WALKER -- For most teachers and principals, their lives revolve around their students.
But for one night, they were the centers of attention.
A crowd of nearly 300 people packed the house at Revival Temple Church in Walker to honor the 2019 Livingston Parish Public Schools Teachers and Principals of the Year.
With the end of the school year rapidly approaching and another on the horizon, people of all ages came together for more than two hours to celebrate the merits of nearly 50 LPPS educators, both from the classroom and the principal’s office.
Forty-five teachers were recognized for being their schools’ teachers of the year, including Live Oak Elementary’s Dané Long, Live Oak Middle’s Kimberly LeJeune and Live Oak High’s Jessica Bonura, who were all named parish teachers of the year in their respective grade levels.
Melissa Dougherty of Gray’s Creek Elementary, Carolyn Vosburg of North Corbin Junior High and Jason St. Pierre of Walker High were also honored as parish principals of the year.
“I just want to tell every [teacher and principal] out here how much we truly appreciate your efforts every day,” said LPPS Superintendent Rick Wentzel.
This year’s honored teachers and principals were given star treatment, to the great joy of Wentzel and the rest of the school board.
Normally held in the crammed school board office in Livingston, this year’s ceremony took place inside the Family Life Center at Revival Temple Church, a big enough venue to hold 40 tables and nearly 300 seats. Each table was adorned with a white cloth, folded napkins and silverware, and a bow-tied collection of blue, white and silver balloons that honorees took home.
For entertainment, attendees enjoyed music from a host of Tim Richardson’s talented music students, including former American Idol contestant Laine Hardy. While students sang, people enjoyed a dinner featuring chicken, mashed potatoes, salad and bread.
Wentzel said a such a grand ceremony wasn’t possible in years past, and he thanked all 23 sponsors for helping make the evening “a success.”
The superintendent also had everyone in the room give Programs Coordinator Debbie Kropog and her team of volunteers — many LPPS students and employees — a round of applause for doing their part to “frill up” the ceremony.
“You guys really have outdone yourselves,” he said.
But after that, the applause was reserved for teachers and principals, who were the real stars on this night.
During the ceremony, students and colleagues flooded the parish teachers/principals of the year with praise, each presenting stories — and in one case a Dr. Seuss-like poem — from their experiences with the honorees.
One parent, U V Li of Walker, also delivered a heartfelt “thank you” to all the LPPS teachers in the room, especially those who helped his 6-year-old son overcome a trying language barrier.
After sending his oldest of three to learn Mandarin Chinese with his grandparents in China, Li said he could sense his son’s unhappiness when he returned home a little more than a year ago.
That unhappiness only grew as Li’s son, who struggles with English, ran into constant communication problems at school, making him feel like an outsider among his peers. Things became so difficult that Li’s son begged him for permission to return to China.
A year has gone by since then, and Li said he has noticed another change in his son.
Though English is still his biggest challenge, Li said his son is steadily improving, and he’ll sometimes show off his new vocabulary to his grandparents. His improved English has also helped make friends at school, and Li said his son seems to be a “totally different person… and a lot happier.”
To Li, those responsible for his son’s sudden change are those he’s around on a daily basis — Livingston Parish Public Schools educators.
To show his appreciation, the owner of Foo Chow Restaurant in Walker bought roses for not only his son's teachers, but all LPPS teachers — more than 2,000 mutli-colored roses for Teacher Appreciation Week.
On Tuesday, Li thanked them again.
“I can’t thank you guys enough, because I feel like without you, none of this [with my son] would’ve happened,” he said. “Your hard work didn’t go by unnoticed.”
Several past and present LPPS teachers and officials also spoke, including Assistant Superintendents Steve Parrill and Joe Murphy, who both presided over the presentation portion of the evening. Each thanked the teachers and principals for the services they provide to their students and for always finding those “teachable moments.”
“Each one of you in here makes a difference every day with the students you come in contact with,” Parrill said. “You are there where the rubber hits the road. You are where differences are made with our students everyday.
“You have every parent’s most precious possession that they’re entrusting to us to care for, and you knock it out of the park everyday.”
After the parish teachers/principals of the year were singled out, teachers of the year from all LPPS schools were recognized, each receiving a framed certificate and a rose adorned with a purple bow.
Teacher of the Year winners include:
Gabby Mire, Albany Lower Elementary
Karen Faust, Albany Upper Elementary
Kris Kleinpeter, Denham Springs Elementary
Taffy Sexton, Doyle Elementary
Judy Carr, Eastside Elementary
Jessica Boudreaux, French Settlement Elementary
Jeanette Milne, Freshwater Elementary
Amanda Naquin, Frost
Dana Fontenot, Gray’s Creek Elementary
Haley Mercante, Holden
Kelli Lowery, Juban Parc Elementary
Shay McDaniel, Levi Milton Elementary
Tara Schwartz, Lewis Vincent Elementary
Dane’ Long, Live Oak Elementary
Kristi Lemoine, North Corbin Elementary
Allison Richardson, North Live Oak Elementary
Kelly Chevalier, Northside Elementary
Kayla Wales, Seventh Ward Elementary
Laurie Petty, South Fork Elementary
Meghan Flores, South Live Oak Elementary
Leah Richard, South Walker Elementary
Donna DePaula, Springfield Elementary
Tamie McCaffery, Southside Elementary
Carissa Peters, Walker Elementary
Irene Farace, Albany Middle
Amanda Brian, Denham Springs Junior
Natasha McMorris, French Settlement High
Krystal Hughes, Holden High
Mary Loofbourrow, Juban Parc Junior
Pamela Myers, Live Oak Junior
Kimberly LeJeune, Live Oak Middle
Barbara McCaskill, North Corbin Junior
Lisa Deer, Southside Junior
Kim Kinchen, Springfield Middle
Lauri Rentz, Westside Junior High
Shellie Woodward, Albany High
Sarah Halphen, Denham Springs High
Jill Johnson, Denham Springs Freshman
Casey Moskau, Doyle High
Mindy Bailey, Holden High
Jessica Bonura, Live Oak High*
Ann Mullis, Maurepas High
Aimee Freeman, Springfield High
Karen Davenport, Walker Freshman
Brooke Rhymes, Walker High
* During the ceremony, Dream Teachers Vice-Chair Amie Barton announced that Bonura, a significant disabilities/autism (SDA) teacher, was named a state semifinalist. Bonura and the other semifinalists, finalists and overall winners will be recognized at the 2018 Cecil J. Picard Educator Excellence Awards Gala on July 27.