BY FRANK SARACO
Celeste Henkel Elementary School has been a fixture in our community since 1926. It holds a rich history and many wonderful memories for several generations. When the original school was built on Old Mountain Road in 1926, it was named after the first woman superintendent of Iredell County Schools, Miss Celeste Henkel. Celeste Henkel School was constructed due to her efforts to combine smaller rural schools to create more efficient ones. Although the site has received numerous upgrades over the years, the fond memories it evokes when former students enter our building remain the same.
In two years, Celeste Henkel will celebrate its centennial and we anticipate a significant community response. Any former Celeste Henkel alumni who would like to be part of the planning process can contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to have a committee of present and past members to ensure we celebrate all the experiences that have left unforgettable impressions in the hearts and memories of many.
During my 34-year tenure as an educator and now principal, I have experienced numerous school communities both stateside and abroad. When I arrived at Celeste in July 2020, I immediately felt at home – a huge accomplishment, considering we were amid a pandemic. During the most challenging period for schools, our staff eagerly arrived each morning with a smile brimming from ear to ear beneath their face masks. I was glad to see the smiles when the mask mandate was lifted, and they were just as I had pictured them in my mind’s eye.
Now, three and a half years later, we are still smiling. It didn’t take me long to realize the secret ingredient that continues to make Celeste Henkel Elementary a dynamic school –- dedication. Nearly 50 percent of the staff have been at Celeste for six or more years. Of course, we have grown in the last three years.
• In 2021-2022, we added staff childcare to meet the growing demands for affordable and appropriate childcare for many of our teachers having children.
• In 2021–2022, we initiated 15 in-school clubs for students in grades three through five and have continued to grow these opportunities by adding four community partners.
• During the 2022-2023 school year, an additional self-contained Exceptional Children’s classroom was opened.
• This year, we added second- and fourth-grade classrooms to accommodate the needs of our growing population.
During the last three years, a handful of teachers and teaching assistants retired, each dedicating 20 or more years to our school. With these additions and retirements, we have hired new staff who have proven invaluable in maintaining the positive growth of our school’s culture and climate.
Starting this school year, the last Tuesday of November will be known as a “Day of Honor” for our staff. Staff will be acknowledged for their dedication in increments of five years. Mrs. Laura Holbrook, our school’s Teacher of the Year and the district elementary Teacher of the Year for 2023-2024, has completed 31 years at Celeste and is still going strong. Mrs. Holbrook’s dedication to her students and our school is a commonality among her peers and the primary reason for the continued loyalty within our school building. There’s no way of predicting the impact of a new school year; however, the caliber of individuals who enter our doors each day brings continuous hope, and quite often, that’s all an educator needs to keep pouring into the next group of students who collectively transform four walls into an inviting and productive classroom.
On a final note, we have been working on improvements in and out of the school building but still have several projects we would like accomplished before the centennial– a refresh of our playground and purchasing new cafeteria tables. If you have a business or are part of an organization that can donate or help us raise funds, don’t hesitate to contact me. We aspire to be good stewards of all we are given and appreciate the support of our community. Together, we will continue to grow and nurture the legacy that started in 1926 as we chase greatness in our attitude, character, friendships, and learning.
Frank Saraco is the principal at Celeste Henkel Elementary.