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Meet the School Board Candidates: Dr. Ellen Brusick (District 3)

Meet the School Board Candidates: Dr. Ellen Brusick (District 3)

[box type=”1″]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 nine questions, and have run their responses each unedited and as they have sent them to us. We encourage all of our readers to exercise their democratic right and vote on Tuesday, August 26. [/box]
Ellen Brusick final
Dr. Ellen Brusick, District 3

Q. What made you want to run for this office?

I believe that at my age I still have something –and something unique – to contribute to the education of Huntsville’s children, based on my being a teacher and a principal for so many years. However, in the role of School Board member I’d help make policies and advise – and keep an eye on the educational component of the school system. (That’s what I always did best – My focus was always the children, and making sure that they were being served as best they could be. As a principal, support for the teachers was primary for me, so he/she had everything needed to teach their children to the best of their ability.) And the other part is that I would just like to be part of the HCS system again – it’s been a huge part of my life – and I really love the Huntsville City Schools. I want each school to be the best it can be. And I’d like to make sure that our focus can now return to the schools and the teachers, now that the Board and superintendent have made such great progress with the larger picture, i.e. buildings and finances.

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. As a matter of fact, I have just spent the afternoon reading about the purpose, value, evaluation, ‘plusses and minuses’ of PreK-8 schools. I’m using the Internet and its blogs, research papers, comments, articles and Facebook. But I made some calls to teachers I knew at Whitesburg to get some hands-on, comments from the trenches… Since I was young, I was always a “researcher” who tried to ascertain the whats, whys, hows and so-whats of any topic that touched my life.

Q. How do you plan to fulfill the board member role of administration and supervision of the public schools as detailed in School Board Policy 2.2?

From a friendly, helpful standpoint. I will be present and approachable. I will visit the schools frequently, to see how board policy and procedures are “translating” to the classrooms. I’ll listen to people. And I will carry the messages back to the superintendent.
{I know this from listening already: With the wonderful progress our HCS is making (new buildings, financial repair, technology innovations, personnel changes) I ‘m wondering if we’re neglecting our teachers. . . we’re certainly not giving them the autonomy that they deserve, and some of the joy of the teaching-learning process is missing, I’ve heard.}

Q. Do your children (or school age relatives) attend Huntsville City Schools?
I have no children – except for the hundreds I’ve had over the years. My focus on them and my care for them was always evident to them. Poll some former students and they would say that (a) I know who they were (b) I really liked and cared about them (c) I didn’t let them get away with murder… I do have a grand niece and a grand nephew whom I’m close with. One attends Chaffee Elementary and one is just entering Grissom.


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Q. What is your vision for the schools in your district?

Good question – and I am sincere when I say that my vision would be formed by what my constituents wanted. I am a strong believer in the power of neighborhood schools. My vision for the schools in our community are just to make sure that they continue with their fine history and that our children (whose families really value education!) are assured that we’re doing all we can.

I absolutely hate it when people leave the public school system because of something that can be remedied by us. We must serve our constituents to the best of our ability. Again, I love the neighborhood school concept – that the school is an integral part of and source of pride to the neighborhood. The neighborhood supports the school and the school works to serve the needs of its children. I do not believe that (in any of our districts) sufficient input is been gathered from clients. Listening to people/clients is mandatory. IF the larger picture mandates a difficult decision, then explain to people and aid its implementation by using community leaders who understand and buy into the decision. (example: the PreK-8 schools at Whitesburg and Challenger…missed input; missing understanding of the concept; missing acceptance and full effectiveness? When parents and teachers have feelings of being left out of decisions they don’t embrace them quickly or wholeheartedly.

WE need to get back the “joy” of the teaching-learning process… Mandatory ‘scripted text’ for reading, the use of computers for ALL subjects, the high stakes of tests, and frequent changeover of principals may be squelching the teachers’ joy of teaching – and their craft. Teachers need confidence in their ability to diagnose a child’s problems and to design the way to teach him. We’re creating a generation of test-takers instead of “lifelong learners”. Furthermore, the students need confidence in their teacher’s ability to teach and help them – not just test them. Students need to have an almost personal relationship with a teacher who inspires them. The teacher-pupil relationship is being depersonalized these days. Students need a personal relationship with a teacher who inspires them.

