With the Tyler ISD school board members on the May 1 Election Day ballot, newcomer Ray Alexander is running for district three school board trustee against incumbent Yvonne Atkins. The Tyler Loop’s Zoe McGhee reports on both Alexander and Atkins’ campaigns and plans. You can find her conversation with Atkins here.
Alexander is a lifelong Tylerite, raised in Tyler’s public school system. He attended Tyler Junior College and Sam Houston State University and now works as a CNC programmer and design drafter.
Here, Ray says he believes he can be the bridge of communication TISD needs and that redistricting is a possibility the board should consider.
Early voting for the election began on April 19 and runs through April 27. Election Day is Saturday, May 1.
Why are you running as a candidate for school board district three?
I’m running for district three for the school board basically because with the changing that’s going on with the school campuses and Tyler growing, I think that in the future, we’re going to need all the kids — not just for Tyler but for the whole country.
Kids are not just competing among the kids in Tyler; they’re competing among the kids in China and Japan and all over the world with the advances of technology. I think things are a lot different than when I was going to school. The times have changed where you really have to educate all — and not just some — of the kids.
What do you have to offer as a prospective trustee?
I have lived pretty much my whole life in Tyler. I went to Ramey Elementary but before integration, I went to Griffin. From Ramey, I went to Boulter Junior High. Of course I went to John Tyler and also attended Tyler Junior College and Sam Houston State University.
I feel that going to John Tyler and going out to some of the football games and just being around people: I think that my personality can be a uniter. You’ve got some portion of Tyler that feel that they’re not getting the full service and you’ve got some parts of Tyler that are happy.
And I think that by me being the type of person I am, I’ll be able to communicate to people that feel that they’re not being fully served. And I’ll be able to communicate to the people that feel we’re doing enough for certain people. I feel that if we just talk to one another and understand one another, we can get a lot done.
As I’m sure you know, Gov. Abbott recently lifted the mask mandate. What are your thoughts on that in relation to TISD?
I think that lifting the masks was a little bit premature, but I do think that we need to get the kids back in school. They tell me some of the kids may be able to get vaccinated between now and August before the start of the next year. I think that would be great.
And me being a big football fan, like I said, I got my vaccination, so I’m really wanting to be able to go to the games. I was a football player and at this point in my life going to the games, I enjoy the band just as much as I enjoy the football game.
I think that with the lifting of the bans and everybody getting their shots, we are pretty much on our way to a full recovery. It would be wonderful to go back to football season.
What are some big challenges district three is facing right now, and how might you address those challenges if you’re elected?
That’s a good question. In district three, some of the classrooms are having some problems with reading and they want to reach level three reading. That’s a major concern for me and it should be for all the community.
I’ve proposed that we get kids excited into reading and getting the kids in a competitive mode. Parents will break their necks to get the kid to a little league football game. They would take them all over the place, out of state, out of town.
And I said, “Why don’t we just get a competitive league in reading and get the kids excited about competing?” [It could happen for] a couple of hours on a Saturday morning. You’d be surprised when kids work together how much they will help one another and push one another. Getting involved, making it fun for the kids — I think that would start a momentum that nobody can stop.
I know that some parents may not have the capabilities of taking their kids to the school on a Saturday morning so I’ve said, “Hey, with some of that stimulus money we got, give them a gas voucher.” If the parents cannot read to their kids and they’re having some problems with reading or they’re not as educated, have them take a class that Saturday morning with both of them in school. I do think that’s an issue we can address and solve.
How has being a former Tyler ISD student shaped your perspective on school issues?
Me being a John Tyler graduate, people that are in the John Tyler community — I think they’ll listen to me. I think that I will certainly listen to them.
I went to a board meeting the other night and I did hear the concerns about the cafeteria food being shipped to John Tyler. I had a lot to say, but it was a public meeting and I couldn’t respond or interfere with the trustees.
I just wanted to talk to these people, these parents that had their kids at John Tyler. I wanted so much to talk to them and let them know that, “Hey, there’s a lot going on and maybe you haven’t heard the whole story”. I wanted them to know that things are being done.
Maybe they’re not as transparent as they would like to be, but I think we can get to that point where everything is transparent and kind of calm them down.
