By Leigh-Ellen Romm
n the middle of what was an open field in southwest Sherman stands the new Sherman High School. Sparkling, modern, planned and executed right down to the outlets, the building opened to students in January 2021, smack in the middle of a global pandemic.
Dr. Tyson Bennett ’92, Sherman ISD Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations, managed the financial oversight of that project while shepherding the district through the state-ordered switch to virtual classes for Texas public schools at the onset of COVID-19 safety protocols.
Tyson said it would have been astounding if as a college student he could have glimpsed the “new normal” for today’s teachers and students. “I say even now, if we could take a picture of everyone sitting around with masks on, and show it to us 12 months ago, what would we have thought was going on?” he said. “I would have had no clue. We don’t have to go back 40 years to be astounded by our situation today.”
In 1992, after completing his bachelor’s degree in Business at Austin College, he entered ministry school for a year. He then returned to Sherman and Austin College to complete his Master of Arts in Teaching degree in 1995. He earned his Ph.D. in Education Leadership in 1997 from Southern Mississippi University. For Tyson, a strong call to serve has driven his educational and vocational decisions.
“If I had been told or given a glimpse of the future at that particular time … I would have been fired up! There’s no better way to serve than through a situation like this,” he said.
Sherman ISD announced in February 2020 that due to weather-related construction challenges the new school would open in January 2021, rather than August 2020. Students would begin the 2020 school year in the current high school, then move to the new building after winter break.
With that settled, students left for Spring Break in early March 2020—and they did not return to their classrooms. Rising concern for public health brought on shutdowns and sweeping COVID-19 protocols.
To quickly move to remote instruction, SISD provided electronic devices to families with need and parked Wi-Fi buses in locations around town. Teachers mobilized to produce and pass everywhere, pulled off a miracle to connect with their students in a whole new way.
“We were in here every day getting remote learning and teaching going,” Tyson said. “Then, that morphed into a feeding program for our whole community. Using USDA waivers and programs, we fed more than 200,000 meals and snacks in 47 days. That’s not just SISD kids; we fed every kid, 18 years of age or under, who showed up in a car at our locations all across our city.”
“Pretty quickly I could already tell; this was going to explode,” he said. “I emailed as many folks as I knew who were partners with the schools and had a heart for the kids—churches, service
organizations like Kiwanis and Rotary, and other groups to use the opportunity to meet other pressing needs.”
With Tyson’s direction, Sherman ISD not only provided food to children, but also collaborated to supply toiletries, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and food for people over 18 years of age. “I said, come, set your tent next to our tent—we’ll feed the kids, and you can give your items and boxes of food for families. It was all a part of taking advantage of a captive audience that was coming to us, and knowing we had people in our community who wanted to serve.”
When reflecting on the big news from February that the new school opening would be delayed, Tyson said, “Well, it is serendipitous, ironic, or however you want to term it. I thought to myself, I’m so glad we’re not opening a new building in August, because that’s going to be large enough—but to be dealing with that in the midst of reconnecting with students you haven’t seen since March … then put in all the COVID protocols,” Tyson said. “We could say, it has worked out.”
While students work their way through the pristine halls of Sherman High, adding an even newer normal to the one they already manage, Tyson is proud of the way the community has come together. “It is only by the community that we have this project. And, it’s with their support we can continue to take care of each other.”