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2024 election: Meet the Hickman Mills school board candidates

Top row from left: Hickman Mills school board candidates Carol Graves, Cynthia Corn-Wattree and Ann Coleman. Bottom row from left: Candidates Alvin Brooks and Bonnaye Mims. Not pictured: Clifford Ragan III and Ron Pearson.
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Top row from left: Hickman Mills school board candidates Carol Graves, Cynthia Corn-Wattree and Ann Coleman. Bottom row from left: Candidates Alvin Brooks and Bonnaye Mims. Not pictured: Clifford Ragan III and Ron Pearson.

Five candidates are vying for three seats on the fractious Hickman Mills school board. Here's what they have to say about recent board decisions, technology in schools and mental health for students.

This guide is part of a series on 2024 school board elections from KCUR and the The Beacon Kansas City, members of the KC Media Collective.

Candidates running for a spot on the Hickman Mills Board of Education are vying to join a school board whose members have struggled to work together. The board has long faced scrutiny over how it operates and spends its money in a district engaged in a decade-long struggle to regain full accreditation from the state of Missouri.

After the April 2023 school board election, tensions arose at board meetings as members disagreed over when a newly elected director could be seated; who should be appointed to fill board vacancies; and whether board members were following policy.

Board directors twice attempted to appoint Clifford Ragan III, who failed to win his 2023 race for a seat on the board, to fill a vacancy. The Kansas City Star reported former board president Carol Graves tried to appoint Ragan to the seat without putting out a public notice.

Members of the Hickman Mills School District’s teachers union later sent a letter to the school board asking Graves to resign after she engaged in a heated exchange with other board members.

The school board moved forward last summer by choosing members Ann Coleman and Irene Kendrick to serve as co-presidents. Members said they would address the vacancy after soliciting community feedback.

However, the board never reached a consensus on who should fill the role and the seat has been empty for nearly a year.

It will be up for grabs this April, with current member Graves and former member and longtime Kansas City civil rights leader Alvin Brooks running to fill the position for a year-long term.

Five other candidates — incumbent Ann Coleman, former board members Bonnaye Mims and Clifford Ragan III, and challengers Cynthia Corn-Wattree and Ron Pearson — are competing for two open seats to serve a full three-year term.

Here’s a look at what the candidates had to say about selected issues, as well as information on their backgrounds, priorities and positions.

Responses have been edited for grammar, Associated Press style and clarity.

Meet the candidates: One-year term

Alvin Brooks

Occupation: Retired

Background and qualifications: Interested in the education and welfare of our children. Taught school in KCPS. Served as chair of the board of Hope Academy, a charter school, and four years on the Hickman Mills school board. Former president of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners.

Favorite school event: Having young people I've tutored and counseled come back and thank me for being there for them at a crucial time in their life.

Carol Graves

Occupation: Current educator (Kansas City Public Schools).

Background and qualifications: I have taught for more than 22 years and have been a board member for nine years.

Favorite school event: Back to School Rally/End of the year High School Graduation.

Meet the candidates: Three-year term

Bonnaye Mims

Occupation: Retired from Missouri Department of Mental Health forensic services.

Background and qualifications: Former board member for Hickman Mills School District 2003 through 2016. Missouri state representative District 27 2013 through 2016. Board member of the Hickman Mills Educational Foundation, alderwoman for Raytown, Missouri, 2017 to present.

Favorite school event: Basketball, musicals, reading to students

Cynthia Corn-Wattree

Occupation: Program Manager, KC Common Good

Background and qualifications: I have 20-plus years of experience in education, from teacher to athletic director to alternative school principal, I've just about done it all! I also provide consultation services to solo principals and schools looking to shift into more of a social-emotional learning focus.

Favorite school event: Open House/Parent Nights! It's always fun to see the students show off their work, their classrooms and teachers, their friends, and to connect with families and build great relationships.

Ann Coleman

Occupation: Retired educator of 40 years in the Kansas City area.

Background and qualifications: I have taught both special education and regular education scholars. I have a bachelor of arts and master of education degrees from Avila University.

Favorite school event: I absolutely love the first day of school and being at schools to greet the staff and the scholars as they enter schools. I love sharing their excitement of that very first day. It sets the tone for the rest of the school year.

Clifford Ragan, III

Clifford Ragan, III, who has not yet submitted his response, also already served as a Hickman Mills school board member. He was on the board from 2014 to 2020, serving as vice president in his final term. After filling a board vacancy, Ragan failed to win a full-term seat last April. He then became the center of a board dispute over who should fill another vacant seat.

Ragan is the father of four children who have attended Hickman Mills schools. He told the Kansas City Beacon in a candidate forum last year that he’d prioritize reducing disruptive behavior in the classroom.

Ron Pearson

Ron Pearson, who could not be reached to respond to the questionnaire, served more than two decades in the U.S. Army. According to his Linkedin, his experience includes providing health care training on areas like HIPAA, FDA compliance and medication ordering and storage.

He ran unsuccessfully for a spot on the Hickman Mills School Board in 2021. Pearson told the Martin City Telegraph then that the district needed to prioritize regaining full accreditation, returning to schools safely after the COVID pandemic and addressing transitional housing that impacts school enrollment.

Multiple-choice questions

School funding

One-year term

Brooks: What faces the board and the superintendent is how to make sure that some of the new funds are allocated to hire capable, experienced teachers who are able to improve the curriculum for our students that will move us to full ACCREDITATION.

Graves: We need to find creative ways to achieve academic success/achievement for our students.

Three-year term

Mims: In reviewing our test scores and being provisional, our students need more class time and instructions.

