St. John’s Principal of the Year follows a special calling

Published 11:20 pm Thursday, January 30, 2014

By Monique Roth


RESERVE – St. John Alternative School Principal Phyllis Clark has been named the St. John the Baptist Parish Public School System’s Principal of the Year.

Clark has spent 38 years as an educator in district, beginning as a teacher at Woodland Elementary School in 1976 and also teaching at Reserve Junior High School and Glade Elementary School.

Six weeks after Glade Elementary opened she was promoted to assistant principal and four years later she became the principal.

Clark attended Ascension Catholic High School in Donaldsonville. It was there that she decided she wanted to become a teacher. She said the teachers at Ascension Catholic always went above and beyond for the students there.

“A teacher was a safe haven, and that’s what I wanted to be,” Clark said.

Clark is a graduate of Nicholls State University, where she earned a bachelors degree in elementary education and a master’s plus 30 in educational leadership.

She served as principal of Leon Godchaux Junior High School and the St. John Child Development Center before beginning her 15-year tenure as principal over the various programs that have been housed at what is now St. John Alternative School.

When St. John Alternative School was formed three years ago by merging the district’s redirection program, for students with disciplinary problems, and its accelerated program, for students who were behind in school, Clark began serving as principal.

Under her leadership, St. John Alternative School’s School Performance Score improved an astounding 40 points in just two years, from 19.1 when she came in in 2010-11 to 59.4 in 2012-13.

“That school was named a Top Gains School,” Superintendent Kevin George said. “She made that jump with our most at-risk students. That’s just amazing.”

“I’ve been offered other schools, but this is my heart,” said Clark, who has been working with at-risk students for more than 20 years.

Clark credited her success at the school to a dedicated staff and an atmosphere focused on raising the self-esteem of the students.

“It’s motivating the teachers through staff-development workshops and those types of things and raising the self-esteem of our students,” Clark said. “We embrace an out-of-the-box approach. You can’t just stand up in front of these students. We do a lot of projects, incorporate computer software, have a low teacher-to-student ratio of 20 to 2 and do a lot of individual teaching.”

Clark said that she doesn’t do anything in isolation, and that while the ultimate decision is hers regarding matters of the school, she always consults with teachers and lets them have a voice in how the school should run. She said the teachers have never let her down, and she knows she can count on them.

Clark has incorporated a double dose of math and English classes during the school day, while incorporating science and social studies across the curriculum, to help students pass the eighth grade LEAP test and rejoin their peers in high school. This means that students attend math and English twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Clark also recognizes the importance of showing her students what opportunities exist for them and of teaching them different ways of handling their problems. She has incorporated college tours etiquette classes, trips to see plays and home visits by staff members into the program.

“You can’t stay in the office or in the building,” Clark said. “You have to go outside and let them know they are worth something and anything is possible.”

As far as the future goes, Clark said that she hopes to retire from St. John Alternative School, but that she’s not sure when that’ll be.

“I feel like I have a lot left to give to the children,” Clark said.