Q. What made you run for this office?
I am running for office because I understand the importance public education has on our quality of life, economic vitality, and neighborhood stability. In this time of progress for Huntsville City Schools, it is important that we have engaged, capable, competent, and collaborative leadership on the school board; I am that leader. With many changes occurring in our school system, specifically in my Southwest Huntsville community, my desire for this office is to lead and support District 4 as we prepare for a significant transition. These changes will require leadership that will engage the community, interact with the city council, and advocate for collective support for our schools. If elected, my goal is to work with all stakeholders as we develop effective solutions to continue moving Huntsville City Schools in the right direction.
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? 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?
Absolutely. My willingness and ability to do research necessary in order to ask not only questions, but the tough questions, has been demonstrated on multiple accounts through correspondence on issues with the superintendent and school board.
I plan to fulfill the board members’ role of administration and supervision using the authority provided in the applicable statutory and parliamentary procedure per the policy. These actions include thoroughly reviewing all information presented by the superintendent, communicating issues and receiving feedback from parents, teachers, and community members to ensure we are providing solutions that foster a positive direction for the schools. Most importantly, I will remain objective, only voting in favor of recommendations that enhance the quality of our school system for all students.
Q. Do your children (or school age relatives) attend Huntsville City Schools?
While I have not had the privilege of having children, as an engaged citizen within our community I understand that the future of Huntsville is dependent on the future of our school system. The children of this community are the future leaders of our society, and I, too, have a vested interest in their success. I regard every child I have mentored, tutored, and supported throughout the years as if they are my own. I participated in numerous outreach initiatives including tutoring in the students’ home, tutoring at schools throughout Huntsville, mentoring to prepare students for college, and sponsoring life enriching activities. I have even had the pleasure paying tuition for a mentee who wanted to get ahead in math before starting engineering between high school and college. I consider this a victory, because he could have done a lot things with his summer, but he chose stay focused on his education and allowed me assist. I take pride in the accomplishments of all the children I have ever supported, very much like a parent, and yes they have attended or currently attend Huntsville City Schools. I look to lead this community in transcending boundaries and labels to support and engage in issues that affect not only each of us as individuals, but our entire community.
Q. What is your vision for the schools in your district?
I. Improve Communications
Goal: Internally, work with the board to emphasize accountability from the superintendent, to the principals, to the teachers for maintaining effective and professional communication.
- Similar to the survey students now take to evaluate their teacher, I would support a survey of administrators, teachers, and support staffs to understand the internal communication needs of educators, evaluate the methods of communication from their leadership, and implement an approach to support efficient communications throughout the school year based on their feedback.
- Similar to the new methods implemented to include professional communication as an area of performance evaluation, I would ensure that all contracts with employees of the central office, school administrators, and the superintendent include a performance objective associated with communication.
Goal: Externally, work with the board to optimize communication methods to support an engaged, transparent, and results-oriented feedback process with stakeholders.
- Work with the PTA to develop expectations from the Parent to the School/Teacher and School/Teacher to Parent the start of the school year with a clear understanding of the flow of communications.
- Advocate discussing and building consensus with the community for Huntsville City Schools long range plan alongside the “Big Picture” long range planning of the city. Additionally, advocate for a Huntsville City Schools annual community awareness forum to allow the entire community who has a vested interest in the school system, an opportunity to understand the direction of the school system for a given year. Ideally this should be an informational coupled with a needs/requirements discussion. This would serve as an opportunity to begin matching school system needs with community and business support.
- Develop and support the implementation of a transition plan once the new student assignment plan is approved. Support and advocate the coordination of external school resources, ie business, church, civic organizations etc, in support of the transition.
II. Focus on Implementing College and Career-Ready Standards (CCRS) and system accountability while achieving system stability
Goal: Maintain and build upon the current direction of the school system’s focus on student achievement, fiscal stability, resource efficiency, and increased accountability.
- Continue including advanced placement classes at all schools, ensure new academies are rigorous with a fully-vetted curriculum, and ensure any technological advancements are in the delivery of education in Huntsville City Schools accessible by all students.
- Expand the dual enrollment options with our colleges and universities along with offering more career tech programs that lead to professional certification.
- Work with the superintendent to develop a plan to provide and support educators, parents, community tutors, and after-school programs that increase the implementation success of the new math standards.
- While assessments are necessary to understand student progress, we need to work with the superintendent to determine and reduce redundant student assessments where possible.
Goal: Strike a balance between the progressive reforms in our school system and teacher stability, morale, and professional development.
- Work with the superintendent to ensure that progressive educational reforms are implemented after proper training of educators and support staff. The superintendent should be required to determine criteria for each reform to publicly demonstrate all necessary items have been resolved prior to implementation to prevent gaps at any school or with students.
- Provide teachers with a mechanism for feedback without retribution. Morale is low not because there are changes, but because teachers see issues with what’s being implemented and feel powerless with making recommendations to enhance or provide feedback to the changes around them.
- Utilize the survey mentioned above to determine what professional development educators think they need support with the most; classroom management, instructional support, etc. Allow the professional development to not only be based on classroom data but educator feedback.
III. Special Education Program Resources
Goal: Ensure that resources and focus for implementing higher standards are also applied to our special education and gifted student programs
- Revisit the special education plan in Huntsville City Schools to ensure we are providing the support to each student based on the individual development plan signed by the parent and school. Cuts were necessary to bring back the financial solvency of the system; however, now that the system is making progress in education, we need to make sure that progress includes special education including gifted programs.
