Wardynski Desperately Tries Rewriting History

Rewriting History

On June 16th, Dr. Wardynski tried rewriting history proving yet again that Orwell understood power, its corrupting influence, and its object once again.

Orwell wrote in 1984 “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

Thankfully, despite his authoritarian control of the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education, and his control of the teachers of our schools, Dr. Wardynski does not control history nor those who record it.

On Tuesday, June 14, 2016, at the board meeting, at about 6:12, rather than paying close attention to the 2015 audit report from Mr. Jerry Mercer of Mercer and Associates, Dr. Wardynski decided to interrupt Mr. Mercer to ask the following:

Mercer: Several years ago, we were in the position related to the budget and related to the general fund having enough, uh, a large enough balance out there, and uh, so that’s the things that we’re looking for. Obviously, it’s turned itself around, and uh, as far as our financial statements are concerned. We don’t have any issues we would bring to your attention associated with that. So we feel comfortable with the financial position even in light of, the uh, change that was related to the pension plan.

Wardynski: Um, you said the financial situation turned around?

Mercer: Sir?

Wardynski: You said that the financial situation had turned around?

Mercer: Yes from several years ago.

Wardynski: There’s a fellow that puts himself out as an expert on the school system, on a blog.

Mercer: Uh huh?

Wardynski: He asserts that the school system was not in financial difficulty. And any difficulty it had was already well under correction in 2011-12. Is that the case? My recollection is that the state had taken over pretty much by 2011-12.

Mercer: I was fixin’ to say, he would be in disagreement with the state because the state did have people in here who were working and trained to make sure that things were done appropriately to change the budget so that you would have adequate coverage for at least one month of expenses, and you were well under one month of expenses by that time.

Wardynski: Would that have fixed itself, or would that have taken leadership action to fix that?

Mercer: I would suppose that it definitely took leadership action. I definitely took being able to for, to have better information to forecast budgets into the future, to make plans for those budgets, and to make plans for spending related to those budgets. So, no it could not have happened on its own.

Wardynski: Thanks.

In order to ensure that I am quoting Dr. Wardynski accurately, you may view the exchange below.

Yes, rather than ask Mr. Mercer for details about the status of the audit, Dr. Wardynski was using that time to ask Mr. Mercer about some “fellow that puts himself out as an expert on the school system, on a blog.”

Good use of his time and effort, no?

But it doesn’t stop there. Later in the evening while Mr. Taylor was discussing the Budget Amendment, Dr. Wardynski again interrupted him to have the following discussion:

Taylor: In short, just to comment on the general fund and the debt service fund, we typically look to those funds, to um, to assess the the general financial posture, the general net position of, of our district’s financial strength. Um, those are the two funds over which you all exercise discretion in your expenditures. So on the bottom line of those two funds, I’m sorry, shown here and here you’ll see the net, or the gross, is about forty million dollars. It’s flat with where we ended last year. We do have a balanced budget this year, and I’ll show that in a subsequent slide.

Wardynski: So, our net position is forty million to the good.

Taylor: That’s correct.

Wardynski: And when we got her our net position was?

Taylor: Negative 20 million.

Wardynski: Negative 20 million. So no withstanding the blogger who doesn’t understand finance, our district was in deep financial difficulty. And um, in a period of five years, we’ve reversed that, rebuilt a quarter of the school system, undertaken a digital initiative, increased stipends for teachers, and gotten a forty million dollar position of, uh, strength.

Taylor: Yes sir.

You may view this exchange below as well.

Wardynski Distorts My Statement

First, as Dr. Wardynski knows, I have never said that the district “was not in financial difficulty.”

What I specifically said was, “At the beginning of 2011, the district was approximately $20 million dollars in debt.”

I believe that I have acknowledged the financial difficulty that our schools were in in 2011, but in case that isn’t enough, if you go back to March 2011, you’ll find that I began writing about the cuts that Special Education was facing even then.

That was, by the way, four months before Dr. Wardynski was hired on July 5, 2011.

I have never claimed that the district “was not in financial difficulty.”

What I claimed is that the district was out of debt before Dr. Wardynski arrived. If you will read below, I’ll be happy to share with you my evidence for making that claim.

December 12, 2010: “Huntsville City Schools Almost $20 million in the Hole, Worst in State”

On December 12, 2010, Challen Stephens wrote in the Huntsville Times that according to a report from the state department of education, HCS finished the fiscal year “$19.5 million in the hole, which works out to about 1.2 months of operating expenses.”

