June 21, 2024


Education is everything you need

Huntsville City Schools Board of Education Dist. 3 candidates on school system issues


ALABAMA (WHNT) – Three candidates are vying to for a seat on the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education, including incumbent Elisa Ferrell.

Ferrell is being challenged by Andrea Alvarez and Angela McClure.

The Huntsville Municipal Election is on August 23.

News 19 asked each candidate about their background, the challenges facing the school system and what they plan to address if elected. The answers from the candidates, in full, are below:

Question #1: Tell us a bit about your background. How has it shaped you to serve in the office you’re seeking?

ANDREA ALVAREZ: Our school system is in a crisis. Our classes are overcrowded. Our facilities are understaffed. Our students are underperforming, and our teachers are leaving for neighboring school
systems. I’m running for office because I believe I have the skills and commitment necessary to tackle the problems plaguing our schools, and I won’t stop working until we achieve results that improve outcomes for our children, provide peace of mind for parents, and ensure support for teachers.

I have lived in Huntsville for 32 years, and I am a proud graduate of Grissom High School. I’m deeply invested in Huntsville City Schools. All three of my children attend Challenger Elementary School, and I’m currently serving my fifth year on Challenger’s PTA Board. For the last two years, I’ve also served as President of the Challenger PTA, and in 2021, I was awarded the Huntsville Council of PTA’s “Outstanding Volunteer” Award. I work as a Senior Financial Analyst for MDW Associates supporting the Missile Defense Agency.

I’m in this race for HCS School Board District 3 because we need common sense solutions that build bridges between parents, administrators, and teachers so we can ensure our children get the education they deserve and are prepared for their futures. I’m not looking to build a career in politics or build my name up. In fact, at most, I plan to serve two terms on the School Board. I want to roll my sleeves up and fix the problems plaguing our system and then go back to life as a PTA parent. Huntsville is the smartest city in Alabama, and it’s time our school system reflects it.

ELISA FERRELL: I began my journey as a volunteer in my children’s school.  I started with my child’s class, but when you are in the building, you see more needs, and you begin to expand your reach to try and meet those needs.  I got involved with PTA, and from there I saw needs across the city.  The more you help and are inside the schools, the more your vision increases, and you begin to help as many as you can and as much as you can.  I became an active advocate for our schools and public education.     

ANGELA MCCLURE: News 19 has unfortunately not received answers from Angela McClure. We will update this story when we get them.

Question #2: Describe an issue you’d prioritize if you are elected. What immediate changes would you consider?

ALVAREZ: Huntsville leads Alabama in almost every category imaginable. If we want to lead the state in education, then we’re going to have to attract and keep the top talent in the classroom. Teacher recruitment and retention will be one of my top priorities. Challenger Elementary School has lost over 50 teachers in five years. That is over 20% turnover year after year. Most of our teachers leave after one year.

We have got to incentivize our teachers to stay. I would immediately ask the CFO to research lucrative benefit options to bolster our recruiting efforts. For us to compete with neighboring school systems, we will have to increase our benefit packages to include additional time off, duty-free workdays, and retention and recruitment bonuses for our teachers. Additionally, we need to take the time to mentor our new teachers. They need assistance with onboarding, policy compliance, and classroom management.

FERRELL: There are seventeen (and counting) new neighborhoods or additions to neighborhoods that have started construction since the new Grissom High School was built on Haysland Road. All of Huntsville is growing, and South Huntsville is no exception.  As we grow our school populations grow. The thing we need to prioritize is our capital needs. Some of our older schools need updates and other schools need additions to keep up with the growth. I would like to see a demographic study done that considers our current growth, coupled with neighborhoods that have already been approved by the city planning department, and a financial forecast on the costs, so that we can prepare our school infrastructure for the growth.

MCCLURE: News 19 has unfortunately not received answers from Angela McClure. We will update this story when we get them.

Question #3: What are some of the major challenges that Huntsville City Schools face? What will you do to address those issues?

ALVAREZ: One of the major challenges still plaguing HCS is our failure to achieve unitary status. Huntsville is the smartest, most forward-thinking city in the state of Alabama. We need to establish an initiative between the school system, the city, and community and industry partners to address the remaining green factors as a community. We need to scrap failed efforts like the existing student code of conduct, and we need to build bridges between teachers and administrators, students and parents, and community partners so we can establish effective policies and procedures to curb discipline problems, ensure fair treatment of all students, and push us forward towards unitary status.

