From Compton to Incline: Cahill preps for 2nd year as principal

Ashleigh Goodwin /
Tierney Cahill

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – Armed with 32 years of experience ranging from teaching inner city at-risk kids to leading a staff on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore, Tierney Cahill is preparing for her second year as principal at Incline Village High School.

Born in Decatour, Illinois, Cahill was originally on track to become an attorney. Her career track shifted dramatically to education after a conversation with a professor. 

The conversation made her consider the impact of being a teacher over a long period of time versus the impact of one client at a time through the lengthy process of judicial system. 

Cahill said her purpose was driven by making a lasting impact on the world she lives in and will someday leave behind.

Cahill’s career has led her to work with a diverse variety of students in education. The first education job she had was in Compton, California. After becoming a teacher, she and her husband at the time decided to move to the inner city with their budding family to make a difference with at-risk youth.

“At lot of people call them at-risk kids but I call them ‘at promise’ because they have so much potential that needs to be tapped into,” Cahill said.

Since then, she has worked teaching preschool to 12th grade all while raising a family on her own after becoming a single mother. Every step of the way Cahill has been dedicated to helping students of the upcoming generations reach their potential.

A lifelong student, Cahill has continued the path of education without ceasing. Her repertoire full of a list of prestigious accolades that include multiple teaching awards, and degrees/certificates from schools such as Sierra Nevada University, University of Nevada, Reno, Georgetown, and Harvard.

When asked about her impression of teaching, Cahill said, “Every kid needs that warm demanding person, like grandma who will love you and still encourage you to do your best.”

Her warmth and encouraging demeanor were put to good use when she opened a preschool in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The multicultural school provided childcare and early education for the families in the area of Nob Hill. 

When Cahill’s father fell ill, she made the difficult choice to shut the doors of the preschool in Albuquerque to move to Reno to care for him. During that time she worked to get her teaching license in Nevada. Prior to joining Washoe County School District, Cahill performed her student teaching at His Little School and then moved to Bishop Manogue High School.

Cahill never expected what would come next when she became a full-time teacher at Sara Winnemucca Elementary School to teach sixth grade. During the 99-00 school year Cahill ran for the United States government on a challenge from her class to prove that anyone can regardless of status, financially or socially.

“I was terrified, I was thinking, I might throw up but I’m going to do it, because if I say you can do it, I better be able to show you that you can,” Cahill said. “We can’t just be a mouthpiece; we have to be able to show them that anyone can pull themselves up by their boot straps.

“After so many years of hearing ‘You can do anything you want,’ by the time they get to the sixth grade they know that there are odds against them,” Cahill added. “I felt like I had to do it, this weight in my heart, a moral obligation if you truly believe in democracy and the republic then you have to do this.” 

She did so with the support of the WCSD legal team and parents of the students involved.

Miss Cahill for Congress is a book published in 2008 detailing the account of the congressional race with a pack of sixth graders. To her surprise Cahill won the primary and advanced to the general election. Though she lost against Jim Gibbons with 37% of the votes, the class gained real life knowledge of the inner workings of American government. 

“My biggest goal was to stay nonpartisan, focus on the process, and encourage the conversation at home. It’s really the parents job to convey values.”

The traction Cahill got was an “exhausting whirlwind for 14 months” but it also paved the way for lasting bonds with the students that have lasted. The experience also led to DreamWorks owning Cahill’s life rights and a project featuring Hollywood star Halle Berry named, Class Act was started but never came to the screen. 

“Somewhere on some shelf is a movie about my experience,” Cahill said.

For 22 years Cahill has continued her work within the WCSD.

Humble, yet determined, Cahill worked her way to become principal of Incline High School. Cahill called her first year the “watch and learn” phase. The 22/23 school year starts phase two of making an impact which will bring some exciting new focus on student’s real world experience.

The first week of this school year will be called Rise Week. The kids will learn to rise to the next level, expand their understanding of their own capacity and gain real world experience to help inform their future goals. Each student will be matched with a staff member who will mentor them and help them on the journey of their school year. 

With the plans for 2022/23 well underway Cahill has hired an internship coordinator to reach out to basin businesses to help coordinate internships to help provide that real life experience for students through internships within the community.

“Lead to learn more,” she said, “and helping them learn soft skills by going out and interning to give them those experiences that is going to inform their life.”

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