John Mulford

Despite a rainy start to the school year, Superintendent Dr. John Mulford is calling the opening a “smooth” success. Students returned to the classroom Wednesday.

Mulford said with the kickoff of the school year out of the way, he’s looking forward to his first year at the helm of Meramec Valley R-III.

“We’ve been very pleased with the start of the school year. Everything has gone really smoothly,” he said. “All the other things you worry about like transportation and food service — those sorts of things — have gone off without a hitch.”

Mulford was hired as superintendent of the district in October 2017, but only took the reins officially July 1. He replaces interim Superintendent Dr. Ed Hillhouse, who stepped into the position in July 2015 after the sudden death of Superintendent Randy George.

Before his hiring at Meramec Valley, Mulford worked in the West Plains R-VII School District for 16 years. That includes working four years as a math teacher at both the middle and high school level, while also serving as an assistant coach for many sports; middle school assistant principal; high school principal; and assistant superintendent. He was named superintendent of schools in 2013.

Mulford received his doctorate degree in educational leadership from Saint Louis University (SLU) in 2009, after previously earning his educational specialist degree from SLU as well. He also holds a master’s degree from William Woods University and undergraduate degree from Missouri State University.

At West Plains, he oversaw programs that embellished the accomplishment of the district’s brightest students and inspired at-risk students to achievements beyond all expectations.

Mulford could be found under an umbrella, greeting students and their families at Truman Elementary Wednesday morning. He said getting to know who he’s working for is a big part of the job.

At the monthly meeting of the school board, that same day, he lauded the efforts of the school’s staff in the months and weeks ahead of the school year and said it was because of their work that the first day of school went so well.

Even with the rain, Mulford said there were few problems throughout the district.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, Mulford said one of his main goals this school year will be improving communication with stakeholders. He said improving the way the school district distributes information and communicates with the area is key.

One step in the right direction, he said, was the board approving a system that will put school board agendas online. That’s just the beginning of a large-scale project to “fill gaps” of communication, a goal the board has asked Mulford to pay special attention to.

“We’re going to listen to our entire community and hear from them,” he said. “We’re going to take that information and implement it into our strategic plan to guide us forward.”

At a workshop in July, the board discussed proceeding with a community engagement process to gather input from the district’s faculty, staff and community through EdCounsel, a business that provides consultation to schools.

The hope, Mulford said, is to engage with the district’s stakeholders, and align that feedback with the current strategic plan. That feedback will help determine what the district needs to focus on going forward, he said.

“Our focus is how can we prepare kids for the future world that they are going to be living and working in. So we’ve started that dialogue,” he said. “We’re doing some self-reflection on our programs and progresses and starting a dialogue.”

Mulford said the discussions with the community will begin next month and he expects the results of that dialogue to be available by November.