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Benton Intermediate Finds Its Marigold and Gold Star

When the school year started, Benton Intermediate School Principal  Jennifer Burris kicked it off by reading an inspiring story to her faculty and staff titled “Find Your Marigold.” Little did Burris know that she would become the marigold to others. 

“Gardeners often use a technique called companion planting: planting certain plants near each other to improve growth,” Burris explained. “Marigolds are actually one of the best companion plants. Marigolds protect the other plants from pests and harmful weeds which allows the other plants to grow and thrive. The story talks about how marigolds exist in our schools as well. We have people at our school who are continuously encouraging, supporting and nurturing others which allows them to thrive in their role. I encouraged my teachers at the beginning of the year to ‘find their marigold’ and stay close! I even started a ‘Marigold of the Week’ award to spotlight the positive impact these teachers and staff are having on our school culture.” 

Burris is an educator who has certainly bloomed where planted. While teaching 13 years in the classroom, she took on numerous leadership roles which served as stepping stones in her career. That led to her taking on the role as Instructional Coach for two middle school campuses simultaneously, followed by six years as Assistant Principal at Benton Middle School. Then, when Benton Middle School and its feeder schools went through a school reconfiguration in 2020, Burris said she had the “honor and privilege” of opening Benton Intermediate School and serving as its principal. 

“I definitely have to give credit to Dr. Kyle Machen (Principal at Benton Middle School) for having the greatest influence on me as a school leader,” Burris added. “I had never met Dr. Machen prior to interviewing for his Assistant Principal position. He believed in me then and he continues to believe in me now. As a matter of fact, he still finds ways to challenge me to grow professionally despite the fact that I am no longer at his school.” 

Since being handed the reins to run Benton Intermediate, Burris has soared, and so has the school. The Tigers hold the National Championship title in archery; the school earned an ‘A’ rating on its state report card and Top Gains Honoree status; they have an award-winning band and BIS is home to the reigning Louisiana Middle School Teacher of the Year. 

It is no surprise the teaching staff sings her praises and nominated her for Bossier Schools’ Gold Star award. 

“Mrs. Burris is THE most amazing leader that I have ever had,” Amber Stephens wrote. “She leads with an open mind-set, a huge heart and always makes time to listen to her staff or the students. Her love for her faculty and students goes beyond words. I’m almost certain she bleeds purple and gold! (I am) So proud to work at BIS and she is the main reason why.” 

“I am a new teacher at our school and Mrs. Burris has been incredible!” Kasey Smith exclaimed. “Mrs. Burris is not afraid to be confronted with an issue or concern and sincerely tries to understand all the needs of everyone involved. She is one of the first to get to the school and one of the last to leave. She is always available and present for the teachers and students. Coming to school is exciting and I look forward to getting constructive feedback from her because I know her heart is to help each student get the best education possible. She is a true example of a servant leader and I am so blessed to be a part of her team.” 

Burris gives credit to her staff for sharing her vision; every one of them. 

“Everyone on our campus plays a critical role and you can never underestimate the power of every single person on the team,” Burris said. “One morning, I had a young man deliver a graduation ticket and said he only had five tickets and wanted to make sure Mrs. Sharon, one of our custodians, received one. To know that one of our custodians happened to be one of the five most important people in this young man’s life was inspiring. She was there to encourage him when he had made some poor decisions and he credited her with turning his life around.” 

Burris shared several other examples of her staff making a difference in the BIS Tigers’ lives, summarizing their contributions by saying “Trying to grow students in a school is parallel to trying to grow crops in a field. They are both dependent upon the right environment and everyone on our campus plays a critical role in cultivating that ideal environment where everyone can thrive.” 

There is no question being a school principal is one of the, if not most difficult jobs in education. Yet Burris never loses sight of her ‘why.’ 

“My ‘why’ has always been to be a change agent in education to make sure ALL of our kids are getting the absolute best educational experience we can possibly give them. Why does this mean so much to me? I know firsthand the power of an education and it is the fire that has ignited me from the beginning.” 

Burris went on to elaborate by explaining “Something very few may know is ‘my story.’ I have one of my first day of school pictures in a hand-painted T-shirt that I made myself. I like to look back at this picture as a reminder of where I came from and how I got to where I am today. I am where I am today because of people who believed in me and invested in me throughout my educational journey.”

Now, Burris is encouraging, protecting and investing in others to help them bloom where planted. After all, that is what marigolds do.  

Editor’s note: Know someone who works for Bossier Schools that is deserving of recognition for going above and beyond? Nominate them for the Gold Star award, proudly sponsored for the 11th year by Bossier Federal Credit Union. Visit https://bit.ly/3oAP4Mi to tell what sets them apart and be watching for our next Gold Star surprise.