COLUMBIA — After more than 30 years of experience in elementary and secondary education, Jacque Cowherd has finally achieved his career-long goal of becoming a superintendent. Starting in July, he will lead the Fulton Public School District.
Cowherd was deputy superintendent for administration for the Columbia Public School District from July 2001 to June 2007, and he recently applied to become superintendent, a job ultimately given to Chris Belcher of the Kearney R-1 School District.
“It’s good for us that Columbia didn’t choose him," said Dan Healy, president of the Fulton Board of Education. "That way we have him."
Cowherd, who starts on July 1, said his No. 1 focus is to make sure he has a full understanding of the Fulton district's financial situation. The main concern there is a significant drop in enrollment, which affects the district because state appropriations for schools are typically based on enrollment, Cowherd said.
He said enrollment might get a boost soon because Callaway County might get a second nuclear power plant. The long-term project would bring jobs to the area, meaning an influx of workers and their families.
"I'm not naive enough to think Fulton would get all of these students," Cowherd said. Some would go to neighboring districts such as the North Callaway R1 and South Callaway R2 districts.
He said that although his focus is on finances, the district's focus is on student achievement.
The Fulton Public School District has about 2,125 students, or roughly the same number of students at one of Columbia's two main high schools. The Fulton district has three elementary schools, one middle school, one high school and one alternative school.
“The alternative school is for high school-age students that don’t necessarily fit in for one reason or another,” Healy said.
The socio-economic situation in Fulton has “the full spectrum, just fewer numbers,” Cowherd said. For example, 44 percent of students are eligible for free/reduced lunch, according to Kathy Wright, district director of community relations.
Cowherd, 55, succeeds Mark Enderle, who took the superintendent's job in Fort Osage. Healy said Cowherd was the board's pick for two mains reasons: first, that he is experienced in finances and, second, that he is well-rounded. Healy said Cowherd has been a classroom teacher (for two years, in rural Cooper County and then in Marshall) and cares about the students.
The terms of Cowherd’s three-year contract are not finalized yet, but he will tentatively be paid an annual salary of $122,000.
Cowherd said he was impressed with the turnout for the public meet and greet that was part of his welcoming. He said the people who showed up — including the Fulton High School girls' soccer team — were warm, welcoming and proud of their district.
Before Cowherd joined the Columbia district, he was the deputy director for the Missouri School Boards Association for 17 years. He applied for the superintendent job in 2003, when Phyllis Chase got the job, and again this year.
Cowherd, who since leaving the Columbia district has been the general manager at Faircom Corp. in Columbia, which makes worldwide database software, is thrilled to return to working in public schools.
“Ecstatic is a mild term,” he said.