WAXAHACHIE, Texas — When Laura B. Thompson embarked on a teaching career 16 years ago, she made a seamless transition from the classes she took at Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) here in Waxahachie to the ones she taught at a charter elementary school in Red Oak, Texas.
“I had a lot of instruction and practical experience from SAGU because professors partnered with local schools,” recalls the vivacious Thompson, 37. “Because of what had been modeled to me, during my student teaching I learned a lot about detailed and specific lesson planning, how to manage instructional time and behaviors, and about difficult conversations to have with parents.”
At the charter school, she received elementary teacher of the year honors for her campus in 2012 before moving on to become an elementary instructional strategist in the independent Red Oak district — where she earned elementary teacher of the year for the entire district in 2016.
For the past two years, Thompson has been assistant principal at Wedgeworth Elementary — back in Waxahachie, barely a mile from SAGU. Her duties at the largest elementary school in the city of over 43,000 include disciplining those among the 715 students who need it as well as boosting the morale of 50 teachers.
“Teaching hasn’t gotten any easier since COVID,” says the Silsbee, Texas, native. “We have to be intentional and strategic about making sure teachers feel valued and honored.”
She says a lot of prayer is involved in her daily work, for both students and teachers.
“I don’t think I could do this job without my faith,” says Thompson, who earned a master’s in educational leadership from the University of Texas at Arlington. “A lot of students make poor choices and come from difficult home lives. I must have difficult conversations with teachers. I’m very reliant on the Lord every day.”
SAGU continues to be a partner with local schools and Thompson believes education majors at the Assemblies of God university are better prepared than others. Her principal, Tim G. Day, agrees.
“SAGU educators come prepared and with a passion for students and a desire to build a strong relationship with the kids,” says Day, 46. “They see this as a mission field, not a job.”
Day, whose parents served in Brazil as missionaries, says Thompson has been a blessing.
“Laura has built relationships with staff and students, has a strong knowledge of the curriculum, and knows how to invest in teachers,” Day says. “And she won’t give up on students who are challenging.”
Thompson credits the investment that SAGU professor Paula Manley made in her. Manley continues to be a mentor.
“It’s our goal to have our students ready to teach on day one,” says Manley, who has been a full-time SAGU professor since 2000. “One of the reasons students choose to come here for education is they know any school that hires them as teachers or administrators will be satisfied.”
“Teaching is a huge mission field,” says Khristy Strange, SAGU’s director of teacher education and department chair. “If you want to change culture, start with the children.”
“So many SAGU professors know they are investing in the future, not just teaching a class,” Thompson says.
Thompson’s husband, Chris S. Thompson, also is an assistant principal, at Waxahachie’s Coleman Junior High School. The couple have two children, Asher, 8, and Darcy, 6.
Lamar, Colorado, native Chris Thompson likewise graduated from SAGU, but as a biblical studies rather than education major. Yet he began tutoring at SAGU’s achievement center, for students with low assessment scores or those with troubles in multiple classes. Thompson found providing the assistance rewarding, and it set him on a different career path.
“The opportunity to work with students helped me to find my passion for education and teaching people,” says Thompson, 38. “Even though I wasn’t an education major, SAGU proved pivotal in my ultimate outcome.”
Through a series of events, after graduation he began teaching Old Testament and later math at a private school in Arlington. He has been in education for 16 years, including the past year as assistant principal. Chris, who earned a master’s in educational leadership from the University of Texas at Tyler, received secondary teacher of the year honors for the Red Oak independent school district in 2015.
With their parallel careers, Chris and Laura swap stories at the end of the school day and bolster each other.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend an Assemblies of God university,” says Thompson, whose two brothers both graduated from the AG’s Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri.
The Thompsons aren’t the only SAGU graduates working as public-school administrators in Waxahachie. Ryan Cavazos is principal of Howard Junior High; Tonya Harris is principal of Waxahachie High School; Dallas Horne is principal of Sam Houston Elementary; and Karin Polk is principal of Marvin Elementary.
Even though she’s been teaching at SAGU for more than two decades, Manley, 50, has real-world teaching experience. She previously served as elementary principal at Trinity Christian School in Cedar Hill, Texas. Manley, who graduated from SAGU for both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, believes a faith-based perspective can make all the difference for her current students.
“Teaching today is difficult, it’s a profession people are walking away from,” says Manley, who earned her doctor of education from Oral Roberts University. “When we talk about issues facing educators, we do so with a biblical lens. We help students see being empowered by the Holy Spirit can carry them through and give them the opportunity to impact lives.”
Strange, 54, says public schools in districts surrounding Waxahachie now are seeking out SAGU education graduates because they realize the quality education they’ve received. Strange has 12 years’ teaching experience in Texas public schools plus she worked as an administrator for a decade.
“Many of our students are looking for a smaller university like SAGU with a personal touch,” says Strange, who earned both her master’s and doctorate at Dallas Baptist University. “We have graduates all over the U.S.”
And the world. Manley says between 5 to 8% of education graduates annually end up teaching overseas.
A new education-business building is on the near-future drawing board for SAGU, a prospect that thrills Strange and Manley. Such a structure would allow the school to incorporate more cutting-edge technology in instruction, they say.
TOP PHOTO: Laura Thompson (right) an assistant principal at Wedgeworth Elementary in Waxahachie. She serves with principal Tim Day (center) and fellow assistant principal Yulia Cedeno (left).
LOWER PHOTO #1: Khristy Strange (left) and Paula Manley are longtime educators at SAGU.
LOWER PHOTO #2: Laura’s husband, Chris, also is a school administrator and their children, Darcy and Asher, attend Wedgeworth.