COLUMBIA — Dred Scott, deputy superintendent for the Independence School District, and Peter Stiepleman, assistant superintendent for elementary education for Columbia Public Schools, are finalists to succeed Chris Belcher as superintendent of the Columbia district, according to an email from Columbia School Board president Christine King.
A candidate meet-and-greet event will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Neil C. Aslin Administration Building, 1818 W. Worley St. The session will include a moderated Q-and-A session, the email said.
Scott, 39, has a master's degree in elementary and middle school administration from Central Missouri State University, now University of Central Missouri, and a doctorate in educational leadership from Baker University.
He has served as deputy superintendent in Independence since July 1, 2008, according to the Independence district's website. He joined the district in 2008 as assistant superintendent for student services before taking his current position.
Before taking a position in Independence, Scott worked in the Raytown School District, which is southeast of Kansas City, for 12 years. While working in the district, he was a fourth-grade teacher at Robinson Elementary School and a principal at Eastwood Hills Elementary School, according to the district website.
Scott was also Raytown district's teacher of the year in 2000-01. In 2006, he became the district's executive director of support services, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Scott developed a K-12 alternative school program for students in the Independence district in 2008, its website says.
In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Scott said he was drawn to the opening by Columbia's "great reputation across the state." Scott said that when he researched the district, the School Board jumped out at him.
"They seemed like a sharp board, an innovative board," Scott said. Programs such as AVID, which works to close the academic achievement gap by helping students overcome educational challenges and achieve college dreams, stuck out.
Scott said his experience in teaching and administration have prepared him for this position. He said he learned the inner workings of Independence schools and thinks his experience with a broad range of grades is beneficial.
Scott said he thinks one of the Columbia district's biggest issues is closing the achievement gap and, if selected as superintendent, he would make this a high priority.
"My goal would be to ensure that all students would be exposed to high-quality learning experiences in order to set them up for academic success," Scott said.
He said he would focus on outreach, building relationships within the community, getting to know the community and letting people get to know him.
One of the biggest challenges, Scott said, would be making the move with his wife, TuJuania, and two school-age children. An older son would remain in Independence if Scott gets the job.
Scott — answering a pair of questions he said he gets all the time — is named after the African-American slave of the same name who sued, unsuccessfully, for his and his family’s freedom. He is not related to that Dred Scott, though.
He said his parents were born and raised in St. Louis, where the historical Scott resided in the mid-19th century. His father took an interest in Missouri history and especially in the history of Dred Scott.
"He decided as a fourth-grader that, if he had a son, he would name him Dred Scott," he said.
Stiepleman, 38, has a master's degree and a doctorate in education from Mills College in Oakland, Calif. He got his start in education as a Spanish bilingual teacher in the Oakland Unified School District, according to the Columbia Public Schools website. He also was an instructional facilitator for English language development and an elementary school assistant principal.
Stiepleman has held several positions in the Columbia district, including as a third-grade teacher. He served as assistant principal and principal of West Boulevard Elementary School.
Stiepleman accepted MU's Martin Luther King Jr. Award in January 2010 on behalf of West Boulevard, before becoming the assistant superintendent for elementary education in July 2010.
He is married to Elizabeth Chang, an associate professor of English at MU, and has three sons, according to the MU and School District websites.
Stiepleman said he is prepared for the responsibilities of the superintendent position. As assistant superintendent for elementary education, Stiepleman has done more than just background work for Belcher, he said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.
"It involves being really out there and active," Stiepleman said.
Stiepleman said he would like to continue Belcher’s work if he is hired as superintendent, especially in addressing the issues of academic achievement and opportunity disparity. He wants to create more opportunities for students to be involved in areas such as the arts, sports and Advanced Placement courses.
Stiepleman said he thinks having great principals and teachers is the most important step for success in the school district.
"We’re going to make sure that we’re recruiting and retaining the highest quality teachers," he said. "It’s all about having the right people."
He said he values innovative teaching methods, such as a new nature-based elementary school planned for Columbia. He meets with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources every two weeks to discuss plans for the school.
"We can’t operate a 21st-century classroom the same way we did 100 years ago," Stiepleman said.
As assistant superintendent, Stiepleman said he helped lead the design and development of new Columbia elementary schools, as well as gained experience in building school budgets and participating in collective bargaining when teachers unionized.
Stiepleman monitors school curricula, which he said is critical for the district. Columbia elementary school students have a mobility rate of 20 percent, he said, which means the students begin at one school and then switch to another. If the school curricula are not similar, he said, these students could miss important pieces of their education.
"Consistency matters for schools," Stiepleman said. "If you have consistency at schools, you are less likely to be failing than those who do not have consistency."
Stiepleman has been a key player recently in discussions about overcrowding at Mill Creek Elementary School. Stiepleman met with Mill Creek parents in November to discuss redrawing attendance boundary lines to bring the school back down to capacity until a new southwest elementary school opens in 2016.
The boundary change will move some Mill Creek students to Russell Boulevard and Paxton Keeley elementary schools in the 2014-15 school year.
Parents, however, were concerned that children who moved schools would be separated from their siblings and that the community of Mill Creek would be disrupted. Stiepleman readjusted his original plan to make it possible for students changing schools to only move once in the next two school years.
In January, when the board had finalized new Mill Creek boundaries for the upcoming school year, Stiepleman announced he had miscalculated the number of students that needed to change schools. Students living on Bethany and Bellview drives would now be allowed to stay at Mill Creek. After months of back and forth, parents and board members were frustrated by the change.
Stiepleman is active in the larger community as a member of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Rotary Club of Columbia and a commissioner on the Columbia Housing Authority. He is a member of Congregation Beth Shalom, according to the district's website.
Stiepleman said he feels blessed to work in a city that values education and innovation.
"It’s a dream to even be considered for this position," Stiepleman said.
Belcher, 55, has been Columbia superintendent since June 2009. He announced on Jan. 8 that he will retire at the end of this school year. He has accepted a job in MU's College of Education.
Before coming to Columbia, Belcher was superintendent of the Kearney R-1 School District outside Kansas City for four years.
Before Belcher was hired in Columbia, he and Skip Deming appeared at separate community forums. This time, the two finalists will appear at the same forum, which is scheduled for Tuesday.
District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the Columbia School Board decided to hold one session rather than two to create a fairer environment. With the moderated Q-and-A session, the finalists will be able to hear each other's answers and engage in the issues more meaningfully.
Missourian reporters Laura Cole, Christa Corrigan and Makenzie Koch and former Missourian reporter Beth Castle contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.