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      Columbia Public Schools superintendent search nears end

      Columbia residents wait to hear from the first of two finalist superintendent candidates for Columbia Public Schools.
      Columbia Public Schools is one step closer to finding a superintendent after hearing from both finalist candidates Tuesday night.

      The "meet and greet" session gave teachers, parents, and residents of Columbia a chance to meet the two men in person and hear what their vision is for Columbia Public Schools.

      The two finalist candidates for the position are Dr. Peter Stiepleman, currently an Assistant Superintendent in the district, and Dr. Dred Scott, currently Deputy Superintendent of the Independence School District.

      Dr. Bob Watson of the Missouri School Boards Association helped facilitate the search and said both candidates are highly qualified.

      "They both have years of experience, they both have a track record that's very good leadership-wise, so it will be very interesting to see how this works out," Watson said.

      Stiepleman is a familiar face in Columbia. He has held various positions throughout the school system including third grade teacher, assistant principal of Derby Ridge Elementary, and principal of West Boulevard Elementary.

      Stiepleman said if he were to become superintendent, he would focus on addressing the needs of at-risk students and use his strong relationships throughout the community to provide the best education possible for all students.

      Dr. Scott has been with the Independence School District since 2008. He said having grown up in poverty, he understands the needs of at-risk students on an intimate level.

      "I am a mission-driven educator," Scott said. "When I see an opportunity to use my skill set to make lives better for the boys and girls that I serve, then I'm all for that."

      "I am willing to take both personal and professional risks in order to do that," Scott said.

      Parents and teachers had mixed reactions as to who they would like to see get the job. Parent Rosemary McCain said a familiar face appeals to her.

      "I think it's always easier to root for the hometown candidate, just because they've had experience within the system," McCain said.

      Others said Scott's first-hand experience as an at-risk youth appeals to them.

      The process has taken about two months and started with 18 applicants. Teacher Maryann Tellor said the change comes at a critical time for Columbia Public Schools.

      "We are adding on new buildings to the district, the district is getting bigger," Tellor said. "So, we need to grow with the times and needs of our community."

      School Board member Jan Mees said even after hearing from both candidates, the decision won't be any easier.

      "They both have very exceptional skill sets," Mees said. "Obviously Dr. Stiepleman knows Columbia, but on the other hand Dr. Scott has experiences in his district that could be helpful here."

      Mees said they hope to have a decision by the end of the week.