Corn-Wattree: The spending of district dollars needs to happen in a strategic, intentional and equitable manner. It’s not enough to just "spend more" and expect results. Utilizing data, staff feedback and community input, a plan for finances can be created.

Coleman: I don't mind spending money on the schools if the money is going to have an impact on our scholars’ education or enhance our educators and their ability to encourage, engage, and empower our scholars.

Controversial books

One-year term

Brooks: In spite of the trend our governor and state legislators have not yet moved to this extreme.

Graves: So far this has not been an issue.

Three-year term

Mims: They have been very active in removing books from the shelves in the library in our schools. I have not only witnessed this, but was able to gain access to many books that were piled up for anyone to take them. The majority of the books that I have are from authors of color. I shared these books with my granddaughters who are 4th graders and with board members from another school district.

Corn-Wattree: There's not been a push by any community members to remove any books. Our school is staffed with professionals who care about our kids and they leverage their experience and care to follow a curriculum that is inclusive and representative of the students.

Coleman: I think our district has been responsible when it comes to this matter.

Trans students

One-year term

Brooks: My "NEITHER'' response is my present position. Should the issues confront the board, I think a lot of discussion with parents, students, teachers and the administration must address these issues and try to reach a consensus.

Graves: This is an issue that must be addressed over all school districts. We have been proactive.

Three-year term

Mims: Could you be more specific? I'm open to all students' safety and learning skills.

Corn-Wattree: Our schools should be places where all students feel safe, welcomed and included as their authentic selves. When we allow students to use their chosen pronouns, they feel seen and that can make all the difference in a student feeling like they belong.

Coleman: Our scholars should be allowed to use the restroom in accordance with their gender identity. Alternative and non stigmatizing options, such as single-user restrooms, should be made available to all scholars who request them.

Mental health

One-year term

Brooks: With the proliferation of illicit drugs and violence, and sometimes negative home environments, my school district should add a mental health component.

Graves: We have to address this issue. We need to have resources for our students to help them be successful in school and society.

Three-year term

Mims: The board should look at hiring professionals in this area to support our students' mental health. Students are in crisis at this time. Look at the states that are struggling.

Corn-Wattree: There should be more done in EVERY school for mental health. This looks like thinking outside the box to make sure mental health services are available AND funded. It's imperative for our students and staff to be emotionally well.

Coleman: I feel very strongly about this issue. I believe that our schools should be a place our scholars feel safe. For whatever issues, school or home related, we need to be there for them with staff and solutions.

Social-emotional learning

One-year term

Brooks: For the same reason cited above.

Graves: It is important to help students who are suffering from social and emotional issues, which can impede their learning and their ability to cope with life issues.

Three-year term

Mims: I would refer to the professionals in this area, because the teachers are not trained in this area of concern.

Corn-Wattree: Not only should there be more SEL in the classrooms, the district needs to make sure they are being intentional about the funding of personnel and trainings for best practices with SEL.

Coleman: Our scholars need this support in order to make necessary and responsible decisions.


One-year term

Brooks: I believe the school board should convene meetings representing parents, students, teachers and administrators to address these issues.

Graves: Cell phones can be a distraction in the classroom. Often fights get started at school because of posting/texting negative things, which can lead to serious consequences.

Three-year term

Mims: I can't take everything from the students, but I suggest using technology that pertains to their studies in the classroom.

Corn-Wattree: Integration is the key here. Adding in these tech options can benefit student learning as long as they are used in a manner that enhances the learning. It's not enough to just have technology, but HOW it gets implemented in the learning is crucial.

Coleman: I have mixed feelings regarding this issue, but we need to make the best decisions for our scholars.

Open-ended questions

If elected to the school board, what would you do to improve outcomes for students in your district? How well do you believe students are currently learning and achieving academically in your district?

One-year term

Brooks: As a board member I would work in a collaborative way with my fellow board members and the superintendent, reviewing what is happening in our classrooms to improve our outcomes that will move us to full accreditation.

Graves: As an educator I would continue to share strategies with the board and superintendent to help us reach accreditation status.

Three-year term

Mims: Elected, I want to first hear their concerns, work on communication skills with all involved, address their needs. I would work hard to build communication with our community (Stakeholders), parents and students to achieve our goals of accreditation and future citizens.

Corn-Wattree: If elected, the best way to improve outcomes for students is to do the job I was elected to do. I will not seek power to uplift self or other political entities. Rather, I plan to remain focused on leading the district in partnership with the superintendent, leadership team, teachers and families.

Coleman: I believe Hickman Mills continues to have high expectations of our scholars. We require a rigorous curriculum, teach active listening, build collaborative teaching relationships, monitor student progress, provide supplemental instruction, and use technology in teaching and learning.

What is your biggest concern about the school board's recent decisions or actions?

One-year term

Brooks: I would rather discuss the future of the board if elected. At that time, with that information, I would be in a position to assess the past and present decisions of the board and use that as the direction we should go.

Graves: We moved well on student engagement this year but need to do more to help our students achieve academic success.

Three-year term

Mims:  Being split, not learning of the district history and more importantly, not involving the parents and community. Spending more on buildings when our children need us more now than ever.

Corn-Wattree: The current school board has lost focus on their jobs and instead a schism has formed. I see those who are there for kids and trying to do the good work of the school board, and others seem to be trying to stop the progress of the school district because they're not getting their way.

Coleman: I believe our school board has collectively been working together to move the district forward. The purchase of the building that will be the home of our Real World Learning (curriculum) is definitely a step in the move forward.

More 2024 school board election guides

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