Saturday, September 18, 2010

It's a Sad Tale

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.


Harmon said...

Why would a district celebrate their successes, when their scores are diplorable. At the District rally before school started, J.T. Brown was talking to the crowd about how proud he was that they raised test scores last year. There is nothing for the Hickman Mills School District to be proud of. Looking at the test results, it's hard to imagine how this district has survived this long. Someone with the state needs to do something. These children are not being given a quality education. Sounds like the Superintendant has worn out her welcome. Teachers are talking about how she said if she goes down, she's not going down alone. It's been going around like wildfire. If it's true, what does that mean and how are we as supporters of the district supposed to trust them. I don't think I can.

Anonymous said...

John Sharp is still at it. At the Freda Markley Early Childhood Center ribbon cutting, he had to talk about what he has been doing. The city is putting a pool out where the old Y used to have theirs on Longview Road. Has he bothered to find out why the Y closed their pool? Then he wants to build an indoor pool and have the Hickman Mills District pay for half of it. This is a district that dosen't take care of their teachers. They lied when they got the last levy increase. It was supposed to be for raises. What are they going to do have another Bond increase? Somebody better start telling John Sharp no and any board member that goes along with that type of spending. Get the test scores up, then we'll talk.

Anonymous said...

This is all very sad. The only way you can change whats going on is let the people know. The lack of educating the Hickman Mills families keeps Sharp, Mims and the Superintendent in power. Go to a board meeting at a successful school district and see how they are run. In my opinion, if you had more people like Ms. Aiman on the board, asking questions and not rubber stamping everything, this district would succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

If reading and math are barely up, I'm wondering if Civic lessons are even taught. Do these people know that they need to be actively involved in the election process to make the education of their children improve? I believe there are excellent teachers in this district. I also believe the superintendent has a board that, as a majority, keeps her in her job. That's all she needs is a majority vote. Mims lacks knowledge as to the function of a board and she is the president!

I propose that Ms. Aiman, the only board member that asks the hard questions, become the president. She seems to be the only person concerned about the budgeting of our tax dollars. Only then will the mission of the district to "educate the students for a lifetime of success" won't mean for the success of a superintendent that obviously, has her own agenda.

Ms. Aiman, I propose you clone yourself. We need more than one person on the board that is the voice of the community, the voice of the teachers, and the voice of the students.

Anonymous said...

John Sharp, when he was on the school board, was always pushing to spend money on things that don't improve the quality of education. Just look at that expensive astroturf behind Ruskin high school.

It's obvious that the current Board president, Bonnaye Mims, is a tool of John Sharp, now on the city council. She thinks her political career will be served well by doing his bidding. Most recently, she has been appointed (by guess who) to represent the Sixth City Council district on the Council redistricting committee. Her proposals are designed to preserve Sharp's power base at the expense of fair representation for all communities.

All of this ego-driven politics and scheming for personal political purposes puts our children's interests in the back seat.

Anonymous said...

Some people in the Hickman Mills school district supported John Sharp's run for city council in 2007 in order to get him off the school board and thereby remove him as a meddlesome influence in district affairs.

Sharp did get on the council, but with his lap poodle Mims as Board president, and his sponsorship of Darrell Curls, it seems Sharp's influence is at least as great as it ever was.

By the way, Sharp, Mims, and Curls are all using the school board as a springboard to higher office. They are not focusing on our kids' education.

Anonymous said...

To 7:03

Sorry, but being president of a school board is by simple vote of the school board; so anyone who can get 4 votes has it made. Mims has Curls because they go way back. She also Cushing because of the Sharp connection. All she has to do is tell one other person, who would be the fourth vote, that she has the votes so that person may as well go along. it's that simple and that sad.

Harvester said...

Excuse me. Does the south Kansas City community have any idea what's going on in the Hickman Mills School Distict? I have heard that their board president is a joke. She can't find her place during board meetings, makes speeches out of the clear blue that leave people scratching their heads and is kept on a short leash by John Sharp and the Superintendent. Wake up people. They are failing our children and failing us. The three of them have got to go.