‘More Fun On The Education Side’

By Megan Willome

The Stewart Family   

Pictured: Photographs by Marlo Collins, marlocollins.com

This is not the education issue — it’s the family issue. But those two ideas are linked. When we talk to families, we always discuss education because parents care about good schools. And when we speak with educators, we end up talking about families. James and Ebony Stewart are both educators with young children of their own. Their daughter Jayla, 6, attends Castleman Creek Elementary, and they have another daughter, Elaina, who will be 2 next month.

Ebony is a counselor at the Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy, which just completed its first year in the old Viking Hills Elementary School building. A self-described “Army brat” who was born in Germany, Ebony moved around with her family before settling in Temple, where she graduated from high school. James, born at Hillcrest, is Waco through and through. He attended Waco ISD from J.H. Hines Elementary through Waco High School.

Long-time Wacoans may remember James from his days as a star wide receiver for the Lions in the ‘90s. He still holds the record for receptions in a single season — 67.

“It hasn’t been broken yet,” James said. “I’ve had a bunch of students tell me that they’re gonna break it. And I tell them I’m gonna make sure I’m alive to see it.”

He lettered all four years in his college football career with the Southwest Texas State Bobcats, now Texas State University. Under Coach Bob DeBesse he tied the school’s single-game record of 12 receptions in a game.

Wacoan writer Megan Willome visited with James and Ebony at their home in the heart of Hewitt, where they discussed what educators do in the summer, how their family spends its free time now that it’s not dictated by football, and why they are committed to Waco ISD.

WACOAN: Y’all just moved in a couple of weeks ago?

Ebony: Literally a couple weeks ago.

James: Two Fridays ago.

WACOAN: How did you decide to move here?

James: We were living in Sendero Springs, originally, with no kids. After having two, we decided we needed more space. So therefore, the upgrade.

WACOAN: I was telling Ebony that it’s pretty quiet out here for being in the middle of Hewitt.

Ebony: We scoped it out a couple of times.

WACOAN: When did you two meet?

[Both laugh.]

James: 2004. February 16, 2004.

Ebony: It’s a funny story.

James: I was already coaching and teaching at Lake Air Middle School. That was my second year? No.

Ebony: Your third year.

James: Yeah, my third year of teaching, coaching. My cousin, on that Presidents Day, which was that February 16, I ran into my cousin, who worked at Cracker Barrel at the time. She’s like, ‘I know a young lady that you should meet.’ And I was like, no — because I know my
cousin. So I was like, ‘No, I think I’m good right now.’ And she’s like, ‘She’s a good girl, she’s a student, she’s working on teaching.’ So she gave me a little background [on Ebony]. So I was like, ‘Well, if you set up something, I’ll think about it.’ From there I got a call from my cousin, and she was like, ‘Her name is Ebony. She wants you to come up to Cracker Barrel.’ I was like, OK. But I didn’t go alone. I went with [another] cousin that I had grown up with. I said, ‘Hey, man. We need to go to Cracker Barrel together. If I don’t like anything, then you’re gonna be James and I’m gonna be Corey.’

The crazy thing about that whole situation is that [Ebony and Corey] had already met before.

Ebony: So that plan wouldn’t have worked.

James: They had already seen each other in Waco on different occasions, they’d already seen each other face to face.

Ebony: We’d already met.

WACOAN: Oh, that’s funny.

James: But I mean, everything was cool. The initial conversation was good. I was already a graduate from Texas State but found out she was at Texas State as well. We were only there for one semester together, but I was on my way out.

Ebony: We did not meet on campus.

James: No, didn’t meet on campus at all.

WACOAN: And we’re talking about the Cracker Barrel on Interstate 35, by Lake Shore Drive?

James: Yes. She was doing her student teaching in Temple, which is where she graduated [high school] from. That’s how we met. At the Cracker Barrel. February 16, 2004.

Ebony: We go there every year on that day or close to it to celebrate.

It’s interesting when you take two children with you.

WACOAN: Cracker Barrel is a good place for kids. We used to take ours there when they were little.

James: Rocking chairs —

WACOAN: Except for them bugging you to buy them stuff as you leave.

James: The store, yeah, the country store.

WACOAN: And then you got married in 2005?

Ebony: Yes.

WACOAN: I saw you went to Orlando, Florida. Did you go to Walt Disney World for your honeymoon?

Ebony: We went to Universal Studios [Florida].

WACOAN: You’re the first couple I’ve known to go to Universal Studios on their honeymoon. How did you pick that destination?

