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McKenzie Robinson | SBJ

2021 Men of the Year: Gearl Loden

Nixa Public Schools

Posted online

Managing through a crisis tests even the strongest leaders. Gearl Loden has led three school districts as superintendent, but he says his greatest challenge and proudest accomplishment was helping Nixa Public Schools and its roughly 6,500 students and 1,300 employees navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

He knew early on how tough it would be to keep kids safe and continue their education.

“We’re in this for the long haul and the new normal is going to be something that we haven’t ever seen before,” he said in a March 2020 Facebook video. “This will transform the way we do things and probably shape education in the future across the nation.”

Masking, updated HVAC filters and a sanitation partnership with facilities management company Sodexo, including UVC light carts to zap the virus, all played a role, Loden says. While the Nixa community had a COVID-19 positivity rate of 20% and higher, he says Nixa Public Schools never reached above 0.5% in a single week.

Proactive planning also kept students engaged in education. Loden says district officials opted to send students home with computers before they left for spring break in case they didn’t return. That proved to be the case.

He says the John Thomas School of Discovery was the first elementary school in the state to resume seated classes on June 2, 2020.

“My future aspirations include continuing with improving from what we learned from COVID so that we can have safer, cleaner and healthier campuses, along with offering more hybrid learning opportunities and incorporating new learning opportunities such as virtual snow days,” he says.

Loden’s leadership of the district began in 2018, after six years as superintendent of Tupelo Public Schools and three years at Amory Public Schools, both in Mississippi.

In his first school year at Nixa, Loden championed the passage of a $15 million bond issue and tax levy to benefit the district. Voters approved both measures in April 2019, which he says was the first tax-levy increase in 14 years. The passage led to the building of The Aetos Center for the Performing Arts and a $1,000 raise for teachers.

Loden also has boosted health programs for students and staff, with free on-site clinics. An employee assistance program also helps employees with counseling, legal advice and financial consultation at no cost.

Loden says he’s also invested in mentoring fellow leaders at the district. He developed a monthly mentoring program with the purpose to “learn, grow and develop together in an environment that models being vulnerable.”

That development mindset also benefits teachers. Loden says the district has a partnership with Missouri State University to offer degrees in teacher and educational leadership. And students can explore the education field while earning dual credit at MSU.

Loden also is committed to community development. He organizes monthly meetings with representatives from the school board, local governments and chamber of commerce to vision cast and problem solve. He sits on the Show Me Christian County Board of Directors.


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