Nation’s longest-serving school principal going strong at 77

Published: May. 13, 2022 at 10:02 AM EDT|Updated: May. 13, 2022 at 10:06 AM EDT
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CHALMETTE, La. (WVUE/Gray News) - On a typical school day, 2,200 students walk the halls of Chalmette High School, 115 teachers have class, and one man is in charge, 77-year-old Wayne Warner.

“They keep you young. They make you laugh,” he says. “I think I have a good thing going on here to keep young.”

Warner has been the principal of Chalmette High for 49 years, inspiring students for decades, and is known for his humble, kind demeanor, WVUE reported.

“He is generous. He is so involved in everyday school,” Beau Nunez says.

You can find Warner frequently walking the hallways of the massive 35-acre campus.

Warner started teaching at Chalmette High in 1966. He began as a librarian at 22 and eventually became a social studies teacher.

“I was very lucky to get a job,” he recalls.

He says he felt an immediate connection to Chalmette High and worked his way up to the assistant principal.

At just 29 years old, in 1973, Warner was awarded the top job.

“I didn’t think I deserved it,” he says. “We had so many teachers that were older than and me and more experienced and so forth.”

Surprised by the promotion, Warner was overcome with pride.

“Not just any school. I was principal of Chalmette High School,” he says. “Very special thing at that time.”

His first order of business as principal was to give kids school spirit.

“As the years went on, it caught on and the culture developed about being a student at Chalmette High School,” he says.

In 1992, Carole Mundt, known as “Cookie,” became Warner’s assistant principal and the two have worked side-by-side ever since.

“I’ve learned from him every single day and I think he picks up a gem or two from me from time to time,” she says.

Over his five decades as principal, Warner’s seen it all.

The school has transitioned from all boys to co-ed. When Katrina hit, 98% of St. Bernard Parish went underwater, but Warner never waivered. Chalmette High became a refuge for residents.

“That was a real tough time to go through because we didn’t know if people were going to come back,” he says.

Two and a half months later, Chalmette High reopened as the Unified Recovery School, serving as an anchor for residents to return home and rebuild.

Today, it’s the only high school in the parish.

“We have a beautiful facility now and we have a lot of great programs,” Warner says.

There’s an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a state-of-the-art theatre, tennis courts, and a television studio.

Generations of family members have come and graduated during Warner’s time, including several members of the school’s administration.

“I hear him say sometimes how he loved school so much that he never left and I feel that way about Chalmette High,” Jill Granberry says. “I loved it because of him. He was such a big part of what Chalmette was and what Chalmette High is.”

“The reason I wanted to be here is Wayne Warner,” Will Schneider said. “The reason I came to school every day is because of Wayne Warner.”

In 2017, Warner earned the title of the longest-serving principal in the country and he’s still going strong.

“It makes me wonder how he was when he was younger because if he’s this active this late in the game... I mean he’s at every sporting event, every extracurricular activity that they have at Chalmette High,” Nunez says. “He’s always there.”

“Every single game. Every basketball game. I look up, there’s Mr. Warner cheering and eating his nachos,” Avania Miller says.

And every single morning he delivers the same message to students: The choices you make today shape your world tomorrow.

“That is so true and I will definitely tell that to my children when they come along,” Miller says.

“If these walls could talk,” Warner says. “There’d be a lot to say, I guarantee ya.”

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