By Mary Kay Morrow
After 36 years of graduates passing through its halls, Hickman Mills High School will see its last graduating class in 2010.
The C-1 school board voted last Wednesday to retain Ruskin as the district’s high school, utilize the existing Hickman Mills High School building for an eighth and ninth grade center, and Smith-Hale as a center for all sixth and seventh graders.
The board was split 4-3 in its decision on the district’s high school, with each side presenting its case for either Ruskin or HMHS.
Boundary Committee Chairman Scott Jennings favored HMHS.
“In my opinion, what’s best for our students is to use Hickman Mills,” he said. “It’s larger and more secure.”
On Wednesday, however, Boundary Committee member Teresa Edens laid out her rationale to keep Ruskin as the district’s high school.
“Ruskin serves as the gateway to our community. It’s the approximate center of our district, allows easy access, and is easy to find,” Edens began. She added Ruskin’s track and football field, state-of-the-art media center, specially-designed daycare facility and technology lab as reasons to choose Ruskin.
Referring to an argument in favor of the Hickman Mills’ campus due to the fact that it is larger, can accommodate more students, and has more room to expand, Edens said, “we don’t want to expand. If we need to, we can re-open another high school.”
Edens reasoned that Ruskin’s straight, wide hallways are easier to monitor for safety, easier to navigate, and that windows add to the quality of student life, making Ruskin less prone to discipline issues.
Edens backed her motion in favor of Ruskin with figures that estimated the added cost of transporting students to Hickman Mills to be $35,000.
Regarding additional transportation costs, Jennings said, “It may add one more bus, but it’s a moot point.”
In support of Hickman, Jennings referenced recent gun incidents at Ruskin, better student involvement in extra-curricular activities at Hickman, as well as Hickman’s stronger test scores.
Aiman endorsed Eden’s proposal adding that Hickman’s larger gym can still be used for district events such as basketball tournaments and Community Three Trails Day.
“It doesn’t make sense to keep the biggest building open when we continue to lose students,” Aiman said.
Security was the key issue in board member Darrell Curls’ mind when he voted against the Ruskin motion.
“I’ve gotten several phone calls and emails regarding safety which have weighed very heavily on my mind. You can’t teach and you can’t learn if you don’t feel you’re in a safe environment,” Curls said, adding that a final decision needs to be expedited for safety reasons.
Board President Bonnaye Mims agreed that safety, security, and discipline were key issues for her as well.
Aiman countered that administrators need to enforce policy regardless of the school.
Having visited schools and talked with students, Mims expressed concern about the congestion she witnessed in Ruskin hallways. Many of those attending the meeting applauded when Mims said, “We’re not gonna put them (students) in a school that looks like a herd in the hallways.”
Despite strong arguments for and against both campuses, the final vote tipped in favor of Ruskin at the end of the evening.
Board member Ken Bonar, whose daughter attended Hickman Mills High School, said he had “turned 180 degrees” in his position.
“Based on Teresa’s (Edens) facts, I am now backing Ruskin as our high school,” Bonar said.
Board Vice President George Flesher then joined board members Teresa Edens, Ken Bonar, and Debbie Aiman in voting to make Ruskin the high school where all tenth, eleventh and twelfth-graders will attend high school beginning next fall. It was unclear why Board Vice President George Flesher backed Ruskin on the final vote, after abstaining on the first motion in support of Ruskin.
Board President Bonnaye Mims, Boundary Committee Chairman Scott Jennings, and Board Member Darrell Curls opposed the motion.
A separate vote solidified campuses for the two junior high schools. Mims, Flesher, Jennings, and Curls supported a motion for the Hickman Mills campus to serve as a center for grades eight and nine, and for Smith-Hale to become the sixth and seventh grade center. Edens, Bonar, and Aiman opposed the measure.
Following the vote, current and former students posted messages on two separate Facebook social networking pages: “Save Hickman Mills High School” and “Save Ruskin High School.”
One of the 1,846 members of the HMHS page is Debbie Walters Freemyer, who was in the first graduating class of Hickman Mills High School in 1974.
“Hickman Mills is so much newer than Ruskin...I guess I just don’t understand,” she said. “I can remember having to endure the split shifts while HMHS was being built. We, the students, made a sacrifice as we waited for the new school to be constructed. The Class of 1974 had great ‘Pride’ in being the first graduating class, and this is a sad moment for all of us. I question this decision.”
From here, focus groups may be used to gather input from parents, students, staff, and patrons on the transition including transportation, safety, school identity, creating unity, colors, mascots, letter jackets, and uniforms.
Keep an eye on the district’s website or call 316-7000 to find out how to stay involved in the transition process.