- Cleburne Independent School District
Gerard Principal Tracy White Retires Following 32-Year Career in CISD
It’s “peace out” for Gerard Elementary Principal Tracy White, whose 32 years with Cleburne ISD reflects a dedication to students at all grade levels as a teacher and administrator.
White’s final faculty meeting with her staff was highlighted by their gift of an original piece of artwork inspired by White’s two favorite sayings. One is a quote from Mother Teresa who suggested the start to world peace was “to go home and love your family.” The other saying comes from the first line of a song: “let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
Their gift, and a surprise song and dance salute to White from students was the perfect retirement celebration for the educator, who has spent the last eight years as principal at Gerard.
“This gift and that assembly are so me,” White said. “It says a lot when your staff and students know you so well and do what is just perfect for you. The performances by students in every grade, with the finale by staff, were so much more fun and appropriate for me than your traditional retirement reception.”
“And they totally surprised me--it was amazing,” she said. “At the end of the school year, in the middle of planning award ceremonies, knowing the staff took the time to think what was ‘spot on’ for me says so much. To be included in the celebrations of our students’ accomplishments was very special.”
A career in education wasn’t White’s plan when she enrolled in Stephen F. Austin State University.
“I went to school thinking I would be a physical therapist,” White said. “I was awarded an internship at Scott and White Medical Center and double majored in biology and psychology. But I decided to go back to school to obtain my teaching credentials at Southern Methodist University.”
White started out in 1990 as a seventh-grade life science teacher in Cleburne—spending 14 years in the classroom. She may be among the few teachers still in the district who taught at the three campuses that have served CISD middle school students, starting at the former high school campus on S. Buffalo which opened in 1919.
“I was on the third floor, and had a center room,” she said. “It had a huge chemical closet. You unlocked your classroom door with a skeleton key.”
White made the transition to the new Cleburne Middle School (now Wheat MS) when it opened in 1991. She is also among the original staff of what is now Smith Middle School.
Before she became the campus leader at Gerard in the spring of 2014, she had served at the campus as the Gifted/Talented teacher. White was then tapped to become the district’s first science curriculum coordinator, spending more than three years in that position.
That was followed by her first appointment to campus administration when White was named assistant principal at Adams Elementary. Her CISD service record also includes two years as an assistant principal at Cleburne High School.
“I have always liked leading,” she said. “I was inspired to make the move from the classroom to administration by two of my middle school principals, Doug Johnson and Lonnie Borden. A multitude of people along the way have served as encouragers in my decision to pursue a leadership position in education.”
“I have always loved my job—whatever and wherever it was,” White said. “I have so many great memories. I have been blessed to have always worked with great people on a team that wanted to work together and support each other, through the sharing of a unified vision.”
Gerard PE teacher Tama Click is among White’s many teammates. Click first worked with White at Adams Elementary.
“It has truly been an honor to have her as my campus leader all these years,” Click said. “Tracy was such an anchor for us at Adams. Her work ethic, hands-on approach, humor, encouragement and frank conversations steadied our staff in a variety of circumstances—and always lifted our spirts. That and the iced Gator-shaped cookies she would bring to school.”
“I thanked God when our paths crossed again when she was chosen as principal for Gerard,” Click said. “She has been the complete package as a leader. She has the perspective, the drive, the attitude and the willingness to do and say the hard things, when necessary. I was inspired by the way she juggled and balanced the demands of her job and her ability to support others in the way they needed—but not necessarily in the way they wanted. I grew into a completely different teacher working with her. Tracy helped me to become the best version of myself.”
Also among Cleburne’s 2022 retiring class is Marti Elementary Principal Mary Boedeker. She and White were fellow middle school teachers and met up again in Boedeker’s first year as principal at Adams.
“Believing every child is worthy and in need of a solid educational foundation, Tracy has worked hard to make CISD better, no matter the role she was providing,” Boedeker said. “She has always been up for the job, willing and capable. The treasure trove of experiences she is taking with her can’t be replaced.”
