After spending roughly 20 years as an administrator at Ector County ISD, Tony Parris was looking for something a little different.
He found him as the newly installed school principal at the First Odessa Christian Academy, located inside the First Baptist Church at 709 N. Lee Ave. School starts on August 16.
Most recently, Parris was Deputy Principal of Odessa Secondary School before retiring.
Originally from Odessa, he earned a bachelor’s degree in music from West Texas State University, now West Texas A&M, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Texas Permian Basin.
Certified to teach when he graduated from college, Parris said he had “somehow avoided” the profession for seven years by selling cars and working for a carpet company.
He said he didn’t like it that much, so he decided to use his degree and certification and teach.
âI started teaching in 1990. I did eight years at Hays, then I did 14 years at Ector, then four years asâ¦ energy management guy downtownâ¦ then I did four years at OHS and then retired for about a month, âParris said.
He didn’t know what opportunities would be available as COVID was still ongoing. Parris said he looked for different opportunities, but nothing worked.
âI figured I couldn’t teach for a school district and keep my retirement, so I looked at private schools. I remembered that First Baptist had just started private school and that they had an opening in math. I was fortunate enough to come and teach math here last year. My original plan was to return to ECIDD and teach after being away for a year. But I fell in love with the teaching here and the kids here and the concept of a private school, âParris said.
The school principal job opportunity arose when Tyler Press, former principal of First Odessa Christian, left for a job at Angleton ISD as principal of secondary education.
âI never intended to become a director again. But circumstances changed this summer when Mr. Press left and moved his family to Angleton, âParris added.
Senior Pastor First Baptist Byron McWilliams reached out to Parris and told him they wanted to talk to him about the possibility of becoming a principal.
Parris said he was interested.
âThey loved the whole concert as much as I did. I think it’s just an amazing opportunity to be in a private Christian school and focus not only on academics but also on the spiritual side of children in their education, âParris added.
McWilliams said the church and school were grateful for Press’s dedication to First Odessa Christian in his most formative years and wished him the best.
âWe are thankful that God saw this transition happen and that He placed our next principal very close to us. As soon as the change was announced, within 48 hours, Mr. Tony Parris was unanimously chosen as the Director of the Schools. Mr. Parris comes to OFAC with many years of exemplary service with ECISD in the classroom and in administration. He is an outstanding leader and has many friends and supporters in the Odessa educational community. The knowledge and skills Mr. Parris brings will take FOCA to the next level helping us to become the first Christian K-12 academy in Odessa. We are excited about the change and look forward to an incredible year of growth and academic achievement at First Odessa Christian Academy, âMcWilliams said in a text message.
Parris is happy to have the chance to make Christianity a part of every day.
ââ¦ We start our day with prayer; we have prayer in class all day. We have a Bible course for everyone. It’s just as much a part of our curriculum as math and English and science and social studies.
The First Odessa Christian Academy currently offers classes from Kindergarten to Grade 8.
âNext year we’ll add the ninth year – at least the ninth year. We’re looking at the possibilities of adding more than that, but we’ll end up being K-12 over the next three to five yearsâ¦ âParris said.
Around 175 students are expected this year, of which 15 are currently part of the teaching staff.
âParents are still calling and expressing interest in coming, so I could hit 180, 185. That would be great for where we’re at. But our vision is to become a much bigger school and move from Kindergarten to Grade 12, âParris said.
The biggest goal right now is growth – to move from Kindergarten to Grade 12, but also to reach a capacity of 60 students at each grade level.
Odessa High had nearly 4,000 students.
ââ¦ The educational environment that we are able to provide here with smaller classes is so enjoyable for the teachers and for the students. Teachers can give this individual attention much more often than most public schools can with class size. â¦ I found out that last year I was teaching math. I was able to give a lot of attention to the children who needed attention. And not just some sort of return cruise because I have to get to these othersâ¦ It was very refreshing in that regard, âParris said.
First of all Odessa Christian does not have the requirements of the STAAR test that public schools do, but they still use the state curriculum and they use the MAP, or Measure of Academic Progress, test in mathematics, in English and reading to see growth.
âWe will use it as a measurement and progress tool every year. We will give it three times (at) the start, middle and end of the school year, so we have a baseline each year to know where they are at the start of the year and can track their growth and performance. level of achievement throughout the year, âParris said.
He added that MAP was used last year.
âIn fact, I was fortunate enough to get 100% of my eighth grade students to achieve the NWA growth level required for Blue Ribbon School. All of my eighth graders in math manage to get about 90% of my seventh graders to achieve this level of growth. And 56% of my sixth graders were above all of that, or were way above the national standard, which is pretty amazing, considering this is a pandemic year, âParris said.
He added that FOCA was in person all year round and the school had no students with COVID.
Occasionally, if a family member was ill, the student had to stay home for a few days or weeks in quarantine.
âBut we are also an individual school. Every student has an iPad and so if they needed to be at home it’s easy to stay in touch as all teachers post assignments in Google Classroom which really makes it easy to go back and forth if we had to. Hopefully this year we can continue to be strictly in school and not have to do e-learning. We’ll just have to wait and see how things play out, âParris added.
He noted that they were lucky. They keep tabs on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Governor Greg Abbott and work with what First Baptist Church is doing.
Parris said he had a fantastic year last year.
âIt was refreshing to go into a private school and have the freedom to teach as we were and see the success that has brought. Coming in as a manager I know we have a fantastic staff. We have a great group of parents who are very supportive of us. And studies show that when parents are supportive and involved and work collaboratively with the school, students do better. And this is certainly the case here at OFAC. Our parents are very involved and it is a great partnership that we can have. When I had the opportunity to come and be the leader of the school, I was just super excited because I fell in love with the place as a teacher last year, and being able to take the helm and head to a K-12 School, which is our focus, is a phenomenal opportunity. I am very blessed and very humbled that they even ask me to do this.
âAnd I’m very excited about what the future of our school holds. It will be a school that is not offered in Odessa. In Midland you have three Christian schools which are high schools. In Odessa, you really don’t have any that are of any size that are k-12. I think it’s a great opportunity for families in Odessa to have another option for a Christian school that goes from kindergarten to 12th grade without having to drive to Midland, âParris added.
Together, Parris and his wife, Julie, have four children and 12 grandchildren.