HomeTop StoriesNew superintendent on his path and the future of Abilene ISD

New superintendent on his path and the future of Abilene ISD

For the new Abilene ISD superintendent, education isn’t just a job. It is his life purpose.

Dr. John Kuhn brings more than 27 years of experience in education to Abilene, but he never imagined he would end up in the classroom or leading a district of approximately 17,000 teachers and students.

I didn’t want to be a teacher

Kuhn grew up in the small town of Perrin, 16 miles north of Mineral Wells, and graduated from high school in three years with 16 classmates.

The Abilene ISD School Board announces Dr.  John Kuhn on April 4 as the sole finalist for the position of superintendent.

The Abilene ISD School Board announces Dr. John Kuhn on April 4 as the sole finalist for the superintendent position.

His father worked as a firefighter in Dallas, and his mother was a homemaker and part-time substitute teacher. Since there were three older sisters who all taught, he wanted to forge his own path by becoming a journalist.

However, his plans changed after he discovered that Tarleton State University did not offer journalism as a major at the time.

“So I studied English because that was the best thing for me, right?” Kuhn said.

Kuhn’s mother was happy with his choice and insisted that he obtain a teaching certificate as job security. Despite his resistance to becoming a teacher, his mother exhausted him.

Kuhn graduated from college in 1994 and felt unwilling to enter the classroom to teach students just a few years younger than him.

“I knew I would be very, very young when I got out of college,” he said. “I didn’t think teaching high school was a good idea because I would have kids who were between 17 and 18 years old, and I’m barely 20.”

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While trying to figure out his next step after college, Kuhn heard about and was encouraged to participate in a missions program called the Journeyman.

“Right now I’m pretty sheltered in Perrin, Texas,” he said. “I’ve never been out of the country, never been on a plane. I thought it sounded like a pretty good adventure. It’ll give me a few years, so when I come back, if I wanted to go into teaching then, I’d I’m not that young.”

Kuhn lived in Peru for two years and worked on waterwheel drilling projects and medical missions.

“We went to small villages that didn’t have clean water, and we dug wells. We weighed babies and gave protein supplements and things like that to mothers and their children,” he said.

During the mission, Kuhn met his wife Noelia, and they married when they returned to the United States.

After living and working abroad, Kuhn wanted to find work that made a difference in communities – much like the missionary work he had done before.

He applied for a Spanish teacher position at Graford ISD, a short drive from his hometown of Perrin, and spent five years driving a school bus and teaching high school students.

Abilene ISD Superintendent Dr.  John Kuhn with his son Noah (left), daughter Lili, wife Noelia and son Evan celebrate the Christmas season on Sunday, December 24, 2023.Abilene ISD Superintendent Dr.  John Kuhn with his son Noah (left), daughter Lili, wife Noelia and son Evan celebrate the Christmas season on Sunday, December 24, 2023.

Abilene ISD Superintendent Dr. John Kuhn with his son Noah (left), daughter Lili, wife Noelia and son Evan celebrate the Christmas season on Sunday, December 24, 2023.

“I quickly realized that I liked teaching. I liked school. I liked being funny with teenagers and being sarcastic with them, and they liked being sarcastic too,” Kuhn said.

“I loved the camaraderie among the teaching staff and I made a lot of friends with my colleagues. I just decided, ‘Yes, I think this is probably the career for me,'” he said.

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From Spanish teacher to Abilene superintendent

During his time as a Spanish teacher at Graford, Kuhn impressed his administrators with his ability to handle administrative tasks, which opened the door to new opportunities.

He enrolled in a master’s program in educational administration through Tarleton State and moved to Mineral Wells ISD to gain experience in a larger school district.

“After working as a Spanish teacher in Mineral Wells for a year and a half, they hired me as an assistant principal at their high school, where I served for three years,” Kuhn said. “When my son started kindergarten, I moved to his campus to become an assistant principal, but I didn’t stay there long.”

