Parade begins 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8 in downtown Kearney
Kearney, Mo., Oct. 1, 2021: Retired Assistant Principal Cindy O’Brien spent years making Kearney High School feel like a nurturing home for students, families and staff. The Bulldog family is welcoming Mrs. O’Brien back home to express our gratitude by honoring her as the Grand Marshal of the 2021 Homecoming Parade.
The theme of this year’s Homecoming Week is, “Home Sweet Homecoming.” The parade will begin at 2 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 8 with Mrs. O’Brien in the lead vehicle and dozens of floats and marchers showcasing KSD’s connection to the community and remarkable array of student activities, organizations and sports teams.
O’Brien, who retired this year, was selected to be Grand Marshal by Interim Superintendent Todd White on the recommendation of his leadership team. She became KSD’s first female administrator of a secondary school when she joined the district in 2005.
“I cannot think of a better person to be honored in this way,” Assistant Superintendent for Academic Services Jennifer Kopp said. “Cindy has helped so many people in this community. She represents the best of who we are as a school system.”
Throughout her time at KHS, O’Brien was “the rock” who always made students the center of her attention and mentored a whole generation of school leaders in KSD, according to Athletic Director Dave Schwarzenbach. She focused on getting to know each student as an individual and meeting their unique needs.
“Kids always came first with Cindy,” Mr. Schwarzenbach said. “If you saw a 100 percent graduation rate, that was probably because Cindy O’Brien pulled them though. She knew every student and every parent, and she was willing to pull up her sleeves to help with anything they needed, any subject.”
KSD Data Coordinator Tami Thomas worked closely with O’Brien for years, first at KHS and later as part of the central office team. She recalled seeing O’Brien passionately cheering on her students during wrestling matches.
“She would go above and beyond to help kids who were in danger of not graduating,” Ms. Thomas said. “Her motto was, ‘keep trying until you get it.’ She just tirelessly cared about kids and wanted to see them succeed.”
Among many other duties, O’Brien often found herself in charge of Homecoming events over the years. She expressed astonishment when informed that she was going to lead this year’s parade in Kearney.
“I’m flabbergasted,” she said. “It’s all come full circle now and I get to be in front. I’m really honored and humbled.”
O’Brien learned how to be a caregiver early in life as the oldest of seven children in the northwest Missouri community of Helena. She graduated from Savannah High School, where she had a shop teacher who saw her talents and influenced her decision to go into public education as a career.
O’Brien believes firmly that individualized attention and genuine commitment between the teacher and the student are the keys to a great education.
“Everybody doesn’t learn the same way,” she said. “We have to figure out how to meet each student’s needs. That requires instilling accountability. We can do this! We can figure this out! That’s just how I’ve always been.”
O’Brien spent two decades at Savannah R-III School District, where she was also the first female assistant principal at that district’s high school. Earlier this year, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education selected her to receive a Pioneer in Education Award for her lasting and positive impact on public education across Missouri.
Even in retirement, O’Brien continues to be an active member of the Bulldog family. She is still supporting academically at-risk students, and she can often be found working at home sporting events throughout the year.