By TJ Baker
Photo Credit: Priscilla Graham Photography
HOUSTON – Pregnant at fifteen years old! Yet her disappointed Christian parents helped keep their daughter, Tiffany focused on her academics. Failure and becoming a statistic were not an option!
This un-wed teen mother beautifully rose to the top of her class and became unstoppable. Twenty-five years later this phenomenal member of Delta Sigma Theta is now a mother of three, married and the building principal of Fondren Middle School.
This school has an IB scholastic program that teaches students with 14 different primary languages at home, where English is not the primary language.
Principal Tiffany Narcisse’s staff and faculty call her Boss Lady; yet in a fun and loving way! Even though it’s not unusual for a principal to go without a real lunch break for weeks at a time and it’s not unusual for a principal to stay late past 7 p.m., this Boss Lady does these things routinely.
At times it’s not unusual for a principal to act like a janitor, a cafeteria worker, a hallway monitor, a nurse, a counselor, a social worker, the secretary, the receptionist or breaking up fights… All in one day!!
What is unusual about this school principal is that there is not a single voice at Fondren Middle School that hates her or despises her verdicts.
The parents at Fondren call her, Madame Principal. Fairness is how she rules; her right-hand says justice and her left-hand says love, whether you think she is fair or not.
Any principal knows control is not an easy task, so she doesn’t do it! But what she does best is to find the right keys to fix any problems that goes on at Fondren Middle School.
This trailblazer principal is steadily on the move. Just last year in her first year of principalship she was voted by her peers as the best principal in the south-west district.
I had a chance to sit down with her for this interview and I asked her some serious questions that required contemplation, and let me tell you now, Principal Tiffany Narcisse did very well.
TJ: With your years of experience, what motivates you to continue to work in the education field?
Narcisse: Educating others whether it’s children or adults, drives me to do this work every single day. Clarity at being a leader in education is something I didn’t start out wanting to be. However, you know God has a way of changing you around and showing the true reality of what will make you passionate and happy for the good of the glory in His eyesight.
TJ: What has been a unique work experience you have had that you can say is directly related to working with young people?
Narcisse: I’ve worked as a dean at Kashmere High, an all-girls school; sixth through twelfth grade, and I was able to decrease our dropout rate and increase our graduation rate by thirty-two percent. You must think outside the box, but what helped me is that, I’ve walked in their shoes and I know how it feels to give up, with or without support.
TJ: Can you tell something about the fulfillment you get from work?
Narcisse: When I walk into this building and I see all the wheels are turning and everything in the culture is shifting accordingly. I know that God’s purpose in my life is being fulfilled by being a leader of Fondren Middle School. I’m overseeing a lot of young people with challenges in their present life and some are just in plain denial about certain things. However, with a conversation I share my story. This results in a relationship of trust being formed, and as a result I’m allowed to get on the same page with them to help them understand that they don’t have to face their challenges alone! However, my students have fewer challenges than their parents or caregivers, so now I must build relationships with them also. This is a much harder task but with faith, that challenge is overcome all the time.
TJ: How has parenting changed over the years; you have been an educator and do those changes make it easier or more difficult to educate our youth?
Narcisse: When I was growing up, thankfully and prayerfully I still had both of my parents; most of the students I oversee come from a single-parent home. Lately more and more grandparents and aunts who are tired – are turning the parental wheel for the second time around. Nevertheless, as everything else progresses it has been inevitable; their presence is more powerful; like having them showing up for their school performance and coming to school just to check on how their children/grandchildren are doing in school. Over the years, parent’s responsibility and their accountability have been lacking. Ten or fifteen years ago, you could pick up a phone, call with a good contact number and be able to reach a parent. Now that’s a task within a task. Due to the dynamics in the family especially the population we serve, you have to think outside the box; go to social media and inbox a private message or by texting, just using different outlets in order to have face to face appointments with the parents and let it be brief because everyone’s time is valuable! One thing for sure, my staff and I have instilled in our students and parents/caregivers that we have an open-door policy. They can pop in by any means necessary! This is a community, where we are in a partnership with the parents and this is how students are going to continue to be successful. It all depends on how we communicate with each other. I also want to point out that we don’t have any problems with parents or caregivers coming to the school with hair-rollers in their hair or in their pajamas and fathers wearing saggy pants. We give high expectations on to our students. We have instilled neatness in their daily appearance and so this trickles down to the parents.”
TJ: Let’s talk about STAAR scores! Please take this time and brag because you definitely have every right to do so.
Narcisse: Well thank you! My team, staff and students did it. We raised it up to sixty-one percent in the English Language Arts (ELA) subject, but I wasn’t worried because all year everyone has been on point. Some principals spend/split their budget with just their administrators, but not me. We are a team over here! For example; speaking of the STAAR testing everyone, including the maintenance and the cafeteria workers all wore the same T-shirts that I had purchased from my school budget. On the first day of the STAAR test the students saw the whole staff wearing the same supporting shirt – cheering for them and it read, ‘I can’t answer that for you; just do the best you can’ – and they did just that. They took the STAAR test seriously!
TJ: Well speaking of T-shirts that’s an interesting T-shirt you’re wearing right now, what does it all say?
Narcisse: It reads, ‘Girl Boss – A girl building her empire’. This is our career week and I spoke with my eighth-grade girls. Those that didn’t know my story about being an unwed teen mother knows now and my story sunk in very deep. I wanted them to know that I know how it feels to be unwanted, alone and afraid. But faith always pulls me through! I don’t like to throw my faith on others, but I’m a praying woman so I put on my oil every morning and I thank God for giving me this position. For this, I make sure my students see me and hear me daily. I help with the morning announcements – with today’s pop music for about thirty seconds as a picker upper. Look this is middle school, so why not play the music they love? I’m also constantly walking around, downstairs, upstairs, in the gym, in the cafeteria, even between the changing of classes. Believe it or not, this brings down a lot of discipline – especially if they see you and they know they’re going to see you. No doubt about it, I know I am making a positive difference in my student’s lives! And I know how, because they tell me so themselves, even when I’m walking with them during dismissal all the way to Food Town grocery store. I’m making sure that the students are getting to where they need to be, and I tell them to have a good day. My same appreciative cheering smile will see them tomorrow, or I tell them to have a good and blessed weekend.
TJ: How do today’s youth compare to those youth when you first started working as a teacher?
Narcisse: Today’s youth are a little bit more outspoken. A little bit more direct, and they’re being taught different ways of how to respect themselves. Some have no respect at all, which is not entirely their fault. Some don’t know because of their disrespectful parents, some because of social media, some by their friends and some by just plain ignorance. Twenty years ago, we had to do real research, but now there’s Google. There’s little effort in research, and no encyclopedias in today’s homes anymore. Therefore, my mission is to help them become more intuitive and let them know, they have some great things coming their way despite all this speedy technology that we live with today. They will be inspired by what we positively display here at Fondren. I cannot wait to see what they grow up to be and to answer their own calling in life and how steadfastly they will continue to advance.