Cassandra Deanie Hawkins Caldwell Class of 1986
Exceptional Childrens Related Services Support Coordinator, Burke County Public Schools;
Adjunct Professor, Gardner-Webb University

My joy comes from giving back what was given to me. With these words, Cassandra Hawkins Caldwell, known as Deanie during high school, beautifully describes her calling as a teacher of exceptional children and as an administrator.

Her current job with Burke County Public Schools is as the Exceptional Childrens Related Services Support Coordinator. Ive been in this role for 2 1/2 years, explains Cassandra. I work directly with School Psychologists, Speech Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Teachers and Interpreters, and our Visually Impaired Teacher. I also coordinate Special Transportation for our Exceptional Children. Not only is this my specific role, but I also serve as an assistant to the Exceptional Childrens Director in various aspects.

My first five years of teaching were in the exceptional childrens department as a third-sixth grade special education teacher. Ive always had a passion for working with children. When obtaining a nursing degree didnt pan out, I changed my major in college to being a special education teacher. Both of my parents worked at the two state facilities in Burke County that serve people with special needs. As a teen, I volunteered at then named Western Carolina Center, now called J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center, and as a college student and adult, I had the opportunity to work at both Broughton Hospital and Western Carolina Center either during vacations from college or as a part-time job during my teaching career. So I guess you could say that I have been surrounded by this occupation. I can say that my experiences growing up inspired me to pursue this career.

I love working with my colleagues because I am able to experience the unique needs of each role and see firsthand how each related service that is provided helps children access their education. Although Im not directly teaching, I am able to provide feedback and guidance in the education that children receive. The biggest challenge that Ive had is adjusting to not actually teaching or having firsthand contact with children. With 25 years of teaching and six years as an administrator, having direct contact with children was my passion, and seeing the changes and growth that children made was the best experience and always touched my heart in a positive way. Being in more of a leadership role, the tide turned in that Im more involved with the adults that have a direct impact with children. This is the biggest challenge...I miss my direct involvement. The reward of this job is that Im in and out of all the schools in Burke County and I see various levels of student learning. The greatest experiences thus far are seeing a nonverbal student use her feet to communicate using a communication device and seeing a student who is blind read using braille.

While in undergraduate school, I began my education in nursing. I dreamed of working in the labor and delivery room. After my sophomore year, I changed my major to education. Cassandra earned a Bachelor of Science in Education from Western Carolina University and later attained a Master of Arts degree in Reading from Appalachian State University. She also completed the Administration Add-On through Western Carolina and has twice achieved National Board certification for Professional Teachers.

During my latter years of teaching, I had several people approach me about going into administration. I always said that I would never be a principal...just wasnt something that I wanted to do. But after a time, a person feels that a change is needed. Larry Putnam, former superintendent of Burke County Public Schools, saw something in me that I didnt. He encouraged me to begin my studies in administration. Once I began my classes for the add-on administration licensure, he hired me as an assistant principal at Walter Johnson Middle School. After 1 1⁄2 years, he promoted me to principal at Hillcrest Elementary School. Being a principal over an entire school, students, teachers, parents, etc., is not an easy task. I found it rewarding in that I was doing something outside my comfort zone, and I was able to see and encourage growth in students and teachers.

Like many others, Cassandra had positive role models in her life. My parents helped and inspired me. Because of them, I was exposed to people in leadership roles, I was exposed to culture, I was exposed to other family members who strongly believed in education. I was raised in the church where I attended Sunday School, vacation bible school, and church services....I was always being taught. James and Daisy Berry babysat kids in the community at their home. These two promoted reading, especially reading the Bible and Biblical stories. They were heavy into the church and helped raise me to love education.

Delia Berry, who was a teacher at Drexel Primary School and lived in our community, influenced me, and I gained a strong respect for her as a single lady who had a career and maintained a home. I remember when I was young, the Bookmobile would come around in our neighborhood. I loved getting books and reading, and to this day I would rather read a book than watch TV. There were so many in the Berrytown community who influenced me. Times were different then...

My parents encouraged me to take part in various competitions...especially the different speech contests. I remember that doing schoolwork and practicing the piano came first; then I could go outside to play. They always pushed me to reach for more. In junior high school, I played the clarinet and sat first chair as well as participated in all county band and state band competitions.

Throughout my education, there were several teachers, principals, and coaches who inspired me...too many to name without leaving someone out. I had my favorites, though. At Drexel Elementary and Drexel Junior High School, I especially remember Mrs. Dorothy Perkins, Mrs. Diane Frye, Mrs. Sue Mast, Mrs. Priscilla Fox, Coach Glenn Winters, Coach Gary Dillingham, Mr. Jim Ball, and Mr. Steve Huffman.

At East Burke, I experienced strong principals, Mr. Trossie Wall and Asst. Principal Mr. Lawrence Carpenter. Just how they treated the students and built those relationships stuck with me. My track coach, Ken Cline, always pushed me to do the max. He never backed off or allowed me to become slack. Ive always had this competitive spirit. I believe that if someone else can do it, I can, too.

Harold Clark hired me as a teacher at Salem Elementary for my first job in my career. Mr. Clark also served as principal at Freedom High for a while, and I always laughed that I had the two best principals in Burke County -- one from East Burke High and one from Freedom High. They were two wonderful role models who helped shape my career.

Two years ago, I became an adjunct professor at Gardner Webb University, and I got my joy of teaching back. Now Im able to teach adults; but not only that, I also have the opportunity to encourage them to seek their education. Many of the ladies who I teach are mothers, have families to take care of, and also work full-time jobs. Just being able to inspire them and receive their appreciation has opened a whole new window of opportunity for me. As I have now completed my 33rd year with Burke County Public Schools, I am encouraged to seek a new career teaching in the university setting or being a mentor to college students and/or those who want to go into education.

So much was given to me, and I continue to receive joy from giving back. If it had not been for my parents and family and community members who rallied around the youth during my years of growing up, my road to success would have been a road to failure. With all the opportunities that are available, failure was not acceptable for me, and I do my best to encourage others to succeed as well.

Published August 2023



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