Stephen Bronskill, a co-founder of the nonprofit What’s Next Pine Bluff?, will be moving to the San Francisco Bay area to teach and be close to fellow teacher Mandy Sheehan.
Sheehan peviously taught in the Pine Bluff School District and recently took a job in California.
A native of Seattle, Washington, Bronskill moved to Pine Bluff in 2013 with Teach for America and taught biology at Pine Bluff High School for two years. He teamed with fellow educator Adrian Dhanaraj to found What’s Next Pine Bluff?, providing community service projects to students. He was also the special projects coordinator for Mayor Shirley Washington, who held a good-bye party for him this week.
Bronskill was also a member of the Pine Bluff School Board, from which he resigned Monday. He said he learned from each board member and is really proud of what they accomplished with employees.
“For the last four years, I have had the distinct honor of calling Pine Bluff my home,” Bronskill, 25, said. “I have had the privilege of working with some outstanding young leaders at Pine Bluff High School. I am going to miss it very much.”
Bronskill will be teaching science to elementary school students in Concord, California.
He credited Pine Bluff High School Class of 2017 graduate Brooklyn Tody for inspiring him to run for the school board. Bronskill taught her at Pine Bluff High School a few years ago.
“In her time at Pine Bluff High School, she went from a student who was struggling. She overcame big obstacles, got into AP classes, took the ACT and got into the college of her choice,” Bronskill said. “She is like so many young people- just needed a little push. It took her family, the community, and this district working together to make it happen. And I really feel like if this board can continue to work together and if the community can continue to work together, the future of our young people is truly limitless. I look forward to continuing to see this district grow and move forward.”
Board president Henry Dabner asked Tody to share a brief word about her education. Tody said she is heading to Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Board member Phyllis Wilkins commended Tody for continuing her education, saying she is very proud of her.
Outside the board meeting, Bronskill recalled arriving in Pine Bluff in 2013 with Teach for America. He was told new teachers would likely do three things while in Arkansas: get a dog, run a marathon and get married.
Bronskill enjoyed having a dog with his fellow teachers and running in the CASA Half-Marathon four times with a group of local runners.
“I have not done the third one yet but I did meet a great fellow teacher who recently moved from Pine Bluff to be closer to her family,” Bronskill said of Sheehan. “I will be leaving to join her in her hometown.”
Bronskill said his favorite memory from working and living in Pine Bluff was Pine Bluff High School’s graduation in 2016 and 2017. He said he had the honor of shaking the hand of his former students as they walked across the stage and graduated.
“Because of this great community, Pine Bluff has changed for the better in my time here,” Bronskill said via email. “This city has all of the ingredients it needs to succeed. We have truly great people, leaders with a strong vision, and a community that is uniting for positive change. In my time here, I have seen Pine Bluff voters overwhelmingly support an initiative to invest in our young people and our community by building a new library and learning center.”
“I have seen new leadership in our school system work with our teachers to implement restorative justice to help students succeed, create more support for young people to overcome barriers in their lives, and move our schools out of academic distress.”
Bronskill said he had the honor of watching Mayor Washington implement her vision of One Pine Bluff, Stronger Together. He called her ” an incredible leader who has a unique gift for bringing people together and creating change that makes a positive difference in people’s lives”.
He also said he was looking forward to returning to Pine Bluff to see all the positive changes that continue to happen here.
Washington came into office with Bronskill in January. She laments his leaving, praising his excellence to completing assignments.
“I am in the business of politics but first and foremost I am a Christian. I pray to God for direction,” Washington said. “I met Stephen and Adrian in early 2015 with What’s Next Pine Bluff serving young people. They exposed kids to college tours and helped some high school kids who thought they would not even graduate from high school.”
“They helped me campaign although I saw Stephen as too busy to work for me,” Washington said. “It has been a beautiful relationship from day one. Every time I had an idea, I shared it with him. He is smart yet very humble. We work with writing speeches. He has learned to think like me and I think like him. He is so polite to everybody. Everyone in city hall knows he has the best interests of the city at heart to make Pine Bluff a better place. He is enthusiastic. He is never negative even when the situation is negative. Stephen pulls out the positive. He is friendly, he sees every project through and he does not take forever to accomplish something. He drives it to completion. He is always on top. I hate to see him go but I wish him well as he goes. A person as talented as he is deserves nothing but the best.”
