Stanley Celestine Jr. Avoyelles Parish ran for school board.
Stanley Celestine Jr. will have an advantage over his fellow school board members. He’ll likely know what students in his Louisiana school district are going through better than the rest.
That’s because he was in their shoes, or at least their seats, less than two years ago.
Celestine is 19, a 2017 graduate of the Avoyelles Parish School District, which he will help lead come January.
He wants to help students have a voice – and improve a struggling school system.
“I will be able to bring a perspective from someone who just graduated from the system and hopefully will inspire more students to participate,” he said. “Student voice is important to have on any organization that benefits children.”
Celestine received 65 percent of the vote this November to secure the open District 5 seat on the Avoyelles Parish School Board.
He won 789 votes, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State website.
He’s well aware he’ll be the youngest on the nine-member board next year. During his campaign, people asked why he didn’t wait to run until after college, until he was older and made a more traditional candidate.
He took an educational approach to answering that question.
“We don’t wait to teach kids how to read and write,” Celestine said. “We want to start as early as possible. So it’s important we are teaching and instilling in young people that they are never too young … to do things that are not the status quo or not the norm.”
Celestine isn’t the youngest person to win election to a school board. A high school senior in Texas won a seat in 2017.
“He is extremely intelligent and extremely hard-working,” said Avoyelles Superintendent Blaine Dauzat, who was Celestine’s secondary school principal. His age “might bring some challenges at times, but he is very resourceful and will probably get past most of those.”
The Avoyelles Parish School District, located in Central Louisiana, oversees 10 schools with 5,300 students from pre-K to 12th grade. Celestine’s recent experience in the district means he knows a lot of the teachers and administrators. He even knows some of the students and fellow board members.
He attended Cottonport Elementary and the charter school Louisiana School for the Agricultural Sciences (LaSAS).
“I do feel like I got a very good education that prepared me for life after high school,” Celestine said.
But he recognizes his high school provided him unique opportunities.
His alma mater was the only one of the parish’s 10 schools to receive an A letter grade from the Louisiana Department of Education, according to scores released this month.
“Not every child across our district has that opportunity,” he said.
More than half of Avoyelles Parish schools received either a D or F grade. The district’s overall grade is a C.
While he cares about improving academics in the district, he also wants to focus on other parts of the student experience – the emotional and social side of going to school.
He’s also working toward those goals in college. He’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a concentration in family and child studies through an online program at McNeese State University.
He wants to cultivate social development programs in school settings.
“It could be an alternative to suspensions and expulsions, eradicate the school-to-prison pipeline,” he said.
Such services help school staff as well, he said, and perhaps help address the high teacher turnover rate in the parish.
While school board member is a new title for the teen, Celestine has long been a leader. He held offices for Beta, FFA and 4-H and credits his ability to campaign for a seat on the board to his experience campaigning for state and national 4-H offices.
“It was a very interesting campaign,” Celestine said about running for school board. “In the beginning, I thought the biggest thing I would need to do would be to clear up and change the narrative about what young people are doing. I didn’t have to do as much of that as I thought.”
He’s also been running a nonprofit for a few years now. As an underclassman in high school, he founded a 501(c)(3) now called Truly Thrive.
The nonprofit provides professional development, networking, marketing, communication, capacity building and other help to organizations that work with children, Celestine said.
Celestine has been balancing his nonprofit duties with college and is preparing himself to add school board to the mix.
It will come down to good schedule management and being flexible, he said. He plans his schedule out a month in advance.
“I’m very strategic with my calendar,” he said.
Coming from a family of educators, he knew he wanted to enter the field and plans to teach one day.
His decision to run for school board was solidified when he completed the Disney Dreamers Academy, an annual four-day event through Disney, the Steve Harvey Foundation and Essence Magazine.
The program is for high school students between 13 and 19 years old who learn career-building skills such as interviewing and networking.
“I knew I had wanted to run for school board, but when I did the Disney Dreamers Academy it really did put a spark in me,” he said.