For more than 11 years now, current Marshall ISD Board President Brad Burris has worked with his fellow trustees towards his original goal when he first ran for the school board - to make Marshall ISD the "district of choice," for East Texas.
Burris first joined the district's board of trustees in May of 2010 when he was searching for a way to be involved with his young children's school.
"At the time, I had a son who was about to start school and wanted to be involved in some capacity," Burris said Monday. "My wife and I are both Marshall High School graduates and felt called to try and give back to the place that had given us so much."
Burris said deciding to serve as a trustee has been rewarding on many levels.
"Without a doubt, the best part has been being able to see the lives of so many students changed," he said. "There have been so many positive stories in our district over the past several years and being able to see them first hand has been extremely rewarding."
Burris, a 1995 Maverick graduate, said the district has changed in so many ways throughout the past two decades but one thing that has always remained constant at Marshall ISD is the sense of family.
"For the most part, we are still a family, the Maverick family," he said. "That is something we have tried to rally around in both good times and bad. The family concept seems to bring everyone together no matter what we face."
Burris said one of the aspects of public education that has changed significantly in recent years is the ability for parents and students to essentially shop around for their school.
"There are so many choices on where you can go to school now. When I grew up, students went to school where they lived," he said. "That is not the case anymore. There are many students that may live in one community but go to school in a different community. It really has become a competition and you better have the best academics, facilities and programs so that you are able to keep and also attract every student that you can."
Realizing this sense of competition, Burris set out as a new trustee to work hard on making Marshall ISD the school of choice for parents and students.
"I think we have a lot to offer students, whether it is the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, Pre-AP and AP courses, dual credit courses through our relationships with East Texas Baptist University, Wiley College and Texas State Technical College in Marshall, or our Career/Technology/Ag classes. Our fine arts are consistently sweepstakes award winners and our athletic programs are very competitive and have won numerous games, competitions and championships. Our facilities are top notch across the board. I believe our diversity is a plus and is a picture of the real world. Any student that graduates from Marshall High School will have many opportunities to do whatever they want to do in life."
Burris has been on hand for many of these improvements and updates across the district, both physically and academically, during his time on the board.
"There is no doubt that we have had our struggles in the past, but we really feel like we have turned the corner. Being able to have every campus rate 'met standard' for the first time in a decade is by far our biggest accomplishment," he said. "That has only happened with having stability in key areas, focusing on what is most important, monitoring those things and a lot of hard work by our staff and students. It has been a total team effort led by our previous Superintendent Jerry Gibson. The board knew that if he was able to implement his plan then Marshall ISD would have substantial academic success."
In addition to the regular rigors of public education, the most recent few years have proven especially busy for the district, thanks to a $109 million bond, a pandemic and now the search for a new superintendent.
"The past several years have no doubt challenged us, but they have ultimately strengthened us as a district. The bond election was a huge undertaking and the emotions of losing an election and then winning one were pretty overwhelming. We can't ever thank the community enough for their support in getting the bond passed, so that we could get the facilities our students so desperately needed. We have also made many upgrades to the high school, early childhood center, early graduation school and more. We are currently working on even more improvements at the high school. Dr. Gibson was a huge part in our recent academic success. The current superintendent search is very time consuming, but it is also very rewarding. Being able to interview qualified candidates and find the next leader of Marshall ISD is something we as a board are excited to do. Obviously, the pandemic is like nothing any of us have ever seen before. After it started, one of my kids asked, 'What did you do when this happened before?'. I laughed and quickly responded, 'We have never seen anything like this before.' Our staff developed a plan for extra cleanings on our buildings, mask mandates, limiting the size of classes, checking the temperature of every student who enters the campus and so much more. We were also able to offer testing at school for students and staff. Implementing these have allowed us to keep our absences low and our students and staff as healthy as possible. Over time, we have tweaked our practices and really have a good handle on our Covid-19 cases."
Burris said he feels the district's response during the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed students to keep on track with their learning and progression.
"Personally, I feel face to face is the best way for most students to learn, and most educators would agree. I also believe students need the social aspects of school for their mental well-being. That being said, we have adapted to our new normal and virtual learning has been successful in keeping our students on track . Some students may not have great internet or much help at home and that could cause some setbacks, but overall, I feel we have handled it to the best of our ability and the majority of students are learning just as expected," he said.
As industries and career paths shift over time, Burris said he feels Marshall ISD has worked hard to keep up with the changing times by building partnerships with area higher education learning institutions to make sure Maverick students are offered the latest and greatest academically.
"This generation is focused on the future and students and parents see the importance of gaining as many college credits before graduation. Many also see the value of establishing career paths through TSTC as beneficial to students. These partnerships have allowed us to provide classes at a very economical rate and most are conveniently taught on our campus. We all want to continue pushing these programs, so that our students have as many options as we can give them so that they can be successful."
As the board now works to hire the district's next leader, Burris said they need someone who can help keep them on the path forward.
"The board really wants someone to continue what we have started over the last few years. We want someone with experience that can recognize where we are, where we are going and and continue to build on the progress we have already established," he said. "We have a great staff and have made huge strides in many areas, and hope with the new superintendent’s leadership and vision, we can expand our recent successes into even greater things."
Through all of these accomplishments, has Burris' mission he set out on 11 years ago been achieved? Almost, he says.
"When I ran for school board the first time, my slogan was 'Make Marshall ISD the district of choice.' I feel like we have made so much progress, but we still have not arrived to the status 'district of choice.' We have worked hard but there is still work to be done. We can’t stop now but must continue to strive for greatness in every single area. We must keep pushing excellence in academics, more opportunities for all students, state of the art facilities and superior financial ratings until we truly 'Make Marshall ISD the district of choice.'"