At Tuesday night’s election watch party, friends and family gathered to celebrate Karla DeSpain’s campaign for re-election to the Columbia School Board. Among the guests was Chuck Headley, 76, who played down his own accomplishment — the completion of his final term on the board — and focused his energy on congratulating his colleague.
After nine years with the board, Headley is retiring. His term ends today.
During his near-decade-long experience with Columbia and the school district, he talks about the numerous changes the schools have experienced.
“The district (has) made a lot of improvement in its facilities,” Headley said.
Facility improvement is one way the schools are expanding to keep up with ever-increasing enrollment. Rock Bridge High School’s square footage doubled, Hickman High School was remodeled and equipped with air conditioning, additions were made to each middle school and junior high school, Paxton Keeley Elementary School was built, and other buildings were updated.
Looking back on his tenure, Headley remembers it as “a time when we were working against the growing enrollment.”
The schools face the same struggle today, even with the passage of the schools’ $60 million bond issue, Headley said.
“After all that money, there will still be trailers,” he said. “A new high school is half of what’s needed ... Hickman has been at 2,000 students since I was on the board.”
He said he hopes the board will continue to move forward with three major tasks: the ongoing facilities challenge, compensation issues with the district’s teachers and eliminating disparities in student achievement — one of the board’s long-running goals.
Don Ludwig, who will resign from the board tonight, has worked with Headley for the past five years. Ludwig calls Headley a “disciplined thinker” but said he balances his knowledge with a bright sense of humor.
“He’s an expert in certain areas, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously,” Ludwig said.
Current board member Steve Calloway, who has served on the board since 2006, said the board will be a different one without Chuck Headley.
At a Tuesday night party to watch election results with returning Columbia Public School Board member Karla DeSpain, Calloway said “everyone brings something special to the board. With Chuck Headley going off, we’re losing lots of experience.”
Headley said he plans to spend time with his friends, playing and enjoying country music, and with his family, including his wife Carol, their son and daughter and four grandchildren.
He was first elected in 1998 and served as president from 2004 to 2006.
Also during his years, the district saw the establishment of literacy coaches to help teachers teach reading and the making of a “model school” at West Boulevard Elementary School. These changes, he said, are “a move in the right direction.”
Headley is incurably modest — a trait he said he was taught by his mother. He said all the changes the district has seen in the past nine years are simply “things that correlated with my being there.”
He is also quick to credit his colleagues, including re-elected board member Karla DeSpain. Headley praised her work maintaining public relations with the community.
“She’s done a better job than I did when I was president,” he said.
Now, Headley said he will miss “being on the ‘inside.’” He said he’s made it clear to the board he’d still like to help in any way he can, including on committees with fellow community members.
Looking back, Headley remembers his motivation for running for school board nine years ago:
“At the time, I had no children in the schools and no personal agenda, just a personal interest in supporting public education.”