Marcy Paulk Bonnette didn’t plan on becoming a school administrator any more than she planned to become a teacher. Through the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Master of Education in Educational Leadership, Bonnette realized she could leverage her gifts as a teacher to make a broader impact than she’d ever thought.
Talent for Teaching
Bonnette earned her bachelor’s degree in in broadcast journalism with a minor in sociology. As a stopgap until Bonnette could find her first professional job, her father-in-law suggested she apply as a substitute teacher, which she did.
The two months Bonnette spent teaching high school history stayed with her, even as she began her career in radio and then later in public relations. After the birth of her first child, Bonnette says she was ready for a change.
“I was working late and getting home at 7-7:30 every night. I was working most weekends, as well, and was missing a lot of time with my son," Bonnette says. “I enjoyed that two months I spent working with students so much, and the kids came so far in the short time that I was with them. I thought that I may have an actual gift for this because I could really reach the students in a way that was real and relevant to them.”
So Bonnette earned her teaching certification and began teaching English language arts to middle schoolers and then at the high school level, where she stayed 23 years.
"It just seemed like the most natural thing in the world,” Bonnette says. “Every day I went to work, and I loved my job. I always loved doing what I did.”
Bonnette’s passion overflowed from her own Rapides Parish classroom to others’ as she began mentoring new teachers and helping peers problem-solve in their classrooms — all duties of a lead teacher. She decided to take steps to make her leadership role official.
“I knew I had to have my master’s in my district to be a lead teacher, and I've always told my students to get their higher education, to just go for it, and I thought, ‘Well, I need to set an example,’” she says.
Practical Knowledge, Positive Experience
As Bonnette mulled her graduate school options, she was drawn to UL Lafayette’s hybrid, cohort model for the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership.
The program works with districts across the state to deliver the program within those districts. Students take two courses each semester. UL Lafayette professors hold classes once a week, alternating online and in-person course content week to week.
Bonnette says found there was a stark contrast in how colleagues described their experiences in various Louisiana Master of Education programs.
From those who had enrolled in UL Lafayette’s hybrid master’s program, Bonnette says she consistently heard positive feedback.
“I chose UL Lafayette for two main reasons. They would come to us — that was very convenient — and the fact that everyone I spoke with just loves the program and loves the professors,” Bonnette says.
Many of those professors are current or former administrators. Bonnette says that first-hand experience was invaluable.
“Dr. Erin Stokes was an acting principal at the time that she was teaching us, so she was able to give us first-hand, current, relevant experience. That was extremely profound for me,” Bonnette says. “Between she and Dr. Nancy Autin, that's when I really decided I wanted to go into administration, that I wanted to be more than a lead teacher.”
UL Lafayette faculty also appreciate the juggling act students perform teaching, pursuing their advanced degree, and — for many — caring for a family.
"Our professors were extremely supportive,” says Bonnette. “They understood that we were trying to teach and do the master's program and they were absolutely wonderful about it. They pushed us to meet deadlines, but they were also very supportive. They were phenomenal about that.”
Bonnette says she also found there was extra support where she needed it.
"At my age, technology was something in which I wasn't the best. It was great to have the Help Desk and have someone who could just say, 'Sure. I'll walk you through that,’” Bonnette says. “They were fantastic. I love the fact that they just gave us (Microsoft) programs if we needed it. That was a huge plus.”
Bonnette earned her degree in August 2019 and continued teaching for another year before accepting a position as assistant principal at Lafargue Elementary in Avoyelles Parish in 2020. She says of the 10 students in her cohort, three have already accepted administrative positions, two are teacher mentors, and more are likely to follow.
She says she’s already using knowledge gained from courses like Legal, Regulatory, and Ethical Issues (EDLD 502) and Using Research to Lead Change (EDLD 504) to craft plans and procedures to keep students, faculty, and staff safe.
Bonnette says so much she learned is being put to use in her new position.
“I'm really using a tremendous amount of the information from the program,” Bonnette says. “Everything is relative to effective leadership. It really is. Everything we learned is very relatable.”