Our Executive Director

Michael Marks - Executive Director

Michael Marks Headshot

Michael Marks is a former Mississippi Teacher of the Year, National Milken Educator and America’s Outstanding Teacher of the Performing Arts, currently serving as National Executive Director of Schools Against Vaping.

Instructor of theatre for over 20 years at Hattiesburg High School, he directed over 50 productions including The Wiz, which played at The International Theatre Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. Under his direction, Music Theatre International selected HHS as America’s Best High School Performing Arts Department. His theatre students have originated roles in national shows from Broadway’s Hairspray to Marvel’s Black Panther to NCIS: New Orleans. HHS Thespians became the first high school in America to establish a chapter of Equity Fights AIDS on its campus.

As debate coach at Hattiesburg High School, he qualified students to national tournaments in every event. His mock trial teams claimed eight state championships and as many Top Ten finishes in national competition. He served on the Deep South District Committee, chaired The Mississippi District, and served as a national parliamentarian for the National Forensic League (now National Speech and Debate Association), and founded the Biloxi Catholic Forensic League.

As a playwright, his Hattiesburg High School docudrama, The Katrina Project: Hell and High Water, toured the continental United States, including a performance in Dallas at the National Forensics League Tournament; enjoyed a command performance for Congress; and received the NEA’s National Human and Civil Rights award. The show was recently revived for the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and to date has generated over $400,000 in relief benefits for natural disaster victims in our country.

As former president of The Mississippi Association of Educators, he once negotiated a 36% pay raise for his state’s educators. As former Executive Officer of the 3.3-million-member National Education Association, he was responsible for the National Read Across America Program. He represented America at The Education International Conference in Berlin, keynoted the India Teachers Conference and championed diversity via workshops he presented in Barbados. In addition, he served as National Treasurer of The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and chaired the Hattiesburg Mayoral Health Council. He also chaired the National Task Force on Early Childhood Education and Sales & Marketing Professionals’ Pinnacle Awards.

A founding director and former President of The Miss Mississippi Pageant Local Directors Association, he holds the distinction of having his contestant win the state title for a record 4 times. In addition, he directed the Miss Mississippi Troupe and served as talent coach for Mississippi’s last national winner. In addition to a Miss America title, his former students have also included an America’s Junior Miss (now America’s Distinguished Young Woman) and Miss Teen of America.

When funding was recently cut from the Hattiesburg High School Debate Team, he organized Speak Up, Hattiesburg, a community-built coalition that raised $16K to keep the speech and debate team on the road. Speech and Debate coaches from across the country recognized his efforts with their Josephine Dukes National Teacher of the Year distinction. A member of the Public Relations Association of Mississippi, he is co-author of the book, Katrina: Ten Years After and serves as Vice-President of Downtown Hattiesburg Association, and on the boards of Promote the Vote, Interim President of the Family YMCA of Southeast Mississippi, Southern Miss Partners for the Arts, Mississippi Miss Hospitality Competition and is Secretary of the Pine Belt Foundation and CEO for the educational and arts consulting firm Stage, Style & Study, LLC.

He is a brother of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and a lifetime member of the NAACP. For his exceptional community service, he received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award from his alma mater, The University of Southern Mississippi. He is a former principal of Mississippi’s ADEPT Dropout Recovery School, former Public Relations Coordinator at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, and recently raised thousands of dollars to provide Chromebooks for Hattiesburg Public School District students in order to facilitate distance learning during the pandemic, as chair of the Hattiesburg Hall of Fame. In the City of Hattiesburg, he has recently been appointed as both Commissioner of Hattiesburg Tourism and Municipal Elections Commissioner. He is Founder of the non-profit goodwill organization, Mississippi United.

Testimonials From Former Students

Alabama

“For a lot of students no the debate team, Michael Marks was as close to us as our own parents. We could always talk to him about real world problems. We knew he really cared. He was a genuine mentor.”

