A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: Liberty Elementary ‘purncipal’ Gerry Brooks offers fun relief from classroom stress

Editor’s Note: The following is reprinted column from the August issue of Kentucky Monthly.

By Steve Flairty
KyForward Columnist

“Purncipal” Gerry Brooks promotes positive “edjercation” leadership tied in with a steady diet of funny stuff for his teachers at Liberty Elementary School in Lexington. And in recent years, the good-natured frivolity he shares, mostly via social media, has overflown the boundaries of this tight-knit school community and touched educational circles literally all over America, reaching millions.

He’s helping to relieve teachers’ classroom stresses by poking fun at stressful situations they deal with daily. The effect is that for those working in the challenging day-to-day school experience, his videos are good mental escapes… and welcome affirmation. It’s not difficult to see, also, that there’s a gentle nudge from Brooks to encourage some students’ parents to work with teachers in a more understanding way.

A quick check of the social media numbers give a picture of the impact Brooks has made doing his short, humorous rifts… mostly originating from his personal studio — the front seat of his vehicle. On his Facebook page, almost 900,000 follow him; his Twitter account has about 17,000; and Instagram has nearly 78,000. There have been millions of views of his offerings on YouTube. On weekends, he travels the nation as a speaker at his popular and uplifting Celebrate Educators events.

Using one of his favorite gag mispronunciations and an audience favorite, Gerry Brooks is a “suriously” busy person these days.

His videos, seldom over three minutes long, cover issues such as “school as a babysitter,” where Gerry (pronounced like “Gary) is involved in an intense telephone discussion with a parent insisting that her children be watched at school during the summer, too. He handles the touchy subject of staff bathroom etiquette, models an art project with primary students while handling interruptive questioning, gives advice on administering state assessments using stickers set on one’s head, and demonstrates a typical supervisory day as a “car rider Grinch.” If there’s a common daily issue in most any school, Gerry has likely created something whimsical about it. These are just a tiny few in his fast-growing archive of clips.

His pronunciation (or mispronunciation) of words in a low-key delivery has become a feature, with Gerry frequently adding ‘s’ at the end of words and referring to ‘Walmarts’ and ‘Dollars Tree’ as good places to buy supplies for the extras used in the classroom. At least, those are ‘surgestions,’ as Brooks-in-character often says.

And from where do these invented pronunciations originate? “It just comes out that way,” he said. “I tell people it’s a lot funnier to say ‘curstodian’ than custodian.” His audiences like how it just comes out that way.

Gerry and his wife, Kelly, migrated from Florida with their three kids to the Bluegrass in 2000. “We started looking around for another position at that time,” he said. “I was a youth minister and we got an offer from a church in Lexington, so we moved up to Lexington, a beautiful city that fit all our needs for raising a family.” Those now grown children are Jared, 26, Molly, 24, and Jonah, 22.

He would later concentrate fully on his education career and is now a veteran of some two decades in the public schools, and with the last three years as a humorist specializing in the subject of education. Did he ever dream he’d develop such a following of his comedy antics?

“No…absolutely not,” he said. “It was really just by happenstance. It started with one personal video to the staff, and then I posted a couple others. I posted one on what principals should get their teachers for Christmas, and it blew up and went viral. From there, they just started a small following and those followers posted and it just kind of went out there in the last few years.”

The videos are satirical, casting a wide net; they draw knowing looks amongst those closely connected to school life.

“We think issues of our schools are exclusive to just us,” said Vickie Hunter, a retired school counselor with the Daviess County Schools. “Then, he starts these videos and we realize we are all in this together, not just in Kentucky but all across the U.S. From the school nurses to the car rider line, we laugh because we relate to each incident.”

Jennifer Segers, a seventh-grade language arts teacher in the Ohio County Schools, noted that Gerry Brooks, with his videos, “keeps it real in a humorous way. He’s our comic relief for a profession we love but one that comes with its own interesting challenges, or topics. He makes me smile.”

A second grade teacher at Brooks’ school likes his style and effectiveness as principal. “He’s been very good for our school climate and morale,” said Cornelia Roberts. “The scores have been going up every year he has been there. He’s visible, and he’s in the classroom nearly every day. Roberts called Brooks “supportive…(and) every time you have a problem, you can go and talk to him.”

Melinda Caudill, on the same faculty, called the school “an amazing place to work. He (Brooks) truly has the best interest of his staff and students at the heart of every decision. He has super high expectations, but you want to do a good job.”

Brooks called Liberty “a great place to work, but we’re also a working school…(and) it has the same issues that all schools have,” he noted. “It’s not perfect, but definitely a place, I think, that they enjoy a great family atmosphere where they are more than open to express their opinions and try to make changes.”

For sure, Brooks has his eyes and ears open to real school concerns, and after processing them on a given day, his creative juices take over—“always after school on my own time, usually after dinner. It gives me time to think through things,” he said.

The video creation process is brief and not complicated. “Usually, it’s just a basic idea that I come up with and I’ll work it through in my head a couple of times to make sure what I’m saying and to know where I’m going with that,” he explained. “Then I’ll shoot a video and I check it with a friend of mine who watches it. The whole process is usually fifteen minutes at the most, as long as he is available. Overall, the theme is support for educators. ”

Sometimes, his humor receives some pushback when someone is offended. “I have yet to put a video out there when someone didn’t find something negative about it,” said Brooks. “I’ve taken down some videos before. A lot of times I say: ‘Sorry that offends you, but I disagree.’”

One might wonder, with Brooks’ recent over-the-top star appeal, if he’s considering leaving his principal job to do only comedy.

“Lots of people ask me if I’m going to retire and do speaking events full-time, but I absolutely love my job,” he said. “I’m very blessed with an amazing staff and a very supportive community. So, I don’t foresee me leaving as principal. The actual videos and the social media is not taking anything away from work, and with the speaking engagements, I work them around either vacation days or weekends.”

Currently, public education is confronting a barrage of challenges, including issues such as pension reform and pay, safety concerns, and general funding. What are Brooks’ thoughts about public education’s future?

“I’m optimistic about the fact that we have come together as a collective voice,” he said. He described the treatment of the profession now as “disappointing,” but added that “it has been fantastic to see us all rise up together to be on the same page.”

In his “Goodie Table Day” video, with over 179,000 viewings on YouTube, Brooks describes, among others, the profile of an “overloader” person on a day that the school staff does a special pot luck meal. “The overloader,” he said, tongue firmly in cheek, “takes two plates of food back to the classroom to eat…and we watched you eat a whole plate of food while you were filling up the plates you were carrying out.”

And, too, it seems that there are a whole lot of Gerry Brooks’ fans who can’t seem to satiate their hunger for his humor. Three plates of good belly laughs might not be enough. They believe this purncipal is really good for edjercation, a badly needed breath of fresh air for this institution of learning.

Suriously.

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steve-flairty

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)      

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