By Tyler Schneider
The Hickman Mills School District has long sought to earn back full-accreditation status, but there is admittedly still a ways to go before everything is in place to achieve that goal. On April 4, four candidates—including two elected-incumbents, one former incumbent, and a knowledgeable newcomer—will let the voters decide which combination of the three will take seats onn HMC-1 Board of Education for the next three years.
[For Director. Three-year term. Vote for three.]
Elected to her first three-year term in 2020, Kendrick, 60, is the grandmother of and primary caregiver for three HMC-1 students. She’s also active in her community as a commissioner of the Grandview Parks and Recreation Department, as well as the PTA President and a mentor at her granddaughter’s school, Warford Elementary.
Kendrick notes that HMC-1 currently has a healthy fund balance. Of the many changes she’s helped to oversee in her first term, Kendrick is especially proud of the fact that part of the influx from the bond issues passed by voters during her term have already been allocated towards a significant teacher salary rate increase, set to take effect this June.
The majority of the remaining bond money will be applied towards district facilities, including a new middle school. Kendrick is running to see the projects she helped initiate through to completion, while doing her part to ensure the board is allocating these funds efficiently.
“One of our main stumbling blocks has been past board governance. And so that is one of my key roles as a board member to ensure that we stay on task, follow policies, and govern properly,” Kendrick said.
Achievement in the classroom is the chief factor here, but there are many more pieces of the puzzle to be considered, according to Kendrick, such as improving on the district’s poor attendance rates, increasing post-graduate readiness, and updating safety procedures in all schools.
In looking to provide more opportunities for students after graduation, Kendrick looks to continue seeking partnerships with local businesses and community organizations.
Kendrick is also willing to embrace new ideas and explore concepts in the pursuit of greater academic performance. In regards to the recent district announcement that Ingels Elementary will add 32-days to its regular school calendar in an effort to boost student performance, Kendrick said she “is actually considering moving my grandchildren there for the extended program.”
Keeping the teachers and faculty who are already in place satisfied and motivated will obviously benefit students, but long-term success also requires consistently hiring more quality, highly certified teachers into the mix, in addition to specialists like reading interventionists and tutors.
The goal here, for Kendrick, is simply to make sure the district remains competitive in its hires in comparison with neighboring districts.
A resident of the district but a first-time candidate, Wright, 31, decided to run on the very eve of the candidate filing deadline. A self-professed “school data-nerd” working professionally in educational analysis, Wright decided to run because he felt that the board “needed more people who knew education and what to look for.”
If elected, the first thing Wright said he would do was “make sure that the board is looking at data that’s important and relevant, so that the board every month has a pulse on where student achievement is and where it’s going.”
“School data is kind of its own special world. And if you’re a parent or an outsider looking in it can be very overwhelming,” Wright said. HMC-1 School Board members “serve as a liaison of-sorts for the parents to know what’s going on, so I think making sure the board has the core important data in front of them would be the first thing I wanted to see.”
From what Wright makes of the data, it’s reasonable to think it will take at least three-to-five more years of continued improvement for HMC-1 to reach full-accreditation status. With that said, he hopes his unique understanding of the margins will help expedite the process to some degree.
Staff & Funding
Wright recognizes that success starts with the right mix of administrative professionals.
“I have always found that ‘people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses’,” Wright said. “If your teachers aren’t happy your students aren’t learning.”
“We also need to make sure that while we’re raising the salaries, we’re hiring teachers in the areas that are important. We need literacy interventionists, we need math interventionists. We need these additional teachers to provide that support to students who need it.”
He also identifies a need to increase the dollar amount spent per student as another means of maximizing the district’s progress while also remaining competitive in the area.
To fully turn HMC-1 around, Wright stresses the need to get the public engaged with their local schools, from parents to other stakeholders in the community.
He cites the loss of nearly 2,000 students over the course of several years, as well as the reality of the Hickman Mills’ aging population, as signs that an image change is needed.
Wright adds that young families are likely driven away from moving to the area because of poor perception of the district’s performance in what he calls a self-fulfilling prophecy that continues to perpetuate itself.
