If ever the community of Marlin needed good news, it’s now: Marlin Independent School District has failed to meet rigorous state testing standards since 2010, longer than any other district operating in Texas; families are pulling their children out of Marlin ISD and sending them elsewhere; teacher morale is flagging in some quarters; reports suggest district leadership has been erratic; and indications are the Texas Education Agency is growing weary of giving second, third and fourth chances.
So let’s cheer the Marlin City Council not only for shrewdly hedging its bets on Marlin ISD but its unanimous vote last week to hire former Waco ISD Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson as a consultant to study the possibility of creating a charter-school setup if Marlin ISD closes this year. As Tribune-Herald education reporter Brooke Crum notes in her extensive coverage, only one city-engineered school system exists in Texas — Stafford Municipal School District in Fort Bend County, formed amidst uproar over school-bus policies four decades ago. Yet it appears to be getting better-than-average test scores. That’s more than one can say of Marlin ISD.
Nelson is an inspired choice by city leaders. While he resigned his Waco ISD post last spring after a flap over a minor, roadside pot arrest, Nelson was an enormously promising and popular superintendent who inspired teachers, students and community in ways we’ve seldom seen. He especially resonates with minority populations, another mark in his favor given that Marlin ISD’s enrollment is heavily African-American and Hispanic. He understands unique challenges facing such communities, very often mired in poverty.
Finally, during his short but pivotal tenure with Waco ISD, Nelson worked closely with TEA officials (including Commissioner Mike Morath) in setting up an unprecedented in-district charter-school system, complete with its own chief executive officer and board, yet working in close coordination with Nelson and the Waco ISD board. Several academically struggling campuses were beginning to turn around even before the Transformation Waco experiment settled into full operation.
“We were blown away. We felt privileged to be in his presence,” Marlin Mayor Carolyn Lofton said of Nelson. “With his credentials, his background, his experience, his expertise, I feel honored and privileged that he’s willing to come to a district like Marlin and help us to create something better for our students. God is purposeful. I believe God puts people in the places where he wants them, and maybe he created this situation for him to come here because we need him. Our students need him.”
Nelson has paid a colossal price for his 2019 lapse in roadside judgment (supposedly undertaken for back pain). His considerable legacy in Laredo ISD (during which the Texas Association of School Boards voted him Superintendent of the Year) and Waco ISD suggests he nonetheless has a major role to play in education. And while his role at present will be as a consultant, his intellect, energy and desire to make good after all else suggest a vibrant community option if the worst befalls Marlin ISD.