John and Deborah Gillis Foundation

Robin Shrode, executive director, and John and Deborah Gillis announced the launch of their new private education initiative, the John and Deborah Gillis Foundation, Tuesday at a special luncheon hosted county educators. Ten renewable $4,000 per semester Bright Star Scholarships will be awarded to Hopkins County seniors annually, starting this spring.

A new scholarship foundation was announced Tuesday, which will annually provide up to $100,000 in grants for Hopkins County schools and 10 Bright Star scholarships worth a total of $32,000 each for Hopkins County graduates starting in the spring of 2018-19.

The John and Deborah Gillis Foundation, a private educational initiative created and managed by Sulphur Springs High School alumni, was announced Tuesday at a luncheon held at Sulphur Springs Country Club for school officials and media.

John Gillis said the foundation is the manifestation of the dream he and wife Deborah for a decade have had to provide scholarships to help students pursue their dreams of post-secondary education. Both graduated from Sulphur Springs High School and East Texas State University. John said he realizes how hard it was when he was in college for some students to be able to afford postsecondary training and education. With tuition increasing exponentially, 5.5 percent since he was in school, that goal becomes almost impossible for some economically disadvantaged students. John and Deborah wanted to be able to help make postsecondary school an option for just those students.

“We have been blessed for so many years and feel blessed to be able to give back,” Deborah said.

When they were reconnected with fellow Sulphur Springs High School graduate and long-time educator Robin Shrode, the dream began to take shape. Shrode’s background includes teaching, administration and being an educational consultant. She is heading up the foundation as executive director. Suzy Rost, John Perry and Chandra Crawford join John and Deborah Gillis to form the board of directors.

“It’s a perfect marriage of everyone for this whole endeavor. Robin has worked tirelessly for six months to get us where we are today,” said Deborah Gillis.

Initially, the goal was to give back to their hometown of Sulphur Springs, but that goal has expanded to include students graduating from any of the seven Hopkins County schools.  Grants local schools can apply for will better equip them to help prepare students for college and careers, particularly those skills most sought after by employers.

Sulphur Bluff ISD Superintendent Dustin Carr said he finds “what they’re trying to do and put together for the students in Hopkins County,” to be “amazing.”

“It looks like a good proposal for students and similar for schools. There are so many opportunities. I look forward to seeing the project go further, to seeing students benefit from it and schools benefit from this,” said NHISD Board of Education President Robert McPhearson.


Seniors at Como-Pickton, Cumby, Miller Grove, North Hopkins, Saltillo, Sulphur Bluff and Sulphur Springs schools can apply online starting this school year for one of the 10 Bright Stars Scholarships. Each scholarship is for $4,000 per semester, renewable for up to eight continuous semesters, for a total of $32,000 over four years, provided recipients maintain an overall 2.5 grade point average. All funds will be disbursed directly to the school to help pay for tuition, books or other required tools.

“This is geared toward kids who would otherwise not be able to go. It’s for a student who gets a partial scholarship to A&M to help with the rest of the cost,” Shrode said. “This could be life changing for them, their family and the community. We feel like a percent of the students who will be Bright Star Scholars will be first generation college students. It can change the outlook for siblings, exposing them to hope and the possibility of change. Some may be future leaders right here, and others may be leaders elsewhere.”

The Gillis Foundation creators and board want to see applications from students who show some initiative but said they do not have to be in the top 10 percent of their graduating class nor do they have to be the brightest of the bright. Priority is given to students who meet the criteria, show initiative and might not otherwise have an opportunity to pursue their postsecondary dreams, Shrode said.

Bright Star Scholarships may be applied for schooling at recognized college, university, trade or training schools. Students do not have to be full-time students and can take online classes, Shrode said.

Students who already have college or postsecondary credits can still apply to have their scholarships renewed for up to four years.

To apply the Hopkins County student will be required to have a B average or higher, average 80 percent attendance for the last seven semesters of high school, demonstrate financial need set by federal financial guidelines established for FAFSA, which the student and their parent can complete beginning in October.

Applications may be filled out online or printed from the website ( and returned in paper form. They do not have to be completed in one setting but may be saved until complete, then submitted along with the required documentation. All applications must be received no later than 5 p.m. March 22, of the applicant’s senior year, Shrode and the foundation website stated. Applications will be vetted by the executive director to ensure all required documentation is received.

