Sal Digirolamo had two favorite teachers at Norco Primary – Miss Montz and Miss Schoeffner – who are among his fondest memories of the old school on Apple Street.
“She would cook grits for us in the morning,” Digirolamo recalled about Schoeffner, the school’s principal and teacher. “She was just one hell of a good person.”
There were students who couldn’t afford to bring a lunch to school, but she was there with help for them, he said. Schoeffner served in the school system from 1917 to 1965, and was the first female educator recognized with a school named to honor her – Ethel Schoeffner Elementary.
Montz, his second-grade teacher, was equally loved by Digirolamo. He described them both as dedicated, caring and devoted to teaching and discipline. He especially recalled Schoeffler’s love for students, calling her “one first-class teacher.”
Digirolamo was a student at the school when then President Franklin D. Roosevelt was on his way to the Bonnet Carre Spillway.
“Roosevelt passed down the street and I could swear he waved at me, “ he said.
In 1879, the St. Charles Parish Public School System was established under the jurisdiction of the police jury. There were 10 schools throughout the parish with white schools at Gassenville (Luling) and Hahnville, and black schools at Boutte Station, Bethlehem Baptist Church in Hahnville and other black churches and benevolent societies in the parish.
For St. Charles Parish, in 1930, during the tenure (1913- 44) of Superintendent J.B. Martin, the passage of a bond election provided the funds to build and expand schools.
“She would cook grits for us in the morning. She was just one hell of a good person.” — Sal Digirolamo
Martin, the great grandson of Jean Baptiste LaBranche, was called “the Father of St. Charles Parish Schools.”
“It had been said that many of the great advances made in education in St. Charles Parish can be attributed to the determination and conscientious work of its first professional superintendent, J.B. Martin,” according to “St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History.” J.B. Martin Middle School in Paradis is named in his honor.
The Good Hope School was one of nine schools opened following the 1930 bond election.
Albert Cammon fought the battle for fair education, which resulted in the opening of a high school for black students on the East Bank – Bethune High School. The facility was closed in 1969 due to racial desegregation. Albert Cammon Middle School in St. Rose is named in Cammon’s honor.
Gloria Robottom Curreau was principal of Hahnville Colored School. Martin chose her to help develop the school system.
Meanwhile, Allemands Elementary was moved down the bayou and back up to Des Allemands. The Fashion School in Hahnville also became one of the parish’s schools.
Today, the parish public school system has more than 9,800 students, 15 schools, six centers and seven sites.
Although schools changed, Digirolamo’s memories of his schools and teachers proved timeless.
“When you do something, do it right,” he said. “And they did that. They chose teaching as their profession, and they really did a good job at it and were dedicated to producing good products, which were us.”
Historic Faces of St. Charles Parish Schools
- J.B. Martin, the great grandson of Jean Baptiste LaBranche, was called “the Father of St. Charles Parish Schools.”
- Ethel Schoeffner, teacher and principal at St. Charles Parish Public Schools from 1917 to 1965, set the standard for exemplary primary schools.
- Albert Cammon fought for fair education and brought about the opening of a high school for black students on the East Bank.
- Gloria Robottom Cureau was the principal of Hahnville Colored School and the daughter of Henry Robottom, whose family ran the first mortuary in St. Charles Parish. She was one of several people selected by J. B. Martin to assist in the development of a school system.
- Raymond K. Smith, teacher, principal, supervisor of colored schools, and assistant superintendent of schools, did all he could to ensure students under his care had what they needed to succeed. Raymond K. Smith Middle School in Luling opened in 2006 and was dedicated in his honor.