After more than 32 years at Indianola Academy and a total of 47 years in education, Headmaster Sammy Henderson is headed home after school ends in May.
Henderson announced last year that the 2018-2019-school term would be his last in the lead position at Indianola Academy. The 1970 alumnus and former coach plans to take some time out to slow down and enjoy the next phase of his life.
He and his wife Linda are planning to move to their 60-acre tree farm just outside of Vaiden. Henderson said he is not looking forward to retiring and moving.
“But, I’m looking forward to having some time that I can spend with my family, I can visit family and I can do some things I want to do,” Henderson said.
He said his wife has wanted him to slow down, so that is what he is going to do.
The veteran educator and administrator said what he will really miss about entering this next phase will be the relationships with the faculty, patrons and the school board.
“But the thing I will miss the most is the children. I’ve enjoyed being around these young people and seeing them come through and then be successful in life. So many of my patrons now were my students back when I was teaching and coaching,” he said.
High school principal Charlie Mason will take over as Henderson’s replacement.
“Mason is going to do well. He’ll step in here and do a wonderful job,” Henderson said.
And he added that Mason also understands the mission and culture of the school and has embraced its objectives just as much as he has.
This is actually Henderson’s second time working on the IA campus, he spent 20 years there beginning around 1976 as a teacher and a coach before becoming high school principal. He taught Mississippi History, sociology, drivers education, and physical education.
After that he headed east to Starkville Academy to serve as headmaster.
And after 11 years there, the call came to return home as headmaster of his alma mater.
“I was excited. Of course Starkville Academy did not want me to leave, they tried to get me to stay, but it was a chance to come home. I love Indianola Academy and I’ve always had that blue and white in me,” Henderson said.
Another appealing aspect of the move for him was that his mother was still here at the time. Henderson was born in Indianola and did his student teaching at Gentry High School in 1974 before going off to Georgia to begin his teaching career.
It was then IA Headmaster Peter Jernberg, his eventual mentor, who urged Henderson to come back to IA the first time, back in the mid seventies.
Henderson said being fair and consistent has always been what has guided his actions and he credits Jernberg with molding and shaping him into the person he has become.
“He was the one person that mentored me as I was a young coach and teacher and encouraged me to get into administration. He instilled a lot of what I am about now into me at that young age, as far as the way you treat people, the way you treat students, the way you run a school and I will always be grateful for that,” Henderson said.
He maintains that his door has always been open and that whenever a child wanted to or needed to, they could come sit down and talk with him.
“I try to talk to them just like they are my own children,” he said.
Additionally, he makes sure they know he cares for them and is available to them anytime, 24-7, especially if they can’t reach their parents. He tells the students to call him and he will come and see about them.
“I’ve done that a time or two, a kid needed my help,” he said.
Henderson, who holds a AAA degree in administration and supervision, in addition to his masters degree in administration, is responsible for the entire operation of the school, which obviously comes with its own set of challenges.
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an easy transition for him.
“Because a lot of the board members that hired me back were my former students, so I knew them and had watched them as they were students coming through,” he said.
He expressed his eternal gratitude to the academy board for allowing him the freedom and support to run the school and making sure he has the funds he needs to do the job.
“They’re great and have great leadership,” he said.
Henderson said he counts it as an honor that they would want him to come back as the headmaster.
“Evidently… hopefully they enjoyed me being here the first time,” he added.
Henderson said it was always embedded in him that if he were to leave Starkville Academy it would only be to return to Indianola.
He praised the staff, students and the school as a whole.
“It’s just a great school, certainly a great job and great faculty,” he said.
Henderson said a number of the staff was there during his previous time at the school so he had opportunity to renew those friendships.
“We’ve carried the school a long way and it’s not just me, it has been a team effort, the strength of this school is the faculty,” he said.
Under his administration the school has made huge strides academically and has maintained a wonderful group of teachers. He has led the school forward with many advancements in technology including smart boards in the classrooms and iPads and laptops for teachers and students.
He is also credited with holding together a wonderful coaching staff. He has spearheaded improvements at Legion Field and a new indoor facility, renovations to the gym new lighting, new buses and so many other improvements that affect the lives of the students for years to come.
Indianola Academy is also fully accredited by the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Southern Association of Independent Schools.
He praises the patrons and the past graduates, many of whom still refer to him as Coach Henderson, for making the difference.
Henderson is always eager to reflect back on his many wonderful memories from the school. He said being an administrator is a great opportunity to influence young people’s lives and reinforce the values and morals the children are being taught at home.
“Any opportunity I get, I’m going to bring the Lord into the conversation… about what he expects of us and how expects us to treat each other,” Henderson said.
He said he plans to stay involved with the school; he is on the state’s academy activities commission.
Plus, he has been a member of the accreditation commission for the MAIS for the past 20-plus years and plans to continue in that position. He said his association with the commission affords him an opportunity to see what other schools are doing and bring some of those things back to IA.
Henderson said you must always be in the process of continuing to improve, and you can’t be complacent, that’s his modus operandi.
“Indianola Academy is such a wonderful place to work, I enjoy working with the community,” Henderson said.
He said IA is a school for the community and any child that wants to come and they’re really proud to be able to offer that kind of service to the people.