FERRELL: Recent third grade reading scores show Huntsville with 76% of their students who are proficient in reading. On the surface some only look at the hill we still need to climb, the 24% who were not proficient.  When I look at it, I see the same hill, but I also see a school system where 52% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, the number indicating poverty. If 52% are in poverty, 48% of our students aren’t in poverty. Even if every student who was not on free and reduced lunch was proficient in reading, you would subtract 48% from the 76%, and it would mean 28% of our students in poverty were reading at grade level.  That is over half! I want to see the proficiency at 100%, and we are getting there. Still, I think the biggest take away is the information found in the details; the inroads we are making in changing the future and breaking generational poverty, by teaching children to read. I will continue making sure every elementary teacher has literacy training 

MCCLURE: News 19 has unfortunately not received answers from Angela McClure. We will update this story when we get them.

Question #4: Who is someone you’ve been inspired by? What effect has that had on your life?

ALVAREZ: My father, Mike Alvarez, is a successful entrepreneur and small business owner in Huntsville. I was blessed with the opportunity to work in my father’s company, Venturi Inc., for almost ten years. Everything I know about business and leadership I learned firsthand from him. I’ve watched him overcome serious adversity in his life and create an incredibly successful company that provides lucrative careers for hundreds of individuals in Huntsville while also donating significantly to strengthen our community. He taught me that investing back into his employees is the only way to accomplish his vision of providing high-quality, technical work for his stakeholders. I’ll bring these lessons from my father with me to the HCS School Board and ensure that we invest in teachers because like my dad famously said, “When you take care of the employees, everybody wins!”

FERRELL: The very first person I think of is my father. It is ironic though. My dad and I were close, but I was closer with my mom because she and I were a lot alike. My dad loved knowledge. He was a voracious reader and lover of history. We never passed a brass marker on the side of the road without stopping to see why it was there. He also loved dad jokes. My sisters and I called them groaners, because… well we would groan, sometimes loudly, when he finally got to the punch line.  We would also wonder how to get the last 10 minutes of our life back. My kids laugh about it now and want to hear some of those jokes. Now that my dad is gone, I wish I remembered more of them. There is one I remember about Tarzan, John Phillips Sousa, and zebras, but that groaner is for another day.  

What I do remember is my father’s actions when my mom became ill with a form of dementia. It took about seven years from diagnosis to the end of her life, and I was heartbroken through a lot of it. I was losing a little bit more of her every day. Seeing someone you love fade away is tough.  At the same time, I saw someone else I love put aside the hobbies, the books, the stuff he loved, and care for the person he loved the most. He cared for mom and helped her through many challenges.   There are difficult things in life, and difficult things in schools. Setting aside our priorities, that may not be the most important thing at the time, and taking care of the people we love, or the organizations we love, is what my father taught me all my life, and what he modeled so eloquently at the end of my mom’s life.

MCCLURE: News 19 has unfortunately not received answers from Angela McClure. We will update this story when we get them.

Question #5: What are you hearing from voters on the campaign trail?

ALVAREZ: Parents want to be involved. They’re tired of the bad press, and they want to get to the root cause and address the problems plaguing our school system. But they don’t want to be talked at and told what to do. They want to be respected as partners in public education. We need School Board members who can build bridges between parents, administrators, and teachers and work collaboratively towards real solutions to real problems. In particular, parents frequently mentioned poor communication and lack of transparency as persistent problems. They also frequently talk about disciplinary problems in classrooms. I firmly believe if we put in the work to improve our communication and collaboration with parents, then we can resolve a lot of the other issues like discipline in the classrooms and ensure teachers can focus on keeping the main thing the main thing—education.

FERRELL: School safety is a top priority. We live in a dangerous world, and we need to make sure our children are safe.

MCCLURE: News 19 has unfortunately not received answers from Angela McClure. We will update this story when we get them.

Question #6: How would you rate teacher morale in the school system? What ideas you have for encouraging and retaining teachers and other staff?

