Grayling Tobias, the new superintendent of Hazelwood School District, grew up in North St. Louis County, near Bermuda Road and Interstate 70.
His father worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 35 years, and his mother is a nurturing homemaker, he said.
“Because of their influence, I have developed thick skin and a soft heart,” he said.
Leading one of the largest school districts in the state, Tobias will need those attributes for reaching his goal in academic achievement – earning a perfect 140 on the state’s report card.
Recently the state converted its academic assessment from a 14-point system to 140 points. Hazelwood is at 112 points, which is right in the middle of the accreditation range of 98 to 125 points.
“Our goal is to be accredited with distinction, which is from 126 to 140 points,” he said. “We are 14 points away from the bottom of that range. Eventually we hope to earn 140 points.”
Since he accepted his position in November, the district has been taking a close look at every child’s achievement level, he said. Each child has the potential to earn points for growth.
“The new Missouri School Improvement Program standards are more rigorous,” he said, “but we believe that our students are capable of achieving at high levels. I believe that no one rises to low expectations.”
The Hazelwood Board of Education appointed Tobias as interim superintendent at the end of August, after firing former superintendent Steve Price. Tobias was named superintendent in November. Previously he served as an assistant superintendent for learning and has worked for the district for 10 years.
“We must narrow our focus to teaching and learning and what is happening each day in our classrooms,” he said.
Tobias plans to increase each principal’s time in the classroom. Eighty percent of the principal’s time should be on instructional activities, he said. Building relationships is a big part of reaching their goals, he said.
One of his favorite quotes is attributed to Donald O. Clifton. It reads, “Our greatest contribution is to be sure there is a teacher in every classroom who cares that every student, every day, learns, grows and feels like a real human being.”
Tobias actually started his teaching career at Hazelwood. While earning his bachelor’s degree in physical education from University of Missouri-St. Louis, he completed his teaching practicum at Hazelwood Central High School and his student teaching at Hazelwood East High School.
However, he didn’t go straight into a career in education because he wanted to give his sports career a shot first. Tobias was a strong basketball and baseball player at McCluer High School and UMSL. After graduating from UMSL, he played professional baseball for the Montreal Expos and Detroit Tigers.
He is a member of the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club Ring of Honor, and a member of the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, McCluer High School Hall of Fame and UMSL Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I wanted to play baseball at the highest level,” he said. “I had the opportunity to play with many players who went on to play Major League ball, and a few were considered for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.”
He played minor league baseball for a few seasons before the Detroit Tigers released him. So, he returned to St. Louis to coach baseball and basketball at Lindenwood University. He taught for three years at St. Louis Country Day School before serving as a teacher in the Parkway School District. He also served as an assistant principal at the middle and high school level.
After 13 years in Parkway, he left to become a principal for the Riverview Gardens School District for two years. As a result of the school’s progress, he was recognized as the “Middle School Principal of the Year” by the St. Louis Area Secondary School Principals Association.
In 2002, he came to Hazelwood as the first African-American certified administrator at the central office level. He has also served as director of secondary education and assistant superintendent for accountability.
Tobias and his wife, Guen, have two sons, Martin, 20, and Nicholas, 18.
“Education has made a difference in my life,” he said, “and I want to make a difference in the lives of students.”