Tom Rose stood over Bobby, a bobtail cat, who has pressed himself flat on the examination table.
“It’s always nice when the cats just sit there,” said Rose, who owns Rolling Hills Veterinary Hospital. “Occasionally, I’ll get that.”
Bobby glared up at him, a growl rolling in his throat.
“Great looking teeth,” Rose said, unfazed.
The interaction is pretty typical. “Fortunately, what I mostly do is routine stuff on healthy animals,” Rose said. “Kind of like kids going to the doctor.”
The similarity isn’t the only one Rose, who is running for one of three open seats on the Columbia School Board, sees between working as a veterinarian and working with children and education.
“As a veterinarian, you see a lot of different kinds of people,” he said, “and you really have to be able to communicate well and have a lot of compassion.”
He sees the parallel between owners and parents, too, and their involvement with the public school system. “We’ll have individuals on each end of the spectrum,” Rose said. “From those that don’t want to do anything to those that want to do everything in the world. And so we have to balance that out.”
Rose has been a school board member since he was appointed in June 2007. Because of his time there, his work as a mentor and his business experience, he thinks he has what it takes to continue to serve the community.
“I bring to the board a good feeling of what the teachers experience in the classroom,” Rose said. “I have, especially through the early childhood portion of it, expanded my knowledge of what the educational needs of the community are.”
School board member Jan Mees said she sees Rose as a valuable member of the board. “I think his commitment to education says a lot about his commitment to our board,” she said.
Board President Karla DeSpain agrees, citing Rose’s special interest in early childhood. “He has so much expertise in that area, so it’s been very helpful,” DeSpain said.
Rose is on the First Chance for Children board, an organization that specializes in education for “at risk” kids up to age 5, and increasing the availability of early childhood programs is one of his long-term goals for the district.
“For all parents, but we know there’s a real need for what we call the ‘at-risk’ children,” he said. “They don’t have the finances or the materials to provide quality experiences for their growing child.”
Rose is a mentor to a fourth-grader in the Stand By Me program. “He’s just a great advocate for the kids,” said mentor coordinator Zona Burk. “The boys get really excited when he’s coming and that’s good, that’s what we want to have happen.”
Rose has become increasingly vocal on the board and advocates making the school board “more transparent and more open to the public.” At a March 10 meeting, he addressed the board as a citizen, calling for greater trust among stakeholders in the public schools.
Although DeSpain said the way Rose “thoroughly researched things he’s been asked to weigh in on” is one of his strengths, Rose said he has a weakness in that area. “Sometimes I get concerned about that,” he said. “I want to be careful that I’m not just going along with the group.”
As an example, he pointed to the board’s approval of the Vemer property for a new high school without any public input. “I didn’t feel like I was as educated as I could have been,” he said.
At least one native, Columbia Heart Beat blog creator Mike Martin, is troubled that Rose — well before a March 12 heart attack sidelined him — decided not to campaign.
“I think it’s tone deaf not to go out to see what the voters think about what you support and don’t support,” said Martin, who has run for office. “Part of the job is campaigning for it, it’s a critical part of the job. It’s stunningly disappointing.”
For Rose, not running a formal campaign is a personal choice.
“I don’t have any problems with people who do that and who want to get their name out,” he said. “It’s just not what I want to do. I will continue to do the things that I do whether I’m on the board or not.”
He said the board has made a year-long investment in him and he’s already gone through the learning curve. And there are still things he wants to accomplish, such as increasing public trust of the administration, and issues he wants to help the board solve, such as balancing the budget and narrowing the achievement gap.
Rose would also like to address issues important to the public, such as the debate over integrated versus traditional math. Integrated math is a newer concept that has challenged the efficiency of traditional math.
“Deep down I guess I’m a believer in traditional math,” he said. “But I can certainly understand that there are a lot of students that just can’t learn it that way. The problem that you have is that we haven’t been able to evaluate the true results of how those kids do later on.”
Rose agrees with Superintendent Phyllis Chase’s take on integrated math: “We have to give it time,” he said.
Click here to read Tom Rose's response to a questionnaire from the Columbia Community Teachers Association.