ALVAREZ: We can’t sugarcoat reality. Teacher morale is very low, and the main reason I hear from teachers is that they do not feel like they are making a difference. They are over-burdened with initiatives that do not benefit our children’s education. The children in their classrooms are on multiple learning levels, which requires significant interventions in addition to normal instruction. They don’t have help in their classrooms, and they most often feel like they’re teaching to achieve standardized test results rather than to grow students’ knowledge, comprehension, and abilities. We can change low teacher morale, but first we’ll have to start actually listening to them.

We need to remove the administrative burdens off teachers and provide aides within classrooms that have significant variances in learning capabilities. We also need to rewrite the behavioral learning guide. Teachers have been advocating for these changes for awhile. We just haven’t been listening to them. It’s time to support teachers and make it easier for them to do the job they’re paid to do.

FERRELL: Much better than it was two years ago. Our teachers have been through the wringer for the last two years, and they could all use a big dose of normal in the 22-23 school year. The state of Alabama recently increased the salary matrix for everyone and included extra step raises for our veteran teachers.    Huntsville City Schools has supplemented the state matrix, and increased the state pay rate, placing our teacher salaries top in Northern Alabama, and among the top in the state. Our teachers were excited to see the new salary schedule. Some of our retired teachers were also excited to see it and have come out of retirement to teach again. Money isn’t everything though, so we are also building some time into the calendar to help them with the transitions at the end of grading periods and at the end of the school year.   Time and money…both things that everyone would like a little more of, and something we all place a high value on. 

MCCLURE: News 19 has unfortunately not received answers from Angela McClure. We will update this story when we get them.

Question #7: How will you gather public input, and how will that inform your behavior in office? How would you get more people involved in the schools?

ALVAREZ: I am in this race because I am a committed, concerned parent who does not feel like my voice is being heard by the decision makers in HCS. I am not looking for a position or a platform. I’m looking to change the way we do business in Huntsville City Schools.

As such, I am committed to open, transparent discussions with constituents in person and on social media. I plan to have recurring town halls and other opportunities for parents, teachers, administrators, and students to voice their concerns and make their priorities known. I’ll use these forums to report out to the public on the work of the School Board and explain the rationale for decisions that are made. I’ll solicit feedback from the public and carry those perspectives forward, as is the duty of any elected official.

My campaign is focused on building bridges and achieving results. If we can improve the communication and collaboration between parents and schools, then we’ll be in a position to enact common sense solutions that improve outcomes for our kids and ensure everyone—teacher, parent, and administrator—see the results we’ve come to expect in the Rocket City.

FERRELL: I have always been accessible. I receive numerous emails and phone calls from people in my district and people outside of my district. I have met with parents at coffee shops, restaurants, or at the schools about their concerns.  I have been invited by PTA boards to come and answer questions, so they can share information with their parents. I have been asked to write short articles for a South Huntsville Neighbor magazine, where I get more information out to parents and residents without children in schools. I am available to talk with anyone.

Since I have been in office the board of education has set up an avenue for constituent services. An individual can write all five members of the board in one email and come before the board to discuss their concerns during citizen comments. The school system always reaches out to the person before they come in, to see if their concern can be resolved. Often it is resolved. The board doesn’t want to just hear the concerns, we want to find solutions as well.  

The schools in my district have active parent groups. They are athletic boosters, fine arts boosters, PTA volunteers, library volunteers, career tech volunteers, chaperones, and parents who have signed up to be substitute teachers. They are the dads who drive the trucks full of band equipment to Milton Frank for a game, the moms who put together the Reflections fine arts competition with PTA, the parents who organize a golf tournament to raise funds for a sport. The parents who volunteer in the lunchroom and spend the time opening milk containers for students, they jump in and help every chance they get.  

MCCLURE: News 1 News 19 has unfortunately not received answers from Angela McClure. We will update this story when we get them.

Question #8: Tell us something about you that might surprise people

ALVAREZ: I am a committed puppy foster for a local animal rescue. I usually have 3-5 puppies at my house
at any given time.

FERRELL: My maternal grandparents met at a barn dance. My paternal grandfather was born when his parents were in Mississippi picking cotton; they were migrant workers from Kentucky. My dad was the first person on either side of my family to get a bachelor’s degree. I was the second. Many more people in my extended family have graduated from college and graduate school since then.

MCCLURE: News 19 has unfortunately not received answers from Angela McClure. We will update this story when we get them.


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