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2017 Most Influential Women: Karen McKnight

Nixa Public Schools

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Karen McKnight believes in leading by example – and she’s not afraid to blaze the trail for others. Her resume is filled with firsts, spanning a 16-year career with Nixa Public Schools.

McKnight began her career in Nixa as a kindergarten through sixth grade special education teacher. Now, she is executive director of special services, overseeing 175 employees and 750 students – 14 percent of the school’s population. Under her administration, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education found the special services department was in 100 percent compliance.

As special services executive director, McKnight established the annual Nixa Eagles Soaring Together rally, connecting students in special education with high school athletes for a fun night playing sports.

“By our fourth year, this event has grown to over 110 student participants and 150-plus volunteers,” McKnight says.

Prior to assuming this role, McKnight was Nixa High School’s activities and athletics director for seven years, where she was one of the first administrators in southwest Missouri to complete requirements to become a certified athletic administrator.

McKnight founded the Athletic Leadership Council – leading the high school to obtain Missouri State High School Activities Association’s 5-Star Banner School accolade each year following the council’s inception. This also contributed to the high school becoming a National Blue Ribbon School.

“There are only a handful of women across the state who have had the good fortune to lead such a highly competitive athletic program. As a female in a profession typically dominated by men, I worked hard to earn the respect of my peers,” McKnight says. “I feel like I left the Nixa High School athletic and activities program in a better place than I found it.”

McKnight graduated with her specialist’s degree in 2007 and recently added superintendency to her educational certificate. She is a board member of Christian County Enterprises, and was a team member of the strategic planning committee for Nixa Public School during three cycles. She’s also been an adjunct professor for Southwest Baptist University.

“I have known Karen as a colleague for 18 years,” Nixa Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Kleinsmith says. “I consider Mrs. McKnight’s leadership and citizen efforts to be exemplary.

“She inspires others to take an active role in community affairs and does so by getting involved herself.”

Kleinsmith attributes McKnight’s motivation to her love for Nixa and desire to see its community thrive.

“The real testimony to Mrs. McKnight’s contribution as a Nixa citizen can be seen from her sincere pride, her love for Nixa and the surrounding communities,” he says. “I believe, from her giving spirit, she is a citizen we can all be proud of because she has walked the talk. Karen helps us remember our obligations to help the Nixa community realize our full potential.”

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