Chuck McKenna

Longfellow Elementary School Principal Chuck McKenna sports one of the colorful neckties he is known for in front of the “ROAR board” at the school. After nine years at the helm of Longfellow, McKenna will retire in June.

Longfellow Elementary School Principal Chuck McKenna said he will miss the hugs that come with his job.

McKenna estimated he gets about 50 hugs a day from students at the school, one of the perks of being an elementary school principal.

He announced his retirement last year, and this year has been a transitional year to prepare for changing of the guard.

Cory Scheffel, Salida High School dean and acting principal, will take over the reins from McKenna during the summer.

McKenna began his teaching career teaching high school and also taught at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling.

After spending years as a Trappist monk at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, he obtained his master’s degree in counseling and psychology and became a licensed therapist, working with kids and adults.

McKenna decided to go back into education and moved to Salida in 1998. He taught kindergarten through 12th grade music and honors psychology in Cotopaxi before becoming the principal and later interim superintendent.

With the opportunity to open the brand-new Longfellow Elementary School building in 2014, McKenna came to Salida School District.

McKenna said it has been a “blissful nine years.”

As principal, McKenna set relationships with students and fostering socio-emotional health within the building as a priority.

He said having a group of teachers that bought into that makes school “so wonderful.”

In his daily message to the students, he tells them, “I love you all,” making sure that each student hears that message from someone during the day.

The implementation of a socio-emotional interventions and its transformative effect on the school was the main reason the school was nominated for and received the Succeeds Prize Award for Transformational Impact and Excellence in Education in 2019, along with $15,000 for the school.

McKenna said of winning the award, “I was so happy for everybody. The kids back in Salida got to watch it on TV.

He said the kids won the award, which is “how it should be.”

He also said it was important for teachers to be recognized since that doesn’t often happen.

He said the school got the recognition and the teachers and kids owned it.

The most rewarding part of his job, McKenna said, is the kids.

He said there have been very few times he’s had to discipline students.

“It’s all about teaching moments. Kids respond,” he said.

He has also enjoyed watching students grow up.

“My first group of fourth-graders are seniors. They are grown up, but with the same eyes.

“I love what we do in the school district with opportunities for kids through middle and high school. It’s fun to see them mature and be successful,” he said.

The last two years dealing  with COVID-19 have been McKenna’s most challenging.

He said the upheaval left a lot of stressed and tired people, but he is grateful to the Salida community for helping the school stay open and in person.

“It was a community effort. Such an important thing to do,” he said.

McKenna said although the work he does is important, he won’t miss working so many hours.

After he turns over the school to Scheffel, McKenna said he is taking six months when he won’t be accepting new positions.

He just wants “to listen in quiet and recover.”

Then he will see what’s next, and he said he knows there’s something else coming.

Among other things, McKenna said he wants to be a musician again, read and travel.

He also wants to commemorate his time as principal by having his collection of colorful and whimsical neckties he sports daily made into a quilt.

McKenna and his wife, Wendy, plan to stay in Salida.

The couple’s two daughters don’t live very far away, with Faith in Denver and Melissa a student at University of  Wyoming.

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