Bonnie Bigsby Ellison might be from a small town but her big ideas transformed Northside ISD and the field of school public relations. Ellison Elementary School is named for a bold, innovative leader who has never been afraid to take risks and wave the flag for education.
Ellison spent 40 years working in Northside ISD and made the District her home, but she’s actually a native of Kirksville, Missouri. She is the second oldest of six children, all with names starting with the letter “B.” She spent her early years as a Girl Scout and it should come as no surprise that she received the “Most Daring” award in middle school. In high school, she served as editor of the yearbook and pursued her interest in journalism at the University of Missouri, earning a journalism degree in 1965.
She began her career at a television station in Oklahoma City and later at an advertising agency in San Antonio. In 1972, she was hired as the first Public Information Director in Northside ISD. Ellison worked tirelessly to promote the successes and highlight the challenges facing Northside ISD, educating the community and empowering them to act on behalf of public school children.
One of her first assignments was to work with newly-hired researcher and future-NISD superintendent Ed Rawlinson to promote year-round schooling, a necessity at the time given the District’s rapid growth. Year-round schooling was eventually shelved and Ellison worked on another option to manage growth- bond elections. During her tenure, voters approved more than $280 million in bonds.
In 1995, she became NISD’s first Director of School- Business- Community Partnerships. In this role she helped create the Northside Education Foundation (NEF). Public school foundations were in their infancy and NEF was one of the first school foundations in the state. Twenty years later NEF has given more than $8 million in teacher grants and scholarships, and has an endowment of over $2.6 million.
After the District’s 50th anniversary in 1999, Ellison worked with a group of retirees interested in preserving the history of NISD which led to the creation of the Northside School Museum Association. Ellison was always guided by a belief in the importance of building relationships, establishing partnerships, and encouraging people to share their time and talents with students and schools.
In addition to blazing trails in Northside, Ellison was a pioneer for school public relations on the state and national levels. She served as president of both the Texas School Public Relations Association and the National School Public Relations Association.
While she was serving as NSPRA president, the release of the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk” cast a negative light on public education. Ellison consulted with Dr. Edward Bernays, considered the “father of public relations,” who suggested that school leaders start waving the flag for education.
The Flag of Learning and Liberty was born. Ellison coordinated an initiative in 1985 to raise the flags at Capitol buildings in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. She also oversaw the national education campaign for the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe.
Closer to home, Ellison continued waving the flag for public education. She is an advocate for all students, but is especially proud of her two musician sons, Kyle and the late Sims, who both graduated from Clark High School.
Ellison retired from Northside in 2012, but stays active with the District as a volunteer with NEF and as a school namesake. She led the dedication ceremonies for more than 30 Northside schools as Public Information Director, but was the guest of honor at the dedication ceremony for the District’s 74th elementary school.
She will encourage the Ellison Bees to be curious and creative thinkers, unafraid to pursue their passions and big ideas. If they are anything like their namesake, they will be bold, innovative and unabashedly unique just like the “Queen Bee” of their school, Bonnie Ellison.