Chad Cooley

Educator, Hoover High School; Birmingham, Alabama

Alaska

“Marks traditionally served as the emcee for the university’s summer band camp. A hit with high school musicians, he has a real flair for connecting with kids.”

Jimmy Harrington

Elementary School Music Educator; Fairbanks, Alaska

Arizona

“What I remember about Coach Marks was that he taught six academic classes, staged four full scale musicals a year, coached the debate team, mock trial team, and still had time to take drama classes on field trips to see professional theatre. His energy amazes me!”

Michael Shemper

Former Instructor of Communication, Arkansas State University; Jonesboro, Arkansas

Arkansas

“As an interview coach, he was second to none. Interviewing and landing a job as a teacher was a breeze after his class unity on Job Pursuit.”

Michelle Manguno

Former Instructor of Communication, Arkansas State University; Jonesboro, Arkansas

California

“Michael has always allowed me the freedom to find my own way as an actor and as an individual. He helped me to understand that life, like art, must be explored and lived without a net. Michael was unwavering in his support of me as a human being and that allowed the fledgling artist in me to thrive in a safe, creative, and utterly loving environment. I’m proud to say he is one of the finest teachers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.”

Miles Doleac

All My Children Cast; Hollywood, California

California

“As an African-America, I appreciated the lessons that Mr. Marks taught us about interpersonal problems in diverse settings. His college public address course always underscored the value of communicating with people from all walks of life.”

Robert L. Magee

Regional General Manager (Great Los Angeles Area), Pacific Bell Directories; Los Angeles, California

California

“As an Economics graduate of Harvard, I now negotiate deals for a living, and the ability to see all sides while remaining consistent with the goals of the company is crucial. The critical reasoning and improvisational skills Mr. Marks instilled in me, refined over countless hours of practice, repetition, and competition, has made the million-dollar negotiation an inferior challenge.”

Charles Phillips

Director of Business Development, Certive Corporation; Mountain View, California

Colorado

“Now that I look back at high school, Coach Marks really worked our tails off! We didn’t mind, though, because we wanted to be the best and we wanted him to be proud of us.”

J Corbett Kobs

Aspen, Colorado

Florida

“I always admired his gung-ho spirit. He could get us excited about anything!”

Robert Keating

Music Educator, Gulliver Academy; Miami, Florida

Georgia

“What Michael Marks has taught me as friend, teacher, and mentor, was not limited to the arts, drama, or speech. He instilled in me a drive to exceed, excel, and to never be complacent. I owe much of my early success to Mr. Marks and am grateful to have a continuing friendship with him.”

Allen N. Burke

Senior Accountant, Ernst & Young, LLP; Atlanta, Georgia

Georgia

“Mr. Marks always taught us that personal success means nothing if you don’t improve the lives of those around you. Following his example, I am an attorney by day and volunteer community educator by night.”

Sam Westmoreland

Attorney/Instructor of Law, American Intercontinental University; Roswell, Georgia

Illinois

“Not only did he teach me to act and speak, but he taught me the importance of being involved in my community, state, and nation as a citizen and as an advocate for what we do and what we love—teaching.”

Stacey Matthews Overstreet

Classroom Teacher, Alternative School; Evanston, Illinois

Illinois

“Our production of A Raisin in the Sun sold out during Black History Month. Boy, were we proud to be in the cast of the first held over showcase in school history! The quality of Mr. Marks’ shows always produced capacity crowds.”

Gerald Carpenter

Publisher/Printer, Quebecor; Chicago, Illinois

Indiana

“The single greatest asset afforded the United States, and indeed any nation, as we move into the next millennium, is people. Developing a globally competitive workforce is critical to our future. On an individual basis being an expert in one field is obviously important, but Michael Marks, my high school debate coach, taught me that real competitive edge is derived from embracing many disciplines. The ability to think across many disciplines results in a synergy that will be required to drive creative solutions for tomorrow’s challenges.”

