The History of Dozier Elementary (Erath, Louisiana)
Written by Stacy Bodin in July 1989. (Interviewed the Robert and Frances Dozier's granddaughter Ruby Lee Azore, who was a teacher in
Vermilion Parish through the 70's.)
A Dream …..”Some said, an Impossible Dream.” Robert Dozier was a rare man who dared to dream, in hope of educating his children, at a time when prejudice was prevalent throughout society. The year was 1911, two generations preceding Dr. Martin Luther King’s stand for civil rights and his famous words, “I Have a Dream.” Like Dr. King, Robert Dozier had a dream. His, was one of offering an education to his children and grandchildren. But, in Erath, a small rural town in Southwest Louisiana, educational opportunities for African American children were virtually nonexistent. Realizing this, Robert and Frances Dozier took fate into their own hands. They decided not to sit and wait patiently for society to eventually offer their children what most people take for granted. This unique couple offered their children “the gift of an education.”
Robert Dozier and his wife Frances, native Kentuckians, moved to Avery Island, Louisiana. Shortly afterward, the couple settled in Erath, with their ten children, Adeline, Arthur, Frank, Henry., Libby, Lizzie, Mary, Pinkie, Sally, and Willie. Robert Dozier was employed at a local lumberyard, while his wife worked as a mid-wife in the area. Together, they decided to provide their children with the advantages of an education.
Around 1911, the Dozier’s hired an educator to enter their home and teach the African American children in the area. Mrs. Gracie Milton Neal of Abbeville was the teacher selected by the Dozier Family. She offered these children the advantages of a new learning environment. During this time, Mrs. Neal lived in the Dozier home. To help accommodate the students, each morning Mrs. Dozier would lean the bed against the wall, instantly transforming the bedroom into a school room.
This routine continued until 1916, when it was decided that the Beard Congregation Christian Church would serve the dual purpose of a school and a church. Mrs. Alberta Price of New Orleans was the first teacher.
Over the next twenty five years, Mrs. Gracie Neal of Abbeville, Harold Gilbert of New Iberia and Lizzie Lee Brown (Robert Dozier’s granddaughter)of Erath, respectively taught in the church. Lizzie Lee Brown remained at R.F. Dozier Elementary School until her death in 1959.
Student enrollment steadily increased and by 1941, the church could no longer accommodate the classes. At this time, concerned parents approached the Vermilion Parish School Board for assistance. Land was purchased for the school site in August, 1941. The School Board purchased 1.01 acres of land from Phillip Richard for $1,000.
Construction of the small building was estimated at $890. Doors to the new two room wooden school opened in 1942, Due to limited space, the building could only house grades one through six. To continue their education, the older children would then attend school either in Abbeville or New Iberia.
Reverend B, T. Whitt of Lake Charles became the first Principal in 1942 and remained in that capacity until the school closed its doors in 1968. Earning seventy five dollars a month, this devoted educator was determined to offer his students the benefits of a good education. Additional land purchases were made in May and November of 1948. The widow and heirs of Phillip Richard, for the consideration of $7,460, granted to the Vermilion Parish School Board a total of 4.69 acres of land. By the early 1950′s, it was apparent that additional space was needed for the growing student body. Construction costs of a new brick school for grades one through eight was estimated at $236,837; with the assistance of the Vermilion Parish School Board, allocated funds were made available for the building of the new structure.
Bearing the proud name, “R. F. Dozier Elementary” this new school opened in 1954, in honor of Robert and Frances Dozier. The original brick structure still exists as part of the present school. For the next fourteen years, Reverend B. T. Whitt and his dedicated faculty were committed to providing their students with the best possible education, the R. F. Dozier Elementary School closed its doors in May, 1968 to integrate with Erath High School, which accommodated grades one through twelve. The controversial issue of school desegregation had entered an era where it became possible for all students to embark on an equal education.
During the 1968-69 school year R. F. Dozier Elementary remained closed. The following year, this small school progressed through a new phase. Doors opened for children in the "Follow Through" Program. Ms. Cecile Dubois, Mrs. Jeanette Pillette, Ms. Mary Jo Crutchfield, Ms. Linda Chaumont and Ms. Mae Belle Wilturner Boudreaux were teachers in this program, educating students in grades one, two and three.
