers. They’re pretty awesome.”

Her teaching philosophy follows that of the Basic School. Tomalis believes that students shouldn’t be put into boxes but should instead be encouraged to find what they love and make a difference in the world in their own unique style.

“Education to me is looking at each individual student, seeing their passions, interests, and what drives them, and being able to feed that,” Tomalis said. “Looking at the whole child and knowing that no student is just one thing. Not just an academic student or athlete or a social being. We are all things so we need to feed kids in all of those areas.” 

“It’s important to learn reading, math, science and all the things that make up the school day but there’s more than just that,” said Tomalis. “I don’t want education to create cookie cutter students, people.”

In addition to leading the Upper School, Tomalis teaches Leadership Seminar elective with fellow administrator, Ann Marie McAfee. The class is dedicated to teaching students how to lead, think outside the box and problem-solve. The class involves many games, guest speakers and lessons on how to model student leadership within the student body.

“I want the class to be student driven and use their insight to help make decisions within the school,” said Tomalis. “I believe leaders should be in the trenches with the people they lead and be willing to do anything they ask others to do.”

Recently, CSD was ranked the thirteenth best school in the state of North Carolina by U.S. News and World Report, and to Tomalis it’s a huge accomplishment but she says the ranking doesn’t even take into account the best parts of CSD. 

“I love being recognized for work we do but I don’t want test scores and grades to be the only thing people see. Relationships and our people are what make CSD so special,” said Tomalis.

Outside of leading the Upper School, Amy Tomalis has many hobbies and personal interests.

First and foremost, she is an avid Eagles football fan. She describes herself as a crazy, crazy Eagle fan and her game rituals back it up. 

As the clock counts down towards kickoff, she and her family lay out Eagles jerseys which cannot be put on until the game begins. Then, once the football is up and away and the first quarter starts, her family throws on the jerseys. 

They have assigned seats depending on whether the Birds are on offense or defense. 

And wings are the Tomalis staple game day food. 

After each Eagle’s score, everyone in attendance tosses a Nerf football around the room for every point.

Besides Philadelphia football, Tomalis loves nature and going on outdoor excursions.

“I like going on really long walks and hiking. My family are big hikers and campers,” said Tomalis. “I love spending time with my family.”

She is an avid reader, too, who  quite often shares educational lessons and approaches with her staff through weekly updates and emails.

For Amy Tomalis, everything, no matter school or family, comes back to relationships. 

Amy Tomalis has spent well over two decades at CSD and has had a huge impact on the school and the students she teaches. Be it in a long conversation or simply by sharing her always-bright smile in the hallways, she prioritizes relationships and people to create the ever-welcoming environment that has become the foundation of a CSD education.

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About the Contributor
Ben Gallagher
Ben Gallagher, Editor-in-Chief

Ben Gallagher, a junior, has been at CSD since eighth grade. In his third year of journalism, he hopes to improve his interviewing skills, cover new topics and see stories through different angles. 

While at school, Ben loves to play volleyball in the gym and learn about our nation’s past in AP US History. He is also looking forward to starting English and Psychology now in eleventh grade. He plays football as a wide receiver and is a middle infielder and outfielder in baseball for the Spartans. One of his favorite memories was freshman year when Matthew Ferguson hit a walkoff three run homer against Trinity High School to send CSD to the state regional finals.

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” - Lewis Caroll 


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