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He Gets It: 20 Years for Jeff Munson

He Gets It: 20 Years for Jeff Munson

Many students choose independent boarding and day schools for the stability they may not have otherwise been offered; Mr. Jeff Munson, our STEAM Division Head and Director of Community Engagement is no exception. It’s hard to believe that Munson has been at Kents Hill School for 20 years and all at once, it is undeniable as everyone knows him. Anyone who meets him knows that his high energy and passion for the community, on and off-campus, is infectious. Today, we sat down with him to talk about his Kents Hill career and his hopes for the future.

Joining the Team

Munson says, “I came to KHS after a 20-year career in the Navy (a career in which we lived in 19 different places in 20 years and where my own kids had no stability in their education before arriving here as teenagers), and it was a complete accident that we even ended up here.”
He continues, “I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I left the Navy, and in 2000 my family arrived in Readfield from Yokosuka, Japan, when my wife (the Reverend Doctor, Karen Munson!) was appointed to both the Readfield United Methodist Church (just down the street) and as the Chaplain at the school. I spent a year teaching up in Waterville and joined KHS in 2001.
“But to actually answer the question: I’ve stayed for 20 years because I believe in this school. First and foremost, I am grateful for what this community did to rescue my three children from the depths of educational instability and they thrived in this environment. I’ve stayed because I have the opportunity to work with amazing and talented and caring colleagues. I’ve stayed for the myriad students in my classes who have struggled and worked and persevered and cried and laughed and have made me so proud of what they accomplished. And I’ve stayed because, frankly, the administration keeps tossing interesting challenges in my direction and I’m just plain having too much fun to leave!” 

Change and Tradition

Over his years at Kents Hill, a lot of the campus buildings have been updated, but the spirit is much the same.
Munson says, “I was going to be flippant and say that everything has changed and yet everything has stayed the same. But honestly, I think that’s true to a large degree. Yes – there have been major infrastructure changes: The Harold and Ted Alfond Athletics Center, the Ted Alfond and John Huard Turf Fields, Reed Hall, the Williams Woodworking Studio, the Bodman Performing Arts Center, Donahue Village, the Bibby and Harold Alfond Dining Commons, the Akin Learning Center, the Student Center, and Mark S. Alcaide Studio–all new since 2001. The curriculum has certainly changed and continues to evolve every year as we look to the 21st century and beyond. 
“Students have changed; I was teaching early Millennials when I first arrived and now some of them are my colleagues and it’s a whole new generation! Teachers and staff members have come and gone and sometimes come back again! So much has changed that it would be foolish to even try naming it all. 
“And yet, so much is still familiar. Our Mission Statement is still the same, although it has been tweaked a little. The Core Values remain the same. Our sense of community remains our identity.  As a group, our students are still awesome and grow more so every year. My colleagues remain committed to providing the students with the best possible, well-rounded education. So the things that impressed me in the beginning and made me fall in love with KHS are still essentially here.”

Getting It

If you’ve spoken with Munson about his favorite part of teaching, he will likely tell you it is when a student finally “gets it.” This idea has evolved over the years but is still very important to him. 
He says, “It used to be the moment of joy (or sometimes just plain relief) evident in a student when they have an intellectual break-through and finally master a concept or goal that they believed was unachievable for them. That is always so satisfying when you see the struggle end and a new sense of accomplishment and confidence being born in the student. More recently, I’ve begun looking for that same sense of self-awareness and satisfaction in students beyond academics.
“On the mission trips, we have students blog about their experiences and I’ve read posts where students are able to articulate their feelings and personal triumphs while working on a house or conversing with a homeowner; that point where they suddenly understand endemic poverty and hopelessness and need, and realize there may be a purpose greater than themselves and they can be the hope to someone. I’ve been moved to tears by so many of these thoughtful, well-written, and deeply soul-searching essays. When I read those, I become fully aware of the profound impact that we have had on students’ lives.”   


Obviously, when you think about 20 years, a lot of memories come to mind, but Munson was kind enough to share a few of his favorites. 
He says, “I have so many solid memories it’s hard to narrow it down. All of the Gulf Coast Mission Trips have been amazing, but my favorite was one where I got to work onsite with my daughters, both of whom were on the trip as alums. All Winter Carnivals have been amazing in their own rights, but the year that our theme was ‘Harry Potter and the Carnival of Winter’ (2015) watching students chase the Golden Snitch all over campus during Quidditch stands out, in my mind, as our best.
“Another great moment was the 2008 election night party that Pete Hodgin and the Student Council threw in the Dining Hall late into the night and the sheer exuberance when Obama was declared the winner. All of my favorite moments seem to involve groups of faculty and students having fun together and really building our community.”

Good Advice

For those who have yet to join our academic community, or for those who are new to teaching, Munson has this piece of advice. “This job is hard! But keep at it because the reward is totally worth it. Look—I don’t think you can stress enough how difficult this vocation is and how much work it is at so many levels. But, you also have to add this: This is the best job in the world, and you will have a profound impact on young lives and you have to take that responsibility seriously. So, have fun. And if it stops being fun and starts feeling like a chore, then get out as fast as you can.”

A Legacy

When we asked Munson how he would like to be remembered, he had a range of ideas, but also injected some of his trademark humor into the discussion. 
He says “There’s never going to be a ‘Munson Center for Nuclear Engineering’ so let’s get that off the table. I’ll be happy if I’ve been able to instill a passion for something in a handful of students. Maybe it’s Physics and one comes back and ends up as Chair of the Science Department. Maybe it’s altruism and mission, and people conclude that it’s not about us, it’s about all of us. I’d like my legacy to be in the programs that flourish after I retire. I want to be able to come back in 10 years and take a walk on a rocking trail system. I want the school to be recognized as a leader in engagement by our community partners with our students and staff actively seeking ways to be in service to others.”   

Five Things Everyone Should Know About Jeff

1. He Loves His Wife...A Lot
“In October 2021, I will have been married to an amazing person for 40 years and I consider this to be my greatest accomplishment.”

2. He Loves Trains

“I have a 600 square foot Lionel train layout above my garage where I spend much of my time and I tell people it’s for my grandchildren but let’s be honest...”

3. He Plans to Continue Engaging Communities After He Retires

“After I retire from teaching, I want to spend about three months each year on the road in a small RV and a lot of tools doing natural disaster recovery.”

4. He Had an Interesting Naval Career 

“It once had to be pointed out to me that I was standing in the middle of a live minefield. There may be more to that story.” 

5. He’s Passionate About Home Repair and Restoration 

“I’m always looking for ideas and I watch too much HGTV!”

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