James: We had both been to Disney World at some time in our life, and neither one of us had gone to Universal Studios.

Ebony: We like movies, action. He does the big rides. I do the small ones.

James: We’d both gone to that area for Disney with different functions that we were in with school. It was like, ‘Never been to Universal Studios.’ So that was the plan.

You ask us about those kind of trips now, and it’s like, Caribbean water. Somewhere in the Caribbean, just warm water. All-inclusive.

WACOAN: Since I know more about you, James, so I’m going to start with you, Ebony.

Ebony: How does she know more about you?

WACOAN: [to James] Because you were a football player.

James: Oh.

Ebony: Oh! So you could, like, Google him.

WACOAN: Yeah, exactly.

James: [Laughs.]

WACOAN: [to Ebony] It was harder to Google you.

Ebony: Yes!

James: Oh, man.

WACOAN: So, Ebony, you’re from Baltimore, Maryland?

Ebony: From Baltimore.

WACOAN: Do you still have family there?

Ebony: I do. That’s where all my family is except for my parents. And my sister.

James: And your grandma.

Ebony: And my grandmother. There’s a handful of us here in Texas.

WACOAN: Are they in Waco?

Ebony: In Temple, Killeen.

WACOAN: How did you get to Temple?

Ebony: My father retired from the military from Fort Hood. And when we arrived in Texas from Germany, the housing list was a year long to get on-post housing. So we started looking for places to live, and Temple was the closest spot that had something open when we got here. And we just stayed put.

WACOAN: What was your education after high school?

Ebony: I did about a year and a half at Temple College. And then I transferred to Texas State [University]. And then I got my master’s at Tarleton [State University].

WACOAN: What is your bachelor’s degree in?

Ebony: Elementary education, fourth through eighth grade science.

WACOAN: And your master’s?

Ebony: Counseling, school counseling.

WACOAN: I saw that where you work, the Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy, is in the old Viking Hills Elementary building. That’s where my kids went to elementary school.

Ebony: Oh! You need to come see the building.

WACOAN: I’d love to. We lived on Rambler Drive, around the corner. It was sad to see it empty for so many years.

James: And they still don’t use the whole building.

Ebony: We’re gonna use the whole building!

James: I mean, eventually, but at the moment they still don’t use the whole building.

Ebony: It’s fantastic.

James: It is, it is.

Ebony: Come by anytime and take a look.

WACOAN: Tell me how Waco ISD decided to start this academy. I know this is its first year.

Ebony: They started with doing a needs assessment and talking to industry and business here and just said, ‘Hey, what do you need? We’d love to train students and try to keep them here, in the area, to meet those needs. And health care was one of those needs.

WACOAN: Does it work similarly to the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy? The Wacoan did a story on that a year and a half ago.

Ebony: Absolutely. Same setup. Partnering [school] districts. We partner with the major hospitals, nursing homes. Lots of support in the community, willing to let kids come in and do some shadowing rotations. It’s been great.

WACOAN: And students apply, right?

Ebony: Yes, there’s an application process.

WACOAN: Do they go all four years, or is it a two-year program?

Ebony: Right now we have a two-year program. We have a program for first-year students. Those students participate in a program where they’re able to get their certified nursing assistant, their CNA certificate. Then we have a second-year program. We’re calling it ‘advanced CNA.’ So we have two years that they can stay with us.

WACOAN: What do you do as a counselor there? Is it different than what you would do at Waco High, where James works?

Ebony: It is more of my favorite part of counseling. It’s career counseling. So we are helping kids kind of narrow it down in terms of what they want to do for their career. We’ll look at different schools, we’ll look at different pathways in health care and just start mapping out a plan to help them meet those goals.

WACOAN: I would imagine that the kids at the academy are more career-focused.

Ebony: Absolutely. For sure.

We have just juniors and seniors, and they’re at the academy because they’ve expressed some sort of interest in health care. They had to apply, they had to talk to their counselors, they had to get letters of recommendation. They had to jump through several hoops to get there. They’re committed. Lots of them had to make tough choices in terms of electives because they’re with us half a day, so they had to choose, in some instances. And I think most of them would say they’re satisfied with the decision that they made.

WACOAN: I know you’ve been at several other schools before this one — which ones?

Ebony: [Laughs.] Where do you want to start?

