Getting top marks
Evangeline Parish School Board Superintendent Darwan Lazard hands Mamou High Principal Liz Chatelain a bouquet of flowers in her office on Monday morning. The flowers were for Chatelain being named a semifinalist for the Louisiana State Principal of the Year Award. Chatelain is in her fifth year as principal at Mamou High. (Gazette photo by Raymond Partsch III)
By: RAYMOND PARTSCH III
MAMOU -- A week-long consulting trip to Arizona would forever change Liz Chatelain’s career path.
During her pursuit of earning master’s degree in education, Chatelain developed an action research plan to be used at Mamou High School, where she taught math for 18 years. Chatelain’s plan to help students and teachers led Chatelain to speaking with teachers and administrators at schools across Louisiana.
During this time, Chatelain fatefully attended a conference for educators and was asked to come and serve as a consultant and share her teaching philosophy with the teachers at the Navajo Nation in Arizona.
“When I was out there that is when it gave me the drive to do something different than just teach,” Chatelain said. “For that week that I was out there I was sharing with people and it was so wonderful on so many different levels.
“Sharing my experiences and how I looked at educating children with them opened my eyes. I was so surprised at how well received I was. I didn’t realize I had reached that level of expertise. It was then that I realized that I had other things to offer.”
A few years after that Arizona trip, Chatelain would be asked to become assistant principal at her alma mater (Class of 1988), and then after one short year Chatelain would then be promoted to principal.
Now Chatelain’s work as Mamou High Principal is being recognized as she has been named a semifinalist for the Louisiana State Principal of the Year Award. All semifinalists and finalists will be honored during the 11th Annual Cecil J Picard Educator Excellence Awards Galas held in Baton Rouge on July 28.
“It is very humbling,” Chatelain said. “I am not going to say that I don’t work very hard at my job because I do, but 100 percent of this honor has to do with these kids and teachers having all bought in to changing the culture here.
“It’s really not about me at all. It’s all about us working together. I am just very fortunate to have the personality and determination to bring people together.”
Chatelain is in her fifth year at the helm of Mamou High and her impact has already been made. The school has continued to improve its graduation rate every year, and now has one of the highest in the parish with a 93 percent graduation rate.
In addition to that, Mamou High has also made significant strides when it comes Louisiana School Performance Scores. The first year she took over as principal, the school earned a 80.8 score which is a C grade. Four years later, Mamou received a 100.9 score which is a grade of A.
“The greatest accomplishment for me is seeing the school go from a C rated school to an A rated school,” said Chatelain, who holds a bachelor’s degree from LSU at Alexandria and a master’s from University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “That shows me that these kids have really bought into the shift in culture here and they understand what is expected of them as Mamou High students.”
So what is the secret to Chatelain’s success? She credits the school’s staff as well as the students’ desire to buy into the program, but what possibly makes a difference is the method she uses to instill expectations into the student body.
“I have always taken the approach of having the kids not want to disappoint me or disappoint the school, rather than the approach of punitive punishment,” Chatelain said. “I can’t tell you how many times I have had one of my kids here come up to me during recess or lunch and confess that they hadn’t done what they were supposed to do, but after that they always make sure to do it.”
Members of the Evangeline Parish School Board proudly presented Chatelain with a colorful bouquet of flowers and expressed their gratitude for the work she has done on Monday morning.
“We are very proud of Ms. Liz and what she has been able to accomplish,” Evangeline Parish School Superintendent Darwan Lazard said. “This is a great honor for her, for Mamou High School and for Evangeline Parish.”
Added Evangeline Parish School Board Title One Supervisor Grace Sibley, “She has done a tremendous job of changing the culture here at the school.”
Chatelain’s passion for education is rooted in her upbringing as both her parents taught elementary school in Mamou, and her dedication goes beyond the walls of the school that she has called home for more than two decades.
“I am invested in the school and the community,” Chatelain said. “I don’t only want to be a leader at my school but I strive to be a leader in the community as well. My relationship with my kids goes beyond the school. We stress a family environment here at Mamou High.”