Haitian principal full of life lessons
By Laura Green
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
http://www.palmbeachpost.com/localnews/ ... _0618.html
Monday, June 18, 2007
Before Aurora Francois finished unpacking the boxes in her office at Barton Elementary, news of a principal with a Haitian-sounding name had already spread to the neighborhood around the school.
Curious parents stopped by to meet this woman.
Aurora Francois of Barton Elementary is the county's first Haitian-born principal.
"I said I've never seen a Haitian principal," said Ermante Olius, who visited the Lantana elementary school Thursday with friend and fellow parent Sheila Mentor.
The women jumped up and down like little girls as Francois, 40, walked around the counter in the school's front office. They recognized the former Lake Worth High teacher who a decade before had helped them learn English and transition into American culture. The three women launched into Haitian Creole.
"It's a Haitian principal for the Haitian parents," Olius said.
Francois, who left her parents and fled an increasingly unstable Haiti at 18, is Palm Beach County's first Haitian-born principal. She replaces beloved principal Delorisa Brown, who was promoted to the district office.
"Everything is possible if you really go after it and push hard," Francois said. "My past challenges only strengthened me. They didn't break me."
Francois' promotion "is a great honor for what she had achieved personally and also for the entire Haitian community," said Joseph Bernadel, co-founder of Toussaint L'Ouverture, a charter school in Delray Beach.
Haitian or Haitian-American students number 12,000 among Palm Beach County's 170,000 students. There are about 400 Haitian-American employees.
Francois' accomplishment is especially meaningful to Haitian immigrants who came to America seeking an education.
More than half of Haiti's adult population has no formal education. Only two-thirds of children attend school, and most drop out before sixth grade.
At Barton, more than a third of the student body is Haitian or Haitian-American.
"My main hope is my story will inspire all students, all American students, all immigrant students," she said.
Francois' story began with an idyllic childhood, traveling Haiti with her minister father, homemaker mother and five brothers and sisters. Her parents sent her to a private school in the capital of Port-au-Prince. But they dreamed of an American college education for their daughter. So, she moved to Florida to live with her older sister.
At Boca Raton High School, students spit at Francois. "They called me boat people, tell me that I stink," she said.
They made fun of her English, so she didn't talk in class. But Francois was a dedicated student and quickly caught up.
To pay her college tuition, the girl who was raised with three maids cleaned homes.
After a brief stint in social work, Francois became a teacher. She taught immigrant students for 10 years before becoming an administrator.
Along the way, Francois worked full time, raised two children with her respiratory therapist husband, Milher Elney, and took college courses at night until she earned a doctorate.
Francois plans to buy a good pair of sneakers and walk door-to-door to meet the families of her students.
She knows she will see herself in the children.
"I'll be able to relate and pull them aside and say, 'I know where you've been.' We really can't empathize with someone unless we've walked in their shoes."
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