ALABAMA (WHNT) – Two candidates are vying to fill the District 4 seat for the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education.
The field includes Ryan Renaud, who currently holds the seat, and Ricky Howard.
The Huntsville Municipal Election is on August 23.
News 19 asked each of the candidates about their background, issues they are concerned about, what they are hearing from voters and their vision for the school system if they are 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?
RICKY HOWARD: I grew up here in Huntsville, earned my Electrical Engineering B.S. at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and worked for NASA for 38 years. My wife, who also grew up here, earned her degree in Elementary Education. We raised our three children here, and all three graduated from Huntsville High School and then went on to UAH or UAB for their degrees. I have been active in my church since I was a teenager, spending much time helping with children’s Sunday School, the nursery, or the youth programs. I have always considered education to be important, which is why I taught Sunday School, tutored children, and went on to earn a Masters degree. I have been concerned about the quality of the Huntsville City Schools, and now that I have two grandchildren who are or will be in the public school system, I feel that it is time to do more than be concerned. I decided that this was my opportunity to get involved. In my career at NASA, I worked with many people to successfully improve technologies, projects, and programs, so I feel that I could help make a difference here too.
RYAN RENAUD: I was born and raised in Huntsville, AL. I graduated from Huntsville High School in 2009 & went on to obtain my Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. I began my professional career with the American Cancer Society, where I served as the Community Manager. In 2016 I left ACS to peruse an opportunity in finance with Reliance Bank as their Business Development Officer. In July of 2017 Reliance Bank was acquired by Trustmark National Bank, at which time I transitioned to the position of a Mortgage Loan Originator. After 5 years as a member, I was elected to serve as the President of the Rotaract Club of Huntsville. During my time on the executive board for Rotaract, we started a new service initiative with Huntsville City Schools. Through this initiative we began working in our title 1 schools, one on one with students on literacy & math proficiency. I ran for this school board seat in 2018, where we obtained 42% of the electorate. I was later appointed by city council to fill the vacancy left by my predecessor, Walker McGinnis.
Question #2: Describe an issue you’d prioritize if you are elected. What immediate changes would you consider?
HOWARD: Improving the Huntsville City School rankings and outcomes. The most important step in improving the schools is getting the parents interested in and involved in their children’s education.
RENAUD: Our campaign is focused on the three biggest challenges facing Huntsville City Schools: Recruitment & Retention of our educators, Unitary Status (regarding the Federal Consent Order), and executing our capital plan.
I wouldn’t say this campaign is focusing or interested in immediate change for our system. We have an incredibly talented team of staff and administrators. As a board member, I have spent the last 12+ months focusing on supporting this administration, while listening and tending to the needs of District 4 constituents. Do we have areas with room for improvement? Certainly. In that regard, I am proud to say that this administration is working tirelessly to sure up our processes and procedures. It is my job to ensure those processes and procedures meet the needs of our parents, students, and staff while also ensuring the administration is well equipped with the necessary tools to address those needs.
Question #3: What are some of the major challenges that Huntsville City Schools face? What will you do to address those issues?
HOWARD: One major challenge is the amount of turnover in the teaching staff. Another major challenge is poor student performance on tests. The first step in addressing teacher turnover is discovering the reasons behind people leaving or retiring early. Several online sources cite student discipline problems as one cause of teacher dissatisfaction; other reasons cited include being overworked, not having enough support staff, and feeling that the administration doesn’t care about them. Addressing the poor student performance on tests is another issue. When Huntsville is rated the number one city in the U.S. to live in, why are our schools so bad? We have a huge pool of very talented parents, and the performance of the children should reflect that.
RENAUD: I am actively working with members of our school administration, city council, county commission, as well as state leaders to address long and short term funding challenges of our system. One of those particular areas being the SSUT Funding (on-line sales tax). These are funds currently being collected by the City of Huntsville that I (as well as many residents throughout Huntsville) believe should be allocated to our local school system.
We recently passed a motion to amend our fiscal policy for the school system, which allows HCS to now invest funds on the shorter 2 year yield curve. This motion was designed to increase available revenues through funds that were previously held idol, due to outdated fiscal policies that restricted such investment recommendations from the CSFO.
Unitary Status: What is Unitary Status?
In short, unitary status is the term used to describe the point at which our school system has met the Federal Court requirements, regarding our community’s equitable access to high quality public education. The pathway to Unitary Status is one that is only obtained through a collaborative effort & an intentional pursuit. To obtain Unitary Status, we need Board Members who are willing to work diligently to empower and support our administrative team, superintendent, and Desegregation Advisory Committee (DAC) to ensure we are on the path to Unitary Status.
This roadmap is largely paved by the seven “Green Factors” that our school system is required to meet.
The Seven Green Factors are listed below:
- Student Assignment
- Equitable Access To Course Offerings & Programs
- Student Discipline
As a school system, we have obtained Partial Unitary Status on 1 (Transportation) of our 7 Green Factors, with plans to submit a request for unitary status on a 2nd (Faculty) Green Factor later this year.
Recruitment & Retention:
Just last month I was proud of the superintendent’s recommendation to the board to pass the updated Teacher Salary Schedule. The passing of this motion gave HCS one of the most competitive salary schedules in the state, which included step raises each and every year for our educators. This not only ensures we can recruit the best educators in our areas but also retain the ones that were considering a transfer to other districts for increase pay – based on the previous salary schedule.
I am a supporter, donor, and strong advocate for an amazing local business initiative started by the Committee of 100 called, Raise Your Hand. This initiative aims to raise $1,000,000 – of which they have raised $650,000.00 to date – over a 5 year period to financially support 500 new National Board Certified Teachers for our three local school systems (Huntsville City, Madison City, & Madison County). This initiative will have a profound impact on the ability for our local school systems to recruit and retain educators to our region. Once an educator passes certification, they receive a $5,000 annual stipend.
