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After a late spring tornado flattened a third of Joplin, Missouri, killing 161 people, and damaging or destroying 12 out of its 16 schools, Superintendent C.J. Huff led his team of educators to start the school year on time, creating a learning space for 4,200 students in just 12 weeks. His determined and hopeful initiative rallied the community of Joplin to recovery and garnered national attention in the wake of one of the most devastating tornadoes in U.S. history.

With over 20 years of leadership experience in public education, Huff collaborated with educators to tackle significant issues related to graduation rates, student well being, community engagement, technology integration, curriculum development, visible learning, and 21st century school design/construction. During his tenure as superintendent, the Joplin School District was recognized as 1 of 9 "Future Ready" school districts in the nation by the US Department of Education.

As an individual, Huff is a highly decorated leader in education and his community. He has received the Missourian Award, the Missouri Superintendent of the Year, and has been one of the four finalists for National Superintendent of the Year. After his efforts to see children’s education continue despite the wreckage of the 2011 tornado, he was acknowledged by People Magazine as a “Hero of the Year.”

Huff is Founder and President of the CJ Huff Group, LLC, a consulting service that supports the efforts of leaders who want nothing more than to insure there are far greater opportunities for future generations of Americans. He currently serves a subject matter expert for the U.S. Department of Education.

Full Profile

Dr. C.J. Huff currently serves as the superintendent of Joplin Schools, a position he has held since July 2008. He is the proud father of three children and has been married to his best friend, Jennifer, for 15 years.

A native of McCune, Kansas, Huff earned his Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from Pittsburg State University, his Master and Specialist 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.

His wide range of experiences 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 that has followed the devastating Sunday, May 22, 2011 tornado that ripped through the heart of Joplin. Graduation ceremonies for Joplin’s Class of 2011 had just concluded at Missouri Southern State University when the tornado struck around 5:41 p.m. destroying or damaging 10 of the 19 buildings in Huff’s district including the high school and leaving over half of his students without a school to return to on Monday, May 23. The Joplin Schools family suffered loss more precious than the buildings though as they lost a staff member and seven students to the storm.

Huff’s declaration that “We will start school on time” is credited with being a key factor that drew the community of Joplin together just days after the tornado and provided a positive light for the country to rally around in the midst of such tragedy and 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 is well-respected by the community and his peers as a man of vision and a man that keeps his word. People magazine named him as one of their “2011 Heroes Among Us.” Other recognitions include the 2013 Missouri Superintendent of the Year award, one of four finalists for the 2013 National Superintendent of the Year award, 2012 Missouri National Education Association Horace Mann Award, National School Public Relations Association’s Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communications Award, eSchool News 2012 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award, Missouri Association of School Administrators 2012 Pearce Award, Missouri School Public Relations Association 2012 Administrator of the Year and the 2011 American School Board Journal Magna Award/Grand Prize Winner for Joplin’s Bright Futures initiative focusing on community engagement and drop-out prevention.

Dr. CJ Huff presented as our keynote speaker to an audience of 1000 teachers, support staff, parents, and local government officials during our school division’s professional learning day. He told his story of the May 2011 tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri, destroying 9 schools and taking countless lives. His message of hope, resiliency and recovery in the face of such a horrific tragedy was inspiring to say the least. We will long be thinking and praying for Dr. Huff and the strong people of Joplin.
Elk Island Public Schools
(Event booked by Speaking.com)


C.J. Huff Speaker Videos Back to top

TEDx Talk


C.J, Huff explains to the public why it is in their best interest to care about the state of public schools and whether or not students are completing their education. Approximately 1.2 million youth drop out of school each year; many of these drop outs are later convicted and imprisoned, costing taxpayers almost $300,000 per year per inmate.

Huff discusses how he, educators, and various community institutions collaborated to turn around the Joplin school district. He stresses that issues such as students’ lack of well being are multi-faceted and therefore must be approached holistically with support from various institutions. “I think it’s really important to realize that we have unhealthy children growing up in unhealthy communities across this country,” Huff says. “Unless we all work together in our community, societal challenges such as the dropout rate, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, homelessness, can’t be tackled by any one entity on its own.”


