This is the latest piece in NSNO’s new series, “The Future is Bright.” We are profiling incredible educators from across our community. They are helping our students build brighter futures through the work they do each day, and their leadership creates a brighter future for our schools and our city.
Many of these educators are connected through NSNO-led programs, and they look forward to great work as:
Some share a school building, a network, or a mentor. All of them are united in their purpose to give our students the best possible education, and in so doing, build a brighter future for our children and for us all.
Today, we profile Latoya Marshall, principal of Foundation Preparatory Academy and member of NSNO’s Novice Leader Academy (NLA).
Latoya Marshall has been an educator for almost two decades. Her first role in an Orleans Parish school was as a kindergarten paraprofessional at Medard Nelson Elementary School. Many years and roles later, she’s back in that same building, serving as the principal of Foundation Preparatory Academy.
This journey has shaped her leadership. Marshall worked as a paraprofessional, a long-term substitute teacher, a classroom teacher, a master teacher, a network director, and an assistant principal at schools across the city before leading Foundation Prep.
As a paraprofessional (para), Marshall supported the classroom teacher and worked with students individually or in small groups. She says this gave her an important perspective for her current role.
“When I was a para, you were looked at as a small piece of the classroom, not a significant piece of the classroom,” she explains.
“It drives me to pay attention to how people are being treated. Does everybody feel included? Does everybody feel like they have a voice?…We talk about equity for kids–but if adults don’t feel equity, then they can’t give it to the kids.”
For Marshall, the concepts of equity, inclusion, and individuality ground her educational philosophy. She wants to make sure that every child feels they have a place at Foundation Prep.
“My philosophy is to provide quality educational experiences for all students. That means getting to know what that individual child needs, and going over and beyond to make sure that teachers understand that this child is an individual.”
Together, she and her team think big, envisioning how their lessons and relationships might impact a child years down the road. Marshall says that as she considers how she and her team can best educate each child, they look ahead.
“What does that child’s life look like one year from now? Three years from now? Five years from now? And what role do we play in it today–to make sure those realities, those dreams, those goals, those aspirations, are actually met and accomplished when they leave us?”
Marshall’s vision for her students’ experiences, as they grow up in New Orleans, is informed by her own. She grew up here, and she says this helps her understand and support her students.
“Growing up here, I’ve been able to experience everything about it, from being able to love and understand how the different wards work…to understanding how people feel when you say certain things,” she explains. “I like to think about it as being the next door neighbor to every child.”
This gives her a feeling of responsibility when she sees young people struggling.
“A lot of the kids that you see on TV now who are getting involved in many different things, it is a horrible feeling–because at one point, one of those kids probably sat in one of our classrooms…when you’re from here, you understand the cycle that kids go through. And then you have the passion to break the cycle even more, to introduce kids to what possibilities can be there for them. That causes me to have a different lens when a child walks into my school hungry, or without a proper uniform on, or tired from the night before,” she says.
By offering students the holistic support they need, Marshall believes she and her team help the city as a whole grow stronger.
“We are raising the future of tomorrow,” she says. “And that means that if we’ve actually done our job, then we have lessened the amount of crime that is taking place in our city, we have increased the amount of students that are going into college and into the workforce, we’ve created leaders who are serving their communities and who are respecting the environments around them.”
Marshall says that carrying the weight of this responsibility on top of the demands of being a principal can be heavy. Her work is difficult.
“It comes with a ton of pressure. It comes with a lot of learning on the job, and just being willing to take feedback consistently.”
For the past year and a half, Marshall has had support and camaraderie in sustaining the difficult work and managing the pressure. She is one of seven leaders in NSNO’s Novice Leader Academy, which brings together new and second year principals for professional development, community-building, support, and coaching.
Amidst this rigorous development, the program emphasizes taking time to recharge. NLA has presented self-care opportunities for the cohort, such as the chance to speak to a counselor in order to process their difficult work.
“This is instrumental and extremely important for all individuals who work in any capacity of serving others,” Marshall says.
She explains how NLA supports that.
“They’re always preaching to us to take a moment, step back, take care of yourself,” Marshall says. “Had they not pushed us to do that, we would have burned out a long time ago.”
By taking care of herself, Marshall has been able to work with her students, teachers, and team to pursue those big goals for Foundation Prep and our city as a whole. She believes it is possible to reach them.
If they do, she says, she and her team will have “set an example of what true education looks like, and what a quality education can do for any child who is in any situation. We have created what New Orleans is all about – the beauty, the culture, the creativity, the essence of being unique, and being able to walk down the street and feel comfortable in your own skin.”