Q. What is your view of high-stakes standardized testing, and the use of those test results for the evaluation of teachers?
The only issue I have with standardized testing is the redundancy and potential over testing that is currently occurring in the schools, however, I support having standardized test that are given to students throughout the city, state, and country to measure progress as a system in comparison to other districts. The goal of standardized testing was never and still is not to standardize students, again, it should be used to measure progress.
Performance evaluations for teachers are becoming more complex as the challenges and needs within education change. It is not uncommon for a profession to have multiple areas of evaluation weighted to determine overall performance. I would recommend the following areas for incorporation in teacher evaluations (in no particular order or weighted factor): observed classroom management, student assessments with complexity factor applied based on the amount of special needs or IEP students are in the classroom, parent surveys, and attendance. Unlike the current practice for probationary teachers, I do not support using discipline referrals as a metric for evaluation.
Q. What is your plan for working with the other schools board members, superintendent, staff, teachers, community to implement this vision?
One of my favorite quotes from a mentor is “remain transparent or else people will be see right through you.” My interactions with other board members, superintendent, staff, teachers, and the community starts with my ability to remain transparent, keep motives focused on improving the schools for all students, partnering with the community for collective solutions, and having regular open meetings within my district to receive input and develop solutions.. In addition, we have to help define and understand the roles we want parents, teachers, businesses, community associations, and non-profits to play in support of our school. Just like the human body, every one of these entities acts as a vital organ to support the life within our schools; by clearly defining how and where we want organizations to help each school specifically, we have a better chance of meeting all the educational and community related concerns of a school.
Q. What is your view of how the district’s limited funding should be divided among the needs of the district?
Aside from the federal resources that have specific application for Title I schools, all resources should be distributed amongst schools equally. However, the concept of what equal truly means is a matter of perspective. Below are examples of my potentially unpopular perspective of equal for your consideration:
- Let’s consider the insurance fee for the laptops. I think it is wonderful that the school system decided to waive the fee for schools who will serve free breakfast/lunch, however I question whether or not this decision is truly a reflection of equality. First,we must assess why this fee was passed down to the students and not considered as a budgetary factor with the digital transition. In the good ole book days, a fee was only applied if you were responsible for losing the book, now you have to pay for insurance annually. Second, the assertion of the logic to apply fees to certain schools “because they can afford it” is not a fair practice. Either the school system should pay the insurance fee for everyone or everyone should be required to pay with the exception of schools that can use their federal or grant resources to pay the fee, if that’s allowable; that is a equal and fair practice.
- The main differentiation between some of ours schools is relative to the amount of support received from the community they are in, not the allocation of resources from a district level. The socio-economic differences between Huntsville High, (within my district), and Butler High (outside of the district but the designated school for most residents in the district) are drastic. In general, this allows for more community resources applied to one school whereas limited resources are provided from the community at another school. While socially, this is hard to accept for many communities, since it’s not tax payer resources and privately funded, I believe this is a fair practice. However, it is the social responsibility for those who have more to do more for those in need. Thus, I advocate for the collective involvement with businesses, non-profits, etc. to provide support for the schools who do not have the community based resources.
Q. What is your view on the superintendent’s plans to close, consolidate, “turn around,” and restart many of the schools in our district?
The utilization of turn around and restart programs are necessary to improve underachieving schools throughout the district. Whether it’s called turn around, restart, etc. – the point is to place additional emphasis on these schools to recover from their previous underachieving status and I support this wholeheartedly.
I support the concept of consolidating schools if supported by a plan that will improve the communities undergoing any major changes including sound demographic data. The issue isn’t that schools are closing or consolidating, the issue is the lack of public insight regarding how the plan was determined regarding which schools will be consolidated. For changes of this magnitude there should be a long range plan in place that the public should have input on to understand where the school system is headed. While I believe Dr. Wardynski was likely diligent and thorough in his analysis of information to develop the position on student assignment as a result of consolidation, the public has a right to be involved in a change of this caliber.
Q. What is your view of the role that parents and community should play in the governance of our schools?
I believe students, parents, the community, non-profits, and businesses all play a vital role in the support of our schools. Students and parents are the primary beneficiary of the
therefore they should have a major role in influencing policy within the schools. The community and society as a whole are secondary beneficiaries of the schools by virtue of the impact schools have on neighborhood stability and our overall quality life gained from an educated society. Businesses require an educated workforce thus they should be involved in identifying the needs, skills, and requirements that should be incorporated into curricula for workforce development to sustain and improve our economic vitality. Lastly, while non-profits are not beneficiaries of the schools they serve as the glue between the resources provided by the district and the social needs of students that impact their ability to learn. All of these entities, play a role in governance of the schools by collaborating with school board members, school administrators, and superintendent in support of creating a top tier school system.
Stephenie has worked with and around books and authors for over 12 years, both at retail booksellers and public libraries. She is a rare Huntsville native, mother of two high-energy teens and two ridiculous dogs, spouse of one incredible guy, and eerily addicted to community volunteering. When she's not being the Executive Editor for RCM she likes to stalk her favorite authors online, cook with way too much butter, and conduct freelance marketing and SMM work.