PECATONICA, Ill. (WTVO) — Eyewitness News’ series profiling some of the most “Remarkable Women” in the stateline concluded Wednesday night with the story of an educator that shines through adversity.
Carrie Brockway is the principal of Pecatonica Elementary School, and she is a leader who sees obstacles as opportunities. She has an infectious optimism that has gotten her through personal and professional challenges.
Brockway leads the team at Pecatonica Elementary with a core belief that her students come first, and it is her perpetually positive attitude that has navigated her through some tough times.
It has been a challenging time for educators. The tragedy of school shootings and the uncertainty of the pandemic have weighed heavily on teachers and principals across the country.
That all makes the story of Brockway even more inspiring. She has been the principal of Pecatonica Elementary for 16 years, earning national praise with a Blue Ribbon Award in 2015.
“We earned the award both as a high performing school in terms of our students excelling and doing well, but we also qualified as a ‘Closing the Gap’ school, meaning that our students who were at risk for failure were actually attaining the standards in a high percentage compared to most other schools in the state,” Brockway said.
Her approach is refreshingly positive. Brockway’s students have discovered that a trip to the principal’s office can actually be a good thing.
“It actually helps with the relationship building so that when a kiddo does make a bad choice, we have that rapport built to work things through and nobody is a bad kid,” she said. “We all sometimes have bad days or make bad choices, but school should be a place where they feel safe and loved and not be afraid of anything or anyone.”
Brockway’s empathy was never more apparent than during the pandemic.
“A lot of parents were essential workers, so we were trying to provide learning opportunities for our students while also knowing that sometimes kiddos wouldn’t have as much parental support because their parents were working in the hospital, the clinics and police departments,” Brockway said.
Brockway and her team took “care” to the next level, making house calls at times.
“We got Chromebooks out to each of our students and coordinated pick up days,” she said. “We also delivered work to children’s homes if it was going to be difficult for parents to come because of their IN work schedules.”
However, a medical crisis came in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and it was a personal one for Brockway. She was experiencing heart palpitations. Her husband had suffered a massive heart attack just two months earlier, so she took no chances and went to see a doctor.
Her heart was fine, but they discovered that she had Stage 4 colon cancer.
“It was quite a shock,” Brockway said. “We had just navigated my husband’s scary health situation and to find out that I, at the age of 42, far too young for a typical screening, had advanced colon cancer was of course really scary.”
Brockway credits her family, faith and team of doctors with helping her get through this unexpected journey.
“I had an impeccable team of the most incredible experts, not just locally and regionally but also nationally. but I definitely credit them with making the right decisions for me,” she said.
And, if a sign that her work was not done here, Brockway’s recovery has come full circle.
“I’m a fully functioning adult with no evidence of cancer in my body, so it’s been an incredible journey,” Brockway said.
She rarely missed a day at school, even with a regiment of chemo and other treatments, and she never stopped putting her “kiddos” first.
“It’s a responsibility we all take a great deal of pride in, knowing that we want to make it the best experience for our students, and for me as a principal, want it to be the best possible experiences for our adults as well,” Brockway said.
Her roots are as local as they get, graduating from Hononegah High School in Rockton and Rockford University. She credits her family with being her rock, and her students with being her inspiration.