Worked as teacher, principal and director
When Mary Lou Sumrall retired from the St. Charles Parish School System, she had served 46-1/2 years.
“I made it that long because I loved what I did,” Sumrall said.
Superintendent Felecia Gomez-Walker agreed.
“Mary Lou has given more than half of her life to educating and supporting students,” Gomez-Walker said. “Her dedication, passion and willingness have benefitted the students, school system and entire community in numerous ways.”
In her different capacities with the system, Sumrall had worked as a teacher, principal, coordinator and director.In each role she assumed, Gomez-Walker said she made a difference and left each place better than it was before.
“I am confident that her work is not finished and she will continue to impact our community in a positive way,” she added.
Sumrall considered all her jobs new opportunities.
She considered working in the school system an honor, particularly in a system that has been professional and continued the education of teachers and administrators long after college.
One highlight of her career was being principal at Mimosa Park Elementary.
“I loved everyone at the school from the office staff to the teachers,” she said. “The school had great teachers, students and parents. The school performed well on national tests and continues to be a great school.”
In her time as an educator, the most important change she witnessed in education was inclusion of special needs children into the regular classroom.
“That was a win-win for all students,” she said. “Special needs children were no longer isolated from their peers, and regular education students learned compassion, patience and caring attitudes.”
Sumrall’s career spanned teaching primary students, gifted and talented students, serving as coordinator of gifted and talented students, and as adjunct instructor at the University of New Orleans where she taught gifted education strategies to graduate students. She also served as an elementary principal and director of Special Programs and Arts with the school district.
Sumrall said inclusion was critical in advancing education for everyone.
The challenges she encountered as an educator included meeting the varied needs of students, keeping pace with technology and maintaining teachers, respecting their service and paying them a salary commiserate with the impact they have on children.
She encourages people to go into the field of education, especially men, and emphasizes their impact on children is profound and rewarding.
And sometimes the rewards came in unexpected ways
“In the beginning of my career of teaching primary students, I got constant marriage proposals from my little boys,” Sumrall said. “At the end of the day, I would have notes on my desk from students saying they loved me and wanted to get married. I wish I had kept those notes. I tease the now very grown-up men when I see them in the community.”
There was also the time a first-grader brought a lunch box full of crawfish for snack time, Sumrall recalled. After that experience, the school created a list of permissible snacks for little ones to bring for a morning snack.
“I became a teacher because I love children and love working with them,” she said. “Most students soak up knowledge like a sponge, and that is very rewarding. Children are fun to be around because you never know what they will say. Teaching is not boring.”