Since 2016, folks around town have known Vanda Brister as an elementary school teacher at Wesson Attendance Center, and they're confident, as she takes over as assistant principal, WAC's kindergarten through sixth grade remain in good hands as an educator with her heart in the classroom.
Brister is taking the reins at WAC elementary with the departure Marilyn Phillips, who served as elementary principal for the past two years after retiring from her long-held position as the principal overseeing the overall WAC facility.
"My job is now supporting elementary students, their teachers and other support staff and their parents," Brister says. "As a teacher with my heart in the classroom, you can be sure you'll find me teaching -- to help as I can and see what is needed at the same time. As an administrator, I plan to engage an amazing team of teachers and be their leader."
Brister grew up in the Wesson area on a small farm on Watson Road not far from the Sylvarena Road truck stop in an extended family with her parents and grandparents. She enjoyed playing and working with farm animals, gardening and fishing. She says the seeds of her career in education were planted at the Nena Smith Dance Studio, where she was an instructor in the hours after attending Wesson Attendance Center. She also played soccer at Wesson High School.
After graduating from WHS in 2001, she enrolled at Co-Lin as a nursing student, but decided after a semester that she wanted to make a difference with kids in the classroom like her teachers did when she was at WAC. She never liked or understood math, but Philip Knight changed that in the classroom for her.
"I wanted to introduce kids to new things and present things in novel ways to make a difference their lives," she recalls. "My reward over more than two decades as a teacher has been seeing children succeed. Helping students recognize their own success and being able to see when they recognize their successes is the biggest reward of all."
Brister earned an Associate Degree in Applied Science with an elementary education specialty at Co-Lin, completed a BS Degree in K-8 Elementary Education with endorsements in reading and science at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2005 and worked at Pearl Elementary from 2006-2012 and Simpson Central at Pinola, Mississippi, from 2013-2016 before returning to teach at WAC. Along the way, she has received National Board Certification and has just about wrapped up work on a Masters Degree in educational leadership at Mississippi College.
Brister and her husband Tyler, an offshore maintenance coordinator for Chevron, live in Crystal Springs with two children -- Tate, 13, and Mason, 9.
What are your hobbies? I am busy at school and being a mom for kids, but find time for reading and photography. My husband and I are active members of New Zion Baptist Church, serving on the mission team on which we travelled to Haiti once, and look forward to returning. Our local mission focus is work with the homeless. As a member of the Junior Auxiliary of Copiah County, a women's organization, I have another outlet for working with children and meeting their needs
What do you read? Mostly professionally-related educational material on best practices, culture, leadership and teamwork. I also like Christian literature written by Priscila Shirer and David Platt.
What kind of music do you like?
Christian music. I listen to K-Love Radio and sing in the church choir in which I make a joyful noise and not take on solo parts.
Do you enjoy movies or theater?
As a genre, I am into family drama. I enjoy Gray's Anatomy. I visit New York City now and then to see Broadway productions, and to Brookhaven to see some Little Theater -- most recently Peter Pan and The Diary of Ann Frank.
What would you do with lottery winnings if you were so lucky? I would spend on my family and give to church missions.
How would you change the world? People need to look at the positives in life and love people for who they are like Jesus did. I would help make that happen, and also give teachers a pay raise.
Did the pandemic change you as a teacher?
We teachers found we could rise to the occasion and do more in difficult situations to assure student achievement and well being. We came out of it with more confidence that we could respond to student needs.