Posted Date: 09/20/2023
On Tuesday, Boley Elementary became the third school in the Ouachita Parish School District to receive the distinction from the U.S. Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon School.
As one of only 353 schools in the nation selected, Principal Sandy Bates and her faculty waited anxiously in the Boley Library as the names of the recipients were called out during a live feed on Tuesday afternoon.
The list was in alphabetical order, according to state, so Louisiana schools that were nominated had to wait a little longer to find out if they were selected.
Boley Elementary – as the name was read aloud, the room erupted into cheers and Bates’ joy was met with tears as she hugged her mother, Kiroli Principal Carolyn Norris, and Ouachita Parish Superintendent Todd Guice.
“I’m so proud of the Boley family,” Norris said. “I’m especially proud of Sandy. I don’t think our children ever get too old for us to want to celebrate them and be grateful for their successes. I am blessed, especially when it’s something I hold so near and dear to my heart, and that’s educating children.”
Boley was recognized as an Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools National Blue Ribbon School for 2023 by U. S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
“Mama told me one time when I was looking for a job in education, don’t get a job at a school that scores high because it’s hard to improve,” Bates said. “Get a job at low-performing school because you can bring them up, and I took her advice.”
Boley achieved an “A” School Grade this past school year for the first time ever. It is also the only Title I School to do so in the district. A recognition ceremony will be held in Washington D.C. this November where Bates will receive an awards plaque and a flag to fly proudly outside of Boley School.
“We have high expectations and do not lower them for anything,” Bates said. “We have a very rigorous curriculum. Boley has always had excellent teachers, but I can say one thing I do really well is hire. I hire really well, and I have teachers who get aggravated when their class is interrupted for anything because that is their teaching time, and they are serious about that because it is so important to them.”
Bates added that she also looks for certain characteristics when adding new teachers too.
“I look for someone who has a heart for the lower socioeconomic … who has a heart for the underdog,” Bates said. “They believe these students can learn. They know these students can learn. They never have a child come in and they (teachers) say ‘They can’t do this.’ They know this child can do something, and if they can do something they can help them to do more, and so that’s what they work to do.”
Anthony Killian, Director of Federal Programs for Ouachita Parish, said Boley serves more than 85 percent of economically disadvantaged kids.
“Out of all the students in Ouachita Parish, when they come to this school, every student always grows,” Killian said. “They make a difference. Kids can learn. You have to have the right administrator. You have to have the right faculty and staff, but they can learn.”
Bates, who is in her seventh year as Principal at Boley, knew she wanted to make an impact when she followed her mother’s path into the education field. She loved being a teacher, and even though she was certified in administration, she stayed in the classroom for 20 years.
When she walked into Boley as principal for the first time in 2016, a Blue Ribbon School was far from her mind.
“In my head, at that time, was survival,” Bates said. “Walking into a new place with new people.”
Just three short years later, Bates and the Boley family hit a new level of survival mode. In April 2019, lightning struck the building, sparking a fire that consumed the whole school.
“That Saturday afternoon, when I got that call your alarm is going off and there’s smoke, it literally changed my life,” Bates said.
The faculty and students were forced to relocate for the next three years to a building that was once a nursing home that they turned into a makeshift school.
"We have known for a long time in Ouachita Parish the strength of Boley Elementary through the years,” Guice said. “Being able to rise from the aftermath of the tragedy of April 2019 to achieve the status of a National Blue Ribbon School is ph
Bates and the Boley family moved into their new school just a little more than a year ago. It is built on the same land where the old school once stood. She doesn’t get emotional a lot, but days like today and the day they cut the ribbon to their new school is what makes Bates really reflect on just how far Boley Elementary has come.
“The first day that it hit me emotionally was the day we had our ribbon cutting, and we had so much community support,” Bates said. “Everybody was there. It was just surreal how far we’ve come, what we had done and that we were finished. It’s time to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Boley is the first school in the Ouachita Parish School District to become a Blue Ribbon School since George Welch in 2006. A.L. Smith (now Sterlington Elementary) also earned the Blue Ribbon recognition in 2004.
Former Boley Principals were also in attendance for Tuesday’s announcement – Curtis Pate, now the Director of Elementary Schools, Curriculum, Testing and Accountability for the Ouachita Parish School District and Tommy Comeaux, now the School Board President and School Board Member for District A.
“I am so proud to congratulate Boley Elementary on being named a Blue Ribbon School,” Comeaux said. “Sandy, her teachers, staff, parents and students should be so proud to be a part of this. Thanks to all the support that we get from our community and the Central Office. I’m proud to be a little part of that.