Speeches / Speaking Engagements Back to top


The superintendent who rallied his community after a tornado destroyed one-third of it, C.J. Huff brings a message of inspirational resilience to the stage. Drawing from his own experience of raising the Joplin School 72% graduation rate in a town plagued with drug addiction and rebuilding a school district after one of the U.S.’s worse natural disasters, he offers key insights on building collaboration and partnerships, the only means of taking on such encompassing challenges.

Huff’s presentations are a must for educational, business, and community leaders looking for the skills to resolve complex issues and navigate unforeseen change.

    Leadership in Action: Build Better Teams by Creating Common Ground
    Today’s organizations face serious threats to their future—from tightened budgets, to motivating workforces, to dealing with unexpected crises. The ability to overcome these issues starts with strong leaders that cultivate a culture of cooperation long before the challenges arise. Joplin, Missouri School Superintendent Dr. C.J. Huff has become a respected leader through his demonstration of extraordinary focus, drive and commitment to making sure his community moved towards recovery—despite the horrific destruction caused by one of the strongest tornadoes in recorded history. By promoting partnership, embracing a collaborative culture and improving employee morale through communication—he was able to build common ground before tragedy struck—and to mobilize others to achieve what seemed insurmountable in the aftermath. In this moving presentation, Huff describes the importance of teamwork, service to others and leadership in the face of overwhelming circumstances, inspiring audiences to always prepare for unknown challenges that lie ahead.

    Education for the 21st Century: Keeping America Competitive
    In a rapidly changing world filled with new problems and exciting possibilities, how can our education system prepare the leaders of tomorrow to face the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead? Superintendent of the Joplin, Missouri Schools, Dr. C.J. Huff sheds light on the emerging issues schools need to face in order to create informed global citizens. If America is to stay competitive, Huff believes a holistic approach to education must be realized—one that goes beyond workplace readiness.





* Please note that while this speaker’s specific speaking fee falls within the range posted above (for Continental U.S. based events), fees are subject to change. For current fee information or international event fees (which are generally 50-75% more than U.S based event fees), please contact us.

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    Leadership in Action: Build Better Teams by Creating Common Ground
    Today’s organizations face serious threats to their future—from tightened budgets, to motivating workforces, to dealing with unexpected crises. The ability to overcome these issues starts with strong leaders that cultivate a culture of cooperation long before the challenges arise. Joplin, Missouri School Superintendent Dr. C.J. Huff has become a respected leader through his demonstration of extraordinary focus, drive and commitment to making sure his community moved towards recovery—despite the horrific destruction caused by one of the strongest tornadoes in recorded history. By promoting partnership, embracing a collaborative culture and improving employee morale through communication—he was able to build common ground before tragedy struck—and to mobilize others to achieve what seemed insurmountable in the aftermath. In this moving presentation, Huff describes the importance of teamwork, service to others and leadership in the face of overwhelming circumstances, inspiring audiences to always prepare for unknown challenges that lie ahead.

    Education for the 21st Century: Keeping America Competitive
    In a rapidly changing world filled with new problems and exciting possibilities, how can our education system prepare the leaders of tomorrow to face the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead? Superintendent of the Joplin, Missouri Schools, Dr. C.J. Huff sheds light on the emerging issues schools need to face in order to create informed global citizens. If America is to stay competitive, Huff believes a holistic approach to education must be realized—one that goes beyond workplace readiness.



TEDx Talk


C.J, Huff explains to the public why it is in their best interest to care about the state of public schools and whether or not students are completing their education. Approximately 1.2 million youth drop out of school each year; many of these drop outs are later convicted and imprisoned, costing taxpayers almost $300,000 per year per inmate.

Huff discusses how he, educators, and various community institutions collaborated to turn around the Joplin school district. He stresses that issues such as students’ lack of well being are multi-faceted and therefore must be approached holistically with support from various institutions. “I think it’s really important to realize that we have unhealthy children growing up in unhealthy communities across this country,” Huff says. “Unless we all work together in our community, societal challenges such as the dropout rate, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, homelessness, can’t be tackled by any one entity on its own.”