Saying farewell: Roberts prepares to retire from BCSC, and move into new role at Community Education Coalition

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Sue Roberts, left, poses for a photo with her son Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation Superintendent Jim Roberts during a retirement reception for Jim Roberts at the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation administration building in Columbus, Ind., Tuesday, May 14, 2024.

As Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent Jim Roberts has made visits to schools in the final weeks of his eight-year tenure, students have been presenting him gifts— fittingly with a musical theme.

Central Middle School presented hand-drawn portraits of Roberts in full Elvis-impersonator mode. Taylorsville Elementary students gave him a “platinum record plaque,” touting his “2,921 days at the top.” Columbus North High School C4 graphic design students created buttons emblazoned with Roberts—as Elvis of course— reading “Farewell Tour 2024.”

As the farewell tour winds down and before an encore of sorts begins, BCSC employees, colleagues and members of the public came to show their appreciation during a reception on Tuesday afternoon at the BCSC administration building.

“I don’t know when I’ll officially retire, I think it is kind of like a band or something that goes out and it kinds of seems like they stopped making albums and all of the sudden you see them on tour,” said Roberts, who is set to become vice president of the Columbus-based Community Education Coalition once his contract with BCSC concludes at the end of June.

The reception’s attendees were quick to mention Roberts’ love of music when asked what they will remember about Roberts, but more so the investment he made in the education of the community’s children.

Director of Elementary Education Laura Hack mentioned Roberts’ work leading BCSC through referendums, introducing STEM labs and upgrading playgrounds.

“When he came in, he made possible for every elementary to have something done on their playgrounds. That was huge for our schools, that was a huge one right off the bat just to have that person to come in and be a champion for our kids and wellness,” Hack said. “… When you’re with him in the same space, you just feel like he is listening and he does care. He cares immensely about public education, you see that no matter where you go across the state. If you mention Dr. Jim Roberts, people are like, ‘Oh, we love Dr. Roberts,’ so I think it’s just evident no matter where you go.”

Others spoke highly of Roberts’ reputation within school administrator circles and said he was always a valued resource and mentor.

“He’s someone you can always reach out to if you have a question, I think he’s one of the best,” said Brownstown Central Community School Corp. Superintendent Tim Taylor.

Greensburg Community School Corp. Superintendent Tom Hunter has known Roberts for “at least 20 years.”

“He’s a very, very, very well-respected superintendent. He’s one of the top guys in the state, I mean all of us would agree on that,” Hunter said. “And he’s also down-to-earth and can communicate with anyone. He’s always there to help and I have the greatest admiration for him and am really privileged to consider him a friend.”

Borden-Henryville School Corp. Superintendent Johnny Budd met Roberts when he was superintendent at Batesville Community School Corp.

When Budd got his first superintendent job for Decatur County Community Schools, Roberts was one of the first people to congratulate him.

“Not only does he have my respect as a superintendent, but more importantly to me, because he was such a good mentor and willing to help me, I value more his friendship.”

Director of Operations Brett Boezeman reflected on Roberts’ consistency as a leader and pervasive presence at community events.

“He’s a tireless worker and he never seems to fatigue. If you meet with him at 8 a.m. or 6 p.m., it’s the same guy,” Boezeman said. “… It’s not very often we have to brief him and catch him up on things because he already knows and he may have a couple of particular questions.”

Sue Roberts said her son “always knew what he wanted to do.” Asked if she’s glad to see him wind down a bit: “Oh yes, he needs to.”

Incoming BCSC Superintendent Chad Phillips said he’ll always remember Roberts’ “overwhelming sense of kindness,” and ability as a leader to remain even-keel given the responsibilities as a superintendent.

“Kindness is the word that weaves its way through how he treats people,” Phillips said. “…. Who he is as a person came through in the ways that he chose to lead this district, in ways he chose to allocate his time, to him serving as a book buddy every single week for eight years.”

Overall, Roberts said he hopes that people saw his love for educating young people and support for BCSC’s 2,000 staff members, whether they are teachers, teacher’s assistants, custodians, secretaries, or food service workers.

“I hope they saw my passion for our students and developing every single one of them, regardless of their backgrounds or circumstances, trying to be a part of finding solutions where they can take advantage of all the different opportunities we have,” Roberts said. “I also hope it’s believed that I was supportive of our staff, that I understood the need for them to work in an environment and climate that was conducive to them being as productive as possible taking care of our kids.”

Although his departure was announced months back, Roberts said it’s begun to feel more real now. He said other superintendents tell him that it doesn’t really set in until the first day of school the following year.

“Everything that I’m doing, I realize is the last time I’m doing that. So one more school board meeting, I’m down to the last graduation speech, the last student day, the last single teacher day and it’s just bittersweet,” Roberts said. “I’m very much looking forward to the new opportunity that I’ve been blessed with, but I’ve loved being an educator and serving the public in this role for 37 years.”