PISD Board President Missy Bender was quietly persistent about one thing over the course of our meeting. “Every child deserves an excellent education, and PISD wants to make every single child capable of dreaming big and reaching for that dream successfully,” she told me.
As Board President, Missy works with Superintendent Sara Bonser to plan the Board’s agenda. She’s the face of the Board and speaks to the media regarding any of the Board’s developments. She also works to make sure that each of the Board’s seven members “sees their fingerprints” on a decision. “This is volunteer work,” she says, “and I want them to feel it is purposeful and valuable and meeting their goals.” What a #Girlboss!
Missy was born in Joplin, Missouri, but she spent most of her childhood in Plano herself. She was born to young parents. Missy’s mother was only 16 when she gave birth, so at the time, both Missy’s mother and father only had high school diplomas. They moved to Plano when Missy was in fifth grade to give her the best education they could. “[My mother] would tell you that she didn’t know exactly what she was doing,” Missy says. “But because of the situation, I grew up faster, I had a lot of responsibility, I learned more, I was challenged more.” Her parents were also always supportive of what she wanted to pursue. “If I had a dream, they supported me. And at school, I had teachers helping me dream.”
Over the years, Missy moved from Foreman Elementary, to Armstrong Middle, to Williams High, to Plano East Senior High. She was actually part of Plano East’s first graduating class. Moving to Plano was a beautiful decision that Missy’s parents made. In her senior year, the future PISD leader took a class that would change the course of her career. What was it? “Computer Math”. Basically a class on coding basics, Computer Math was offered at a time when PCs had just come out and Plano East only had one Macintosh on campus. Missy thanks that class for teaching her how to think logically and later, making her one of the few individuals in the workforce with coding experience. “Everybody else was a lot older than me, but I knew how computers worked, so I became the expert. That really set me up for the rest of my career to be an IT expert in business and technology. I feel like we had unique classes in Plano then, and I think we still offer that today.”
Missy was the first one in her family to go to college. She attended SMU and received her BBA in marketing. Shortly after Missy started college, her mother began to pursue a college degree as well, and she graduated from SMU two years after Missy. The day after Missy took her last final exam, she got married to her college sweetheart, Doug Bender, and they spent the next twelve years traveling around the continent for work. The Benders lived in Austin, Dallas, Vancouver, British Columbia, Orange County, CA, West Hartford, CT, and Pittsburgh, PA. For all those years, in all those cities, Missy worked in consulting. She and her husband moved back to Plano and settled down when Missy was pregnant. That’s when she started getting involved with the PISD school system. Her daughter went the Daffron route through PISD, so Missy participated in the Daffron, Robinson, Jasper, and Plano West PTAs. Her daughter was involved in choir, so Missy heavily supported the choir programs at Robinson, Jasper, and Plano West.
Growing up in PISD, watching her daughter grow up in PISD, and now playing an integral part in the system, Missy Bender has been with the school district for years. I was curious how she’s seen it change with time. She told me that it’s mainly in regards to the diversity of the student population. “When I was a kid, [the student body] was white and black— mostly white,” she explains. “Now the majority of our students are from various backgrounds. Their cultures, their languages, their learning styles, their upbringing, are completely different. But our expectations and our wants for them are the same. We have to provide opportunities for success for all of our students.”
This has to do with having AP classes be accessible to everybody. Students, listen up. PISD’s leaders don’t keep AP classes for you to stress out about your GPA. “The success that we seek in the AP arena is not that every child gets a 3, 4, or 5,” Missy says. “That is not the measure of success for us anymore. It’s going to be that every child is experiencing the maximum amount of rigor that they can experience to help them later in life.” Currently, PISD is working to close the opportunity gap and ensure that more students from all types of background push themselves to take AP classes.
Missy told me that pushing yourself is not supposed to be a source of stress or anguish. Instead, it should be a means for you to achieve great things in a field that gives you joy. So, students, lend me your ears. This is Missy Bender’s advice for you, depending on your age:
Elementary schoolers: “Read as much as you can, as early as you can, and read things that are interesting to you. Play. Do special things after school if you can. Make friends. But also read as much as you can.”
Middle schoolers: “Begin to figure out what you enjoy doing. For instance, in 6th grade, we have the unique experience where each student must take band, orchestra, or choir. A lot of school districts don’t do that. We’re trying to help you figure out that this might be part of who you are! So try to experience lots of different areas. And push yourself to take classes that you think are maybe a little bit harder. Continue making friends from different schools. Try to step out of your comfort zone. Broaden your network. Try it all out. There’s no risk to try it out in middle school.”
High schoolers: “Pursue those things that you now know you enjoy doing, and try even more new things. Try looking outside of school for how you can impact your community. How can you make a difference with the thing that you enjoy doing, the thing that you care about? What can you do with it? Don’t just learn. Do something. Make a difference, because it will help someone else, and it will help you in the process too.”
My conversation with Missy was incredibly inspiring to me. “When my mother sent me to school, she trusted that good things were going to happen,” she said. “That the things that they hoped for me were going to materialize. Fortunately, I think they did.” A lot of that had to do with PISD. A lot of that had to do with Missy’s parents and her teachers. And a lot of it had to do with her own hard work.
So here’s to dreams, to hard work, and perseverance. Here’s to Missy.