Superintendent job likely belongs to Deming

Thursday, February 12, 2009 | 10:50 a.m. CST

I went over to West Junior High School on Tuesday evening to meet and greet our next school superintendent, Charles Eugene Deming.

Yes, I know there's another "finalist," but if I were Chris Belcher I wouldn't be saying my goodbyes in Kearney just yet. Why would board members go around their highly paid search firm to entice the local guy out of retirement if they don't intend to hire him?  

I could be wrong, of course. I often am. It seems pretty clear to me, though, that this job is Skip Deming's to lose. In spite of a few stumbles and a studied vagueness that irritated a handful among the meeters and greeters, he didn't lose it Tuesday.

As I chatted with him briefly, admired his natty double-breasted suit and Arizona suntan, and listened carefully for some substance in his responses to questions, I was struck by the resemblance between Skip, who'll be 63 in June, and his mentor, retiring (again) superintendent Jim Ritter.

Both have made their careers in the Columbia schools, with short stints of university service. Both cover their passion for education, and for our schools in particular, with a laid-back, laconic demeanor. Both seem to enjoy the respect and affection of nearly everyone they've worked with. Both see communication with staff and community as being Job One for a superintendent.

Both have mastered the jargon of education and art of dodging difficult questions.

One questioner, for example, wanted to know Skip's take on the math curriculum that has become a contentious issue for angry parents and at least one board member. He responded that he favors an "eclectic" approach to the teaching of math and, indeed, all subjects. The "artistry of teaching" lies, he said, in determining which approach is best suited to each pupil.

His guiding principle, he said, is "what is best for the children of the Columbia Public Schools." If what is best for any child is a move to a private school, that's OK, too. He emphasized, however, "I'm a public school person."

Several questioners wanted to know how he'd grapple with the budget shortfall that faces the district. He demonstrated that his highly polished oxfords were made for dancing as he pleaded his ignorance of any specifics of problems or solutions. The issues facing the next superintendent are "tougher than ever," he said. His process of confronting them would be based on what he described as his favorite saying: "Plan the work and work the plan."

When an obviously dissatisfied listener demanded to know whether he'd produce a 15-page business plan for the system, he quietly responded that he'll have a plan, though he wouldn't promise 15 pages. He did promise, repeatedly, something the board found lacking with Superintendent Phyllis Chase. That's communication, which he prefers to do in person but through "appropriate channels," with teachers and parents.

Outgoing board president Michelle Gadbois said in introducing Skip that she and her colleagues are seeking a "fabulous superintendent." I doubt that's how he would describe himself. In fact, given the opportunity to explain how he's superior to Chris Belcher, he lavished praise on the other contender.

The session was held in a school cafeteria. On one wall were posters exhorting the Vikings of West Junior High to be "Respectful," "Responsible" and "Ready." My guess is that Skip would be comfortable claiming those virtues.

I'll be surprised if they don't get him the job.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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Ray Shapiro February 12, 2009 | 12:31 p.m.

Wow, considering that most public comments making it to the Trib site express concerns about Deming being "retired," his lack of a PHD, (unlike Superintendent Dr. Chris Belcher), and the fact that he lavished praise on Dr. Belcher, makes me think that Deming is more of a politician then Superintendent material. In this town it's very, "in-your -face" that it's not what you know but who you know.
Maybe after tonight's open meeting with Superintendent Dr. Chris Belcher of Kearney Missouri, we should give him the opportunity to have a public debate with Deming. I think Columbia owes at least that much to Superintendent Dr. Chris Belcher.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand February 12, 2009 | 12:39 p.m.

Has Deming announced a plan for dealing with apathetic parents and students? Then the district wouldn't have to waste millions of extra taxpayer dollars (e.g., $15,136 per West Boulevard student) doing something that only parents and students can do.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 12, 2009 | 12:50 p.m.