Further down in that interview, Stephens quotes Herbert Walker the district’s finance director as saying, “the system has a plan to right the finances of the system by 2015. And that plan may not require more layoffs.”

Stephens then goes on to write, “The 2011 budget projects revenues of $193 million and expenses of $175 million, a veritable reverse of last year’s figures. That projected surplus, which is largely due to layoffs, would be used to pay down the debt.”

This plan was not considered sufficient to the state, so either the state sent Dr. Ed Richardson to the district or the board hired Dr. Richardson.

February 4, 2011: “Ed Richardson to Bring ‘Tough’ Leadership to Huntsville City Schools”

On February 3, 2011, the Huntsville City Board of Education authorized board president Topper Birney to negotiate with Richardson to “advise the city school board on ways to cut spending and jobs to recover from a $20 million deficit,” according to Challen Stephens of the Huntsville Times.

Again, this occurred five months before Dr. Wardynski was hired on July 5, 2011.

From February to June of 2011, Dr. Richardson was paid $41,687 (at a rate of $600/day) to help get the district out of debt.

That night, the board also voted to approve the first Reduction in Force of 2011.

That RIF called for the following cuts:

  • $1.5 Million + Benefits: Initiate approval of probationary support RIF: Annual Savings – $5.5 million
  • $2.2 Million: Cancel temporary contract agency except essential Special Education personnel under IEP: Annual Savings – $4.1 million
  • Board supports staffing all schools at the state allocated level thereby reducing dependency on local tax dollars: Annual Savings – $32 million
  • $3.2 Million: The Board will support the redirection of supplemental resources to assist in the shortfall of state and local funds within Federal and state guidelines by way of the amendment process
  • The Board has requested a technical review by Dr. Morton’s staff to examine possible changes within the Child Nutrition Program, transportation program, Career Technical Program, and Special Education that if implemented would improve efficiency and services within these 4 areas. (Financial Impact to be determined)
  • Implement Retirement Incentive Plan for certified and support staff
  • Bring forth a salary schedule that is competitive with surrounding school systems and in line with state requirements
  • Total “Current Impact” $6.9 million
  • Total “Projected Annual Savings”: $41.6 million
20110203 RIF

The first RIF, according to the board of education at that time (Blair, Robinson, McCaulley, Morrison, and Birney) saved $6.9 million immediately and $41.6 million every year after that night.

That occurred five months before Dr. Wardynski started on July 5, 2011.

April 21, 2011: Another 280 Huntsville School Employees Cut in Second Round of Layoffs

On April 21, 2011, the board, under the firm direction of Dr. Richardson, had a second round of layoffs. As The Huntsville Times reported, “The reduction, along with about 140 layoffs of probationary support staff approved in February, is anticipated to save the beleaguered school system more than $23 million this year.”

The two RIFs, in other words, we expected to save $23 million dollars.

Here’s a copy of the board report from that night:

20110421 RIF1

20110421 RIF2

20110421 RIF3

When Dr. Richardson offered his presentation, he claimed that the cuts he had recommended, and that the board approve on April 21, 2011 resulted in $23,089,027 savings this year.

IMG_1989

Thus, 75 days before Dr. Wardynski was hired on July 5, 2011, Dr. Richardson had made cuts sufficient to cover the $19.5 million deficit the district was facing from 2010. Those cuts were sufficient to put the district $3.5 million in the black.

So, as I clearly stated in my presentation, the district was out of debt before Dr. Wardynski was hired.

Dr. Wardynski did Increase the Budget Reserve Over His First Year

Over the next few years, Dr. Wardynski did increase the budget reserve to obtain the state required minimum of 1 month of operating expenses.

So where did that surplus come from?

  1. The district cut Special Education by $7 million from FY2011 to FY2012.
  2. The state allowed the district to transfer $9 million from the capital fund into the general fund.
  3. Revenues from the City of Huntsville have increased by $21,334,157.58 since 2010, while Instructional Services have decreased by $354,553.67.
  4. Dr. Wardynski has been extremely successful in running off our most experienced and educated teachers.

Special Education Cut in FY2011

As I wrote in September 2011, the special education was cut by $7,173,863.74 from the FY2011 budget to the FY2012 budget. You may view the difference in this spreadsheet.

