DHS’ Dr. Pitre moving on
When Dr. Esrom Pitre took over as the principal of Donaldsonville High School five years ago he thought he was coming to guide the school and inspire the students, instead he said he ended up being on the receiving end of his own plan.
“I had the opportunity to grow professionally, to learn a lot from the community, and to learn a lot from the students who taught me really what it takes to educate in the 21st century,” Dr. Pitre said.
Unfortunately, his time as leader of the school that received a 26-point academic performance growth last year is ending as he resigned his position to accept a job at the University of Houston in Texas.
“It was really a tough decision on my end,” Dr. Pitre said about resigning as principal of DHS. “I always dreamed of being a college professor in a PHD program to work with professionals as they get their doctorates, and to also work in a Master’s program to teach principals so when I got the opportunity to do it, although it was bad timing for the school itself, those opportunities don’t come along very often and near to home. I thought it would be the right opportunity for me so I decided to make the jump.”
When Dr. Pitre began as principal, DHS was an “F” school in academic performance and would only graduate about 60 out of 100 kids. During the past four years, that number improved from about 60 to nearly 87, according to Dr. Pitre.
“That was something I credit the staff with on making the connections and really being positive about promoting the kids and inspiring the students,” he said.
Dr. Pitre said he always wanted to give the students the best experience possible, even if it meant taking them out of the state to Washington D.C. or Atlanta.
“Just giving them the experience that perhaps they may not get if they were not in school and that they may not ever get again,” Dr. Pitre said. “That was something that I strived for.”
When Dr. Pitre first started as principal DHS also housed the seventh and eighth grade students. The current senior class was in the seventh grade when Dr. Pitre began as principal. He compares his bond with that class to a father and son or father and daughter.
“I look at each one of these kids primarily as if they were my own kid and how I would treat my own when it came down to it,” Dr. Pitre said, who has a wife and two children. “I tried to really punish kids when I needed to, and when they made mistakes hold them to high standards, but also to reward them when they were doing what they were supposed to. I think having that balance helped all of them respect me.”
Dr. Pitre said it’s kind of sad for him to tell the senior class bye before they actually graduate, but he said he remembers one of the pacts that they had when they were seventh graders and it was to be known nationally in academics. Last fall they reached that point.
For the senior class who only know Dr. Pitre as DHS principal, it isn’t quite sure how the rest of the year will go and if all that was planned will be canceled.
Michael Favorite, Jr. said he had a lot of great times with Dr. Pitre such as going on different trips such as to Washington D.C. to see the inauguration and “we had a lot of bonding time then.”
“He’s definitely going to be missed,” Favorite, Jr. said. “We’re losing our principal at the beginning of our senior year so a lot of the things that we probably planned and hoped to do could change because we don’t know what the next principal will allow us to do.”
Kaitlyn Cayette said outside of Dr. Pitre bringing senior fun day and other activities to the junior and senior classes, she knows he improved the quality of DHS.
“When we first got here the drop out rate was higher, and now not as many people are dropping out now because Dr. Pitre motivates us and shows people that even though you may not want to go to a four-year university there is something you can do to help you in the future,” Cayette said.
Tranae Brown remembers when she first came to DHS in the seventh grade and Dr. Pitre being “real strict to push us towards education.”
“I hope our next principal will be involved,” Brown said. “Talk to us because we’re not bad kids. If they talk to us like Dr. Pitre did and stop by our classes and see how we are doing. We don’t need a principal that’s just going to be here recording scores.”
Trey Williams said Dr. Pitre really interacted with the students, “he wasn’t just one of those mean principals.”
“He was cool with everybody.”
Jenae Starks said she was sad when she heard about the resignation because of the things Dr. Pitre did to get them involved in the school.
“He motivates us and gives us rewards when we do good and that’s why a lot of students strive for excellence,” Starks said. “I’ll miss him being involved with the student body.”
Jeffery Phillip said he remembers being in the seventh grade and feeling like there was nobody on his side – until Dr. Pitre showed up.
