Even the leader of the largest school district in the state, boasting 25,000 students, has to have a little fun.
It’s 9:45 a.m. when Springfield Public Schools Superintendent John Jungmann pushes off the shore in a kayak onto Lake Springfield. He paddled to meet up with a dozen middle school students and instructors with Outdoor U, part of the district’s Explore summer school program.
“I called in this weather just for us,” he says.
Jungmann stops in classrooms on a weekly basis during the school year, and he visits summer courses in each Explore session. Since he was hired five years ago, Jungmann has put a priority on summer school enrollment, increasing average attendance from 2,500 students to a record 13,000 this summer.
On the water, Jungmann comes alongside several kids and easily navigates conversation.
“This is fun,” says 12-year-old Ezra Gillham. “The water is warm.”
Jungmann, 42, began his career 20 years ago, teaching high school English in Lamar. He’s a natural educator, and teachable moments seem to be all around him. At one point, a student accidentally swipes Jungmann’s head with her paddle. “Oh boy!” he says, maneuvering her paddle back into the water. “There you go. Good job,” he says.
Back on shore, Jungmann heads to another Explore class meeting across town at the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks Inc.
During his drive, Jungmann fields calls as he preps for the evening’s SPS Board of Education meeting. It’s going to be a long day, but Jungmann says he’s used to putting in 12-hour workdays.
At 10:45, Jungmann grabs a pole and a worm and joins the elementary students learning how to fish. There’s not much catching going on beyond strands of moss. Jungmann jumps at the chance to lend a hand.
“This is a good-looking worm,” he tells 6-year-old Lydia Crafton. “We need to loosen this a little. Now, reel it back in.”
Jungmann heads back to the office about 11:15, making a pit stop at Taco Bell.
His next formal meeting is at 12:30 p.m. with school leadership regarding the transition plan for two of his executive staff in their last week with the district: Mike Dawson and Marty Moore.
While the rest of the meeting attendees are clicking away on their laptops, Jungmann is sitting out on note taking. Instead, he’s leaned in and listening to his team members’ questions and concerns. As the quarterback of the district’s massive operation, comprising 3,500 employees, he looks to his team for insight and then gives decisive direction.
“I’m sure there will be other things that come up, but this is the team that needs to connect,” Jungmann says. “Let’s go forth and conquer.”
He heads back to his office at 1:20 to review travel plans with Kathy Looten, the executive office liaison. He’s planning trips to Washington, D.C., and Denver in July for education conferences. But his travel plans for the coming week have only family on the agenda. He’s going to Riviera Maya, Mexico, with his wife Kerry and three daughters, Halle, 17, Macie, 14, and Jolie, 7. Jungmann says he takes 10-15 vacation days a year.
In his corner office at the Kraft Administration Center, the superintendent has a standing desk and a traditional seated desk. Noticeably missing is a desktop computer. Jungmann opts for a Mac laptop and iPad. A few papers line his desk, but it’s tidy. He has at least a hundred books on leadership and educating kids on the bookshelves, as well as photos of his kids throughout the years and Arkansas Razorbacks memorabilia. He earned his doctorate in education from the University of Arkansas in 2006.
It’s time for another meeting in the boardroom at 1:30. Jungmann transitions seamlessly from topic to topic in his day stacked with meetings. He uses a stylus to take handwritten notes on his iPad and borrows Chief Learning Officer Dawson’s pen to sign a document.
“Oh yeah, you’re paperless. How is it working out for you?” asks Ben Hackenwerth, SPS executive director of innovation and information.
“My backpack is lighter,” Jungmann quips.
There’s time for a two-minute break before his next appointment with Linda Rosenbury, a doctoral student at Harvard University who has been shadowing Jungmann for the past two days. The former principal from New York asks why there isn’t contention between the board and teachers like in other communities across the country.
“There’s a deep appreciation and understanding that teaching is hard,” he says. “Our board values the work of our educators.”
Between meetings, Jungmann turns to his work phone to answer emails. He typically receives 150 a day. He also picks up his personal cell to get an update on his daughter, Halle, who is playing in a golf tournament.
Another group, including Deputy Superintendent Carol Embree, file into the boardroom to meet on the district’s virtual learning initiative, Launch.
It’s a quick meeting, as Embree and Jungmann at 3:15 head to a retirement party at the Bentley Administrative Building for Ann White.
“Fabulous work,” Jungmann tells White, who worked at SPS for nearly 28 years. “You deserve retirement.”
The two make it back to the office at 3:55 to make final preparations for the 5:30 board meeting.
Tonight’s agenda is packed. Most notably, the board will vote on a revised compensation structure and the $286 million in budget expenditures for 2019-20, a 4.8%-7.1% increase over last year pending the end of the fiscal year. Jungmann says a consultant’s review of SPS’ employee wages found educator pay was at or above market average, but support staff members were below the mark. The new budget works to set that straight.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Springfield Education Support Personnel representative Sarah Smythe thanks the board for making support staff wages more equitable.
Jungmann is all smiles during her speech and mouths “awesome” at the end.
The board approves all motions 7-0, and the meeting wraps up just before 8, followed by a closed-door executive session.
After the long day, Jungmann and a group of SPS leadership head downtown to Falstaff’s Local to celebrate Dawson’s four years of service to the district.
A night owl, Jungmann wraps up his evening answering emails and preparing for tomorrow, another full day serving Springfield’s students.
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