This week, Mid Rivers Newsmagazine talks with Dr. Bernard J. DuBray, Superintendent of the Fort Zumwalt School District. Dr. DuBray has served the district since 1985. During his tenure, he has passed over $400 million in bond issues as the district has increased in size. Dr. DuBray previously served as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and coach for baseball and soccer teams. He has been married 49 years and has three grown children, all of whom graduated from Fort Zumwalt South High.
What are three interesting facts about you?
Probably, No. 1 would be that I’m the longest-serving superintendent in the state of Missouri right now serving in the same school district, and that’s been for 33 years. No. 2, this is my 49th year in education. For No. 3, I got my start with a bachelor’s degree at Southeast Missouri State University. In those days, it was Southeast Missouri State Teacher’s College. I started there and then went on to become a teacher and a coach in the Pattonville School District.
What are some of the events in your life that have made you who you are today?
I think the fact that I was a coach when I first started teaching was a part of that. I learned my organizational skills – and working with people, I learned that very early on. Also, the fact that my youngest son went to the University of Notre Dame and, today, is a transplant surgeon. That had a pretty powerful effect on me, that he was able to get himself into a world-class university and now saves a lot of lives. I would think that absolutely has something to do with it. Also, joining a district that was in growth mode and passing $400 million in bond issues to build all the buildings that we’ve built to this day to stay up with the growth, that has also had an effect on me. That’s a huge part of it.
What is the best book or best series that you have personally ever read?
“The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century” by Thomas L. Friedman. It just provides a different way of looking at world events. Another one that I read that had a lot to do with me was “Winning Kids with Sport!” by Dr. Rick McGuire at the University of Missouri. It’s all about positive coaching, and the Fort Zumwalt School District is the largest district in the state of Missouri that has four of its high schools all embracing positive coaching philosophies, so “Winning Kids with Sport!” probably had a lot to do with my outlook. I coached baseball and I coached boys varsity soccer at Pattonville High School. As I said earlier, I think coaching had a lot to do with my organizational skills and how to deal with people, certainly with young people, and with motivation, and with so many other things that you use in your career.
What life skills are rarely taught, but are extremely useful?
I think it’s hard to teach conflict resolution, but if you can’t resolve conflict and be in a district as large as Fort Zumwalt, you will not stay around very long. You absolutely have to be able to see all sides of the argument. Brainstorming is another life skill. Maybe you wouldn’t think that, but the ability to see options and to present options, whether it be to parents or staff or to the public at large, the ability to see options and brainstorm options is really a key. Conflict resolution is a key to being able to survive, I think, if you can’t take a conflict between two people or two groups of people and resolve it in a satisfactory manner, your district gets torn apart. We’ve been very lucky out here to have a wonderful school district. I think, for the most part, I’ve been able to resolve conflict and also develop options to help with that process.
What is your worst example of procrastination?
I think in our school district, and we’re unique out here. We started out with 8,000 kids when I first came here and now we’ve got 18,000 kids. I think it would be a terrible lesson in procrastination if we waited on doing some long-range planning and didn’t have the buildings when we were needing them. In this district, we used portable classrooms. At one point we had 65 classrooms that were trailers, really portable classrooms, but we don’t have [them] any longer and that’s only because the public voted on all those bond issues and all those tax levies. I think if I, or anyone, would have procrastinated and hadn’t projected out that enrollment growth, we could have been a very different-looking school district. I don’t think we would have had those facilities when we needed them if there had been any procrastination going on. So, I think with the enrollment growth in the district, procrastinating would have been a disaster in not getting those bond issues when we needed them.