ORIGINALLY WRITTEN MALINDA OLSON
Overcoming challenges has been a thrill for Chet Roberts, who is completing his last year as superintendent and high school principal for Unified School District 411.
Roberts, who will retire at the end of the school year after 33 years in the Goessel school system, has enjoyed the challenges, he said, because they’ve enhanced his leadership roles as coach, teacher and administrator at Goessel.
“I think it’s been a good experience for me to be a part of a small high school as a student and part of a small high school as a teacher, principal and superintendent,” he said. “I just hope we never have to close small high schools. There are just so many good things about them.”
Roberts came to Goessel to coach basketball in 1970. While coaching for the next 18 years, he also taught a variety of subjects-driver’s education, social studies, physical education and consumer math-before taking a year off to work as an investment counselor.
He returned to education in 1989 as principal for kindergarten through 12th grade at Goessel.
After three years, he assumed the position of assistant superintendent and principal for grades nine through 12.
Roberts became superintendent in 2000. This past school year he has handled both superintendent and high school principal roles.
Roberts said when he became principal, students did not think academics were important, and they were afraid to achieve in the classroom.
“Everybody was kind of put down if they had high academics,” he said. “I don’t know why there was this feeling, but kids kind of shied away from (academic success) a little bit.”
He said the staff tried to show the importance of success.
“Now I think kids really like to be on the honor roll, they like to have good papers and they like to have good scores,” he said. “Our kids perform very well.”
Roberts contributes overcoming students’ low opinion of academics to two main factors.
“We have a staff that holds academic standards pretty high,” he said. “We have a great staff; we have a great bunch of teachers. And I think the community is very much involved in the education of the kids. It’s a great community for education.”
Roberts said the best part of his job is watching children succeed.
“There’s satisfaction and a sense of success developing relationships and seeing kids that people give up on eventually make it.
“Anybody who says anything about a kid not making it in the world, you just kind of shake your head because most of them can make it and most of them do actually make it.”
According to Janna Duerksen, school counselor, Roberts’ personality helps him relate to children throughout the Class 1A school district.
“He is very personable,” she said. “He can make a connection with any student-he has tremendous leadership abilities.”
As superintendent, Roberts said another challenge was overcoming financial difficulties. But according to wife Jeanette, budgeting is part of Roberts’ personality.
She said “tightness, talking about money, money-issues” is one of his characteristics.
“And he is very consistent with that too, at home and at school,” she said with a laugh. “I would personally say he doesn’t want to buy furniture. People say he’s tight, and that fits in with the furniture thing-now doesn’t it?”
She said that talking about money issues can be both a weakness and a benefit.
“I think that any quality that you can mention, there’s an upside and a downside for it,” she said. “Conversely, the budget situation has greatly improved as a result at the school.”
Overcoming challenges wasn’t unfamiliar to Roberts when he accepted leadership roles at USD 411. He began facing them at an early age.
Roberts’ mother died when he was 4 and he was raised in Hutchinson by his father and a series of step-mothers.
“I did not have a good home life at that point because my dad was kind of lost and he struggled with his personal life,” Roberts said. “So I had a choice of going one way or the other because no one really had control over me-nobody told me what to do.”
At a critical point, Roberts got involved in athletics.
“Athletics probably saved me because I could have went the other way really, really easily,” he said. “It influenced my behavior and attitude.”
Roberts credits his positive experience with athletics to his passion for coaching and working with children.
Beyond overcoming personal and professional challenges, Robert enjoys the challenge of golf.
“I love to golf,” he said. “I’m not very good at it, but I like to go play.”
It’s the demands of the game that he enjoys.
“I like anything that is a challenge, and that’s a challenge,” he said. “I like challenges in my life and that’s (probably) the hardest thing I’ve ever done is golfing. You don’t ever master it; you learn to tolerate it.”
Roberts was born in Burns, spent his childhood in Hutchinson and graduated from Cassady High School. He continued his education at Bethel College, North Newton, where he graduated with majors in physical education and social studies.
While at Bethel, Roberts met and Jeanette and the couple courted for about 18 months.
“We started dating when I was freshman and we got married after my sophomore year,” Jeanette said. “I noticed him (for the first time) walking across campus and the way he walked was different. It was kind of bouncy.”
Jeanette said she was attracted to several aspects of his personality.
“I thought he was charming,” she said.
She also said he had a sense of humor, a lot of common sense and was “easy and fun to be around.”
“And he really values family.”
The Roberts family includes two daughters; both are married.
“They are two excellent kids,” Roberts said.
Married now for 34 years, Jeanette named honesty and consistency as two of her husband’s strengths.
“He wants people to tell him the truth, and he tells the truth to a fault,” she said. “He always sticks to the things he says he’s going to do. He isn’t a wishy-washy soul at all.
“He is a very forthright person-honest and consistent.”
Those traits have helped him in his leadership roles because he doesn’t take the dishonest path.
“I don’t think they make many guys like him anymore,” she said.