SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The principal of the Springfield Option Site started the job with little experience, but his hard work and determination to help young people led him to where he is today.

Ten years ago, Mark Simmonds started his education career at the Springfield Option Site as a paraprofessional. Ten years later, he is now the principal here at Springfield Option Site for Springfield Public Schools.

“We want our students to be the cliche good neighbors once they graduate and become adults,” said Simmonds.

This facility is where Simmonds has the biggest impact on young lives.

“I was an at-risk youth,” said Simmonds. “Coming in, being in state’s custody, being written off as a loss has always been tugged at my heartstrings, really just being able to support students in that way has always been my ultimate goal, let them know you can come up from the struggles that they don’t define you, they help you grow.”

Simmonds said he doesn’t look like a typical principal.

“I wear sneakers. I’m up to date with most of the new things that the kids know,” said Simmonds. “I try to stay up to date.”

The principal works hard to connect with kids and says representation is important.

“I’ve had several students who weren’t my students, but just because they identified with me being an African American teacher in the building that helps so many students graduate,” said Simmonds.

The impact Simmonds has made doesn’t stop in the classroom. He has several children he has adopted.

“I have several kids, including my own, who I’ve adopted,” said Simmonds.

Jonah, someone Simmonds had known since he was nine, was adopted when he was 17 by Simmonds.

“One of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my adult life,” said Simmonds.

The kindness of Simmonds inspired others.

“We’re going down the foster road just because he’s been there, and done it himself, so now we’re bringing a foster boy into our home,” said Kristina Callison, a teacher at Springfield Option Site. “Wouldn’t have done it without having him in my life.”

Simmonds says he wants future generations to know that you are not your past.