Unfinished business: City school superintendent Del Phillips should stick around

June 25, 2009



Back when he was selling a package of school improvements that included a new middle school, magnet schools and most recently an extended school year, Superintendent Del Phillips often invoked a Stephen Covey chestnut: "The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing." 


Perhaps no one in public life on the local scene has followed that axiom to the degree Phillips has, and certainly no one has been as successful. The main thing for Phillips has included implementation of a magnet school program in all the elementary schools (done), passage of a bond issue for a new middle school (done with an impressive 80 percent vote of support), building of that new middle school (completion expected for 2010 school year) and implementation of an extended year calendar (approved for two of five elementary schools). 


In a word, Phillips'' successes here have been breathtaking. 


When he was hired for the Columbus job two years ago, Phillips stated openly he hoped one day to be state superintendent of education, a spot now vacant since Hank Bounds accepted the commissioner of higher education position. In an interview with this newspaper Tuesday, Phillips said he''s considering applying for Bounds'' old job. 


We wish he wouldn''t, and we think he shouldn''t. At least not now. 


There is little question that Phillips is destined for ... we won''t say bigger things because there is nothing "bigger" than the education of our children ... higher office. He has the personal skills, the energy and the vision to go far. We wouldn''t be surprised to see him one day occupying a corner office in D.C. 


But for now, he has unfinished business here. By his vision and, in large part, the sheer force of his personality, Phillips has set in motion a set of ambitious policy changes in addition to the above mentioned innovations. While none of us is irreplaceable, we feel the success of these projects, large and small, is dependent on Phillips'' oversight. 


Though circumstances (and implied obligations) were different, we find Phillips'' situation analogous to that of former Columbus Mayor Jeffrey Rupp when he abandoned his elected office in mid-term to join the circus. OK, that was snippy ... when Rupp joined the ill-fated Foglesong administration at Mississippi State University. 


We would like to see Phillips stay until the completion and through at least the first year of the middle school under construction. We''d like him to oversee the implementation of the innovative extended school year, and guide its implementation into more schools, if it proves successful. We''d like to see him extend the magnet concept beyond the elementary schools. We''d like to see the continued growth in enthusiasm and support of the city schools. 


Stick around, Del, and keep the main thing, the main thing -- bringing these worthwhile undertakings to fruition. Not only will that provide a lasting sense of accomplishment, their completion will make you a formidable candidate for any position.