Baton Rouge Influential Women in Business: Nanette McCann
Principal, Baton Rouge Magnet High School & Lee High School
The walls of Nanette McCann’s office at Baton Rouge Magnet High School are filled with recognition: plaques, awards and framed newspaper clippings.
The principal proudly explains each one, her eyes gleaming as she points to the National Blue Ribbon award and the local, state and national principal of the year awards. She is neither boastful nor arrogant, but she exudes a refreshing confidence of pride in her school’s accomplishments. She led the school through a $62 million renovation, raised $60,000 to send students to Washington, D.C., and ushered the school into the prestigious Magnet Schools of America.
Last year, her success led her to accept a concurrent position as principal of Lee High School, where she is coordinating its new construction while leading students, staff and teachers through their transitional space.
Nanette McCann is a Girl Scout, a natural organizer and a self-proclaimed people person who is quick to credit her professional and personal mentors with her success.
“All my life I had good people who steered me in the right direction,” says McCann, 53. “People believe in me, and that’s a lot to hold onto.”
But the success is ultimately a result of her decisions. McCann has been principal at the Mid City high school since 2002 and recently accepted the position as principal at Lee High School, also a magnet. She says juggling the two campuses is like caring for two entirely different children. Baton Rouge High is a visual and performing arts magnet school with 1,500 students and 85 staff. Lee High School is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) school with 28 staff and 350 students currently housed at Valley Park High School. Lee is slated to open its new building on Lee Drive in August 2016 with 800 students, but ultimately the school will enroll as many as 1,200.
McCann wants to see Lee High School reach the same success as Baton Rouge High and create more options for students in Baton Rouge.
“There are only 450 students accepted annually at Baton Rouge High, but there are between 800 and 1,000 students who apply,” she says. “We can’t take them all.”
The Louisiana Tech University alumna with small-town Arkansas roots originally wanted to be a librarian and moved to Baton Rouge 30 years ago to pursue her master’s degree.
Before her current positions, she was an assistant principal at Tara High School, administrative intern at Baker High School and an English teacher at Capitol High School. While teaching at the latter, she met her first of many professional mentors, Tex Turner, who told her to ditch her librarian goals and pursue being a principal.
“He said, ‘Your calling is to be a principal. I see it in you,’” she says. Two years later, she finished her degree at Southeastern Louisiana University, took a sabbatical from Capitol and interned at Baker High School for six weeks until an assistant principal position became available at Tara High School. That’s where she met another important mentor—Warren Drake, who was principal at Tara High School and recently was named superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System.
“He asked me, ‘If you could be a principal anywhere, where would you go?’ and I said, ‘Baton Rouge High,’” she says. “And in 2002, a little girl from McGehee, Arkansas, applies for a job at Baton Rouge High and gets it.”
Her roots are an important part of her success. At the entrance of her office hangs an oil painting of her home in McGehee, a small, one-traffic-light town of 3,000 people, about two hours south of Little Rock.
“There are 1,500 students here [at Baton Rouge High],” she says. “That’s half of my whole town.”
Her brother-in-law gave her the painting as a reminder of where her life began. He painted bold and bright white and pink azalea bushes blooming in the front of the home where her 86-year-old mother still lives. It anchors her office but it also is a reminder of her father—her first mentor—who died in 1997.
“My dad would say find your star and go for it,” she says.
Her star is her career. It’s her family.
She married fellow administrator and educator John McCann in 2009 after an 18-year friendship. Their families are now blended. She has two grown children from a previous marriage—a daughter, Emily, 25 and son, Morgan, 24—and he has a daughter, Morgan, 30, and two grandchildren. John McCann was an assistant principal at Lee High School when the school became a magnet. When his wife was hired as principal, he left Lee and accepted an assistant principal position at Belaire High School. She says her husband is also an important mentor in her life and, in turn, she hopes to be an important mentor in someone’s life.
“All my life I’ve had good people who have steered me in the right direction,” she says. “What those people gave me I want to give back.”
Points of influence
-Led Baton Rouge Magnet High School through a $62 million renovation.
-Raised $60,000 to send students to Washington, D.C.
-Shepherded the school into the prestigious Magnet Schools of America.
-Coordinating new construction of Lee High School.