Irma Trosclair has had a good year. In November, the veteran educator recently received the U.S. Department of Education’s Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership for her work as principal at South Crowley Elementary, which was also recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2015 for closing the achievement gap among poor and struggling students and their peers. Last week, she started her new role as the Lafayette Parish School System’s first school improvement administrator and will work with principals at Alice Boucher, J.W. Faulk and Carencro Heights elementary schools to help adjust instruction and school culture to help boost student opportunities for success. Trosclair has a track record for turning around schools and was a high-performing/high-poverty school mentor/coach for the state while she was principal at Eunice Elementary, a 2010 National Blue Ribbon School. She chatted with The Acadiana Advocate about the work she’ll be doing in Lafayette.
You recently received national recognition for your leadership at South Crowley and the school has made a dramatic improvement. Why leave the success there?
South Crowley was a great community. Acadia Parish is an awesome place to work. This just happened to come and I thought it was an opportunity to help empower more educators and help educators help students achieve a higher potential. I saw a great and rewarding challenge here. It was very difficult to leave there. I didn’t feel our work at South Crowley was done but I feel without a doubt that they have great teachers and staff and I know they’ll continue an education of excellence for those students.
What was your first week here like?
It was a bit strange because I was split between Lafayette and Acadia and it was a transition I wanted to make as smoothly as I could for my students. Here, I was able to meet quite a few staff members and I was able to get into two of the three schools — Faulk and Boucher — and I will visit Heights after the holiday. The advantage that I do have is that I know these principals. They’ve all visited South Crowley over the last couple of years and brought teams there to visit and pick up and try to learn from some of our teachers and our best practices in place. None of those principals or instructional strategists are a stranger to me.
When you visit the schools what will you be doing?
I want to look at what’s going on campuses currently and work with teams on school campuses to come up with a set of core values that need to be in place every day in every classroom. It’s to put structures in place to make environments conducive to student learning. It’s a role of support. I feel that in every school there are people who are giving their best, but it’s to ensure we’re not wasting any instructional time. I’ll be making campus-wide recommendations and looking at how much time is spent on laser-focused instruction, bell to bell, and are those strategies being used effectively. The way to determine that is to look at student data and I have started looking at that. If students aren’t growing, then what we’re doing is not working. Usually, the problems in a school are not because of the little people. Very often, schools that are struggling — I don’t want to say it’s because of the big people — but maybe, it’s because of what the big people are doing. People often think that a failing school is the result of children. I don’t believe that. We have to look at the big people and the programs in place.
What are your strategies that you put in place?
At South Crowley, Accelerated Reader was a requirement. Everyone had to participate and teachers were held accountable for everyone participating. I do believe there are a few basic foundational things that help schools. Culture is important. Children have to believe that they’re coming to a happy, safe, orderly place to learn. You also have to have teachers who believe in the potential of students who come from at-risk environments. Effective teaching focused on student needs is also important. You also need school structures in place — routines and procedures that promote a culture conducive to learning. It’s not fancy or fluffy. It’s not about a program. I think it’s about focusing on people and it’s hard work.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.