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Nixa’s Stephen Kleinsmith: With Retirement in Sight, Looking Back on 16 Years

Dr. Stephen Kleinsmith
Scott Harvey

When Dr. Stephen Kleinsmith was informed of the superintendent’s vacancy at Nixa Public Schools in 2000, he initially didn’t show much interest.

The Iowa native was at the time assistant superintendent at Millard Public Schools outside of Omaha, Nebraska. When his sister and sister-in-law, both of whom lived in nearby Springfield, informed him of the opening at Nixa, “I thought they said Hixa,” Kleinsmith said.

He would eventually do some research on the district and city, and found a “safe, secure community; progression attitudes. And so I decided to look into it and two interviews later they offered the job.”

Kleinsmith, who recently announced he will retire in 2018, said when he first came to Nixa the district was hungry for change.

“Change is inevitable but the pain is optional, is how I approach things. Because it takes a special attitude and this community has that attitude of wanting to be progressive but not foolish along the way. We wanna be risk takers but sensible at it – reasonable with risk-taking,” Kleinsmith said.

He calls the district’s strategic planning efforts the number one producer of good, quality change. Examples include the John Thomas School of Discovery, the first Missouri elementary magnet school to focus on STEM education.

“That came about because not only a strong school board but the acceptable of a recommendation that came through strategic planning.”

Kleinsmith credits the community for electing a strong school board during his time in Nixa and likely before, he says. He also thanks the voters for the various measures they’ve approved throughout his tenure, noting the district has “pass every bond issue we’ve pursued” over that span. That includes five community safe rooms that double as education space at various district buildings. Three years ago Nixa had none.

He says there’s been a lot of trust built up within the community, and that has aided the district in improving its services and better educating students.

As far as state appropriations, Kleinsmith says it could be better.

“Unfortunately in Nixa we spend about $2,000 to $1,800 less than the state average per pupil. So we get a lot of bang for our buck in Nixa. That’s good. We’re frugal. But if we got just the average per pupil expenditure rate to spend on kids we could do so much more for our kids of our community and the community at large.”

That scenario requires careful prioritization, says Kleinsmith, who feels confident the district is spending the money it does have on what matters most. The Nixa superintendent had high marks for Missouri lawmakers, but hopes to see more out of Congress, which he concedes may have to wait until after the November general election.

State and federal appropriations are challenges faced by most superintendents. For Kleinsmith, health has been a major challenge for some time.

About 10 years ago he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Today, Kleinsmith says he feels blessed with his progress.

“The medication’s helpful, I think just good common sense of keeping yourself emotionally level and exercising and eating properly all contribute to a healthy tomorrow,” said Kleinsmith.  

He’s notes the great support received from his wife Kari, who serves as a Nixa school counselor, and has always “been in my corner.” Kleinsmith says ones health can serves as a motivator to get the most out of life, and the key to a good life starts with a good education.

In retirement, Kleinsmith says he looks forward to spending more time with Kari, who he met 26 years ago, and their two children Elijah and Jacob.

Today, Nixa Public Schools employs over 750 and has some 6,100 students. In announcing his retirement two years ahead of time, Kleinsmith says he wants his current employer to have plenty of time to find the best candidate.

“There’s a man or woman out there that’s gonna find Nixa their home and take it to a whole new level of quality education; I’m certain of that.”

Above, hear the full interview with Dr. Stephen Kleinsmith.