Carlos Mathews (District 5) School Board Candidate

EDITOR’S NOTE: With the goal of keeping local parents (and voters) as informed as possible about all things parent-related, the editors of RCM compiled “9 Questions for the Candidates.” We asked all the Huntsville City School Board candidates to answer the same set of questions and we will run one response each day this week unedited and in the order we received them. We encourage all of our readers to exercise their democratic right and vote on Tuesday, August 28.
Q. What made you want to run for this office?

Carlos Mathews, District 5 Candidate

I am running for school board to make changes in how we educate students. A pattern has developed where students are graduating from Huntsville City Schools and are not prepared to be career or college ready. Some of our students graduate with good grades and attend college only to take remedial classes the first year. We must work together to prepare our students for the future and that preparation begins in our elementary schools.

Q.  Are you capable of and willing to do the research necessary to ask questions about the policies, procedures and recommendations that the superintendent is bringing to the board for approval?

Yes I am capable of doing the research necessary to ask questions about policies and procedures. Over the last 3 years I have attended 80% of the regularly scheduled school board meetings and one special called meeting. During that time I have participated by providing solutions to problems facing our school district or asked questions about existing policies. I am willing to ask the questions and I have demonstrated that with my actions.

Q. Do your children (or school age relatives) attend Huntsville City Schools?

I do not have any children. I do have relatives that attend Huntsville City Schools.

Q. What is your vision for the schools in your district?
I am running on my S.T.A.R.S platform. The details are below.

(S)tudent guidance
We need to improve the utilization of our guidance counselors in our school system. We need our counselors to create individual plans for our students to make sure that as the student reaches the end of the education process that they are career or college ready. If a student goes off the planned path then our counselors, teachers and parents can work together to help to correct the issue and make sure that our students are successful.

(T)raining for Educators
Huntsville City Schools should increase the opportunities for professional development for educators to keep them aware of the latest teaching techniques and keep them up to date with the technology that will be used in the classroom. Partnering with the local universities and the business community could help solve this challenge.

To improve the classroom management skills of our first year teachers I would like to create an educator mentoring program. I would like to see first year teachers spend time working in the summer school program paired with veteran teacher. You cannot educate students if you cannot control the classroom first.

(A)ccountability
The district needs to be accountable on a financial and educational level from the top of the organization to the bottom. Note that accountability does not stop with Huntsville City School employees that accountability extends to the home as well. Our parents must be held accountable for the education of their own children. Our schools are not daycares but a place to educate children.

(R)emove inequalities in education between schools.
We need to remove the inequalities between schools and make sure that an “A” student at one school is an “A” student at any Huntsville City School. Standardization of testing for our schools will assist in measuring the academic progress of our students. Note: I do understand that we face different challenges in our schools that place some of our students behind. Using the STAR Enterprise system is good indicator of progress and success in the classroom.

(S)cholarship Opportunities
As a school district we need to increase the number of academic and athletic scholarship opportunities for our students. The way we go about achieving that goal is to expose our student’s achievements to the businesses, colleges and Universities.

For years parents of athletes have used website geared toward sports to display stats and film to help students get noticed by a university. These sites are used by universities all over the country to find talent and ultimately offer scholarships. As our school system goes digital we will have the infrastructure to offer such a site for the Huntsville City School district. This idea is not just for athletes but for those looking to display academic talents as well. It’s a one stop shopping opportunity for colleges, Universities, and Trade schools.

Q. What is your plan for working with the other school board members, superintendent, staff, teachers, community to implement this vision?

To implement this vision communication will be the key to success. The vision must be clearly explained to all stakeholders involved. Each group must have input on how the vision should be implemented. I want each stakeholder to have ownership in the process. As school board members we must look not only at what is good for our district but also what is best for Huntsville City Schools. Communicating this vision to the other board members and showing how this can positively affect the district they represent will help bring this vision into reality.

Q. What is your view of high-stakes standardized testing, and the use of those test results for the evaluation of teachers?

