Port Barre Elementary principal Gabe Sonnier says, "It's not how you start, it's how you finish."
He should know. CBS Evening News recently profiled Sonnier's journey from janitor to teacher to principal, an inspired career arc that took place at the same elementary school in Port Barre, La., over the course of more than 30 years.
Sonnier told CBS News the odyssey began in the mid-'80s when he was working as a janitor at the school. The school's then-principal took him aside and said, "I'd rather see you grading papers than picking them up," Sonnier told CBS News.
Sonnier took the advice seriously. He went back to school and earned his teaching degree, while still working at the school. Those years were a definite challenge, according to an interview Sonnier gave to the Advocate earlier this year:
“I would get to school at 5 a.m. and then leave at 7 a.m. to get to LSU-Eunice. After classes, I would come back at 8:30 p.m. and work the rest of my hours, usually until around midnight. Then I would go home and do homework and get two or three hours of sleep,” Sonnier said.
The hard work paid off. A short time after graduating, he scored his first teaching job. That was in 2008.
But the journey wasn't over. He went back and earned a master's degree from Arkansas State University. Now, more than three decades after he began working as a janitor, he's the guy in charge of the whole operation.
He told the Advocate he's at the school 12 hours a day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with his door open, ready to help.
From the Advocate:
"Many of the students who were here while I was the custodian now have children here. You build your community with kids, and the ones who watched me work as a custodian are telling me now that I deserve (to be principal). The kids who were here when I was Mr. Gabe the custodian are now the community and I always had a good relationship with those kids,” Sonnier said.
And it still isn't over. Sonnier jokingly told CBS News that he "would welcome" the chance to be superintendent.
Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).