By Catherine Hosman
BERTRAM — When Principal Carla Denison retires from Bertram Elementary School at the end of the school year after 30 years of service, she leaves behind a legacy that began when she was a first grade student at the school.
“I am very excited about change, the new opportunities for me to do something different, but I will miss the students,” she said. “We are very close here, very family oriented.”
But for now she is still in charge and keeps a close eye on her students. As she makes her rounds through the halls of the school, she walks under banners hung from the ceiling that reflect the school’s values. Words like justice, perseverance, self-reliance, compassion, loyalty and responsibility are just some of the ideals she said teachers hope to instill in their students.
“We are building good citizens of Texas,” Ms. Denison said as she peaked into classrooms to make sure all was well with her school.
As she walked through the activity building, she said, “This is where I started. I was a first grade teacher and also taught health, computer and life skills. Back then, we had 125-130 students. Today, we have 400.”
With her rounds completed, Ms. Denison turns to the administrative duties of the day that could include paperwork, phone calls to parents, discipline referrals or meeting with teachers.
“Sometimes I conference with parents and kids,” she said. “There is never a dull moment, every day is different. Some days I can get out and be in the classrooms, other days I’m stuck in the office, doing reports or disciplines.”
Ms. Denison began her career as a first grade teacher in 1983. Her former teacher, the late Johnnie Mae Wheeler, then the principal of Bertram Elementary, called her about a job opening at the school following her graduation from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) in San Marcos.
“Mrs. Wheeler was my first, second and fifth grade teacher. She also taught my mom, dad and sister,” she said. “I got to work with her. It was very special to grow up here, go to school here and teach here. She was my first principal.”
But it was her second grade teacher, the late Laura Limroth, who inspired her to become an educator.
“She was so special, loving, caring. . .she made me feel good about myself, about learning and how to make other children feel that way also,” she said.
Mrs. Limroth was not her only inspiration, however. Her mother, Emma Jewel Goodwin, was also a teacher who taught homemaking in Bertram when she was a student.
“My life revolved around education,” she said. “I’ve been going to school for 48 years; first as a student at Bertram Elementary, then Burnet High School, four years at Southwest Texas State (now Texas State University) and two years earning my administrative degree from Dallas Baptist. I taught first grade for one year at Bertram Elementary, then second grade for 20 years. I was an AP (assistant principal) for four years. This is my fifth year as principal.”
Ms. Denison said 12 of the 52 staff members and many of the parents of students were also once students at the school where they now teach or have children attending.
“It will be hard to say goodbye,” she admitted. “But that day hasn’t come yet. Tears will be shed for sure.”
When she does leave, she said she will miss getting to know her students and working with them. Every year she made it her goal to learn the names of each student so when she saw them she could call them by name.
“Just learning their names shows you care,” she said.
“I am so impressed with the fact that she knows every student’s name in the entire school,” said incoming Principal Tara Singletary, who will leave her post at Shady Grove Elementary School to assume the position in Bertram this fall. “When we walked the school together she told me she takes the first few weeks to learn the students’ names, she does a good job there.”
Ms. Denison said one of her biggest challenges has been dealing with state assessments.
“It’s so hard on the kids; lots of pressure, stress,” she said. “They are tested so much.”
Moving forward, Ms. Denison said she doesn’t know what is on the horizon, but while she is waiting, she will be working alongside her sister in their catering company “Two Peas in a Pot.” But don’t count her out of education completely. She said she just might turn up at the school as a substitute teacher after retirement.
“It’s time to move on,” she said. “It’s been a big honor for me to be here and have people put their confidence in me, help me get the job and believe in me. They gave me the opportunity to teach their kids and touch their lives.”