Columbia hires new superintendent

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Chris Grode

The Columbia School Board unanimously voted Thursday night to hire Chris Grode as the district’s new superintendent.

Grode will take over July 1 from Victor Buehler, who has been serving as interim superintendent since Gina Segobiano retired in November. 

Grode has worked as superintendent of the Murphysboro school district since 2007, and he said the similarity of Columbia to that district appealed to him. 

“Plus, it’s a great district,” Grode said. “When you look at the data, it’s exemplary. It’s a high-functioning, high-achieving district.” 

Prior to his time in Murphysboro, Grode worked as the assistant superintendent in the Canton school district and as an administrator in the Gavin school district. 

He earned his educational specialist degree in educational leadership from Northern Illinois University. He got his master’s from DePaul University and his bachelor’s from Illinois State University. 

Columbia School Board President Scott Middelkamp said the board was impressed with Grode’s experience. 

“His experience – 12 years as a superintendent at a unit school district that’s K-12 and a very similar size  (was impressive),” Middelkamp said. “They have about 2,000 students, as we do, and not a lot of administration, like here. We know he’s well-versed in budgets and school policies and did some innovative things with curriculum at the high school level in Murphysboro.”

Middelkamp said the board selected Grode among three finalists and a total of 46 applicants. 

The district has been working with the Illinois Association of School Boards to find its new superintendent, and Middelkamp said that process went well. 

“We worked well with them,” he said. “There was a lot of very good and qualified applicants.” 

Prior to its meeting, the Columbia School Board honored all students who won the recent Young Authors contest. Pictured, not in order, are Mason Embick, Elliana Mize, Violet Shrader, Olivia Bradenberger, Hayes Wilkins, Eleanor Duke, Eve Martin, Isabella Gregoire, Morgan Hesterberg, Elizabeth Edwards, Maddie Nowak, Zac Maue, Campbell Ottwell, Kayla Evans, Adysen Lyon, Josephina Riemann, Kaylin Toon, Alexandra Behrmann, Lillian McKay, Madeline Brudenburger, Carly Chambers, Thomas Toolen, Noah Boyer-Edwards, Allison Meise, Casey Barnard, Elle Martin, Lucia James, Lilah Vandever, Grace Nowak, Dean Lyon, Madeline Frein, Eve Pittman and Kaylea Bieber. 

The board also had another discussion at the meeting about its planned work for the summer and its use of a performance contract for that work. 

Board member Tammy Hines again brought up concerns that the district should use its newly hired architect for the work instead of relying on a performance contract. 

“The architect said to us that we could be paying 20-30 percent more on the performance contract rather than just having the architect bidding on it,” Hines said. 

The cost for the project, which includes replacing the roof and heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at CHS, is estimated to be around $4 million.  

“I’m with Tammy,” board member Grey Meyer said. “This is a million dollars. This is a lot of money.” 

Buehler said using the architect at this point would push the timetable on the project back to next year due to the time it takes to get the equipment and parts needed for HVAC work. 

“I just think we need to do it and do it now,” Buehler said. “Also, if you wait, you’re going to lose a year of energy savings. There’s a lot of energy that’s going to waste at the high school, and even more so at the middle school.” 

Board member Karen Anderson said the project, which is scheduled for July, could be dangerous to do during the school year when children are present. 

Buehler said there may be asbestos present during the work. 

Anderson also said she was concerned waiting would mean the district would pay for materials, labor or other costs. 

“By pushing it out, all I see is cost increase and you’re going to offset anything you think you’re going to save,” she said. 

The board will have a special meeting March 10 to hear a recommendation on a performance contract from its committee on the project. 

In another building matter, Buehler reported that the Regional Office of Education has conducted its annual health/life safety inspection of the district. 

In that inspection, the ROE looks for code violations. Although the report is not finalized, Buehler said it seemed fairly standard. 

“We came out pretty good – nothing like last year at all,” he said. “We really didn’t have anything major at all.” 

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