I did my student teaching at the middle school that I went to, that was Travis Middle School in Temple [now Travis Middle School Science Academy]. I spent five years as a science teacher there. Then I met this handsome man sitting next to me, and he lived in Waco. And despite that they were our rivals for years and years and years —

WACOAN: I thought about that! Temple Wildcats, Waco Lions —

Ebony: I agreed to move to Waco and wear red and blue at football games. I got my school counseling certification and then came to Waco and started working at Lake Air Intermediate [School].

Then I moved with my principal to Tennyson Middle School, still counseling. We were considering having another child at the time, and then I moved to Connally High School. Fewer students, more time in my day, more time to be at home with kids. Then I came back to Waco to come to the Greater Waco Advanced Health Care Academy, specifically for this job.

James: Are you gonna leave that part out about Waco High/University?

Ebony: The back story was that when I was at Tennyson, they asked me to move up to the high school. And originally they asked me to go to [James’] school. And I was like, ‘Yeah! Let’s do it!’ And then they were like, ‘Oh, wait a minute. You’re married. So the two of you can’t be on this campus together.’

WACOAN: I didn’t realize that was a policy.

Ebony: It was an unwritten policy. So they asked me to go University High School, which I’m sure made him cringe. But it was a lead counselor position, which would’ve been fine if we hadn’t been planning to have a child, and we already had a little one. So I had to make a choice: spend more time at home and be a mom or take this job and work a lot. It was more days, more kids.

James: You were right.

Ebony: So I went to Connally. It was just a better fit for where I was at in my career.

But I can honestly say I’ve never had a job that I did not love. Everywhere I’ve been, it’s been fantastic. And it was only a move to do something different or something that would be a better fit for my family. But I’ve been happy everywhere I’ve been. That’s a blessing.

WACOAN: And I saw you just got an award.

Ebony: You did Google me!

WACOAN: I did. That was about the only thing that came up, Outstanding High School Counselor of the Year.

Ebony: Yes!

WACOAN: Congratulations!

Ebony: Thank you.

WACOAN: Who gives that award?

Ebony: This one was from the Heart of Texas Counseling Association. It’s a great networking opportunity and a good way to collaborate with other counselors. Some of them are school counselors, some of them are LPCs [licensed professional counselors]. It’s a great organization to have right here in Waco.

WACOAN: So it’s not just school counselors, it’s any kind of counselor, correct?

Ebony: Yes.

WACOAN: Were you considered along with people in private practice?

Ebony: They had different categories. They considered counselors that were part of the Heart of Texas region.

WACOAN: All right, James. You’re from Waco High.

James: Waco High. Waco city.

WACOAN: Waco everything?

James: Yes.

WACOAN: Were you born here?

James: Born here, yes, ma’am. Hillcrest [on Herring Avenue].

WACOAN: And do you still hold the single-season record for receptions at Waco High?

Ebony: [Squeals.]

James: It hasn’t been broken yet. I’ve had a bunch of students tell me that they’re gonna break it. And I tell them I’m gonna make sure I’m alive to see it.

I tell them the game of football has changed because back when I was playing, it was a power football game. You only had two receivers and a tight end. Now the game is spread, and you have four receivers and maybe no tight end, it depends. They have many more options to pass the ball to. Back in my day it was only one, maybe two. So that’s the reason why the game was different then.

Of course, if you’re in some places, they throw the ball almost 60, 70 times a game. It’s a little bit different. We don’t throw the ball as much here in Waco because we’ve been known throughout history to have good running backs. When you have a good running backs you don’t have to throw the ball as much.

WACOAN: And then you played football at Texas State, but it was Southwest Texas State then.

James: Yes, it was SWT. Under Bob DeBesse. He’s coaching at New Mexico now, University of New Mexico. He’s offensive coordinator. He played at Southwest Texas when they won the national championship.

WACOAN: When did they win a national championship?

James: ’81 and ’82. They won back to back. It was division 2, though.

WACOAN: What was it when you were there?

James: It was division on 1AA, or FCS [Football Championship Subdivision] at that time. They transitioned to FBS [Football Bowl Subdivision] now.

WACOAN: You got your BBA in management and finance. But you didn’t stay with that, obviously.

James: No. My first job was with Sears as a credit manager in Louisville, Kentucky. They allowed me to take off to go to a national conference with my fraternity. And during that time I was still looking for jobs here in Texas because I didn’t want to live that far away with no family around.

So I ended up getting hired as a financial credit manager with Wells Fargo Financial [in Arlington]. Which dealt with a lot of home equity loans, private loans. I did that for a year and a half until 9/11 happened. Once 9/11 happened, the home market collapsed, and that branch of Wells Fargo collapsed. It no longer existed.

