West St. John principal recognized

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 24, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

EDGARD -The St. John the Baptist Parish public school district recently named West St. John Elementary School Principal Serina Singleton Duke, 38, as one of three Principal of the Year award winners.
Duke won the award for the elementary school level. She said that she was surprised to have been nominated at all, especially since she has only been in her position for a relatively short time.
“It was a huge surprise, I had no idea. I’m one of the newer principals in this district, so I really didn’t expect it. When I saw the email, I almost choked — literally,” said Duke. “Just thinking about it now, I fell right back in that moment.”
The selection criteria for the award included student data, goal-setting, collaboration, curriculum, assessment practices and feedback provided to staff. Duke also listed several accomplishments that she helped to spearhead during her tenure as principal: she said that she has helped raise School Performance Scores by six points within the last year and reinstituted the school’s band program and athletics programs. Duke also began a “No Slacking” campaign this year that was designed to prevent students from becoming demotivated after taking their LEAP and iLEAP annual assessments. More recently, the principal acquired an iPad cart equipped with 24 iPad minis with the help of food processing giant Cargill. The cart will be implemented next year so school children can become familiar with mobile technology in their classrooms.
Duke said even though her days are nonstop most of the time, she tries to spend as much time in her classrooms as possible to develop a presence amongst the students and interact with them on a personal level. The principal said that being busy constantly isn’t a bad thing for her.
“I love my job. I like that fact that it keeps me busy — I don’t know what I would do (without it). I’m not a sit around and relax person. My husband tells me even when I’m on vacation I’m working, and that’s because I have a lot of energy, so I have to be from one thing to the next.”
Duke said one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is meeting caring parents.
“My parents who are supportive, they come to me and give me hugs or they bring me treats. It makes you realize that you’re not just working with children. You’re impacting people’s families. Parents trust you, and you take that very seriously. If you have your parents’ support, they share in your vision and they understand what you’re trying to do with their children,” said Duke.
Duke said another thing she loves about her job is the relationship she develops with her students. The principal said it is also rewarding to see the students grow from year to year. Duke said it is touching when current and former students get in contact to include her in their successes, such as graduations or track meets.
 “When they have a problem, from the littlest thing like ‘My zipper broke’ or ‘I’m hungry’, or whatever it is — they’re coming to you because they think you can solve it. Knowing that they rely on you, they trust you, they depend on you that way, I actually enjoy it,” she said.
“This is why I do this everyday, because coming in that child may have been very difficult or just unmotivated. Then seeing the maturity come in to where you’ll have your spots (of trouble), but it’s nothing close to how bad it was years ago. I think that that’s the benefit of being in a school with such a wide range of grade levels — you get to see those kids develop into the person they’re actually becoming. I’m not a teary person, but there’s this warmth that you feel,” said Duke.
 Thirteen-year-old Talika Howard, a seventh grade student at the school, said that she most admires Duke’s drive to help her students.
“She’s cool when it’s time to be cool, but when it’s time to work she’s very serious. Some principals are mean and don’t help us, but she helps us and really tries to get to know us,” she said.
Duke and the two other winners are now eligible to participate regional and state competitions Principal of the Year. The state winners will be named July 12. St. John’s Principals of the Year will be honored at an upcoming School Board meeting.