Principal: ‘They are My True Purpose’
By Elissa Bass
In high school in New York City, Lamirra Simeon’s guidance counselor talked to her about the future.
“I remember that counselor saying to me, ‘Lamirra, you don’t want to be an obstetrician. You want to be a midwife.’ And I didn’t know what a midwife was, so I looked it up and I thought, ‘Wait a minute. A midwife isn’t a doctor. Why can’t I be a doctor?’ She was judging me on my transcript, and not on who I was,” Simeon said. “To this day, I share those transcripts with students to show them (we) are more than a piece of paper. I went on and I got my education, and no one can take that away from me. I lead by example.”
Those students attend the Joshua Center Thames Valley Clinical Day Treatment Program in Norwich, one of six sites Natchaug Hospital runs for students in grades 1–12 whose social, emotional or behavioral health issues prevent them from functioning successfully in a regular school environment. Joshua Center teaches grades seven to 12.
Simeon has been principal since 2014, after serving as a long-term substitute special education teacher since 2007. At that time, she was pursuing a master’s in special education and was hired full time after graduating.
“I had never taught before, but Jill saw something in me,” Simeon recalled.
That “something,” said Jill Bourbeau, director of school programs for Natchaug, was Lamirra herself. “She wasn’t your typical teacher applicant,” Bourbeau said. “But, I thought she would be really inspirational.
She is someone who has the life experiences that so many of our students can relate to.” Bourbeau said her instincts have been proven right time and time again.
Bourbeau said her instincts have been proven right time and time again.
“To watch her with the kids is magical,” she said. “She’s such a dynamic individual. She is a very valuable member of our staff.”
Simeon’s road to eastern Connecticut wasn’t a straight line. She was pregnant when she graduated high school, and she and her boyfriend married. He joined the Navy, and they moved around before ending up at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. By then, there were two children. Now 42 and divorced, Simeon’s kids, 23 and 21, are starting their adult lives.
Her undergraduate degree is in behavioral science from Mercy College, her master’s from Southern Connecticut State University in special education, and she has sixth-year certificate for school administrators. She uses her education and life experience to help students and teachers navigate each day.
“These kids are coming to us out of trauma — everything you can imagine,” she said. “They have been in detention, they have been trafficked, they have been abandoned. They are what drives me, what excites me and they are my true purpose to make a difference for each of them in some way. We cater to the needs of each student. It’s like a puzzle. We just keep adjusting.”
Photo: Lamirra Simeon by Jeff Evans