Greenwood Promise taps former Beyond Abuse chief as executive director

ADAM BENSON - INDEX-JOURNAL Kris Burris took over as executive director of The Greenwood Promise on Monday.

From her work with survivors of child and sexual abuse to helping first-generation or disabled students navigate the world of higher education at Piedmont Technical College, Kris Burris has made a career out of helping others.

Which is why her new role as executive director of The Greenwood Promise is such a natural fit, Burris said.

“Since the announcement of Greenwood Promise, I’ve followed it. I am a huge supporter of higher education and secondary education, and I’ve always believed the more education you have, the more choices you have in life,” said Burris, who stepped in to lead the program Monday. “I’ve seen the wonderful programs and what students are able to accomplish when they have those degrees.”

Seniors in the class of 2017 -- who graduate in June -- are the first group of students eligible for The Greenwood Promise scholarship money. The campaign has raised $5 million since October 2015 to assist students who have lived in the county since at least freshman year of high school with tuition support to earn an associate degree or the final two years of a bachelor’s degree.

Burris came to The Greenwood Promise after spending the past three years as director of student support services at Piedmont Technical College. Before that, she worked for 11 years at Beyond Abuse starting as a counselor and working her way up to executive director.

Burris, a first-generation college graduate, said The Greenwood Promise, which is one of about 150 of its kind around the country, can alter the trajectory of a young person’s life.

“For me, what makes this appealing is what it can do for youth, what it will do to inspire them and give them hope. I look at it as a holistic approach. If you're a first-generation college student, you may not be hearing this in your home, you may not be encouraged to go past high school, but we can go to students starting in K-5 and send a message that 'you can do this, and you can afford to do this' and that will make a difference in who they are as adults,” she said.

Burris, a single mother whose daughter, Kayla, is a freshman at Wofford College, said higher education was always a focal point in her family. Kayla was 3 when Burris obtained her graduate degree.

“I do think it takes that one person who completes that college degree that changes the dynamics of the family,” she said.

Burris said she’s developing a plan so officials can track the first cohort of Promise students by graduation rate, retention and whether they transfer to a four-year institution.

Ron Millender, chairman of the Greenwood Promise Steering Committee, said Burris’ vision for the initiative was a key factor in her hiring.

“She knows a lot of what we need to be doing to get out into this community. I think she was an excellent choice,” he said. “She has a good plan put together.”

Contact staff writer Adam Benson at 864-943-5650 or on Twitter @ABensonIJ.