Ex-Washington superintendent to be interim leader in Mehlville

Jerry Chambers

Jerry Chambers

By MIKE ANTHONY

Retired Washington School District Superintendent Jerry R. Chambers will serve as interim superintendent of the Mehlville School District for the 2006-2007 school year.

The Board of Education voted unanimously in closed session last week to name Chambers interim superintendent at a salary to be determined by the state’s Public School Retirement System, plus car expenses.

Chambers, a Fulbright Scholar and the 1999 recipient of the Pearce Award as Outstanding Missouri Superintendent, served 10 years as superintendent of the Washington School District in Washington before retiring in 2000.

After his retirement in Missouri, he served as superintendent of the Wolf Branch School District in Swansea, Ill., for three years before stepping down in 2004.

Board members have been searching since March to find a replacement for Superintendent Tim Ricker, whose resignation was accepted Feb. 9 and effective June 30. In a letter to the board, Ricker, 52, said he was resigning to take “full advantage” of the state’s retirement system for public school employees. He finished his 30th year as an educator this year. Ricker had served as Mehlville superintendent since July 1, 2003. He was selected by the Board of Education on Jan. 6, 2003, to replace retiring Superintendent John Cary.

In the letter to the board, Ricker emphasized that his decision was not related to voters’ rejection of Proposition A, a 97-cent tax-rate increase, on Feb. 7. On Feb. 15, the Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A Board of Education in Lemont, Ill., voted unanimously to hire Ricker as superintendent, effective July 1.

The Mehlville board previously had offered the superintendent’s post to De Soto Superintendent Terry Noble, but the De Soto Board of Education would not release Noble from his contract, which runs two more years — the 2006-2007 school year and the 2007-2008 school year.

At that point, board members began to consider the possibility of hiring an interim superintendent for the 2006-2007 school year and resuming the search for a permanent superintendent in the fall.

Board members voted to name Cham-bers, 58, interim superintendent during a closed session June 28 and he was publicly introduced at the beginning of the June 29 school board meeting at the John Cary Early Childhood Center.

“… To say I’m excited would be an un-derstatement. I’ve even surprised myself that I’m coming back into the superintendency,” Chambers said. “I’ve always had a lot of admiration for Mehlville. Some of you know that story a little bit. I’ve had admiration before I had some family connections to this district and before my former Deputy Superintendent Jane Reed came here, and since that time, I’ve heard and known a lot about this school district.

“And it’s a quality district. I mean that sincerely. It’s got a wonderful record — the traditions and the pride in this part of the county and this school district in particular is pretty well known to a lot of people. One thing I do truly believe in, with some help, we’re going to be even better. I’ve got some things that I feel strongly about, and I’m only human, but I do believe that working together it’s going to be amazing what kind of year we’re going to have.

“There’s a lot of things I could editorialize about right now, but I feel that we’re underrated. This should be a premier school district in the county. It is a great district. Our best days may be yet to come,” he continued. “This school board sometimes is maligned. I felt last night with that hour-and-a-half of very direct discussion that I was talking to seven people that have nothing but the best interest of this district at heart. They want the district to move forward. We were talking eye to eye and across the table, and we may not always agree, but if we can respect each other, we’re going to have one fantastic year …”

The interim superintendent noted that his family is deeply involved in education. His wife, Jackie, teaches second grade in the Washington School District and their two daughters also are teachers. Daughter Jennifer currently is on a leave of absence from teaching in the Mehlville School District.

After becoming superintendent of the Wolf Branch School District in Illinois, Chambers said he and his wife continued to live in Washington.

“… We didn’t move. I felt Jackie’s job is just as important as mine, and she really is committed there …,” he said, noting that he stepped down after three years in Wolf Branch because of that commute.

“But then I still missed it, and I don’t know if I’m ever going to get it out of my system,” he said, noting he received a call last week from Paul James of the Missouri School Boards Association, who asked Chambers if he wanted to return to education once more.

“I said: ‘It really doesn’t make too much sense in Missouri financially for me,’ and he said: ‘So you wouldn’t consider an interim superintendency?’ And I said, ‘Paul, probably not.’ I said: ‘Where is it?’ And he said, ‘Mehlville,’ and I just perked up. I just thought I really want to go and look at this, and I surprised myself and then I really was surprised last night because I thought perhaps I would be talking to a school board that can’t make decisions.

“Perhaps I’d be talking to a school board that doesn’t get along. Perhaps I’d be talking to a school board that has too much conflict, and I’ve had plenty of conflict in my two superintendencies. We’ve had a lot of success, but there’s just conflict that’s almost inherent to boardmanship — they don’t get paid, you know — and to administrators like us,” Chambers continued.

“So I was really surprised last night how excited I got and when I walked out of there I was going over to the Cardinal game, and I wanted to take my phone with me, but I didn’t. I thought: ‘You know Jerry, just don’t get your hopes up.’ But it just felt good. The chemistry just felt really great,” he said.

“So on that personal note, I just want to say I really think that we can move the district forward. I believe that these are things that you can expect. You can expect, unless my health would go south or something, you can expect I’m going to be hard working and I’m not going to expect anything from a staff member that I don’t expect from myself. You’ve got some wonderful classroom teachers in this district. And I’ll tell you what, we’re in pretty darn good shape with principals. We’ve got a great group of principals. I’ve done my research …

“But we can move this district forward. I’m going to need a lot of help. I’ve got a lot to learn, and I don’t have much time to learn it. But I’m hoping that with the school board and with the administrative team, that they’ll help me be successful because all I want is to give back. I want them to be successful. So if we have that kind of working arrangement, I think we’re going to do great … I’m happy to be here. I really am looking forward to working with you just to see how far we can take the school district. Thank you very much,” Chambers said to a round of applause.

Board President Ken Leach said, “Well, let me say welcome aboard, Jerry, and I also want to add that we interviewed a number of good candidates and it was quite an arduous task, but I’m really happy with the results we’ve obtained. Jerry, he’s been a superintendent of the year. He’s had an illustrious career — superintendent of the year in 1999, I believe — and so I think we feel very grateful we’ve got someone like that to help direct our school district …”

Regarding Chambers’ hiring, board Vice President Karl Frank Jr. told the Call, “The Board of Education really wasn’t sure what we were going to end up with, and we are extremely excited. We think that Dr. Jerry Chambers is going to help us move this district forward. He’s going to be a great bridge between now and the future. Our goal as a board is to make the Mehlville School District one of the best districts in St. Louis County — if not the best district in St. Louis County — and judging on Dr. Chambers’ past experience in Washington and the excellent job he did with that fantastic school district, I think that the community and the residents of the Mehlville School District should really rally behind Dr. Chambers because I really think he’s going to make a big difference.”