Today we introduce The Farmer's new monthly series reuniting a well-known St. Tammany Parish resident with the teacher who had the biggest impact on his or her life. There are some amazing stories to be told about how a caring educator's past guidance positively affects us all today, and we are delighted to share them.
Up first, we met with a law enforcement leader, Slidell Police Department Public Information Officer Daniel Seuzeneau, and his grade school mentor, Brian Butera, an influential educator who is still principal of Lake Castle School in Slidell.
— Andrew Canulette, Editor, St. Tammany Farmer
Daniel Seuzeneau was 4 years old when he first met Brian Butera.
Butera was in his early 30s at the time, but he already was a fixture at Lake Castle School in eastern New Orleans. He was an administrator, a classroom teacher, a physical education instructor and the general handyman around the school that his father, Clendon Butera, started in 1963.
These were the 1980s, however, and Brian Butera, like so many New Orleanians before him, had moved to St. Tammany Parish. The transplants came seeking safer streets and better schools, and for the most part, they found them in abundance.
Butera loved the clean, wide streets in Eden Isles where he had moved, but for him, the best school around still sat south of Lake Pontchartrain.
Seuzeneau had no idea at the time, but his parents felt the same way about Lake Castle, which was known for its rigorous academic program, discipline and structure. It meant enough to them that two times a day, five days a week and for nine months that school year, young Seuzeneau climbed aboard Butera’s bus for a 60-mile round trip to attend a prekindergarten class.
Numerous other parents showed interest in the Lake Castle program, too, so when the next school year started in 1987, Brian Butera was principal at his family’s new school campus on Thompson Road just west of Slidell.
Seuzeneau’s parents made sure their son followed Butera there. “Danny,” the boyish handle Butera still calls Seuzeneau, was a member of Lake Castle Slidell’s first kindergarten class, and he remained there through eighth-grade graduation.
During the 10 years they spent together on two campuses, Seuzeneau learned quite a bit of factual knowledge from the no-nonsense Butera. Still, practical knowledge — old-fashioned skills and values — were his longest-lasting lessons.
“You don’t really appreciate those things until later in life,” said Seuzeneau, who at 35 is the Public Information Officer for the Slidell Police Department. “But in the real world, the things Mr. Butera talked about, that he demanded, mean so much ... Rules, consistency, tradition. In my job, those things mean everything."
Butera, now 62, said self-discipline is the main thing he’s tried to instill in the scores of students he’s taught through the decades.
“If you don’t have discipline, you don’t have education,” Butera said. “That’s just the way it is.”
To him, it’s as simple as knowing that when it’s time to work, no games are to be played. You refer to people, and not just necessarily your elders, as “sir” and “ma’am.” You say “please” and “thank you” and you don’t ever accept mediocrity. You set a bar high, you clear it, and then you set the bar higher.
It’s hard work, but it’s essential work, both men said.
“In police work, you see so many different people come out of the academy from various different backgrounds,” Seuzeneau said. “The people who show respect (to the public) get respect in return. It opens doors and it helps you do your job ... There’s been a roller coaster of public trust in law enforcement in recent years. You have to have the trust of the people, and you get that by having respect for others. And all that really goes back to your roots.
“What I learned here made my job easier for me.”
Butera said Seuzeneau was a talented student, but like most, he had to be reminded a time or two that he was out of line. To his credit, Seuzeneau quickly regained form and excelled, which caught Butera’s eye.
Seuzeneau said he was an average student. "But you evolved,” Butera said. “You became better in math, English, science. You had the discipline back when.”
Seuzeneau said it’s a lot easier to learn life lessons in grade school than as an adult. He deals often with people who break the rules, so he should know.
“People that are educated, the chances of them doing something really bad are very slim,” he said. “There are exceptions to the rule, but you need the rule. There were rules at Lake Castle, and they were strict, but they also were consistent. A kid needs that.”
Though it’s been more than 20 years since Seuzeneau graduated from Lake Castle, he makes a point to get in touch with Butera several times a year. For his part, Butera remembers two key times when “Danny” visited.
“Twenty years ago, I had a stroke and I lost everything,” he said. “Danny came to me and said ‘You’re gonna be up and about again. You’re going to be pushing kids (to do better) again.' My head was flying, but I’m thinking ‘I must have done something right.’ ”
“And I remember I saw you directing traffic at a parade,” Butera continued. “I saw a policeman, and I said ‘Daniel, what are you doing? I can’t believe you’re working for the department!'
“He was always a good kid. I’m extremely proud.”
So, too, is Seuzeneau of his friend and mentor.
“Reaching people has become my passion,” Seuzeneau said. “Community relations, public relations — it’s what I do. It’s the same thing, really, that Mr. Butera did reaching students. You try to reach people, try to change them, try to make a difference.”