Dr. Marcus Nelson ('94) | Teacher Education
at Judson ISD near San Antonio
Certified, sanctified and determined.
That's how Dr. Marcus Nelson describes the feeling he had when he left ACU as a new graduate in 1994, ready to take on the world.
ACU is making a difference in the world. You feel it when you arrive at Welcome Week, and you feel challenged to continue the tradition when you graduate.
And has he ever! Nelson, who went on to earn two master's degrees and a doctorate from Texas A&M-Commerce, is in his fourth year as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the 22,000-student Judson Independent School District near San Antonio.
As impressive as that achievement is, it is just the latest in a long list of accomplishments for the man who will be honored at ACU in March as winner of the 38th annual Morlan Award.
The award, which honors the memory of Dr. Grover C. Morlan, founder of ACU's teacher education program, is given annually to an ACU education program alumnus who has made a significant contribution to the field.
Nelson's resume is filled with honors and significant contributions. He is a nationally recognized speaker and leader in education. But receiving a cherished honor from his alma mater tops the list.
"Without a doubt, this is the most prestigious honor I have received thus far in my career," Nelson said.
A glimpse at Nelson's career explains why he was selected for such an honor. Since his arrival in the Judson ISD in 2005, the district has tripled the number of campuses that received "recognized" status from the Texas Education Agency.
His background also includes serving as principal of John B. Connally High School in the Pflugerville ISD from 2001 to 2004. In his first year as principal, Connally High School attained one of the lowest drop-out rates in the state. The year before Nelson arrived, 68 students dropped out. In his first year, only three dropped out.
Nelson attributed that success to his staff's completing more than 200 home visits, implementing a "significant adult" mentoring program for each student identified as a potential dropout, and celebrating the accomplishments of the students who made the effort to have good attendance.
With significant increases in test scores of African American, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students, the high school achieved the "recognized" ranking in 2002 after being "acceptable" the year before Nelson arrived.
Today, Nelson is a highly sought after public speaker who inspires his audiences to personal and organizational change, growth and an appreciation for hard work. Those traits were emphasized at ACU, which Nelson appreciates even more now that he is an educator himself.
"My professors were tough, but there was never a question that they cared about us as students," Nelson said of his ACU experience. "I also remember being challenged to rise above traditional standards of accountability and pursue teaching as a calling."
Now, Nelson is focusing on taking those skills and traits to a higher level of leadership where he can foster the same sense of calling in others. His goal is to become superintendent of an urban school district.
"The main reason I want to pursue this career path is because I am passionate about making a difference in places where kids need it most," he said.
Nelson recalled that his ACU professors hammered into students' minds the importance of continuing professional growth, engaging parents as equal partners in education and unifying the community to make school improvement a priority.
Nelson believes he is well equipped to take those goals to a school district as its top administrator. His ACU experience taught him that educators must find ways to provide a quality education for all students.
His years at ACU also exposed him to cultural diversity and the importance of the spiritual dimension in education - both as a student and a teacher.
"ACU has a spiritual atmosphere that creates a deep and passionate commitment level from graduates entering education," he said. "The balance of spiritual and intellectual study creates educators who are prepared and blessed to enter classrooms as teachers."
The districts where Nelson has taught and led are blessed as well. His professional achievements are measurable - and impressive. But he hopes for more than just academic success for his students. He wants for them what he got at ACU.
"I hope that the students I serve will leave the school system equipped for life-long learning, responsible citizenship and productive employment in an ever-changing society," Nelson said.
For more on ACU's 2009 Morlan Award banquet, click here.
To learn more about Dr. Nelson, go to
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