Obeng inks Hickman Mills superintendent role
The Toronto-native brings his expertise in budgeting, student equity to South KC
By Tyler Schneider
Photo by Molly Walsh, Seven Days
On May 30, the Hickman Mills C-1 School District Board of Education announced Yaw Obeng, M.Ed., as the next HMC-1 superintendent. Obeng, a Toronto-native who has spent the last five years as the superintendent of the Burlington School District in Vermont, will officially join the district on July 1. His selection from a group of three finalists was unanimous.
“I try to accept positions that stimulate me because of a moral imperative, match skills that I have and where I believe will contribute to the organization and student success,” Obeng said. “Hickman Mills met that test with needs surrounding the achievement gap, finance, facilities and community building. At the same time Hickman Mills has a successful foundation which could be built on.”
The search was led by Ray & Associates and featured 54 applications from 21 states. Obeng was chosen over fellow finalists James Henderson, superintendent for the Holmes County Consolidated School District in Mississippi, and Darrin Slade, assistant superintendent of school leadership for KCPS.
Obeng will replace former superintendent, Yolanda Cargile, who announced in February that she would be leaving HMC-1 after three years at the helm to take the lead for Center School District — also effective July 1.
In his cover letter, Obeng touted his vast experience in a variety of North American districts, including previously held positions as the supervising district principal with the Toronto District School Board from 2004-2006 and as superintendent of education with the Halton District School Board from 2006-2015. He began his career as a K-12 teacher in 1991 and subsequently served in the capacity of principal, guidance counselor, special educator and equity instructional leader.
His five-year tenure with the Burlington School District — where he was the first black superintendent and also one of a small handful of non-white holders of an executive level government position in Vermont — will officially come to an end later this month.
While he at times faced opposition from some board members and parents, Obeng has been praised for his understanding of and emphasis on equity policy, his budgetary savvy and his focus on improving the special education and English language learner curriculums.
From his own accounts, Obeng’s focus in Burlington concerned four primary goal areas: equity, access to resources, opportunity to learn and climate of the district. These efforts saw the district making use of new statistics and studies as Obeng revamped a handful of programs with a procedural, engaged, approach to his craft.
In his cover letter, Obeng said that his vast portfolio “solidifies my understanding of how; government expectations, legislation and board decisions can have a major impact in the functions and operations of our schools.”
Prior to signing on with HMC-1, Obeng had a lot of factors to consider, such as the COVID-19 outbreak that ultimately led him to turn down opportunities abroad and instead set his sights on Kansas City.
“We had accomplished the major areas we had established in our strategic goals five years ago. I was ready for the next challenge or to develop a new plan for the next five years,” Obeng told The Telegraph of his decision to take on a new role elsewhere.
“I was fortunate to have secured a position in China after establishing partnerships with my district. I was really excited about getting the international experience. But, of course, the socio-political and health issues surrounding COVID-19 started emerging before the new year and my wife strongly suggested we find a different kind of challenge. I was fortunate to find opportunities across the country that I did not accept and of course COVID-19 had now become a major impact for everyone,” Obeng said.
HMC-1’s Interim Superintendent, Carl Skinner, will help facilitate the transition to Obeng’s leadership. He takes over a diverse district that is made up of about 69 percent black students, compared to what was nearly a 65 percent white majority at Burlington School District.
Obeng looks to close the achievement gap while helping HMC-1 regain accreditation status. Other factors that will have a role in his decision making, according to his application, will be pandemic management, increased parent engagement, curriculum overhaul, improving budgetary understanding and implementation, setting clear expectations for school board members and restoring confidence in the public education system.
“Simply put, our business is student success at a cognitive level with the necessary underpinning of social emotional wellness. We will close the achievement gap while raising the bar,” Obeng said. “I feel fortunate to be given this opportunity to bring staff and community together to move Hickman Mills School District forward. I recognize a great foundation of staff capability and community desire to be excellent. If we can bring these groups together in a shared vision the outcome will be magic.”