14 Jun 2011 Man on a Mission
Dr. Marcus Nelson doesn’t accept excuses.
It doesn’t matter if a student is poor, or what their home life is like. For Nelson, superintendent of Laredo ISD, what a child is born into is no excuse for what they can become.
“Students sometimes try and offer excuses about why they are failing a class, or why they cannot go to college,” Nelson said. “I’m done with excuses. If they want to succeed, there is a way to make it happen.”
An internationally known motivational speaker and inspirational rap artist, Nelson recognizes that the district he serves faces a unique set of challenges that most people in the state don’t know about or understand.
[narrowcolumn foo=”bar”]In Laredo, 97 percent of the population is economically disadvantaged, so the challenges that the kids in the community face, a lot of people don’t understand. Most people don’t live in that much poverty. Nelson, however, embraces that challenge because it is places like this where kids need their education the most. In Laredo, the schools are the most important thing in the city, because it is a mechanism for which people use to get out of the desperate cycle of poverty.
“The kids I’m serving, as poor as they may be, as difficult as their challenges may be, most of them are bright eyed with bright futures,” Nelson said. “They don’t know how they’re going to get out of their current situations, or even make it to tomorrow. They’re not sure where they are going to live next month, but they all want to be teachers, and doctors and lawyers. They all have dreams.”
For Nelson, it is those dreams that fire his intolerance for mediocrity in schools.[/narrowcolumn]
[pullquote author=”Dr. Marcus Nelson”]“Many of our kids live in serious poverty at home,” he said. “That’s why our schools have to be quality, because our students’ homes struggle with just trying to make ends meet. They aren’t thinking about the future; we have to instill that hope in them.”[/pullquote]
Despite the fights and other school problems flashed across the local news, Nelson’s determination grows stronger knowing that every senior who graduates this year is going to walk across the stage, shake the principal’s hand and leave with a desire to tackle the world. Nelson wants to make sure they can.
For Nelson, one of only 17 African-American superintendents in Texas, attending college was a given thanks to a family who instilled in him an appreciation for reading, faith and the pursuit of education as a means to provide for himself.
At A&M-Commerce, Nelson’s drive and determination to succeed motivated him to drive four days a week from Mesquite to Commerce for graduate school. He needed a university that allowed him to teach during the day, and attend school at night. He found that at A&M-Commerce.
“I would teach all day, and then I’d leave school to go to class,” he said. “If I was lucky, I’d have class in Mesquite. Those were the easy nights. The rough nights were getting on the highway after work, driving to Commerce, going to class, then turning around and getting home by 11:00 p.m. I would get up and do it all over again the next day. I was focused on getting both of my master’s degrees and a doctorate.”
Being at Commerce changed Nelson. It set him up in a way he didn’t understand at the time and only recently realized now that he leans on his academic credentials and background in research to help Laredo ISD achieve at the highest level.
His class work included constant discussions about the demographic shift, and leveling the playing field for all kids. His professors emphasized the importance of creating quality public schools for the betterment of the country.
“My classes invigorated me and increased my passion for serving kids that need servant leadership the most, students who need someone to have high expectations for them, despite where they come from.”
Nelson is also appreciative for the welcoming environment A&M-Commerce provide s first-generation students who may be uneasy about where they fit in the world of academia. He’s most proud of the university’s ability to show students from all backgrounds, that once they are on campus, they are a part of something bigger. Each student is at A&M-Commerce to learn, and together, they will change the world.
Now Nelson is trying to take that same world-changer mentality to the hallways and classrooms of Laredo ISD.
[pullquote author=”Dr. Marcus Nelson”]“I want to transform this city into an oasis of freedom and justice,” he said. “I want Laredo to be a place where the kids who don’t have it all have the same opportunities as the kids who do.”[/pullquote]
In order to accomplish his ambitious goals for the district, Nelson starts with himself. Having been blessed with much, he actively looks for ways to share those blessings and opportunities with others. As a volunteer and board member for the Boys and Girls Club, he makes a concerted effort to show members in the community that even he, as the superintendent, makes time to work with youth outside of the schools and outside of the school day.
Raising the bar of excellence in schools is also high on Nelson’s priority list.
“We live in a day and age where some people lower expectations for students, and I would encourage all educators to never fall into that,” he said. “We need to have the same expectations for kids that others had for us. We have a responsibility today to bring out the best in our students, and to perpetuate that to future generations of students.”
When Nelson arrived in Laredo, several schools were academically unacceptable. In one year, he has reduced that by 50 percent, and he hopes to erase it altogether in the coming year. Future goals include increasing the graduation rate, making sure the attendance rate improves, decreasing truancy and dropouts, creating schools that attract kids, and getting kids excited about pursuing life after high school. According to Nelson, that starts from the time students walk into Laredo’s pre-k classrooms to the time they walk out as graduates.
“I like a good challenge; people tell me all the reasons why I can’t do something, and it drives me to succeed even more,” Nelson said. “If there’s a challenge, I say bring it on. Show me why I can’t succeed. Then I will find a way to get it done.”\