New SJBPS personnel director hits ground running

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 14, 2009

By David Vitrano

RESERVE—Filling the shoes of long-time St. John school system personnel director Anne LaBorde is no easy task. To do so during the summer months, when hiring within the system is at its peak is downright dangerous. Yet Dr. Leigh Ann Beard, the district’s new director of human resources, did just that and came out the other side seemingly unscathed.

What’s more, the friendly Mississippi native has lost none of her enthusiasm along the way.

Suffering the proverbial “slings and arrows” since the start of her tenure, Beard’s easygoing nature often has been the calm at the center of a maelstrom of dissent that has circled many of Superintendent Courtney Millet’s hiring decisions throughout the summer months. 

Unfazed by the fuss, she says the hardest part of fitting into her new role has been “just trying to meet everybody and learn about people so I can know who to recruit.”

It’s that kind of focus and dedication that has directed Beard since the beginning of her vocation as an educator.

She started her teaching career at Snellville Middle School in Gwinnett County, Georgia, the same middle school she attended as a child. She taught there for 10 years, the last five of which she spent working with at-risk students. While in that role, she helped develop a plan for working with the troubled youth that would be implemented across the county—no small feat in what was then the fastest-growing as well as one of the most progressive districts in the nation.

Working in such an atmosphere has helped her ease into and given her enthusiasm for her current position.

“I see a lot of that going on around here,” she said, referring to the new methods of instruction being implemented across St. John.

After her time in Snellville, she headed to the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg to get her doctorate in curriculum and instruction. While there, she also met her future husband, Chau Nguyen.

When he landed a job in Baton Rouge, she followed, and her life as a Louisianan began.

After that, she started teaching at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, eventually becoming that school’s director of student teaching.

Then, when she saw the opening for a human resources director in St. John, she went for it.

“I decided to send in my resume and see what happened, and here I am,” she said, flashing a smile.

Though she knew few people in the area—she had taught with School Board President Gerald Keller previously but hadn’t spoken to him for years—she said, “I felt instantly welcomed when I walked through that door,” adding, “Everybody has been wonderful and gracious and friendly.”

As the person through whom all hiring in the district goes, however, she had little time to get her feet wet. Since joining the central office, most of her time has been spent recruiting and conducting interviews with potential employees. She has proven herself an exceptional addition as well, filling all but one position as of the first day of classes last week.

“My biggest fear on the first day of school was coming here and finding out someone had quit,” she said. It was a fear that would prove unfounded, though, as that day came and went without a hitch.

Now, although she may get a breather now and then, her work hasn’t stopped just because the classrooms are filled. She sees the recruiting process as a year-round endeavor. Additionally, she is now able to shift her focus somewhat to work with those teachers who are not yet certified.

“The ideal would be to have a highly qualified, certified teacher in every position,” she noted.

The rest of her time will be filled helping teachers with whatever problems they might have.

“I want the employees to feel that they know my door is always open,” she said. “I’m here for the people, to help them in whatever it is that they need.”

Her biggest problem, she said, remains not knowing enough people in the district. But for her, that’s not a terrible problem to have.

“Getting to meet people is the best part,” she said.

Given Beard’s enthusiasm and spirit, it’s a problem she’s not likely to have for long.