June 18, 2008

Jeff Junior Principal to Move on


When Nyle Klinginsmith was assigned to student-teach at Jefferson Junior High School in the late 1960s, he was disappointed; he wanted to teach in a high school.

When he was offered a social studies teaching job at Jefferson Junior in 1970, Klinginsmith accepted with the understanding that he would stay only long enough to earn a master's degree, then move on to a larger district. And when he took the principal position there in 1998, he expected to retire within five years.

A decade later - 38 years after he took his first job at Jefferson Junior - Klinginsmith is officially moving on. He retires this month after serving as principal for 10 years, as a counselor and director of guidance at Jefferson Junior for 25 years and as a social studies teacher for three years.

When you ask Klinginsmith, who recently turned 60, why he never left the school, he doesn't hesitate to credit the employees. After all, it was the camaraderie and family atmosphere at the school that made him stay for nearly four decades.

"People here are always thinking about what they can do better for kids," he said. "This old building sits in the middle of town, and it's not one of the best buildings, but the best asset is the people who work within the walls of this building. I think Jefferson Junior is perceived as a good school, and I do not take credit for that. I can create conditions for that to happen, but the teachers and students make it happen."

Giving credit to teachers and viewing them as professional partners have been hallmarks of Klinginsmith's leadership style. He views being a principal as being part of a team rather than being a manager.

"Trust is huge," he said. "I respect and trust and believe in the people in this building. If you believe people want to do the right thing, they'll rise to that more than if they feel micromanaged or controlled."

Perhaps a testament to Klinginsmith's trust in his staff is the fact that Columbia Missouri National Education Association President Laurie Spate-Smith, Vice President Kathy Steinhoff and Columbia Community Teachers Association President Russ Crane are all Jefferson Junior High teachers. Spate-Smith and Steinhoff are especially known for speaking their minds at Columbia Board of Education meetings, even if their sentiments aren't popular with central office administrators.

Feeling support from Klinginsmith has played a big role in that, Spate-Smith said.

"He's so tolerant of us," she said. "He believes in our right to have a voice. ... We're going to miss our boss so much. He is just a kind, big-hearted man."

Klinginsmith has been back-and-forth about retirement. Last summer, he had made up his mind that the 2007-08 school year would be his last, but shortly after the school year began and he was back in the routine, he wasn't so sure he was ready to leave. The birth of his first grandchild this year coupled with the fact that the school year was a successful one prompted his decision to call it quits.

"I feel good about Jefferson Junior, and maybe that's a pretty good time to head out the door," he said. "I'm going to miss the heck out of Jefferson Junior. I'm going to miss getting up, putting on a tie, coming in and interacting with people who are funny, people who are good-hearted and good-natured, the kids and most of the parents most of the time. But I'm going to miss the teachers most of all."

Reach Janese Heavin at (573) 815-1705 or [email protected]

Originally published by JANESE HEAVIN of the Tribune's staff.

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