COUVILLION AND HIS GIRLS

Jeremy Couvillion is shown here doing what he loves most -- spending time with his "four girls," (from left) Maria, Julia and Madeline and, not shown, wife Johanna. Couvillion is a native of Plaucheville now serving as principal of Westdale Middle School in Baton Rouge. Although he has won several honors, the "win" he is most proud of is his victory over cancer last year. That experience taught him that every moment is precious and should not be wasted.

Jeremy Couvillion shares lessons from battle with cancer

Plaucheville native says life is better after ‘wake-up call’

In early 2017, everything was going Jeremy Couvillion’s way -- until it wasn’t.

The Plaucheville native was named East Baton Rouge Parish’s Middle School Principal of the Year.

He was selected to be the Krewe of Orion’s Mardi Gras King.

He was in a prestigious position as principal of the EBR School District’s largest middle school, Westdale, with over 950 students.

Then he was told he had Stage 4 non-Hodgkins lymphoma with about 5 percent of his bone marrow compromised by the disease.

“Everything was going great,” Couvillion said, “until I was diagnosed with cancer. Then everything changed.”

He went to the M.D. Anderson Center in Houston for treatment. He is now in full remission and resumed his “winning ways” late last year by being selected for Business Report magazine’s “40 Under 40” feature on community leaders in Baton Rouge.

Couvillion, 37, grew up in Plaucheville. His parents, Steve and Carol Couvillion, and his sister, Aimee Couvillion Hayes, still live in Plaucheville. He graduated from St. Joseph High School in 1998.

“I went to LSU in 1998 and intended to get a degree in agriculture,” Couvillion said. “I changed my mind about midway through school and decided to major in education.”

He started his teaching career in East Baton Rouge, where he became an assistant principal and then principal of Westdale for the past five years.

Couvillion said he is probably most proud of leading Westdale to improve its state performance score in 2016, when it had the EBR District’s highest growth and rose from a “C” school to a “B.”

IMPORTANT LESSONS

There are several moments in his life when important lessons were learned that molded him into the man he is today.

Perhaps the first such event occurred as a pre-teen in Avoyelles Parish when his father -- who worked at the cotton gin in Hamburg -- hired him, his brother and a few of their friends to do a job.

“My first real job was pulling weeds by hand in the cotton fields of Avoyelles Parish in the summertime,” he said. “I was 12 years old and it was very hot.

“Some of the guys had an idea to just break the weeds off at the top instead of pulling them from the root,” he continued. “You couldn’t see them and that was much easier, so we started doing that. A few weeks later the weeds had grown back tenfold because we had taken that shortcut, and we all got in trouble.”

Couvillion said that experience taught him there are no shortcuts to completing a hard job.

“There is no substitute for hard work,” he said. “Sometimes that takes longer and requires more effort, but the job needs to be done right the first time.”

His most recent life-changing moment was his battle with cancer.

“It makes you re-evaluate everything in your life,” Couvillion said. “I can truthfully say that everything got better after I beat cancer.

“My relationships are better. I am stronger in my faith,” he continued. “All of those things you had in your mind that you would say, ‘One day I have to take that seriously,’ you take seriously after this kind of wake up call.”

Couvillion said he is “living life, going to M.D. Anderson once a month for maintenance treatments and taking care of my health.”

He watches what he eats, exercises and takes full advantage of every moment he has been given to spend with his wife, Johanna, and their three girls -- 6-year-old Maria, 3-year-old Madeline and 1-year-old Julia.

As an educator, his advice to students and to grown-ups who have put their school days far behind them, is to “never stop learning. Put yourself on a quest for continuous improvement.”

Couvillion said it is important to find a mentor and to heed their guidance.

“I have had several great mentors who have changed my life,” he said. “Find someone who is doing what you want to do and learn as much as you can from them.”

He likes to share a lesson with others in leadership positions that he learned from one of those great mentors.

MENTOR'S ADVICE

Shortly after becoming principal, he was having some issues with one of the teachers. His mentor gave him one eye-opening piece of knowledge: “Not everyone likes you.”

“That’s when I realized that as a leader, sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions, but you can’t worry about being popular,” he said. “I found a great quote by Gen. Douglas MacArthur that sums it up: ‘A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.’

“I taped it on my desk where I can see it every day as a reminder,” Couvillion added.

Another lesson he said he has learned the hard way is that productivity is the result of building relationships and working together to find solutions, and not by “winning” arguments.

“Being ‘right’ isn’t enough,” Couvillion said. “You have to make people feel like you are all part of the same team and every problem is an opportunity for a win-win scenario.

“It look me a long time to figure that one out,” he said, “and I made a lot of mistakes along the way.”

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