“Nobody cared until Dr. Pitre stepped in the building,” Phillip said. “He showed he wanted us to graduate, and when I saw I had somebody on my side I tried my best. He’s been by my side since seventh grade and now that I’m in 12th he’s pushing me and letting me know somebody cares.”
“He’s just like a dad to us.”
Phillip added, :I think when he leaves it’s going back down just like it was unless they find somebody who cares like he did.”
As far as his support from administration, faculty, staff, and the community Dr. Pitre said he couldn’t be more appreciative.
“Our administrators just made the perfect mesh, in working for the kids and working for the faculty,” Dr. Pitre said. “We had this piece to really inspire kids and a piece to really push instructionally to get the bar moving. It’s like we had a balancing act going, because we had so many dynamic people on both sides so we kept moving.”
Dr. Pitre also mentioned the importance of the motivation from the Donaldsonville Ministerial Alliance, who constantly prayed for him, and the Donaldsonville Rotary Club, which he recently joined.
One person’s impact Dr. Pitre said he couldn’t overlook was the role Percy Perkins played, who works as the DHS site manager. Dr. Pitre said Perkins put a scripture on his desk and said a prayer daily for encouragement and wisdom.
“Things like that a lot of times were the only reason I’d make it through some days.”
When Dr. Pitre announced his resignation the school body as a whole went into shock, and for English Teacher Trudy Bates she also had a reaction of fear.
“I’ve seen us grow a lot,” Bates said, “the children and the opportunities that have been giving to them through a lot of hard work, fundraising and effort. Of course you immediately fear if all of that will go away but then you know change can be good for everybody.”
Bates said as soon as she got over the shock she was very happy for him because he’s going to be doing something that’s very valuable to leadership in other areas.
Bates said DHS We has a lot of stability now and it has an administration that believes all children can learn.
“We have teachers still here and new teachers who seem to have that same philosophy,” Bates said. “I think we can take what we’ve done and grow on it and I think we can take our lessons learned that may not have worked and turn them into something positive that can work. And the things that did work keep doing them. We’ll miss him.”
Bates said being picked on by everybody because she could tell Dr. Pitre what was on her mind is one thing that stood out most in her relationship with Dr. Pitre.
“For some reason we got along and he’d a least listen to me,” Bates said. “And we found out why, because we share the same birthday - April 23.”
For school counselor Lucinda Mulmore, she had the shock, but she was also saddened she said with tears in her eyes. Mulmore was at DHS when Dr. Pitre took first started working as Associate Principal.
“When he first came, he was kind of low-key,” Mulmore said about Dr. Pitre’s first days. “Overall I think the school did a lot of growing under his leadership. He was very sincere about academics and he also cared a lot about athletics. With that being said the kids were drawn to him and had a good relationship with him.”
Mulmore added, “We’re going to miss him. We wish him well in all of his endeavors and he’s left an everlasting impression on everyone at Donaldsonville High School.”
The Ascension Parish School Board Superintendent Dr. Patrice Pujol said she was disappointed when she got the news, but added she had known for some time that Dr. Pitre was interested in working at the university level.
“So, while I’m disappointed that he’s leaving Donaldsonville, I appreciate that this is a good step for him and is something he’s interested in doing,” Dr. Pujol said. “I’m disappointed but at the same time I’ve known that he had aspirations for moving to the university at some point.”
Dr. Pujol said Dr. Pitre came and brought a leadership role where he was able to model for the kids in Donaldsonville what it means to be successful and with the support of a strong leadership team he was able to really impact the school.
The APSB has an advertisement out to fill the position and Dr. Pujol said they are looking for candidates.
“We hope that we have some internal candidates because I think we have a lot of strength on that leadership team,” Dr. Pujol said. “We’ll just have to wait and see who applies and make a decision from that.”
Pujol added, “I want to wish Dr. Pitre well and to the best in his career and I know he will do a great job. I wish him well.”