Classes were limited to eighteen students, with one class per grade level. Language experiences, field trips and hands on activities were some of the teaching methods promoted by this new federally funded program, decisions were made in 1972, which affected the educational paths of many children in the community.
Additional classrooms were built and Dozier Elementary was established as the primary school for Erath children in first, second and third grade. Erath High School would now accommodate grades four through twelve. Johnnie Suire a Math teacher at Erath High School was named the new Principal. Under the Supervision of this dedicated administrator, Dozier Elementary took its first steps as a new school. An eager faculty greeted two hundred seventy-six “anxious” students in the fall of 1972. As expected, the initial years at this primary school, proved to be difficult, but productive.
The perseverance and strength of this staff helped them rise above problems that often accompany a school during its infant years. A strong sense of “unity” guided them through many chaotic situations.
Kindergarten classes began two years later in the CCD Catholic Religion Buildings. During that year, four additional classrooms were constructed for the incoming Kindergarten students. Johnnie Suire remained at this primary school until his retirement in 1980. Dozier Elementary had taken many positive steps under the leadership of this longtime educator.
Sherry Trahan, an elementary teacher at Erath High, ascended to the Principalship in the fall of 1980. School fundraising projects such as “The Womanless Wedding” and “The Haunted House” were initiated under the supervision of Ms. Trahan. Activities such as these helped develop a stronger bond between the school and the community.
By 1981, inadequate classroom space began posing problems as student enrollment continued to increase. Construction began on six additional classrooms in 1981. By the spring of 1982, students were transferred from the CCD Religion Buildings into the newly built classrooms.
Dozier Elementary experienced a tragic situation in October, 1984, when unexpected, heavy rains flooded the school grounds. Twelve inches of rain fell over a period of several hours in the Erath area. Dozier Elementary, one of the hardest hit schools in the parish, had damages estimated at $157.000. As in the past, the combination of determination, unity, and effort helped the staff through another difficult situation. In 1985, the Vermilion Parish School Board purchased less than an acre of land (.608) from Abel Hebert’s heirs for $21,000.
Principal Sherry Trahan decided to retire in January 1986, leaving behind her a strengthened bond between the school and the community. Erath High School’s Assistant Principal, Teddy Broussard, was appointed to serve as acting principal during the spring semester. In August 1986, he returned as Dozier Elementary’s new principal. Following in the footsteps of previous administrators, he created a positive environment for the staff, parents and students. He too, proved to be an “asset” to this elementary school by promoting such activities as “Breakfast of Champions”, “Friday Night Prime Time”, The Annual “Reading Challenge”, “Mail Call”, and the “The Principal’s Refrigerator Door.” By reading to the students on a regular basis, Mr. Broussard helped develop a positive attitude toward the reading program, while learning about his students.
Dedicated teachers and strong parental support have always proved to be important factors in educating children at Dozier Elementary. School activities such as field trips, pen pal programs, storybook character dress up day, special birthday recognition, school wide reading buddies, and daily silent sustained reading periods all help create a positive learning environment at this primary school. In 1997, a cafeteria large enough to house the student body was finally built on the Dozier Elementary campus. The first proposal had been made by Mr. Johnnie Suire in 1972. The dedication ceremony for the cafeteria took place on November 6, 1997, with Father Wayne Duet, Pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church blessing it. The ribbon cutting event took place with former principal Johnnie Suire as a guest. Other guests included Vermilion Parish Nutrition Supervisor, Debbie Kite; Project Architect, Gene Sellers Jr. Assistant Superintendent, Cliff Alleman, Superintendent, Dan Dartez, School Board Members, Caroll “Bubba” Leblanc and Jay Comeaux. School Cafeteria Manager Gerri Dubois cut the ribbon. The students participating in the ribbon cutting ceremony were: Jodie Adams, Caleb Thibodeaux, Kailey Domingues, Seth Bourque, Eddie Hulin and Ashlie Romero.
