Skills for a Career
When Judi Enns Szpor (MA ‘96, TC ‘92) graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, her mom gave her a bottle of Estee Lauder Youth Dew perfume. It was while walking through Gottschalks that Szpor recognized the scent worn by her first-grade teacher and was transported back to Edna Parkinson’s classroom at Lincoln School in Reedley. Mrs. Parkinson had a profound impact
on Szpor, planting seeds in a little girl that would grow into a career in education that has spanned 34 years. Szpor hoped wearing the same perfume as her beloved teacher would help her have the kind of impact on her students Mrs. Parkinson had on her.
“She smelled good, she was pretty, she smiled and she was happy,” Szpor says of Parkinson. “Her room was so comforting and inviting, and she had a loving order to her classroom. I wanted to duplicate that for my students.”
Today Szpor is principal/superintendent at Clay School in Kingsburg, where four of the late Mrs. Parkinson’s great-grandchildren are students. Now a seasoned educator herself, Szpor has spent her career advocating for her young charges and teachers, striving to create the same environment as an educator that she experienced as a first grader.
“My mantra is to be a champion and ardently defend people and purpose,” she says. “I hope my actions at every school where I’ve worked reflect an example of Christ’s love. I try to demonstrate love through the service of making things and hearts better than I found them.”
A CAREER ROOTED IN FAITH
Born and raised in Reedley to Harold and Pat Enns, FPU was part of Szpor’s life from the start. Her dad worked there as a coach, teacher and dean of students, later serving on the board. Szpor grew up attending Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church, where she and her high school sweetheart, Bill, were married and raised three sons. Szpor credits Reedley MB and Immanuel High School with providing the faith foundation on which her life is built. She welcomes each day as an opportunity to use her God-given gifts in service to him.
“I was taught to love people as Jesus did. He saw beyond the weaknesses and failures of people and saw the possibilities of leadership, teaching and service in all he met,” Szpor says. “He went straight to the heart of every individual and saw their incredible value. He called out the goodness he saw in them and taught them, encouraged them to choose better.”
Though she received a scholarship to FPU, Szpor hungered for a taste of life outside the Valley. She earned a degree in liberal studies from Cal Poly, then returned home and taught second grade at Riverview School in Parlier for 18 years.
During her second year as a teacher, Szpor enrolled in her first FPU Continuing Education (CE) course: Lee Canter’s “Beyond Assertive Discipline.” The class encouraged classroom discipline that sets clear rules and expectations applied through positive reinforcement. Expectations are made clear to both students and parents at the onset, and the choice to comply lies with the students.
From here on, CE would provide keys to Szpor’s career, and help her unlock success in others. “The class was foundational for me, and I still use that same method of teaching and teach my teachers to use it,” Szpor says. “It made me take the pressure off myself and use positive reinforcement to get what I need out of the kids. It’s a lot about looking for the good first.”
FPU’s CE program provides continuing education and professional development for those in education and other fields. As many as 8,000 professionals a year enroll in independent study graduate-level courses to expand their knowledge and advance in their organizations.
“Beyond Assertive Discipline” was the first of many CE classes Szpor completed, going on to earn her clear credential and master’s in curriculum and education. Her time at FPU was influential in weaving together her faith and her profession for a greater purpose. She embraced the opportunity to grow and dig deeper, using her experience to reduce suspensions, introduce new programs and curriculum, increase funding and improve test scores at the schools where she’s worked.
After Riverview, Szpor became an academic coach before holding administrative positions throughout Kings Canyon Unified School District and beyond. While serving as the principal of Howard School (2016-2019), she was named Elementary Administrator of the Year for Madera Unified School District.
GROWING SEEDS FOR THE KINGDOM
Although Szpor made the move from teacher to administrator years ago, she still enjoys implementing effective and relevant teaching techniques. She loves being a guest math teacher in second grade classes.
“As a superintendent, I can jump in and teach a math class using fundamentals that still apply using good, solid instructional methods and techniques,” Szpor says. “I can back up the techniques I’m using as being research-based and good for kids.”
This is thanks to her willingness to embrace the role of student as much as she does that of teacher by continuing to attend classes, conferences and trainings. “The things I’ve learned have permeated everything I’ve done as a teacher and as a leader,” she says. “I’ve learned foundational values and teachings that I’m still using after 34 years in education.”
Szpor’s most profound teaching moment occurred during the culminating project of her master’s thesis: Ancestor Day, part of a curriculum unit she created called “Coming to America.” For the project, students interviewed their ancestors at school about family history. When interviewing her grandfather, Jack “JW” Enns, Szpor asked what one thing his descendants could do to best honor him. “Grow the kingdom,” he told her. “Whether you work or stay at home with kids, grow the kingdom. That is what we are called to do.” That moment was pivotal in helping Szpor realize her purpose, whatever her calling.
To honor her beloved grandpa’s wish, Szpor walks daily with the Lord in every classroom, every meeting and every conversation. She strives to serve those she teaches by being the hands and feet of Jesus.
“Most importantly, I hope I help people see their own value and importance in this world,” she says. “I hope that, ultimately, I can model that we need to look at the heart of every human being and trust that there is good inside and do everything we can to find that, foster it and help them be successful. And I hope that through all that, I’ve contributed to the growing of the kingdom with seeds planted under my care.”