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Hickman Mills C-1 school board candidates weigh in key issues

Posted at 3:22 PM, Apr 03, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A school district's Board of Education has to handle many aspects of public education from finance and operations to performance and outcomes. Hear from candidates for the Hickman Mills C-1 schools.


Why are you running for the Board of Education? If elected, what will be your priorities?

Irene Kendrick - I believe in the power of our community and the vast potential within each of us. This is why I value service to the community and wish to continue serving as Hickman's board director. We have made several moves that are moving HMC-1 towards becoming the premier district destination for families & staff. This can only be done through accountability and transparency & this is a primary focus for me while serving as a board director & I encourage community members, families, students, & staff to hold me accountable as I work to hold myself and the rest of the board accountable as well.

Clifford Ragan III - I’m running for the Board of Education because I want to make sure that every student in our district has a quality education while here and enters into an institution of higher learning.

If elected, I will work with my colleagues to make sure that we are on track with obtaining accreditation with the state of Missouri. I want to make sure that our students are getting a quality education and that the Board of Education is ensuring that. I want to make sure that we are hiring quality and diverse teachers in the district.

Brandon Wright - As a former teacher who works as a data coordinator for a school district in Kansas City, I think we need to provide the highest quality of education for students in our district – and right now, we’re not doing that consistently. I believe the board needs good governance in order to lead the district and focus more on the students. I want to live in a district we are proud to call one of the best in the area!

I will focus mainly on ensuring we are on track to accreditation by making sure the students are given every opportunity we can to get them on grade level. I want student achievement to take a prominent place on the update to the board by the Superintendent so that we can ensure we're always informed of progress.

Additionally, I would like to increase the amount of community involvement in the district. I plan to do this by staying involved in many local neighborhood groups so neighbors are always aware of what's happening in the district. I will also make sure we proactively seek public input on any proposals before the board.

Is there a particular issue that motivates you to serve on the board of education?

Irene Kendrick - I am an alumina of the district, and so are my children. My husband and I are raising 3 of our grandchildren who attend HMC-1 school. I am dedicated to their education and all the children in our district, which motivates me to serve.

Clifford Ragan III - The issue that motivates me is making sure that we are spending our money on our student’s education to obtain accreditation.

Brandon Wright - Student achievement is an issue that motivates me. We live in an area that is lower-income and historically underserved. We need to make sure that we provide an education that not only matches but is BETTER than those in the suburbs of Kansas City. Doing so is the only way we will close the wealth gap.

What experiences or skills have prepared you to serve as a board member?

Irene Kendrick - I have a background in human resource management and am very involved in my community. I serve as commissioner for the Grandview Parks & Recreation, president of the Grandview Arts Council, and treasurer for the VFW 8100 Auxiliary.

Clifford Ragan III - I served on the Board of Education from 2017-2020. During this time, I was a director for two years and in my last year, I was the vice president. I’ve served as the president of the Hickman Mills Council of PTA’s, where I was in charge of making sure that all of our elementary schools were in good standing.

Brandon Wright - I'm a former band teacher who now works as a data coordinator for a school district in Kansas City. Education is a HUGE passion of mine (hence my choice of career), as is making sure that all students succeed. I believe every student deserves the highest quality education possible, and I don't believe we're providing that consistently in Hickman Mills.

Additionally, I've worked in schools, been in board meetings, and understand the role of a professional school board. Good governance is something we must have to regain accreditation.

What differentiates you from the other candidates and/or board members?

Irene Kendrick - I am a parent with small children in the district as well as an active board member attending school events. I have a good relationship with our superintendent, principals and teachers. I serve for the betterment of our students and community, and I do not have a pollical agenda. I believe in transparency and accountability.

Clifford Ragan III - What sets me apart from the other candidates is that I’m dependable. The community will have a voice on the Board that speaks for the people I serve.

Brandon Wright - I believe that my focus on students and lack of political agenda differentiates me from other candidates and board members. I come to the board with the sole focus of improving student outcomes and our district. I will work with anyone, regardless of political affiliation, party, or endorsement, to improve those outcomes. I plan on working professionally and openly with all of the directors on the board.

Clarity of Purpose

What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?

Clifford Ragan III - I will base my decision-making on whether it will affect our community, students and teachers, as well as the accuracy of the data that is used to pinpoint students’ growth in all subjects.

Brandon Wright - I will always look through the lens of “What do our students need, and how can we best provide that?” when making decisions.

What specific steps would you take as a school board member to improve transparency and make school district information more widely available?

Clifford Ragan III - I would make sure that the community uses my email with any questions that need to be answered and make sure all meeting minutes are updated for public usage.

Brandon Wright - I would advocate for opening up public comments more in meetings. I will proactively reach out to community members to find their opinions on the issues facing the board.

As a school board member, from whom will you seek advice or input in weighing key decisions?

Irene Kendrick - I would seek advice from former board members, city leaders, the superintendent and stakeholders.

Clifford Ragan III - I will discuss with the other six colleagues to come together to make a decision speaking as one.

Brandon Wright - I rely on my fellow directors, as well as data provided by the district, to make my decisions. As someone who works in education, I also have quite a few contacts that I can reach out to for more help and to see how other districts have dealt with that issue.