I asked repeatedly about the cuts. In May 2012, the seven million was miraculously returned to the budget, but the expenditures were still showing the cut.

Ultimately in October 2012, the Federal Government agreed that the district had cut Special Education too deeply, and required that district repay $2.6 million.

$9 Million Transferred from Capital Fund

In June 2012, the district was allowed to write off the $9 million in debt from a 2011 transfer from the capital fund into the general fund as The Huntsville Times reported. Thus, $9 million of the surplus resulted from the state allowing the district to write off the debt.

Local Revenues have Increased by $21,334,157.58 since 2010

Dr. Wardynski has benefitted from an dramatically improved local economy. If you compare the budgets from 2010 through 2016, you’ll see that revenues to the district’s general fund have increased from $79,939,416.31 in 2010 to $101,273,573.89 in 2016.

This is good as State funding and Federal funding over that period have decreased by $1.5 million.

General Fund Since 2010

Has Dr. Wardynski been instrumental in improving the economy in Huntsville? If so, he should voice a complaint to Chamber President Chip Cherry to have his impact listed in the 2016 Regional Economic Development Brief that was recently completed.

While a strong school system does improve the economic outlook long term, in the short term the district benefits more than it contributes. The improvement in the district’s finances are a direct result of an improved local economy, and not, as Dr. Wardynski forced Jerry Mercer to offer, as a result of Dr. Wardynski’s “leadership.”

Since 2012, Inexperienced Teachers with Less than Three Years Have More than Doubled

In October 2012, the district employed 218 (13%) teachers with less than three years teaching experience.

In June 2016 (the most recently available number), the number of teachers with fewer than three years experience had more than doubled to 466 (27%).

In 2012, the district had more teachers with 12-15 years of experience (221) than less than 3 years of experience (218).

From 2013 on, the largest single group of teachers had less than three years experience.

Teacher Experience Since 2012

So, does this decline in teacher experience matter? According to a review of thirty research studies published over the past 15 years, Kini and Podolsky of the Learning Policy Institute found that the answer is yes. The experience of the teacher does actually improve student learning.

They found:

  1. Teaching experience is positively associated with student achievement gains throughout a teacher’s career. Gains in teacher effectiveness associated with experience are most steep in teachers’ initial years, but continue to be significant as teachers reach the second, and often third, decades of their careers.
    1. As teachers gain experience, their students not only learn more, as measured by standardized tests, they are also more likely to do better on other measures of success, such as school attendance.
    2. Teachers’ effectiveness increases at a greater rate when they teach in a supportive and collegial working environment, and when they accumulate experience in the same grade level, subject, or district.
    3. More experienced teachers support greater student learning for their colleagues and the school as a whole, as well as for their own students.

Four years ago, our district was fairly balanced when it came to experienced and non-experienced teachers. There were more teachers with 12-15 years of experience than any other group.

Today, non-experienced teachers are three times as plentiful as any other group.

This is the “leadership action” that he has to pay Mercer and Associates $30,000 a year to confirm for him.

Earning Trust

Dr. Wardynski, if you will permit me just one moment, I have a brief piece of advice for you. If you want people to trust you and your claims, do your level best to at least quote people correctly, as I have done for you.

Oh, and true leadership has absolutely nothing to do with fear as you have practiced here in Huntsville for the past five years. It does not require threats. It does not require profanity.

True leadership starts with trust. If and when you learn this, perhaps some day you will grow into the leader that you spend so much of your time telling everyone that you are.

I appreciate this opportunity to have this dialogue with you. If you would like to continue it, I’m more than happy to. Education requires dialogue, after all. If you were an educator, perhaps you would know this.

Rewriting History and the Object of Power

Orwell wrote:

“Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”

The reason that Wardynski is rewriting history is that he sees his power crumbling.

He sees parents coming together in Huntsville United to question him.

He sees students standing up to his arbitrary decisions to replace effective coaches.

He sees teachers joining together in the Huntsville Education Association to stand up to his personally devised and unfair “ineffective teachers” list that Wardynski admitted under oath that he had developed entirely on his own because, you know, he knows so much about what effective teaching and effective leadership looks like.

Leadership and education require truth, and Wardynski cannot rewrite that.

 

Huntsville City Schools Since 2011

Huntsville City Schools Since 2011
Huntsville City Schools Since 2011
On Tuesday, May 17th, I offered a presentation to the NAACP at the Harrison Center that gave an overview of the history of Huntsville City Schools from the past five years.

