Editor’s Note: Billy Crawford is a Vernon Parish Native and former teacher who, now retired, has started getting back in touch with his former students to find out where they are now. He conducts the interviews, then writes the narrative. This narrative is written from Julio C. Toro’s point of view. Meaning, all I’s, My’s and We’s relate to Julio C. Toro, not Crawford.
In June 1963, my father, SSG Cesar E. Toro, was stationed to Fort Polk, Louisiana. I was eight years old when my family, four sisters (Josie, Nancy, Alba, and Carmen) and brother (Ray), moved to New Llano and then Leesville.
My mother had the full-time job of taking care of six children. I learned perseverance from my mother, Ana Toro when my father was deployed to Vietnam in 1966-67 and she took care of six children and did not have a driver’s license.
We made it through that year alright with help from Norman and Billye Terherst and the First United Pentecostal Church of Leesville.
New Llano and Leesville were wonderful places to grow up.
I attended West Leesville Elementary, East Leesville Elementary, Leesville Jr. High School and Leesville High School.
I received a quality education that would be the cornerstone of my success later in life. During my senior year in high school, I was preparing to enlist in the US Air Force upon graduation. However, Principal H. Lynn Russell and Counselor Vernia Lenahan had other plans.
They both encouraged me to consider a career in education and return to LHS as a teacher. Other educators at LHS that had a positive impact on my life included Jim Kitts, Foster Thomas, Billy Crawford, Tresa Taylor Abramson, Gordie Holt, Henrietta Spurgeon, Larry Monk and Dianne Stratton. I would decide to follow their path and become an educator.
A 1974 honor graduate of Leesville High, I attended Northwestern State University of Louisiana in Natchitoches, receiving a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social Studies, English and Spanish (1978), Master’s Degree in Secondary Education (1984) and a Master’s Degree Plus 30 Graduate Hours in Secondary School Administration (1986).
In 1978, I was selected as one of 53 students for “Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities” at Northwestern State University.
In January 1979, my first teaching assignment was 7th Grade Reading and Spelling at Leesville Jr. High School. Mr. Joe Westerchil was my first principal. I liked his no-nonsense approach to education and philosophy that academic success is grounded in mastery of the basics: reading, writing and arithmetic.
In August 1979, I was assigned to Leesville High School where I taught American History, Spanish and Civics.
My principal for several years was Dr. H. Lynn Russell. Our mission was to ensure a safe, disciplined, and nurturing school environment that resulted in the improvement of student academic achievement.
I have always said teaching was the highlight of my career with being a school administrator running a very close second.
In 1986, I was selected Leesville High School’s “Teacher of the Year.” In 1987, I became an assistant principal at Leesville High School responsible for student discipline and curriculum. In the next three years, I would work with two more principals, Mr. Richard Reese and Mr. Billy Crawford
As a school administrator, I modeled my leadership style after four great principals: Principal Joe Westerchil taught me to hold true to mastering the basics, Dr. H. Lynn Russell taught me the importance of providing a safe and disciplined school environment, Principal Richard Reese taught me how to effectively work with all people and Principal Billy Crawford taught me the importance of providing a strong academic curriculum.
In 1990, I became the principal of Natchitoches Central High School in Natchitoches, Louisiana. During my nine year tenure at NCHS.
I was named “Administrator of the Year” by the Louisiana Association of Computer Using Educators (1994), “Natchitoches Parish Principal of the Year” (1997). I was selected “Louisiana Secondary Level Regional Finalist for Principal of the Year” (1997) and served on the “State Safe School Task Force” created by the Louisiana State Department of Education.
In 1992, Natchitoches Central High School was named one of the top five high schools in the state by the Louisiana State Department of Education.
In 1999, I retired after 20 years with the Louisiana education system and moved to San Marcos, Texas.
In July 1999, I was named principal of San Marcos High School in San Marcos, Texas. In 2002 SMHS was named a Texas Education Agency “Recognized” Campus.
SMHS achieved the highest test scores in the school’s history on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) and posted the lowest drop-out rate in the school’s history.
It was during this time Dr. H. Lynn Russell and I renewed our friendship and he became my mentor. We remained in contact until his death.
In 2004 I was named principal of Brewer High School in Fort Worth, Texas. A goal was to expand the school’s career and technology program course offerings to include Veterinary Science, Banking and Financial Systems, Introduction to Health Science, Criminal Justice and Culinary Arts.
In June 2008, I was named Principal of Grand Prairie Ninth Grade Center and later Principal of three Elementary Schools in Grand Prairie ISD during my tenure in this school district.
After having served over twenty years as a secondary school principal, I got an opportunity to work at the elementary school level the last seven years of my career. This would provide me the unique experience to learn the elementary school curriculum and the dynamics of elementary school education.
It was also an opportunity to learn the day to day operation of elementary education which included Pre-K through 6th Grade. My elementary schools would include Two-Way Dual Language classrooms, Full-Day Pre-School and Pre-School Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD).
In June 2018, I retired from the Texas Education System after working in Texas for 19 years and 39 total years in the field of education.
Retirement provided me the opportunity to spend more time with my father who was entering the final stages of Alzheimer's. My Dad passed away in May 2019. He was my hero, mentor, and adviser, who set the example of what a person needed to do to succeed in this world. My father taught me a great deal and I remember those lessons to this day.
My wife, Sherry, and I live in Arlington, Texas. In August of this year Sherry and I will celebrate our 42nd wedding anniversary. Sherry and I met while attending Leesville High School. We have two sons, Derek and Ryan. We also have three granddaughters and a grandson.
Retirement has given us the time to travel. I have two classic vehicles that I enter in car shows. A 1972 GMC Truck and a 1969 Corvette Stingray.
My hobbies also include photography and collecting vintage film cameras. I learned to develop black and white film and use the process often.
I also enjoy attending my granddaughter’s powerlifting meets in Louisiana.