Over the course of eight years as the principal at Thomas Elementary School, Cindy Hay became a fixture in the campus community, a trusted mentor, and a beloved school leader. So, when it was time to find the next principal at Thomas after she retired at the end of the 2021-22 school year, filling her shoes was going to be a big task for her successor.

It so happened that Shannon Marshall was that person. Marshall joined the Abilene ISD family last spring when she moved from Dalhart where she had served as principal at Dalhart Elementary School for eight years. She and her husband relocated to Abilene after he was hired as the CEO at Hendrick Home for Children. 

Shannon taught English at Clack Middle School last semester, and then put her name in the hat for one of three principal openings at the elementary level in the AISD: Austin, Dyess, and Thomas.

As fate would have it, the Thomas campus is the one that Marshall wanted to lead.

After being named the principal in May, she spent time in the spring meeting with Hay and Thomas teachers and staff to get a feel for the campus. She then worked throughout the summer to get ready for her first year at Thomas. That first year kicked off on Aug. 17 when she and the rest of the staff welcomed students back to campus for the 2022-23 school year.

“There’s nothing like meeting students and families on the first day,” Marshall said a few days after the opening day of school “I love getting to know the students and watching them make new friends. Without a doubt, this was my best first day of school ever, and I’m proud to be at Thomas.”

Because of her experiences in her two previous stops, Marshall is uniquely qualified to lead the Thomas campus. As the campus principal in Dalhart, she worked on a bilingual campus, and she also supervised DAEP at Boys Ranch before moving to Dalhart.

Thomas is home to the district’s Newcomer program, as well as elementary DAEP (alternative education settings for students temporarily removed for disciplinary purposes from their regular instructional settings), giving Marshall a unique perspective on leading the Thomas campus.

“I had a lot of experience in my previous stops with ELS (English as a Second Language) students so the Newcomer program intrigued me,” Marshall said. “And after supervising DAEP for Boys Ranch ISD, the DAEP program here also intrigued me. The Newcomer program is interesting because of where I came from (Dalhart). When I went there, 83 percent of the kids in K-2 didn’t speak English. Most were from families of migrant workers who were working at the dairies and in the fields. 

“I was able to learn a lot about what those newcomers’ need, and the importance of building relationships and a trusting atmosphere,” she said. “And they have to learn social skills. Those have to come before some of the other things because everything is new. And we have to show them empathy because we’ve never been in their shoes.”

And speaking of shoes, Marshall admits she was a little bit intimidated at the prospect of filling those left behind by Hay.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t intimidating,” Marshall said. “But there comes a time when change is a good thing. Cindy gave me a lot of her knowledge before she left, and I appreciate her for doing that. I will never be Cindy Hay, but I’m going to be the best Shannon Marshall I can be. I was able to meet with almost all of the staff before the last school year ended, and I told them that very same thing. But I also told them that I can promise them I will always do what’s best for the students, the staff, the campus, and the Thomas community.”

Marshall said the meetings with the faculty and staff were unlike any she’s had before in her experience as a principal.

“I think they were all a little bit nervous, but it was the first time I’ve ever gone to a new campus where they didn’t have a list of things for me that needed to be changed,” she said. “We talked a lot about traditions, ideas, and advice they had for me, and they all said to make this my own. I’ve been in their shoes and it’s hard to get a new principal. But they were very welcoming.”

Marshall said her word for the year at Thomas will be “growth.” 

“We want growth in all areas: personally, professionally, and academically,” she said. “If we focus on growth in everything, that will continue to build this campus and the relationships that are made here. This job (principal) is about visibility and the relationships you build, not just with the students, but with the parents. Parents and stakeholders are a huge part of how the campus will function. And, of course, you have to have buy-in from teachers explaining the way we mutually decide on what that looks like. If we’re working toward the same ‘why’ that’s how you get the growth you need to see.”

The campus community is tight-knit and bound together by what happens at Thomas Elementary, and Marshall said she is looking forward to building relationships with everyone on campus and in the Thomas community.

“I heard from so many people in town that this is an amazing campus, and I heard that plenty of times,” said Marshall. “But when I walked in for the first time, I realized what a truly amazing campus it is. The relationships the teachers have with one another and with the kids and families are amazing.”

And now Marshall takes up the mantle of building and strengthening relationships throughout the Thomas community.

“ I know it was very hard for Cindy to leave Thomas,” Marshall said. “She had a deep investment here and everyone loved her. I might never fill those shoes entirely, but God puts in places at different times, and there’s a reason I’m at Thomas and I’m certainly excited to be here.”