Peter Stiepleman is new Columbia Public Schools superintendent

Friday, March 14, 2014 | 11:59 a.m. CDT; updated 8:58 p.m. CDT, Friday, March 14, 2014
Peter Stiepleman talks during a public forum at the Neil C. Aslin District Administration Building on Tuesday. The Columbia School Board has selected Peter Stiepleman to be the district's superintendent effective July 1.

COLUMBIA —  Peter Stiepleman, who has been assistant superintendent for elementary education for Columbia Public Schools, will now lead the district.

The district made the announcement about 11:30 a.m. Friday. The Columbia School Board met Thursday evening to discuss and vote on finalists Stiepleman and Dred Scott, deputy superintendent of the Independence School District near Kansas City.

Stiepleman succeeds Chris Belcher, who has been Columbia superintendent since June 2009. Belcher announced on Jan. 8 that he will retire on June 30. He has accepted a job in MU's College of Education.

"We anticipate a smooth transition and look forward to continuing our work to provide an excellent education for all students," said board President Christine King in a news release from the district.

Scott and Stiepleman were announced on March 5 as the two finalists. The superintendent search committee, led by Bob Watkins of the Missouri School Boards' Association, interviewed four candidates out of the 18 people who applied.

The Missourian will update this article later today.

According to previous Missourian reporting:

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 March 5.

"It involves being really out there and active," Stiepleman said.

Stiepleman said he would like to continue Belcher’s work 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."

Scott and Stiepleman appeared separately at a public forum Tuesday evening. Here are the highlights from that forum:

Reading day attracted Stiepleman: Stiepleman began by briefly naming a few issues he thinks are important to the district now, such as the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches — a measure of poverty at home — and the increasing number of English Language Learners in the schools.

Stiepleman’s interest in the educational world began when he was working as an insurance agent in California, he said. One day, he received a yellow postcard inviting him to participate in "Drop Everything and Read Day" at a local elementary school.

He decided to volunteer to read a story to the school children, and the experience changed his life.

"I’d never felt more energized than I did then," Stiepleman said.

Wants arts, language expansion: Stiepleman said he wants to make sure that students of all ability levels are challenged in school. He would like to expand programs in areas such as foreign language, especially Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, as well as music and art.

"Every kid should be able to take a foreign language, a musical instrument, because that’s what will enrich them," Stiepleman said.

Stiepleman also wants to address issues regarding cultural and racial diversity.

"It’s not OK when a child is nine to 11 times more likely to be suspended when they are African-American," he said.

Stiepleman said he hopes to address the opportunity gap he believes is present in the district.

'You have to be visible': As assistant superintendent of elementary education, Stiepleman has had the opportunity to be visible in the Columbia schools, he said, especially by visiting district classrooms. He considers this important, he said.

"You have to be in buildings," Stiepleman said. "You have to be visible."

He said he is rooted in the Columbia community as well as the schools. He listed several of his community positions, including serving as a commissioner on the Columbia Housing Authority, a member of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, a member of Congregation Beth Shalom and a member of the Rotary Club.

Stiepleman said he loves being involved in the Columbia community and is "here for the long term."

Raising academic standards: Stiepleman said he wants to challenge students of all abilities — high achievers, low achievers and those in between.

"I don’t want us to lose sight of those middle performers," Stiepleman said.

The way to close the academic achievement gap among students is to work to raise the performance of low-achieving students, not to bring down the high-achieving students, he said.

He said that as superintendent, he would hire good principals, who would in turn hire good teachers.

"The single most important thing is your teachers," Stiepleman said. "You have to not only recruit, but also retain the best teachers."

Stiepleman said he will work with the Response to Intervention model to respond to what a child needs. He believes that communication and collaboration are important in this process.

Supports Common Core: Stiepleman said he is a "huge supporter" of the Common Core State Standards.

Missouri and Massachusetts have the highest standardized test standards in the country, Stiepleman said. This can make it seem as though Missouri students are performing worse than students in other states, when actually, students are just measured by different cut-off scores.

"It (Common Core) makes the playing field the same," Stiepleman said.

Stiepleman said he likes that the Common Core curriculum respects teachers. Although the curriculum is set, the teachers still decide how to teach the subjects covered in the curriculum, he said.

"From my perspective, it doesn’t take away local control, but it does give us some guidelines," Stiepleman said.

Understands collective bargaining: Stiepleman said he is familiar with collective bargaining and working with teachers’ groups, and he thinks these practices bring advantages.

"In the past … we weren’t totally sure exactly what the priorities were for our teacher groups," Stiepleman said. Collective bargaining helps teacher groups communicate their priorities to administrators more effectively, he said.

Stiepleman said he loves working together with the teachers to see what they want.

"Collective bargaining is here, it’s part of the way we do our work, and it’s OK," he said.

Invested in community: Stiepleman concluded his segment of the forum by saying he wants to continue being engaged with the community if he is hired as superintendent.

"I want to get on the dance floor and dance with you," Stiepleman said.

He described an incident last year in which his wife, Elizabeth Chang, was struck and injured by a vehicle in front of their home. His neighbors’ kind responses solidified his love for the community, he said.

"She (Elizabeth) wasn’t alone, and we weren’t alone — we were in an amazing community," Stiepleman said. "Whether I get this job or not, I am glued to this community."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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