College of Education
New Orleans Principal is a College of Education graduate who puts students first
In the educational philosophy of New Orleans Maritime and Military Academy (NOMMA) Principal Alexis Long, students come first. After just over a decade with the New Orleans Maritime and Military Academy, Alexis was named principal in 2022. She began her career as a high school social studies teacher and continued as an instructor at NOMMA before becoming academic dean. Alexis works to ensure that NOMMA’s eighth-through-twelfth grade young men and women receive an excellent, character-building education.
How did you discover Anderson University?
I’m from just north of Dallas in Allen, Texas. I got to Anderson because I had a soccer scholarship, so I was on the soccer team.
How did you become interested in education?
I had a wonderful history teacher who I give credit to. I also had a wonderful history teacher all throughout my middle and high school years, and that’s where I developed my love for social studies and history. There was one point when I was in probably eleventh grade that I thought I was going to be a math teacher. And then I took calculus and I was like “I love history.” I credit my teachers all throughout middle and high school that helped develop that love for and that interest in history. So I’ve always had that idea that I wanted to be a teacher. I guess there was never really an “aha” moment, it was just these people who did it for me and I would love to do it for other children.
Tell me about your time at Anderson.
I’m from a suburb of a big city, so Allen is a little big city and Anderson is very much a little big city where everybody knows everybody. Then Anderson University is its own subculture of that. My husband is from Anderson, South Carolina and he went to AU also. He came to Anderson in ’03 and graduated in ’07. He went to Westside (High School). He’s a hometown boy. He was on the baseball team for a little bit. We met at another athlete’s house. We started going to sporting events together, basketball games and hanging out. My mother-in-law worked in the alumni office for a long time, and my father-in-law was president of the Trojan Club. He drove the transit buses for a little while.
I’ve been to the athletic campus and it’s beautiful. I loved having the soccer field right there in the middle of campus because people would just stop by to watch. That kind of helped develop the community feeling for me. To me, that was part of the community that was built there. Volleyball was right there. Softball was right there. Basketball’s right there. There were a lot of athletes. There’s a lot of artists—you had that culture there. There was a home for me and I know there’s a home for a lot of other people because of the offerings that Anderson has.
What were some of your favorite parts of college life?
I loved going to classes. I don’t know how long she’s been retired, but Joyce Wood was one of my favorite professors and Dr. Reese was a history professor there for a long time. My first two years I lived in Stringer D and E. I enjoyed the walks to classes; compared to larger universities it’s really not that bad. You’re close if you’re at Stringer. And then I moved to one of the Rouse buildings my last two years. I lived on campus all four years and I loved being able to be right by my classes, the library and the cafeteria. When I was maybe a junior when the library opened, that became the hangout—the computer lab, the coffee shop downstairs. That community, that closeness, that being right there was what I enjoyed and why I lived on campus all four years.
How has your Anderson University education helped you professionally?
In a place like New Orleans, there is such a need for teachers. That’s one of the reasons I ended up here. I graduated with a degree in Social Studies Education and thought after I met Craig that we were going to be in the Anderson or Greenville area. I don’t even really know why, but one of my friends who also went to Anderson—she was one of my roommates—went on a mission trip to New Orleans and—this was post-Katrina—she mentioned that New Orleans needs teachers, and I never in my life thought that I would ever end up being in Louisiana, but much less New Orleans. I’m in New Orleans because of that conversation.
My first six years, I was only in the classroom as a teacher. Because of what Anderson taught me, because of my background in education, I became a teacher leader, a teacher mentor and a coach for teachers very quickly. Now I’m in year 14 and I’m the principal for the school. It’s very different in that we’re not in the traditional school systems around here.
How was adjusting to working in a military school?
I don’t have a military background at all. This is my 11th year at this school. It’s this wonderful blend of educators and JROTC programs. There are some Marine instructors, retired Marines who are teaching this program. It provides structure for students. I wouldn’t say it’s a military style education. It’s not an alternative school or anything like that. It’s just a high school and we have a JROTC program. It was a steep learning curve, starting with the ranks. That’s our PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports) is through the JROTC program and through students earning ranks and all the way down to the uniform. I had to learn what the Irish Pennant was and the special names for their hat, which is a cover, and… don’t call them a shirt, it’s a blouse. So that shift with the terminology was a huge uphill climb.
I tell my senior Marine instructor who is kind of a de facto assistant principal, at least twice a month I’m still learning things about this. It’s a little different with the school culture, because of the customs and courtesies that come along with the military culture. The “yes ma-am’s,” the “good mornings,” the “no sirs.” We say that we develop the mind and instill character. So character development along with our academics is really what we’re trying to do—make good global citizens when we have graduates.
Describe a student who comes to NOMMA.
NOMMA is what’s called a Type 2 Charter School. That means we’re a public school, and in New Orleans all of the public schools are charter schools. It’s very different from South Carolina, but we’re special because we don't have a district boundary where there’s another high school down the street. Our students don't have to live in Orleans Parish or the neighboring Jefferson Parish. They can live anywhere in the state. Most of our students live within an hour or an hour and a half. The ones that live farther away, typically their parent works near the school.
Sometimes because of the type of school and because we have the military word in our name, parents send their students to us thinking we're a reform school, and we’re not. We have structures, we have rules and discipline and expectations for students that we do enforce, which is great for a lot of kids. But there are some kids who didn’t choose NOMMA, so they have more challenges sometimes because somebody chose it for them, somebody thinks that NOMMA is going to change the student, and sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t. So they’re just high school kids. They want to be in the JROTC program. We don’t have football but we have every other sport—volleyball, softball, baseball, basketball.
Tell us about how you got to where you are today.
