Assistant Superintendent Joe Chenella is being honored this week as the ‘2008 Record Person of the Year.’ Chenella is a pillar among his peers in the building of the Bridge City Independent School District. The Record publisher Roy Dunn will present the award at the BCISD school board meeting Monday, May 5.
Chenella’s career with the Bridge City school district began in 1962. He has seen the tradition and change in the push and pull of a growing community and school district, Chenella would help steer BCISD in crucial periods of growth and history.
In 2007, Bridge City High School celebrated ‘50 Years Proud’ and Chenella had been there for 45 of those years.
“Joe Chenella is an absolute irreplaceable asset to our school district. His love, commitment and passion is seen here everyday,” said Superintendent Dr, Jamey Harrison. “He has become a dear friend.”
Chenella had already been with BCISD 12 years when his boss, Dr. Harrison, was born. That is not so surprising. Over the decades many BCISD grads have returned to become his colleagues in the school system.
Outgoing high school principal Gina Maninno is one of them. Chenella was principal when she graduated in 1984. Mannino recently accepted an administrative position in which she will work directly with him. Her replacement, longtime educator and coach Richard Briggs, began assuming her duties as principal in April. Chenella saw Briggs graduate BCHS in 1981.
“It is hard to imagine BCISD without Mr. Chenella,” Mannino said, “As students, we knew that he would be there to assist us with any problems we might have. He also redirected our behavior as needed.”
“The year after I graduated my father passed away. Mr. Chenella and the assistant principals showed up at out home with chairs and drinks. They cared. That’s the kind of leadership we have had at BCISD.”
Mannino credits Chenella as a mentor in her pursuit of a career in education. She became principal of Simms Elementary in 2003 and BCHS in 2006.
“Mr. Chenella has made a tremendous impact on BCISD over multiple decades,” said Briggs. “His various roles with the school district have provided the opportunity for this impact to be felt not only by students and staff of our district but across the community of Bridge City.”
Chenella has out-lasted the tenure of six superintendents. Dr. E.E. Simms was superintendent when Chenella became an Algebra II and Geometry teacher at BCHS in 1962. Glen Pearson was superintendent 23 years, replacing Simms in 1967 and serving until 1990. Dr. Harold Ramm, 1990-1997, Bill Ortego 1997-1998, Sam Lucia, 1998-2004, and Dr. Darrell Myers, 2005-2007. Dr. Jamey Harrison became BCISD superintendent in the fall of the 2007 schoolyear.
Chenella has served assistant principle and principal of the high school. In 1986 he became assistant superintendent and has served three times as Interim Superintendent as the school board searched for a full-time superintendent. During his employment with BCISD all of the campuses were constructed with the exception of Hatton Elementary.
Steering the “Renovations and New Building Program” for BCISD, Chenella’s leadership was crucial in the building of the new high school and district wide renovation project following the successful $19.79 million school bonds election in 2001.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Rita in 2005, Chenella and then superintendent Dr. Darrell Myers, led recovery and relief efforts at the new high school as a team of BCISD employees and school board members assisted by cooking and serving meals.
The ‘Person of the Year’ award is given by the Penny Record annually on the anniversary edition of the publication. Chenella joins Orange County Judge Carl Thobidoeax who received the award in 2006. Little Cypress-Mauricevile High School activities director Linda Warner was honored by The Record Newspapers last year before she retired. The Penny Record celebrates its 48th Anniversary this week.
“It has been a great honor to be part of the development and growth of the educational system in Bridge City over the past 46 years,” Chenella said, “It has been a rewarding experience to be part of the lives of so many students and the opportunity to join with the community to provide the educational facilities we enjoy today.”
“It’s great to be part of an educational program that has an outstanding statewide reputation. We can be proud of the fact that so many of the graduates of the district have chosen to return here to raise their family and also and also work in the educational community.”
The span of Chenella’s career encompasses the famed 1966 Class-3A State Football Championship under Cardinal head coach H.W. “Chief” Wilson. Chenella was assistant principal under Bill Godwin when Donna Henderson Riley graduated from BCHS in 1976. Today, Riley celebrates her 20th year as an administrative assistant for BCISD.
“He loves to teach people, pick with them, share with them, laugh with them and of course he can dish it out and take a joke too,” Riley said.
BCISD is a major employer in the Bridge City community with nearly 400 employees who oversee the education of 2,500 students.
Former superintendent Glen Pearson has been a friend of Chenella for more than 30 years. “Joe’s vision for the school district has always been what is best for the students, to help them achieve and become successful. Student achievement has always been his goal and priority.”
Chenella and his wife, Nancy, have been residents of Bridge City for 46 years. Their daughter, Meredith, is a 2004 graduate of Bridge City High.

About Mark Dunn