New OLG principal found his passion by accident
Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 4, 2012
By RYAN ARENA
RESERVE — Sometimes, things don’t always work out as planned. For Jamie Roussell, that fact of life didn’t turn out to be such a bad thing.
Roussell is the newly minted principal of Our Lady of Grace School, set to enter his first year in that role. He hasn’t stepped into the role quietly, as the 36-year-old has plenty of ambitious ideas for the school he has already begun implementing.
But Roussell’s original plan was never to be a principal. It wasn’t even to be an educator, at that.
“I always knew what I wanted to be when I was young,” said Roussell. “And that was a lawyer.”
Roussell believed he could be a strong public servant through practicing law — he described some of his inspiration as a young boy being derived from old black-and-white episodes of “Perry Mason” on television.
He attended Southern University and LSU before moving on to the prestigious Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2001.
He had planned carefully, while saving up a great deal of money to put himself through the school. But he found that the reality of the situation — primarily, the expenses — were more than he realistically bargained for.
“My first year there was fine,” he said. “But the money dried up quickly. The only thing comparable to law school is medical school. They don’t allow you to work a job outside of that. They can expel you … The burden became too enormous. So I had to forgo my dream and put law on the backburner.”
Roussell moved back home — he was raised in Mount Airy — and sought advice from his parents, both of whom he stressed as extremely influential in his life.
“After God, they’re the most important people in my life,” said Roussell.
What they advised him to do, he said, was to pursue education as a career path, at least while he regrouped his plans to return to law.
Roussell listened and decided to attempt working as a substitute teacher. But after interviewing with the St. John Parish School Board, a little more was in his immediate future.
“They saw my credentials, and they told me they didn’t want me as a sub. They wanted me full-time,” he said.
That began what has so far been a nearly 10-year teaching career for Roussell, who immediately began pursuing his second master’s degree and teaching certification. His first assignment was to teach a special education class at Fifth Ward Elementary in Reserve. That role of special education teacher stuck, and Roussell said it was quite rewarding.
The rewards he felt on a personal level, in fact, made it especially difficult to accept his newest role as principal. Roussell applied for the Our Lady of Grace job in 2010, but Stephanie Aubert was hired for the position.
But when Aubert resigned to accept another job, Roussell was asked to interview again. This time, he was the choice.
But there was still much to mull over in his mind.
“I consider myself a teacher, first and foremost, even today,” he said. “I loved my students and my fellow teachers, and my position was stable. I already loved what I was doing, so this was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make. Ultimately, it was such a great opportunity. I felt that God was calling me to a position where I could help even more people.”
Roussell said that he’s received advice to take it slow at first and “to not try and reinvent the wheel,” but he’s already begun making changes at Our Lady of Grace.
His first order of business was to hire some new teachers — there were seven spots open when he came on.
“The advantage I had was, being a teacher, I already know what to look for in a teacher, the intangibles needed,” he said.
From there, his plans come down to “expansion, expansion, expansion.”
Roussell’s vision for the school involves his student body coming from diverse backgrounds and receiving the most well-rounded education possible. He just hired musical arts and drama teachers. He is also in the process of hiring Spanish and French teachers, as he believes allowing the students to learn a foreign language early can yield tremendous advantages.
“I don’t want our students to just flourish academically but to be culturally diverse,” he said.
“Expanding the curriculum is a major point for us. If they can start learning these languages at a very early age, then who knows … they might be fluent speakers as soon as high school,” he added.
Roussell has also made changes to improve the library, physical education curriculum, the computer lab and the meal/health agenda, among other things.
“We want our children to be healthy and well-fed,” he said. “If a child is hungry, then he’s not worried about two plus two equals four. We want them to be ready to learn.”
The school’s student body has more than doubled since last year, with a slate of 250 students versus the 100 of a year ago.
He said that above all else, he plans to surround himself with people of great character as teachers and administrators at the school, people he can trust to lead by example.
“That will begin with me. I’ll never take a day off,” said Roussell. “I won’t ask a teacher to do anything that I won’t do or haven’t done myself over my career.”
That career might not be the one he first envisioned.
But, in a large way, Roussell gets to make the world he lives in a better place; be it law or education, that was always the true end result he sought.
“I’m still doing what I always wanted to do, to make the world a better place and help people. And in particular, I’ve got the opportunity to help children. They’re God’s most precious gift to us.”