Seated with elegant, perfect posture, with her coffee cup resting in arm’s reach, Superintendent Phyllis Chase talks about her future goals for the Columbia Public School District.
After finishing her first year with the district, Chase has set new goals for the coming school year. This fall, Chase said she hopes to focus more on using district and community resources for early childhood education. “As we focus on increasing student achievement and eliminating achievement gaps, the need for early childhood education will increase,” Chase said.
Last fall, the Board of Education set three goals for the district and Chase said she will continue working to achieve those goals, which included increasing student achievement for all students, eliminating disparities between groups of students and maximizing resource efficiency.
The superintendent recently received her first annual review by the Board of Education. After looking at Chase’s performance, the board decided to extend her contract by one year and increase her salary. Chase will receive a $13,000 base salary increase, making her total compensation equal to $156,000 plus a transportation allowance of $7,200. This is a nine percent increase — the amount that was approved for teachers in the 2004-05 budget.
After the meeting, J. C. Headley, school board president, said the board was pleased with how Chase handled tough challenges early in her first year, like budget problems and concerns about the federal No Child Left Behind Act. “(The board) felt that she did a really good job of stepping in and getting things done,” he said.
Headley said he believed Chase’s work with the model school project at West Boulevard Elementary School was “one of the really strong things she’s done” this year.
The idea for the model school came from Chase and recommendations of the Achievement Gap Task Force Committee. The committee was formed by Chase to find solutions to the achievement gap problem.
Chase said she hopes by making changes at West Boulevard — such as increasing parent involvement and extending teacher work hours, the model school will see a decrease in the achievement gap among students based on ethnic and economic backgrounds. In the future Chase said the district hopes to duplicate the model and use it in other schools if it is successful.
The leader of Columbia’s public schools, Chase said she also hopes to see incremental gains in test scores of students attending the model school. “I fully expect there to be a number of people who would like to transfer their child to West Boulevard to participate in the experience,” Chase said.
Cheri Ghan, president of the Columbia Council of PTAs, said Chase recognized the problem with the achievement gap and immediately took action by developing the model school.
“She was determined to get the ball rolling on that,” Ghan said. “Her primary goal is to see that all of our kids do well in school. I’m glad to see her making those changes.”
Vickie Robb, West Boulevard’s new principal, said the superintendent has given her positive feedback about the changes being made at the school. “She’s been very supportive about the faculty and staff that we hired here and building a team to really look at what we’re doing with instruction and our students’ learning,” Robb said.
Chase’s contract with Columbia Public Schools started July 1, 2003. She and her husband moved from Springfield, where Chase served as deputy superintendent. She has also worked in counseling, teaching and administrative roles in Kansas City, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas.
Chase, whose father Jasper Stevens grew up in Columbia, remembers her childhood visits to the city. “My father would always drive around Columbia and take us past the colleges. I have fond memories of those visits with dreams of what my college days would be like,” she said.
“The people in Columbia are great,” Chase said. “They have a ‘can do’ spirit and enjoy life.” The superintendent, who has three grown children, said she and her husband “enjoy being a part of this community.”
At the end of her first year leading a district of 30 schools, about 1,300 classroom teachers and 16,250 students, Chase said she has been able to accomplish her primary goal of getting to know the community. To help Chase, each board member gave her the names of people they thought she should meet. Chase said she met with about 140 people at the beginning of the year and heard their thoughts on the district.
From those meetings, Chase said she determined that the community thinks maintaining good school staff is important as well as recruiting quality teachers. Chase said maintaining increased student achievement while decreasing the achievement gap were other issues she heard at the meetings.
Chase, who spends most of her time at the administration building, 1818 W. Worley St., said she tries to visit classrooms at least once a week and enjoys being around the students. “I miss being in the classroom regularly, but, no matter what I’m doing, I always feel that I’m using my teacher talents,” she said.
One skill Chase said she learned early in her teaching career was the importance of listening. “That skill served me well in the classroom and continues to be an important skill for effectiveness in school administration,” Chase said.
Jan Mees, former president of the Columbia Community Teachers Association, said Chase did a lot of research when she first arrived in Columbia and prepared herself well. “I think she’s come out as a true leader,” Mees said.
Mees said Chase is serving the district well by focusing on raising teacher pay and her work on the model school. “I think that (the model school) could be very important to the future of our students.”
Chris Mallory, assistant superintendent for secondary education, said he hopes to see more of the same quality work Chase has done this year continue next year. “She holds high expectations for educators, students and families and is leading quality efforts to improve.”