A New Principal: Then and Now

Sydney Ferguson, ENN Saff

Lake Ridge High ushered in the new school year with a new interim principal. Although he’s been retired for 7 years, Gerald Kokenes has enthusiastically come back into service for the 9th time. Not many people would be so quick to return that many times from retirement, but for Kokenes, the love he has for education as well as the respect he has toward his mom has ultimately led him to believe that his efforts are well worth it.

“My mother was one of eight children and was the only one in her family who had a high school diploma,” Kokenes said. “Back in those days you worked in the field or did some other work. She told me and my brothers we were going to go to high school and college and in order to honor her, we did.”

Being raised to value education was one of the factors that caused Kokenes to become an educator. However, there were also people and experiences in his life that encouraged him to serve his country along with his two brothers who served in the Army and Navy.

“Back when I grew up most men felt an obligation to serve their country in military service. I had one uncle in the Air Force, one in the Navy, one in the Military. When I was in high school they told me not to forget my military service and that I also had an obligation to my country,” Kokenes said.

Family values contributed to his decision but it wasn’t the sole reason Kokenes joined the Army.

“At the time, state supported colleges in Texas required all men to be in ROTC as an elective for two years. After the two years you could stay in ROTC and then after college go into the army as an officer. During those last two years they paid you 90 cents a day,” Kokenes said. “That was [money for] breakfast I wasn’t eating. I also knew they would train me to be a pilot.”

Kokenes is now qualified to fly helicopters and airplanes. After college, he spent 26 years in the Army serving in places such as Hawaii, Washington DC, Germany, Panama, and Vietnam. His family followed him almost every step of the way.

“I married my wife [Judi Kokenes] on August 15, 1964. We’ve been married for 53 years and have four children who have graduated. Two boys and two girls,” Kokenes said.

Kokenes’ children were raised in a number of places like Colorado, Georgia, Virginia, Kansas, Germany, and Hawaii. After many years in the Army, Kokenes later retired with the rank of Colonel and began utilizing the teaching certificate he’d earned years earlier.

“I went to college at Sam Houston State University and majored in Math and Physical Education,” Kokenes said. “I enjoy math because I like the fact that in math you can come to a finite conclusion. Three times two is six. Nothing else. You can’t misconstrue that equation and I wish all of life were as principle as that.”

Kokenes then returned to Texas and began his career in education. He taught math and coached baseball and basketball in Killeen, Texas. A few years later in Arlington he again taught math but this time went into administration.

“So far, I’ve been Principal at Cross Timbers Elementary School, Ponder Elementary School, Coble Middle School, Wester Middle School, Perry Elementary School, Summit High School and, most recently, Lake Ridge High School.” Kokenes said

During his time at Cross Timbers Elementary School, Kokenes got to know one of Lake Ridge’s current band directors, Brad Bonebrake.

“We’ve known each other for about ten years. I first knew him when he was principal at Cross Timbers. I got to know him better at Summit when he filled in for some administrators while I was there.” Bonebrake said.

As someone who has worked in close proximity to Kokenes, Bonebrake was able to attest to his capabilities.

“He’s very approachable, he communicates really well, he definitely has the best interests of the students at heart, along with the parents and faculty.” Bonebrake said.

Rob Romaguera, Assistant Principal at Lake Ridge, also knew Kokenes ten years ago from his days working at Cross Timbers. Romaguera’s son, a fifth grader at the time, attended the school when Kokenes had been promoted to Principal.

“I know from experience [as a parent] that he has great leadership skills and brings a great leadership presence here to Lake Ridge,” Romaguera said. “He’s very experienced in the role he’s been given here.”

Romaguera is naturally connected to Kokenes through the education system however their connection goes way deeper than that. The connection was formed because of Romaguera’s encounter with Kokenes’ past.

“There’s a Vietnam museum in Mineral Wells and in that area there’s a helicopter that’s perched on a pole up in the air. That was his actual helicopter that he flew in Vietnam. That particular one is the one he piloted in the army.” Romaguera said.

Kokenes retired in 2010 but has come back to serve in administration nine times since then at most of the aforementioned schools.

“I have a lot of friends in administration in Mansfield and when a trusted friend asks you for something it’s an honor to provide that,” Kokenes said.

Regardless of his many years of experience he still has goals for Lake Ridge as a school.

“My goal for Lake Ridge is to continue meeting the expectations that have already been given by the district and previous principal and to excel in all of our endeavors, particularly academics but also athletics, activities, clubs, and all other events that occur at this school,” Kokenes said.

Though he can’t possibly know every student in the building, he does have something he would like his temporary new charges to know and understand.

“I enjoy teaching, I enjoy being with kids, I have high expectations for our students in the classroom and in their activities and I want them to succeed in everything that they do,” Kokenes said.

Gerald Kokenes has set deep roots into the world of teaching. He plans to utilize that foundation to better Lake Ridge as a school and prove he’s the man for the job in the time he’s here.