Seaford principal, school earn Blue Ribbon awards

SEAFORD — When Carol Leveillee came to Frederick Douglass Elementary School, she wanted a challenge and something different.

Six years later, she is one of 10 national recipients of the 2020 Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership and principal of a newly named National Blue Ribbon School.

“I feel like I’m pretty lucky and very fortunate. It’s a great honor,” she said. “I’m so proud of my school and the Seaford community. It’s just well-deserved for the building and the school and everything that we’ve tried to do here for the kids.”

The Bell Award, which was announced last week, honors school leaders who are “committed to education as a powerful and liberating force in people’s lives.” The award is part of the National Blue Ribbon Schools program. Principals are nominated by their school communities during the final stages of the National Blue Ribbon Schools application process, according to a news release.

“Excellent learning environments are led by excellent leaders — those willing to think innovatively and creatively about how best to serve students and support teachers,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a prepared statement. “I’m honored to, once again this year, recognize the talented principals who are this year’s Bell Award winners. They are the ones leading needed transformation at the most local level and are committed to student success.”

Ms. Leveillee started her career in education in Maryland, thinking she’d eventually move to a role in the district office there. Instead, she came to Seaford.

When she started at “Fred,” the school was struggling. Out of nearly 200 elementary schools in Delaware, the school was in the bottom five for suspensions, attendance, test scores and more at the time, she said.

“Now I know why I didn’t leave and go to the district office,” she said, “because I was meant to come here and try to make this building a great place for the kids and the people that work in it every day.”

Ms. Leveillee taught for about 11 years before she transitioned to a vice principal role. She has served as a principal since 1999.

When she moved into administration, she made herself a couple promises: She never wanted to forget what it was like to be a teacher, she wanted to do what was best for the kids, and she kept the mentorship she received from other administrators close to heart, she said.

“I had an awesome mentor back in Maryland, and she used to say, ‘Every difficult situation is going to make the next one a little easier,’” she said. “I’ve lived that every single day of my career. And you would think that someone in Year 23 wouldn’t have as much new and challenging. Six years ago, (Fred was) not in a good place to be at all, and it needed to be fixed ASAP. That’s what guided me.”

Looking at their recognition as a Blue Ribbon School, she said it was “definitely a team effort.”

“There’s a whole lot of names on it,” she said. “My big thing is the kids deserve our very best every single day, and Fred’s no exception. That’s sure what gets me up out of bed every morning.”