Four vie for seats on Gainesville school board

Douglas Hawkins

Corey Hillhouse

Jeremy Kiger

Marti Warden

This week the Times is publishing “profiles” of the four candidates running in the April 7 general municipal election for the three seats coming open on the Gainesville R-V School District Board of Education. In upcoming editions, we will publish profiles of candidates running for open seats on the Dora and Thornfield school boards.

We sent brief questionnaires to the candidates and then edited their responses and returned the responses to the candidates for approval. Those responses are grouped here by the questions asked. 

Terms are also coming open on the Bakersfield and Lutie school boards, the county’s three village boards (Bakersfield, Gainesville and Theodosia), the Ozark County Ambulance District and Ozark County Health Department boards and the board overseeing Public Water Supply District #1 in Theodosia. However, except for the Theodosia Village Board, the number of vacancies on those boards equals the number of candidates who have filed for those seats, and state law says elections do not have to be held in those cases. In Theodosia, because three terms are ending on the village board and only one incumbent has filed for re-election, the board will appoint two residents to fill the remaining two seats.   

Also in the April 7 election, Ozark County voters will decide whether the county will begin collecting a 2 percent internet “use tax,” similar to a sales tax, on online purchases.

Ozark Countians who are not yet registered to have until Wednesday, March 11, to register to vote in the April 7 election. Absentee voting opens Tuesday, Feb. 25. For more information, contact the Ozark County Clerk’s office at 679-3516.


Personal/family information

Hawkins: I am a lifelong resident of the greater Noble area, where I have claimed the title of “Unofficial Mayor” for the last 20-plus years. I have one daughter, Sarah; two dogs, Kate and El Presidente’; and a wonderful girlfriend, Amy.

Hillhouse: I am married to Hope Hannaford Hillhouse, and we have two children. Lauren, my daughter, is almost 15, and Logan, my son, is almost 13.  

Kiger: I’ve been married to my wife, Julie, since last July. We have a blended family of five children.

Warden: I grew up in Gainesville, the daughter of Jim and Mary Kyle. I graduated from Gainesville High School in 1989 and have been married to Ken Warden for 15 years. Our children are Shelby, Sarah, Emory, Hadley and Jackson. We attend church at Mammoth Assembly of God, where I serve as director of the Vacation Bible School program.



Hawkins: I am the owner and agent of record of Douglas Hawkins Shelter Insurance Agency in beautiful downtown Gainesville.

Hillhouse: I have worked at Century Bank of the Ozarks since 1996 in the lending department. I’m also part of the bank’s executive committee; the members of this committee help to guide the direction of the bank.      

Kiger: I am employed by the Missouri Department of Conservation as a conservation agent in Ozark County.

Warden: I’m a nurse practitioner at Burton Creek Rural Clinic in West Plains.


Educational background

Hawkins: I am a graduate of Gainesville High School and of the “School of Being a Farm Kid.” I also have a background in hospice palliative care. Since 2015, I have held a national insurance license and have been a registered agent with Shelter Insurance Companies.

Hillhouse: I graduated from Gainesville High School in 1990 and from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in agricultural economics. I currently serve on the Gainesville school board. I have also served on several other boards throughout the community as well as the South Central Ozark Council of Government (SCOCOG) and the Ozarks Small Business Incubator (OzSBI), both based in West Plains but having effect in Ozark County.

Kiger: I have a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. I completed numerous technical schools while serving in the U.S. Navy. I completed the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Agent Training Academy, and every year I complete many hours of continuing law enforcement education.

Warden: I have a master’s of science in nursing degree from Vanderbilt University. 


How long have you lived in the school district?

Hawkins: I started kindergarten at Gainesville Elementary School in 1976 and proudly graduated high school with the class of 1989.

Hillhouse: I have lived in the school district most of my life. The only time not spent in the Gainesville district was my time in college and three years of employment with another lender.  

Kiger: I have lived in Gainesville for the past 16 years.

Warden: I’ve lived here all my life except for time spent away for college.


In what ways do you support the Gainesville school district? 

Hawkins: I have been supportive of our district in many ways. I am a GHS Athletic Booster Club sponsor. I also directly contribute to the sponsorship of GHS baseball, softball, basketball, cheerleaders, the archery team, academic team and choir. I’m a proud supporter of the PTO and the backpack and Care to Learn programs. With the Shelter Insurance Foundation, I provide scholarships to graduating seniors each year as well. Outside of the school, I am a sponsor of the Ozark County Youth Opportunity Group, the Ozark Youth Football Association and cheerleaders, and several privately funded teams. I support the FFA, FBLA and FCA with any fundraisers they have any time I am approached.

Hillhouse: I support the school through the Gainesville Lions Club with our annual auction that supports the local summer ball league. I am also involved in helping judge district FBLA events.   

Kiger: I have been to many music programs at Gainesville over the years. I have supported the FFA for  many years through their labor auction and other fundraising activities. I have been to countless baseball, basketball and softball games. I have supported the auto mechanics class by offering them learning opportunities and giving them donations. I am in the Gainesville schools several times each year presenting interpretive programs to the students and faculty on a variety of conservation- and nature-related topics.