“As colleagues, fellow principals and friends, we have been through some big moments in history along with personal milestones—learning about the shooting at Columbine High School, watching the events of 911 unfold on a little tv in our campus workroom--to becoming grandmothers. We’ve seen a lot and accomplished a lot. My hope for Tracy is that the next chapter in her life will be as fulfilling and memorable as her remarkable years of service to children and their education.”
Boedeker said some of the most hilarious moments in her career involved White and her willingness to do just about anything to engage students—and make them smile.
“Tracy is the one who was willing to do something zany if she thought the kids would like it,” Boedeker said. “She never worried about herself in the process—it was all about the kids.”
From singing on the school announcements and breaking out into dance in the cafeteria to dressing up as the Elf on the Shelf at Christmas and a wild guitarist at a “Rock the STAAR Test” pep rally, White says establishing relationships with her students has been important throughout her career.
“The biggest thing for me is interaction with kids—seventh grade, high school, pre-kindergarten—building relationships with kids is the best and most important part of my job,” White said. “Connect with them, do what you can with them and you’ll make a difference. It’s also amazing how kids can unconditionally love you. It’s not something you have to earn—they just give it.”
That same relationship-building philosophy has extended to her teachers and staff—and it goes both ways. In 2016, White’s summer vacation plans were hindered due to a medical condition that limited her opportunity to travel. Her staff took it upon themselves to provide White with some travel experiences—as only elementary teachers could. In a takeoff of the “Flat Stanley” children’s book series, Flat Tracy was created.
“They used a photo of me with my bicycle,” White said. “As Flat Tracy I went to weddings, to the beach—I went lots of places. That will always be a special memory for me.”
“As a principal, your focus shifts,” she said. “You still build relationships with students, but I saw my primary role as supporting teachers in any capacity. Teachers are great—they take care of kiddos. No one goes into teaching not wanting to help kids. My role, as principal, has been to support teachers. Teachers give, give and give. Unless you’ve been a teacher, you can’t fully understand.”
“As a school leader, you must always look through the lens of doing what’s best for kids,” White said. “Doing that and taking care of your teachers—who are taking care of the learning in the classroom—and everything else will fall into place.”
During her final Gerard faculty meeting, one of her last acts was to pass the baton to Rena Jones, who has served alongside White for eight years as assistant principal. Reflecting the collaboration, teamwork and humor they are known for, White handed Jones an actual twirler’s baton, dangling with notes, advice, tips and dos and don’ts for her new job as school principal.
“My greatest sidekick has been Rena,” White said. “She’s amazing—and she’s going to do amazing things as the new leader of this campus. I could not have been all that I am without her. I have every confidence she will take Gerard to the next level. We’ve worked together for eight years building the foundation she can run with and take to a whole new place of learning. I can’t wait to see what our teachers and kids will do under her leadership.”
Gerard Elementary will always be dear to White’s heart—and it is also her neighborhood campus. The school is just a little farther than a stone’s throw away from her home.
“One of the perks that I never imagined was being minutes away from my campus,” she said. “My day always began great as I enjoyed the fresh air while walking to school, sometimes with students. Now, I will sit on my back porch, drinking coffee and hearing the kids on the playground. I’ll enjoy walking past the school with my dog, or as I ride my bike. I still plan to be a part of Gerard—I’m a member of the school community.”
White says “school” will always be a part of who she is, as she contemplates her next steps.
“I’ve been eligible to retire for a while,” she said. “A lot of things came together in my head—and heart—that made this the right time. My plan is to take a few months to ‘be’ then determine where I want to go next. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and friends. There’s nothing more important—it all comes back to that.”
“When I think of the number of students I have taught and influenced—it’s huge,” she said. “The connections I have made are wonderful. It’s a lot of people—thousands of kiddos and families. I am who I am because of all those I have worked with every year of these 32 years. I have been with greatness. Students, teachers, parents—I have worked with greatness.”