Whether it was sweeping floors, teaching students or now shepherding a school, Joseph Sonnier has a heart of gold and mettle of steel. By Amanda Bedgood ­— Photo by Robin May

Monday, Dec. 2, 2013

Slow and steady wins the race.

RMay 131118 9922Sonnier  
Port Barre Elementary School principal Joseph Sonnier at his
new desk is ready to mold young minds. The inspiring new admin
appointed in November to the school's top post was the school's
janitor for years before finishing a degree in education.

In November the man who began sweeping floors at Port Barre Elementary School 32 years ago became the St. Landry Parish school’s principal. It was a day long coming. While most new principals find their lives more full than ever, for Joseph Sonnier life as the top admin is actually less hectic.

“It took eight years to get my bachelor’s. I went to work at 5 in the morning and left at 7 for class. Then at night I came back and worked to finish my eight hours a day,” he says.

It left Sonnier with two or three hours of sleep. He spent his weekends for much of those years traveling to see his sons play football or officiating baseball or basketball.

“It was a very busy life,” he says with a laugh. “I was brought up as a hard worker. I was able to do it only by the grace of God.”

Education was always important to Sonnier, but life had other plans. When he graduated high school he enrolled at Southern University to study electrical engineering and attended two semesters. His parents split and with five children back at home, he dropped out to lend a hand. He eventually had his own family and headed to work as the janitor at Port Barre in 1982, a job that helped put his two sons through college.

“The principal told me, ‘You would benefit these kids more by being a teacher and not a custodian,’” Sonnier recalls of his early days at the school.

He took the words to heart. He headed back to school for a degree in education and balanced work and a home life with a wife he says has been as supportive and proud of him from those days as a custodian until now. After eight years, he finished his bachelor’s degree and took a post as a third-grade teacher at Port Barre and began work on his master’s. Six years after starting his teaching career, he was tapped as principal.

He loves to inspire students and staff. He’s the type of person who proves life is what you make it and hard work makes dreams a reality. He doesn’t look at the journey as a means to an end. He believes that this is his time.

No one could disagree.

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