Overcoming adversity to fuel futures | J. Thomas Gregory ’00

The path to earning a degree isn’t always a straight line, according to J. Thomas Gregory ’00 who, while working as a teacher in Colorado, realized he needed a degree to advance into the realm of administration.

“While teaching in Colorado, I needed to renew my license and I set my sights on possibly being an athletic director, so I started looking for an administration program,” Gregory said.  

While researching options, Gregory zeroed in on the UCCS College of Education and its leadership program.  

“I discovered the UCCS teaching program — it doesn’t matter what content area — math, special education, physics, you know you’re going to graduate meeting the standards of the Colorado Department of Education,” he said. “You’re going to graduate and get your teaching license at the same time and with a lot of employment potential.”  

Gregory said it was important that he could learn and teach within the Colorado community he fell in love with, leading him to enroll, seeking a graduate-level degree.  

But life threw a curveball at the aspiring administrator, forcing him to take a few years off of his studies to focus on his teaching career, his family and his health. 

“I had some significant medical health issues, I got married and I had a family,” Gregory explained. “I just needed to keep myself healthy, continue going to work and focusing on my family.”  

Despite the interruption, he learned of an opening athletic director role and decided he would return to his studies to compete for the program.  

“The personalities of the instructors, they were very engaging,” Gregory said. “They offered flexibility around due dates on projects and course times, and the coursework was very relevant to the work I was doing in the classroom.” 

One particular professor fueled Gregory in his journey, giving him the boost he needed to complete his degree. 

“Dr. Al Ramirez acted as a personal coach and mentor to me,” Gregory said. “He believed in me, and he understood that I had a life outside of my studies. He understood me, and he saw me as more than as a teacher and coach. He thought I could be successful in the administrative arena.”

While completing his degree, Gregory saw his first administrative opportunities roll in. School district leaders offered him the Rampart High School’s athletic director position, which quickly turned into an opportunity to rise through the ranks within Academy District 20’s administration.  

In time, Gregory was promoted into roles as the Academy District 20’s chief financial officer and deputy superintendent.  

“If I wouldn’t have finished my master’s program, none of this would have started,” he said. “I wouldn’t have moved into the business office. Ultimately, I went back to UCCS again to get an administrative license, allowing me to ultimately become Superintendent of Academy District 20.”  

Gregory said the most important word as it pertains to the field of education is rewarding: “Nothing compares to how rewarding it is to build relationships with students and families, seeing their emotional and intellectual growth over time.”  

He also pointed to a growing need for educators in the Pikes Peak Region. 

“Whether you want to be a teacher, coach, athletic director or administrator, UCCS and the programs they offer will help you not only learn about the field, but also find a job after graduation. They keep up with the field of education and the needs of the Pikes Peak Region. Right now, there’s a drastic need for teachers, and I would encourage anybody to investigate UCCS.”