Bailey Hester

Hester steps up as R-I health director midyear
Posted on 09/20/2022
Bailey Hester

Bailey Hester has the task of leading the district out of the pandemic and into a "semi-new normal," she says – a lofty goal inherently beyond her control.

She also happens to be Poplar Bluff Schools’ youngest administrator, according to R-I Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Mike Owen, who believes he was the previous title holder, having climbed up the ranks in his mid-20s.

The Board of Education named Hester the director of health services at the end of last school year, when her predecessor Kimberly Foster reportedly sought an opportunity to be closer to family in March.

“In the midst of the ongoing difficulties presented by COVID-19, Ms. Hester immediately stepped up and showed the value of real-life experience at the hospital as well as most recently in the school system, and shouldered a giant responsibility with grace and dignity," reflected Dr. Scott Dill, superintendent. “From my perspective, Ms. Hester possesses not only the requisite knowledge but drive in her work that is contagious to peers, fellow administrators and every student she comes in contact with throughout the day.

“She is a consummate professional that embodies everything we expect of our directors in the Poplar Bluff School District,” continued Dill, “and we anticipate she will have a long and successful tenure here.”

Prior to Foster, Sheryl Talkington served as the school system’s first licensed health director from 1999-2021. She joined the district as a school nurse in 1994, with aid from a grant through the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services in tandem with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

While the opportunity for Hester presented itself “a lot quicker” than she imagined, Hester said she had her “eyes set on the director position.” She explained: “I know if I didn’t try now, it might not come available for a long time, and I felt like I can do our program justice if I step into the role and continue to learn and learn.”

Hester began with the district as a registered nurse at Junior High in 2020, and then served as traveling nurse for a portion of last school year. Her nursing career began in 2019 on the medical surgical floor of Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center, before she transferred to postpartum and pediatrics. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Central Methodist University in Fayette, and her associate from Three Rivers College, respectively, in nursing.

“Since I was a little girl, the only job I ever wanted to do was be a registered nurse, and I never strayed from the path,” Hester said. “I generally enjoy taking care of people and always loved kids, so I wanted to be a pediatric nurse growing up. When I found out there was a job opening here, I felt that school nursing would be a way to [work with children].”

Fully staffed, the R-I Health Department is comprised of 16 employees, including a licensed nurse post for each school building, with the exception of the Early Childhood Center, since it is connected to the Kindergarten Center, and Mark Twain School, which receives services from the traveling RN.

Last month, Hester joined her colleagues regionally in consulting with state health leaders, including an infectious disease doctor from Washington University, to review current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emphasizing “not excluding kids from learning” during the public health crisis.

This year Hester would like to “redefine” what the department was working toward pre-COVID, including providing health education for students, and relaunching a staff newsletter. Talkington continues to serve in a consulting capacity for the department.

“I’m grateful to have this opportunity as director of health services and hope that I can provide my best self to the district and students,” Hester stated. "Sheryl left big shoes to fill, and I hope to do her legacy well, and follow in her footsteps.”


Cutline: Bailey Hester accepted a position as the R-I director of health services in the spring.

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