Michelle Watkins, Candidate
Huntsville City Schools District 1 Board (Huntsville, Alabama)
Michelle Watkins and I met while I was working for local commissioner. We never really had an opportunity to talk but when I reached out to her with questions about her candidacy, she didn’t hesitate to spend time talking to me about why she felt so strongly that District 1 needed better representation. I really appreciated the time she spent listening to my concerns and answering my questions.
This interview was conducted to find out more about why Ms. Watkins thinks it is important for educators to be engaged and involved in the decision-making surrounding education.
Q. Who I Michelle Watkins?
I am a native of Huntsville, AL. I have a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, a Master’s in Secondary Education, and an Education Specialist Degree from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU). I am passionate about education and social issues that affect our community.
Q. What made you decide to become an educator? How long have you been an educator?
I received my education degree in 2004 and I was fortunate to teach at Johnson High School, which is my Alma Mater. I decided to become an educator because there was a need in my community for teachers who lived in North Huntsville. I believed it was important for students to see a familiar face – someone who lived down the street from them and cared about their education. There is a perception about North Huntsville and I wanted to work with our children to make a difference.
Q. What has been your own experience with public education?
My public school education was wonderful! I had awesome teachers who impacted my life, provided guidance and advice. My first year of teaching I had a great administrator, Dr. Fredonia Williams, who was stern but fair. She had high expectations for all of her teachers and this made me work hard to do my absolute best.
During my teaching experience I worked with some of the best teachers who truly loved the children. I know of several teachers who were disappointed when they were transferred out of Johnson High School. It is about connections, when you have a connection with the students and community it is hard to leave.
Q. Knowing that you have a background in education, how did you get into politics?
It was never a goal or my intention to be a “politician.” However, my eyes were opened to so many problems and differences in our community. My conscious held me captive to the needs of my community and that is when I discovered that I was on a path of giving back to my community. As I see it now, education is the focal point, our children must have a foundation in order to have a future. Education is the pathway and I will work diligently, if elected, to ensuring our children receive an education that will prepare them for the workplace or college.
Q. What made you see the overlap between education and politics
Education has become a political gain for some and the focus is not on the children.
Do you think it is important for more educators to get involved in politics?
It is extremely important for educators to be involved in the politics of education. Currently, we have several individuals and organizations making education decisions and they aren’t educators. When people are sick they consult with a doctor, when people need legal advice they consult with a lawyer, so we must have educators who understand the educational needs of our children to be actively involved and engaged in education decisions/politics.
To that point, how important do you think it is to have more female educators to get involved in the political arena?
Women today are blessed because we had courageous women like Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm and so many more who impacted/changed policies. Because of their dedication to justice and freedom, today we have a right to speak up and demand justice. Today, our voices are heard because of the marches and demands. It is important for female educators to be involved in the political arena because they have a bird’s eye view to the education world.
Q. So, let’s talk about your campaign. What are you running for and why?
I am a candidate for Huntsville City Schools District 1 Board because of my passion for education and my love for my community. I honestly believe a student should be able to walk out of their front door and attend their neighborhood school, and be able to get the same curriculum and resources given to any other school in their city.
Change…we must have a change in Huntsville City Schools. We need new leadership and communication from the board and the best qualified/certified teachers in our schools.
Q. Of all of the things you intend to fix/rectify, which is the most important and why?
1. Improve reading throughout North Huntsville Schools. The focus on reading has been in the elementary schools, but we must be concerned about all of our students. If a student in middle or high school is not reading on his/her grade level, we must have programs in place to help him/her be successful.
2. Ensure that we have the best certified and qualified teachers in our schools. We have too many new teachers who do not have experienced teachers to mentor them.
3. Quarterly town halls to keep parents and the community members informed and engaged. The community has been disregarded and community members have been totally disrespected by the Superintendent and the Huntsville City School Board during board meetings.
Q. Do you see yourself primarily as a representative of the community or as a representative of the school system?
The constituents elect representatives to office to represent their needs. I will represent the community first and foremost.
Q.What are the outputs that matter most to you? How will you be accountable for them as a school board member?
Ensuring that our teachers have the resources they need to be successful in the classroom and that they have parental and community involvement. If we support our teachers inside the classroom and get our parents actively involved, I truly believe our children will be successful. It is imperative that we work together.
Ultimately, I will be accountable by listening, first, and then by taking action and keeping the community informed.
Q. What are your thoughts about how the district and school sites can encourage involvement and participation from families who have felt disenfranchised from their local school communities?
Ownership…people must be included in order for them to be engaged. First you invite them into the schools, encourage participation, listen to them and respond to their concerns. You cannot give everyone what they want, but you must communicate and address their concerns.
Q. What are your priorities for the district in the coming year? Why and how did you select these issues?
1. Improve reading scores because the test scores in reading are below the national average. I believe we are relying too much on technology and we need to encourage our students to read more books.
2. Meeting with the community to start forming relationships of trust and communication.
3. Reaching out to organizations, fraternities and community members to mentor/tutor our students.
4. Increasing Career Technical Education classes and programs.
Q. As we conclude, are there any additional words you would like to share with the constituents in District I?
Being a new board member, I will need to form relationships with the other board members and superintendent. It is like starting a new job, you get to know your co-workers and realize that you are there working for a common goal – educating our children.