By Tracy Allen
Transition is difficult and the Hickman Mills C-1 School District has faced many in recent years. Once fully accredited, now partially, the southeast Kansas City area district has shown resilience despite changes in enrollment, test scores and dealing with the challenges of virtual education due to Covid-19, among other needs.
Five candidates hope to change some of the recent perceptions and facts surrounding the district as they vie for two directors, three-year terms, as members of the School Board. Ann E. Coleman, Clifford O. Ragan III, John Charles Carmichael, Ron Pearson, Carol Graves and Ebony Osby hope to see victory on Election Night, Tuesday, April 6.
Five candidates vie for two directors, three-year terms, as members of the School Board.
Ann E. Coleman, a resident of the Hickman Mills community for more than 28 years, Coleman is an educator. She has a Bachelor and Master degrees in Elementary Education and Special Education from Avila University. She believes full accreditation is a top priority. Coleman believes the district should be looking at data, identifying areas of learning shortcomings and then, zeroing in on that area. She particularly believes the district reading scores are critical for improvement. A major problem right now, according to Coleman, is that the students might be falling behind due to virtual learning. “I feel we need some fierce tutoring.” Although the School Board recently approved measures to raise teachers’ salaries, she feels it needs to be enough to retain the experienced and qualified educators. “Our children suffer when teachers stay a year or two, then they are gone.” Hickman Mills has faced declining enrollment in recent years, but stands “opposed to the district closing schools if at all possible.”
Carol Graves, the incumbent, has a wealth of education experience, serving as a teacher within the Hickman Mills District for more than 20 years, with an emphasis in special education. Graves graduated from Rockhurst College with a Bachelor of Arts degree, along with a Master degree in Arts and an Educational Specialist certification from UMKC. The six-year school board director sees potential in the district but admits accreditation and improving staff salaries are priorities. Of course, children’s learning is tops above all. She also believes in changing Hickman Mill’s “culture.” “We all had jobs that didn’t pay a lot of money, but we enjoyed them because the environment was positive, voices were heard, we were embraced.” Graves believes that the district has the ability to govern differently so it can gain full accreditation rather than state sanctions and face a state takeover. Graves would rather avoid closing schools. She experienced firsthand when her school was closed in another district. As she remembers, it was a “devastating factor because we had become a family.”
Ebony Osby is a parent of three children within the district. Osby is currently a behavorialist within an elementary school setting, primarily with those of special needs. Osby says “Hickman Mills has so much potential, I want to see it become its potential.” Accreditation is a concern to Osby, saying parents do not take the district seriously when not fully accredited. “I feel like they use it as a placement holder for their kids until they find a better solution.” Osby is in favor of looking into data when it comes to getting the district accredited. But she also believes that district leadership can get answers from their educators. “We need to find out from them what has worked in the past, what has not worked in the past to figure out how to get our students on the right path.” Hickman Mills School Board recently approved a measure that would raise teacher and building personnel salaries from one of the lowest in the state of Missouri to the middle of the pack. That alone, says Osby, should help with teacher retention. “Teachers do the bare minimum because they are paid the bare minimum,” says Osby. She believe that the district should close a school building as a last resort to aid in the district’s finances.
Ron Pearson is a recent graduate of Mid-America Nazarene University with a degree in Organizational Leadership. As a 21-year veteran of the United States Army, he has contracted with the school district to provide health education (life saving skills and medication administration and other medical courses). For the past few years, Pearson has also written and helped implement policies for the Department of the Defense. Pearson says the district’s top priorities should be full accreditation, returning back to schools safely which is being worked on with the Return To Learn Program, and the transitional housing that is impacting school enrollments. “If we don’t have students in the seat, we lose funding. It’s critically important that we make our schools competitive so that we have people who want to come, want to stay a part of the Hickman Mills School District.” He believes the district should analyze data to identify areas where better performance is necessary. As for school closures, Pearson believes while uncomfortable, it sometimes might be necessary. He suggests closed buildings should continue to be used for additional education opportunities, such as trade schools or community centers. Pearson is also a fan of the pod system, especially when it comes to teaching those who have struggled in certain areas of education.
Clifford O. Ragan III is a father of four children who are attending or have graduated from Hickman Mills schools. Ragan has been on the Board of Directors and served as a Vice President of the Hickman Mills School District Board among other roles. Ragan has worked with Harvesters and also served on the Hickman Mills Council of the PTA before its discontinuation. He believes Hickman Mills has lost its identity, or spirit. “When you have student-parent involvement, you bring back student spirit.” As for accreditation, Ragan says that he believes the district needs to avoid “state takeover” of the district. “The state needs to give us the tools we need in order to get the points we need, so that we can be like the other school districts in our area.” One tool Ragan believes will help is “night school” or tutoring. Ragan is not in favor of closing schools and would rather see the school cut the budget in other ways.
John Charles Carmichael was a sixth candidate but withdrew from the race in December