Educational pioneers get their due
CORRECTION: This story originally stated that A.D. “Danny” Martin was part of Terrebonne High School’s first graduating class. THS was approved as a state high school in 1908, predating Martin’s birth. The Times apologizes for this misstatement.
Louis Miller and A.D. “Danny” Martin were educational pioneers in Terrebonne Parish … legends.
In a nod to the contributions of both men, the Terrebonne Parish School Board is renaming two centers in their name: the Louis Miller Terrebonne Career and Technical High School and the A.D. “Danny” Martin West Park Special Education and Federal Center.
Miller Envisioned Non-college Path
Miller, who began teaching in Terrebonne in 1955, proposed creating a vocational high school in the 1970s to offer training to students who were not college-bound.
The school system only had an hour “industrial arts” class available to high school students at the time, according to James Charles, a retired school assistant superintendent. Miller recognized that a number of students were dropping out of high school early to join the workforce.
“When I was principal at Ellender [Memorial High School], I had 30 percent of kids going to college, and far less completing college,” Charles said of his own experience. “And it’s not that they didn’t have the ability; they had great ability. But their desire was to go to work, and this community here was a working community.”
Miller envisioned a high school where students could learn a high-demand trade – welding, mechanics, nursing and the like.
Charles said the idea was met with plenty of opposition; most families considered attending college as the ultimate goal of education. But Miller was diligent with his research and presented a sound plan to the school board. With the board’s approval, the Terrebonne Career and Technical High School was born. Miller was named the public school system’s first supervisor of vocational education.
School Superintendent Philip Martin said Miller’s vision continues to provide students a valuable opportunity.
“The more options you can provide students, I think the more rounded and stronger education base you have,” he said. “And it provides more options. Not everybody is going to college; not everybody needs to go to college.”
The technical school has morphed with input from local industry, who were involved with curriculum development, Charles said.
“The welding industry, at one time, they were coming over his instructors and showing what they wanted and they needed in the oilfields,” he said. “[Miller] connected to the community with that program, and it’s still connected to the community.”
Special education students also found an avenue where they could further their education and qualify for a wider job market.
“We have kids who have less ability, some challenged kids. They integrated them into the community. So we have all those kids doing what they’re able to do and being able to go out on a job,” Charles said.
Miller’s legacy continues to this day, with TCT hosting more than 580 students, mostly juniors and seniors, this school year.
The state education department’s Jump Start program, Superintendent Martin said, encourages students to opt early to attend college or learn a trade. Students who select a vocational pathway must earn an industry-based certification before graduating high school. Martin said Terrebonne has been offering such a choice for decades, due to Miller’s work.
“His vision was way ahead of its time. We’ve had that school now for 40 years,” Martin said. “In other districts, some of our neighbors have just opened career centers such as ours.”
As other schools scurry to adopt a school-to-work program, TCT students are continuing to compete – and win – at the state and national level in SkillsUSA, competitions specifically for technical training students.
“[The vocational program] has been a very stable part of our education system for a very long time, and I anticipate it will be a very viable and integral part of our system in the future,” Martin said.
Advocating for Special Education
While TCT provided special education students with a chance to learn job skills, A.D. “Danny” Martin’s legacy was in getting them to high school in the first place.
A.D. Martin established the parish’s first federally-sponsored programs for guidance, special education, gifted and talented students and speech therapy. He sought to find a way for each student get the care and help he or she needed to excel in the classroom.
A.D. Martin, a member of the first graduating class of Terrebonne High School, started working for the Terrebonne Parish School District in 1949. He taught at Montegut, Houma, Elementary, Gibson and Pointe-aux-Chenes Elementary schools before becoming principal of Boudreaux Canal School in 1955.
While at Boudreaux Canal, he noticed one-third of a class were learning considerably faster or slower than the rest of the class. He believed the excelling students would be deprived of progress, while slower children would be left behind. Documents presented to the school board indicate he told local and state administrators the parish needed to treat each child as an individual to ensure the best education.
“They each require attention. One size does not fit all. Our youth need sympathetic help, information and encouragement about their potential,” A.D. Martin wrote.
L.P. Bordelon, District 6 board member, worked with A.D. Martin. Bordelon said his co-worker’s formative years played an integral role in his advocacy for special education.
“[A.D. Martin] brought all his experiences from down the bayou and … really was at the forefront of special education in Terrebonne Parish. That’s when the big changes were coming in, and the federal government was realizing more money and more attention paid to kids with exceptionalities,” Bordelon said.
Boudreaux Canal’s faculty helped develop tests to identify special education students. They worked to develop a guidance program and special education program for the entire parish, which received the school board’s approval and the state’s selection as a pilot project. Danny became the supervisor of elementary education, supervisor of guidance programs and supervisor of special education in Terrebonne Parish in 1957, a role he remained in until his retirement in 1979.
Bordelon said A.D. Martin’s special ability to communicate with all stakeholders and get them on the same page helped advance the special education cause.
“He had good rapport with parents,” Bordelon said. “Without the cooperation of parents, you couldn’t do anything. He took special education services out of the wilderness and brought it to the forefront.” •