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Dr. John Zauner - Executive Director for the Georgia School Superintendents Association

We recently spent some time with Dr. Zauner to learn more about his current role, as well as to hear stories about his days on the Secret Service detail for former President George H.W. Bush.

Q: Let’s begin with you sharing a little about your background and your interests.

A: I was involved in my early days in athletics in high school and college and enjoyed that experience. It taught me a lot about teamwork and working with others.

I moved into the education realm after graduating college and started out as a teacher of special needs students. I worked my way through the education system to three different school systems and ultimately became superintendent of the Carroll County School System in 2003.

As far as my passions, I love to bird hunt and raise bird dogs, as well as love anything with a motor and wheels; which includes motorcycles and cars. I also enjoy the beach and boats, so I have a wide variety of interests.

Q: What was your role prior to your current position?

A: As superintendent of Carroll County Schools, my biggest motivator was to serve the children of Carroll County. I was put in the position to actually have an impact on about 15,000 kids and roughly 30 schools at the time. So I enjoyed the job, it was extremely challenging and difficult, but it was extremely rewarding to take an organization and move it forward, which is something I also enjoy doing.

Prior to that role, I was assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. I retired from Carroll County Schools on June 1, 2010 and just prior to my retirement when I was asked to come on aboard to the Georgia School Superintendents Association as the Deputy Executive Director. I decided to take on this role, which is obviously very different than my previous 31 years of education.

Q: What are your responsibilities as Executive Director and how is this role different than being a Superintendent?

A: Well, the Executive Director role consists of being a lobbyist, which is very, very different than anything I’d done before. Now, I interact with politicians on a daily basis, looking to convince them of certain philosophical approaches to education and trying to get them to align their legislation with those values and beliefs that we had about children and education.

Obviously, supporting current and active superintendents is also a huge part along with providing some professional development and professional growth for our superintendents. We try to expose them to cutting edge sorts of ideas, programs, thought processes, organization improvements, and systematic processes. So, we try to connect them with the right people that would support them in achieving whatever improvements they are looking to achieve within their organizations and their districts.

In this role, I’ve become much more supportive of superintendents and their roles. I’m pushing the organization (GSSA) forward and supporting what they do, providing information to them, interpreting laws that were being passed by legislature and how it is going to impact local systems, looking at financial issues from around our state and how that is going to impact them locally.

So, it was a very big shift. It was good that I was a superintendent before, because I certainly understand the role and the job.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: Providing help and assistance to that superintendent who is really seeking input and willing to listen. Sometimes I don’t have to say or do anything, I just have to be there to be a sounding board. That’s probably the most rewarding part, to be able to interact and build those relationships with superintendents and providing the assistance that they need in the moment to help them move forward.

Q: What’s your long-term vision?

A: I just finished my third year as the Executive Director. You always look at your organization and how you can improve it to become more effective or efficient in supporting our superintendents. One of the key skills is being persuasive and attempting to influence some of the political bodies in our state. That is also a big part of the job, but I guess my vision would be to see the role of the superintendent throughout our state become respected again and GSSA can play a pretty integral part in that and providing various opportunities for our superintendents to grow in a very challenging and different environment.

I think my vision would be to be a real provider and be a professional organization that deals with our profession with integrity and fidelity that passes that on to our superintendents, so that they can have a framework to really take hold of and embrace so that they can improve their organization and leave it better than they found it. That’s the whole goal here, to help our superintendents lead their organization forward and again leave it better than they found it.

Q: What’s your most proud accomplishment as Executive Director?

A: I don’t know that I have achieved that yet. I guess to this point, maintaining our membership at 100%. Our superintendents are not required to join our professional organization, they do it by choice. I think by making it attractive and providing important services to our superintendents, enough so that they feel like they need to be a part of it, is a big accomplishment with this current environment.

Q: What items do you feel are still left on your plate to accomplish?

A: You don’t always know; the future is not predictable. I’m fairly young on the job, so I would imagine if you talked to me three or four years from now I would have something a little different to say as my proudest accomplishment. I think that I grow as a person, our organization grows, you seek those challenges to accomplish and I can’t necessarily identify one at this point, but I know they’re going to be plenty of them out there in the next few years, no question about that. If it’s going to be anything like the last three years, the next three years will be just as professionally challenging.

Q: Tell me about your duties as a Secret Service agent

A: I did have another life I was also in the United States Secrete Service back in the late ‘80s. After college, I went into teaching first. I taught for five or six years when my uncle, who worked in the FBI, encouraged me to go into the Secret Service. I knew nothing about the Secret Service at the time. On a whim, I went through the application process, really not thinking much of it because the process lasted close to 10 months.

One afternoon I was at school and I get a phone call and they ask me if I wanted to join with the Secret Service in Washington, DC. As a young 26-27 year-old guy, I was all about that at the time. So, I jumped on it and was assigned to then Vice-President George H.W. Bush’s detail when Ronald Reagan was president. I spent a few years there and decided to get back in the education business.

There are a lot of personal stories, but I’ll only share one. I was working with George H.W. Bush when I got to actually see his son, George Bush, obviously prior to him becoming president years later. The younger Bush was a bit of a rogue and he got himself into a pickle one day. I happened to be on the detail.

Barbara Bush, who is as nice and as pleasant of a lady you could meet, came unglued with something George did and I happened to witness her tongue-thrashing of George which was quite interesting to watch. He certainly respected his mother and you could tell after she unloaded on him.

Of course, there were a lot of things that went on, but that one, not knowing that George was going to be president several years later, that was always kind of interesting as I look back on it to kind of see him cower when his mother unloaded on him. And believe me, it was very appropriate.

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