Leblanc Elementary in Vermilion Parish enjoyed an extra dose of school spirit to kick off the academic year after Principal Rachelle Brown was honored as the 2021 Louisiana Elementary Principal of the Year at a statewide recognition ceremony.

Brown was chosen from a pool of three finalists and honored alongside Principal and Teacher of the Year honorees from elementary, middle and high schools across the state during a virtual gala held by the Louisiana Department of Education, Dream Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Principals on Sept. 4. 

Leblanc Elementary’s school semester kicked off unofficially Monday, with a surprise car parade as Brown, her assistant principal and other team members completed a final preparation sweep ahead of school’s start Tuesday. 

Brown’s suspicions about the surprise were piqued when she heard sirens outside the school. When she stepped outside, Brown was greeted by a line of about 100 vehicles, filled with students, teachers, former coworkers, district staff and community supporters, eagerly waiting to dole out congratulations. 

It was overwhelming in the best way, the principal said. Kind words, messages, social media posts and displays of support like Monday’s have been the most meaningful part of the state recognition process and Brown said she felt immensely joyful, loved and supported. After a week of big moments, Brown said she’s still reflecting on the honor. 

“I think it really is just starting to sink in a week later,” Brown said.

Brown took the reins at Leblanc Elementary two years ago and quickly steered the campus toward major change, helping launch its Leader in Me program and the district’s first French immersion program at the school simultaneously. This is Brown’s first principalship.

She previously served as assistant principal of Cecil Picard Elementary and came to Vermilion Parish from Lafayette Parish, where she worked as assistant principal at S.J. Montgomery Elementary after years as a band director in Lafayette and Acadia parishes. Brown credits her music experience for teaching her about the importance of a strong work ethic, challenging herself and working for the good of the team. 

Brown said earning this recognition as an early-career principal has been humbling and she gives full credit to her team at Leblanc Elementary. 

Having their hard work recognized has been validating and has re-energized the group’s belief that they’re on the right track. It’s also served to reaffirm their commitment to ensuring their vision moves forward, even amid the challenges of school during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the principal said. 

“I think whenever you’re faced with challenging times, and we’ve had a lot of challenges this year, hope is so important. When you focus on your vision and your goals and you can look back on what you’ve accomplished, you can look forward to bigger and better things happening, I think that gives us all hope. I think it motivates us, inspires us and gives us the energy to move forward even in the toughest of times,” Brown said. 

Vermilion Parish Superintendent Tommy Byler and his team surprised Brown and her family at their home with balloons, flowers and a cake shortly after she was named the 2021 Louisiana Elementary Principal of the Year. Byler, the overall 2018 Louisiana Principal of the Year, said it’s exciting to add Brown to the tight-knit group of school leaders and educators in the Principal of the Year family. 

Byler, named superintendent in August, said he’s thrilled to get a more up-close look at the work Brown and her team are doing at Leblanc Elementary. Byler helped moderate interviews during the state recognition process and said Brown’s humbleness, team spirit, ability to build group consensus and impressive planning abilities shone through. 

“She’s the ultimate planner. When things go well, she’ll still adjust things and if things don’t go well, she has a Plan B, C and D,” Byler said. 

While a personal achievement for Brown and Leblanc Elementary, the recognition is also a boost to the district and contributes to the vision Byler has of a united Vermilion Parish School District, one that works through challenges together and celebrates one another’s achievements. 

“We’re taking pride because when one does well, we all do well,” he said

Originally published in Acadiana Advocate, 11/12/20 by Katie Gagliano