Our teachers should not be evaluated by test results. Standardized testing is good way to show the progress of our students. Each school has its own challenges and issues. Some of our schools have a majority of students that are on grade level in math and reading. Other schools are faced with the challenge of having students that are two or more grade levels behind. The standardized test can provide a picture of where a student is in the education process and what areas will need improvement to move to the next level. If test results alone are used for evaluation of schools with less academic challenges you would see great evaluation for teachers. Schools that have major academic challenges would see the opposite effect. The end test results do not reflect how far a teacher might have advanced a student in his or her education process. I will provide two examples.

Teacher A has a student in 5th grade and that student is on grade level in math and reading. After taking the standardized test it shows that student is still on grade level and on the correct pace to move to the next level.

Teacher B has a student in 5th grade and that student is on a 3rd grade level in math and reading. After taking the standardized test that student is not on a 5th grade level but has made progress and is now on a 4th grade level.

When viewing the end results as a number or letter grade you do not get the full picture of what a teacher has accomplished. If you review the details you can see the effort of those in education. The results are subjective depending on which way you would perform the evaluation. So again test results alone are not a good way to evaluate a teacher.

Q. What is your view of how the district’s limited funding should be divided among the needs of the district?

The first thing to remember about Huntsville City Schools limited funds is that the money is not all in one account. That means we cannot use construction funds to pay staff and vice versa.

Currently the school system has planned or has already completed construction on several schools in the area. According to the Jacobs report released recently we have over 150 million dollars of priority one facility issues in our schools. Some of the schools will cost more to repair then to rebuild. I agree with building new schools because it will bring a since of pride to the community and provide safe place to educate students. The new facilities could allow for consolidation of our schools and reduce the long term facility cost for our school district. The funds for construction will come from sources like the 6.5 mill property tax and the money that will be provided from BRAC.

Although we have limited funds from the federal and state we have been able to hire teachers using local funds. Increasing the number of teachers can help reduce the class load and increase the opportunity for more one on one education time. With limited funds it is not how much you have but how you use the funds that matters.

Q. What is your view on the superintendent’s plans to close, consolidate, “turn around”, and “restart” many of the schools in our district.

Consolidations
I do support the consolidations of schools when it makes since. Schools with small populations and the districts limited resources are not a good ways to educate students. With the funding from the state and federal level being cut every year we have to look at ways to reduce the school systems cost. One of the ways to reduce cost is to consolidate schools with extremely low populations. Usually the schools with low population have older facilities with high maintenance cost. One of the major costs to a school system is maintaining facilities. Removing a single facility saves our district millions of dollars a year. Below you will find the criteria that I would use to consolidate a school. The questions below are not in any particular order.

  1. Do we have space in a nearby school for our students without overcrowding that school?
  2. Can we move our most valuable resource our educators to other schools to help our district? Consolidation to me does not mean loss of jobs for our teachers and staff.
  3. Will consolidating a school save the system significant money?
  4. Can we utilize the vacated facility to relieve other issues within the system?
  5.  How old is the facility?
  6. Can we sale the property and truly remove it from the school systems books?
  7. Can we get community buy in for the consolidation?

Restart of our schools
Schools in the district where restarted to protect against charter schools. A bill early in the year was up for a vote to bring charter schools to Alabama. Several failing schools in Huntsville City Schools where selected as potential charter school locations. To protect against that the schools had to be restarted statically. Teachers, principals and staff where moved to other locations which is part of the process for a restart of a school. I think competition can always make situations better and that is what charter schools would have brought to Huntsville. I also believe if you allow the superintendent and the school board the same flexibility as a charter school you would not need charter schools.

Q.  What is your view of the role that parents and the community should play in the governance of our schools?

Our community should play a role in helping guide and structure our school system. The community knows what direction industry is moving and can help provide feedback to the superintendent and the board. This feedback from the community can help eliminate courses that are obsolete and add courses that are relevant in today’s world.

Parental involvement is the largest keys to a student’s success. Our teachers cannot do it alone they need the help of mom, dad or the parental guardian to be successful. Our parents need to reinforce how important education is to a student and actively participate in the academic process. Below is a small list of things parents can do to be actively involved.

  • Join and actively participate in PTA.
  • Go to parent teacher conferences.
  • Make sure students have a set time to do homework daily.
  • Ask for graded papers from the student.
  • Look for tutors if need for the students

The key is to be engaged in your student’s education process. If you don’t have time make the time.

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