“The board is there for oversight, but we need to know those numbers so that we can connect with people in the public and make sure they are aware of everything that is going on,” Wright said.
Clifford Ragan, III
The father of four children who have attended HMC-1 schools, Ragan, 50, had previously served on the board from 2014-2020, including as vice-president in his final term. Ragan was recently appointed to fill a vacancy on the board in February, and is now campaigning to retain that seat for a full-term.
“We haven’t had accreditation in 20 years. That’s a long, long time,” Ragan said, adding that the district has in many ways embraced a “culture of losing” that he would like to reverse.
The act of raising student achievement is a complicated process with a number of variables, but Ragan has several ideas.
“I would like to see us delve more into our curriculum. We need to have some type of indicators inside of our own elementary schools and high school and junior high to know where our children are. Because that’s important.”
Board oversight & policy
“The strength of the board is going to be another factor in gaining full-accreditation. Last year, the board was in trouble once again because they didn’t know their policy,” Ragan said. “The board doesn’t always have to do what people think, but they do need to know their policies and procedures.”
“I believe that the buck starts with the board of education,” Ragan added. “A lot of the board members don’t believe that, and some have even used it as a stepping stone to get other jobs. They’re not doing it for their daughters and sons or for the community, and you can see that.”
With his prior experience on the board, Ragan does not hesitate to say that he believes himself to be the most qualified candidate in this race.
“When I was on the board, we were met with the challenges of closing schools and making sure our fund balance was going up. We had to close schools. We had to make sure that we paid the loans back. We had to make sure that we got our fund balance up so that therefore we could do what they do today,” Ragan said.
A fervent supporter of minority representation and equity in a primarily Black district, Ragan said he would like to see more strenuous efforts to attract teachers and faculty from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the coming years.
“I believe in diversity,” Ragan explained, “They say they have a pipeline in place, but from what I’ve seen, there should have been a greater amount of [minority] hires than we’ve seen from the board in recent years,” Ragan explained.
If elected, Ragan hopes to help the district improve in this area considerably, as students are oftentimes more responsive to teachers who look like them and with whom they share a common background and similar life experiences.
A three-time incumbent with seven years of experience, Townsend is the second longest tenured member of the current HMC-1 Board of Directors and just one year shy of President Carol Graves. He and his wife, Shelly, have had one of their children in an HMC-1 school every year since 1992.
Townsend acknowledges that the district probably won’t reach full-accreditation until the end of or after this next term, at the earliest. In the meantime, he advocates for continuing to elevate areas of student achievement while also putting in place programs to encourage student participation in trade programs.
“The American Dream is not built on college graduates, it’s built on middle class values,” Townsend said. “Most kids aren’t going to go to college, but we can still give them a step up towards wherever they want to go.”
With his experience, Townsend looks to continue to help lead the district towards the ultimate goal of attaining full-accreditation.
“If you want to go back to the way it was—way worse—I’m probably not your guy. But if you want to keep going forward from where we’re at, I’m the man for the job,” Townsend said.
“A majority of students were performing below grade level before the pandemic, but now, some students are multiple grade levels behind,” Townsend said.
In order to combat this trend, Townsend believes the district needs to be open in embracing new technologies. Investing in programs that track individual student performances and allow continuous feedback for teachers, faculty, and parents, will help tremendously.
With this data at hand, Townsend hopes teachers can more easily provide extra attention to the student by identifying problem areas and recruiting a paraprofessional, co-teacher, or tutor, to help individual students bridge the gap.
Staffing & Facilities
“I know Ruskin has a goal of having all their teachers in place before the end of the school year, and they’re almost there. That’s never happened before, and, meanwhile, we’re continuing to get more experienced teachers,” Townsend said.
The upcoming teacher pay rate increase was announced last year, and would have been the highest in the area had KCPS not shortly thereafter announced that they would raise their average salary by to roughly $100 more than HMC-1’s new rates.
Still, Townsend doesn’t see this as an issue. “Their whole pay scale is not above ours. To me, that’s just fine,” he said.
Townsend has also been an advocate for a centralized social services building, and if he earns another term, he said it would remain amongst his list of top priorities.