School district honors former superintendent with name of new administration building

Sunday, August 26, 2012 | 7:30 p.m. CDT; updated 11:47 a.m. CDT, Monday, August 27, 2012
Jack Aslin speaks about his father at the Neil C. Aslin Administration Building on Sunday. The building was dedicated to his father for his contributions to the Columbia School District and other schools in Missouri.

COLUMBIA — On Sunday afternoon, the family of Neil C. Aslin cut a ceremonial yellow ribbon to commemorate the opening of the Columbia Public Schools' new administration building that now bears his name.

Speakers who knew Aslin related to a crowd of more than 100 their experiences with the man who guided Columbia Public Schools through challenging times as superintendent from 1946 to 1962.

"It was an easy call," Superintendent Chris Belcher said after the ceremony.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that public schools needed to integrate white and black students. But when schools first integrated, violence erupted across the country in opposition to that decision.

Aslin guided the district through the challenge of providing "equal opportunity education" for students during desegregation, said his son, Jack Aslin.

As superintendent, Neil Aslin hired bright educators, including two young teachers who would eventually serve in the same position he did: Jim Ritter, who spoke at the event, and Russell Thompson, who recently was named a Pioneer in Education by the state.

"(Aslin) had tremendous vision," Thompson said.

He said Aslin’s influence can be felt today: When Thompson was superintendent, the district was chosen as one of 16 model school systems in the country by the National Governor's Conference on Education.

Then, from 2003 to 2011, Columbia Public Schools earned the state’s Distinction in Performance Award given to districts that show academic improvement, according to a previous Missourian article.

That all began with one man, Thompson said.

"You can sense the presence of Neil C. Aslin," Belcher said during his closing comments, adding Aslin left an amazing legacy.

"I am humbled to have this building named after him, and I hope we can live up to his expectations," Belcher said.

Aslin’s name also was considered for the new high school. That honor now belongs to Muriel Battle, the first African-American principal in the integrated district.

With the new high school named, the administration building was left wanting.

"I think the admin. building is the appropriate building to have his name," Jack Aslin said.

The 40,000-square-foot addition cost $7.8 million. The school district had to take out a loan from local banks and will pay off that amount over the next 26 years.

However, Belcher said the district could save as much as $9 million over those years since it no longer has to pay the leases of the Vandiver and Bernadette buildings it was using for administrative services.

The offices housed in those two buildings are now a part of the expansive addition.

Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.

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