Donald Thornton is preparing to take over the principal role at one of the largest public high schools in the state. Earlier this month, Thornton was named to the top job at Lafayette High School. It’s familiar territory — Thornton was an assistant principal at Lafayette High before being moving on to become the principal of Lafayette Middle.
Thornton replaces Patrick Leonard, who retired this summer after 12 years as the Lafayette High principal and more than two decades at the school.
Here, Thornton speaks to The Daily Advertiser about why he wanted the job, his goals for Lafayette High and his thoughts on talk about building a replacement facility for the school.
Why were you interested in becoming the Lafayette High principal?
“I guess, more than anything, I really enjoy the high school setting. This is a school I’ve worked at and really loved, and I really wanted to get back to Lafayette High. There’s a lot of potential. I think we have a really good opportunity to get in there and change a few things up and reclaim an ‘A’ status. The atmosphere is more like a small college over there. It has every kind of student and a multitude of programs. I want to tap into the students’ natural ability and challenge some of the underperforming students.”
What academic performance indicators have caught your eye as you prepare to take over at Lafayette High?
“Performance scores are a big target for (Superintendent) Dr. Aguillard. He wants all the schools to really focus on raising their performance score at least three points. Lafayette High is the flagship school in Lafayette Parish, and for two years, the scores have dipped a little. We want to stop that trend and move back up. The number of students that scored 18 or above on the ACT has fallen one percentage point. The number of students who graduated in four years had slipped one percentage point. The number of students that were testing on grade level for (end of course) went down by one point. They are not huge drops, but no one wants to go down. When you are looking at the data, I think there are some places for some easy fixes to right the ship.”
Are you planning to institute any new programs or initiatives at Lafayette High this year?
“One of the big things I want to work on is just getting everybody on the same page. I want to get everyone behind raising the school score, preparing students for college or getting them into a career pathway. It’s all about getting the student in the best fit … Lafayette High performs well naturally. It’s working on that small group of students who aren’t proficient on certain exams and figure out what areas they need help with. If their ACT score is below an 18, we need to look at what areas they are weak on to get some ACT prep at the school. Just working on the ACT preparation will help the students and the school.”
The school board is going to hire an architect to assess the Lafayette High facility and determine if it should be replaced. What are your thoughts on that?
“I think the beginning of talks for a new building is great. The building is old, and it’s past max capacity. We’re looking at bringing in two more portable buildings because we have so many students. We just want the best facilities for the students. It’s going to be an exciting process, and I hope the community will support us. We really want not just a student body, but a school building that everybody is proud of. The students deserve it.”
What would you like to tell Lafayette High parents and other stakeholders?
“I’m honored to be part of Lafayette High once again. I can assure everybody that we are going to work hard. We want to be a flagship school for the state. The performance level of these students is amazing, and we want to continue to strengthen that tradition. I’m looking forward to getting everybody on board with a common vision. I can’t wait for the summer to end and to get the students back on campus.”