New Orleans — St. Augustine High School welcomed a new principal, John Charles, to its campus last week.
Charles came from a teaching position at Archbishop Rummel High School, but he has a long history at St. Aug, both as a 1971 alumnus and an employee.
Charles has a bachelor’s degree from Howard University and a master’s degree in engineering from the University of New Orleans. He started a doctorate in educational leadership.
“I feel connected,” Charles said, when interviewed on his third day at the new job. “I was here when a lot of the founding fathers were here, and that had a profound impact on my formation as an individual and a man. There was always a mantra of excellence that bound us together.”
The historic all-male and predominantly African-American Catholic school has seen major changes in administration during this school year with the resignation of both the principal and the president.
In November, Principal Don Boucree stepped down.
In February, Karen Collins, the first woman and first layperson to serve as president of St. Aug, resigned. Collins was hired in June after her predecessor, the Rev. John Raphael, left following a dispute over corporal punishment in 2011 that thrust the school into the national spotlight.
The school’s Josephite trustees and Archbishop Gregory Aymond had decided to end the use of corporal punishment, a change that triggered outcry from parents, students and alumni.
Charles said he stayed out of the paddle debate and believes that the school has moved forward.
The paddle was just one tool of many, Charles said. The same defining values remain, he said. “In fact, we have the opportunity to impart a greater sense of accountability and self-discipline,” he said.
With skyrocketing suspension rates in many of the city’s charter schools, Charles said that suspensions aren’t a tool on which he relies. He said that in his long teaching career he only suspended a student once. There was a UNO professor who said something to him that has always stuck, Charles said: “Whenever you put a student out, you risk losing them.”
“My basic mission is to imbue a sense of self-responsibility and self-accountability in the students,” Charles said.
Prior to his seven years teaching physics, chemistry and math at Rummel, Charles spent 18 years at St. Aug teaching math and physics, coaching basketball and as assistant principal from 2000 to 2005.
He said he was comfortable at Rummel but when offered the job of principal at his alma mater, prayed over it and decided it was a calling.
Daniel Davillier, vice-chairman of the St. Aug board of directors, said that with the vacancy, the board wanted to find someone that was a “known commodity” and someone who knew the culture of the school.
In terms of selecting a new president, Davillier said that there is not yet a definitive timeline for the process, and it will not likely happen during the remainder of the school year.
Charles said that he looks forward to creating a coherent vision and sense of ownership among administrators, teachers, and students.
He said he wants to continue the zeal of citizenship and drive to become contributing members of society in the school known for producing leaders.
While he said it will take some time to adjust to the new role and the transition back out of the classroom, “I feel like I’m coming home.”