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Rex Burns imagined a life in coaching but led Simms school district instead

by Andrew Bell | November 21, 2021 at 10:00 p.m.
REX BURNS (Photo courtesy of Ray Kumpe of New Boston Photography)

SIMMS, Texas -- Rex Burks never thought that a career as a coach and educator would lead him to a superintendent position he'd hold for 18 years, but a small, local town in Northeast Texas allowed him to do just that.

After 25 years of service to Simms Independent School District, the last 18 of which came as the district's superintendent, Burks recently announced his retirement as Superintendent of Schools.

"I came to Simms with the full intent of being a coach and having a couple hopefully successful years and moving on to coach somewhere else," Burks said. "But I got there, I really liked it and I thought it was a great place to raise your kids. And 25 years later, that's all history."

Burks came to the district in July of 1997 to serve as the athletic director and head football coach. He added the responsibilities of assistant principal and then became high school principal while still serving as the athletic director.

In July of 2003, he became the superintendent.

Burks grew up in Warren, a small town in Southeast Texas, and went to high school there, before attending Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, where he pursued education and coaching.

After graduating from SAU, he got a student teaching job at Magnolia High School and got hired there afterwards. He worked there as a teacher and a coach for four years there, and was the assistant coach on a 31-1 state championship basketball team in 1985.

He worked at schools in Warren and Queen City, Texas, before heading over to Simms. His educational experience totals 39 years.

Burks said the qualities of a coach translated surprisingly well to a position like superintendent.

"I think they transferred over just as far as dealing with people and having some leadership qualities," he said. "I was used to making quick decisions and being in stressful situations where you have to make important decisions. I think that carries over to the day-to-day life of a superintendent."

His coworkers would agree that these skills transferred over quite well.

"Rex is one of the most honestly dedicated people that has devoted his life to helping kids," said Bo Rogers, former Simms ISD board president. "He is purely honest and a genuine man who has given most of his career to making Simms ISD a better place to live and educate children. His guidance has improved every aspect of our school system from financial stability, staff and campuses. Simms ISD will miss him at the helm."

Burks has overseen many accomplishments academically, financially and otherwise that have been achieved by the district.

Over the past 18 years, Burks and the Board successfully navigated several construction projects and saw improved test scores. In his tenure, the district fund balance grew to $5.7 million. Even with the cost of numerous projects over the years, the District currently has a fund balance of $4.3 million.

One of the biggest changes in the district since Burks came on board is a shift in the district's culture. Members of the district will tell you that the improvements to facilities, the provisions for extracurricular activities and the access to technology and a strong curriculum have worked to create a culture and climate of excellence.

The next superintendent will look to continue this level of excellence. Burks said his best advice to whoever that may be is to have strong foresight

"Just be proactive," he said. "Be proactive with the facilities to keep them up-to-date and things like that. Make sure you take care of the money and plan for things you want to do in the future because probably one of the toughest things with a small school is planning what you want to do and saving the money for it. Our tax base is not big enough to where it's easy to build things by passing bonds and things like that."

This frugality is a trait those who worked with Burks through the years became accustomed to seeing.

"Well, he's a leader," current Board President Rusty Meadows said. "He worked to improve the school system, and he was very financially-minded. He was frugal, which allowed us to increase our fund balance and make improvements to the facilities.

"He was easy for the board to work with."

While Burks' educational career is coming to an end, his time in Simms is far from over. He and his family have no plans of leaving what is now their home.

"I feel like it's a home to me now," he said. "I've had really good support from people who've helped me throughout the years be successful there. I've had good teachers and principals, and the board there has been very supportive. It's just been a good experience all-around for me.

"We've built a retirement home here, and this is home. This is where we plan to live the rest of our lives."

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