There are a couple of things you notice when sitting down to talk with Dr. John Jungmann.
The first is the use of the words “we” and “our.” As the superintendent of Springfield Public Schools discusses his role within the district, there’s very little “me” or “I.”
Instead, it’s “our mission.” It’s “what we work to deliver.”
As he speaks, there’s very much a sense of collective effort – one that can be seen in action outside his office door within the district administration building. It’s just days before the start of the 2019-20 school year in what has become that state’s largest school district, and the wide, open office is bustling with activity.
Then there’s the obvious passion Jungmann has for education, his community and for creating a level playing field for each and every student, no matter their background.
Jungmann grew up in Lamar, the youngest of six kids. While education wasn’t initially on his career radar, he definitely appreciated the impact made by his time at Lamar High School.
“We had some great teachers and a principal who always encouraged me,” he says. “I was inspired by educators and became the first of the six kids to pursue a four-year degree.”
As he began his studies at Missouri Southern, it was as a freshman who had already been bitten by the journalism bug.
As a high-school student, he began covering sports for the local newspaper, the Lamar Democrat.
“I started as a sports writer when I was just a sophomore in high school,” says Jungmann. “I also did some general assignment stories, covering school board and city council meetings.
“That spurred out of my journalism class … my teacher, Mary Kuhn, helped connect me with the Democrat and created this opportunity to engage with the adult world at the age of 16. Those experiences really shaped me. They created confidence, shaped my understanding of political dynamics and education, and put me on my course.”
While he continued to write full-time for the Lamar newspaper, Jungmann couldn’t forget the lasting impact that educators had on his life and soon felt called to switch his major to education.
“It was a great journey for me,” he says of his time at Missouri Southern. “It was a smaller college environment and I had a good rapport with my teachers. The Education Department created learning experiences for us that were meaningful.
“I was able to do my student teaching in Lamar and do a junior-level internship in Carthage. As a commuter, fulltime worker and first generation college student, it was perfect for those scenarios.”
A Full Education Experience
Jungmann graduated from MSSU in December of 1998, returning to Lamar High School as an English teacher. After three and a half years, he continued his career in Monett.
His colleagues encouraged him to continue his education and he pursued his master’s degree at Missouri State and his doctorate at the University of Arkansas. His career arc took him from the front of the classroom to an assistant high-school principal position, and then middle-school principal before serving four years as Monett’s superintendent.
He later served as superintendent of Liberty Public Schools before the position in Springfield opened in 2014.
“What’s drawn me throughout my career is where to have the most impact on the most students, and to raise a family,” says Jungmann. “Springfield was an opportunity to serve more students closer to home.”
So what does the day-to-day look like for the Springfield superintendent? It’s all about collaboration in service of the district’s mission, he says.
“In general, my job is to collaborate with our team of amazing educators and support staff to support our 25,000 students,” says Jungmann. “It’s working with our leadership team, our board of education and our community on casting the vision and mission of this system and then monitoring to ensure we’re executing on behalf of our kids.
“We want to make improvements to graduation rates and programming to better serve our students. Our mission is to ensure every student has the opportunity to encounter engaging, personal and relevant learning experiences every day.”
Successful initiatives have include the Launch program, which offers online opportunities for students from 200 schools across the state; and Ignite, which ensures students across the district have the same access to the Internet, online resources and technology.
Perhaps the biggest indicator that the vision is taking hold in the community was the April 2 passage of Proposition S, a bond issue planned to address 39 projects throughout the district.
It called for renovations and reconstruction at six buildings, an early childhood education program expansion and safety upgrades throughout the district. Voters approved the initiative, with 61 percent casting votes in favor.
“We’re incredibly blessed to have a community that values public education and rallies around our students in a multitude of ways,” says Jungmann.
“Springfield is an education environment. There’s education through Missouri State University, Ozarks Technical Community College, Drury University, Evangel University and Springfield Public Schools. By the time you add all of those together, there’s somewhere around 60,000 students going to school every day, from early childhood through graduate school.”
He and his wife, Kerry, are the parents of three girls – ages 17, 14 and 7 – which offers a completely different view of the school district.
“We’re blessed to have a full education experience every day, from both work and through the eyes of our kids,” he says.