Richard Phillips calls his career in education, which has spanned 50 years in some form, a great journey and learning experience.
Phillips, a Lake Tapawingo resident whose career included a seven-year stint as assistant superintendent for the Fort Osage District, was one of five people honored Monday by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as a Pioneer in Education.
The five Pioneers were recognized during a luncheon at the 54th Annual Cooperative Conference for School Administrators in Columbia. According to the DESE website, It marks the 41st consecutive year that state education officials have presented the awards which honor teachers, school administrators, citizens and lawmakers for their distinguished careers and contributions to public education in Missouri.
“It’s a humbling honor,” Phillips said after the luncheon. “It’s also a tribute to the many, many good people I’ve had a chance to work with. I’ve always been able to be blessed with really good people to work with.”
Phillips, who will turn 75 next month, started Phillips Keynote Consultants after retiring from Fort Osage in 2000 and continues that business, providing help to school district populations with unique challenges, as he says, and developing structures of support for those districts. He and his wife Charlotte had three children, all of whom also work in education.
Phillips graduated from the University of Central Missouri in the winter of 1965, student taught at Odessa High School the next semester and started full-time there in 1966. He also spent three years at Pleasant Hill before returning to UCM as a graduate assistant football coach for two years.
Then, in 1972 at the age of 31, he signed on to become superintendent of the Hale School District in Carroll County.
“The people there were so kind,” Phillips said, “and I was allowed to make mistakes and wasn’t crucified for it. I’m still close to people in that community.”
Phillips also had a stint as superintendent of the Brunswick District starting 1977 before he was asked in December 1978 to join the Missouri DESE. In that organization, he supervised the design and implementation of the Missouri School Improvement Program, the third classification program in the state’s history.
“It was an interesting time, being able to see the various cultures within the state,” he said of his time in the DESE. “It’s a richly diverse state. At the time of the ’70s and ’80s, they were embroiled in desegregation in both St. Louis and Kansas City.”
Going to Fort Osage was another great move, he said.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time there,” he said. “Great kids and a great stuff. The superintendent, Paul James, was an excellent leader. It was great to come back and finish that time of my career with the kids and teachers.”
In 1997, during his time at Fort Osage, he helped establish The Show-Me Curriculum Administrators Association and served as the association’s president for two years. Phillips was elected to UCM’s Alumni Association Board of Directors in 2002, appointed to UCM’s Board of Governors in 2005 and was named a “Friend of Education” by the Missouri Association of School Administrators in 2013. He also was selected for UCM’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013 for distinguished service. Currently he serves on the UCM Foundation Board of Directors.
Phillips’ daughter Tammy (Bopp) works in the Jefferson City School District, while son Mike has been at Raymore-Peculiar and Grain Valley and now is a middle school teacher in Raytown, and son Steve is at the Blue Springs Freshman Center.
Phillips said his children all chose that path on their own, but he acknowledged that it’s “worth a lot” to see getting the same enjoyment that he did.
“What I see in them is the same thing I began to experience, that being a teacher and being in the school business is tremendously energizing,” he said. “Every day is a new experience.
“I see in my three children, as they grow into this profession, I see the same reward and enthusiasm. As we sit around the table to talk when we get together, they’re happy and enjoy what they do, and that’s worth a lot.”
Steve, who is going into his seventh year at the Freshman Center, said his father’s work definitely influenced his career path.
“Of course, each one of us have a different story and different background,” he said. “Going around to graduations and getting to see him interact with teachers and students, it inspired me.
“His life’s work has been education, and this is very, very prestigious. It’s an honor to be able to see him recognized for his hard work.”