The old saying is, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and LaGail Biggs is taking that sentiment to heart and straight through the doors of Jacksonville High School.
Biggs, who will take over as high school principal in the newly formed Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, gives credit for the success in her own career to those who supported her early in life.
“I was born and raised in the small town of Rison,” she said. “I had lots of support — teachers, family, community — that pushed not just myself, but every student to do and be all that they can be. Education was very important to my parents. My dad didn’t have a high school education. My mom did, so it was very important to her that her children went as far as they could. And in their minds, that was through education.”
After high school, Biggs, the youngest of seven children, went to Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. From there, she said, she was recruited to teach in the Richardson Independent School District in Richardson, Texas, where she started out as an elementary school teacher.
“I was there for 10 years, and then my husband’s job moved us back here,” she said. “I interviewed at several different high schools and was hired at Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School [in Little Rock]. I was a drama teacher. I loved my time there, loved my students and being on that creative side of things. From there I went to Henderson Middle School as assistant principal and then to J.A. Fair.”
After serving as assistant principal for two years, Biggs is wrapping up her first and last year as principal at J.A. Fair High School in the Little Rock School District. She’ll be bringing years of experience with her and, along with that, a beneficial perspective that comes from having worked with every level from kindergarten through the 12th grade.
“I think I have a lay of the land, if you will, that perhaps someone who just went into elementary or middle school or high school might not have,” Biggs said, “because I can see the developmental portion of each one of those grade levels and how they really build on one another, and how those children develop as they go.”
Watching a student grow into his or her potential is especially gratifying for Biggs. She quickly said the students’ own successes are her favorite part of the job.
“I love to see them be successful,” she said. “When they have that epiphany, or that light bulb goes off, they realize that they are more than they even thought they were. They can do anything they set their minds to doing. I want them to realize that educators, myself included, are a resource and a cheerleader for them in their effort to be successful.”
Biggs said she believes that to be successful in any area of life, one has to build relationships. Through her years in education, she has carried many fond memories of building relationships with students, but an encounter with one child seemed to sum up what she hopes to accomplish with students.
“I always try to speak futuristically with my kids and speak positively,” Biggs said. “So when they come to me in a disciplinary capacity, I always say, ‘What are your thoughts about your future? Where do you want to go from here, and is this behavior going to get you there?’ I remember this one young man in particular. When I said, ‘Do you want to go to college? What do you want to do?’ — he looked at me like he was puzzled. He said, ‘No one has ever told me I could go to college.’ I said, ‘Not only am I telling you that you can go, but I expect you to go.’”
Biggs said from that moment on, he took a different approach to his education.
“That’s what you want,” she said. “We’re not in this because we want fame, glory and accolades. We’re in it because we have a passion for what we do and love the students we deal with.”
Biggs is looking futuristically toward the 2016-17 school year as well. She said Jacksonville is in a unique position to create history, and the district plans to put its best foot forward, not just for students, but the community as well.
“We’re looking at things such as more concurrent credit for the students as far as an early college aspect,” she said. “We’re also looking at embracing and preparing for some academies based on the curriculum that our students already have, as far as technology, culinary and automotive. As far as we’re concerned, the sky is the limit. My objective is to prepare them as much as I can for a career, college, whatever it is they choose to do. When they walk across the stage and through those doors, they can say, ‘I can do this. I’m ready to go meet whatever challenge is out there.’”
But Biggs said education is a partnership — one she knows full well is the product of a support-based upbringing where all hands are in for the good of the child, and in a broader sense, the community that rallies around them.
“I would like [parents] to be assured that we are going to support them and support their students in any way we can,” Biggs said. “We’re in the business of educating young people as best we can and preparing them for the future, but it’s a team effort. It takes all of us working together to see that happen. And [parents] are a part of that.”