New Columbia schools superintendent drawn by challenges

Friday, February 20, 2009 | 5:54 p.m. CST
Newly hired superintendent Chris Belcher answers questions next to school board President Michelle Gadbois, during a press conference at the school district administration building Friday. Belcher expressed his excitement to join the district and said he looks forward to starting on July 1.

COLUMBIA — The opportunity to work in Columbia Public Schools drew Chris Belcher away from the hometown he loves. He said that initially he told a search consultant no.

Along with his wife, Jackie, Belcher was in Columbia on Friday afternoon at the district's administration building to be introduced as the next superintendent. "Welcome to Columbia, Dr. Chris Belcher," Michelle Gadbois, president of the Columbia School Board, told a gathering of about two dozen people.


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Belcher has agreed to an annual salary of $180,000 and the understanding that he will be with the district for three years.

However, Belcher, 48, said in an interview Thursday evening that he plans to make Columbia his final destination. He reiterated Friday that a superintendent needs about “five to seven years in a district to really make your mark.”

Belcher acknowledged the challenge of transitioning to a district larger than any in which he has worked; those districts include Kearney, Blue Springs and Warrensburg.  He said he understands the bureaucracy inherent in larger districts, which may limit his ability to maintain personal contact with staff.

“I go out in the schools as much as I can,” Belcher said, adding he likes to go into classrooms unannounced to talk with students and teachers to learn what is really going on.

“Teachers aren’t shy and students aren’t shy,” he said.

Belcher said he is coming to Columbia with a fresh perspective.

The vote by the Columbia School Board was 6-1. Vice President Steve Calloway, whose term expires in April and is not running for re-election, said he supported Belcher. “Time to get some fresh eyes,” Calloway said.

Belcher said he leaves the Kearney community with a number of unfinished projects and that he originally told a search consultant he was uninterested in the Columbia position because he wanted to finish those things. One, for example, is renovation of the district's oldest elementary school — which Belcher attended. He joked that it hadn’t been modified since he had been there.

Kearney voters recently passed a bond issue to accomplish this renovation, and Belcher said he would have liked to have overseen it.

In talking about the road he took to this new job, Belcher said he considered his initial interview with the Columbia School Board more of an exploration into the position. But through those discussions he realized that he and the district shared certain ideas about education.

He said it was then that he knew he “would not pull the district forward but organize with others to push the district forward.”

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