Most educators would agree, the 2020-2021 school year was the most challenging they have ever experienced. The double whammy of a global pandemic and several devastating, destructive storms made the task of educating students a logistical nightmare. Yet, teachers and other ancillary staff persevered through remote learning, mask-wearing, and social distancing by modifying their teaching methods and adapting to the difficult circumstances.
This year, while nature may still hold some cards, SWLA educators are nonetheless optimistic for a positive, productive 2021-2022 school year. In our annual Education Superheroes section, we introduce a sample of all the excellent educators in our region. Thrive magazine gives a special congratulations shout out to Mr. Ronnie Harvey, Principal at Washington-Marion Magnet High School on being named Louisiana High School Principal of the Year!
Principal, Washington Marion Magnet High School, 2022 Louisiana Principal of the Year
Ronnie Wayne Harvey, Jr. was born and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2005. He was a member of the Zeta Xi chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and a three-year letterman on the football team, starting 33 consecutive games for the Ragin’ Cajuns at Center.
Last month during the annual Cecil Picard Excellence Educators Gala, Harvey learned he was chosen as Louisiana’s 2022 High School Principal of the Year. “I am still stunned, humbled, and I can’t believe I’ve been awarded this platform,” he says. “I hope to bring awareness to the education field and show young people the importance of pursuing careers in the education field. I plan to create a pathway where we start grooming teachers while they’re still in high school. I want to show the country the amazing programs and initiatives we have in Louisiana. And I will be a part of the vehicle that drives Louisiana education priorities. I’m especially passionate about developing and retaining a diverse, highly-effective educator workforce.”
This self-professed “Education Change Agent” begins his 17th year in education this month. He first served as a Special Education teacher and coach, then a short stint as assistant principal, and as principal for the past four and a half years. “The need to always help others played a major role in deciding to pursue a career in education. I realized early that being a teacher allows you to aid in the birth process of all professions.” Harvey also credits his career choice to his former high school principal, Mrs. Madelyn Miller, and his football coach, Mr. Wayne Reese Sr.
Harvey says the greatest perk about serving as Washington-Marion High School principal is having the opportunity to serve in the community he grew up in and at the high school from which he graduated. “I have spent my entire teaching and most of my administrative career there. I love being able to work in the community and school that was responsible for the person I am becoming.”
Keeping his staff and students on the same page and doing what’s best for the children are the greatest challenges Harvey fields every day. “We try not to shift the climate and culture of our school, and work to empower our community at the same time. Spending a lot of time in the community and tying the school to it along with the stakeholders has been instrumental in the success we have experienced.”
After the events of 2020, Harvey looks forward to seeing everyone back in a normal setting together under one roof. “I cannot wait to begin reconnecting with the students. This year’s senior class has endured so much. These are the students who began their freshman year the same year I began my first year as principal here, so there is definitely a special bond with them.”
Awards and recognitions:
2022 Calcasieu Parish HS Principal of the Year
2022 Louisiana High School Principal of the Year
St. Margaret Catholic School – Pre-K3 – 8th grade Spanish teacher
Devon Melville was born and raised in Cameron Parish and now resides in Lacassine. She graduated from McNeese State University with a bachelor’s degree in English Education and Foreign Languages (Spanish concentration) in 2014. At St. Margaret, she teaches Spanish to all grades and 8th grade Louisiana History. She also sponsors the Jr. Beta and Spanish Clubs.
After high school, Melville says she had no definite career path in mind. “I knew I liked reading, writing, and Spanish; so, I enrolled in those classes. Eleven years later, I’m still doing what I love. Let’s just say, along the way, the field of education found me.”
Melville says when working with children, every day is different. “The spontaneity of the job lends itself to happiness. It is especially rewarding in those moments you cannot predict, plan, or replicate, like a thank-you note from an introverted student during Teacher Appreciation Week or a struggling student volunteering to read. I’d like to think it’s because of my time spent lesson planning, researching videos, or attending conferences, but I know that is not the case. I simply provide opportunities for my students who take them and make them their own. I’m just thrilled I get to be there and watch as it unfolds.”
Of course, being a teacher also has its challenges, such as the never-ending to-do list, the research, the paperwork. “The biggest challenge is acknowledging what you need to do, what you want to do, and what to keep on the shelf for a rainy day. Finding this balance is the secret to success.”