As I’ve been asked several times to share the presentation with others, I decided that rather than simply making a link to the presentation available, that I would also offer my commentary for the slides along with more links to evidence of the claims that I make in the presentation. This is the exact presentation I offered on the 17th, with a few exceptions. Since that night, the board of education met on the 19th and approved 19 more resignations and 2 more retirements. I have updated the slides near the end of the prevention to reflect these losses.

I was asked on Tuesday if I knew that the image above was upside down. The answer is yes. It was intentional. A flag being flown upside down is a symbol for distress. As that seal is a symbol for Huntsville City Schools, and as I believe that our schools system is in distress, I have intentionally chosen to “fly” that symbol upside down to indicate our distress.

Why I Write and Speak About Huntsville City School?

2016 HCS History1

I am not running for a seat on the school board (or any other political office). I have the best jobs on the planet: I am a teacher, a husband, and a father. And it’s those two little ones above who motivate me to care about our school system.

That’s a picture of my little girl bringing her favorite toys to share with her little brother the moment he first got home almost 11 years ago.

I’m a teacher. I’ve been teaching in this town for the past 13 years, and I’ve primarily been teaching graduates of Huntsville City Schools.

Back in January, Mr. David Driscoll posted a comment on my blog asking, “If it’s so bad why are your children in HCS.” [sic] The simple answer to this question is that I believe in public education. I believe our society is far better off with an educated populace than with an uneducated one. And so, I am fighting not just for my kids to have a good education, but also for them to grow up in a world that values education.

This is why I speak out about the quality of education my kids are receiving.

I started paying attention to the district five years ago when the board was planning to consolidate all of the special education students into just one school, AAA. My son was diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum when he was about two, and so I was naturally interested in their plans to move my son, yet again.

Starting With the Positive

2016 HCS History2

I’ve been accused of having nothing positive to say about Dr. Wardynski and his tenure here. My response has been two fold: first, Dr. Wardynski has a public relations staff doing absolutely nothing but sharing every one of his accomplishments with the world, and second, the last time I spoke positively at a board meeting about Dr. Wardynski he had security escort me out of the room.

But as he has had some positive accomplishments in his tenure, I thought I would start with those.

I believe the Summer Feeding Program is a good thing. Our society is a better place when our people are not going hungry. The only down side to this program is that, like nearly everything he does, our Child Nutrition Program has become a profit center for the district. HCS makes about a dollar off of every meal that the district serves.

I support the expansion of summer school, and in particular making it free for nearly everyone. My son, as a result of being on the spectrum, attends summer school. Last year, he attended five days a week for a full school day (8:00am – 2:30pm). This year, however, the Extended School Year (ESY) program will be cut from five days a week to four, and from 6.5 hours per day to just 5. In other words, he has cut the ESY program by nearly two full days.

I support the updating of our school buildings. Many of them were absolutely in terrible condition due to years of inattention from the district. However, he has refused to allow the community any voice in the process (unless of course you are a local developer).

And believe it or not, I fully support working to get the district out from under the desegregation order. Sadly, though, his approach to doing so has increased the racial division on our community rather than bringing people together as is the intent of the desegregation order.

The board benefits from a community divided along racial lines. When people are divided, they are easier to control and manipulate.

How Did We Get Here? Financial Issues.

2016 HCS History4

At the beginning of 2011, the district was approximately $20 million dollars in debt. (This figure changed regularly depending on who was talking to whom, but it was somewhere between $19 million and $22 million.)

This led to the state department of education sending in Dr. Ed Richardson (who has become the “go-to” guy when the state believes a local school district is in dire straits. Dr. Richardson has also been named to the Charter School Commission.)

But in 2011, we began to have the first of two Reduction in Force plans. The first one on February 3, 2011 cut $6.9 million immediately, and $41.6 million after a year.

2016 HCS History5

This wasn’t deemed enough, so on February 10, 2011, the board fired 137 staff including 65 Instructional Assistants. In case that title isn’t familiar to you, these are the special education aides who work with special needs kids to ensure that they are benefitting from the education we’re providing.

For the safety of special needs kids, instructional assistants are absolutely crucial. And they represented the largest number of cuts during the RIF.

On April 21, 2011, the board conducted another RIF firing 154 tenured teachers, and an additional 32 instructional assistants. Not counting the 154 teachers fired, which did include special education teachers, the district laid off 97 special education aides and 2 Speech/Hearing Interpreters. This represented 41% of the personnel cuts made during the two RIFs.