Bryan Brister

Research Scientist, General Electric Plastics; Evansville, Indiana

Kentucky

“Of all my high school studies, Mr. Marks’ speech communication class added the most value to my life. As A.R. Gurney, Jr. said in his play, The Dining Room, ‘It prepared me for life in the work-a-day world.”

Rev. Chad Grissom

University Christian Fellowship; Lexington, Kentucky

Louisiana

“As a lawyer practicing in the field of complex commercial litigation, I find that I still call upon the fundamentals of oral advocacy and communication first instilled in me by Mr. Michael Marks.”

Matthew T. Brown

Jones, Walker, Waechter, Poitvent, Carrere, & Denegre, LLP; New Orleans, Louisiana

Massachusetts

“Who would have thought that the research skills I first began to hone as a member of Michael Marks’ debate and mock trial teams would later become so useful?! My field of research touches on many ‘hot’ political issues—Social Security, pensions, saving—and I’m often called upon to explain research findings to the press, politicians, and other economists. I am indebted to Mr. Marks for those all-important communication skills that many of my colleagues were never given an opportunity to develop.”

Jeremy Zipple

Associate Economist, Center for Retirement Research; Boston, Massachusetts

Michigan

“I bugged him for eight months to play guitar with the professional musicians in the pit orchestra of Jesus Christ Superstar. Finally he gave me a shot. Now, I play Broadway shoes all over the country.”

Clifton Hyde

Professional Musician; Kalamazoo, Michigan

Michigan

“I was a football jock who was determined to land a spot on the varsity debate team. Coach Marks believed that students ought to be well-rounded and gave me a chance to prove myself.”

Chris Phillips

Lansing, Michigan

Mississippi

“Realizing the need for more minority educators, Marks insisted that I consider teacher as a career choice. It is no coincidence that I ended up president of the MAE Student Program.”

Tim Bourne

Governor of Boys State; Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Mississippi

“He was a task master when it came to preparing for the national pageant in Atlantic City. I appreciated, sincerely, his ability to critique, correct, and build character simultaneously. He always said, ‘All talent is – is knowing that you can do something well.’”

Susan Akin Lynch

Miss America 1986, Motivational Speaker; Carthage, Mississippi

Mississippi

“La familia es muy importante. Through my work in the private sector, I put my mother through school, but Michael never let me forget my dream of becoming a teacher. At his urging, I went back to school and earned both my teaching credentials and a seat on the NEA Board of Directors.”

Raphael Scott Waldrop

Business Communications Instructor, Antonelli College, Petal, Mississippi

Mississippi

“Although I earn my livelihood as support personnel for a public-school district, I fill my spare time by performing gospel music, a hobby I developed by being in Mr. Marks’ showchoir.”

Angela White Carter

Secretary, Hattiesburg Public Schools; Purvis, Mississippi

New Jersey

“Other than the football coach, Mr. Marks was the only other male teacher that I had my senior year. He was a good role model for us guys and a great listener when we had questions beyond X’s and O’s.”

Ted Harden

Stockbroker; Hoboken, New Jersey

New York

“As a props mistress, I kept up with the personal effects of students actors. He taught me to h ave pride in my work and that no job was unimportant.”

Kelli Palan

Public Relations Representative, Disney/Broadway; New York, New York

New York

“I always thought Mr. Marks’ attention to details was overboard. Now, as a producer of television commercials, I owe my longevity to what he taught me in theater production.”

Mackenzie Westmoreland

International Director of Communications, CYLO Productions; New York, New York

North Carolina

“If it hadn’t been for the opportunities in the drama department, I would never have finished school. Marks helped make high school palatable and gave me incentive to focus on all my studies.”

Paul Parkman

Data Processor; Chapel Hill, North Carolina

North Dakota

“When I served as president of The Dramat at Yale, I was grateful for the organizational skills and box office management techniques that I accrued working with Mr. Marks. When he interviewed here as a Yale director finalist, the committee was not only impressed with his body of work but with his sense of values as well.”

