(There’s) no time like now. Or so that’s the decision of a Fondren educator after 42 years in the field. St. Richard’s Catholic School principal Jules Michel says it’s time to retire on June 1. “I’ll be 65” he says, “(the) school’s in fantastic shape, enrollment’s great, we’re financially secure; it’s a good time to go”. The MSU and LSU graduate is a third generation American who grew up blocks from St. Richard and says religious schools are still relevant today. His young school is part of over 700 years of Catholic education in Mississippi.
Beginning his career in Humphreys County public schools and moving on to Greenville and Natchez, the married father of three was in the first first grade class at St. Richard. “It’s not often you get to come back to where you started”, he says. And coming back meant evaluating what needed to be done. After a year with the school, Michel felt they needed to give teachers a broader perspective. The school implemented the balanced literacy program which teaches children on their level and progresses them as needed. Following the success, Michel began sending teachers to training across the country, and even attended sessions himself. “They came back one year and said I had to go with them next time”, he remembers. From there, the ‘whole schools’ program was implemented, using an infusion of art into classrooms as a way to teach a new generation. From photography to pottery, whole schools uses one of seven learning styles to best teach each individual student.“It blew me away”. Michel says the methods have made students excited about learning again. He adds “it required us to rethink how we teach”.
State accredited but non-reliant on state funding, the school is the only non-public model school in Mississippi. Michel lauds their diverse 27% minority enrollment as “one of the highest in the tri county area for a non-public school” and their full special education program for ages 5-21, the only in the state in the private school system. But with all of this, he is quick to deny credit. “I didn’t do it. It’s OUR biggest accomplishments” he says. “I won’t take credit. Each and every person who embraced what we do are the ones who have allowed me to make changes. They’re all part of the success story”.
As he reaches the twilight of his career, he’ll have plenty to keep him busy. An avid photographer, Michel has books in the works. And he says he may teach on the junior college level. “I have a lot of good years left in me, but I leave these decisions to the Lord. It’s always been a good decision”. And don’t think that St. Richard students, parents or educators will keep him away either. “I’ll be around if they need me. I’ll come back to cut grass or help with car duty”.