Partners in Education History


    Superintendent Russ Thompson announcing the formation of Columbia Public Schools' Partners In Education program.

    Partners in Education began as a simple vision of Russell Thompson, Jim Ritter and Jolene Schulz. Together, they studied an “adopt-a-school” program being conducted in Tennessee. 

    They molded this idea into a program that would benefit Columbia Public Schools, a true “partnership” between local businesses and schools. Their name for the program, Partners in Education, became the national moniker when President Reagan accepted the idea and gave it national status. 
    “It was a vision of Dr. Russ Thompson, our superintendent at the time, to build a bridge between the world of work and the world of education,” former program coordinator and co-founder of Columbia’s program Jolene Schulz said.  

    In 1984, the program kicked off with a formal celebration.  Among the attendees was former Sen. Roger Wilson, the keynote speaker.  “At the close of his speech, he said, ‘Mergers of the business and the community like this should be made in heaven.’  We decided we could use this message through the city of Columbia,” Schulz said.  

    Schulz said she was amazed at how quickly the impact was being realized as the program officially got underway.  

    “It was a very busy time in our community,” she said. “It was so exciting to walk into businesses to see students touring the businesses. It was also exciting to go into the schools and see the expression on students’ faces to see a banking CEO teaching them a lesson.”

    Schulz said that throughout the development of the program, one saying stood out.  

    “We were a handshake, not a handout. We wanted people to know that we didn’t want money but wanted the resources we have here in our community,” she said.

    Schulz has many fond memories of the start of the program. One moment stands out in particular when she visited Boone County National Bank, now Central Bank of Boone County, and ran into Bo Fraser, the president of the bank at the time.  

    “Bo said to me, ‘You know Jolene, I seem to have a shortage of employees here in my bank today.’  And I said, ‘Oh really?’   He looked at me and said, ‘It’s because of you, you know.  They’re all at Grant Elementary School.’  And I said, ‘Oh gosh, isn’t that wonderful.’  And he grinned. And I thought to myself -- commitment, that’s what it’s all about.”

    Over four decades, Columbia Public Schools has seen tremendous achievements by Columbia’s youth due to the involvement and dedication of partnering businesses.  The original nine charter partnerships have grown to an unbelievable 150 Partners in Education and more than 100 Partnership Friends.  These partners include banks, hospitals, architects, veterinarians, grocery stores, media outlets, non-profits, churches, insurance companies, and more.  

    “The impact on students has been outstanding as they learn about education and life through enriching programs that use real-world problems and experiences,” said Michelle Baumstark, chief communications officer for Columbia Public Schools.

    Over the years, partnership activities have expanded, including opportunities such as a satellite school located within a business, job shadowing and business tours, classroom presentations, banks within schools, mock trials, and mentoring.  Hundreds of students and community members have participated in the program, and throughout the years, strong friendships have been built that have endured even as students and employees grow and change.  

    With over 250 businesses and organizations involved, our students and teachers are able to build strong connections to our community.

    Partners in Education joins a local business with an individual school, curriculum department, or grade level.  Each partnership establishes a mission statement, objectives, and activities specific to the business’ and schools’ needs and abilities.

    The overall goal of Columbia's Partners in Education program is to build bridges between the world of business and the world of education. It seeks to create a better understanding of the public school system within the community, strengthen and enhance the district's programs, create a climate of involvement and interaction between organizations, businesses, and schools, and provide students with opportunities to develop attitudes and skills that enhance their success in the world of work.