Mary Kay Sudbury has had many lives with Ector County Independent School District.
A physical education aide, tennis coach and AVID coordinator, Sudbury has had an impact on students from the courts to the classroom.
Petite, energetic and relentlessly chipper, Sudbury has always wanted to teach and grade papers. When she was in ninth grade, Sudbury made cheerleader at Bonham Middle School. She came home and told her mother. Her mother told her that was good, but they were moving to Abilene.
“It broke my heart,” Sudbury said.
She went to Abilene High School and played tennis there and then to Hardin-Simmons University to play tennis. She earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and speech.
As soon as she got her degree, Sudbury said, she wanted to go move back to Odessa and has spent 36 years with the district. She started off as a PE aide in an elementary school and the next year got a job starting a tennis program at the junior high schools.
“I was at Bonham, where I’d left before. I was in the teachers’ lounge for the first time. It felt so cool to be in the teachers’ lounge and I had … a Pop Tart, stuck it in the microwave and it blew up. I did not know I was supposed to take the Pop Tart out … first day on the job,” Sudbury said.
Through the years, Sudbury said she had some amazing students in the tennis program.
“Now I have tennis kids that are married to each other and they have kids now. I’m still such good friends with Coach (Pat) Wikse, who the tennis courts are named after (at Permian),” Sudbury said.
Although she loved coaching, Sudbury said the long weekends and nights were hard on her. In 1995, she had surgery for scoliosis at the end of May and was back on the tennis courts by July, but the students helped her through that.
When she was ready to stop coaching, Sudbury said Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Operations Roy Garcia, who was then principal of PHS, asked her to attend a summer conference on AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, a college preparation program for at-risk students.
Sudbury said she attended the conference and fell in the love with the program because “it’s all about helping kids.”
Garcia asked her how she liked the conference and then if she wanted be the coordinator at Permian.
This past year, she went to the AVID program at Odessa High School, which is a national demonstration site for the program. Greg Nelson, who was principal at OHS before moving to head up OCTECHS, asked her to come over because the campus was up for revalidation by the national AVID program.
“The faculty over there is just so close and were so sweet to me and just helpful. The whole thing about it it’s about the kids. You’ve got the same kind of kids in AVID. They’re just a separate group of AVID kids, which is another family,” Sudbury said.
Dianne Mata, district director for AVID, said Sudbury was a natural fit for the program.
“She transformed Permian AVID in many great ways. Her classroom was a welcoming and safe place for students. She grew AVID, not just in numbers but in inspiring so many students. Although she transferred to OHS AVID for her last year, she still maintained her AVIDly awesome spirit with her students,” Mata said in an email.
“She was instrumental in supporting OHS as they underwent their rigorous process of being revalidated as an AVID National Demonstration site for three more years. She has a great spirit and a big heart for her students. We will certainly miss her, but she will always remain a big part of our AVID family,” she added.
This year, Sudbury’s mother died. Her father is a seven-year pancreatic cancer survivor. Her parents were married for 66 years and he took care of her until her last breath.
Sudbury decided to spend more time with her family. She also has two daughters, Kristi Mann and Melissa Acosta, and one grandson.
When she had to tell her students at OHS she was retiring, before she told them what was going on a student guessed that she was pregnant.
Sudbury explained why she was leaving and the girl said, “I wish you were pregnant.”
She added that the friends she’s made through ECISD have helped her through the hills and valleys in her life.
“Those valley parts, I couldn’t have done it without some of my parents. They’re like family to me and the kids are,” she said.
Being part of the school family and having an influence on students is what she’s enjoyed most about her coaching and teaching career. Wherever she goes, she encourages youngsters to attend college and enroll in AVID.
“They were also an influence on me. We go through life together and we support each other together, but I have met some of the most amazing principals, coaches, kids and parents. Odessa used to be a small town and now it’s a big town, but it’s kind of like our family has grown. It’s really neat,” Sudbury said.