Per Hank Waters, Publisher of the Tribune:
{"...Deming and Chris Belcher, superintendent of the small Kearney School District north of Kansas City. ..
..One can praise the board for not keeping all of the original five “finalists” in the running if in the end none met expectations, but it is not good practice to accept a late application without opening the search to any and all late-coming candidates who missed the original deadline..."}
How about never being a superintendent, lack of a "timely application" as well as "lack of a doctoral degree" being three strikes against you?
For the next inning, you can start off with being retired and cronyism.
(I guess it's not what you know, but who you know.)
If Chris Belcher doesn't get hired, then I would suggest that the CPS board, refund us taxpayers, (out of their own pockets), the money spent on hiring a search firm that turned up Superintendent Belcher, in the first place.
If Belcher is not hired, I'd suggest that, in the future, no one should ever apply for this position, ever again. It's a sham.
(Just sit back and wait for the "good old boys" to approach you.)
(Excerpts from one poster, of many...)
localteachervet says...
Well, Jonathan: I am not sure what service your article of tonight provided. The headline brings attention to the no doctorate needed concern. But the body then goes on to show us the history of this district since 1932 of having a doctorate. The most interesting part may be the forshadowing comments of members of the board as well as good old boy superintendents past and present--both of whom had Deming in their employ.

Land mine's three strikes comments are the best summary of the frustration of so many of us on this blog. Jonathan, could you take nothing more from this blog than "candidates do not have to have a doctorate"? We need some attention aimed at the 3 strikes issue and the rather pathetic role of the BOE. Why not a headline leading into a story on those issues?

And here is the latest kicker: 75 people showed up to meet and greet with Deming tonight. Many had questions. But not only was the q and a limited in time, questions had to be submitted ahead of time(and culled perhaps, who knows). When some in the audience were unhappy with what was not being discussed or asked,
Gadbois compelled the audience to return to the "format". Reminds me of the days of the Soviet Union. Sure, they said, ask anything you want at a news conference--just be sure the question is screened ahead of time.

Responding only to previously submitted questions in a public forum and in a school system whose teachers preach the doctrine of democracy and critical role of the public in making policy everyday is about as hypocritical as one can imagine. It gets worse and worse.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 12, 2009 | 12:55 p.m.

Note: Superintendent Dr. Chris Belcher, will participate in a public forum at 5 p.m. Thursday, (tonight!), at Paxton Keeley Elementary School, 201 Park DeVille Drive.
He's the other candidate, supposedly still in the running.
(Someone's got to pull for the underdog!)

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 12, 2009 | 5:57 p.m.

Superintendent Dr. Chris Belcher would be a welcomed addition to Columbia...

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 13, 2009 | 10:45 p.m.

Dear Superintendent Dr. Chris Belcher:
Although both you and your opponent are residents of Missouri, I just wanted to let you know that the guy you are up against avoids paying property tax on his BMW by having it registered in Montana.
That alone should help you get the job you deserve.
Politician Deming has no shame..............
BEAT BYTE -- 2/13/09
News Briefs from the Columbia Heart Beat
(Second Inning, strike three Deming!)

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 14, 2009 | 3:27 p.m.

RMH says...
There is no state sale tax on cars in Montana. You do need an address or a PO box to register. I'm getting a PO BOX soon and will charge a small $ amount for people to use it so we all can stiff Missouri out of the sale tax on cars. Thanks for the info ! ! !

I never thought that reading this blog could save me money! WOW!

landmine says...
Dear RMH:
Please don't do that. You would be hurting the quality of our children's education. It is also morally and ethically wrong.
(Unless you're trying to be Columbia's next School Sperintendent.)
Personally, I wouldn't hire Skippy back for his first job with CPS. Janitor!

(Report Comment)
Marie Evans March 10, 2009 | 11:22 p.m.

I was born and raised in Kearney. I had some of the sweetest and most wonderful teachers throughout my education. I just turned 25. I have recently found out that some of these teachers are retiring early because of some disparaging remarks made by Chris Belcher. Two of the teachers were my favorites. I feel really sorry for Columbia schools, but I am glad Kearney is getting rid of Belcher.

(Report Comment)

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