COLUMBIA — “Meemaw!” giggled granddaughter Olivia as she wobbled over to her grandma, a huge smile plastered across her face. Her excitement was contagious as onlookers watched her be enveloped in a bear hug from her grandmother, Lynn Barnett.
“I really see my life as a triangle, with faith and family at the top," Barnett said. "As long as those two things are my priorities, I can do anything.”
After 32.2 years of service to Columbia Public Schools, Assistant Superintendent Lynn Barnett is retiring. “I’m not sure where the .2 came from, but I trust the retirement papers to be right,” Barnett said.
She has worn many hats within the Columbia Public School system, including teacher, mentor and friend to many. Her priority has always been the students, she said, and she hopes that is what people remember her by.
“I truly believe I am here for a reason; this is not just a job for me, it’s a vocation,” Barnett said. “I want people to remember to do what is best for the kids. I hope that people remember that I tried to focus on the children. The children are the most important thing we have to work with.”
Growing up in Columbia Public Schools
A graduate of MU, Barnett has been involved in Columbia education for the majority of her life. She attended Hickman High School, which her five daughters also graduated from, and there is even a picture of her first day of school at Parkade Elementary in the school’s lobby from 50 years ago.
“She is our historian. She knows everything about anything in Columbia,” said Linda Chickos, a friend and colleague of Barnett's.
This knowledge has made Barnett an authority in the public school community. While she is humble about her efforts, Barnett says one of the most rewarding parts of her job is seeing children who have succeeded with her help.
“At this level of work, you don’t always see the results of what you do very often, so the best piece is when I run into a family or a student that I have worked with and they say, ‘Lynn, you don’t even know what a difference you have made in our lives.’”
A single mother to her five girls, Barnett has sacrificed a lot to better the Columbia Public Schools. She said she sometimes wondered if she spent too much time being a mother to everyone else instead of her girls but is reassured with the little things her daughters have told her over the years.
“The girls have always written little letters from time to time, on Mother’s Day or whatever, and you know, the most important thing I always read in those was that, ‘Mom, thank you for always being there,’ and gosh, that gets me,” Barnett said.
The power of communication
Barnett said her job taught her that communication stretches beyond her administration duties and into her life with her girls.
“I am responsible for communications, so that is why you talk to me a lot,” joked Barnett, relating that, “The girls and I have always been really good partners. We learned to communicate and understand each other to work as a team.”
Barnett's duties with the school district include handling issues from health services and guidance and counseling, as well as special education, but her favorite job is working with the interagency cases. Interagency is a sector of Columbia Public Schools that aids struggling families to help make education a priority for their children.
“I think that is the most challenging part of my job and the most hopeful, in that hopefully we are with that group to make a difference for the families, so we can level out their lives so there aren’t so many stressors,” she said.
Columbia Public Schools has seen a lot of changes in the past 30 years, but the most glaring change for Barnett has been the technology. She remembers having “bag phones” in case of an emergency and having to do the school budget on legal pads and paper. She still distrusts the computer, and she would prefer a much simpler way of presenting issues at the school board meetings.
“We did every board meeting with overhead projectors and transparencies," she said. "I was the Vanna White of the projector. All you had to know was how to change the bulb and flip the transparencies, and I could do that."
With all the changes she has seen over the years, one that she still has yet to grasp is her departure.
“I love this place, and I love the people I work with. They are very important to me, so it is going to be interesting to walk out of here. I’m not there yet. I can’t quite figure it out.”