Kyle Jefcoat

Lawyer; Grand Forks, North Dakota

Pennsylvania

“As a community theatre student, I learned the true value of laughter. As a director, Marks has a way of putting those around him at ease.”

James Heatherington

International Finance Consultant; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania

“With Mr. Marks, theatre always mirrored real life. When we staged Oklahoma!, we gave the money to victims of the tragic bombing there. We were the first high school in The United States to officially join Broadway Cares/Equity Funds A.I.D.S. To combat teen drug abuse, we mounted the world premier of Raising Stallions, a show that involved an audience forum on drugs following the performance of this specially commissioned work.”

Rashad Naylor

Performer, Hershey Park Entertainment; Hershey, Pennsylvania

Russia

“Working with students in the break-away USSR republic of Georgia as an English translator, I understand the tremendous power of the spoken word. Michael marks is directly responsible for my career choice as a communicator.”

Sylvia Rogers

Educational Consultant; Moscow, Russia

South Carolina

“Even after he became state union president, he found time to help. His volunteer coaching at the extemporaneous speaking finals in Chicago helped me to do well at nationals.”

Cadet Lt. Colonel Patrick Fleming

The Citadel; Charleston, South Carolina

South Carolina

“As my college speech teacher, Marks helped me understand marketing a program to the public. That knowledge was crucial to me because 50% of my job is pure public relations.”

Dr. David O’Shields

Associate Director of Bands, University of South Carolina; Irmo, South Carolina

Tennessee

“Mr. Marks taught me the value of being a team player. I put many of the concepts that I learned in his college communication class to use in my daily work.”

Kenneth Leach

Musical Director, Governor’s Palace Theatre; Sevierville, Tennessee

Texas

“Coach Marks took us to competitions all over the country. To this day I still network with friends that I made at debate tournaments at schools like Harvard, Yale, and Wake Forest.”

Keith Gore

Assistant District Attorney; Dallas, Texas

Texas

“I had put off public speaking until my last semester at the University of Southern Mississippi. He gave me the confidence I needed to enter the job market.”

James Hannah

Director of Bands, Plano West Senior High School; Plano, Texas

Turkey

“Marks brings new meaning to the word ‘disciplined.’ By the time Opening Night arrived, we had actually become our characters. Once, as preparation for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he took the entire cast to visit a mental health hospital. He believed in being well-researched and infinitely prepared.”

Kristin Mauritz

Actress; Istanbul, Turkey

United Kingdom

“In his capacity as an instructor of musical theatre, he has taken students to perform around the world. He’s the teacher everybody wanted!”

Vicki Brown Caillouet

Housewife/mother; St. Mawgan, United Kingdom

Vermont

“During summer vacation I would teach dance to small children in my hometown. Marks recognized the educator in me and served as a great role model in my chosen profession.”

Rebecca Blouin

Instructor of Voice, Sonatina School of Music; Bennington, Vermont

Virginia

“As captain of Coach Marks’ mock trial team, I learned the value of analyzing facts and always asking ‘why’. Finishing in the Top Five at the national competition helped me gain exposure for college scholarships.”

Kimberly Smith Robertson

Research Analyst, Charlottesville Legal Aid Society; Charlottesville, Virginia

Washington

“I hated my debate partner. Coach Marks made us understand that only through teamwork could we be successful. My job requires that I work with people who are diverse and who have different values from me, Sixth Period Debate philosophy has gone a long way in life.”

David Bass

President, Eguage Computer Company; Bellvue, Washington

Washington

“The debate team that he inherited as a new coach was all white and all male. His inclusion of females and minorities brought not only diversity to the squad but eight State Championships as well!”

Mary Helen Bass

Accounts Manager, Tek Systems; Seattle, Washington

Washington, D.C.

“I knew after my first day on the floor of State Youth Congress that I wanted a career in politics. I thank Coach Marks for opening that door for me.”

Bret K. Boyles

Political Fundraiser; Washington, D.C