He’s raising the bar: Under the leadership of Harvey, Washington-Marion has seen its rating increase from D to B
Published 12:28 pm Sunday, June 13, 2021
Ronnie Harvey Jr., Washington-Marion Magnet High School principal, has been named a Louisiana Department of Education 2022 Principal of the Year finalist. The Lake Charles native has spent much of his life in the halls of Washington-Marion, graduating in 2000, teaching and coaching from 2005-2014 and now serving as principal for the last three years.
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Harvey described his history with the school as “on the job training” for this new honor. “Everything was kind of preparatory to get me ready for this point. Everything we’re kind of seeing now is seeds that were planted long ago from mentors, administration and just impactful people.”
Among the accolades that have garnered this award are the high school’s steadily increasing school performance scores. When Harvey arrived as principal, Washington-Marion earned a D rating but has now increased to a B.
Robert Pete, Calcasieu Parish School Board administrative director of high school and Harvey’s supervisor, said “That’s a very big turnaround in a short amount of time,” clear evidence of Harvey’s positive influence.
“He understands the difference he’s trying to make for the community, and he understands it from an academic aspect,” Pete said. While some would use the school’s “predominantly low socioeconomic environment” as an excuse to not excel, Pete said that Harvey has more than risen to the occasion.
“He does not allow those challenges to hinder him in any way…What he does is above and beyond in regard to being able to see that type of growth,” Pete said.
Harvey said the community of North Lake Charles is a strong motivating factor for his professional drive. “Anybody who knows me, knows my mission is just to shift the climate and culture of Washington-Marion Magnet High School and also shift the climate and culture of the North Lake Charles community.”
Having attended elementary, middle and high school in North Lake Charles, Harvey said, “I’m a product of the community…I returned to give something back. So, this is not about me. It’s about changing the surroundings.”
The high school has not always had the best reputation from an academic standpoint, he said, but Harvey’s goal has always been to “raise the expectation.” This is a goal the entire community can rally behind because many are united by the school’s presence.
“Washington-Marion is like the beacon in the community…It is that common denominator where everybody can relate. Most people graduated from this school, or they’re related to someone who attended it.”
Getting the community behind the school’s athletic success has never been a problem, he said, and now it’s time to equally celebrate and expect its academic success. “We really want to be known as an academic institution on that same level. Not saying anything is wrong with being good at sports. But we want people to see that you can really receive a great education here too.”
However, the high school’s academic success is not solely due to Harvey’s influence, he was careful to add. Prior to his arrival as principal, CPSB’s administrative leadership had made great strides in laying a firm foundation for the school’s growth, he said.
“I feel like the plan was already in place. It was just me going in and following it with fidelity to make sure it was able to be carried out,” he said. “It’s one thing to have a great plan but you have to have someone who’s going to go in, believe in that plan and vision and then execute it.”
Part of the plan was having a solid team at all levels on campus. “I had to make sure I assembled a group of people who were willing to buy into the vision. There are amazing teachers that can deliver great lessons, but if they’re not willing to buy into the vision it’s going to stagnate the growth.”
Armed with a strong team, Harvey said the goal is to continue to push the high school to be its very best. “The mission we have here is, ‘We’re going to be an A school.’ We’ve
made some tremendous growth. From a D to a B, we’ve made an unexpected amount of growth. But we really want to be known as one of the flagship schools not only in the district but in the state of Louisiana.”
To reach this goal, Harvey said the school is focused on increasing enrollment, retaining highly qualified and highly certified teachers and safety. He has also set a personal goal to keep seeking, searching and researching ways to improve himself, he said.
“Because I’m not just in charge of education. I’m someone who has to be a voice for the community. I don’t think of it as a single dimension job. I wear many hats and do many things for many people.”
Harvey said he hopes his example will pave the way for other young men and women in the North Lake Charles community and beyond. “I just want to be able to inspire a kid walking down the street thinking because of their environment it’s a dead end or there’s no hope. No, I’m one of those people who is here to say, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter what type of household, single parent or multi-parent, if you find the right support and the right mentor, the sky’s the limit.’”
While Harvey is surrounded with many professional supports, without the support of his wife Shavela Harvey he said he would not have made it this far. “She keeps me grounded. She’s my toughest critic, my harshest critic but I always get that good kind of criticism from her. It’s worth it.”
His five-year-old twins, Paytleigh and Ronnie, have also been a continuous source of encouragement, he said. “It doesn’t matter when I get home, I always have two fans, so to speak. It doesn’t matter what kind of day I had. They always have that excitement. They always meet me with the same energy. So, they’re my cheering squad, my fan club.”
The final winner of 2022 Principal of the Year competition will be announced on July 15.
Calcasieu Parish School Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus and Ronnie Harvey Jr. at a recent convention. The winner of the Principal of the Year competition will be announced July 15.