One of two new schools to bear the name of BISD educator
KAREN RUDOLPH | BELTON ISD
When Marvin Bell remembers his late friend James Burrell, he chuckles about an inside joke the two shared.
The men, both deacons at Magnolia First Baptist Church, were members of different fraternities.
“He was an Alpha (Phi Alpha) and I was Omega (Psi Phi),” Bell said. “In the scriptures, it talks about the ‘beginning’ and the ‘end.’ I’d tell him, ‘You’re the beginning, and I’m the end, Brother Burrell.’ We had a great time teasing each other, but also serving the community.”
In September, when Bell heard that Belton ISD was seeking suggestions on what to name two new elementary schools, he knew exactly whose name he wanted to honor — his friend and ministry partner.
Bell was one of four community members to suggest naming a school after Burrell, a longtime district employee who passed away in July 2020.
Burrell’s history with Belton ISD spans five decades, starting in the era of segregation when black and white students attended separate schools. He started as a teacher at T.B. Harris High School in 1962. It was his first job after graduating from Prairie View A&M College.
After desegregation, Burrell moved to Belton Junior High and then Belton High School where he taught vocational classes and worked with special education students. He retired from teaching in 2000 but continued to drive a school bus for the district until 2015.
“I got to have him as a teacher my senior year of high school,” Ty Taggart, trustee at-large, said. “He was just such a good guy and cared for all of us. Every time I ever saw him all through the years in the community he always remembered my name, always shook my hand, always spoke to me.”
In November, the Belton ISD Board of Trustees unanimously approved naming the district’s 12th elementary school James L. Burrell Elementary. The school is currently under construction in the northern part of the district at 8104 Glade Dr. in Temple.
Bell said the choice to honor Burrell this way means a lot to the Belton community.
“It’s more than just brick and mortar,” he said. “It’s about the person himself. What came out of Brother Burrell was simply love. He had a whole list of gifts and skills and abilities. But it was that love piece that kept him centered. The legacy of Deacon Burrell was the love aspect.”
Trustee at-large Janet Leigh said it was a privilege to vote in favor of honoring such a pivotal community member.
“Mr. Burrell epitomized exactly what we want BISD students to be,” she said. “When they become citizens of this world one day, we want them to be exactly what he was — a mentor, kind, generous, compassionate, professional in all that they do and in all of their interactions with others, even when times are hard. He is the shining example of who we want all BISD students to be. So for a school to be built in his name and to be able to teach that history of him to the next generation and the next and the next, we’re hoping that legacy carries on and that these kids can be very proud of their school and that name.”
Gabi Niño, executive director of campus leadership, will be tasked with helping the new school’s staff incorporate Burrell’s legacy into the school’s traditions and day-to-day operations.
“I understand Mr. Burrell was driven to identify barriers for students, help them think about what their futures might be, and then remove all barriers that would prevent them from reaching whatever those goals were and whatever those dreams were,” Niño said. “He is a model, an exemplar, of what our hopes and dreams are for our community. As much as we can teach our children about that, and include his family and his work as a part of the work we do in the school — then we’re going to honor the legacy and raise children to lead by his legacy.”
And starting young is the perfect age to cultivate Burrell’s legacy, Bell said.
“As they grow up, this person that this school is named in honor of, they will want to be the very best because that’s what Deacon Burrell was — the very best. And although he’s gone on to be with the Lord, his legacy lives on,” Bell said.