David Blair claimed that “security personnel” received the deepest cuts in the two RIFs. 41% is, by the way, eight times as large as the 5% of security personnel who were cut.

But then this district has never been concerned about addressing the needs of our neediest students. These additional cuts led to a savings of $17,300,000.00 of the $19 – $22 million deficit the district was facing.

2016 HCS History7

In his presentation to the board on April 21, 2011, Dr. Richardson claimed that the cuts they had made had resulted in the eradication of the deficit.

2016 HCS History8

The District was Out of Debt Three Months Before Wardynski Arrived

2016 HCS History9

This is a chart taken from Mr. Frank Spinelli’s budget hearing on August 16, 2012. It clearly shows that the budget crisis was over before Dr. Wardynski was hired. Mr. McGinnis likes to give Dr. Wardynski credit for getting the district out of debt.

This is a re-writing of history. The district was out of debt before Wardynski was hired on July 5, 2011.

Enter the Broad Foundation’s Board Academy Superintendent

2016 HCS History10

Our district’s financial issues led Huntsville City to being targeted by the Broad Foundation for take over.

The Broad Foundation is led by Eli Broad who “trains” personnel—often former military—to be superintendents in about seven months of weekend training on educational issues. Wardynski had exactly 9 months of K12 Experience when he applied for the Superintendent’s Position.

2016 HCS History11

One of the best resources for information on the Broad Foundation is The Broad Report. You can also find an illuminating list of characteristics of Broad Superintendents at “How To Tell If Your School District Is Infected by the Board Virus”. A few of the highlights include:

  1. Schools in your district are suddenly closed.
  2. Even top-performing schools, alternative and schools for the gifted, are inexplicably and suddenly targeted for closures or mergers.
  3. Repetition of the phrases “the achievement gap” and “closing the achievement gap” in district documents and public statements.
  4. Repeated use of the terms “excellence” and “best-practices” and “data-driven decisions.” (Coupled with a noted absence of any of the above.)
  5. Power is centralized.
  6. Decision-making is top down.
  7. Local autonomy of schools is taken away.
  8. Principals are treated like pawns by the superintendent, relocated, rewarded and punished at will.
  9. Culture of fear of reprisal develops in which teachers, principals, staff, even parents feel afraid to speak up against the policies of the district or the superintendent.
  10. Ballooning of the central office at the same time superintendent makes painful cuts to schools and classrooms.
  11. Sudden increase in the number of paid outside consultants.
  12. Superintendent attempts to sidestep labor laws and union contracts.
  13. Teachers are no longer referred to as people, educators, colleagues, staff or even “human resources,” but as “human capital.” (Or “FeedStock”)
  14. The district leadership declares that the single most significant problem in the district is suddenly: teachers!
  15. Superintendent lays off teachers for questionable reasons.
  16. Teach for America, Inc., novices are suddenly brought into the district, despite no shortage of fully qualified teachers.
  17. The district hires a number of “Broad Residents” at about $90,000 apiece, also trained by the Broad Foundation, who are placed in strategically important positions like overseeing the test that is used to evaluate teachers or school report cards. They in turn provide — or fabricate — data that support the superintendent’s ed reform agenda (factual accuracy not required).
  18. Superintendent behaves as if s/he is beyond reproach.
  19. The superintendent receives the highest salary ever paid to a superintendent in your town’s history (plus benefits and car allowance) – possibly more than your mayor or governor — and the community is told “that is the national, competitive rate for a city of this size.” ($175,000 per year with an “evergreen” clause that automatically renews.)
  20. Your school board starts to show signs of Stockholm Syndrome. They vote in lockstep with the superintendent. Apparently lobotomized by periodic “school board retreat/Broad training” sessions headed by someone from Broad, your school board stops listening to parents and starts to treat them as the enemy. (If you still have a school board, that is — Broad ideally prefers no pesky democratically elected representatives to get in the way of their superintendents and agendas.) (“HCS BOE Have Never Voted No — On Anything.”

Wardynski Arrives

2016 HCS History12

And the moment he arrived, the attacks and threats began.

Dr. Wardynski made it clear that he was not going to be responsive to the public, the teachers, the principals, or anyone else in town who did not openly support his agenda.

Wardynski Attacks Parents/Teachers/Principals

2016 HCS History13

The attacks on anyone who disagrees with Wardynski continued.

