I was paired with Deborah Lantaigne, principal of White Street Elementary School, who made an immediate impression on me as I followed her in my car from Balliet as she weaved her way from the Pine Point neighborhood through several other neighborhoods down strange and countless side streets to White Street School, which is tucked so tightly into its Forest Park neighborhood that finding the shortest route to it by myself would have been hopeless.
But I was even more impressed as we arrived at her
office and she
smoothly handled a multitude of problems before she
even reached her
Her morning started out with a student who was sent to the office because she was dressed wrong, moved on to a new family from out-of-town that was enrolling their child at White Street, on to a distraught parent needing immediate counseling over a dispute she was having with her husband, to a new intern who was just arriving in the company of her escort teacher who was anxious to introduce her, to a teacher seeking advice over how to handle a problem she had reported on, and then to an emergency phone call and finally a briefing with me before we traveled the halls of the school and visited and viewed many classes in action.
Principal Lantaigne, like the professional she is, moved seamlessly from problem to problem.
She opened a closet and came up with a top for the student who was dressed wrong, greeted the parents and advised staff as to how to handle the new enrollee, took the parent having a dispute with her husband into her office and counseled her in private, welcomed the new intern as though she was the center of her morning world and ushered me into her rear office.
Before we got started, the young teacher came in to discuss the report she had sent on a problem she had solved and was seeking assurances that she had solved it properly.
Then came the call from the sparring parents.
Both issues were firmly resolved.
When we finally sat down and Principal Lantaigne was able to give me a pre-tour briefing, she seemed calm and unfazed while I was mentally exhausted from watching her.
Principal Lantaigne is a special person.
started out as principal of Frederick Harris Elementary School
, which is located in a more upscale Springfield neighborhood.
While Frederick Harris came with its own challenges, with 19.3% of its students having a first language other than English and 73.6% low income and 45.9% being Spanish, 16.8% being Black, 6.1% "other" and 28% being White, the problems posed by the demographics were not as perplexing as those at White Street and Principal Lantaigne, by all accounts, had mastered them.
I had been told before meeting her, by those who knew her professional reputation, that Principal Lantaigne was considered exceptional.
What puzzled me, and what I could hardly wait to ask her
, is why she
transferred from Frederick Harris
to White Street
The White Street student body is 60.5% Hispanic, 18.3% African American, 9.2% Asian and 7.6% White with the remainder labeled "other.
30.6% of its students have a first language that is not English, 24.1% have limited English proficiency, 11.3% are in special education classes and 92.4% are categorized as low income.
All of the data indicated that White Street students needed exceptional care from exceptional teachers guided by an exceptional administrator, which is why Superintendent Ingram asked Principal Lantaigne to transfer from her arena of relative comfort and to apply her demonstrated talents to an arena that might place her outside of her comfort zone.