Before it collapsed, it was out of the blue, Coach [Johnny] Tusa called me right before 9/11 happened and asked me if I wanted to coach. I told him, ‘No, not at the moment. I like living up here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I really like coaching, but I think I’m going to stick with what I’m doing.’

Then after 9/11, Dr. Carol Saxenian, who was my math teacher at Waco High and was the principal at Lake Air [Middle School], called me out of the blue, got my number from my mom, and asked me if I’d ever thought about it. And I said, ‘You know what? With everything going on in the company right now, I’m thinking that this may be a pretty good time to make that change.’

[Saxenian] was the one who told me all the different steps I had to go through, the application, going through the teacher certification program. I went through Region 12. My first year teaching I was on the emergency certification, but that was the last year they could do it before No Child Left Behind and all the different rules came up.

I was told I would teach math, since my background is in finance. Two weeks before school I was told, ‘Now you’re gonna do social studies.’ And I was like, ‘OK.’ Texas history and world geography. So that first year I was learning along with the kids.

Even being in the classroom that first year and learning all the things I learned even while I was on-the-job training, it was still more fulfillment with the coaching and the teaching side than it was on the finance side. I had to struggle financially because it was a big difference, especially being on the emergency certification. But I was having fun versus cold-calling people all day. It was just more fun on the education side. I’ve been doing it ever since, 15 years in now.

WACOAN: You played football for Coach Tusa and coached with him. Tell us about him.

James: I loved it. He was a father figure for me. My dad was always there, but he worked night shifts all the time. So Coach Tusa and Coach Pat Gresham (Pat Gresham was my position coach), they held the ground, along with my uncle, Weldon Harris, who was the Pee Wee coach for the Elks. He started the Elks. So between all those three I had another dimension of what it was — hey, here’s the things you need to do. Now, my father was there, but I had those other examples during the day because he had to work at night. Those other three men were male figures that helped me along the way throughout my whole elementary, all the way up through high school and college.

WACOAN: How many years were you with Coach Tusa?

James: Until he retired. Are you talking playing and coaching?

WACOAN: Yes, all together.

James: Eleven years total. Even when he came back as athletic director, I guess you could almost say 12 years.

WACOAN: When did you decide to get your administration degree and get off the coaching track?

James: Once Coach Tusa retired, we had a new coach, and it was a different scene. We always had a form of stability with Coach Tusa because we knew what his rules were. His rules were written in black and white. The players knew. It was consistent. It was fair. And that was the way it was every year.

Sometimes you have to take that step out of the boat, like Peter.

Everything fell into place at the right moment. Tarleton was offering two-thirds tuition [assistance] — we only had to pay for one-third of it, well, a little bit more. That came in 2009. When that opportunity presented itself, that clicked. I thought I was going to be a coach forever. That brought my focus to there’s gotta be something where I could still stay in education and impact lives, but at the same time, I might be able to do it from a different standpoint.

It took a while for me to go into administration. I graduated in 2011 [with my master’s], and I didn’t go into administration until last year [2014-2015 school year].

WACOAN: Did you have any guarantee whether you could stay at Waco High?

James: The community knows that we have a lot of Waco [High] alumni coaches on staff and teaching. I think that’s the biggest thing is that you have people who are from here who want to come back and impact the community or impact their own town. It was multiple coaches that were on staff, about seven or eight of us that were former graduates. I think that was the biggest thing. And I think that the school board and the superintendent and our coaches knew we wanted to be in Waco.

We wanted to be in Waco because we wanted to make a difference in our own hometown.

WACOAN: I know one of the other current coaches who played at Waco High, like you, is Ryan Graves.

James: Graves, Andrew Hurtado, Tyler Miller. Ted Long, back with us for a while. We have a female coach, Arneshia Linville. Ricky Torres. There’s quite a few [who played a sport at Waco High and returned].

WACOAN: We interviewed Krystal Graves back in February for our ‘Keeping Balance’ feature.

Ebony: We’re good friends with them.

WACOAN: One of the things she said was, ‘Football is his second wife.’ Were you a football widow?

Ebony: Mm hm.

WACOAN: So do you like it better now that James works as an assistant principal?

Ebony: I like to see him happy. And I love to see him with our girls.