And notice the exchange that Dr. Wardynski and Dr. Robinson had concerning the repeated shuffling of administrators around the district:

Robinson: “I know that schools get real attached to their school leaders. But this is a corporate model. And it’s what corporations use to develop leadership strengths.”

Wardynski: “Right.”

Robinson: [Shrugging as if that resolves the matter once and for all, says before the board moves on] “That’s what we’re going to do.”

First, let me point out that while corporations do often follow one another, there is no such thing as “a corporate model” that every corporation follows. For example:

Organizational_charts

Our world will never be a one size fits all world. Educating ourselves to adapt to differing circumstances is one of the main purposes of school, after all. Following one model isn’t a sign of education, but rather indoctrination.

Second, it’s important to remember that while our schools do certainly have some business-like qualities, they are not actually businesses. Our children are not Dr. Wardynski’s product that he can then sell to the corporations of the world. Our children are not to be standardized “like golfballs” as David Blair once famously quipped.

A corporate education model would be far different from the model most of us think of when we think of a school system.

Corporate Education: Pinnacle

2016 HCS History14

The Pinnacle Schools was hired as an “alternative” school to replace The Seldon Center as a place to send a child as an alternative to expulsion. When Frank Spinelli was discussing the contract with Pinnacle, he claimed that it would cost half as much as keeping The Seldon Center open. As is a pattern we shall soon see, when the contract was published, the costs were actually twice as much.

Shortly after the contract was signed, The Pinnacle Schools were soon in the news for abusing a student there. This demonstrates one of the most significant problems of “corporate education:” When the district uses subcontractors to educate our children, the public loses a voice in how that subcontractor operates.

Corporate Education: David Driscoll

2016 HCS History15

David Driscoll began being paid by Huntsville City Schools in October 2013. From October 2013 through March 2016 (the most currently available report), The Driscoll Group has been paid a total of $302,721.42 over the past 30 months.

For nearly two years, no one outside of Mr. Driscoll and the Merts Center had any idea what Mr. Driscoll was being paid to do for the district as the 2013 contract was not published until June 2015 when Mr. Driscoll received a “supplement contract” to the August 28, 2013 contract which had not been published. You may download the August 2013 contract and the June 2015 contracts here.

Mr. Driscoll is paid $150/hour for the first 24 hours/month and $100/hour for any additional hours above 24 per month.

According to the August 2013 contract, Mr. Driscoll is being paid to:

  • Assist Superintendent and Board in communicating the changes planned for each school to parents, students, community leaders, and key elected officials.

    Assist the Superintendent and Board in meeting with various groups (PTAs, Elected Officials, the Press).

    Assist the Superintendent and Board with Facebook pages to announce changes and post events at schools.

Now, why does the superintendent, who claimed in 2012 that he would rather quit than communicate with “some people” in this town, need the assistance of a public relations firm like Mr. Driscoll’s to communicate?

Furthermore, Mr. Driscoll has regularly been seen in the parking lots of several parents meetings of late. He and Mr. McGinnis attended the HEAL meeting sponsored by the South Huntsville Civic Association on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. Mr. Driscoll also appeared at a Huntsville United meeting on Sunday April 17, 2016 and sat in the parking lot for approximately 30 minutes. (I was told that he did the same at the NAACP meeting on Tuesday, May 17th, but I did not see him for myself.)

I wrote Mr. McGinnis to ask him if Mr. Driscoll were billing the district for his attendance at the HEAL and the Huntsville United meetings, and Mr. McGinnis responded on April 18, 2016, “I talked to David late yesterday night.  He is not billing the HCS for either meeting.  He never intended to,  nor would it be right to do so.”

I followed up that statement by asking, “If he isn’t billing the district for either of these meetings, then what is he billing for?” I pointed out that it would be remarkably easy to hide $75.00 (for sitting in a parking lot for 30 minutes) in what has basically become a monthly bill of $10,000.00, Mr. McGinnis chose not to respond. (Driscoll was paid $15,589.00 for “Other Professional Services” in March 2016.)

Mr. Driscoll worked for Mr. McGinnis’ 2014 board campaign, Ms. Ferrell’s 2014 board campaign, Ms. McCaulley’s 2012 board campaign, and Dr. Robinson’s 2014 City Council Campaign according to campaign finance reports. Anson Knowles filed an Ethics Complaint about this in April 2015. The Alabama Ethics Commission dismissed the complaint in June 2015.

