Photo Courtesy of Tony Spielberg
What are your top three most important things in life?
“First of all, my family: my kids and my wife. My oldest is 17 at Parkway Central, and my two younger ones are in fourth and fifth grade at Highcroft. They are the most important things in my life. Beyond family, it goes to what my servant’s heart is, which is with Operation Food Search and advocating for adults with developmental disabilities. Beyond that, the youth sports that I coach. My kids all play, and that’s really our social life; it has become all about the families that our kids play with.”
What were your elementary, middle and high school days like?
“I was at Parkway from the very beginning; I went to Weber school. I was a pretty sociable kid, my grades were middle of the road, so I wasn’t always great there, but my years growing up in school were all about friendships and doing things in the community. My parents would take us to Operation Food Search opportunities, and that’s how that got ingrained into me. I really loved to travel when we could, and I loved to go to summer camps. I went to Camp Taum Sauk and places like that, but my childhood was pretty middle of the road. I was very lucky to be part of Parkway all those years, and I made tons of friends that I’m still friends with today and built my whole network around everybody that I grew up with. I would tell you that my childhood was a good one. I’ve gained tons of perspective from growing up here, but then I lived in New York for a year for work and couldn’t wait to get back.”
What is your connection to Parkway?
“Back in 1977, I was in kindergarten at Weber Elementary. Throughout the years, I went to Weber and then Bellerive Parkway East which is now Parkway Northeast and then Parkway North. It was a great way to grow up in a district where you always felt like somebody cared about you. We had big schools back then, and everybody participated in all kinds of different programs. There weren’t as many programs as there are now so it was sports, student government and things like that. As I got older and started having kids, my kids also went to Parkway. Part of what we wanted to make sure happen is that they also grew up in Parkway. My wife Lauren went to Parkway Central and my kids have been at Parkway since kindergarten. So, for us, we had such a great experience growing up that we wanted our kids to have the same experience or even better because Parkway now has set that bar higher to be a district of courage, and a district that pushes the weights or sets the bar for all other districts.”
“More recently, I’ve been involved with Parkway Spark! as a mentor. One of the kids that I mentored went to the University of Missouri and won Entrepreneur of the Year Up there, which was really cool. I’ve been hooked into Parkway Spark!. Jack, my oldest son who’s 17, is in Parkway Spark! now in the entrepreneurial strand, and he’s going to be in the engineering strand next year. That’s allowed me to stay involved with the district and pour back into the district with things that I’ve learned professionally. I work with kids that want a different direction in their career or want to know what the real world looks like outside of high school or even younger than that. Now Spark! goes even into elementary and is an opportunity to work with folks and learn how to get other soft skills that they may not get. Speaking in front of groups, putting together a business plan, reaching out and trying to network with people that are CEOs and presidents of companies that they would never have this opportunity. With Parkway, I’m able to pour back in that way, but I love it. I’ve also been involved in the Highcroft PTO in the past, and now I’m putting together a feeder team for Parkway Central for Brody, who’s in fifth grade. We’re gonna have a baseball team that plays this fall to our kids from all over Parkway that is going into Central. So I stay tuned that way. I was also part of the fundraising task force at Highcroft for a disability-friendly playground. We were successful and it was great to see us win and be able to build the addition to the playground so that everybody could be included.”
What is your favorite thing about Parkway?
“My favorite thing about Parkway is the people that are involved in the district. There’s no doubt about it. I think that we have a district that cares about this community. I think that there are so many programs. Our district has expanded to do partnerships with Rockwood and expanded to do more partnerships with special schools. I love our ability to be open-minded as a district, but I love even more the people in the district. I think, at the end of the day, that’s why we stay, for the people.”
Why are you running for the school board?
