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2016 Men of the Year Honoree: Kevin Kopp

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A leader must be willing. Kevin Kopp is willing.

As executive director of elementary education for Nixa Public Schools, Kopp believes a leader does not have to be the smartest, most gifted or most talented.

“I never once felt completely prepared,” he says of his 18 years in public education. “A leader must be willing, and to be willing, a leader must have courage and bravery to do what’s right, take risks and make a difference.”

Under his watch, Century Elementary became a Gold Star school and Nixa opened the first magnet STEAM school in southwest Missouri – focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Kopp also helped navigate the turbulent waters when the district changed boundary lines, implemented new state standards and updated its literacy program.

Nixa Superintendent Stephen Kleinsmith says Kopp walks the talk in leadership.

“He inspires others to take an active role in educating our children through community affairs and does so by getting himself involved,” Kleinsmith says.

Kopp’s dedication isn’t contained to brainpower, but rather overall well-being. He’s chairman of the Nixa School Health Advisory Council, which has held events such as Marathon Madness, Nixpo 5K and Nutrition Night. Far and away the council’s biggest success is Student Iron Chef.

Like the popular Food Network TV show, the student version is a test of culinary skill. The fourth-annual competition brought 80 students ranging from kindergarten to junior high to battle it out in a pizza challenge using only vegetables as toppings.  

“By involving students, we can motivate them to cook at home with their families,” Kopp says. “It was exciting to hear the stories of how families went grocery shopping together and cooked together to practice for the event.”

Kopp’s efforts to raise health awareness didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, they gained attention at the highest level – from the White House.

“I was invited to the White House by first lady Michelle Obama and attended a gathering she hosted for all the schools demonstrating excellence in health,” he says.

A former teacher at Springfield Public Schools and a 10-year elementary school principal, Kopp is a member of several education organizations, including the state and national associations of elementary school principals and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Kopp has a doctorate in education from the University of Missouri, a master’s and specialist in education from Missouri State University and a bachelor’s in elementary education from Evangel University.

Outside of the classroom, Kopp dedicates his time to the Nixa Senior Center, mobilizing students to plant flowers at the center and raise plants to give away.

“The looks on the seniors’ faces were priceless,” he says of the surprise botanical gifts. “The true enjoyment came later when our students spent time with the seniors.”

Each day, Kopp asks one simple question: What’s next?

And his response is always the same: “I’m willing.”

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