John Spieser is an experienced educator who has spent the last five years in administration with Milford Schools
By Chuck Gibson
MILFORD, OH (August 27, 2020) – John Spieser was officially named Superintendent of the Milford Exempted Village School District (MEVSD) with approval by the School Board June 18, 2020.
With just days remaining before a very challenging first day back-to-school due to the novel coronavirus pandemic restrictions, there are many who might say John Spieser’s timing in becoming a school superintendent could not have been worse. John is not part of that group.
“Yeah, I’ve been here most recently the past five years in the building and in the district,” said Spieser. “It’s good. I’m glad to be here.”
That kind of personal confidence and experience within the Milford Schools impressed the school board during the process of searching for, interviewing, and ultimately hiring John Spieser as the new Superintendent to replace former Superintendent Nancy House upon her retirement. Milford Schools Board of Education President, Chris Hamm, expressed equal confidence in the ability of Spieser to lead Milford Schools in the face of this pandemic crisis.
“He can handle a crisis,” said Hamm. “He understands how to handle a crisis and he’s up to the task.”
Hamm and the other members of the school board went through a pretty lengthy process reviewing and interviewing candidates for the Superintendent position. Starting the search just as schools shut down due to the pandemic made the process more challenging. They used the Ohio School Board Association for guidance to get as many quality candidates into the search as possible. They started with 23 candidates, narrowed the list to nine before deciding on the three final candidates for the position.
“We wanted to make sure we got good interviews with everybody,” Hamm explained. “They did personality profiles on each of the three finalists. We had a lot of information to pour over.”
The board expected a lot of good candidates without “zeroing in” on anyone internally. Spieser explained the process started with an application through the Ohio School Board Association and everything went through them and their website. It was a typical application, but he felt referrals from people he worked with, direct supervisors, and past superintendents with whom he worked might be the most important part.
“It was a tough process just to get to be considered a candidate,” Spieser said. “The pressure to get those materials together sometimes is pretty great. Then wait.”
The interview process was pretty grueling. The first round of interviews for the candidates was done via Zoom. Hamm estimated the board spent more than 40 hours on Zoom before getting to the final three.
“Tough, tough questions,” said Spieser. “I just laid it out there for them; what I believe.”
Three finalists were selected and faced a pretty unusual process. Usually there is a forum for the community to meet the candidates. This time they set aside three hours, brought all three candidates into three separate rooms for three, one-hour sessions each; with the school board, staff and administration, and a group of local community leaders from the Township, City, school support groups like Band Boosters & Athletic Booster, and Feed Our Flock.
“In front of 20-30 people, questions come quick,” said Spieser explaining why the interview process was a bit grueling. “I’ve been an educator for 27 years. I started here in Milford Jr. High School in 1994. You know what you believe. You know the work. I love it here, great place, great mentors.”
The job of school superintendent today is a “tough job, as much about community relations as curriculum”. Three main criteria the board had for a superintendent were: Strong leader, Listener, and Continue on the educational path set for Milford Schools driven by the previous superintendent.
“John has all three qualities, especially ability to talk one-on-one, what we looked at as criteria for what our superintendent needs to look like now and in the future,” Hamm said. “John is a very empathetic learner. He wants people to understand he cares. That is a very big piece of our ‘Portrait of an Eagle’. John buys into that ‘Portrait of an Eagle’ very well.”
Spieser’s career as an educator and administrator included stops at Bethel, Little Miami High School, Glen Este, and Clark Montessori before coming back to Milford Schools five years ago and landing in his most recent role with Human Resources. Hamm says he’s put the time and work in to reach this point where becoming superintendent is the next logical step for him. He cited the right temperament and how he manages people, already revealed in preparation to get teachers and students back in school, as key reasons the board believes he is ready to be an outstanding superintendent. The board offered him the position in mid-June
“I got the phone call at about 8:30 at night,” Spieser recalled. He was watching a food show with his wife and one of their sons. He was worried wondering why he hadn’t heard anything earlier that evening and not feeling confident. Then the call came. “I couldn’t believe it. I can’t believe this is finally happening.”