“I’m not a politician. During the pandemic, some of the things that I saw going on were just a little bit concerning to me, I guess I’d say it’s asynchronous. Asynchronous learning really bothers me. I think that our kids fell behind and I wanted to focus on making sure that our kids could get focused back on math, reading, English, science and history, the core things that are going to help them with their future no matter what they decide to do and be a well-rounded student. Then there were some other issues that they talked about where they were talking about pulling the Student Resource Officer (SRO). I’m a huge supporter of the police. I believe that having those officers in our school is our number one deterrent to having wonky stuff going on in the schools. I started hearing chatter like that and then the biggest thing that helped me decide to run for the school board was that there’s so much divisiveness, and I would tell you that the pandemic made it worse between all the stakeholders in the district. One of the things that I really pride myself on is the ability to build bridges and be neutral and find a middle ground for very difficult topics. That’s a lot of what I do in my professional career, help solve those issues for big companies and big groups of folks that are employees and help build culture, the things that I feel like have fallen behind at Parkway is really why I ran. We need to make sure that culture is the best that we can keep our teachers, who I believe are the best in the country. There are a lot of reasons why I’m running but, at the end of the day, it’s about the kids and making sure that we have a focus on education, that our kids are safe, and that we look at things as a whole community, not just parts and pieces.”
Are there any changes, big or small, that you would like to see happen in the district?
“I think some of the things we need to see happen is focus back on the core materials, with roots in English and history and science, and how do we do that? I believe that if we let the teachers teach that and we let the administrators do their job, we can get back there quickly. What I really would like to see happen in our district is better communication from the board level to all the stakeholders in the district so that communication is wide open and everybody is included in the messaging and what’s going on in a school. If they want to have an opinion, they should be able to come to the school board, or they should be able to call me if I am elected and say, ‘Tony, look, we don’t agree with the fact that there’s no student [resource] officer anymore in our schools’ or, ‘Hey, Tony, my son and our daughter are taking a math class and there’s no homework and it’s Trigonometry,’ so we should be able to have these honest conversations with the parents and the teachers and all the stakeholders. I believe that to make those changes, it’s going to require better communication and to me, that would be one of the top things I work on, if elected, which is just communication between all stakeholders and finding middle ground.”
What do you do for work? Can this help you perform your school board duties any better?
“I work for a company called Cambridge Air, and I am the manufacturing ambassador. That’s my title. It’s a funny title, but the company hired me to essentially be an outward speaking voice for all manufacturers, not just our job. What I’ve done in the past has been really good at bringing people together for the better of whatever it was, whether the other was adults with disabilities, whether it was something to get the culture better within a manufacturer or another business. I think that my job right now sends me all over the world to talk to other manufacturers and other businesses, and we don’t charge anything. Essentially, my job is wanting to go out there, be outward-facing and bring people together in the manufacturing community. When you talk about businesses, like a manufacturer, there’s the back of the house, where everybody works, and there’s a front of the house, where the folks with the ties are set. I think what’s happened is that the folks in the back, they’ve had to work with a pandemic, the folks up in the front work out of their house. I go in and I look at both sides, I bring both sides to the table, and we help them figure out a solution for it. I think that all these exercises that I do: cultural buildings, strategic strategy, planning, visioning, are really going to allow me to have an upper hand on other folks that are running because I work with these big, big corporations, from 50 up to 5000 people. I’ll speak at these events and we’ll figure out how to build better pathways forward. I do believe that will help with our greater good.”
What can you bring to the school board?
“I think my DNA is a little bit different than most. I put my pants on the same way everybody else does, but I think the leadership training that I’ve had, like I started the first-ever vocational training center for adults with developmental disabilities out in St. Peters, for working the public-private partnerships that I’ve had experience working with. I also want to make sure that all folks with disabilities have the ability to be more included, and I can help make that happen probably quicker than most just from my experience in the past. But, at the end of the day, I would say my number one skill is my ability to be able to be a consensus builder. A lot of people will say that I’m a lot like Switzerland because I’m able to find that neutral spot for folks to become better together. That’s where I think the differences are: my leadership abilities and my training in building strategy vision, along with advocating for adults with developmental disabilities.”
Why should people vote for you?
“I think people should vote for me because I am very much in tune with where the district is and what’s going on and what the kids need from elementary school up to high school since I have kids there. I’ve been part of the district since 1977 and I have seen the district grow, but what I want to see for the district is more growth and to set the bar higher and keep our teachers paid well, but I can help with that. Number one, the reason I should be on the school board is to fight for the children. I don’t think anybody will do it better than I will.”