By Mary Wilson
New Hickman Mills Superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter had the opportunity to introduce himself to members of the Southern Communities Coalition on Wednesday, May 15. Carpenter provided his personal and professional background to the group, and provided that he is a seventeen-year educator from Georgia.
“I’ve been fortunate,” said Carpenter, “in holding every position from substitute to para-professional to teacher to assistant principal to principal to assistant superintendent to associate superintendent to deputy superintendent, and now your superintendent.”
He worked in a district that met a lot of challenges and were not meeting Georgia State requirements, similar to
Hickman Mills. After implementing some innovative things in the district, Carpenter was happy to point out that the
school turned around. Carpenter then answered the question regarding what motivated him to make the move to South Kansas City.
Carpenter was involved in two national searches, and came across the opening in Hickman Mills.
“I looked at it and I started Google searching to see what was going on in that district,” said Carpenter. “There was a lot going on.”
He found articles online in regards to students and violence, provisional accreditation, teacher cuts and more.
“In a strange kind of way, I started to try and figure out how the community was dealing with or handling those issues,” said Carpenter. “I said, I think I can offer that district some help.”
Carpenter then went through the interview process that was outlined by the firm that conducted
the search, and also went through a comprehensive process with Hickman Mills school board members.
“I did hear some things about not having a community piece,” said Carpenter, “and I’m accustomed to a community piece. I’m just a candidate; I don’t get to put the process together. With that being said, what was done was done very thorough.”
He then spoke on the school district’s and community’s greatest challenges, from his standpoint.
“School board aside, we’ve got issues related to crime,” said Carpenter. “I can’t fix that totally as superintendent. I won’t pretend to say I can.”
Carpenter said there are issues in regards to economic development, which he does have a stake in improving as superintendent, by preparing students to be productive in their work settings.
“We have a major student achievement issue,” said Carpenter. “We were talking about basic and below basic for such large percentages of our kids. If our kids are going to compete nationally and/or globally, basic or below basic will not get it.”
Having some experience with those issues, Carpenter feels confident in the district dealing with that piece. Carpenter said that to get to the root of any problem, five questions need to be asked.
“Those questions are: why? Give me that first answer. Why? Give me that second answer. Why? Give me that answer. Why? Give me that answer. And why,” said Carpenter. “After five why’s, you can probably get to the root cause of any problem that you’re trying to deal with.”
This is the approach that Carpenter plans to take in dealing with the problems facing the Hickman Mills district. He has started to ask those “why” questions and has received answers along the lines of teachers needing the strategies to teach the children, behavior in the classroom, and attendance issues, especially in the upper grades.
“If you just say we’re going to start throwing dollars or throwing resources at an academic issue and not delve down into the root cause of the issue,” said Carpenter, “you’ll be throwing dollars into what Grandma used to call a bottomless pit.”
The strategy Carpenter is recommending to the school board going forward includes a comprehensive one-year plan to tackle the major issues, and then develop a five-year plan based on what priorities the district has after that initial year.
“I’m going to argue that we’re going to put together a plan that is so comprehensive the state of Missouri might back off and say, let’s give Dr. Carpenter and that school board a chance,” said Carpenter.
Carpenter said he has seen success with this type of model for school improvement.
“This works,” Carpenter said. “Chaos, yelling about the problem, does not work. The challenge is to get all of our folks elevated to the point where leaders are leading.”