One has to feel for the students in Hickman Mills. The school district says its mission is to educate its students for a lifetime of success; yet, sadly, that doesn’t seem to be happening. On their annual performance report they only met 6 out of 14 standards, the same score they made last year; and didn’t meet the standards set for either reading or math, despite the fact that they are spending money for reading and math specialists. ACT scores increased from 16.6 to 17.0 which is nothing to be proud of when the state average is 21.6. In fact, the scores for kids at the former Hickman Mills High School actually decreased. In my book it all gets back to the leadership.
It’s the superintendent who is responsible for putting the right people in place; which makes her the most accountable employee. It would seem that if scores aren’t measurably improved, the superintendent’s neck contract would be on the line; yet, last year only 3 school board members voted to not extend her contract. (Most superintendents in Missouri have 3 year contracts, so each year they simply request a 1 year extension.) Once she was safely secure in her position and after 2 new board members had been elected, she decided to hire back the chief curriculum officer (who had retired) on a part time basis. First, given the poor test scores, it doesn’t seem like this should be a part time job. Secondly, this person hadn’t been able to get test scores up prior to retirement, so I’m not sure what reasoning would think she would now. Still, the board agreed on 6-1 vote.
Then there are the rumors, which are rampant in the district, that the Superintendent is hiring her friends in many positions. Whether true or not, it doesn’t make for good morale. One possible example was last week’s board meeting which was depressing to attend. The Board approved the hiring of a(nother) reading consultant at a cost of $1,000/day. When board member Debbie Aiman asked about the person’s qualifications, she didn’t get an answer; yet, the other 5 board members voted in favor. I would hope this person has more qualifications than a friendship but the process didn’t look good. There was also the re-classification of a special education secretary to special education ‘analyst’ at a considerable increase in salary. This, of course, took this person off the secretarial salary chart and thus raised some questions among the secretarial union group as to motives.
These votes, though, get to another major problem of leadership: the Board itself. It seems board members, except for Ms. Aiman, don’t ask questions. Even though the district is in dire financial straights, they hired yet another consultant, for mediation and counseling services, without knowing the total cost. When Ms. Aiman inquired as to the fiscal note, board president Bonnaye Mims told her she was micromanaging. If a school board does not question but simply rubber stamps the Superintendent’s recommendations, it is not only not doing its job, but is doing a disservice to those who elected them as representatives of the community.
Of course, Ms. Mims could simply have been flustered. Having arrived late, she seemed to have difficulty working her computer and also had considerable difficulty in figuring out where they were on the agenda. From what I understand, she often has trouble keeping her place on the agenda. She has also been known to call for a vote on a question before an answer has been given to that question. Whether this is a matter of being too hasty or simply inattention, neither is the mark of a good leader.
Towards the end of that same meeting the Board needed to find an alternate date for their October meeting and looked at several. One the Superintendent couldn’t attend, so they ruled that one out. Another, Ms. Mims friend and fellow board member, Darrell Curls, could not attend so they ruled that one out, too. A third date was thrown out, but Ms. Aiman was going to be out of town. Ms. Mims decided that would be the date for the meeting because, after all, they needed to go with the majority. It’s hard to figure why no other board member came to Ms. Aiman’s defense, but that is indicative of the current Board; and makes a sad comment on the state of the school district.
It’s also sad to realize that politics still plays a large part in Board processes even though John Sharp is no longer there. Since a board member recently moved out of town, the Board will be interviewing candidates for his replacement. Ms. Mims was overheard telling one of her fellow board members that they need to come up with a fourth vote. I think I know which candidate she favors and would love to tell the other 3 to not bother; but will just let this hand play out.
Once upon a time the Hickman Mills School Board was a professional group of people who really seemed to care about the kids and put their interests first. Now it seems, Ms. Aiman excepted, the Board is more concerned about their own interests and promoting themselves, or possibly their own kids, than they are about the overall good. They don’t seem to take school board leadership seriously or for that matter even know what it means. They don’t seem to understand that it is the School Board that sets the tone for the entire district and it is they that need to set an example. The community has entrusted them with making hard decisions to ensure the best possible education for all students; and the state has charged them with being fiscally responsible.
A friend told me once that you have to hit bottom before things get better. On the one hand, I fear we’re almost there. On the other hand, to switch metaphors, perhaps that means the pendulum is about to swing back. If only we didn’t need to wait for next April’s election when Ms. Mims will be seeking another term.