Waco ISD’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday night to name a former Texas Superintendent of the Year as the District’s lone finalist to take over that position in Waco. Dr. A. Marcus Nelson has led Laredo ISD to new levels of academic success the past eight years and must now wait a state-mandated 21 days before officially being hired.
Nelson, described by Laredo community leaders as a dynamic and visionary educator, was honored as the state’s top Superintendent in 2014 by the Texas Association of School Boards. Under his leadership, Laredo ISD’s 24,100 students and 4,500 employees on 33 campuses - significantly larger than Waco ISD (15,000, 2,400 and 26) - made great strides in test scores, attendance, scholarships and graduation rates.
“In my mind we set a goal to look as far as we needed to go to find the best candidate to be our new Superintendent, and we found him,” said Waco ISD Board President Pat Atkins. “Marcus Nelson’s personality and track record of success put him at the head of a strong group of applicants.”
The Board’s decision culminates a search that began in December and included nearly 60 applicants. Trustees interviewed six candidates in person, and brought Nelson back for a second visit last week.
“He has a presence and energy level that will be compelling to students, parents, and the community as a whole,” Atkins believes.
With 97 percent of Laredo ISD’s students coming from economically disadvantaged families and a poverty rate three times the state average, Dr. Nelson is familiar with some of the challenges Waco ISD faces. LISD has no Improvement Required (IR) campuses this year.
Nelson says he’s excited and grateful to the Board of Trustees for the opportunity. “I consider the Waco community one of the premier locations in our state, and I am committed to continuing the transformative work already underway in Waco Public Schools,” Nelson promised. “My plan is to work together with all staff, students, parents and community members to create graduates that are extraordinarily competitive in a global society.”
Nelson, who is also adept at speaking Spanish, has turned around struggling campuses throughout his career with the promise that quality teaching, teamwork and building strong relationships can lead to major gains, and each student deserves an educator’s best work every day.
A football star and tenor in high school in San Antonio, Marcus Nelson grew up wanting to be a youth minister. That changed in college at Abilene Christian University, where he decided he wanted to be a Principal. He told people he wanted to make a difference in places where kids need it most.
He taught in elementary and high schools, then became an assistant principal and later a high school principal. Along the way he earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate. Now he also speaks to education groups across the country as a leadership expert.
Nelson’s resume lists testimonials to hard work in urban settings. As an Assistant Principal in McKinney, he once made 72 home visits in three days to trim the dropout rate. As Principal at Pflugerville Connally High School, creating a new adult mentoring program and celebrating good attendance led to a Recognized ranking and significant increases in test scores among African American, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students.
As Associate Superintendent at Judson ISD in San Antonio he helped quadruple the number of Recognized or Exemplary campuses in that district.
One year after taking over Laredo ISD in 2009, 43 percent of the District’s campuses earned those same high ratings. Nelson extended that momentum by creating a college readiness initiative that dramatically increased the number of Advanced Placement Exams, and on top of that the District gave every high school student a laptop computer.
“He’s an outstanding champion for students and one of the brightest educational leadership minds in the country,“ said Webb County (Laredo) Judge Tano Tijerina.
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz is a proponent of what Nelson accomplished in LISD. “I can assure you Dr. Nelson’s intelligence, judgment, and ability to understand the inner workings of community dynamics is exceptional. He is articulate and uncompromising in providing a quality education for all students,” Saenz said.
Three Waco ISD Trustees visited Laredo Monday and Tuesday as part of the decision-making process. During the 21-day waiting period the Board will negotiate details on Nelson’s employment contract.
Nelson will likely finish the school year in Laredo ISD and then replace Dr. Bonny Cain in early June. Cain is retiring after six years as Waco ISD Superintendent.