Lafayette High Principal Patrick Leonard missed his chance to wear white to prom this past spring.
For the past few years, Leonard promised students he’d wear white to prom to signal his plans to retire and celebrate his last school dance. The color is reserved for seniors to mark their final prom and high school hurrah.
“I thought I’d be here another year. To put it simply — it’s time,” he said from his office Monday afternoon. “It’s one of those bittersweet things that needed to happen.”
So, come August, the students and more than 200 employees will welcome the school’s first new principal in 12 years.
Leonard’s retirement is effective June 30.
An educator with 46 years of experience in public and private schools, Leonard has spent the past 21 years of his career on Lafayette High’s campus, first as assistant principal and then as its principal for the past 12 years.
With nearly 2,500 students, the high school remains the state’s largest based on enrollment. Leonard said the teamwork of administrators, teachers, staff, parents and the students helps create a community that otherwise would be difficult to cultivate among such a large student body and on a campus that houses numerous programs for the district.
He offered this advice to the next administrator: Be open-minded and maintain connections among the school, parents and students.
“If you break those connections, that’s the proverbial crack,” he said.
Leonard said while he’ll miss the Lafayette High community, he’ll stay connected to the campus through his oldest grandson, who’ll be a freshman on campus in August.
“I don’t live far. I can hear the bell from my house,” he said. “I’ll remain involved in school activities to support him.”
Leonard said the timing of his decision is partly based on the transitions in the school system, particularly with a new plan laid out by a new superintendent, Donald Aguillard, and to ensure continuity for students and his staff.
“This plan is on target, and I’d have the passion for the things we need to do; I just don’t feel that I have the energy to commit to two more years,” he said. “I’d hate to start for one year and then retire. It’s better to do it now, so the school year can start with a new plan and a new principal and the school doesn’t go through several transitions in the next two- to three-year period.”
The desire to spend more time with his family and visit his grandchildren who live near and far helped make the decision easier, said Leonard, who will celebrate his 70th birthday in August.
Leonard’s office walls hold some of his favorite memories from his tenure at the school, including an event previously held each semester during lunch that encouraged students to “mix it up” or “cross the line” and get to know one another. Another favorite photo is one of male students, faculty and staff who participated in “No Shave November,” which encourages men not to shave their facial hair to bring attention to prostate cancer. The photo taken in November 2011 was prior to Leonard’s own prostate surgery the following month. Leonard hasn’t had any other complications, though technically he won’t be considered cancer-free for another year and a half.
“One of the things that got me through was the extended family I have here,” he said.
When asked if there are any milestones in his time at Lafayette High, Leonard began a litany of student accomplishments.
“Every year is a milestone because of our student successes,” he said.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.