Editorial: Hickman Mills must strive for a seamless transition to its next superintendent

Now that Hickman Mills Superintendent Dennis Carpenter is leaving for Lee’s Summit, the struggling district needs stability.
Now that Hickman Mills Superintendent Dennis Carpenter is leaving for Lee’s Summit, the struggling district needs stability. File photo

Choosing a new superintendent is among the most consequential and arduous tasks a school board undertakes.

It’s all the more so when a district that has struggled academically is closing in on reclaiming full accreditation from the state. This is the challenge facing south Kansas City’s Hickman Mills School District.

After three years, Superintendent Dennis Carpenter is moving on. Later this year, he’ll take over as superintendent of Lee’s Summit schools.

The board is hiring an executive search firm, but it should also be open to candidates within the district’s current administrative staff. A qualified person who played a role in the many achievements that came on Carpenter’s watch may exist within those ranks. A number of solid candidates, both internal and external, should be expected.

Leading Hickman Mills could be an attractive challenge for the right administrator. The district is poised to continue moving forward academically, a result of the focus and stability that Carpenter brought. The district is provisionally accredited, having fallen just short, with 67.9 of the 70 points it needed to clinch full accreditation from the annual performance review released last fall.

Now, a smooth transition to a new superintendent is paramount to maintaining the district’s upward trajectory.

Voters overwhelmingly passed a $19 million bond issue last spring for construction and renovation. Completing those projects and shifting various programs and staff into new spaces will happen under the new superintendent’s direction. In addition, the district is more than halfway through a five-year strategic plan. Among the goals is ensuring that students are technologically proficient.

Steep challenges remain, though, in this district where nearly all of the students qualify for reduced-price or free lunch.

Carpenter’s successor must share his conviction that poverty doesn’t make a child less intelligent. At the same time, financial struggles at home do affect a student’s ability to focus, the level of support their parents can offer, even the routine of their sleeping and eating.

Hickman has moved to undercut the cruelty that poverty exacts. Free, full-day pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds is now available in the district.

A difficult decision that sliced the salaries of some longtime teachers was also made. That was necessary to make the district more competitive and attractive to educators with advanced degrees.

After making important advancements and laying the groundwork for continued progress, the board must choose its next superintendent without any unnecessary disruption or rancor. The children of Hickman Mills and those who serve them as teachers are deserving of no less.