Celebrating Excellence in the Louisiana Education Profession By: Joni Lacy
As a 29-year educator, I have had the amazing privilege of working in the world of educator excellence, specifically for the past 18 years on the local, state and national levels. As such, I have met some of the most amazing humans and educators, and in a great state like Louisiana, the experience has been filled with celebrations big and small, much diversity, a lot of fun and “all that jazz!” I have worked with both younger and older educators, from wide ranges in economic status and various ethnicities, and within it all, there have been some clear commonalities. In Louisiana, the people are charming, kind, generous, incredibly hospitable and downright talented! And if you ever want to get a glimpse of Louisiana at its finest, and pass a good time, you need only visit a Louisiana school, sha.
In my role serving as the Talent Project Director at the Louisiana Department of Education, I am humbled and honored to have met some of the state’s most exemplary education stakeholders. I have had the privilege of working alongside and becoming dear friends with teachers and school leaders who hold state titles and have taken their work to national and international levels. These trailblazers are now serving as deans of colleges, writing books, sharing their platforms nationally and internationally, trademarking content, serving as adjunct professors and motivational speakers, leading educational trips around the world, blogging and vlogging, to name a few, and in true Louisiana fashion, remembering their roots and taking their village with them as they change the world. Also, many honorees have remained in their teaching and/or leadership roles and are also having a powerful impact on the lives of students and the education profession.
Seeing educators take their work to national and international heights is thrilling and encouraging, but equally as important and exhilarating has been seeing the incredible work happening daily right here at home in the parish. The list of amazingness is much too long to share, so I have selected a few stories of Louisiana educators without overall state titles who have affected my heart. If you ever need to be re-energized and excited about both life and teaching, meet Justin from Monroe. He is a self-described zany and gregarious high school teacher and is a sagacious gift giver of compassion… who does just that and changes the world daily. Geaux north and meet Cory Joy, once a foster child, who pursued music education to provide love and joy to the impoverished and abused. Visit Cajun country and see the sensory lab Sarah created for her special education students and meet her therapy dog, Roux. Next, head to the capital city area to meet Sandy Saye who works passionately leading her students to create solutions to save the Mighty Mississippi’s coastline and other environmental issues. Travel to New Orleans to meet Richard, who uses the performing arts to create within his students, self-awareness, emotional well-being, and a value for diversity. Finally, head down the bayou to meet Marcy, an agriculture teacher and 4H leader who advocates for the forgotten student, introducing them to farm animals as a means of creating productive citizens who will be the leaders of tomorrow.
In addition to meeting some of the state’s most impactful teachers and school leaders, I also have the privilege of working alongside and learning from some of the most brilliant and dedicated education leaders who call Louisiana home. To my current and former administrations, as well as to other state education leaders, I say thank you! Thank you!!! With privilege, I believe, comes responsibility. With that, I awake every single day with a burning passion to create pathways that shine the spotlight on the incredible things happening in Louisiana’s schools. My fire burns bright for recognizing, honoring and celebrating excellence in education, and I carry my work torch with much care and commitment, humility, and an overflowing heart of gratefulness.
Having the opportunity to see education at its finest across the country and world, I feel encouraged, empowered and hopeful. Great things are going on in education everywhere, and for that, I say, “Cheers!” Having this birds-eye view, I can say the future looks quite bright. I feel I can also say that some of the greatest educational excellence is happening right here down South in Louisiana! You need only visit a local school to see it.
I always wanted to “help” in life, and for many years, went looking for some big project to plug into, as I thought that was how it went. I now know that the best way to make the greatest impact is often right here at home. If you want to truly change the world, go to the places where teachers teach all professions. Go into your child or grandchild’s class and read a book. Volunteer for an hour in a school and give a teacher or staff member a quick break. Serve as a mentor and tell students what it is like to be an architect, a scientist, a truck driver, an entrepreneur, etc. Bring a cold drink to a bus driver, thank a food service worker and tell a teacher what he or she has done for your child. You need not look far and wide to make an impact; rather, do it today… right here at home.
My heart has always been for the underdog. As a little girl who grew up on the bayou, I had big dreams and a big heart. I grew up in a small town where we cruised the avenue, enjoyed pep rallies and bonfires, and learned to work hard, be honest and give back. My eighth-grade teacher encouraged me, the average student, and was the first person outside my family circle who seemed to believe in me. He was the first person that made me think I could maybe be something bigger than my small-town reality. After college, two professors took a chance on me, selecting me and one other new teacher, to be a part of an education network. In the group, I learned from veteran education powerhouses who treated me like I was one of them…and so I was. As a teacher of gifted students, I got involved and, again, learned from exemplary educators who mentored me, taught me and believed in me.
To the education stakeholders out there, please know that your work matters, and you are changing lives! Keep laying the foundation for our future doctors, policymakers, etc. And above all, when needed, keep believing in and teaching those who need that role model to simply believe in them. To all others, please know that there is tremendous power in recognizing, acknowledging and celebrating excellence in education.
In addition to being a passionate educator, my little girl self followed my dreams many years ago and worked as a national and international flight attendant for a time. I lived in New York City, traveled to many places in the world, and pinched myself daily to have such an experience. Outside of those who knew and loved me, it was teachers who taught me how to make dreams come true.
Back in the education profession now for many years, I look back on the experiences of my life, and I have a profound appreciation for my Louisiana roots and my longtime career in education. Louisiana is the home of Mardi Gras, jazz, blues, boundless festivals and celebrations, and Cajun and Creole cuisine, to name a few. Those are great things that draw people in from near and far. Many great things are happening in our state for sure. If one ever wants to meet some of the most devoted and talented individuals and see magic and the future in action, however, one needs to only visit a Louisiana classroom.
Joni Marionneaux Lacy, Talent Project Director, Louisiana Department of Education
Louisiana Teacher and Principal of the Year Award Programs, Statewide Program Manager
National Milken Educator Awards, Program Manager, Louisiana
To learn more about awards programs at the Louisiana Department of Education, see the Awards Initiatives Overview document.