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Jason Steingraber readily pinpoints why he went into education.
“I have a heart for the struggling learner. This is easily my No. 1 motivation on a daily basis,” say Steingraber, principal of Springfield Public Schools’ Pershing K-8 School. “Struggling learners are everywhere. This is where we need to tap into the idea of a growth mindset.”
Steingraber began his career with SPS in 1998 as a speech language pathologist. He transitioned into leadership in 2007 and served as principal at Bowerman and Wilder elementary schools before moving in 2020 to Pershing, which has over 1,000 students and 90 staff.
“I actively involve students and staff in facilitating school improvement efforts and empower them to act when they see needs around them,” Steingraber says. “I work to build collaborative relationships with parents and community members to assist in growing the possibilities. … Changes in community demographics and the wide-ranging needs of our students add to our growth as a system.”
Steingraber has experience adapting as circumstances demand, including during his principalship at Wilder, when cultural changes due to neighborhood demographics required innovative strategies and adjustments in instructional paradigms.
“We began to see a marked increase in our free and reduced [meal] status,” Steingraber says. “Additionally, Wilder became an English language learning site [and we] added a communication, sensory and socialization classroom for students with educational diagnoses of autism. … All these occurrences helped us refocus our hiring strategies, hone our instructional practices and ultimately continue to support and nurture the positive and exhilarating culture we had at Wilder.”
When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, eventually closing schools, pivoting on a daily basis became the norm for Steingraber, who was winding down his decade of leadership at Wilder while managing the transition to Pershing. He was committed to meeting every Pershing staff member before summer began – and he did, speaking with each person over Zoom, a new technology for many.
Taking on a new leadership role during a pandemic required constant communication and shared problem solving.
“Not only were our teachers and staff balancing the seated and virtual world, but our families, and especially our students, were navigating this,” Steingraber says. “We were provided the challenge of educating nearly 1,000 students and, even with these unprecedented challenges, we are seeing exceptional growth in our students in reading and math. Student engagement has risen from the previous year.”
Steingraber is president of the Missouri Association of Elementary School Principals; a graduate of Leadership Springfield; past president of the Springfield Association of Elementary School Principals; and a former Springfield Business Journal 40 Under 40 recipient.
The first downtown Springfield branch for Arvest Bank opened; a longtime licensed massage therapist became a first-time business owner; and 7 Brew Coffee opened its fourth shop in Springfield.