KINGSBURG – As the new superintendent at Kingsburg Joint Union High School, Don Shoemaker says he does not have big plans to make big changes. Instead, the former classroom teacher and father of four boys says he does want to take what Kingsburg’s teachers are doing and help guide them to the next level.
“Kingsburg’s already a great district that’s doing great things. Randy Morris was a great superintendent so trying to fill his shoes is not an easy task, and I know that. I just have to be me. But I don’t have big visions to come in and change everything because I think what they’re doing is fantastic,” he said.
It was only Shoemaker’s third official day on the job during his Oct. 4 interview but he’d already been in touch with district staff the month prior, visited feeder schools and stopped by sports practices to meet students.
“Today, I’ll be in 15 classrooms and the kids will start seeing me on campus more. It’s the first few days so I’m going to hit the ground running.”
Shoemaker is making the commute from Santa Clarita each week, keeping a residence there since his youngest son is finishing his senior year. He and his wife, Roxane Shoemaker, have been married for 32 years and have four sons ranging in age from 27 through 17. The youngest graduates this year and until then, Shoemaker says he and his wife are “tag teaming it and going back and forth. At the end of his senior year, she’ll be up here. All his brothers went to the same high school and the principal’s a good friend of mine. So we wanted to let him to finish up.”
Shoemaker taught at Glendale High as a classroom teacher for 33 years and has taught a variety of subjects including physical education, biology and world history.
“I enjoy teaching new subjects and rarely taught anything more than five years in a row. I like to learn new things and try new things. That’s kind of my personality to be changing and doing different things all the time,” he said of his classroom experience.
Shoemaker also ran a national teambuilding firm where he worked with companies such as AT&T and Supercuts helping their companies forge stronger relationships between departments to be more productive.
“It’d be common for the support staff at Supercuts not to know the sales people. But if they could blend the relationships and bond better, they’d be more productive since the sales people always need help from the support staff.”
He’s also worked in the mortgage industry and as a regional representative for Kentucky’s Boyce College.
Shoemaker was also Glendale High’s football coach from 1976 to 1994 and served as the head coach for the last eight years. He’s also served as the athletic director, science department chair and worked on their Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation teams.
“We had some great teams down there and some great championships. We had a great staff,” he said of Glendale High where the school has a population of 4,000 students. That’s a different atmosphere than Kingsburg and Oasis High, but Shoemaker says he’s not entirely unfamiliar with the Swedish community and San Joaquin Valley.
Since his father was an avid waterfowl hunter, Shoemaker says he’s spent time traveling the area and visiting state and federal refuges and has hunted in Mendota, Kern County and Merced.
“I’ve grown up doing a lot of recreational sports in this area. My dad was an avid waterfowl hunter and it was very common for me to go with him. I also have a brother who lives in Fresno and I already have friends here in Kingsburg.”
Aside from waterfowl hunting, Shoemaker is also a fly fisher, deep-sea fisher and enjoys hiking, camping and makes spending time with his family a priority.
Shoemaker says he appreciates the community’s tight-knit atmosphere and the welcome he’s received from staff and residents alike.
“I like the slower pace and that you can go to the grocery store and run into people you know. The town has been extremely friendly. It’s been great how much they’ve reached out and been so warm.”
Shoemaker also credits district staff for getting him up to speed so he could hit the ground running.
“[Director of Student Services] Cindy Schreiner and [Kingsburg High Principal] Ryan Phelan and the rest of the staff have been extremely supportive. I’ve been on the phone with somebody every day for the past month keeping me updated with what’s going on. And I’ve been up here for some other activities like the board meeting and sports practices so I didn’t start Monday completely from scratch.”
Shoemaker said he realizes he’s new to the community but wants the teacher staff and students to know that he understand their challenges from first-hand experience and is accessible when needed.
“I think for the teachers what I bring to the table is I’m not a classic administrator. I’ve been in their battle and I’ve taught in the classroom for 33 years. I know what their heartaches and their struggles are. Education is constantly changing. You get something from the state or federal side it seems like monthly. That’s an exaggeration but there are always a lot of new things coming.”
The job of superintendent fits Shoemaker’s multi-tasking personality, it seems, as he describes it as role where new challenges are presented daily.
The advice I got from one of my superintendent friends was that every day you’ll get something new out of nowhere to solve. Three days in a row, I’m three for three. And that’s just part of it,” he said of his role as a liaison between the board, the principals and other administrators. “You’re dealing with the mandates from the state and the education part for the teachers. Like today, my goal during the first two weeks is to be in every single classroom to see what’s going on. I’m there to celebrate what they’re doing. It’s not from a critical point.”
Shoemaker said he’s impressed with the district’s athletic and academic programs and the alternative education program and will look to take the schools to the next level.
“I don’t want to come in and say ‘here’s the big change.’ That’s not who I am and I know there are professionals here who are already doing a fantastic job. My thing is how can I serve them better? That’s the kind of relationship I’d like to have between the staff and myself.”
As far as the students, Shoemaker adds he’d like them to realize that he’s a dad and that he cares about the students’ futures.
“I went to Traver school my first day and I got to see what’s going on down there. [Principal] Steve Ramirez was there and watching his relationship with those kids was second to none. That takes time and Steve has done such an excellent job with them. I’d like my kids to know my door is open and I’m approachable. I’m not this strange upper administrator that isn’t accessible.”