I enjoy going to games. I love the enthusiasm he had for coaching. Even at the end of a really long day, I knew that would still be a highlight for him, thinking about a game. I love that type of energy. And he still has that with his job now, it’s just in a different way. Definitely has more time for family. I love that he is impacting lives at school, and he still has time to impact the little bitty lives in his own house.

And it’s not seasonal. With football season, when he was coaching, we planned our lives around football and track. I didn’t know anything else. That’s just the way it was. So I appreciate the flexibility that this position offers. But ultimately, it’s whatever makes him happy.

James: Maybe we can get up to Texas State for some games this year.

WACOAN: You’re one of seven assistant principals at Waco High School. How are the responsibilities divided up?

James: One of our principals is dedicated strictly for special ed. I am with Ms. [Paula] Gifford, we’re over 10th grade because that’s usually one of our bigger classes. Then we have two freshman assistant principals, Dr. [Francine-Halliburton] Francis, who is my cousin, and Derrick Smith. And then we have one junior assistant principal and one senior assistant principal, Lisa Saxenian. And we now have Dr. [Alma Betty] Sandoval. Real good team. We all work together well.

Coach [Ed] Love — I call him Coach Love because he was a coach when I played — he’s the head principal. He got a good team in there as far as people with strengths in different areas and making sure that we have everything covered.

WACOAN: I live around the corner from the assistant principal at the high school in our small town, and that man seems to be at every high school event. Do you still attend a lot of student functions?

James: We divide it out between all seven of us, especially the sporting events. Now, fine arts — bands, orchestras — we try to attend those because those don’t come as often. So fine arts, we try to go to as many things as possible. But the sports, we divide out by sport. I normally take football because I was a football coach. Plus, it’s once a week.

WACOAN: That’s true. Basketball is a lot more often.

James: All other sports are twice a week. Next year we’re gonna draw straws, so whoever has the shortest stick has the last pick. So hopefully, I’ll still get football and baseball or softball. We’ll see.

This past year we just rotated between different things, so it seemed like it was a lot more work this year. Next year we’ll go back to what we used to do, where we chose a sport so you’ll get a break. You won’t have to go straight through — football, straight into basketball, straight into soccer. Next year we’ll all have two sports apiece. And there’s different levels, so somebody will have JV, somebody will have freshman. So that way I know I only need to be there on, say, Tuesday this week.

WACOAN: And it’s a better schedule for your family.

James: We can go to Texas State, go to San Marcos for homecoming. My first six years I could go when I was [coaching] middle school. But when I got to [coaching] high school in 2008, I missed every homecoming. Most games we couldn’t go to because they were at night. My Saturday consisted of 7 in the morning till 3 in the afternoon.

Ebony: Football season was seven days a week.

James: Sunday was 11 in the morning till 8 at night and then get ready for the next day of school. That’s from July till December, even if you’re not in the playoffs.

WACOAN: As educators, what does summer look like for you as a family?

James: It’s a lot lighter load on my end. I normally work summer school, but that’s only six more days after my contract ends anyway. I usually do that to help out and then get the book room organized. But it’s a lot lighter duty just because we don’t have as many students. We can finish up our reports that we have to do for the end of the year and try to get everything straight before we come back for the next year. The biggest thing for us on the admin side is making sure we hire enough teachers, getting the right people in place, moving people that we need to move. It’s not as strenuous as during the year, when you’ve got 1,800 kids to manage.

Ebony: I, on purpose, have a job where I do not work all of July. I mean, give or take a couple of days because of the calendar year. Nope, that time is just Saturday mornings in pajamas and Monday mornings at the library, if we want to.

Before we had children, we both worked summer. It was just fine. We both have a really similar work ethic, so it was fine for us to both be busy. But with little children, I needed to be available.

James: We both have all of July off, pretty much.

WACOAN: You have two girls. How old are they?

Ebony: Elaina. She will be 2 in July.

James: And Jayla. She’s 6.

WACOAN: Where does she go to school?

James: Castleman Creek [Elementary].

WACOAN: Tell me a little about your girls.

James: Jayla’s in tumbling at Zero Gravity [Gymnastics Academy]. We’ll figure out what Elaina’s gonna be, but she can run! She might be the running athlete. Jayla’s the flipping one. She’ll flip throughout the house.

Ebony: They’re sweet girls. Very different.

James: Very different. Jayla is the social one. Elaina is social from a distance.

Ebony: It must be the age. She’s starting now just to wave and say hi.

WACOAN: Do you have family plans this summer?

James: Cancun, this summer! This summer’s Cancun.

WACOAN: Is it a family vacation or just the two of you?

