SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — There’s still a lot to know about Dr. Grenita Lathan, recently named the next Superintendent of Springfield Public Schools (the State of Missouri’s largest School District). Ozarks First asked Dr. Lathan 10 questions, each giving her an opportunity to reflect on both her career and future in Springfield.
Of all the jobs you’ve had, which one was your favorite?
My most rewarding position was being a principal at an alternative school in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. In my role there, I felt like I was helping to restore lives. Our goal was to help students get back to their traditional school setting. I was able to help the students live the lives that they envision for themselves, or if they didn’t have that vision yet, providing them opportunities so they could dream.
What is your guiding philosophy behind education?
Every child in a school district’s care is entitled to receive a quality education. Every child should have an effective teacher in the classroom and an effective principal leading the building.
In your personal life, who has had the biggest impact on you?
The people in my personal life that have had the biggest impact on me have been my mother and late grandmother.
What does it mean to you being the first person of color to serve as superintendent at Springfield Public Schools?
As I was growing up and advancing in my profession, it was inspirational for me to see people I could identify within leadership positions. It would be gratifying if I could serve as a similar role model for others.
In the past, the NAACP has accused SPS of not doing enough to combat racism in schools and not making minority students feel included. What inclusion and diversity efforts will your hire bring to the district?
One of the things that attracted me to SPS was its strategic plan, which specifically addresses equity and diversity. I think the Board of Education’s focus on equity and diversity puts us in a good position to continue to make strides in that area. I understand that may seem like a big rock to lift, but I believe as a community we can address inequities that exist, not only in the school district but in the community. Achieving that will require that we work collaboratively as a team to meet the needs of every child we serve.
What do you think the virtual/in-person class situation will look like when you take your position?
It is my hope that at least 90 percent of students will return to in-person learning for the upcoming school year.
What’s a favorite memory from your career so far?
Hearing from former students about the impact that I had on their lives is an honor. I know how important teachers were to me, so it is gratifying to hear that I was able to be a positive influence in their lives.
What’s a favorite movie of yours?
The Five Heartbeats, which is about the rise and fall of an African American vocal group.
To the best of your knowledge who is the best teacher of all time?
In my opinion, the best teacher of all time is one who makes a personal connection to their students and pushes them to excel beyond what they could imagine. One particular professor that I had at North Carolina A&T State University, Dr. Uzochukwu comes to mind.
Students commonly ask, “will I ever use algebra in real life?” … will they?
This the same question that I asked in high school and college. And the answer is “YES”! Never could I have imagined that I would have oversight of million/billion-dollar budgets.