Question #4: Who is someone you’ve been inspired by? What effect has that had on your life?
HOWARD: My father. He raised a large family of natural, adopted, and foster children of multiple races and ages. He taught us to love one another and to stand up for what is right. He was also a Godly man who loved his wife. I have tried to live up to his standards throughout my life.
RENAUD: I have been very blessed through the years to have friends, family, and neighbors pour their love, encouragement, empathy, and understanding into me. I would be remiss not to mention the many teachers throughout my life that pushed me to be a better version of myself & to give my all into each and every passion I pursued. Every relationship I have had throughout my life has had an impact on shaping the man I am today, as well as the man I strive to become. However, no one person has had as profound an impact on my life and served as such an inspiration as my wife, Katherine Jones Renaud. Marrying her was the happiest day of my life and a day I reflect on frequently. She pushes me to be a better person each day & reminds me of the work we have ahead. She is as dedicated as any person I have met to her profession of teaching and pours her heart and soul into the lives of each student she is fortunate enough to reach. I am beyond thankful for her leadership & blessed beyond reason, to call her my wife.
Question #5: What are you hearing from voters on the campaign trail?
HOWARD: Various issues have come up: concern about school scores and rankings, concern from both teachers and parents about class sizes, concern from both teachers and parents about discipline issues in the schools, concern from parents about some of the issues that have made the news in other school districts: Critical Race Theory, Social Emotional Learning, and Gender Identity being taught to young children.
RENAUD: Canvassing District 4 neighborhoods is my favorite part of the campaign trail. District 4 voters are very engaged in community and acutely aware of the development going on around the city, so hearing their concerns, requests, and insight on progress is always insightful. I could write a couple of pages on the conversations I’ve had the last month while canvassing, but I’ll just refer to the most recent input from this past Sunday. The Renaud 4 Schools campaign team has spent the last two weeks canvassing the Downtown Huntsville / Twickenham neighborhoods. While downtown the most frequent conversation to take place with voters has been regarding the sale of the Annie C. Merts Center. In particular, constituents have been interested in the coming development and the historic zoning restrictions. One major concern was to ensure that the parking lot across from Merts & the attached (smaller) school house building were included in the Historic District. These constituents simply wanted to ensure that the single family resident that are set to be constructed on these (soon to be) single family lots would be subject to the same design restrictions as the other homes in the neighborhood. After communicating with City Council, the Historic Preservation Committee and the Planning Department, I am actively working with the board and admin to address these concerns.
Question #6: How would you rate teacher morale in the school system? What ideas you have for encouraging and retaining teachers and other staff?
HOWARD: I would rate teacher morale as relatively low, based on both conversations with teachers and ex-teachers AND based on various internet reviews and comments. Encouraging people takes many forms: one of the biggest encouragements is being valued. Teachers need to know that the Board of Education cares about them and has their back, and the administrative staff needs to help with that process. Change generally starts at the top. Another morale-enhancing area is in having good working conditions – a good salary (which was helped by the raise that was recently passed), clean schools, a safe environment, and good food in the cafeteria.
RENAUD: I talk with teachers frequently & I’m consistently amazed at how they do what they do, all with a smile on their face. The inconvenient truth – and this truth goes for teachers across the county, not just here in Huntsville – is that teachers need our help. They need the help and support of our entire community. The pandemic took its toll on all of us, but few felt the affects as severely and as brashly as our educators & nurses. As a board member I am focused on working with the administration to increase instructional time as much as possible. Our educators are required to wear too many hats. They often have to take instructional time to serve (in many ways) as nurse, councilor, therapist, key disciplinary, data analyst, data scribe (just to name a few), and then teacher. I am proud to say that this administration is full of admin who previously served as an educator in the classroom. So they are acutely aware of these challenges and work with this board to ensure we are supporting our teachers by adding instructional time at every opportunity. We have also passed numerous recommendations from the superintendent in the last year to compensate our educators for the work they do outside of traditional school hours (i.e. tutoring, professional development).
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?
HOWARD: I will gather public input in multiple ways. Personally, I will have a Facebook page and a website that will allow public input, comments, and information, especially appropriate for people living in District 4. In addition, the HCS Board has an online form that can be filled out, and I assume that board members receive the information.
RENAUD: I am in consistent communication with local businesses, non-profits, as well as community leaders to support District 4 school programs as well as individual families. I work to use my platforms on social media to help spread the messages of local non-profits that work with our school system to support our students and families. Aside from social media, community events, and HCS functions, I regularly attend meetings with parents, business owners, and community stakeholders to hear about how I can better assist the community in addressing the needs of our students and parents. In my opinion the best type of Representative I can be is an available one. So anytime a parent, guardian, or stakeholder reaches out, I do my best to follow up within 24 hours, or offer in person meetings should they be interested.
Question #8: Tell us something about you that might surprise people…
HOWARD: Some people are surprised when I tell them I am the oldest of 10 children.
RENAUD: What I have come to find recently, is that a lot of Huntsville natives – but particularly new comers to the area – are often unaware of the vibrant Hockey Community we have here in Huntsville. I not only grew up playing ice hockey, but still play in a mens league and the Huntsville Ice Sports Center on Lehman Ferry Rd. The Ice Sports Center is just one of a very long list of public recreation centers in our community that gets very high traffic throughout the winter months. Just in case that isn’t interesting enough, I would encourage any history buffs to research the lineage of ice hockey in Huntsville. Like most things Huntsville, it dates back to the space race and the high number of Eastern Europeans that relocated to area. With those immigrants came many of their hobbies, which just so happened (thankfully) to be ice hockey. Go Havoc!