Carmen James Elder Named Sunnyvale ISD Distinguished Alumnus of the Year
Few Sunnyvale alums have made an impact on the Town of Sunnyvale the way this year’s Distinguished Alumnus of the Year has.
Through her contributions as a Sunnyvale school principal, a community volunteer and a town business advocate, Carmen James Elder has touched the lives of countless Sunnyvale Raiders.
Carmen graduated from Sunnyvale Junior High School in 1988 after attending the then K-8 campus during kindergarten and first grade and then again from fifth grade through eighth grade. At the time, because Sunnyvale did not have a high school, students attended Poteet High School; Carmen graduated from PHS in 1992. She then graduated from Texas A&M University in 1996.
During her time a SJH, Carmen was active and involved in school as a cheerleader, volleyball player and team captain, basketball player and team captain, and track team member. While Sunnyvale schools looked a lot different in the 80s, the Raider spirit remained the same that students know and love today.
“My favorite memory growing up as a Raider was the weekly pep rally,” Carmen said. “As I got older and became part of the pep rallies, I remember being so excited to carry on the traditions of those kids that went before me. I still love when everyone stands and sings Sunnyvale Our Sunnyvale together.”
in 1996, Carmen began a career in education that spanned over 20 years. She worked as a teacher in Mesquite ISD and later became a principal. In 2010, she returned to her roots and became the Sunnyvale Middle School principal.
“The Sunnyvale community made a huge impact on my life as a principal in so many ways,” she said. “I never expected to get more from a community than I gave as a principal. I can truly say that being in this district and in this community made me a better principal, mom, friend, and over all better person.”
Perhaps her influence as a principal was none other than Sunnyvale’s long-time superintendent, Gwinn Blankenship - known to all as “Mr. B.”
“When I was in the 7th grade, my parents were going through a divorce and I was struggling internally with it for many reasons,” she said. “My grades were slipping and I was on the verge of being grounded. One day, I left my homework in my locker at school. I called Mr. B in tears and explained that I needed to get back into the school to get my homework because a zero would kill my average in that class and I would probably fail the six weeks. He immediately told me to come by his house and get his keys to the school. He didn't lecture me, give me a disappointed look, or make me feel bad. Instead he gave me a hug and waved goodbye. That memory was forever etched in my mind. Many many times throughout life my thoughts took me back to that day.
When dealing with students I would ask myself, ‘What Would Mr. B Do?’ I learned several lessons on love, grace, and compassion from Mr. B that day.”
Carmen also recognizes other Sunnyvale teachers who had an impact on her life.
“I have so many teachers to thank for guiding me and putting up with me over the years,” she said. “Karen Holland, Coach Ron Hounsel, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Eversole, Mrs. Ramanzedeh, Dr. Elms (Airheart), Coach Ron Moore, and Mrs. Williams were all so influential in different ways and set me on a strong foundation. Teachers at SJH treated you like you were their own kids.”
In the last few years, Carmen has focused her attention on community service in the Town of Sunnyvale. She is a founding member of the 100 Women of Sunnyvale, a philanthropic organization for women in Sunnyvale which works to support local nonprofits.
“I think for the longest time most people didn't realize that there are some pretty big needs here in Sunnyvale,” Carmen said. “100 Women of Sunnyvale has brought awareness and assistance to the needs of our community, but it has also given an avenue for women of all ages in this community to connect and build relationships with one another.”
Carmen is also a co-founder of Single Women of Sunnyvale with SMS teacher Angela Henderson. Her personal experiences as a single mother and as the daughter of a single mom combined with her experience as a principal helped formulate her desire to help single women in the Sunnyvale community.
“I was happy to participate in Angela’s vision to come up with a way to provide support and assistance for single moms so that they may be able to stay in Sunnyvale after divorce or widowhood and continue to be valuable members of our community,” she said. “I could not be more thrilled or proud of what we have been able to do thus far for single moms and their children.”
Now, as a local Sunnyvale realtor, Carmen enjoys supporting local businesses in Sunnyvale. She regularly features local businesses in her video series, “Sunnyvale Hometown Lowdown.”
“For years, this town has needed and wanted new businesses to come into our community to help support our tax base. Starting a new business from scratch is not easy. It takes a lot of energy, money, patience, dedication, and courage,” Carmen said. “We need to be FOR these people and show support for these businesses. I am bound and determined to do what I can to help them stay open and be successful. Spreading the word about these businesses and making sure our community knows what they have to offer is something that I can easily do. Connecting people is a passion of mine and something I love to do by nature.”