Dr.  John Kuhn walks a student to class while serving as an assistant principal at Lamar Elementary School in Mineral Wells ISD.  Kuhn says this photo is his favorite photo of him as a teacher and administrator.Dr.  John Kuhn walks a student to class while serving as an assistant principal at Lamar Elementary School in Mineral Wells ISD.  Kuhn says this photo is his favorite photo of him as a teacher and administrator.

Dr. John Kuhn walks a student to class while serving as an assistant principal at Lamar Elementary School in Mineral Wells ISD. Kuhn says this photo is his favorite photo of him as a teacher and administrator.

Kuhn returned to high school in Mineral Wells and worked as a principal while simultaneously working on his superintendent certification.

After earning his certification, Kuhn served as superintendent at Perrin-Whitt CISD for six years and at Mineral Wells ISD for eight years.

Kuhn never thought he would leave Mineral Wells ISD until he saw the opening in Abilene.

“It was hard for me to leave,” he said. “I knew it would surprise and hurt people that I left. I think a lot of people thought I was going to stay there until I retired, and that was my plan.”

Dr.  John Kuhn, Abilene ISD superintendent, dances with his wife Noelia during the Mineral Wells ISD Multicultural Night on April 25, 2024. The event was his final participation as Mineral Wells ISD superintendent before starting in Abilene.Dr.  John Kuhn, Abilene ISD superintendent, dances with his wife Noelia during the Mineral Wells ISD Multicultural Night on April 25, 2024. The event was his final participation as Mineral Wells ISD superintendent before starting in Abilene.

Dr. John Kuhn, Abilene ISD superintendent, dances with his wife Noelia during the Mineral Wells ISD Multicultural Night on April 25, 2024. The event was his final participation as Mineral Wells ISD superintendent before starting in Abilene.

The opening was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Kuhn put his name in the hat and the board felt he was a good fit for the district.

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“The heartbeat of the community.”

The first attraction that enticed Kuhn to apply was the AISD School Board’s visible support for the students, teachers and the school district.

“When I’m in a school district, I’m 100% all in for my kids, for my teams, for my community,” he said. “And I want to work with people who have the same value system.”

“What makes teaching perfect for me is the same thing that makes me enjoy missionary work,” he said. “I feel like my life has meaning when I teach, and I feel like I’m making the world a better place.”

Kuhn’s mission for AISD is to improve student academic performance and the district’s public image in the community.

“The school is the heart of the community,” he says. “When the school district is struggling, the entire community is struggling. When a school district is thriving, the entire community is thriving.”

“Not only do I feel the weight of improving schools, I will carry that weight on my shoulders, and I understand that’s what I signed up for,” Kuhn said.

There are people advocating for Abilene ISD’s success, and if district officials make smart decisions, the district will get results, he said.

Make the difference.

Looking back on his career, Kuhn recalls a pivotal experience that reaffirmed his choice to become a teacher and administrator.

Early in his career as a Spanish teacher, he had to translate for a Spanish-speaking student and her family that her mother had died in a car accident.

“I think this was an event where I realized that this is more than just teaching Spanish, you know. What I do is important in a broader sense,” he said.

He took this belief with him into his position as superintendent.

Dr.  John Kuhn speaks during a press conference after being named the new superintendent for the Abilene Independent School District on April 25, 2024.  Kuhn took over from Dr.  David Young, who retired.Dr.  John Kuhn speaks during a press conference after being named the new superintendent for the Abilene Independent School District on April 25, 2024.  Kuhn took over from Dr.  David Young, who retired.

Dr. John Kuhn speaks during a press conference after being named the new superintendent for the Abilene Independent School District on April 25, 2024. Kuhn took over from Dr. David Young, who retired.

“When you get into district government, you are further away from the classroom,” Kuhn said. “But I’ve realized that as a superintendent, I’m still making a difference for kids by making sure we run a quality school district.

“And if I do my job well, I make a positive difference for many more children than just the 120 children I encounter as a Spanish teacher during the school year.”

To see change and make a difference, the school district must do the right things for the right reasons, Kuhn said.

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Superintendent Dr. John Kuhn: the new face of Abilene ISD

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