Finance and Operations

What are your thoughts on the current and the proposed budget for your school district? How would you determine your budget priorities?

Irene Kendrick - Currently, the HMC-1 district has a healthy fund balance. Still, as board members, we must continue to provide fiscal oversite of our bond funds and work with the superintendent and staff to ensure that budget and policies align with the board's goals.

Clifford Ragan III - I’m glad our budget is sitting really high right now and it’s our job to be good stewards of the money.

I would work strongly with my other colleagues and the superintendent to ensure we look strongly at what is working with our strategic plan and goals.

Brandon Wright - In general, I would like to see more money going directly to instruction. I strongly believe that our students and teachers must be the focus for our schools to regain accreditation.

What are the district’s greatest capital needs right now? How do you think those needs should be addressed?

Clifford Ragan III - The district capital needs right now is making sure that we demolish the buildings that are no longer needed and finish all projects in our schools before we do something else. In order to address these, concern the Board needs to make sure they’re transparent when letting the superintendent know of their decisions.

Brandon Wright - The district has done a great job approving the most recent bond issue. I believe the main focus now needs to be demolishing structures that are no longer being used and ensuring that our current facilities are maintained to reduce costs down the line of deferred maintenance.

How will you enlist support for bond issues or public school spending from voters or taxpayers with no children in the public schools? How can the school board prove itself accountable to those citizens?

Irene Kendrick - As you know, the HMC-1 district just passed a bond and tax levy that the community supported with over 80 % approval. I believe that community members are invested patrons of our school district. As a Board, we must work collaboratively with the district’s leadership, parents, and stakeholders to communicate openly and transparently.

Clifford Ragan III - When asking for support from the community, we need to showcase our students in every grade level and show their achievements on all levels. Also, we need to identify our highs and lows with our students' struggles and make sure we invest in our curriculum.

The school board can help prove themselves by being transparent to our community and parents in the district and listening to their feedback.

Brandon Wright - The school board needs to ensure that they are talking with all of the stakeholders in the community – students, parents, teachers, support staff, local businesses and community leaders. I would do this by continuing to be involved in the several neighborhood groups I’m a part of. Additionally, the school board can prove itself accountable by ensuring that public comment is not only allowed but is actively sought by the board.

Teacher starting salaries continue to be an ongoing discussion here in Missouri. How will you be able to keep and attract staff despite having some of the lowest salaries in the nation?

Irene Kendrick - HMC-1 teachers are currently the highest-paid teacher in Kansas City due to our tax levy, and we have had an increase in teachers applying to work in our district for the first time in many years.

Clifford Ragan III - Actually, right now, our teacher salary chart is very attractive. Still, to maintain our teachers, we need to continue to give them support in/out of the classroom.

Brandon Wright - I’m happy that the district did a great job and passed a levy last year that makes Hickman Mills teachers some of the top paid in the Kansas City area, specifically the second-highest starting salary in the area.

Performance and Outcomes

How will you engage the community to improve public schools in the district?

Irene Kendrick - Opening avenues for better dialogue would allow for more input from stakeholders and parents, i.e., town hall meetings, round table discussions, and surveys.

Clifford Ragan III - I would talk to my colleagues and the superintendent to make sure our community knows everything going on throughout the district.

Brandon Wright - I will make sure that we always seek out public input from all community members in addition to the students and staff.

In your view, what has the district done well over the past year? In what areas could the district improve?

Clifford Ragan III - Our district has done well renovating our buildings and getting them up to code standards.

The district needs to reconstruct the programs to help our students succeed in and out of the classroom.

Brandon Wright - The district has greatly increased their graduation rate over the last few years and has a rate above the state average, which is a HUGE accomplishment. The district still doesn’t show strong growth in state assessments and student achievement, which is my primary focus.

How should the district address underperforming schools?

Irene Kendrick - HMC-1 is currently working on improvement strategies for student achievement, for example, hiring more reading interventionists and our extended school program at Ingles Elementary School.

Clifford Ragan III - The district needs to overhaul the curriculum and make sure it fits our district's students.

Brandon Wright - When we see underperforming schools, we need to compare them to the ones that we have performing at a high level. Also, ask the question, “Is there something administrators or teachers are doing at another building that is working better than what happens at the failing building?”

How should school board members evaluate school and student performance in your district?

Clifford Ragan III - First, we need to make sure that Board policies and procedures will be followed. Secondly, we need to make sure that our curriculum is up to par for our students and that they understand what they’re doing. Lastly, make sure we look at the data and how we measure up to other districts.

Brandon Wright - We must look at the same metrics used by DESE (the State Department of Education) to ensure we are on track toward full accreditation.

What metrics will you use to assess district leadership’s attainment of key goals? How will you know when a program or decision has been successful?

Clifford Ragan III - The metrics I will use on effective leadership attainment of goals will be student graduation rate and how many students continue their education in higher learning.

I will know if a program or decision is successful by the productive feedback from our parents and the program's demand through our students and teachers.

Brandon Wright - When it comes to student achievement, for example, you must look at both interim assessments, which show growth for a shorter period, such as a quarter of the year, and summative (final) assessments.

You know that the program was successful when it met the goals you set for it initially. Sometimes you implement something and find it doesn’t work, or sometimes you find it partially works. So before you begin implementation, you need to have goals set.