by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
This past week, Missouri’s children lost one of their biggest advocates when Jim Tice, former superintendent of both the Sullivan and Strafford school districts and distance education pioneer, passed away.
Anyone who ever met Jim would have found it hard to forget him. His personality was unique and memorable, but he was also — how can I put this — roundish. In fact, at first look his diameter appeared to almost match his height.
Jim came about his body type naturally. His size didn’t prevent him from being a fast-pitch softball legend in the Springfield area in his earlier years or from living into his mid-70s. Jim always looked younger than his age. “Fat doesn’t wrinkle,” he’d say.
Jim was a regular at the annual educational technology conferences across the state. At each conference, you knew where to find Jim: on the exhibit floor, methodically working each vendor booth. The pattern was the same. Jim would walk up to a booth, pull up a chair and sit down to hear the sales pitch from company X, Y or Z. After learning about the vendor’s offerings, he’d get ready to set the hook.
“It’s great to see such an innovative new product backed by such a forward-thinking company,” Jim might start out. “I just want to know: What can we do to help the children?” At that point, the game was usually over. Jim knew so many kids and so many schools that needed help that when the vendor came back with an answer about how his technology could help the children, Jim had a project for them to get started on. Before they knew it, the vendor had agreed to provide free equipment, to make a donation, to sponsor an event or to make some other commitment to “help the children” gratis.
Not every hook set, but Jim would fish from dawn to dusk.
He also had a love for the type of jargon and phrasing that appeal to administrators and business executives. For years, Jim had been telling me about the incredible results a distance education program that he and his cohorts at Missouri State University had developed using “proximity-based distance learning.” After a phone call from Jim, I decided to take a couple of days to go visit his program.
Well, it turned out that “proximity-based distance education” meant that the instructor got in a car and drove to one of the remote schools so as to…