The school year has come to an end. Children everywhere are sleeping later, eating all the cheese puffs and leaving trails of stuff from the kitchen to the living room to their bedrooms.
Parents should be mourning the loss of two excellent educators.
Wendell Middle School and Zebulon Middle School both lose their principals to retirement this year.
Mary Castleberry has led Wendell Middle School since it opened and she was the principal at Carver Elementary School for several years prior to that.
Dalphine Perry came to Wake County from Wilson County and she set Zebulon Middle School on its ear and never stopped pushing in her effort to make that school the best it can possibly be.
I count both women as friends, not just school officials and not just newsmakers.
While it’s impossible not to wish them well in their retirement, the selfish part of me wants them to stay right where they are for the next 30 years so that another generation of children will benefit from their passion.
Someone, maybe a former superintendent, once told me middle school children can be the toughest to manage. “They don’t believe fire will burn,” I was told. That philosophy only adds to my respect for Castleberry and Perry since that’s the group of children they’ve mentored for the last several years.
Perry and I had the chance to work for a number of years on the now-defunct Adult Spelling Bee, raising money to provide funds for teacher grants. Perry took on a leadership role in that effort and added all kinds of common-sense ideas. She made the drudgery of planning fun. And she was a bulldog when it came to soliciting teams and building support for the effort with her colleagues.
If you ever got the chance to sit and talk to her when you had a minute, she is smart, positive and laugh-out-loud funny. But she can be serious too. She managed her school through difficult staffing transitions and she never stopped working to build the reputation of a school that, frankly, didn’t have a great reputation before she arrived. And, most of all, she was the biggest booster her school had.
Zebulon Middle School parents will miss that next year.
I’ve come to know Castleberry both through my work and as a parent. My oldest child started middle school the first year Wendell Middle was open. Castleberry led a trailer park school for two years as she, her teachers and students looked across the parking lot at their permanent school rising up from the ground. She has a devilish-looking grin that makes you think she’s up to something even if she’s not. But she helped my child through behavior issues and she supported my wife and me as we tried to figure out how to raise our children.
Castleberry made a habit of knowing the children in her school, which is no small feat in a school as large as Wendell Middle. She still asks about my children when we see each other, though they’ve both been out of middle school for quite some time. It’s always been clear to me she was much more invested in her students than most people realize.
I am sure, without a doubt, someone reading this has had a bad experience at one of these two schools and they directly blame Perry or Castleberry for that experience. It’s partly the nature of the beast. It’s impossible to set rules and expectations and make everyone happy when you enforce them. I suspect those parents are in the distinct minority.
But here’s one thing I know: whoever succeeds my friends in those two schools will have a hard time living up to the standards Dalphine Perry and Mary Castleberry set.