They were concerned about the kids and the food and it might’ve been a situation where the communication with the contractors was not as complete as it should have been. Me being from John Tyler, I felt that they would probably listen to me a lot closer, because I certainly want to listen to them. That is one of the things I would like to feature in my running for office.
I’m going to listen to those people and really listen to those parents. One of the things that excited me was that these parents were young parents. I’m an older gentleman, and I was taken by that. You would think that these young men would be out working or doing something else, but they were there, and I was moved by that.
I also saw that you majored in technology at TJC and Sam Houston. How might your skills assist you should you be elected for school board?
Working in industrial technology, it’s a major area of problem solving. That’s part of my job. That’s what I do now, what I’ve done for the last 30 years. I’m a programmer, a CNC programmer/design drafter. I work on different types of softwares. You are confronted with a situation and you go back to the lab and you solve the problem.
I would emphasize that information and communication can solve a lot of problems. Me being on the board, I think that my strongest area would be communication and information and relaying that back to the community and letting these people know that, “Hey, these are your options. This is what we can do. This is what we can’t do by law,” and really let these people know what’s going on.
How might you reach out to residents with children in Tyler ISD to campaign and hear their feedback?
One of the ways that I’ve been planning on reaching out is through grocery stores. I meet people in grocery stores. I meet people in barber shops and in church. I attend North Tenneha Church of Christ here in Tyler and I have been there for over 20 years.
A lot of people just have stopped me in grocery stores and different areas. We’ll hold a conversation about what’s going on in Tyler.
What do you hope to bring to the board that your opponent incumbent Yvonne Atkins does not?
Mrs. Atkins is a very accomplished woman. I’m very impressed with her. She’s a very intelligent woman and a very smart woman. I think that the thing that I may be able to bring to the community or to the board is my ability to relate to the people of Tyler and to relate to the people in district three and in the community.
I know what they feel. I experienced some of the things they experienced in my lifetime growing up here in Tyler.
I grew up in Tyler and I know exactly how people may want to see things done. The voice I have and the words I speak, I think they would come directly from the people, from the community. I just think that the ability to communicate and to listen to people in this community is something that I can really relate to, and I think that they can perhaps relate to me as well.
You brought up that listening piece a few times and the ability to be an ambassador. If you had to pick one thing for people to know about you, what would it be?
That’s a good question. I would want people to know that every day I’m trying to live my life the way God would want me to live my life. And it’s tough sometimes because we have different challenges in our lives. Some days are good and some days are not so good.
That’s something a lot of people don’t know. There are a lot of people that don’t know me, or like you said, if they wanted to know something about me, then that would be one of the things.
Is there anything else important I did not address that you would like to talk about now? Anything you want people to know or understand?
We hadn’t talked about redistricting and that’s something that I want people to know. One of the things that I like to propose to the community and to District three is that there are certain families in Tyler, and with growth I think that we’re doing pretty good on alignment. I think we’re doing pretty good, but we can do better. And what some of the parents are talking about, they would like for the kids to go to a certain school.
I think that could be researched a little bit farther.
I think that [districting zones] being absolute is something that we could discuss further. What I’m discussing with you right now, it’s somewhat preliminary. Changes have taken place with both high schools and the smaller schools and we have to think outside the box.
The future is going to come whether I’m here or not, or whether the parents are. The kids are going to become adults one day. And they’re going to have to work together and contribute to our society. Getting the kids into schools that are appropriate for them, I think we could achieve [that].
My proposal is to maybe have some type of lottery to where before the schools start that year, you apply to go to the school. If they apply for it and they meet the qualification, they can go to these schools. It gives a parent a chance to to have some control of where they want the kid to go. And I think that it can grow from there because when you have absolute [zoning] that’s pretty tough on the community.
I think that’s something we could research more on and find a better solution. There again, when we talked about the ability to solve problems, that’s what I do. I’ve done it for a long time, solving problems and having options.
Zoe McGhee is a junior at The University of Texas at Tyler studying Mass Communication. She is the managing, newsletter and copy editor for The Patriot Talon, the independent student-run newspaper designed to inform and entertain UT Tyler students and staff. McGhee is also part of The Tyler Loop’s newsletter staff.
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