Mrs. White moved to Lookout Mountain in 1991 with her husband, Johnny, and their young children, Rachel and Joel. She remembers coming from the “flatlands of Memphis” and being “immediately drawn to the charm and character of such an idyllic setting in which to raise our children” and how the “stunning architecture of this mountain school drew me inside its doors,” when registering Rachel and Joel for third grade and kindergarten respectively.
Who could have known in that moment what an impact Mrs. White would have on those very surroundings? She began teaching at LMS in the fall of 1994 in first and then third grade. Former LMS principal Paula M. Gossett mentored Mrs. White, encouraging her to pursue a masters degree in administration, which she did, and after 11 years teaching at LMS, Mrs. White was promoted to assistant principal and then principal at Battle Academy, where she led for several years. Upon Mrs. Gossett’s retirement in 2010, Mrs. White was selected by a committee of HCDE leadership and Lookout Mountain community members to be the new principal at Lookout Mountain School. She said that she felt privileged to serve in this role where the education experience for students is “exceptional, innovative, and rigorous,” preparing them for middle school and beyond.
And while the high quality of the education has remained the same, many other changes have taken place during Mrs. White’s years at LMS. She has seen the school’s footprint grow with an addition on the north end of the building for kindergarten, science lab, art, and literacy lab classrooms; she has overseen renovations to the gymnasium and a full remodel of the auditorium, including new carpet, chairs, curtain, lighting, and sound technology; she has advanced the exterior of the school as well, with the addition of a beautiful greenhouse, the complete landscape remodel of the playground and its equipment, and, along with the support of the garden clubs on the mountain, the landscaping and new chairs and tables for outdoor classes to be held around the pond. Mrs. White notes that the all of the updates and remodeling throughout the school are due to “the fundraising efforts of the PTA and the generosity of this community.” With grit, determination, and a positive attitude, Mrs. White has seen LMS through the daunting challenges of possible school closure, rezoning, and the pandemic. She has also seen LMS rise to some of its greatest achievements, most notably its recognition as a 2022 National Blue Ribbon School. She oversees the big details, like adding security features to the school entrance and coordinating with the Lookout Mountain Police and Fire Departments to ensure LMS is safe and secure, and she also oversees the details that are on a smaller but still important scale, like new blinds in the classrooms. Mayor Wamp commented during Mrs. White’s ceremony that he had even recently seen her out watering the flowers in front of the school at the end of her long day, ensuring that she had done truly everything in her power to take care of every possible detail. He remarked that there was an allegory there, too, representing everything that Mrs. White had poured into LMS children over the years to help them grow.
Knowing this, it is not surprising that Mrs. White feels that her most meaningful LMS memories are “being with the children and seeing the joy of learning through their eyes.” She takes great pride in “the efforts of our village as we raise our children up to be strong, resilient, and courageous in pursuing their dreams,” and she wants them all to know that “they are each running a personal race, not a competition … we all develop at different times and have our own gifts, talents, and challenges. We are all truly masterpieces in the making!”
And while Mrs. White is clearly proud of her students, they are equally as proud of all that she has done for them. During her retirement ceremony, the students stood to surprise Mrs. White with a song that LMS music teacher Katie Huffine had secretly been teaching them called “You Have Made a Difference, ” as a slideshow of Mrs. White’s LMS memories filled the auditorium’s screen. Led by fifth-graders Charles Barnes, Eleanor Hoover, and Emma Mixon, the students sang, “You have made a difference - you have shaped our minds - you have changed the world, one child at a time. I hope that you’re as proud of me as I am proud of you.”
With grateful hearts and tears in their eyes, current LMS PTA president Charlotte Gregorie and Lookout Mountain Commissioner of Education Karen Leavengood thanked Mrs. White and presented her with a beautiful painting of Lookout Mountain School by the late Billy Parker. Mrs. White thanked everyone for their love and support, saying to parents that “you give your children roots, and we try and help you give them wings to fly and soar.” She commented on the amazing support of her colleagues and the mountain community over the years, including during the heartbreaking loss of her son, Joel. She expressed how everyone had lifted her family up while still leading the students “with joy and determination.” The faculty and staff that Mrs. White has led these past 13 years feel grateful to support her during the difficult times and the happy ones. They describe her as “wonderful and understanding,” “amazing,” and as “persevering in all circumstances.” The school’s bookkeeper/secretary Mary Duncan shares about Mrs. White, “her wisdom has always motivated me to do better, and she is not only my boss but also a mentor and friend … she will be greatly missed.”
Mrs. White knows what she will miss the most about her “home” at LMS too: She will think fondly of the laughter that “abounds each day,” the LMS Carnival and Night Out for Lookout, the hunt for the gingerbread man, hearing both children and adults reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lookout Mountain School Student Pledge, and the “kindness, perseverance, courage, strength, citizenship, and responsibility” that she sees in the LMS community. She says, “It can be in the smallest of moments that we find our real joy and witness the hum of a building filled with traditions, celebrations, innovations, and delightful memories.” And despite missing these daily interactions, she is excitedly looking forward to her next chapter, seeing “God’s grace shining through” as she spends more time with Johnny, Rachel and her husband Jay, grandson Campbell, and a new granddaughter on the way!
Mrs. White has carried the torch of leadership beautifully during her years at LMS, and she says, “I know that Emily Haney will lead the charge into greater growth and continued celebrations for our beloved Lookout Mountain School!” Everyone in the LMS community is grateful for Mrs. White’s contributions to the school, knowing that her legacy of strength and kindness will continue on for years to come!
by Meredith Brown