Berwick High principal finalist for La. Principal of the Year

Two weeks after Kentucky native Buffy Fegenbush moved to Berwick in August 1992 for her first full-time teaching job, her mettle was tested —not in the classroom, but by Mother Nature.

“We moved here two weeks before Hurricane Andrew,” Fegenbush said of the deadly hurricane that led to the deaths of 26 people, caused $26 billion in damage and, until Katrina, was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history since 1900.

Luckily, her home didn’t sustain any damage, but it was in the aftermath of the hurricane, Fegenbush said, that she and her husband witnessed a community rallying around its neighbors.

“That helped to develop our roots here,” she said.

It’s that community spirit that plays a role in her school’s success as one of the top traditional public high schools in the state, said Fegenbush, principal of Berwick High School.

Fegenbush’s accomplishments placed her among the five public school principals selected as finalists for Louisiana Principal of the Year.

The other finalists are: Ajit Pethe, of Luling Elementary in St. Charles Parish; Ben Necaise, of West Feliciana Middle School; Julie Berner, of J.C. Ellis Elementary in Jefferson Parish; and Leslie Martin, of Marigny Elementary in St. Tammany Parish.

The winner will be announced July 12 during the Cecil. J. Picard Educator Excellence Symposium and Celebration in Baton Rouge.

Fegenbush, a 21-year veteran educator, began her teaching career at Berwick Junior High and for the past 11 years has served as principal of Berwick High.

She holds a master’s degree in guidance counseling and has another 30 credit hours in school administration. She also holds a specialist degree in educational leadership with an emphasis on technology. She received her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and remains on faculty there as an assistant professor in the educational leadership program, developing new leaders for the St. Mary Parish school system.

Fegenbush describes herself as a “hands-on” administrator who centers decisions and goals with a “students first” mind set.

Berwick High is rated an A school under the state’s accountability standards and has a graduation rate of 81 percent, based on 2011-12 school data.

She credited the community’s feeder schools at the elementary and middle schools for preparing the students, and her own teaching staff for their work with students. There’s also a close-knit atmosphere at the school, which has about 520 students in grades nine through 12.

“We’re the little school that could,” Fegenbush said. “Our community has pretty high expectations for the schools within our system. We want to make sure that we’re producing citizens that can contribute to our community.”

One of her favorite moments comes once a year, every May.

“There’s a reward that you definitely get when you see those kids walk across stage and shake your hand,” she said.

“My proudest moment is when I get to lead those kids out on graduation night to their seats. There’s nothing like knowing you’ve worked with a wonderful group of people to help children become young adults.”