Skipper Ward: Navigating the Path to Educational Excellence in Magnolia, Arkansas
In the small town of Magnolia, Arkansas, where tight-knit communities and shared values are the norm, John “Skipper” Ward has become a figurehead of education and leadership. Known affectionately as “Skipper” to those who respect and admire him, he has dedicated 27 years of his life to the field of education, with 17 of those years spent as a superintendent. Skipper’s journey from an aspiring student of agriculture to a visionary leader in education is a testament to the unpredictable, yet rewarding path that life can take.
A Humble Beginning
Skipper’s story started far from the world of education. Originally, he set his sights on a career in the agriculture industry. After starting college, however, circumstances led him back to his family’s farm in Horatio, Arkansas, where he took a semester off. During that time, he found himself substitute teaching in the local schools of Horatio and Lockesburg. Little did he know, this experience would change the course of his life.
Teaching ignited a passion within Skipper, and with education deeply rooted in his family (both his parents former administrators), it wasn’t long before he transitioned into the world of teaching and administration. Skipper’s journey in education took him from elementary science teacher to elementary principal, all within the same school district where he considered home.
The Call to Magnolia
When the opportunity to lead the Magnolia School District arose, Skipper Ward was not actively seeking a change. However, sometimes fate has its way of nudging us in the right direction. He received a call that prompted him to consider the role in Magnolia, and after careful reflection, he decided it was the right time, the right opportunity, and the right community for him and his family.
Skipper’s predecessor had laid a strong foundation for the district, and he was determined to continue the positive momentum. Over the past 10 years in Magnolia, he had indeed upheld that promise, ensuring that the district was a place where he would be proud to raise his children.
A Frustrating Reality and a Passion for Students
As superintendent of the Magnolia School District, Skipper faces challenges every day that inspire and frustrate him. Recently, he found that the district was making gains in scores and performance, but there was one critical factor holding them back: student attendance. He lamented the fact that the only difference between an “A” school and a “D” school was whether or not students attended. Skipper recognizes the complexity of this issue, influenced by external factors often beyond the district’s control.
Rather than dwelling on the frustration, Skipper focuses on the positive aspects of his role. He highlights three favorite things about being a superintendent: providing opportunities for students – like Star Academy, seeing the big picture and making all the parts work together, and being around students to support them in their educational journeys. He is a firm believer that there are many aspects of the educational experience that take place outside of the classroom and beyond the curriculum aspect of education, and has always made it a priority and philosophy to encompass all aspects by utilizing his role as a decision-maker to give students unique learning opportunities.
Educational Initiatives and Challenges
Skipper’s tenure in Magnolia has coincided with significant changes in Arkansas education, particularly the passage of the LEARNS Act, a comprehensive piece of education legislation. This initiative encompassed a wide range of areas, from literacy and reading to teacher salaries and school safety. It presented both challenges and opportunities, including concerns about vouchers and their impact on public education. Nevertheless, Skipper has been determined to meet these challenges head-on, aiming to ensure that his district remains competitive and offers the best education possible for its students.
Forward-Thinking and Adaptability
Skipper Ward believes that adaptability and forward thinking are essential qualities for a superintendent. Education is an ever-changing environment, with new challenges emerging daily. To succeed, superintendents must connect with students, teachers, employees, and the community while staying ahead of the curve in planning for the future.
He emphasizes that no two districts are the same, and superintendents must understand the unique dynamics of their boards and communities. Advice from others can be valuable, but at the end of the day, each superintendent must navigate the specific challenges and opportunities within their district.
A Legacy of Mentorship and Support
Skipper acknowledges the crucial role of mentors and colleagues in his journey. He appreciates the support of his wife, who is an accomplished educator herself, and his parents, who inspired him with their careers in education. He also recognizes the invaluable mentorship he has received from colleagues from his local Education Cooperative, as well as throughout the state. These mentors have guided him, answered his questions, and helped shape him into the superintendent he is today.
A Faith-Centered Approach
Skipper Ward’s leadership style is deeply rooted in his faith. He strives to embody the characteristics he believes Jesus displayed as a leader. This approach grounds him, providing perspective and guiding his decisions as a superintendent.
A Guiding Light in Education
In Magnolia, Arkansas, Skipper Ward stands as a beacon of leadership in education, dedicated to providing opportunities, overcoming challenges, and nurturing the growth and success of students. His journey from agriculture to education, his passion for students, and his faith-centered leadership have made him a beloved figure in his community and an inspiration to educators everywhere.