“Punctuality is important. Stephen is always punctual,” Washington added. “I could never add a value to him. He is beyond measure. We could never pay him for the job he did in Pine Bluff. He embraced this community. I think he has done more in Pine Bluff than some people have done in Pine Bluff for their whole life.”
Washington said she wanted to raise money for the summer youth employment program and she planned to solicit donations with him but said she was working on other projects and Bronskill took charge.
“We ended up hiring more kids than the program previously had,” Washington said. “I was very pleased.”
Bronskill worked with Pine Bluff High School art teacher Virginia Hymes, who recently retired. Hymes recalled Bronskill as a passionate educator who was especially kind and motivated.
“He is such a positive person,” Hymes said. “He definitely has a heart for young people. He is considerate of wanting to help young people. Even when he was teaching, he came in here with his sleeves rolled up. You watch what they do. I have never heard him say anything negative. He made a mark with community gardens. The kids planted seeds and watched them grow. I see that big huge smile. He was always creating some positive change. He did what he said he would do. He does not hang around negative people. He has to patent his grin and sell it.”
Hymes recalled Bronskill visiting her in the classroom and being very sincere about her concerns.
“He is not the kind of person to sit by and wait for things to happen,” Hymes said. “He makes things happen.”
Dhanaraj grew up in Maryland and met Bronskill in 2013 when they joined Teach for America Corps. They met while registering at TFA’s orientation in Little Rock.
“We initially bonded over the fact that we had both been placed in Pine Bluff and that he had gone to school close to where I grew up,” Dhanaraj said via email. “Our connections deepened very quickly as we got to know how much each of us deeply cared about playing our part in organizing communities to improve the lives of marginalized people, especially the kids we were going to work with in Pine Bluff.”
Dhanaraj taught alternative education English language in the Pine Bluff School District from 2013 to 2016. He and Bronskill worked with many supportive educators, parents, students and community members, many of whom serve on the What’s Next Pine Bluff board.
“There are many incredible programs serving our amazing young people in many ways in Pine Bluff,” Dhanaraj said. “However, Stephen and I saw that there was still a need for more programs to reach more kids. He and I had shared a number of students, and we wanted to support them to be able to reach the dreams they have for their future. Stephen is one of the most reflective people I have ever met, and he’s constantly thinking about the privilege that he brought to his work in Pine Bluff as a college-educated, white man. I’ve always admired the way that he uses his privilege to support and empower others without looking for any recognition. Stephen’s work has always been about what is best for kids in Pine Bluff, and the selflessness he has demonstrated is something our kids often reference in how they look up to him.”
Dhanaraj said he would keep in touch with Bronskill, who was the best man at his wedding last summer.
“It is definitely going to be difficult for him to be so far away, both in terms of the work we do together and missing a close friend,” Dhanaraj said. “However, I know that Stephen has worked really hard to be at a place where the work he has supported with his heart and soul over the past four years can continue to grow and strengthen in impact after he leaves. I think his is a legacy that everyone in the Pine Bluff community will remember for a long time.”
Dhanaraj thinks Bronskill’s decision to run for the school board was an example of him going above and beyond the call of duty. He said Bronskill has never intended to hold public office.
“It so happened that a number of veteran educators who served as our mentors told him that since he was legally able to run, being a full-time employee of a nonprofit, they needed him to be a champion for serving the best interests of the kids,” Dhanaraj said. “They believed that, at the time, the board didn’t always do that. Stephen still really did not want to run for school board, but he stepped up to the challenge because he knew that some really great people were counting on him. And I think it’s that mentality that has stayed with him in all of his work here in Pine Bluff. As a result, the Pine Bluff School District is now moving much more quickly toward giving all of our kids the high-quality education they deserve, and I think Stephen’s quiet leadership on the board has been a big factor in that.”
Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library Board President Tommy Brown also worked with Bronskill.
“He has provided a great deal of help, insight and activity in moving our community forward as a member of the Pine Bluff school board and as a library trustee,” Brown said. “His actions on behalf of the library helped us pass our bond issue. His grassroots campaign got out the need for the bond issue. His work with the students helped pass this. He has provided a great deal of insight in shaping our procedures. He helped in hiring director Laura Whitehead. I am saddened he will not be here to find the next library director. I appreciate all his activities because they are community oriented. We will sorely miss him. His will be a tough spot to fill. He cannot be truly replaced.”