HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Mary Scott Hunter represents north Alabama on the State Board of Education. She's passionate about public schools and says we're on the right track to making them better.
"I'm bullish on education in Alabama," said Hunter. "I absolutely believe we are on the right track and we simply have to stay the course with our strategic plan to get into that upper echelon."
Hunter has taken heat lately for her support of the Common Core Standards. She clarified her position, saying she supports the Alabama College & Career Ready Standards, which include the Common Core.
"They are high-quality, extremely rigorous. What is better about our new standards is they're much more rigorous before, and that rigor is what we've needed in Alabama," said Hunter.
WHNT News 19's Steve Johnson asked her why she thinks there's such a controversy over these.
She said some people buy in to conspiracies. She affirmed the standards were not written by the federal government, rather, the National Governors Association and state school officers.
"There's a deep and abiding amount of distrust in some sectors of the Common
Core state standards, and because the Alabama College and Career Ready
Standards include the Common Core standards, therein lies the distrust."
"Alabama has control over its own education," Hunter added. "Alabamians want to be winners -- we see that in our football programs. But we're also very independent -- we
want to control our own ship. No one wants education to be federalized. I'm the first one to stand up and hold the line there. But we also should be very protective of our right to compact, or agree with other states, that there can be some consistency. We should all want that. We shouldn't be afraid of high-quality standards."
How did Alabama get where it is? What are we doing to improve?
"Nothing went wrong with education in Alabama. What happened is we stood still, while the rest of the nation, and other countries galloped ahead," said Hunter.
"What it takes for kids to be ready for college now is a lot harder. We're having to step it up through preparation."
Hunter said many of Alabama's students who graduate high school must take remedial classes to get up to speed for college standards. She said that's unacceptable.
"The last NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores had us at 32nd in the nation. We're not 49th," said Hunter. "But 32nd is not, obviously, good enough. We're on a good trajectory to become an upper echelon education state."
How do we become a top education state, WHNT News 19 asked? How do we get into the teens, in terms of state rankings, especially when we are lacking in money?
"It's a matter of moving forward. It's not a matter of how resourced your area is, it's how well you use those resources," said Hunter. "How well you have the right hand talking to the left."
For Hunter, that means K-12 communicating with two- and four-year colleges about what improvements need to be made.
On the topic of technology, we asked if the state is ready as a whole to adapt something like Huntsville's 1:1 Digital Initiative.
Hunter applauded Huntsville's success, but said it's tougher to apply that statewide due to different school systems managing their resources separately.
"Every school system is different - they need to be allowed to have that happen in their own way, and in their own time," said Hunter.
We asked Hunter what she would like to see change in Alabama's public schools.
"The first is absolutely achievement. Our students simply have to graduate prepared for college and career," said Hunter. "That is the bottom line. That has to happen, that's a non-negotiable for me."
"Secondarily, we need to have a mindset change about college. College is
wonderful -- it's a destination for many of our grads, but college is not the
only way to be successful. Career technical education is important."
Hunter said the line between blue and collar is becoming thin. She said there are plenty of good technical jobs that pay more than $50,000 per year.
"It's not blue collar. I'll teach you a new term - it's the gold collar," Hunter said.
Can we get to these levels soon, we asked?
"It's not a decade-long project. You've seen how fast your own children can recover. Students are so resilient," said Hunter. "We simply as adults have to overcome a little bit of discomfort we may feel about change."
Hunter said many states are watching Alabama's surge. She referenced a recent education conference she attended, the National Summit on Education Reform, held in Boston. Hunter said many people asked questions about Alabama's progress.
We also asked her about private schools and home schools. Many of Huntsville's affluent families choose these instead of public schools. How do public schools stop that trend, WHNT News 19 asked?
"I have taken the position that public school needs to be a good partner of
private, home school, church school. Those are our friends," Hunter said. "They want to
self-regulate, but we should be good friends to [those] partners. My job is
to tend governance in K-12 and community college education."
"I'm very receptive to the needs and concerns of our friends, but my job is to
devote my efforts to bettering public school and education," Hunter added. "I'm very proud of the work this board has done, and I'm very excited."