Chase talks about achievements, criticism, future

Sunday, August 17, 2008 | 7:18 p.m. CDT
Phyllis Chase visits with Alex Geyer, right, and Andrea Morales at Mill Creek Elementary School during her time spent as Columbia Public Schools' superintendent. Chase announced her retirement Aug. 5 and sat down for an interview with the Missourian Aug. 7.

COLUMBIA - Columbia Public Schools has moved on.

Jim Ritter is back in as superintendent.

Phyllis Chase is out. Retired.

But in an interview Aug. 7, Chase shared her thoughts on her work, starting with her relationship with the school board.

"We make decisions together," she said. "... Certainly I advise them, and I have some information and ideas, but I don't make decisions on my own."

However, she recognizes she has been the leader of the district and takes the responsibility that comes with the job.

"I think how you feel about those decisions depends on where you stand. There are many people that would say our decision for the new high school site was absolutely the right decision, saved this community a lot of money in terms of the purchase of the land.

"Now, how much responsibility should be given to the board of education and the superintendent to maintain green space? Or be concerned about infrastructure? And did that happen the last time we built a comprehensive high school? Was the school board and superintendent held accountable for how the infrastructure got funded? All those are questions we can have a discussion about.

"Based upon what we knew at the time and what the expectations were from what we felt the community expected us to do, I think we made the right decision. Now, after making it, some community members expressed they had different expectations, and we felt it was very important to go back and try to meet even their expectations."

On achievements

"You know, I am proud of the fact that we have been able to meet the board's goals of increasing achievement for all students and closing the achievement gap (among groups of students). Now, we are nowhere near finished, we have more to do, but through the model school (West Boulevard Elementary School) and other continuous improvement projects, we have made student achievement gains.

"I'm very proud that for the five years that I've been here, we've been recognized as the district with distinction in performance (a state recognition). That had not happened before my coming, and I certainly hope it continues to be the status for Columbia Public Schools.

"I'm also very proud of passing the largest bond issue ever in the history of Columbia; a $60 million bond levy that is allowing us to build the first new comprehensive high school in 36 years and our 20th elementary school."

On being the focus of online criticism in news media

"I think we all have to ask ourselves the question, Where is all of this going? And how appropriate is it for a newspaper to publish comments that in fact are unaccountable? People do not need to leave their names. The facts need not be checked. You can say whatever, and there's no follow-up. However, some people could believe it to be true. So, I will not be a part of that because I don't think that's right and fair. But, you know, it is where we are today as a nation with these things.

"... I think it constitutes a small group of people who are negative people, who are also cowards to an extent, because if they have something honestly to say, there's not a reason why they couldn't ask me in a very accountable fashion to respond. But these are people that hide behind anonymous quotes rather than stand up and be honest and ask the questions that are on their minds and demand answers. I mean, that is what a democracy is about. They are skirting that entire process.

"...That (process) is what a board of education meeting is about. Anyone can ask questions at that time. The open forum allows you to do that. Then again, you'd have to show your face or say your name. And if you really don't have anything that's true or accountable, you don't want to be a part of that process. Now, that's my opinion."

On the district's future

"I think the challenges will be similar in terms of continuing to engage the public and dialogue around what's best for Columbia Public Schools, ensuring that the public knows they are a part of that decision-making process, and that their opinions are valued in this district.

"I think certainly looking at increased expectations as they are demonstrated through the No Child Left Behind Act as well as expectations from the state of Missouri concerning achievement in an arena of diminishing resources - that will certainly be a challenge for whoever is in this seat and for this entire community.

"... Certainly there are some things I'd like to see (in the next superintendent), but I don't think it's appropriate for me to weigh in on that as the person sitting in this chair right now. That's just my opinion.

"Whatever the board needs from me, I'm here for them."

On stepping down

"First of all, Columbia is a wonderful place to live. I have so enjoyed my time here, and this is a wonderful place in which to retire. ... I mean, this is a wonderful place that is quite supportive of education. There are wonderful people here, so many positive supportive people. So, I've enjoyed (it), and it's been a privilege to be superintendent in Columbia Public Schools.

"We've been able to accomplish so much because there are such high quality people here. We have the best teachers, the best administrators; we have great kids, caring families and a supportive community. You couldn't ask for more than that. And one just, one has to focus on the big picture, and for me, what I've just told you, that is the big picture of what constitutes Columbia, Mo."



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Bob Smith August 18, 2008 | 9:52 a.m.

What a load of crap! Dr. Chase wants to call us cowards for critizing her. That is the same ego that started the problems. Her and her staff believed they weren't answerable to anyone. I tried to ask questions and was given unsatisfactory, snide remarks. And sometimes it's hard to ask questions when decisions are made without anyone's knowledge (like the new high school location). This convinces me even more, GOOD RIDDANCE.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 18, 2008 | 10:20 a.m.

Why did Dr. Chase ignore the drug problems and racial tensions that exist in our public schools? Just another example of denial, cover-up and prettying-up Columbia for those who don't want to see the big picture.

(Report Comment)
Nathan Stephens August 18, 2008 | 5:39 p.m.

Well Bob, I have to agree with Dr. Chase that there are a lot of people in Columbia that criticize in a cowardly fashion by hiding behind anonymous columns in the Tribune or providing fictious names on blogs like this. (If Bob Smith is even your real name.) While I may not have agreed with everything she did and said, I told her this to her face and received her responses.

I also think that Hank Waters and others in the community need to know that Jim Ritter is not the 'Great White Hope' nor is he Jesus returned in the flesh. The district will still have it's problems regardless of who is at the helm but it takes communities have constructive dialog and for pete's sake, come to a board meeting every once in awhile. Don't just talk crap online or in the local newspapers.

(Report Comment)

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