Five Ideas: What are your thoughts on these items in the news this week?

Saturday, August 16, 2008 | 7:22 p.m. CDT

Ritter to the rescue

When Phyllis Chase stepped down from her position as superintendent on Aug. 5, it presented another in a long list of challenges facing Columbia Public Schools. In the past year, school district residents have expressed their discontent in at least two key ways: by pushing for a new location for the city's next public high school and by rejecting a proposed 54-cent increase in the property tax levy for schools in April.

Enter Jim Ritter. After just a few days' deliberation, the school board settled on the school district veteran to become interim superintendent. Trying to save his own retirement benefits and to save the district some cash, Ritter will work in a part-time role at a salary of $50,000.

Ritter is a face Columbia knows. His lengthy resume includes time at Hickman High School and Truman State University, but he has a strong history of returning to Columbia Public Schools. He restored credibility to the district in the 1990s after the departure of predecessor Russell Mayo. During his five years as superintendent, voters approved every bond issue and tax increase the district sought. He likes to reach out to district employees and patrons and says he plans to do that again, in hopes of boosting the district's image in the community once again.


What matters should immediately rise to the top of Ritter's to-do list?


Olympic connections

Folks in Columbia might feel some close connections to the 2008 version of the Olympic games. They've joined the rest of the world in watching Olympian Michael Phelps shatter records. For some locals, watching the world's best swimmer participate on the global stage invokes memories of the Missouri Grand Prix in February 2007, when Phelps broke the record for the 200-meter butterfly in the Mizzou Aquatic Center. He was an eight-time Olympic medalist then. So far, he has won six gold medals in Beijing, making him the most successful Olympian in history.

Columbia also will want to tune in Wednesday when MU alum Ben Askren makes his Olympic wrestling debut in hopes of eventually grappling for gold. According to the LA Times, Askren plans to cut his trademark curly hair before the competition, so his opponent can't use it against him. His hair might be missing, but his freewheeling wrestling style won't be.

Another MU grad, Christian Cantwell, competed Friday in the shot put, hurling the 16-pound orb for enough distance to earn a silver medal.


What has been the most memorable Olympic moment thus far?


Sibling in peril

The conflict between Russia and the Republic of Georgia is not as distant as it seems. Columbia is being called upon to help its long-time Georgian sister city, Kutaisi.

Many Columbians are unaware of the sister-city status of Columbia and Kutaisi. The two have been paired since April 22, 1997. Columbians over the years have donated generously to provide salt to Kutaisi, where an inordinate number of people suffered from thyroid problems because of iodine deficiencies in their diets. Grant Elementary School is also partners with School No. 3 in Kutaisi, and students share pen-pal relationships.

The most recent conflict in Georgia began Aug. 8, though it's unclear which side started it. Pro-Russian separatists in two provinces want independence from Georgia, but the republic is striving to reimpose rule in those regions.

Columbians can help by donating money for basic aid such as food, water and medical supplies. First Baptist Church is serving as a collection point. You can also donate online at Donations from First Baptist Church members will go directly to its sister church, Peace Cathedral Church in Kutaisi. Other donations will be distributed to Georgian areas by A Call to Serve.


How does our sister-city relationship with Kutaisi influence your views about the conflict between Georgia and Russia?


Plugging into energy habits

With energy costs soaring, it's becoming ever more important to conserve as much as we can.

With that goal in mind, former Sustain Mizzou president Ben Datema is trying to make it easier for people on campus to monitor their energy use and, in turn, help encourage students and faculty on campus to adopt more sustainable habits.

Datema has a $25,000 grant to implement a program at MU called Building Dashboard. The program, which is already in place at Harvard, the University of Florida, Oberlin College and other campuses, delivers real-time statistics about how much energy is being used. It will provide updated charts and graphs and post them to a Web site that is accessible to anyone.

Occupants of various buildings can keep nearly constant tabs on their electricity consumption, a prospect that in theory will provide extra motivation to turn off that unnecessary light or to power down that computer overnight.


How might constant monitoring of your energy consumption help change your habits at home and at work?


Students come back

Get ready, Columbia. All those open tables at restaurants and empty parking spaces downtown soon will become distant memories, as MU welcomes back returning students and gets prepared for the arrival of the largest freshman class in its history.

Returning students have been trickling into Columbia all month, and some groups of freshmen already have begun moving into residence halls. Most, however, won't arrive until later in the week.

The incoming class is so large - at about 5,860 - that MU has run out of room and was forced to house some students in apartment complexes.

Some say the rising enrollment is a product of the national attention MU is getting from the success of its football Tigers. Others attribute it to the strength of MU's academic programs.

Regardless of the reason, it's clear that MU, with a total enrollment in the neighborhood of 29,000, is growing. And Columbia will have to grow with it.


What are the pros and cons for the larger community of surging enrollment at MU?



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