Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Journalism major Carly Gist poses for a portrait Wednesday February 14, 2024 at the Student Center where she often studies, at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.
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RJ McGee (23), Jovan Stulic (33) and Trey Miller (25) huddle together during a timeout Dec. 2, 2023 at Banterra Center in Carbondale, Illinois.
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Jarrett Hensley (32) claps in celebration as the clock runs out to give SIU the win over Murray State Feb. 21, 2024 at Banterra Center in Carbondale, Illinois.
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Vienna High School superintendent looks ahead with students in mind.

Vienna+High+School+superintendent+looks+ahead+with+students+in+mind.

Vienna High School superintendent Joshua Stafford says he wants to help his students, not just now, but for tomorrow.

“[I’m] not preparing students for my past, I’m preparing them for their future,” he said.

Stafford said he is doing that, in part, by trying to push the boundaries of the education system to bring that future directly to his school.

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Vienna High has been actively trying to add as many college classes as possible so students will have a head start out of high school and have far more experience with a college curriculum. It has added college biology, history, calculus, and an AP chemistry class to name a few.

Stafford said he couldn’t have brought these opportunities without having the work ethic that he developed when he was a child. He grew up on his family farm doing jobs such as moving hay and tending to cattle. He says this work taught him a lot of the skills he uses to this day.

“On a farm, you’ve got to learn how to be a critical thinker and a problem solver. I probably broke more equipment than I was productive with within the first year of being involved with it, but it was a wonderful learning experience to solve those problems,” Stafford said.

He has applied these skills in his career within education, but he didn’t always know he wanted to work in this field. It took Stafford many years in college before his love for education began to blossom.

“I certainly am not a stellar student by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoyed getting my bachelor’s degree and did okay in high school, but I really didn’t start enjoying and appreciating education until I started working on my master’s degree [education administration],” Stafford said. “The content of the master’s degree was so relevant to what I was doing, it kind of became alive to me, if you will. So that was one turning point in my educational experience.”

This journey through higher education led him into a very prosperous career. He has jumped around different areas within education until he finally landed on what worked best for him.

Stafford taught multiple classes; including business and technology. He has also worked with technology within a school, but the majority of his career has been as a superintendent.

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Rosa Sparks, the librarian at Vienna High School, said Stafford’s best quality as a superintendent is his dedication to the students.

“If there is one person that would advocate the most for our students, it is him,” Sparks said. “He goes to Springfield regularly for anything in the education field. He does what he needs to do there to advocate for the different things regarding education, especially when certain laws are coming up that need to be addressed that maybe aren’t in the best interest of students.”

All of this work he has put in for students has helped propel the school forward. John Giffin, the principal at Vienna High School, said there is one thing that Stafford has brought to the school that is far more influential than anything else: money.

“Well, he got us out of some pretty serious financial straits a few years ago. He worked on that for his first several years as a superintendent to make sure that we were on solid footing. There were points when we didn’t have a whole lot of cash and could barely make payroll. Now we have some money to put in the bank. He has helped us get grants and does other small things to put us on good terms, money wise,” Giffin said.

Stafford said he made sure the money went to work for the students.

“I feel like one of the major areas that we’ve spent a lot of time gaining ground in is just preparing students for their career experiences, being prepared for the next step to college,” Stafford said.

The experience of seniors this year has radically improved compared to prior years, Stafford said.

His drive and dedication to children didn’t just come from his childhood or his education, Stafford said, it also came from his faith. Stafford has dedicated the majority of his life to his religion.

He went to Fellowist Baptist Church in Vienna as a child and continues to go to this day. He doesn’t just worship, but volunteers and gets involved in programs to help people.

One of those is the regular mission trips the church takes to other countries, including India, Swaziland, Belize, Nicaragua, and Honduras. However, the visit that had the greatest impact on him was a trip to Haiti.

While he was helping the school there, he saw a bunch of children outside a wall surrounding the building, looking in. He said once he was told that they wanted to go but couldn’t, it changed his viewpoint on education forever.

“It was a wildly eye-opening experience. The school’s principal said we don’t have room in our school and they can’t afford it. I assumed they just went to another school but I was told there was no other school, it’s this concept that I’d never heard of. It was so heartbreaking and this turning point in my educational experience,” Stafford said.

The trip made him realize that education is a gift, he said. It helped show him how blessed children in the United States are to have access to any form of education.

“He has a huge passion for the Lord, for church. That is probably one thing that I think of outside of school that defines him more, his faith and his commitment to the Lord. This dedication goes back to students,” Sparks said.

Stafford has worked as a youth director at his church, saying it is all about making sure children have the best life in all aspects.

He has also done service on the SI NOW board (formerly SI Bridges to the Future) which covers the southern 17 counties; One Shawnee Regional Community Development Board, which covers Illinois House District 118; Create Bridges; Little Egypt Emmaus and Chrysalis Camps; and the Eagle House Ministry Board.

All of these efforts have been to better the experience of the next generation, Stafford said, an outpouring of his passion for the students and making their lives better. He said he is grateful for the life he has and hopes to keep getting closer, bit by bit, to a better life for students all around Southern Illinois.

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