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Mia Edwards to be Honored by the State as a Semifinalist for Principal of the Year

St. Amant, La. – On July 28, St. Amant High Principal Mia Edwards will be honored by the Louisiana Department of Education as a semifinalist for 2018 Louisiana Principal of the Year. This is the fourth year in a row for Ascension Public Schools to have a principal in the running for the state's top honor. Spanish Lake Primary Principal Britton Colon was a semifinalist in 2017, former Gonzales Primary Principal Jaimee Williams was a 2016 finalist and former Pecan Grove Primary Principal Marjorie Meyers was the 2015 state winner.

"Mia is a strong leader who led her school and community through extreme adversity this past year. She is very deserving of this honor," said Ascension Public Schools Superintendent David Alexander.

"I was really shocked and excited when I first learned about becoming a semifinalist. I am touched because I feel it is a positive reflection on our school and community. It makes me proud that it is another way to validate the good things happening at St. Amant," said Edwards.

FINDING A CALLING
Born and raised as Mia Griffin in Donaldsonville, the Griffin family has a long history of service and leadership in the Donaldsonville community. Her grandfather was a former mayor and state representative and her father served as a police juror. She was a legacy student at Ascension Catholic School, where she attended from first to twelfth grades and was inducted into the school's Hall of Distinction.

Although a good student, who graduated with a 3.9 GPA, Edwards never considered herself as college material. In fact, she attended Nicholls State University with the intention of obtaining an associate's degree so she could become a secretary. Once on the Thibodaux campus, an advisor recommended she major in business education so she would have more options after college. That decision changed her career trajectory.

After obtaining an undergraduate teaching degree, Edwards taught for one year at Donaldsonville High School before taking a nine-month teaching position at Baton Rouge Community College. She married her high school sweetheart, Sammy Edwards, and they resided in their hometown of Donaldsonville.

This coincided with her return to Ascension Parish to run the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) program at Lowery Middle School, which focused on remediating kids struggling in math and reading and providing them business and job placement skills. It was during her time teaching in Donaldsonville that she found her calling for education.

"It is the cliche' that it is all about the kids," said Edwards. "I inherited the DECA sponsorship at Donaldsonville High School and having the kids place in competition filled me with so much pride and ownership. I sponsored Jr. BETA and cheerleading at Lowery and learned that I just had a knack for working with and developing kids."

Under the leadership of then Lowery Middle Principal Jessie Sanders, Edwards worked on a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from Nicholls and recertification for math and science.

MOVING TO ST. AMANT
In 1993, Edwards and her husband's dream of owning property took them to the community of St. Amant. They built a house on five acres, and she transferred to Galvez Middle School to teach sixth grade math and science.

She took a leave from her teaching position in 1998 to become the coordinator of the Louisiana Systemic Initiative Program (LaSIP) grant, a partnership between LSU, Ascension and Iberville parishes, to further science education. After two years, she returned to Galvez Middle and in 2002, Edwards became one of the first teacher coaches in Ascension Parish. In that capacity, she supported Dutchtown Middle and Prairieville Middle schools.

"Serving as a teacher coach was interesting and similar to my experience on the LaSIP grant. It stretched me because I had to support teachers in all content areas, not just math or science. However, I learned that good teaching is good teaching, no matter the content," said Edwards.

BELIEVING IN PUBLIC EDUCATION
Edwards' diverse experience teaching in various public schools prompted her to make the difficult decision of moving her two sons, Sammy in fourth grade and Griffin in kindergarten, from the catholic school system to public schools.

"I always taught in public schools and knew we were providing a good education for students. Becoming more involved in the teacher coach concept allowed me to see teachers working to do what is best for kids, providing good academic feedback so students could grow. It wasn't just something that I believed in, it was what I thought was best for my own children," said Edwards.

She transferred to teach eighth grade at Lake Elementary for a year while her children made the transition to public school, then she returned to a teacher coach position supporting St. Amant Middle.

In 2007, Edwards became the staff development coordinator for teacher coaches and was in charge of implementing benchmark exams. Later that year, she was hired as an assistant principal at St. Amant High School under then principal Steve Westbrook. What intrigued her most about high school was the concept of freshman academies, where students can smoothly transition from middle to high school.

"I felt high school would be exciting because of the long-term career impacts it could have on a student's life. I wanted to be a part of that," said Edwards. However, having spent most of her career in middle schools, she admits there was a learning curve.

