In 2012, Irma Trosclair left a school she helped lead to National Blue Ribbon recognition as its principal. Now, she’s getting recognition as one of the nation’s top principals for her work boosting student success at South Crowley Elementary.
The school will be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School during ceremonies in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10. During that ceremony, Trosclair also will receive the Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership.
She’s one of seven principals from across the country to receive the award that recognizes principals who have transformed their schools. South Crowley received the Blue Ribbon recognition for closing the achievement gap among its students, essentially helping poor and struggling students catch up with their classmates.
In the 2013-14 school year, students charted a more than 25-point growth in state accountability scores for the school to move from a letter grade of C to a B, based on the state’s accountability system.
Trosclair credited the work of her teachers and the support of Acadia Parish schools Superintendent John Bourque and the School Board with helping students succeed.
She said the school’s success is the result of “the hard work of everyone here” even though her name is the one on the award. “They are the ones doing the magic in the classroom,” she said, referring to the teachers at her school.
Trosclair was principal at Eunice Elementary in St. Landry Parish before coming to South Crowley. That school achieved Blue Ribbon status in 2010 for maintaining high performance scores for five consecutive years.
Trosclair says lessons she learned while leading Eunice Elementary helped prepare her for the job at South Crowley.
“I was at a definite advantage here, already having tenure as a principal,” Trosclair said. “Coming here, I knew that I needed to focus on the most important things early on. One of those was instruction in the classroom.”
Trosclair visited classrooms to observe instruction, and district staff also intervened to offer model lessons for teachers. As principal at Eunice, she became a mentor-coach to other high-performing, high-poverty schools and worked with schools in the Baton Rouge area and in Lafayette Parish through a Louisiana Department of Education initiative. Trosclair also encourages her staff to visit other schools to learn from their best practices.
To help change the school, she also started with the building itself. She spruced up the front office with paint and new flooring. More changes were made to the campus during the summer to prepare it for students’ return.
“We wanted our parents to see right away that things were going to be different here. It looks nice because our parents and children deserve for things to look nice,” Trosclair said.
She also laid out high expectations of behavior for both students and the adults who work with them. Some teachers moved to other schools because they weren’t on board with the school’s mission and made excuses for why students weren’t learning.
“Some of them would say, ‘These children maybe can’t perform.’ I’ve never bought into that,” Trosclair said. “I believe a child — rich, poor, black and white — they have functioning brains and, with the right educator and the right strategic educational program, they can soar.”
She said she’s seen research on children from chaotic home environments who are able to flourish in a structured school setting where there are no surprises of what’s expected of them.
“I’ve seen it happen at two schools,” Trosclair said. “I know it’s true.”
Trosclair said the school’s motto is “in spite of,” a message of determination to overcome any adversity in getting children educated.
“In spite of poverty, in spite of race, in spite of home environments, in spite of parental involvement or not — we still have a job to do,” Trosclair said. “We build in additional support in our school. We have homework help after school. We have a washer and dryer (for clothes) on campus.”
Consistent practices in discipline and rules helped provide the structure that students needed to focus on learning, she said.
“We have the same set of expectations and procedures schoolwide, so our children aren’t having to spend brain power wondering how to behave in this class or this class,” Trosclair said. “They focus on learning. Our kids have been like little sponges. We’ve changed the culture — greeting them in the mornings. In addition to observing classrooms and focusing on instructional strategies and classrooms, we put in a laser-focus intervention on individual student needs.”
Understanding that students have so many needs that may not be met when they leave school, Trosclair created an environment where students feel comfortable asking teachers and staff for the help they need.
She said they put a washer and dryer on the campus because many students would come to school with dirty uniforms, some hiding stains with their backpacks. Trosclair saw the change in their demeanor. The worry on the young faces that someone would notice. She recalled one day a few years ago when she noticed a girl awkwardly holding her backpack over the front of her pants.
“When we don’t realize that students are focused on their appearance, they’re not going to focus on learning,” she said. “That child all day as a fifth-grade girl was trying to make it through the day without people noticing how dirty her clothes were.”
Her students affectionately call her “Mrs. Tros,” and on Friday, she traded in her principal hat for a stovepipe one to dress as Cat in the Hat for Book Character Day at the school. The school is like a community, and Trosclair regards the support the school provides its students — from fresh, clean clothes to the homework help given to students who need it — as her and her staff’s moral and professional obligation.
She’s explained to the students that news of their hard work has spread — all the way to Washington, D.C. Each Blue Ribbon School receives a plaque and a flag noting Blue Ribbon School achievement.
“The kids are excited,” she said. “They keep asking, ‘Mrs. Tros, when are you going to get the flag?’ They can’t wait until Mrs. Tros gets on the plane and goes to pick up their flag.”
So, in about two weeks, that blue flag will fly for the community to know just how hard students at South Crowley Elementary worked and how much the adults within the school’s walls believe they can succeed every day.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.