By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
Jessica Fortune Barker is the Democratic candidate for State Board of Education, District 8, which encompasses Madison, Jackson and Etowah counties, as well as parts of DeKalb and Limestone counties.
Barker graduated from J.O. Johnson High School in Huntsville.
“I am a graduate of the District 8 system,” said Barker. “I think that brings a unique vantage point to the campaign and to the seat for me.”
She is a wife and mother of four children, who also attend school in District 8 and inspired her to run for office.
“As a product of the system, and now having children of my own in the same system, just knowing that we are facing some of the same challenges almost three decades later is kind of disparaging to me,” said Barker. “I started getting frustrated as a parent with some of the things that are going on with our schools as far as integration, as far as testing and how the testing is implemented in our classrooms. I just knew I had to step up and do something. I didn’t want to be that person sitting back and talking about it and frustrated. When I started looking at the system and how the education system works from federal all the way down to local, I realized that at the state level we never had representation that really took a vested interest in the children, instead of an interest in corporate partnerships.”
Barker wants to call for accountability to the Accountability Act.
“Studies are showing that money that is allocated to the Education Trust Fund is being leaked into the General Fund and into other budgets that are not directly related to public education,” said Barker. “So first I want to look at making sure that money allocated to the Education Trust Fund are kept within the public education system where we can see our teachers have better pay, where we can see our school buildings brought up to code for those that aren’t, and our buildings are maintained properly.”
“We can put resources and tools back into the schools,” said Barker. “We can give our teachers supplies.”
Barker has a background in business finance consultation, which she believes will help her as a state school board representative.
“I also want to see us use our community nonprofit organizations better in the schools,” said Barker. “A lot of people are saying that they want more social workers and counselors in the schools and that they are needed in the schools, but if we are having trouble already paying our teachers in the schools then we don’t have money in the budget for that. My idea is let’s use the resources in our community already allocated to metal health for children or social services for children. I’m looking at partnering with a lot of these established nonprofits that are already funded through the state in bringing their services into the school systems. That way we are providing the services that are needed for our children and saving money. That’s where that finance background comes in!”
Barker is happy that the state is already looking into changing the ACT Aspire testing currently required in Alabama.
“We need to look at offering testing that will allow our children to test in a manner in which they learn,” said Barker. “As we know children learn in a variety of methods. Some are visual learners; some are kinesthetic learners. I think it is only fair that we offer testing that is comprehensive of the how our children learn because that will allow them to stay engaged in the testing and to understand the information that is being asked of them where they can best answer.”
Studies have shown that Alabama students are not college and career ready. Barker has been meeting with university professors in District 8 to try to find out “where the disconnect is between early education and our postsecondary schools.” Barker is hoping to establish coursework and curriculum in the early schools to make sure they are ready to enter college or a career.
“We just have to make sure that the courses that we are offering our children are balanced and comprehensive and actually offering them something that will keep the children interested and engaged where they want to continue their education going forward,” said Barker.
Barker said that her forward thinking and outside of the box mentality would be another asset she could bring to office.
“If we continue to try to solve problems within that cookie cutter format that they have been, we are always going to get the same results,” said Barker. “We see those results right now are failing our kids. We have to get out of the mindset that our kids are failing the education system. We have set up a system that is actually failing our children. It is time we look at changing the education system to better serve our children.”