From the Principal’s Office
Engagement and opportunity are central to students' success
By Dwain Hebda
Nancy Rousseau, principal of Little Rock Central High School, has been in charge of the landmark school for 16 years and counting. Multiply that by the thousands that make up the average student body every year and that's a lot of young faces, eager potential, tardy slips, parent conferences and everything else that goes with the sacred responsibility of educating children.
But there's one thing above all else that binds all those years and classes and students, and that's the simple, yet powerful, conviction that all young people have greatness in them, should they choose to embrace it. It's a belief Rousseau drills constantly into the students with the help of staffers, faculty members and parents.
"Central is probably the most diverse school in the state," she said. "We have kids who come from 26 countries, who speak 27 languages. We have over 1,100 children who are what we would designate as economically disadvantaged. That being said, when they come to us every child has the opportunity to leave here fully prepared for college, career, the military, workforce, whatever."
"Parents send us the best they have," she added. "We have a tremendous team here to get these kids prepared for their success."
Rousseau said the process begins freshman year when all students take an evaluation that serves as a baseline measurement of the student's interests. It doesn't lock them into anything, but it does give an early look at where the child's interests may lead them given the right opportunity and exposure.
"What we do is expose the kids to lots of options so that they have the opportunity to find their niche," she said. "For example, the military. We give them tables outside the lunchroom. They do it all year long and the kids talk to them about the various services."
"Or, say the child wants to learn a skill; after sophomore year, if the children show that interest, we partner with Metropolitan Votechnical School."
Rousseau said this individualized approach strikes a chord with parents, many of whom stay actively involved in their children's education. She called that participation a critical aspect of success.
"The children who are the most successful are those whose parents are part of this teamwork," she said. "The parents are so involved from the very beginning. We have a ton of parent meetings. They’re exposed to what our goals are at the school, what the kids are learning and how they can help their children."
The proof is in the school's graduates, who last year accepted a grand total of over $12 million in scholarships from colleges large and small. It's an accomplishment that Rousseau details with pride in her voice, even as she prepares to do it all over again in the coming term.
"A child’s success in high school and beyond is totally a team effort and a partnership between the school and the home," she said. "It is such a partnership. I can tell you that the parents who reach out to the school and to the counselors and stay on top of their children’s academic program, theirs are the kids who fare the best."
Nancy’s Tips for Success
1. Counselors Count: "One of the first things that I would advise every parent to do is establish a relationship with the child’s counselor, number one. Absolutely. Be sure you have the counselor’s email address and direct phone number."
2. Talk to Teachers: "Once the child’s schedule is set, go ahead and email all the teachers. Say, ‘I’m an involved parent. I would appreciate your communication with me at any point if my child is struggling or is showing any deficiency in the class.’"
3. Watch Grades: "Every parent has the ability every day to sign in and check students’ grades through eSchool. That way, parents can keep up with their child’s success or failure."
4. Keep Tabs: "If a child is as conscientious as he or she should be, we have what I call the agenda book, which is like a date book. It helps parents keep on top of the child’s daily assignments and, by requiring that child to write assignments in the agenda book, gives them the opportunity to partner with the child to see that assignments are done."
5. Be Present: "Parents have got to be involved. I always tell them, come to open houses, come to any and all informational meetings to communicate about programs, academics or whatever."