The past three weeks have resulted in a series of firsts for Jim Roberts, who is nearing the end of his first month as the superintendent of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

From his first day on the job July 1 to his first school board meeting July 18 to the student-centered firsts that will follow with the start of the school year a week from today, the former Batesville superintendent said he is diving head-first into his new role as leader of Columbus public schools.

The new superintendent also will preside over some changes that will lead to firsts for the entire district, such as the introduction of a full-day, five-days-a-week pre-kindergarten program for students at all elementary schools except Clifty Creek, Columbus Signature Academy — Lincoln campus and Schmitt.

Although the packed schedule that always accompanies the start of the school year will leave little downtime for Roberts, it will provide him with ample opportunity to do what he said is the most important task in front of him right now — to do some learning himself.

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Whether he’s meeting with district personnel, sitting in on meetings or just getting re-acquainted with the community he once called home, Roberts said he plans to take advantage of every opportunity possible during his first few months to soak up as much information as he can.

“In order to think strategically at all, I first have to understand the surroundings that I find myself in,” Roberts said. “I try to talk to as many people as possible, read, just understand the system that I’m working in.”

Starting with observation

Coming into his new role, Roberts said he does not have a list of new initiatives that he wants to immediately implement in Columbus. Instead, the Nashville, Indiana, native said he wants to give BCSC a fair evaluation by giving himself some time to observe the district’s day-to-day operations and also give teachers and administrators the opportunity to share their biggest ideas with him — and then to work collaboratively to mold those ideas into workable initiatives and a strategic plan.

The new superintendent also is working to develop a strategic plan for education on a state level.

In April, Gov. Mike Pence appointed Roberts to the state ISTEP panel that was created by the General Assembly to discuss the testing format the state should follow when the ISTEP+ standardized exam is phased out next year.

Although he and the other 22 members of the panel have not yet begun to delve into fine details of ISTEP’s replacement test, Roberts said he has a good idea of what he would like the finished product to look like.

While the current exam is given once a year, Roberts said he would like to see the state develop a testing system that measures students’ progress throughout the year and provides routine feedback that teachers can use to adapt their lessons. He also said he would like the state to stop viewing the standardized test as the final arbiter on student performance.

The panel has met three times so far, including a session at the Indiana Statehouse last week. Roberts said he hopes the group will soon be able to get past the learning curve that has been present in its initial meetings and instead soon begin to discuss real, concrete ideas.

Navigating a larger district

Back home in Columbus, Roberts has his own learning curve to conquer, namely learning how to navigate a larger school district. Batesville Community School Corp. has about 2,100 students, while BCSC is nearly six times larger with almost 12,000 students enrolled.

That size difference has been the biggest change so far, and the one that likely will take the longest time to get used to, Roberts said.

With a larger district comes a larger staff, which provides a greater pool of talent to pull from when dealing with challenges within the district, he said. Roberts said he is excited to tap into that expertise as he dives into his new position.

Having a larger staff also means a few extra layers of personnel that problems must go through before they reach Roberts’ desk. The superintendent said having more people working on the front end will enable him to ensure that problems get resolved more quickly.

Working with a bigger staff will also enable Roberts to focus on big-picture issues and ideas for the district. Among them is building a strong relationship with the Columbus community.

Jill Shedd, president of the BCSC school board, said repeatedly throughout the superintendent search process that board members were searching for a candidate with a strong ability to cultivate community relationships.

The superintendent laid the foundation for his relationship with the Columbus community more than 20 years ago, when he lived in the city while teaching at Hauser High School in Hope before moving to Batesville in 1993.

Now that he has returned, Roberts said he has already rented an apartment in Columbus so that he can be fully entrenched in the area where he works while he looks for permanent housing.

Although his wife, Diana, is still splitting her time between Columbus and Batesville, Roberts said he felt it was important for him to move back to Columbus right away because he wants to start building connections within the community.

Supporting positive relationships

Roberts said he feels fortunate to be moving into a school district that already has a positive relationship established with the Columbus community.He pointed to the Columbus Redevelopment Commission’s recent decision to direct $750,000 in tax increment financing dollars toward the school district for workforce development programs as a positive sign that he will be able to cultivate strong relationships with other community leaders.

The Columbus City Council gave approval to the TIF allocation at its meeting last week, which Roberts attended as a representative of the school district — another first for his time as BCSC superintendent.

After council members had approved the funding, Roberts thanked them for their decision and said he was looking forward to working collaboratively with the city.

Like the size difference between Batesville and Columbus schools, the total populations between the two cities are substantially different — about 6,500 people live in Batesville, which is about seven times smaller than the approximately 45,000 people in Columbus.

Roberts said he sees the larger size of his new community as a benefit.

With access to organizations such as the Community Education Coalition, Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County and other groups dedicated to educational development, Roberts said he is excited about the prospect of tapping into different opportunities for local students that will be made available through those groups.

As he completes all of the firsts that come with beginning a new job, Roberts said he feels fortunate to be moving into a district with a strong record of success.

Roberts said he sees his job being to build on past practices and introduce new ideas that will lead to a continued record of success for BCSC schools.

“I want the students of Bartholomew Consolidated to have the most opportunities offered to them of any school system,” Roberts said. “I want them to be more prepared for college and career than anybody else in the state of Indiana.”

Roberts bio

Jim Roberts, 50, took over at the helm of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. on July 1 after serving as the superintendent of Batesville Community School Corp. for seven years.

A native of Nashville, Indiana, Roberts attended Brown County High School, then went on to study secondary education at Indiana University – Bloomington. He also attended Indiana University to earn his master’s degree in school administration, then enrolled at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to earn his doctorate degree in educational leadership.

Roberts and his wife, Diana, have three grown daughters. He has already relocated from Batesville to Columbus.

To contact Roberts, send an email to bcscsupt@bcsc.k12.in.us

Next school board meeting

Jim Roberts will attend the second Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. school board meeting as superintendent:

  • When: 7 p.m. Aug. 8
  • Where: BCSC administration building, M. Sue Pifer terrace room, 1200 Central Ave.
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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.