"High school is beyond classroom curriculum. There are specific credits to graduate, TOPS curriculum alignment, block schedules and the vast number of kids and teachers. One of the most difficult transitions was working with kids and parents on discipline issues," said Edwards. "Education at school is important to parents, but the way their children are treated at school is even more important."

Mia hugs son Griffin during 2017 graduationFortunately, her history of working with the same kids and families in middle school established a foundation of trust at the high school level. She built upon that foundation when she became principal of St. Amant High in 2011.

"My decisions have to be what is best for kids because that is why we are here. I always ask myself 'Is this best for kids?'. If the answer is yes, then I feel confident and justified in my decisions," she said.

Edwards believes the community placed their trust in her not only because of her consistent focus on students but also because her own children attended the high school. Her oldest son, Sammy, was in tenth grade when she became assistant principal and her youngest, Griffin, graduated this year. "My kids were in the same classes in the school. It added to my drive because I expect the best for all." 

Sammy is currently a senior chemical engineering major at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Griffin is starting in electrical engineering at LSU this fall with 30 hours of college credit earned in high school. "I am very proud that my children graduated from STA because they received the best education that prepared them for postsecondary pursuits," said Edwards.

"SUCCESS THROUGH ACTIONS: THE STA WAY"
Mia Edwards before a sign "Congratulations Top Gains School"Establishing a culture of pride was one of the initiatives Edwards took on as principal at St. Amant High. She established a focus group of students to develop an intentional motto. What resulted was "Success Through Actions: The STA Way". It was more than a catchy phrase; it was a culture shift in the environment of the school.

According to Edwards, it has become such an integral part of the culture that students know and use it on a regular basis. They reference it during discussions about discipline as well as academics, and a former student even said it helped him stay focused during a college band audition. 

In addition to the motto, Edwards utilizes social media to promote the many successes of the school and bring people together. She does her best to attend every school event, and those she cannot make are usually attended by her husband.

2016 FLOOD
The Flood of 2016 devastated the community of St. Amant, and Edwards was impacted both personally and professionally. She led the largest affected school while dealing with her own flooded home.

"The flood was by far the hardest event I have dealt with because the impact it had on so many people. It was just unbelievable that it happened to this community," said Edwards. "We had to reassure everyone that we were going to be okay, and we worked tirelessly to make that true."

St. Amant High's 2,000 students and staff spent six months on Dutchtown High School's campus holding classes from 12:30 p.m. until 5:10 p.m. This meant extracurricular activities like athletics had to take place in the mornings. Edwards and her staff had to put in extra effort to secure logistics for normal activities like homecoming and holding pep rallies in the rival team's gymnasium.

"We could have said we were not going to do activities outside of the classroom because we were flooded, but we were not going to do that this year. This adversity stirred a competitive drive in everyone who instead said this is not going to beat us," she said.

Mia Edwards next to a gutted wall with the word "Pride"Although the Dutchtown High teachers and staff were very welcoming and accommodating, St. Amant High teachers had to bring their materials to school each day and were basically teaching out of backpacks. Because of the half day shared schedule, both schools lost 45 minutes of instruction time each day. "The situation forced our teachers to get the most out of every single minute with our students. They pulled out the most important content kids needed to have so they were prepared for the future," said Edwards.

According to Edwards, the half-day schedule was also a blessing for the flood-ravaged community because it allowed time in the mornings for families to work on repairing their homes and for students to be with their parents. The flood also taught students that good can come from bad things.


"We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of generosity from our fellow schools and communities, as well as from all across the country. Dutchtown and East Ascension made sacrifices for us to use their facilities and helped raise funds for our recovery. Even a school in Hawaii held a fundraiser for STA and took time to send photos to us," said Edwards.

NATIONALLY RANKED SUCCESS & HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
St. Amant High is now back on its campus but is split between its new Freshman Academy building and temporary buildings while its flooded facilities await renovation.

In April, U.S. News and World Report released its list of Best High Schools in the country. Not only did St. Amant High School earn a national ranking of #2514, it was also only one of 16 schools in the state to make the national list. According to the report, STA is ranked #15 in Louisiana with a 91 percent graduation rate and a 22 college readiness index.

"I hope we continue to grow and flourish and not let the devastating time spent on flood recovery diminish the work of our community or school. We make strides every year and continue to build school pride and ownership," said Edwards. "We can bond around and cherish that we succeeded at high standards and not just got through the flood."
 
To read more about the national ranking, visit www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools.  For more information about Ascension Public Schools, visit www.apsb.org

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