Warden: I helped organize and worked on the PTO float in the 2018 Hootin an Hollarin parade. For the last three years, I’ve provided free sports physicals for student athletes each summer before school starts. I’ve campaigned for the school’s financial initiatives in past elections. And I’ve coached youth basketball and softball teams and served as a guest speaker to students interested in healthcare.


Do you currently have children attending school in the district? 

Hawkins: Yes, I have one daughter, Sarah Beth Hawkins, a freshman at GHS.

Hillhouse: Both of my children attend Gainesville School. Lauren is currently in the ninth grade, and Logan is in seventh grade.  

Kiger: Our children Jeffrey, Cody and Natalie are all Gainesville High School graduates. We also have Abby, currently a junior at GHS, and Nathan, who is in eighth grade.

Warden: We have three children in the Gainesville schools. Emory is in eighth grade, Hadley is in sixth and Jackson is in fifth.


What are the biggest strengths of the school district?

Hawkins: I believe the biggest strengths are the people associated with and employed by the district. There are many for whom I have the utmost respect. They genuinely care about the students … about all students.

Hillhouse: One of the biggest strengths I see in the school district is our staff. We have administrators who have vision for what the district needs, and they are willing to educate the board on how we can achieve that vision. We have teachers who are willing to put in extra time to help our students be successful in their future. We have cafeteria workers, office staff and bus drivers who take an interest in the kids; if they see a problem or need, they make sure it is dealt with. We have custodial and maintenance personnel who give the kids a safe, clean and well-maintained place to learn.  

Kiger: I think we have a faculty and administration that care deeply about our students, their safety and their success. Also, I think our administrators do a good job of managing the budget, securing additional funding for special projects and creating increased opportunities for our students.

Warden: The district’s biggest strengths are our students and our faculty and staff. We have really good kids in our district, with low incidence of discipline issues. Not only do we have talented teachers, they are teachers who choose to work in our district, even though we’re competing with higher-paying salaries at other schools. Our administrators are forward-thinking about curriculum and about preparing our students for the future and keeping our district up to speed with the latest developments in education.


What are the biggest weaknesses of the district, and how do you think they can be improved?

Hawkins: I believe the district needs more involvement with the community as a whole, and I also believe the community needs to be more involved with the school district. I believe both sides need to make the other feel they are welcome to be involved.

Hillhouse: If I had to name a biggest weakness for the district it would be having the ability to pay our teachers adequately and maintaining the quality of teachers we have. Having sufficient funding for improvements the district needs is also a weakness. We are only able to take small steps in doing the improvements the district desperately needs. Many times we are forced to choose between improving technology or fixing the buildings. Any large improvements or major overhaul of our facility is currently out of the question, and with changes and increases in costs and labor, those needs are only getting further out of reach.    

Kiger: I think one of our biggest weaknesses continues to be in the area of technology. Even though we have made considerable progress in this area over the past few years, we still have a long way to go to maximize the learning opportunities our students deserve.

Warden:  A weakness for our district is that there are people who don’t recognize the importance of a strong school and strong community support of that school and how those things play into the livelihood of the community and the success of our kids. Of course, we also face issues that many other districts must deal with, including financial issues and having more governmental requirements and less time and resources to meet them. 


What characteristics do you possess or what experiences have you had that will aid you as a school board member?

Hawkins: I believe in serving my community, especially in any way that will affect our kids – ALL kids, not just a few. I currently serve on the following boards in and for our community: Ozark Action Inc.; vice-president, Ozark County Ambulance District; president, Ozark County Chamber of Commerce; the Ozark County Health Department’s Coalition-Better Community for Better Health Committee; the Ozark County Emergency Management Response Team; and the Wasola Volunteer Fire Department Board. I help to coordinate the PFC Matthew England Memorial Run and the Hootin an Hollarin 5K (which raises money for community and school programs).

Hillhouse: I feel that one of the strongest characteristics I possess that helps in being a part of a board is that I listen. You have to be willing to listen to all sides in a discussion before you make your decision. And after a vote is made, you have to be willing to live with the outcome, no matter what side you were on. I’m willing to work with the board and at the end of a meeting, walk away and be civil with all the members. I try not to take things personally, and I can admit when I’m wrong.    

Kiger: I have served on the school board at Gainesville for the past six years. I previously served on the Gainesville City Council for approximately six years. For about 15 years I have served as a deacon at First Baptist Church in Gainesville, where we currently attend.

Warden: My qualifications for this position include my current school board service, my professional education and work experience, and my community networking. I have served on the Gainesville school board for six years and currently serve as vice president. That experience has given me knowledge of and insight into the goings-on of our district. We’ve made some great improvements, and I want to see that continue. My time on the board has also helped me understand that the purpose of the board is oversight, not management of the school’s day-to-day operation, a job that is best left to the professional educators we hire. Having worked with Justin Gilmore as high school principal and Ericka Armstrong as junior high principal, I have seen their devotion to the students and their skill as administrators. That experience gives me insight into and confidence for how they will do their new jobs as superintendent and high school principal, respectively, in the 2020-2021 year. 

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
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