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Spears brings indomitable sense of discovery to school board

The Spears family includes Riley, 18, (from left) a senior at James Clemens High School; Richard; director of business development at DRS Technologies; Connie, member of Madison Board of Education; and Ross, 23, Auburn University graduate and software developer for SAIC. (Photo by Jen Fouts-Detulleo)
The Spears family includes Riley, 18, (from left) a senior at James Clemens High School; Richard; director of business development at DRS Technologies; Connie, member of Madison Board of Education; and Ross, 23, Auburn University graduate and software developer for SAIC. (Photo by Jen Fouts-Detulleo)

MADISON – Longtime Madison resident Connie Cox Spears has mastered the demands of living abroad, parenthood and an insatiable quest for learning.

In 2009, Madison City Council approved Spears’ bid to serve on Madison Board of Education. She has worked with instruction, policy and pre-kindergarten committees. In Montgomery, she testified to a joint legislative committee in support of Common Core and Alabama College and Career Ready Standards.

A self-described ‘Army brat,’ Spears said growing up in a military family had profound impacts, mostly positive. As a girl, she learned “our way of doing something isn’t the only way, even if it’s most comfortable.” Her parents’ commitment to serve our country influenced Spears to volunteer in the community.

“My mom’s service to our country was as important as my father’s,” Spears said. “People in military service do not serve alone.” When the Coxes returned from Ethiopia, her mother Paula Cox was 7.5 months pregnant with her son, Connie’s sister was six years old, and Connie was five. Within weeks, her father Charlie Cox deployed to Vietnam for more than one year.

Downsides in military life involved leaving/making friends and sitting through classroom lessons she already knew while missing fundamentals in other subjects.

With the school board, Spears sees communication as vital. “Sharing information about school activities, closings and student/system achievements on Facebook and Twitter are ways of keeping communication channels open,” she said.

“I’m so proud of our students and school system family,” Spears said. “I tell everyone who will listen.”

When dealing with complicated concepts like Common Core, Spears can translate into easy-to-understand lingo, almost following the Golden Rule. “I just try to explain things in the way I would want them explained to me,” she said.

For that skill, she attributes working with children, being an Army brat and communicating with different cultures — some who didn’t speak English.

At Auburn University, she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. For two years, she has achieved the master’s level of Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) Academy and co-chairs AASB’s Advocacy program.

Spears fondly remembers Carla Davis, her math teacher and color guard sponsor at E.B. Erwin High School in Center Point. Davis always was receptive to questions or problems. “She cared about me, not only in class, but about me, the human,” Spears said.

Now retired, Davis tutors math students at Auburn. “Carla is still a friend,” Spears said.

Spears is proud that the Madison district constantly strives to improve, looking forward but never forgetting “our roots. We’re growing so fast.”

“It’s hard to keep growth positive. It would also be easy to say, ‘We’re really doing a great job … for such a young school system,’ but the Madison City Schools family works together to grow and improve our craft,” she said.

Spears is optimistic about the recent “infusion of talent” in Central Office staff to integrate innovation and technology into the classroom. “You can see the hunger to improve in our students, teachers, administrators, superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler and the board.”

“We’re not satisfied with being good … we want to be the best, not just in Alabama but in the World,” Spears said.

Spears is a member of Madison Hospital Women’s Council and charter member of Asbury United Methodist Church. Traveling and cooking with her family are favorite pastimes. She enjoys a new pursuit, yoga.

Her husband Richard works as director of business development at DRS Technologies.

Their son Ross, 23, graduated from Bob Jones High School and earned a bachelor’s degree at Auburn University in 2014; Ross works as a software developer for SAIC. Their son Riley, 18, will be in the Class of 2016 at James Clemens High School, plans to study computer science or software engineering and is still considering university options.

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