Elvis J. Cavalier: Dedicated and committed educator through the arts

Elvis J. Cavalier 
POST SOUTH PHOTO/Peter Silas Pasqua

PLAQUEMINE – Elvis J. Cavalier believes there is always a time to reflect.

Iberville Parish Schools’ Chief Academic Officer, Cavalier is a published author and playwright with over 25 productions and 12 held within the parish.

The latest entitled “Childhood” was performed at the Iberville’s Math, Science and Arts Academy’s Performing Arts Center this past week.

“I am very happy to say that every production we have had in Iberville Parish has sold out which is amazing,” Cavalier said. “Obviously, the community has grasped what we are doing with their kids and has came out in numbers of support which is very gratifying when you see someone sitting in every seat.”

Cavalier said he gets ideas for his work randomly either driving in the car, sitting at the house or working in the pasture at his ranch in St. James Parish where he raises Championship Chiangus cattle.

He first got the bug when he created an environmental show for one of his science classes over 20 years ago.  

From his meager beginnings born on Halfway Plantation, a sugarcane plantation between Belle Rose and Donaldsonville, the man who has his office filled with newspaper clippings bound, laminated and lacquered, continues to reflect on a story he calls a “litmus test” from when he first arrived in Iberville Parish eight years ago.

Cavalier had just followed his mentor, Iberville Parish Superintendent P. Ed Cancienne, from St. James Parish, where they had implemented similar programs.

At the first school board meeting he attended, he spoke of his plans to stage plays with 200 cast members, conduct summer camps taught by high school students and give students real world experiences with science fairs.

“Every now and then, I check it to make sure I didn’t deviate from the master plan we said we would do when we got here,” Cavalier said. “It has worked out pretty good.”

Cavalier, the son of Elves and Elda Cavalier, a sugar cane farmer and stay at home mother, graduated from Assumption High School and Nicholls State University. He worked in business for eight years before entering education at Labadieville Middle School where he taught science and social studies.

“The superintendent has been my mentor for the past 23 years,” Cavalier said. “He has always been very important in the successes that I have had because he always gave me the latitude to do what we thought was best for children. He took care of all of the political issues so I would only have to focus on implementation.”

In just two short years in St. James Parish, the school was selected a national magnet school of distinction.   

“The main problem we were having in Iberville Parish was that a lot of the kids from the parish were going to schools outside the parish,” Cavalier said. “We needed to do something to turn that around. We needed to have programs and a school here that would be a school of choice and would entice the children to stay within the parish for their education.”

The school system developed an academy for each side of the river within the parish that has a curriculum designed like a three-legged stool placing just as much focus on the arts as math and science.

“The arts are just as important,” Cavalier said. “That is what makes us different from a traditional school. A lot of schools are cutting out arts. We are going against that because it makes a difference in the life of a child.”

“The arts make us human. The soft skills are very important and define us as humans.”

MSA-West has grown from a couple of hundred students six years ago to a campus of over 1,300 today. The academy offers choral music, theatre, Instrumental music, dance and visual arts – all five types of the art, according to Cavalier.

Students are admitted through a lottery and must maintain a 2.75 grade-point-average after enrollment. The program has received National Magnet School of Excellence accolades for the past four years and rivals any in the area when it comes to standardized test scores.

“The arts are basically the cradle of the school,” Cavalier said. “The parents have really bought into the program and the children have done very well.”

Cavalier is the father of two children, April Cavalier and Tad Cavalier. He has one sister, Lorraine Boudreaux; two grandchildren, Joseph Thompson and Jasmine Cavalier and one more on the way.

Through his career, Cavalier has been selected state Science Teacher of the Year, Louisiana Educator of the Year, Louisiana Conservationist of the Year and National Environment Educator of the Year.

“Iberville Parish has given parents choices and they have responded in a very positive way. We came here to make a difference. We are not here just marking time.”

“I have been fortunate and it has been a great ride,” Cavalier said. “But I have a few more things to do before I go to do something different.”