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JP Schools 2024 Honors Principals of the Year

Jefferson Parish Schools (JP Schools) named its district winners for the Louisiana Department of Education’s Principals of the Year program. These individuals are now eligible to compete at the state-level to become the 2024 Louisiana Principal of the Year.

This year’s honorees for JP Schools Principal of the Year include: Dr. Monya Criddle, Ralph J. Bunche Elementary STEM School; Karla Russo, Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies; and Vanessa Brown-Lewis, West Jefferson High School. 

“The Principal of the Year Award recognizes and celebrates the hard work, commitment, and high standard of excellence that our principals exemplify every day in our schools. I am proud to have such principals a part of our school system, as I believe it is qualities such as these that contribute to the overall advancement of our district,” said Superintendent Dr. James Gray. 

In partnership with the Louisiana Association of Principals and Dream Teachers, the Louisiana Department of Education annually honors the state’s most exceptional educators through the Principal of the Year program. The award recognizes those principals whose work has made a significant impact on their school community. 

Dr. Monya Criddle, Ralph J. Bunche Elementary STEM School - Dr. Monya Criddle is a product of Louisiana public schools who has committed her career to growing and helping children and inspiring and empowering educators to become their best. Criddle holds herself and others to high standards and creates fair and growth-oriented expectations for all. She has served the students of the Jefferson Parish Public School System, Orleans Parish, and Recovery School District for over 20 years. Prior to her current role as Principal at Ralph J. Bunche Elementary (Pre K -5), Criddle has been an ELA coordinator, Literacy Facilitator, Curriculum Coordinator for the Recovery School District, acting assistant principal, and teacher. As an ELA coordinator, she led the district to secure a multi million dollar grant to promote literacy. She also served as one of the leaders of JPPSS Literacy Cohort Initiative where she trained and led principals in the area of Literacy. Dr. Criddle was also RSD’s district liaison for the state's Turnaround Specialist Initiative where all participants earned the turnaround specialist endorsement. Currently, as principal at Bunche Elementary, Criddle had 4 years of consecutive growth, increasing mastery from 21% to 32% and moving the school’s SPS from 61C to 77B. She believes a huge contributor of success was her ability to build meaningful relationships with colleagues, teachers, students, and families and effectively communicating a clear school vision. Criddle earned her doctorate from Mississippi State University, Masters of Educational Administration from University of New Orleans of Louisiana and Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Dillard University. 

Karla Russo, Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies - Karla Russo has been an educator in Jefferson Parish Schools since 2004. She began her career as a secondary mathematics teacher at L.W. Higgins High School and Thomas Jefferson Academy Academy for Advanced Studies. In addition to teaching, Mrs. Russo worked as an instructional strategist for math and as an assistant principal for L.W. Ruppel Academy for Advanced Studies. This is her 10th year as Principal at Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies. Mrs. Russo has served on the National Merit Corporation Principal Advisory Council, the Jefferson Parish Schools Superintendent's Advisory Council, and was recognized as the Jefferson Parish High School Principal of the Year in 2017.

Vanessa Brown-Lewis, West Jefferson High School - Mrs. Vanessa Brown-Lewis reigns as the principal of West Jefferson High School (9-12), home of the Buccaneers, in Harvey, Louisiana, where she has diligently served her students, faculty, and community for ten years. She is well-versed in her duties as a school leader due to her 30+ years in the field and her extensive education. Mrs. Brown- Lewis earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Loyola University (1991); and a Master of Education in both Special Education (2000) and Educational Leadership (2006) from The University of New Orleans. In 1991 her passion for education peaked, and she has since worked relentlessly in various positions ranging from an elementary school teacher, working with special populations, and an abundance of leadership roles. Under her leadership at West Jefferson High School, Mrs. Brown-Lewis’ most accomplished moments include transforming the meaning of BUC PRIDE by expanding the school’s overall performance score from 58.6 to 74.7, improving the graduation cohort at an exponential rate, and raising the strength of the diploma from a 74.6 in 2017 to 92.4 in 2022 which is substantial growth for the diverse populations served at West Jefferson High School. Her commitment to the adage “it takes a village” is consistently evidenced by her devotion to ensuring all under her leadership are offered a plethora of opportunities to succeed through community partnerships that promote exposure to BETTER. Mrs. Brown-Lewis is a dedicated and passionate advocate for cultivating an environment that encourages life-long learners.