Applicants will be notified if they are eligible for consideration, then they will be required to write an essay on a topic related to the mission and goals of the foundation. Each applicant also must have three letters of recommendation from adults, who either mail or upload them to the foundation website. The applicants will then be interviewed by the John and Deborah Gillis Foundation’s Bright Stars Scholarship Advisory Committee, comprised of five people nominated by the board and director to serve two-year terms. Scholarship recipients will be announced in April.

Shrode said she’ll be glad to work with counselors through this process and would like to visit county high schools to talk to juniors, seniors, maybe sophomores, to let them know what’s required to receive a Bright Stars Scholarship.

Scholarship winners will also be featured on the foundation website,, along with their schools and accomplishments. The foundation will continue to follow the students as they go through school and later, to compile a documentary of sorts featuring the recipients as they go into their community to potentially become tomorrow’s leaders, to show the benefits the foundation can help them achieve.


The foundation also has pledged a total of $100,000 to be awarded as three-year grants to schools in Hopkins County to help make students more college and career ready for the next steps of their lives upon graduation from high school. The goal of the grant program is “to support instructional program development, professional development for staff or other initiatives that align with and support the foundation’s mission.”

School campuses and districts may apply. Any school meeting basic criteria from pre-k to 12th grade may apply. Collaborations within multiple classes or grade level at one campus in a district, across multiple campuses in a district, and multiple school districts within the county are encouraged as well.

NHISD Superintendent Darin Jolly noted that the collaborative among the smaller county schools for professional development has been a helpful use of resources to achieve a lot of the same common goals and noted the potential benefits collaborating for Grants to Schools funding.

Sulphur Springs Independent School District Superintendent Michael Lamb said how effective it’s been for administrators from all seven county school districts and Cooper to gather collectively to discuss different matters. He said he could see potential benefit for students if multiple county districts to collaborate for career and technology education projects and resources.

“This is really interesting. I think it’s a good opportunity for Hopkins County schools to come together for the good of all students. We have a good group of superintendents. We all want what is the best for all kids, not just ours,” said Cumby ISD Superintendent Shelly Slaughter.

Jolly said the foundation and opportunities it represents could be the missing link county-wide to help provide resources for more college and career readiness programs to benefit all county students.

“An individual teacher would not necessarily be kicked out. I’d love to see department or grade level go a little bigger than an individual teacher. I’m not saying no to an individual teacher, but we’d love to see a campus,” Shrode said when an educator present asked if an individual teacher could be eligible to submit a grant.

“What about private schools?” another educator asked.

“I wouldn’t see why not. I know of a number of private schools here. A Hopkins County graduate is a Hopkins County graduate,” Shrode said, adding that the foundation’s legal team and IRS would be consulted to verify that they can as a nonprofit group support grants to private schools.

John Gillis said he too would support allowing private schools to apply, provide it meets the regulation Shrode and others have been working for six months to meet and secure.

Applications for funding from the Grants to Schools program are due Dec. 20 and handled online. Applications will be read and scored by three professionals outside of Hopkins County. Scoring will factor in funding need, three-year project or initiative description and budget, strategic plan, monitoring and evaluation plan, sustainability and alignment with the foundation’s goals.

Grants to Schools awards will be announced and distributed beginning in February, information supplied at the program and on the program website stated. Once awarded, the schools will meet annually with the foundation director to see how the project is progressing, based on data provided by the recipient school.

Shrode said she would be glad to meet with schools in collaborative efforts, to speak to staff and community members about the John and Deborah Gillis Foundation and the grants available to schools.


The Gillises hope the passion they have for this foundation and program will carry over into the community, to generate more donations and support to benefit even more students and schools, John Gillis said at official foundation launch Tuesday. The foundation is not opposed to fundraisers if others are interested in helping provide opportunities for Hopkins County students.

Anyone who would like to contribute to the effort may make out checks, donate funds online through Paypal on the foundation website or contact Shrode at 972-849-8524 to schedule for it to be picked up. People can designate whether funds go toward scholarships or grants.

Additional Information regarding the process of applying for the Grants to Schools and Bright Stars Scholarship programs are on the foundation’s website,


Faith Huffman is a member of the news team at the Sulphur Springs News-Telegram and covers education, crime and events. She can be reached at 903-885-8663 or by emailing

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