James: Just us. We said we would take the kids when they get a little bit older and understand how to appreciate travel.

Ebony: We do an adult vacation and then mini children’s vacations during the summer.

James: So we’ll plan something for them, probably at the end of June before we take ours.

WACOAN: What kinds of things do you do for the girls on a mini vacation?

James: Usually a waterpark.

Ebony: They love water.

James: I think this year we’re going to take them to the Hawaiian Falls [Pflugerville] because it’s a little bit bigger [than Hawaiian Falls Waco]. Then we may do something smaller after we come back. Last year we went to Schlitterbahn.

Ebony: We went to Schlitterbahn. We went to Sea World. There was one more water park — all within a week. It was a lot of water. They loved it, though. They recently went to the beach for the first time. Loved that. Anything that involves getting them wet, they’re happy with.

WACOAN: What beach?

James: Corpus. We’ll be down there more often. My nephew signed a letter of intent to play basketball down there at [Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi].

WACOAN: When you have a date night, what do you like to do?

James: I’d say Fuji.

Ebony: We like food. New food, anytime there’s a new place here, we’re all about that.

We like comedy. We like live music. We like ‘Brazos Nights.’ Anything that involves those three things.

James: They have live music at Klassy Glass.

WACOAN: What do you like to do as a family on a quiet Saturday, now that you don’t have football?

James: Just relax.

Ebony: We’re on the couch with the girls and a movie and snacks.

James: We really just lounge and relax. Every now and then we’ll go out. My family’s here. We might go out and visit them or something. But usually we like to relax around the house.

Ebony: Or go to a park. Splash pad.

James: Splash pad, yeah.

WACOAN: What’s your favorite thing Waco has to offer families?

Ebony: I’d say Cameron Park. I love Cameron Park.  

James: You’ve got the trails. You’ve got so many different things that you can do out there.

My recent victory over Jacob’s Ladder. All my life I’ve lived here, and I didn’t go until this year. I’d heard too many stories about copperheads and stuff, so I was like, no.

Ebony: It was fantastic. I had to nudge him. But it was fantastic.

WACOAN: What’s the best event you attended this last year?

Ebony: I’d say the food trucks. The Texas Food Truck Showdown.

James: That was good.

Ebony: That was great.

WACOAN: Where do you go to church?

James: Greater New Light [Baptist Church]. I’ve been there since 2002. Since I moved back.

Ebony: I’ve been there since I met him.

WACOAN: And is church a big part of your social life, family life?

James: Very much so.

Ebony: That was a non-negotiable when we started dating. We both, that was one of the first things we discussed. We both have a strong faith, and that is important to both of us.

WACOAN: Last question. You were described to me as a couple committed to Waco ISD. What does that mean to you?

James: I can tell you from a standpoint of being a student through Waco ISD. The teachers that I had, all the way from Ms. [Robbie] Brooks at J.H. Hines [Elementary], Mr. [Thomas] Kelly at J.H. Hines, up through people like Dr. [Louise] Powell, who was one of my principals at one point in time. Dr. [Carol] Saxenian, Ms. Terry Province, Ms. [Sandy] Peters, the one that got me introduced to mass communication, which I didn’t know what it was when I was in college or I probably would have gone into that.

But those people, those teachers you had that showed compassion, that make Waco ISD what it was for me, at least, as a student. That’s the reason why I tell my students I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else and teach. I’ve been offered. For me, it’s more about the community piece and being rooted in my hometown.

If I were to go anywhere else, I don’t think I could teach. For one, I know a lot of the families here. I know the backgrounds, so it makes it easier to coach, teach, be an administrator. There are days where I come home, and I’m just dog tired, but it still makes it simple for me because the same people that invested their time and their energy and their compassion in me, as a student — because I wasn’t the greatest. I did my work, but I was high-energy. They didn’t have a label of ADHD back then. [Laughs.] But for those people who took the time to invest in me and gave me something, or implanted something in me, to want to do the same thing in my community.

Ebony: My roots are a little different because I’m more of an Army brat. I’ve been here and there. I am used to working with a diverse group of people. What I liked about Waco ISD is that they actively recruit people that have a certain skill set. Like James said, he had not applied to Waco ISD — people just knew him, and wherever he was, they were going to find him to bring that skill set. They did the same with me.

I appreciate being anywhere I am needed. I’ve worked for a great principal while I was here. I have a great assistant director and great director now. They appreciate the skill set that I have. And I like the students.

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