By: Laura Siu-Nguyen

Educator Spotlight: Preston Castille

New Schools for Baton Rouge is proud to highlight educators and partners that work to ensure every child in Baton Rouge has access to high-quality education.

In this educator spotlight, we profile Preston Castille, President of HELIX Community Schools. Preston is committed to ensure that every child has fair access to a high-quality education.

What drew you to education?

I practiced law at one of the largest law firms in the state for more than 25 years.  But, in 2009, the Louisiana Supreme Court appointed me Judge Pro Tempore to serve on the Baton Rouge City Court.  While my appointment to the bench was indeed an honor and in many ways I enjoyed the experience, it was also deeply disheartening.  On almost a daily basis, I watched young men and women pour through the criminal justice system.  Far too many were poorly educated and lacked the skills to provide for themselves or their families.  I often felt like I was presiding over the failure of our education system and our society in general.  Oddly, as a judge, I felt like I was not making a difference at the right stages in the lives of the adults who were now appearing before me.  I thought, “If only we could reach them sooner, we could make a greater impact.”

After my experience on the bench, I made a more deliberate effort to work with young people in the K-12 system.  While I had been an adjunct law professor for years, I needed to focus on strengthening the education pipeline at the earliest ages possible.  That led to my deep involvement with organizations like Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS) and New Schools for Baton Rouge – and ultimately my decision to run for the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and become President of Helix Community Schools.  Instead of fighting crime, I now feel like I am preventing crime.

How do you celebrate Black Excellence in the classroom?

I celebrate Black Excellence in the classroom by ensuring that students not only gain information, but learn to become problem solvers and critical thinkers.  It is extraordinarily important that students obtain as much knowledge as possible, but then they must also learn how to use that knowledge for their own personal liberation and the liberation of others.  When I say, “liberation,” I mean mental, physical, financial and spiritual liberation.  I strongly believe in the Power of Education and that education is empowering.  If we educators are successful in the classroom, we are able to change the world one person at a time.

It is not enough to simply celebrate the success of the great men and women who have gone before us.  It is vitally important that we build, on a daily basis, the next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs, educators, and business and community leaders. 

What inspires you on a daily basis about education in Baton Rouge?

It appears that Baton Rouge is starting to acknowledge many of its challenges and opportunities.  Baton Rouge seems to be willing to accept that diversity in its many forms is a great asset of our community.  Baton Rouge is beginning to recognize that for many years it failed to harvest the strengths of all of its people.  I love seeing men and women of many shades and colors and ethnicities engaged in making this city the best it can be.  But, most importantly, I am inspired that our leaders are coming together looking for and pursuing solutions to improve our community.  I am inspired that the status quo is simply not good enough any more.  We are more willing to embrace new strategies and new techniques for improving not only the education system, but to improve society in general.

What makes you hopeful about the future?

While we are currently facing some of our most difficult challenges, I see our community becoming stronger as a result of these challenges.  I believe our leaders and children will become stronger.  I see in every facet of life that we are learning to be more effective and more efficient in the midst of the adversity we are facing. 

Over the last 12 years, I have had an opportunity to see this country evolve in ways that I thought I would never see in my lifetime.  I’ve witnessed the election of the first Black President, the first woman Vice President, the first woman Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish, and so many other firsts in a very short time.  This is not happening without some deep cultural shifts, but it is a beautiful sight to see the world literally changing before my eyes.

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