I really believe that every school in our community would support a parent Steering Committee that would meet with principals to make plans, customize the school, and reach goals. This group might be a branch of the PTA or a separate group. Regardless, it would make long term plans; discuss concerns, successes, yearly goals; evaluate progress, etc.

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

I really KNOW this answer – because I was a teacher and a hands-on administrator. It’s absolutely imperative to assess where each child is – but it’s something done after each lesson. As a teacher, I was constantly assessing the progress of each child. . . and going back over what he missed, or speeding up when they were ready. I did my own assessing/diagnosing what was needed next. No one pitted me against another teacher. I assessed because I wanted my kids to learn to read, and I wanted to know who was making what progress. However, in the classrooms today, the testing of children is done by someone else; we are training test takers and not children who read for meaning or enjoy learning more throughout their lifetime.

Teachers should be evaluated – by their principals first, and then by curriculum trained evaluators from “downtown” who visit the classroom and meet with the teacher. Evaluate them on room atmosphere, caring environment, supportive, on-level, purposeful activities, supportive climate and yes, reading and math progress made by each child.

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

Communication. Communication. Communication. I have always realized that sitting down and talking things over is the way to get things accomplished. Hear the Other’s point of view and try to work a compromise. I really do care about the schools here and wouldn’t let anything oppressive come to the students – or their teachers or the neighborhood.

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


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Equity is key. And, I’m not sure how limited the funding is. Sources of money for our schools include local state and federal monies; property taxes, federal monies for title schools, federal monies for federal employees; grants for school, bonds for school construction, loans, corporate grants . (Per pulil expenditures in the HCS is approximately $4000.00 per student. ) Title schools receive Federal funds to finance their special needs and our PTAs raise money for our extras. The government steps in to help equalize opportunities for the children. I wish the $4000.00 could just follow the student – wherever he is bused or magnetized. I haven’t felt that our funds were distributed unfairly in the past, and would certainly keep a close eye on making sure that equity prevails.

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

You know what? I don’t think we’ve fared very badly at all. Whitesburg (very close to my heart!!!) was such a good sweet school, but it was dated and not “pretty” – even back in 1985 when we LOVED life there. This big new giant with its 21st century racetrack is a great gift to our community – and an inspiration to our students. I want to make sure it’s used correctly!!! Grissom. OMG! Just what our students need in terms of preparation for their very promising futures! BUT! In both of these new schools, there will be a honeymoon period with years of settling in and learning how best to utilize all aspects. It will take training for teachers, and input from teachers, with a close eye on it from Board Members, parents, school officials and the community.
Most of the HCS schools were in need of upgrades or repair and replacing them with fine new schools should be inspirational to the stuents and their families and the community. Start new – make new traditions. Embrace the new beautiful school and make it your own – show pride in it and let it be inspirational!

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

MORE and LARGER. Especially in our District 3 schools where education is so important to our families, I’ve known for decades how excellent and important input from the community! Each school should have PTA advisor groups, accreditation panels, or a principal’s ‘cabinet’ of advisors. Each school should encourage parent volunteers for clubs, technology, support, after-school clubs, grandparents clubs, field trips to businesses, etc. Involve parents in the everyday life of the school. All groups should be encouraged and accommodated.

Principals should continue to give the annual ‘State of Our School’ address. Each PTA meeting should open with general info and/or questions pertaining to school life. Even our principals need better ‘Open Door’ policies and be more willing to communicate with parents, listening carefully to both sides, and not be afraid to take the parent’s side.

[sws_grey_box box_size=”450″]WANT TO MEET THE CANDIDATES IN PERSON? The Huntsville Council of Parent Teacher Associations is hosting a School Board Candidate Forum on Monday, August 18th, 2014. The event will be held at Huntsville High School from 6:30pm – 8:30pm. This forum will also be broadcast live on ETV (Channel 17 on Comcast and Channel 3 on Wow!) [/sws_grey_box]

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