Meet Judy Brunner: Walk into a school, Brunner said, and everyone knows who the principal is when they see them. Brunner would know — for nearly two decades, she held the role at a series of Springfield Public Schools buildings, including Wilder, Reed, Parkview and Central.
As a school’s leader, she said it’s important for the principal to set a tone for its staff, students and families. Brunner views the school board as a similar tone-setter for the entire district, and she said her experience as both an educator and a businesswoman makes her deserving of a seat on the board.
“I think that whoever’s on the school board does set a tone, and I want to be a part of that discussion,” Brunner said of her candidacy in the April 4 election. “I want to be collaborative and I want to work collegiately with people. And I want to listen. That’s been my trademark forever.”
Along with her career in education, Brunner and former SPS director of security Dennis Lewis started a business in 1999 centered around developing and sharing best practices for addressing school safety and bullying. Their business, Edu-Safe, is located in an office at the eFactory. Brunner said she’s lost count of how many states she’s visited to present on subjects like cyberbullying. Their business has expanded to offer safety planning and training for other facilities, like hotels and convention centers.
Brunner first majored in sociology and initially wanted to become a social worker. She decided to go into teaching after having kids, and realized she could use community-minded skills in a school setting as well. That continued throughout her career at SPS, she said, most recently after she un-retired in 2019. Brunner agreed to become a co-interim principal at Central High School, a temporary role that happened to overlap with the outset of the pandemic. While there was a section about “biological release” in the district’s emergency response plan, the coronavirus was an event neither schools nor families could possibly have prepared for, Brunner said. And she said it required school officials to go the extra mile for families in need.
Brunner joined staff who every day helped hand out to-go meals to families in a line of cars whose children would have gone without lunches otherwise. She delivered mobile hotspots to homes so families without internet access could join remote lessons.
“Every experience I’ve ever had has prepared me for this next step,” she said. “It has, and I’m ready for it and it would be my privilege to be on the Springfield Public Schools school board.”
Points of interest. “People that know me know that I’m a straight shooter,” Brunner said. “I’m focused on academic achievement. I’m focused on school safety. I’m focused on kids. That’s always been who I am.”
Brunner began attending school meetings after making the decision to run, and watched the board come to a consensus around the district’s new strategic plan. It’s a blueprint to be proud of, she said, and pointed out that each of the plan’s priorities has a champion attached to it — “in other words, who’s accountable,” Brunner said. Brunner said she doesn’t go looking for problems, but deals with them when they’re given to her. As a board member, she said she’ll listen to community members about issues they have with the district and trust administrators to address them.
“The board’s role is, we hire the superintendent, and we hold the superintendent accountable,” she said. “We set policy and then expect the district to come up with the practices and procedures that support those policies. We don’t get into the weeds in terms of curriculum. We have the state standards that drive the curriculum, and that’s public information. People can go right to the source and see the kinds of things being taught. And so I think the board should be listening carefully and should bring issues to the superintendent’s attention. But we’re not the fixers of all of that. We take the issues that we hear that are concerning people and provide that information to those that are in a better position to actually address it in a manner that will be helpful.”
Along with listening, she said that board members need to be out in the community sharing the story of the school district.
“I think we need to be out in the community telling our story of the schools, and being transparent about that,” she said.
“And enlisting. We have a wonderful community here. But we need to enlist their support. The more they know what we’re doing, I think the more likely people are willing to help us with that.”
Why is she running? After Central hired a permanent principal, Brunner transitioned to an administrative role at the district office, one that involved her fielding calls from parents with issues and facilitating who could best address them.
“I will tell you, sitting and taking those phone calls and listening to people, it made an impact on my thinking and honestly probably had some to do with why I decided to run for the board,” she said.
Once health protocols eased and schools began to allow families back in, Brunner worked to process parent and family volunteer applications, of which she said there were thousands.
“I mean, clearly, people had been frustrated and concerned and — again, this goes to the wonderful support in our community — they want to be in the schools; they want to help.”
She said the best way she can help the district, at this point in her life and career, is as a board member.
Find Judy Brunner online at: brunnerforsps.com, Judy Brunner for School Board on Facebook, @JudyBrunner on Twitter