The Remarkable Ulysse Joubert
Ulysse Joubert tells his students they only have 15 seconds to make an impression — for good or bad — on someone they meet.
And that is all the time it takes to size up Ulysse Joubert. His thick Cajun accent, infectious laughter, expressive face, and imposing demeanor tell you this is a truly extraordinary man! In those 15 seconds, he also makes you feel very special.
As principal of Park Vista Elementary School for 22 years, Joubert has written the book on how to build a great school. More than 70 percent of Opelousas public school students are in the free or reduced lunch program.
Everyone regardless of race fights to get into Park Vista. Now this top-rated school is doing the unthinkable — accepting school vouchers! In fact, Park Vista is the only public school in Louisiana that accepts vouchers. The result? Park Vista is bursting at the seams.
Last year, Park Vista had 740 students — an increase of 242 students over the previous year, including 106 from a failing school. In August, the genial headmaster will receive more than 1,000 students. Park Vista is racially diverse, and just over 50 percent of the student body is white. “People want to get into our school,” he said. Some of the voucher students even come from outside the parish.
“Do so many new students affect us?” he asked. “Of course they do. We can feel the difference. But we’ve had kids who were unsatisfactory in every subject who are now satisfactory in every subject. Our faculty has adjusted, and everyone is being absorbed.”
“We constantly talk to the kids. I tell them, Look, here’s where you stand. It’s not good, but you’re not going to stay in that place!”
“A lot of it is about attitude. We call it ‘Speaking Green’! I tell them… Speak Green! Make eye contact. Stick out your hand and have a firm grip. Be somebody special. You are selling yourself, and you only have 15 seconds to make a first impression. Be presentable. In PE, they learn to set the table. I tell them, you’re going to go a power lunch in New Orleans. You have to be ready.”
“I tell my kids, ‘In 15 or 20 years, I want you to be able to take care of Mr. Joubert. I want you to be my doctor or my nurse or my lawyer. Don’t worry about anybody else. You just take care of me!’”
“In one of my sessions, one of the kids raised his hand and asked, ‘Mr. Joubert, can I take care of Mr. Marks too?’ Mr. Marks from our staff was standing next to me. I had to laugh. Everywhere I go in Opelousas, my kids are there to take care of me. I think we have seven physicians in town who went through our school. I was in the hospital and the nurse looked down at me. ‘Mr. Joubert,’ she said, ‘It’s me! You told me to take care of you!’”
Why is Park Vista the only public school in the state to accept vouchers? “We didn’t get the email telling us not to!” Joubert laughed. “I heard about the program, and asked, ‘Can we accept those?’ Nobody knew. I called the State Department of Education, and they didn’t know. Finally, they called back and said we could.”
Two years ago, the school board decided to merge another school with Park Vista. It was supposed to be a disaster but it wasn’t. Park Vista continued to prosper.
“I tell the kids, ‘Do it for you! I could flush you out to the 7th grade even if you don’t know anything. But then you would drop out. On the streets, there is nothing you can do that is legal. You are supposed to finish school!’”
Joubert grew up in a poor part of Opelousas. He graduated from Opelousas High School in 1965. “I look at these kids today. If I was young now, I would be like them, because I came from the same background. That’s why my heart goes out to them.”
In years past, Joubert did not get to select his faculty members but he does now. What does he look for in a teacher? “I look for three things: A strong academic background, compassion, and the ability of the teacher to put himself in the shoes of the student.”
Does he have many discipline problems? “A few but not many. Basically, I just have to look at them and they straighten up.”
Altogether, Mr. Joubert has 45 years in education. Coincidentally, he and his wife Glenda have been married the same length of time. They will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary on Aug. 18.
Ulysse and Glenda met in history class at USL. “I swore I’d never marry anyone from USL, anyone who was interested in politics, or anyone who was interested in sports,” Glenda Joubert said. “I struck out on all three!”
She certainly did. For their honeymoon, Mr. Joubert took his new bride to watch the Astros in Houston. It was a “baseball honeymoon,” he said. The couple has four children, two girls and two boys.
Mr. Joubert is a deacon in the Catholic church. They attend Our Lady of Mercy in Opelousas. “Did you know that there is no Catholic section in heaven?” he asked.
Mr. Joubert would have made a good lawyer, Glenda said. She also revealed that he thought about retiring. “But he loves a challenge! With all the new kids coming in August, it won’t be this year!”
Ulysse Joubert is a former state president of A+PEL, the Associated Professional Educator of Louisiana and the teachers at his school are predominantly A+PEL members.