The people are the heart of a small town. And in Whitesville, the school is the heart of its people.
The historic Whitesville Elementary School has been serving the Boone County community since 1931, earning a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Beginning as Sherman District Junior High, which is still embedded on the school’s entrance, the Whitesville School has been more than just a vessel for education. It has been the backbone of the Whitesville community.
One community member in particular, has made it their mission to keep this resource available. Whitesville Elementary School Principal, Chris Duncan, has developed a passion for serving more than just the students that walk through the door.
“The thing about Whitesville is that this school used for everything,” explains Duncan. “I let the community use it as much as they need to. We’ve had people get married here. We have had wedding receptions, birthday parties or whatever the community needs.”
Duncan is a longtime resident of the Boone County area. He is raising a family there and serving as an active administrator and community member in the region. Though he never planned on a career in education, Duncan soon found a passion for serving his town. Beginning his journey as coal coordinator, Duncan made the jump into teaching after taking a job as a substitute in the area. He later began teaching special education, and eventually worked his way up to his role as principal of Whitesville Elementary.
Duncan makes an impact far beyond Whitesville Elementary however; he also coaches his son’s high school basketball team and a middle school football team. Duncan’s main focus in coaching is to give the players at Sherman High School equal drive on the court and in the classroom, something he valued as a college-basketball player.
“My job is to prepare them for life after school – to give them a work ethics that they’re going to do something productive after school,” said Duncan. “My satisfaction as a coach is when they come back to me and say thank you for what you did.”
Duncan has perfected his knack for keeping morale high. The combination of recent tragedies and a crippling job crisis has challenged the principal beyond his basic job requirements.
“Our biggest challenge is that our kids have some added stress that some other kids don’t have because the coal industry is such a declining thing,” admits Duncan. “They hear their parents talking and it gives them this fear of what could happen. This school - if it goes, I don’t know what this community has left.”
Whitesville Elementary School prides itself on being a tight-knit family, but the rapid decline of the coal industry has created many hardships for residents of the region. While parents struggle to hold on to their jobs, children struggle to adjust to the changing times. However, no matter how tough times get, Duncan makes sure Whitesville’s youth are at the top of his priority list.
“The kids need to have a sense of pride about where they come from,” explains Duncan. “You always have to remember where you come from. I come from a small town. I made it and you can do it to. It’s about hard work and it’s about choices.”
As families make tough choices during difficult times, Duncan hopes his positivity and encouragement gives community members the motivation they need to continue living and working in the Whitesville area. He does this because like many of his neighbors, Duncan admits Whitesville is the one place he can call “home.”
“We are such a close-knit family,” said Duncan. “Everybody gets along and we have fun here. I don’t know – It’s just home and that’s how we make it feel for our kids.”
For more information on Whitesville Elementary, click here.