This week, West Newsmagazine talks with Superintendent Dr. Eric Knost of the Rockwood School District. A native Missourian, Dr. Knost has more than 30 years in public education and has served as the district’s superintendent since 2014. Previously, Dr. Knost served as superintendent and as a principal for the Mehlville School District and as an assistant principal in the Parkway School District . Dr. Knost graduated from Webster University with a bachelor’s degree in instrumental music and education prior to earning education degrees from Lindenwood University. He shared his love of music with Rockwood students while serving as an administrative intern and band director in Rockwood from 1989-1997. In his spare time, Dr. Knost still enjoys playing music and spending time with his wife, Julie, and two daughters, Kaylin and Amy.
Why did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
I’ve been out of high school for 35 years, and if you would have asked me 35 years ago, ‘Did you think you’d ever be a superintendent?’ I’m sure I would have found great humor in that. Or even in being a principal. I’m an avid music lover and very much, still to this day, a musician. I still play professionally. It really revolved around my love of music, I was inspired by a music teacher I had and it caused me to want to teach. When you love something, you often want to find enjoyment in giving back to the very thing that you love, so teaching made a lot of sense to me while I was pursuing my job as a performing musician. That’s really what it’s all about. I went to school to get a music degree. I did not get an education degree, I got a music degree, and I went to Webster, which is a liberal arts college. At a liberal arts college, there’s a lot of room in your class programming. A lot of people triple major. … I was really interested in being a proficient musician. Along the way, I took education courses and, after I got my degree, it just so happened that all I had to do was student-teach and then, I could get the credentials to be a teacher. So, I did. Again, it was something I knew I wanted to do while I was pursuing and bettering myself as a musician, but I got into education and really from there, things just kind of laid out naturally for me because I’ve always been interested in leading things and leading people. I’ve taught that way at band programs, you have to be a leader when you’re leading a band program. Opportunities would come my way. Mentors that I would really, really admire would make suggestions to me, and before long I was interning as an administrator, followed by being an assistant principal, followed by a principal, followed by a central office person, then a deputy superintendent and then a superintendent. It just kind of laid itself out for me as I was just kind of playing out my passion being a musician and giving back to something I love by teaching music.
As a child, what did you think would be awesome about being an adult that isn’t as awesome as you thought it would be?
I find that to be the easiest question to answer, and yet, maybe not as easy to explain. It’s a little generic, but when I was a kid, I admired the idea of being an adult and all the ability to make decisions on your own. What I thought would be awesome would be not being a kid anymore. Yet, as an adult, all of my inspiration in my 30-year career comes from kids, and just how genuine kids are and how real they are, and how passionate about their own lives they are. I know it may sound kind of strange, but I thought it would really be awesome to not be a kid anymore. As an adult, I think kids are the most awesome things making up our world, and I think kids have more of the answers than the world allows us to believe, and all my inspiration comes from young people in our world. It’s just a flip-flop thing. As a kid, I thought it would be the coolest thing to be an adult. As an adult, I don’t see anything cooler than our youth.
What are some red flags to watch out for in daily life?
I think the unfortunate thing in our world, and I think social media makes it worse, but we tend to gravitate to the critics. It’s kind of like that old concept of how you have to look at the bad accident when you’re driving down the road. We have so much criticism and so much divisiveness through those critics that have such an opinion and are so willing to say, ‘You’re wrong, you’re dumb, you don’t know what you’re talking about, that’s stupid, that’s ugly,’ you know. That, to me, is the open door to a path leading down to more destructive behaviors and destructive lives. My daughters are 21 and 19, but as they were growing up, I would always tell them to stay away from the negativity. To me, it’s a red flag when you’re around somebody who constantly criticizes not only you but also everyone around you. Maybe they like you, so you don’t get the criticism, but everyone else does. That, to me, is toxic. Or these Facebook pages where people go online to make groups where the sole purpose is to rip people apart. It’s just unhealthy. It’s unhealthy for the people that do it because it perpetuates the wrong thing, and I think it perpetuates destructive behaviors. … I’ll make it easier. It’s people who are selfish versus selfless. People who are more interested in the betterment of themselves than they are in bettering themselves by bettering the world around them or bettering other people around them, I think that’s a red flag. Self-centered attitudes drive motivations that aren’t good for the common good. If I see those two things, I try to distance myself if I can, unless I can do something to neutralize it or do something to effectively redirect it. Just don’t engage. Stay away from it, because it’s a red flag. It’s an open door. It’s a portal, or a catalyst, and a plethora of negativity that’s destructive.
If you were given $5 million dollars to open a small museum, what kind of museum would you create?
This may be an obvious answer, but I think it would be a museum of fine arts or a museum of the cultural arts. Anything just really exploring the arts in depth. We have that, kind of, in pockets. I love the art museum, but something that would just thoroughly define the richness of all the arts and all the cultures associated with arts or the cultures where the arts came from. I personally could spend weeks in a place like that and probably still not get my fill. I think that’s what I’d do with my $5 million.
What is the best thing to happen to you this week?
There have been many things, but I’d just have to say probably the best thing was [that] both of my daughters are in college and I was able to spend time with both of them at the same time. I don’t know if we’d technically call that this week or last week, but still, that ranks probably higher than any of the other things I could mention. They’re both in college and doing their own thing, and neither of them lives at home. For the amount of time that you’d expect, I get to see both of them on occasion, but it’s a real treat when I have both of them together at the same time with my wife and me. That’s definitely given me a lot of motivation for having a great week and then, everything else is just enhanced that much more.