- July 21, 2014
The executive director’s colorful silk gown kisses the floor making her steps look effortless — just like how she manages all her various responsibilities at Suncoast School for Innovative Studies.
When Sherika Evans became executive director of SSIS in 2019, she also became one of the school’s bus drivers, a certified food service manager, a guardian, a notary and a teacher.
Asked why she goes to this extent for her students, Evans joins her hands together, leans forward, and with a subtle Southern accent says, “To understand that, (understand) that I am these kids.”
In summer 1991, in the poorest part of the Mississippi Delta, 11-year-old Evans was hard at work in her first job picking cotton.
“That part of Mississippi is stuck in a particular time,” said Evans as she reminisces on that season of her life. Her younger self was determined to help pay for her siblings’ clothing, so on her first day, she chopped cotton.
As the youngest and the only female in the group, she did the best she could, only to get fired on her first day. “They said chop cotton,” said Evans as she shook her head. “I was supposed to chop the weeds of the cotton.” She was sent home immediately after; however, she came back the next summer ready to try again.
“I grew up working hard,” said Evans. “As poor as we were, I didn’t know it.”
When she got to high school and heard other students speak about college, she didn't really know much about it.
“I heard people talk about college, and I didn’t know what college was. I said, ‘Is it in Walmart?’ because Walmart was 30 minutes away from my town,” said Evans.
She turned to her best friend, Daniel, for answers about this college phenomenon. “Buddy, where’s college?”
“Whatever I do, you do. I’m going to make sure you get there,” she recalled Daniel telling her. He told her they were both going to Jackson State.
Evans applied to various schools and got into every single one of them, including Harvard. “I didn’t know it was a big deal,” she said. Her mother didn’t want her going to college at all “because it was so different from her way of life.”
Evans ended up attending Jackson State University and earning a degree in elementary education in 2002. She went on to earn her master's in early childhood education in 2004 and earned her doctorate in educational leadership from Argosy University in 2010.
“I know what it’s like for our students to not have their education celebrated,” said Evans. She was always a straight-A student – even though she never studied. “I was ridiculed for it (not studying) because that’s not going to help me in the fields. It’s not going to help me and the way of life that the people in town I knew.”
Because of Evans background, she hopes to be an example of becoming a better version of herself with education.
“I’m an example of ‘How do you move past that?’ I’m an example of ‘that doesn’t have to define who you are forever.'” said Evans. “I always want to help children like me, like my siblings and like my cousins.”
There are two school buses that are parked at the backdoor to Evan’s office. SSIS Mental Health and First Aid Paraprofessional Aide Latosha Robinson-Butler, and Evans are the designated bus drivers. “Not only do I drive the bus, I also became a qualified trainer so I can teach others to drive the bus,” Evans said.
When SSIS was short staffed with bus drivers, she took matters into her own hands. “That’s not what’s going to shut my school down,” said Evans.
In her office, there's a mini kitchenette. “I do a lot of cooking. I cook for my staff and students,” said Evans. “A lot of our families are homeless. Ms. Tasha and I often cook so they have hot food for the weekend.”
When students return home, she makes sure to hand them the hot meal along with non-perishable foods.
Currently, SSIS is collaborating with All Faiths Food Bank to provide food for the staff, students, families and the community. The charter school currently has two food pantries.
“I knew from my experience from being a first-year teacher in the Mississippi Delta that I never had enough money for food,” said Evans. “I want my families to use the pantries like a store.”
In her efforts to give kids a better life, Evans remains passionate about helping not just them, but their entire families. One of her plans is to open a laundromat for families to wash their clothes while having a student-teacher conference and cooking spaghetti dinners for the staff, students and their families.
“Having our parents rediscover their value, I think, is going to be the next part of this journey: We will elevate our students,” said Evans.