9 candidates vie for 3 positions on Huntsville school board - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

9 candidates vie for 3 positions on Huntsville school board

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The 9 candidates share common ground but also stark differences on certain issues. (Source: WAFF) The 9 candidates share common ground but also stark differences on certain issues. (Source: WAFF)
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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Voters in the Huntsville City School system got a closer look at the candidates hoping to obtain one of three vacant seats on the school board. They learned that the people vying for the position share some common ground, but also some stark differences.

“I want what’s best for our students, for our schools and for our city,“ declared Beth Wilder, District 2 candidate for the Huntsville City School Board.

Nine candidates for three seats opening up on the board introduced themselves and staked out their positions on Wednesday night at a candidates' forum at Merrimack Hall, hosted by the Women’s Economic Development Council. The contenders celebrated progress Huntsville City Schools have made over the past three years.

“We are moving towards a first class school system and that’s exactly what our kids deserve,” said District 4 candidate Walker McGinnis.

In their two-hour discussion, the aspiring board members found consensus on the importance of STEM, science, technology, engineering and math focused education but also called for continued investment in the arts to produce well rounded students.

“We are sitting in the rocket city,” said District 3 candidate Elisa Ferrell. “It is absolutely essential for our children to have STEM education. But those young budding engineers also need to have fine arts mixed in with that. “

District 3 contender Anson Knowles declared “I’m in favor of classical education, traditional education, reading writing arithmetic, the basics.”

The candidates covered mainstreaming of special education students, agreed that sex education should be up to families and, generally came down in favor of Alabama College and Career Ready standards, also known as Common Core standards, which critics have labeled a federal intrusion into state and local educational decision making.

“I totally support the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards,” said District 3 candidate Ellen Brusick.

“I think we need to remind people that we control the curriculum locally already. That would ease some of the fears surrounding Common Core,” said District 4 candidate Kimberly Battle. “But I do support it.”

“It is not being pushed on us by anyone else,” agreed Ferrell. “It is raising the standards for our children who are currently 50th in the country in math. It’s time to do better than that.”

But there were exceptions to agreement on Common Core.

“As far as Common Core, the jury’s still out,” said District 2 candidate Richard Buchanan.

Knowles was much more blunt, coming town solidly against Common Core. “Common core outsources the standard setting decision making process to a third party authority of which we have no elected control,” he said.

Knowles also stood out as the only candidate who even mentioned the controversial Alabama Accountability Act, declaring his strong support for school choice for families with children in schools labeled “failing.” “The Alabama Accountability Act,” he said, “that gives these students’ parents a pathway to give their children a different education.”

All of the candidates agreed it was time to get the U.S. Justice Department and the federal courts out of the city’s decisions on school zoning and what schools can serve what neighborhoods.

Justice Department lawyers and school system negotiators are currently in mediation as the system tries to get the court to approve its new school zoning plan, and ultimately to declare the school system desegregated to the point that federal oversight is no longer necessary.

“We can redraw the lines as much as they want to,” said District 3 candidate Pat Sanders, “but we can’t force people to live in different areas. They’re going to live where they want to live.”

“When we are finished with this court order and we can run the school system the way we want,” said Brusic, “I want us to establish neighborhood schools.”

Voters will choose who they want to replace departing school board members David Blair, Jennie Robinson and Topper Birnie in the city’s elections on August 26.

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