In 1988, history was made in the parish, as many Vermilion Parish School Employees went on strike, initiating many changes in the system. Change has played a major role in education over the years. Dozier Elementary began its unique history with one teacher and a few students in the home of two courageous parents. The total enrollment, as of 1999, has increased 476 students with a faculty of thirty-two.
Following the Erath Middle School fire in 2000, fourth-grade students transferred officially to the Dozier Elementary campus. In addition to that, Pre K began in 2002. Now the primary school in Erath houses over 700 Pre-K through fourth-grade students. In 2001, Teddy Broussard accepted a job at the State Board of Education and Ralph Thibodeaux served as the school’s next principal. In January of 2002, the first Assistant Principal Mrs. Elizabeth Gremillion was named. Gremillion was selected as Dozier’s newest leader in the fall of 2003. At that time, Mrs. Dawn Amy stepped in as the school's second Assistant Principal.
On September 24, 2005, the wrath of Hurricane Rita’s path flooded the town of Erath. The three Erath schools shared campuses with other Vermilion Parish Schools. Dozier Elementary shared a campus with Maurice Elementary. JH Williams in Abbeville housed Erath Middle students, while Abbeville High housed Erath High students. In March of 2006, all three schools returned to their own Erath campuses. In the 2006, Dozier students were then transferred to FEMA buildings north of Erath with the intention of Dozier being renovated.
On September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike hit the Galveston coast in Texas, sending a tidal surge once again in southwest Louisiana. Erath schools were hit again with flooding.
During the 2008-09 school year it was decided by the Vermilion Parish School Board to create another elementary feeder school in the Erath area. Many students remained at Dozier, while others were moved to the second feeder school.
The solution to the growing number of students in the area was to renovate Dozier Elementary and build a second feeder school north of Erath. Each of the elementary feeder schools would be Pre K through 5. At that time, Erath Middle was hosting grades 4 through 8. With the new school (LeBlanc Elementary) being built, it would also alleviate Erath Middle's space problems as well. The middle school would now house grades 6th, 7th and 8th grade as opposed to grades 4 to 8.
In 2008, work began on renovating and remodeling Dozier Elementary’s original school plant (415 West Primeaux Street), while the second feeder school (which would later be named LeBlanc Elementary) was in the planning stages of being built. Plans were to reopen Dozier Elementary's facility in the fall of 2009, while LeBlanc Elementary's new faculty and student body would open their school year in the same FEMA portable buildings Dozier Elementary used from 2006-2009. The new LeBlanc Elementary on the north end of the community (4511 E. LA Hwy 338) was built from 2009-2011. The LeBlanc Elementary plant was opened in August of 2011.
In June 2009, Dozier Elementary's Principal Elizabeth Gremillion retired from the Vermilion Parish Educational system. Karla Desormeaux Toups, (a former Dozier student and Erath native) was named Principal for the fall 2009 year, while Dozier’s Assistant Principal Dawn Amy at that time was named the new LeBlanc Elementary Principal.
Karla D. Toups has been the Assistant Principal at Eaton Park and Principal at Kaplan Elementary prior to that time. Vermilion Parish educator Natalie Guillot Hebert was named the new Assistant Principal at Dozier Elementary in 2009, Kimberly Chauvin Etie' was named the Assistant Principal for LeBlanc Elementary (which was now the second feeder school in the Erath area).
Timeline from the time of Hurricane Rita's flooding in September of 2005 until the return of the school campus in 2009, the faculty, staff, and students moved four times.
In May of 2014, Assistant Principal Natalie Guillot Hebert was named the Principal at Seventh Ward Elementary leaving the Assistant Principal position open. At that time, Erath native, Christine Reaux Hebert was named the new Assistant Principal. In the fall of 2018, Susie Stephen replaced Mrs. Hebert.
Through the leadership of strong administrators, many dedicated teachers and the courage of Robert and Frances Dozier, this primary school has traveled a long, difficult road since 1911. It is a different time and a different place, but the original dream of offering children an education will always be the legacy Robert Dozier left behind. It was a dream. Some said, “an Impossible Dream.”