St. John names principals of the year

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 8, 2011

By David Vitrano


GARYVILLE – Garyville/Mt. Airy Math and Science Magnet School Principal Kelli Joseph, recently chosen as St. John the Baptist Parish Public School District’s elementary school principal of the year, has education in her blood. Now in her sixth year as GMMS principal, Joseph comes from a family of educators that include Precious Joseph, the current director of education for the district.

And if education is in her blood, then the River Parishes are in her heart. Joseph is a product of the local school system, having graduated from East St. John High School. She has spent her entire 16 years as an educator in the St. John and St. James school systems.

Her family history notwithstanding, for Joseph the decision to become an educator was a no-brainer.

“I love the learning process. I’m fascinated with the way children learn,” she said. “I also enjoy watching how teachers and adults interact with the children.”

Her somewhat psychoanalytical approach is fitting as one of her main focuses as GMMS’s top administrator is to change the public perception of the school.

Despite being the district’s only K-8 SACS accredited school, she said it has been somewhat of a struggle to get the public to see the good things that are happening at her school.

“Our test scores have gone up every year,” she said. “This is a quality school. This is a great place to learn.”

As testament to that, Joseph said her own children attend GMMS.

“I can honestly say that the teachers are giving their all every day, and the kids are truly learning,” she said.

And she would know because Joseph maintains a close connection with what is going on in the classrooms at GMMS.

“I’m in the classrooms,” Joseph said, adding, “I can now enjoy learning with the students.”

She continued, “You have to always stay connected to the classroom because then you can make good decisions about what the children need.”

For Joseph, it always comes back to the children.

“I love the kids,” she said. “They say the funniest things.”

That is why Joseph is so intent on making each and every child at GMMS become the best that they can be. Such practices as the daily morning affirmation are aimed at this goal.

“That repetition helps change the thought process,” said Joseph.

Still, she realizes that the community must be fully involved for such a change to genuinely take root. That is one of the reasons the gate outside of the school is adorned with a “Parents Wanted” sign.

While she waits for more parents to become involved, she can at least take comfort in the fact that she is surrounded by a team that facilitates the school’s success.

“Above all else, I’m proud that we have dedicated teachers. I enjoy coming to work every day,” she said, adding, “My assistant principals make it possible for me to truly be that instructional leader.”

Despite having a talented and dedicated team, Joseph said the announcement of the principal of the year honor came as somewhat of a surprise.

“I work with some awesome principals. We’re growing together,” Joseph said. “I have to thank our superintendent. She has created an environment where we work together now.”

Despite the stiff competition, perhaps it is the people surrounding Joseph that put her at the top.

“I’d like to thank the teachers and students. I’m very fortunate to be working with such a great group of people,” said Joseph. “And I have to thank my parents and my husband and children for being so supportive.”