Dr. Philip Hickman officially begins his duties as Columbus Municipal School District Superintendent of Schools today. Hickman, 38, comes to Columbus from Houston, Texas, where he served as an assistant superintendent in the nation's seventh largest school district. Photo by: Zach Odom/Dispatch Staff
July 28, 2014 3:06:27 PM
Today may be Dr. Philip Hickman's first day as superintendent of the Columbus Municipal School District, but he feels like he has been preparing for the role his entire career.
The 38-year-old Kansas City, Missouri, native was chosen as superintendent on July 11. He stepped into that role this morning.
At this point in his career, Hickman says he feels Columbus is right where he is supposed to be.
"I'm very committed to this district," Hickman said Sunday. "Every move was an upward mobility. Every move was with a degree advancement. This is where I wanted to be in my career."
Hickman said he was impressed with the city's citizens and leaders, downtown area as well as what he sees as potential for commercial development within the city limits. Those factors equate to an enviable school district, he said.
"Once the district is turned around, it will be second to none," he said.
Hickman's foray into education wasn't by accident. In fact, he might say it was almost fate. As the son of a kindergarten teacher, education was always important in Hickman's family. Then, when Hickman was in high school, his father, who had been working as a truck driver, went back to school to earn his degree.
"He didn't do anything with it, but he wanted to show us that it was possible to attend college and finish," Hickman said. "And he did. I grew up in the classroom and then to see that push on the emphasis of education from my father, that's really my motivating drive."
In high school, Hickman said he tried to be a leader for his peers, serving on the debate team as well as a six-sport letterman. That leadership role continued into his college years at the University of Missouri where he volunteered at the local Boys and Girls Club while on a dual scholarship for football and academics.
Educational leadership may have been in his blood, but his time at the Boys and Girls Club is what pushed Hickman to get into the school system.
"That kind of centered me back to focusing on children," he said. "It renewed my love for children. I started subbing and the rest is history."
From his role as a substitute teacher, Hickman used his bachelor's degree in psychology to transition into the job of school counselor. From there, he earned his master's of education degree and became dean of students at a high school in Illinois. As he earned additional degrees -- culminating with his Ph.D. in educational leadership in 2009 -- Hickman continued to move up the administrative ranks until he landed in Houston, Texas, last August.
Houston is where Hickman learned some of the core values that make him want to help unite the Columbus school district. To achieve that, he said, trust is the key.
"The first thing is we have to build a relationship with our families. We have to build that trust," he said. "Once we build that trust, there are various ways that we can work together, be a collaborative effort. I can have ideas but it doesn't mean that it's right for the community. It's really something that we have to come together and talk about to devise different methods that we can come together and educate our kids."
Hickman said he is currently working on a 90-day plan that will help push the district into the world-class arena that he knows it can be. That plan will be released in the coming weeks, he said.
Overall, Hickman said his goal is not just to improve the district, but to improve the city as a whole.
"My hope is that we become a world-class district, that we become a model, the top district in Mississippi and we become a model for education. I really believe we need to do the small things great and you'll really see a difference. That's a serious goal for me.
"I want Columbus Municipal School District to be the first choice for every taxpayer within our district."
Hickman's salary is $175, 000 each year of his four-year contract.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
1. Convictions for police officer defendants rare COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. New Columbus Arts Council director looks for more long-term donations COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. The Book of Joe: LINK CEO Higgins enlists ghostwriter to work on book project COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. Columbus police nab one suspect, search for another in Saturday armed robbery COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Officials respond to voting concerns at Union precinct COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY