*This story has been updated to include background about Chris Belcher.
COLUMBIA — Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher announced on Wednesday that he is retiring at the end of the 2013-14 school year.
In a letter to the Board of Education, Belcher said he accepted a job at MU's College of Education.
Belcher, 55, has been superintendent of Columbia Public Schools since June 2009. Before coming to Columbia, he was superintendent of Kearney R-1 School District outside Kansas City for four years.
He has been an educator for 32 years, according to his biography on the Columbia Public Schools website.
Belcher renewed his contract through 2015 in April. His salary for the 2013-14 school year is $198,922.
A contract does not preclude a person from retiring, said Michelle Baumstark, spokeswoman for the school district. When an employee can retire and the amount of pension he or she receives are dependent on years of service and the highest salary a person earned, Baumstark said.
"He has been eligible to retire for several years," Baumstark said of Belcher.
When he came to Columbia in 2009, Belcher said that addressing the achievement gap between students of different racial and socioeconomic status was the most important goal for the district, according to previous Missourian reporting. Even though the achievement gap remains a persistent problem in Columbia schools, the district is performing well compared with others in the state and the nation, according to an August 2013 news release from Columbia Public Schools.
Since beginning his work as superintendent, Belcher has made various accomplishments in the district, including helping establish strong relationships with employees of the school district and the community and helping pass the $120 million bond issue to improve public school buildings.
Belcher has acquired many awards over the years, including the Missouri State Teachers Association Administrator of the Year, the Blue Springs Jaycees Outstanding Young Educator Award, and the Peters Memorial Graduate Student Scholarship Award.
In December, Belcher told the Columbia Daily Tribune he applied for the faculty position at MU’s College of Education and would consider retiring from the school district if he got the job.
Jonathan Sessions, a member of the Columbia school board, said he was saddened by the news that Belcher was leaving but felt confident that the Columbia Public Schools system would still benefit from Belcher's future work at MU's College of Education.
"Columbia Public Schools will continue to receive the benefits of Dr. Belcher's knowledge, skills and experience through his leadership development position at the University of Missouri-Columbia," Sessions said.
In an emailed statement, Daniel Clay, dean of the College of Education at MU, said that in his position at MU, Belcher will work with school superintendents and principals around the state and will teach in the school's educational leadership program.
"He is a highly respected visionary and leader in public education who has demonstrated a commitment to continuous improvement," Clay said in the statement.
The statement also said Belcher would be a "strong asset to the college."
Sessions said he had no details about the search for Belcher's replacement.
Columbia's new schools superintendent should have all the same qualities Belcher has, Sessions said.
"He's honest, straightforward and able to communicate with our community," Sessions said, adding that Belcher was forward-thinking and able to devise long-term strategies and carry them though to completion.
"Dr. Belcher has been great for Columbia Public Schools," Sessions said. "He's a great leader and has done great things for the district."
The Columbia School Board will meet Monday, when it is expected to accept Belcher's retirement and begin discussing the search for a new superintendent, Baumstark said.