By Tyler Schneider
The Hickman Mills Board of Directors has finally elected its president. Both of them.
After a tumultuous late spring and early summer (which had featured directors walking out mid-meeting on April 18 and saw the leadership of previous board president Carol Graves’ publicly called into question in late May) the board met on Aug. 3 for a special session where it named Anne Coleman and Irene Kendrick as co-presidents for a temporary period of two months.
“Let me start off by saying this is an unusual arrangement,” HMC-1 Superintendent Yaw Obeng said. “Other districts have not done it.” With that understood, he added, “it’s under the board’s purview to decide how they want to structure the board.”
Obeng had originally floated the idea of the co-presidency at the board’s May 25 meeting. At that point, the seven-member board had failed to put together a passing vote on its leadership in part due to a vacancy left when Terri Barr-Moore submitted a letter of resignation mere days after the April 4 election.
With just six members seated, the board clashed often, culminating in a number of heated exchanges between Graves, Kendrick, and Beth Boerger in particular. On any attempt, the vote was almost always split 3-3—with newcomer Brandon Wright often voting in solidarity with Kendrick and Boerger against Coleman, Graves, and Byron Townsend.
The Aug. 3 meeting became necessary once the board allowed the Missouri School Board Association’s July 15 deadline to come and go without having elected a president, vice-president, treasurer. A June 9 board retreat that had been scheduled never got off the ground, either.
Graves, who was initially going to share the co-presidency duties with Kendrick, was notably absent from these Aug. 3 proceedings. She has not responded to The Telegraph’s request for comment.
With the other five onboard and sitting alongside other district officials in a U-shaped folding table formation, Obeng reiterated that the interim co-presidency would last “until you have a discussion around the board vacancy and fill that vacancy.”
Stepping up despite having a number of her own apprehensions in previous meetings, Coleman suggested setting a firm timeline for when the co-presidency was to be dissolved in favor of a traditional president and vice-presidency.
This restriction was agreed on at two months—with the goal of having the seventh and tie-breaking board member nominated and confirmed.
A roll-call vote was taken and passed 4-1, with Byron Townsend serving as the lone dissenter in Graves’ absence. “I personally found no one in the community that actually supports the (co-presidency) idea,” Townsend had said in the May 25 meeting.
“If you Google the Hickman Mills School District, you will find that this school board has been in turmoil for many years, going back to at least 2014. I look at this as a way to start a healing process, to provide leadership and leadership in a positive, constructive manner, and to develop trust amongst the board,” Boerger said.
Before the board can post its vacancy around the fabled seventh member, Obeng reminded the room that the current board would benefit from listing a number of criteria they collectively believe would match the district with a fitting candidate.
Earlier this year, when this vacancy was originally posted, it appeared in only a handful of papers, including the Martin City Telegraph. However, it had been posted on the same day as the filing deadline, which turns out to not be a fantastic strategy in that regard.
One of these desired qualifications included prior school board experience. Kendrick added that any board experience would be beneficial. It would also be desirable that whatever individual does take that seventh seat would then plan on seeking reelection in the following election cycle for obvious reasons.
“I want to make it clear to anybody that wants to apply, that even if they feel like they don’t fit the criteria, they do have a right to apply,” Townsend said.
Boerger spoke of the board’s fairly well-displayed diversity, but added that, in proportion to the amount of Hispanic students in the district, HMC-1 should seek to draw candidates from that or other minority backgrounds, if possible.
This led to an overarching consideration that has been following Hickman Mills’ leadership in several areas—especially its sizable bilingual population. As far as this could be applied to appointing the seventh board member, it was suggested that, when the vacancy is posted, it appears in Spanish language news outlets as well as The Call, and other minority papers.
While Graves’ future with the board is uncertain for reasons of both personnel and her own health, the move was a sign that the rest of the board is willing to put disagreements aside to conduct business on behalf of a district still seeking full-accreditation.