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New member profile: Rep. Jeana Ross

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Elected to the Legislature in early May, State Rep. Jeana Ross, R-Guntersville, is no newcomer to Montgomery and Alabama government. Ross oversaw the state’s award-winning First Class Pre-K program for eight years. 

“I spent 26 years in public education and then I spent the rest of the time at the Department of Early Childhood Education, where that was our main focus, children and families, young children and early education,” she said. “So I’m very interested in how we can help, whatever it is, that supports their best interests.”

Ross led the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education from 2012 until her retirement in 2020 and oversaw a push for more state funding for pre-K classrooms across the state. The number of classrooms grew from 217 when she took office in 2012 to 1,250 across all 67 counties when she ended her tenure. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education previously held teaching and administrative positions in Jackson County, Marshall County, Boaz City and Madison County school systems.

Ross replaced Rep. Wes Kitchens, R-Arab, in District 27 in Marshall County after he was elected to the state Senate in a January special election. She said that she just felt that running for office was the right thing to do.

In an interview, Ross told Alabama Daily News she will prioritize children and families as a lawmaker and will do so through collaboration.


Q&A with Rep. Jeana Ross

What are the biggest challenges for your constituents?

Ross said she has communicated with all three superintendents in her district to find out what they need the most. She said for the most part, it’s funding. Beyond that, she said that the teachers in the schools struggle with non-English speaking students and how to provide for their unique needs. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, about 16% of the population in Marshall County is Hispanic or Latino.

“I talked to one teacher at a school with a very, very high number of children that come in that do not speak English,” Ross said. “And he said, ‘I teach history in our school and I have 50 students in my class and they speak three different languages,’” she said. “Let’s look for solutions for those types of challenges.”

Ross said there has been an increase in mental health concerns among the schools since the COVID-19 pandemic. She wants to address that as well.

“It’s all about partnerships with the Department of Mental Health and providing regional consultants in schools for just that purpose to go in and support teachers,” she said. “Teachers are doing tremendous work, but it’s taxing and they’re almost to their limit … and any support or resources that we can get directly to that teacher and directly into that classroom is going to be very important.” 


Are there any district-specific issues you want to address as a representative?

Continuing on the theme of education, Ross said she wants to implement flexibility and accountability in order to address superintendents’ needs for funding.

“Whether it’s in our earliest grades where children are struggling to read on grade level, you’ve got to have funding for a coach or an extra teacher in the classroom,” Ross said. “Or, if your buildings are old there, they’ve just got to be replaced. You’ve got to have funding for that.”


As an educator, how will you advocate for children in Alabama as a representative?

Ross said she believes that supporting the parents will help support the children and help them succeed and thrive. 

“Being an advocate does not mean that you’re the loudest voice in the room,” she said. “It means that you’re able to communicate your needs and cares and concerns in a way that could actually get those things provided for you.”


What is your stance on school choice and state funding of private K-12 schools?

Ross said she thinks it is possible for all children to receive a high-quality education, whether through public, private or home schooling.

“I do believe parents need to be the driving force, but I won’t support anything that takes funding away from our local schools,” she said.


What committees are you hoping to serve on?

Ross hopes to serve on the Education Trust Fund and Education Policy committees.

“I understand budgets,” she said. “I understand it from the local level and then I also understand the budgets at the state level.”


You appeared before lawmakers multiple times as the early education department leader. How did that experience help prepare you to be a legislator?

“I know what it takes to present to a committee, particularly a budget committee,” she said. “I know I’ve had the experience of going and sitting in a bipartisan way with legislators to talk about certain issues or concerns that they need.”

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