I had a principal that believed in me at NOMMA. I was one of the teacher leaders, department chair, grade level chair, and kind of a teacher mentor. The principal at that time said “you should do this school leadership thing.” I was like “I don’t know about that. I don’t know about adults. I like kids and the reason I’m in education is because of kids.” That principal, she believed that I could do it, so she gave me extra responsibilities at first and then promoted me to what was academic dean. Like a curriculum instruction supervisor at that time. We call that academic dean. As I finished my master’s program I became the assistant principal with that principal.
So I guess it’s the size where people can get to know one another?
At some point before the pandemic we were closer to 1,100. We’ve had a little bit of an intentional decrease in our size. When we’re getting closer to that size we’re like “We might be a little too big. Our halls are too crowded. We had teachers who didn’t have their own classrooms who were floating, so we’ve had an intentional reduction in size and 880 was our hold for this year. Last year we were right at 900 at the end of the year. Teacher recruitment is a challenge, of course.
New Orleans is going through... not an enrollment crisis, but the population is shifting. People aren’t having children, so there are fewer kids to enroll. The school system-wide in Orleans Parish—we’re not part of Orleans Parish—they’re talking about school sustainability and what schools should close intentionally because there’s just not going to be enough students to be in all of these schools. Of course that impacts us because we’re physically located in New Orleans, even though we’re not part of their system. The number of students around does impact our enrollment for sure.
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment?
When my students succeed. It was always that way as a teacher but it’s still that way as a principal. Everything I do is for students. It’s a student-first mentality, so when I succeed, not just academically but athletically or when I see them in their growth in their character, when I see that they’re changing, making the right decisions. That’s the reason why I do what I do.
What advice would you give someone who is considering an education career?
I would tell them to be the best teacher you can be for your students while you have them, and then the other administrators will notice. Somebody will notice and coach you. And as long as you’re putting students first, and all of your career choices, and all of your choices when it comes to school, you’re doing the right thing. So if you want to be an administrator because you’re putting students first, you’re doing it right. If you want to be an administrator because you want to get paid more, that’s not right.
Are there former NOMMA students that you’re proud of?
There would be so many, and probably more from when I was a teacher. Part of being the school administrator is, I lose some of that connection directly with the students. I don’t get to see my students, my classes every single day. I get to see 880 students every day. That relationship that develops from a teacher-student perspective unfortunately isn’t as strong. When I think about those students, it really comes from when I was in the classroom. There are students since I’ve been in administration that I’m just like “Wow, this kid has completely changed.” They are not the same kid they were in ninth grade, even from ninth to twelfth grade, sometimes from eleventh to twelfth grade, they are completely different.
Every once in a while we’ll have some students come back that went off to the military and they come back after boot camp and say things like “thank you” and “this school helped me. I understood things. I understood why the military made me do things.” I got that a couple of times as a teacher, when I taught social studies, so when they go to their college social studies classes they would come out and say “Mrs. Long, I got that. It was so easy.” I learned more in your social studies class.
How is NOMMA different from a typical high school?
That’s a great question. My students wear the digital camo uniform four days out of the week, so they look like Marines. They are in the JROTC uniform four out of five days. Because of the JROTC program, we start every day at 7:16 a.m. We have a team of students that have been trained to raise the nation’s colors. Before school even starts, it’s not a janitor or teacher or an employee going out there and raising the flag, it’s our students. It’s very professional, very military style. They march out. They raise the colors. And when the flag is being raised they yell “colors” and everybody stops. If our students are in uniform, they stop and salute. Cars stop. Even teachers that are walking in—everybody freezes while the flag is being raised. It’s a symbol of respect, not only for the nation, but for the school, for the culture we’re trying to build, and of course, themselves as students.
We have formation every day. Our students go out into their grade level platoons and they get our daily inspection, our daily announcements, they say the pledge and the creed there in formation. Their Marine instructors, some classroom teachers and then my students earn rank through PBIS. If they’ve earned rank, even as a junior, to be with the tenth, eighth or ninth grade platoons, to conduct those inspections. It’s always interesting how throughout the school year our newer students learn to take direction from other students from their peers. It’s a challenge sometimes, but they learn. It’s about that respectful interaction. Kids are kids. They’re not coming to us knowing that. We’re not expecting them to show that respect. We teach that as part of the character development, the military culture and expectations.
Halfway through the day we have a flex class period. There was a lot of research after the pandemic on how to catch up on lost learning. A lot of the research points to things we’re already doing at NOMMA, and things we’ve been doing since even before I was a principal. One is collaborative planning time with my teachers. My core teachers—English, math, science, social studies—have a common planning period, and then my grade levels have a common planning period. It’s an A and B day block schedule. On A days my core classes have common planning and on B days my grade levels have common planning. That’s one of the things that was recommended. One of the other things that was recommended is a flex period, kind of a built-in acceleration period into the school day. It’s 45 minutes right after lunch. Assistant principals and myself, we look at all 880 students and their benchmark scores and place them in a three-week acceleration class based on where they are at academically, so they may be in Algebra I this time, then English I the next time and if they don’t meet it, if the other students have higher needs, they get to go play intramurals. That’s built into our day every single day.
What do you enjoy doing in New Orleans?
We like to eat all the food and listen to live music. We have a lot of fun in New Orleans. I never thought New Orleans was going to be long term actually. When I moved here, my husband was still finishing PTA (Physical Therapy Assistant) School. He graduated from Anderson with a Kinesiology degree and then he went to Greenville Tech for a PTA associate’s degree. He was finishing that degree after I moved here by myself. I thought it was going to be a one year thing while he was finishing school. It was probably October of my first year when I called him and I was like “hey, change of plans.” So he actually got one of his clinicals in New Orleans, so we ended up getting married here in New Orleans and it was beautiful. We love our city.