McKenzie Robinson | SBJ

2021 Most Influential Women: Debbie Yonke

Republic School District

Posted online

Debbie Yonke knows her influence as a leader reaches beyond the people with whom she directly interacts.

“Each educator that I can positively impact and help grow can then positively impact hundreds of students who, in turn, can positively impact their communities,” says Yonke, the director of professional learning and instructional support for the Republic School District.

Over the past 30 years, Yonke has held leadership roles within the Springfield, Willard and Republic school districts, and at Missouri State, Evangel and Lindenwood universities.

“The greatest power in education is not simply obtaining it but taking what you’ve learned and sharing it with others so they can continue the ripple effect,” Yonke says.

That belief is what motivates Yonke to invest in training the next generation of educators, both domestically and abroad.

While volunteering as educational ambassador for Springfield nonprofit I Pour Life, she coordinated two teams of educators to travel to Ethiopia to provide professional development training for over 200 teachers. Yonke also has traveled to Cambodia with Evangel to provide similar training for rural teachers. Yonke says she gives to her community because her hometown gave so much to her.

“I would not be where I am today if not for the people in my small farming Indiana hometown who reached out, got me involved in church, made sure I knew they believed in me and told me I could go to college and change the world,” Yonke says. “They changed my life, and I want to pay that all forward tenfold.”

In Yonke’s opinion, one of the best attributes of southwest Missouri is the quality of the educational systems and schools and the impact they have on communities. In her position in Republic, Yonke has worked to create a system for curriculum development that’s led by teachers. That work, in conjunction with other district initiatives, earned Republic recognition as the first International Professional Learning Community district in Missouri. The district is one of only 27 nationwide with this designation.

Additionally, working with Missouri State and Evangel, Yonke helped plan and launch the RepMo Leaders program, which allows Republic educators to take weekly courses to earn credits toward their master’s, specialist or doctorate degrees.

“We have had over 50 educators participate in the program,” Yonke says. “Initiatives like this make true investments in our local educators, ensuring they feel supported and love their jobs.”

Despite her prominent role in these programs, Yonke realizes that change is not done in isolation.

She says, “Change is always a collaborative effort of listening, bringing everyone’s ideas to the table, and then partnering to equip them to do the work.”