We had children in the rubble . . . There is no worse feeling in the world; I can tell you, at this time in my life, I had 7,747 kids that I was responsible for, and I could only account for my three children.
Tragedy to Triumph: A Story of Resilience
Nothing can substitute experience. His wide range of experience as a classroom teacher, building principal, superintendent and a family farmer prepared him to lead his district of 1,100 employees and 7,700 students through the recovery effort. The tornado destroyed 10 of the 19 buildings in his district leaving over half of his students without a school to return to in May. “We will start school on time,” Huff declared. His determination was a key factor that drew the community of Joplin together just days after the tornado and provided a positive light for the nation to rally around in the midst the destruction. To find and create learning space for 4,200 kids—54 percent of the district—in 12 weeks was a daunting task. “Somebody told me it couldn’t be done,” said Huff, “which is all it took to get me going.”
On August 17, 2011 Joplin’s 7,700 students started the new school year on time. On May 21, 2012—just one day shy of the one year anniversary of the devastating tornado—President Barack Obama delivered the high school graduation commencement address.
Huff’s passion is to further the education system by offering future leaders insight about facing challenges and seizing opportunities.
Three years later, Joplin Schools continued to lead the community through the recovery effort. Huff and his team encountered many obstacles. Undaunted, his focus remained unchanged. In August 2014, the last of the buildings destroyed by the storm was rebuilt—fulfilling yet another promise to build Joplin back “bigger and better.”
Huff is well-respected by the community and his peers as a man of vision and a man that keeps his word.
A Career in Public Speaking
C.J. understands how teamwork, leadership and a focus on the future can help overcome any challenge. In his presentation, “Stronger Together,” he shares his remarkable story of leadership, relationships, and resiliency that kept children at the center of the recovery effort after the Joplin Tornado. Claiming 161 lives and inflicting damages exceeding $3 billion, it’s recognized as the most costly tornado in U.S. history. In his speech “Education for the 21st Century,” he notes that the education system must prepare the leaders of tomorrow through technology and communication to face future challenges.
Sincere, passionate and down-to-earth, C.J. offers clear leadership strategies based on his real-world experiences in his speeches.
Education and Personal Life
A native of McCune, Kansas, Huff earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from Pittsburg State University. He received his Masters and Specialist degrees in Education from Missouri State University. Most recently, he earned his Doctorate in Education with a focus in Educational Leadership from the University of Arkansas in 2003. Dr. C.J. Huff served as the superintendent of Joplin Schools from July, 2008 through June, 2015. He is the proud father of three children and has been married to his best friend, Jennifer, for 24 years.