After the trials of the past 18 months, Melville is eager to get back into the classroom. She most anticipates the addition of 1:1 laptops for all Jr. High students. “We have been planning this transition for quite sometime – set back, of course, by COVID-19 and hurricanes – but it is finally coming to fruition. I can’t wait to see how our collaboration flourishes between our students, teachers, and community with this addition.”
Melville is also excited that weekly mass returns to St. Margaret this fall. “We are a family, and celebrating mass together brings our faith together. Seeing students of all grades, all of whom I teach, at mass each Friday is the ‘holy moment’ I look forward to each week.”
Guidance Counselor DeQuincy Middle School
Lynne Treme is a native of DeQuincy and still calls this small town home. She attended McNeese State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and later earned her Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling. She taught in the classroom 23 years and has been a counselor at DeQuincy Middle School for the past 14 years. “I entered the field of education because I love working with children, and I want to make a difference in their lives and the world. Growing up I knew I had a connection with children and could relate to them, so education was the perfect field of study for me.”
As a teacher, Treme says she loves to “see the light bulb come on in a student’s head. You know they get the concept they’re struggling with, and they want to share that newfound knowledge with you. As a guidance counselor, my most rewarding times are when a student comes back to me and tells me I made a difference in their life and helped them change the way they thought or felt about themselves.”
“I want to make a difference in every child’s life,” says Treme. “I want them to flourish, grow and overcome all obstacles they may face, and I want to make their lives better. Sometimes a child leaves school and goes home to an unsafe environment or an unloving family. My challenge is to make them feel safe and loved while they’re here at school and to be an advocate for them both at school and at home.”
Treme looks forward to a calmer start to school this year, with no interruptions, facemasks, or social distancing. “My hopes are that students and parents will fully understand that having an excellent education takes everyone. I want all my students to be ready for the future and all the wonderful possibilities it holds for them. Most importantly, I want them to be the change they want to see in the world.”
Treme was selected as 2021 Calcasieu Parish Middle School Counselor of the Year, named Calcasieu Parish Counselor of the Year, and nominated for Louisiana Counselor of the Year. She has been selected as Teacher of the Year for her school two times during her career and is on the Calcasieu Counselor’s Crisis Team. She and her husband, Tim Treme, received the DeQuincy Civic Service Award in 2019.
Early Childhood Special Education Teacher College Oaks Elementary
Ashbrooke Gotreau, a Southwest Louisiana native, earned her undergraduate degree at McNeese State University and her master’s at Northwestern State University. She has been teaching in a Pre-K autism classroom at College Oaks Elementary for eight years. “I became a teacher because I love helping children discover their inner voice. Whether it is communicated through spoken words, sign language, picture exchange, written words or a technology device, it is uniquely theirs and is something they will own and need beyond the academic setting.”
Gotreau loves to see change happen in kids’ lives and for them to become excited to learn. “There is nothing harder than finding out what will make curriculum meaningful and inspire a student to work even when he or she doesn’t want to, and nothing better than the celebration when you can say together ‘You did it!’”
She admits, learning how to maintain a work/life balance has been one of her greatest challenges. “My students mean the world to me, and with their exceptional learning gifts comes a lot of behind-the-scenes prep work, creating visuals, hands-on activities, and individualizing lessons for each student’s strengths/needs. It’s so easy to work at school all day and then bring everything home and continue when it’s something you are so passionate about, but it also leads to an overload without time for yourself or your family. It has taken me awhile to find the balance, and it will always be a challenge because I absolutely love what I do.”
Gotreau is eager for a more normal school environment this fall. “I am looking forward to a school year with less chaos and missed days so I can have the most time possible with my students to have an impact. I am also looking forward to students having more opportunities to learn and practice social skills and interactions with their peers. It’s so important in early childhood, especially for my students who have autism.”
Gotreau has earned the following awards and recognitions:
2014 College Oaks Elementary Teacher of the Year
2015 LACUE Early Childhood Educator of the Year for Region 5
2016 Presenter and Grant Recipient at Council for Exceptional Children Conference
2021 College Oaks Elementary Teacher of the Year
2021 Calcasieu Parish District Elementary Teacher of the Year