St. Rose Elementary Principal Shonda Honor-Harris paused for a moment as she considered the question of what she hopes each of her students remembers, years from now, about their time at the school.
“I want them to remember they were loved and that they were part of a family,” Harris said. “That it’s bigger than just a school. We take care of each other. And that’s what I hope sticks with them.”
That goal drives Harris daily as she strives to make St. Rose the best learning environment it can be, and her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed as she was selected by St. Charles Parish as the school district’s Principal of the Year.
Harris, who has served as St. Rose Principal since July 2017, said she was honored and humbled by the distinction.
“In a way, you always have that thought that you’re not deserving. Maybe I am, but I know I work with so many great people who are just as deserving of the honor,” Harris said. “But it’s definitely exciting. When you’re selected by your peers to represent your district, that means a tremendous amount.”
Harris began teaching in St. Charles Parish in 2001, when she joined the faculty at Norco Elementary School teaching 5th and later 6th grade math, science and social studies.
Being a teacher is something she always aspired for.
“My aunt was a teacher, and I would love to go with her during the summer and help her set up her classroom for the school year. I knew early on that’s what I wanted to do,” Harris said.
In 2005, she shifted her attention to education administration, with an eye on affecting more students in a greater leadership role. She became administrative assistant at Allemands Elementary in 2007, and four years later she transitioned to R.K. Smith Middle School as assistant principal in 2011.
“After Katrina, I went to get my masters in educational leadership. I felt like I could be a good leader and than I could serve others at a higher capacity than just in the classroom,” said Harris.
Now as a principal, she understands everyone has their own personal style and flair that best suits the roles they play, be it as an administrator, teacher or any staff member. Her job is to enable each person to best utilize their particular gifts to best enrich the lives of St. Rose’s students.
“I believe everyone has talents, and I try to help them capitalize on that talent to get the best results,” Harris said. “For example, I’m a very organized person, but not the most spontaneous. I like everything being in order. Others might be more spontaneous. Someone might be very creative or might connect really well and have that special relationship with their students, or a calming influence for them when they need it. We all have gifts we can use, and we can all make sure we allow each other to shine.”
Accomplishing their goals of getting the most out of each student is a positive not just for the immediate St. Rose community, but beyond.
“It’s bigger than just St. Rose,” she said. “If we have productive citizens here, they can sprinkle out and make St. Charles Parish even better as a whole.”
It takes a lot of energy to lead a school. St. Rose Elementary is no exception, and some days are more challenging than others. Even on those days, this is less of a job than a calling for her.
“There are days I struggle to get moving,” Harris said. “I think what drives me is knowing that even on your worst days, you can be the greatest gift and greatest hope for some child that day. It’s always an opportunity. That’s why I feel it’s so important for myself and our entire team are all in, all the time. Even on those trying days, we go that extra mile for our children.”
That it all happens in her home region makes it all the sweeter for her. Harris was born and raised in Boutte, and is herself a product of the St. Charles public school system, an alum of A.A. Songy Kindergarten Center, Mimosa Park and Lakewood elementary schools, J.B. Martin Middle and Hahnville High.
“I get emotional when I think about it, because this is my home,” Harris said. “To be able to come back home and receive this recognition for the work I do here is really amazing.”