All his family were home, his wife Ayn, and their three boys; Charlie, Jack and Will. Spieser was grateful they were all home. His family is proud of him just as he is proud of them. Charlie is the oldest at 22, just graduated from Miami and headed for Medical School at Ohio University. Jack is an 18 year-old freshman in Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, and the youngest, 14 year-old Will is adopted from China and chose to leave Walnut Hills to come to Milford Schools with his dad. He’ll be an eighth-grader at Milford Junior High School – right where John Spieser began his career in education. He credits his wife Ayn, who owns her own catering business (Aynies.com), for all his success.
“She is amazing,” Spieser said. “There is no question, I am where I am today because of her. She is the rock. She is the foundation. She pushes me. She believes in me.”
Spieser recognizes the job comes with great responsibility. He has already felt the pressure and stress since taking on the job with all the different things that need to be done with unknowns and orders from the Governor starting this new school year. He also gushes about the rewards of being an educator and school administrator.
“The kids,” he said. “It really is being around the students, seeing the different things that make them happy, being able to do things that make them happy. You miss your family. The family does suffer. The kid’s joy is worth it. They keep you going.”
What got him going in the first place was his own experience of happiness as a student at Deer Park High School. Specifically, he named his geometry teacher Wayne Roberts who made school fun. It was his favorite class. He couldn’t seem to say enough about his football coaches and teachers there. They touched his life and they knew it.
“They actually called me when I got the job,” said Spieser. “It’s kind of emotional. They’re just great people.”
John Spieser is a self-proclaimed “people person” who likes being around people and will talk to anybody. Just ask Ayn and the boys, they’ll tell you if you don’t already know it. His own high school experience led him into teaching, but he has learned lessons everywhere he’s been as an educator. He learned how to “fail forward”, don’t fear mistakes, but grow from them, from Mimi Webb at Bethel. Dan Bennett at Little Miami Schools taught him not to overreact, but maintain control. At Glen Este, he learned the importance of the relationships you build. Clark Montessori taught him about community and caring for community.
“I try to take something away,” he said. “I’ve just had great experiences suburban, urban and rural. I came back here. This is just a great place.”
It has not been all business for John Spieser. Family and fun are equally important to the new Milford Schools Superintendent. They are ‘Foodies’ which he says comes from his own sense of adventure to try new things, desire to know about people and cultures and of course he likes to cook. Of course he doesn’t discount Ayn’s catering business as an influence, or the fact the boys love food and love to cook. Yes, there is a family tradition too. John makes Paella (traditional Spanish recipe) for Halloween.
“I’ve got great recipes,” Spieser explained. “I’ve kind of done my own thing. It’s Paella on Halloween. That’s the tradition; gotta get home early enough to make it before the kids go out.”
Aside from the Halloween tradition, Spieser says they try to find the dives, the mom and pop shops. They try to avoid chains and would rather support a small business. He claims it is the sense of adventure just trying to find places that “do good food”. As Superintendent of Milford Schools he’s just trying to do good things for the all the kids and all the Milford families. He believes all means all and wants the community to know they are there for every student and family. They are not going to leave anybody behind.
“The most important thing we need to do is connect with our kids before we start to deliver content,” said Spieser. “At times like this, we start to understand how very important relationships are to people. I think that is our biggest challenge.”
Hamm cited Spieser’s ability to engage everybody, get the input necessary and collectively make the right decision. He is not a “my way” kind of guy. He has a great team in place to support him. He is not a one size fits all leader. He will personalize a path to reach and engage kids on a personal level. His beliefs fit right in with the guiding principles of “Portrait of an Eagle” at Milford Schools.
“Ultimately the buck stops there. The Superintendent is the CEO,” said Hamm. “He looks at everything.”
“I want everyone to feel like they have a voice, feel special, feel included – kids and community heard,” Spieser said. “Everybody has a place. There is a place at the table for everyone here in Milford.”
More on Milford Exempted Village Schools at: www.milfordschools.org