By Kathy Feist
The Hickman Mills School District has completed all the projects approved by voters in 2021. The $30 million bond funded façade renovations, updated restrooms and playgrounds and repaired HVACs, roofs, parking lots, and secure entries.
Demolitions – Now the district can fully focus on bond projects approved by voters in 2022. The $20 million bond package was to renovate Johnson and Symington elementary schools which were closed in 2018. The old Smith-Hale building was to be demolished. But due to additional fires and vandalism at Johnson and Symington, a decision was made to demolish the two buildings and sell the old Smith-Hale property. Symington and Johnson school buildings were demolished this past spring. The old Smith-Hale building is under consideration for sale as well as for demolition, according to Superintendent Yaw Obeng. There are currently no plans for the other two properties.
Middle School – Overcrowding at the newer Smith-Hale Middle School building on Old Santa Fe Road has been resolved by moving the 8th Graders to a newly renovated Burke Academy, located a couple of blocks from Ruskin High School. The school will focus on high school preparation.
The 6th and 7th Grade students will remain at Smith-Hale. Last year, 6th Grade students met at Burke Academy. The isolation of that population resulted in an increase in student achievements and a decrease in detentions. “We decided to continue on this path,” says Obeng. “Now those 7th Graders (last year’s 6th Graders) will model for the incoming 6th grade students.”
High School – Funds from the bond will also go toward creating a new Real World Learning Center planned for the former Pinnacle Career Institute building on 103rd and Hickman Mills Drive. Students will learn trade and entrepreneurial skills. The center will include a café run by culinary students.
Year Round – Hickman Mills made news with its year-round school introduced this summer at Ingels Elementary. Obeng reports that the project received positive response from parents. It remains to be seen how those students will fare in the 2023-24 school year.
Teachers – Thanks to a tax levy approved by voters in 2022, teachers at the school district are being paid “one of the highest salaries in the area,” according Obeng. “We’ve had the best hiring and retention rate in many, many years,” he says. Salaries range from $48,000 to $95,000.
Student achievement improved across the district last year. Obeng credits part of the reason to the school’s 550 program, where retired teachers return to help students who are struggling with reading and math.
Hickman Mills has hired a new athletic administrator. He will help begin intramural sports participation at the elementary schools so that students will be fully ready for the sport at the high school level. This school year will also see the introduction of boys volleyball, which was recently approved as a state-sanctioned sport by the MSHSAA.