Laredo ISD head named lone finalist for Waco superintendent’s job

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) The Waco School Board voted unanimously Wednesday to name the Laredo ISD’s top administrator as the lone finalist to replace retiring Superintendent Dr. Bonny Cain.

Dr. A. Marcus Nelson. (WISD photo)

Dr. A. Marcus Nelson, who’s proficient in Spanish, has been the Laredo ISD’s superintendent since 2009, and in 2014 he was named Superintendent of the Year by the Texas Association of School Boards.

In January, the Laredo School Board extended his contract by an extra year and gave him a $4,000 raise.

“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,” Waco School Board President Pat Atkins said.

“Marcus Nelson’s personality and track record of success put him at the head of a strong group of applicants.”

Under state law, the board must wait 21 days before Nelson can be officially hired.

"I told someone earlier today, I think he's a legitimate rockstar," said Atkins after Wednesday's special school board meeting.

"He has an ability to motivate and inspire not only staff, but students."

Atkins said Nelson was what Waco ISD needs.

"We continue to have issues associated with high levels of poverty," he said.

"We continue to have issues related to an accountability system that's focusing on standardized tests and improving those scores, and we've got campuses that are in multi-year IR (improvement required) status where the state of Texas has said we need to turn those around or risk having them closed by the TEA, or frankly, risk having the school board replaced, and those are the sorts of challenges he's stepping into, and we've made full disclosure of those facts, and he's willing to help us take on those challenges."

The Laredo ISD with 24,100 students, 4,500 employees and 33 campuses, is larger than the Waco ISD, which has 15,000 students, 2,400 employees and 26 campuses.

"I think there's a lot going on in this community, uh, that is dynamic, and it's a real growth opportunity, and I think he saw that," said Atkins on the reasons for Nelson's move.

"It's one of those deals where you don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, he's willing to come, I trust he's going to make a tremendous impact on the students and on this community, and we're lucky to have him coming this way."

Ninety-seven percent of the students in the Laredo ISD are from economically disadvantaged families and the district’s poverty rate is three times the state average, and Nelson “is familiar with some of the challenges Waco ISD faces,” the district said in a press release.

“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 said.

“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.”

The announcement Wednesday evening came after three Waco School Board members spent Monday and Tuesday in Laredo.

Nelson likely will finish the current school year in Laredo before moving to Waco to replace Cain in early June.

He was one of six potential candidates with whom school board members completed interviews on March 30.

Executive Search Services, the group the Waco ISD hired to manage the search for a replacement, received 59 applications for the position before the application deadline.

Cain announced in November she is retiring at the end of the school year after six years as superintendent.

Cain said she decided to step down because at the age of 66 she wants to move back to East Texas to be in the Tyler area with her family.

Her long career in education stretches 40 years.

She left some words of wisdom and well wishes for her successor.

"You're going to be successful beyond your wildest dreams in Waco ISD," said Cain.

"They're going to have all the assistance they need and this is a community that will be willing to help and willing to step out there, and there won't be a moment that he feels alone."