One of the many TASA member benefits is access to member service representatives. These former school leaders serve as an extension of the TASA staff, dedicating their time to support individual TASA members in their respective regions. The roles of a TASA member service representative are many, from welcoming new administrators to supporting those who’ve been in their positions for an extended period of time and find themselves in need of a mentor. TASA’s member service representative for Regions 7, 8, 10, and 11 is John Fuller. This is his story.
Retirement hasn’t come easily to John Fuller. He first tried in 2011, retiring as superintendent of Wylie ISD after 41 years of work in public education, with 33 of those years spent in a superintendent’s office, including those in San Marcos CISD, Muleshoe ISD and Wells ISD. After one year and one day of retirement, Fuller was called back into service, returning to serve as interim superintendent of Mineola ISD for another three years.
Fuller’s original life plans didn’t involve public education, but another public-serving career. He graduated from Dallas Baptist University with a premedical undergraduate degree. However, he was in DBU’s very first premed class, and wound up falling short of the required scores to get into medical school. But he had a strong foundation in math and science, and he’d worked as a tutor throughout his time in school, so he found a teaching position without issue.
“Once I got into education, I know it was where I needed to be,” Fuller says.
After three years as a classroom teacher, Fuller moved into administration, serving as a principal for four years. He credits being in the right place at the right time, but at the tender age of 30, he was tapped to take the helm in Wells ISD, when the district found itself in need of a new superintendent.
“I was asked, what’s the difference between a teacher and a superintendent, and I said when I was teaching, I had my own kingdom, my own little place to make sure my students were learning,” Fuller says. “When I became principal, I realized there were 20 kingdoms, not just one.”
As a superintendent, those kingdoms expanded, and Fuller answered the call, learning that leading an entire district was a whole new adventure.
“When I was asked, ‘What’s the difference in a superintendent and a principal?’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s easy. It’s the unknown.’”
Fuller was a natural fit for educational leadership, which makes it no surprise that he found himself called back to serve. Mineola ISD wasn’t the only group that came calling after Fuller’s initial attempt at retirement. Johnny Veselka, TASA’s former executive director, also reached out to Fuller in 2011, asking him to serve the organization as a member service representative.
“I told him I would love to be reconnected with all the great educators in the state,” Fuller says. “And that’s what keeps me going now. I’m 72, and some people ask why I’m still doing this. It’s because I not only love the profession — I love the people in the profession.”
As a member service representative, Fuller makes a point of visiting all of his regional service centers to get lists of all new superintendents in those areas. Although these new superintendents already have been assigned mentors, he believes that sometimes the best mentor is someone they can call when they need help — someone who’s been there before.
“I let them know I don’t have all the answers,” Fuller says. “But sometimes two people can find the answer a whole lot easier than one person can.”
Fuller served as TASA president during his last year in Wylie ISD, and through the organization, he got to know many of Texas’ long-term superintendents. With nearly a decade of mentorship under his belt, he feels that personnel issues are some of the stickiest topics superintendents deal with, due to confidentiality requirements. As a member service representative, he can discuss confidential personnel details that superintendents might not be ready or able to share with their board members or other district staff.
“As a superintendent, the buck does stop at your desk,” Fuller says. “It’s a lonely position because there’s no one you can take the confidential and difficult questions, other than another superintendent.”
His involvement in TASA is a source of pride for Fuller, who makes sure his mentees understand that the organization exists to serve them. He is happy to be a facilitator for the group, sharing the news about TASA’s available programs and services to all of his new superintendents.
“TASA is an organization that belongs to its membership, and the staff in Austin as well as all of the individuals who work with TASA, we’re here to help all superintendents get the most out of their organization.”
Fuller’s personal life has been just as successful as his professional life. He’s the father of five children, three of whom are educators, and grandfather to 10. His wife, Gayle Fuller, is an entrepreneur and writer, known for writing “Step up to the TEKS.” The couple has built a retreat on 75 acres just north of Mineola, where they have been spending time since the outbreak of COVID-19. While it’s a challenging and uncertain time for school superintendents, Fuller also sees the entire situation as an opportunity for schools to move forward.
“We’ve known for 20 years that we could utilize our technology more than we do,” Fuller says. “Now that we have this crisis on top of us, I think it’s an opportunity for school districts to see how we might better use virtual instruction. It cannot and will not replace a teacher in a classroom, but there is help out there. Now is the time to be creative, and to search for that help.”
Find contact information for all five TASA member service representatives on the TASA staff webpage, and look for features on the other reps to come soon in TASA’s INSIGHT journal!