GONZALES, La. – On July 11, 2015, the Louisiana Department of Education will announce the 2016 Principal of the Year, an honor earned last year by Pecan Grove Primary Principal Marjorie Meyers. This summer, Meyers took some time to reflect on the statewide honor and the legacy she leaves behind.
A LEGACY OF LEADERSHIP
Just days away from transitioning to an instructional leadership position in the Ascension Public Schools district, the 2015 Louisiana Principal of the Year sat at her desk amid boxes and a partially packed office as she prepared to leave the school she opened just seven years ago. Instead of being sad Meyers embraced the change, having accomplished much in her time at Pecan Grove Primary and leaving a legacy of leadership.
“I could go for a week and this school could run without me because I hired and mentored decision makers,” said Meyers. “Those in leadership know my expectation is to ‘grow and go.’ I want to make you ready for the next position.”
Among her mentees are new Pecan Grove Primary Principal Amy Champagne and Assistant Principal Allison Brown, as well as Gonzales Primary Principal Jaimee Williams, who is a finalist for the 2016 Louisiana Principal of the Year.
“I was always looking for people who could make decisions because I did not want to be tied to my office. I wanted to be in the classrooms, so I could focus on my passion: instruction,” said Meyers.
AN ACCIDENTAL ADMINISTRATOR
After 30 years in education (26 of those in Ascension Parish), Meyers calls herself an “accidental administrator.” She always planned to retire as a first grade teacher, but while serving as an adjunct instructor at LSU, she found enjoyment in working with adults. When Ascension Public Schools created a new “teacher coach” position, Meyers found it to be a perfect blend of her skills in teaching and mentoring.
While serving as a teacher coach at G.W. Carver Primary and Gonzales Primary, Meyers’ interest in school leadership sparked. “Seeing the impact that one person could have over an entire school blew me away,” she said.
She served as Assistant Principal at Gonzales Primary for two years before becoming principal of a new school in Gonzales, Pecan Grove Primary.
TRIAL BY FIRE
When Pecan Grove Primary opened in 2008, its entire administrative team was green. “Not a one of us knew her new role,” said Meyers. “We all developed on the fly and made it the best we could.”
In addition to a new team, the new facilities had growing pains. The phones did not work on the first day of school, and there was no Internet access for months. Yet, working through the challenges brought Meyers’ team closer. “We became a very cohesive team because we went through the fire together,” she said.
A NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED TURNAROUND SCHOOL
Created to ease the overcrowding at Gonzales Primary and G.W. Carver Primary, Pecan Grove’s student performance on testing earned the school a state letter grade of D. In 2011-12, the school implemented the TAP System, a national model for turnaround efforts in student performance.
Based on intense review of student data, the TAP System included weekly professional development and instructional coaching for teachers to improve instructional effectiveness.
“TAP has been a wonderful platform to grow success at every level,” said Meyers.
In just four years, Pecan Grove jumped from a D to a B in the state’s letter grade performance metrics. Those efforts led to earning the prestigious TAP Founder’s Award earlier this year. The $50,000 award funded by the Lowell Milken Family Foundation is given annually to one school in the country for exceptional efforts to implement and represent the principles of TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement.
The award announcement in March of 2015 marked a second high point for Meyers and Pecan Grove in an otherwise challenging year.
A YEAR OF TEARS
When Marjorie Meyers was named the 2015 Louisiana Principal of the Year on July 12, 2014, she had no idea it would mark the beginning of her most challenging year to date. Five employees lost family members including her secretary’s grandson, a five-year-old student at Pecan Grove killed in a car wreck.
“This past year was filled with many personal tragedies. We spent most of the year attending funeral services and cooking meals for our coworkers. Balance that with several faculty births, and we were crying all year out of sadness and joy,” said Meyers.
Although very hard, the challenging year brought the school and community together. The loss of its third student in three years due to improper car restraints prompted an award-winning outreach campaign called #SitStrapSave.
Created by Pecan Grove Assistant Principal Pamela Hughes and her daughter, Alyssa, the campaign organized nine awareness events and distributed over 150 booster seats. The Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL) named one of the organizers, Jody LeBlanc, the 2015 Volunteer of the Year for Ascension Parish. He was recognized in a ceremony at the Governor’s Mansion earlier this summer.
“This is an action-oriented group that channeled grief into something positive. I am very proud of their initiative,” said Meyers.
It is fitting that Meyers’ next step is a leadership role in a school district she credits for much of her success.
“I feel kind of like a phony because I have been honored at the state and national levels for doing the things this district has challenged me to do,” said Meyers.
Recently retired educator Sheila Savoy had the biggest impact on Meyers’ leadership style. “Sheila’s the person I have tried to imitate. She’s humble and doesn’t give you the answers. Instead, she asks the right questions to get you to the answer. Many times I have asked myself, ‘What would Sheila do?’” said Meyers.
As Ascension Public Schools waits to see if it will have back-to-back Louisiana Principal of the Year winners, there is no doubt Marjorie Meyers has left her mark and future school leaders will be following her example for years to come.