The rumor is that the Ethics Commission dismissed the complaint after conferring with the board’s legal council J. R. Brooks to seek out his opinion on the complaint. When he stated that the board’s actions weren’t a violation, the Ethics Commission dismissed the complaint.

2016 HCS History16

The question of what exactly Mr. Driscoll is billing the district for remains unanswered, but it is nice to know that a person who has been hired to promote Huntsville City Schools so readily takes to blogs and Facebook to suggest that parents should pull their children out of HCS, and that parents who ask questions are simply, “a noisy group of small people with an misinformed agenda pushed by a union of teachers.”

If he were correct that our schools are in better shape than in the history of the system, I assure you, no one would be raising questions about them.

Corporate Education: Lean Frog

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LEANFrog is a local Sigma-Six corporation was hired originally in 2011 to evaluate the district’s efficiencies. From the beginning of 2012, I began asking the district for a copy of the contract that the board had approved with LEANFrog. I was eventually told that “the district does not have any documents responsive to your request.” At the time, the district had spent $28,790.00 without a contract.

Since November 2011, the district has paid LEANFrog $3,806,872.80 via various contracts. (4/5/12,8/16/12 Agreement, 8/16/2012 Schedule of Pricing,4/21/2016) The most current agreement has no cap on the amount of work that LEANFrog may be asked to do for the district.

In 2014, Bryon Headrick made political donations of $500.00 each to Mr. McGinnis’ board campaign and Ms. Ferrell’s board campaign.

Authoritarian Leadership

2016 HCS History18

In October 2013, the school board, at Dr. Wardynski’s insistence, violated their own school naming policy by renaming J.O. Johnson High School because they wouldn’t wait an additional 17 days before voting to change the name.

Seventeen days was too long to wait to name a school that still has not opened yet almost three years later. They pushed ahead with the immediately changing the name of the school because Dr. Wardynski wanted to keep the public from being able to organize against the change, a lesson he learned when he was attempting to rename Lee High School in 2011.

McCaulley argued that she hadn’t violated their own policy since they weren’t changing the name of Johnson, but they were rather building a new school and closing Johnson. When asked why Grissom, which was building a new school and closing an old location, did not also change names, she offered no logical response.

The simple truth was that Wardynski wanted the name of the school changed. And so the board broke their own rules and changed the name. Once again, Topper Birney was the lone dissenting vote on this matter.

As Challen Stephens wrote in February 2015, the most effective way to get a school off the state’s “failing school list” is to simply close or rename it.

Federal Government Requires HCS to Repay $2.6 Million in Special Education Funding

2016 HCS History19

Because of the massive cuts that were made to special education in 2011 by the RIFs and the $7 million cuts in the SPED budget, Huntsville City Schools was ordered by the Federal Government to repay $2.6 million in funds in October 2012.

Dr. Wardynski claimed that he was being punished for being “efficient.” If he were being “efficient” then why has he returned special education aide staffing to the level it was at before the board cut 99 of them in the 2011 RIF?

Efficiency is no justification for breaking the law, no matter how many community news directors of the Times claim that it is.

Special Education Matters

2016 HCS History20

Dr. Wardynski has long despised special education. You may find the details of the above quote on Debra Jenkins blog, Dreaming With Your Feet.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” SPED Aides

2016 HCS History21

In November 2015, Dr. Wardynski had Ms. Amy Sledge, Director of Special Education, offer a report on how much better the services for SPED kids are today than they were when he arrived. One of the many slides that she shared was the one you see above that shows that the number of aides in the district has increased from 151 in 2011 to 250 in 2015.

This sounds fantastic until you ask yourself why he chose to start with 2011?

2016 HCS History22

Well, if you go back to 2011, you’ll see why. It was in 2011 that the district unfairly cut SPED more than any other area in the RIFs. How many aides did we cut?

You guessed it: 99.

So the amazing increases in services that Dr. Wardynski was touting was nothing more than a return to the level of services offered in 2010.

During this prevention, Dr. Wardynski again argued that following the SPED law led to “inefficiencies” because the HCS employed aides cost “about a third more” than Appleton aide.

As is typical, this is not true. The district pays Appleton $21.30/hour without any benefits. (Appleton aides are only paid $15.00/hour by Appleton; the rest goes to Appleton.)

The district pays the most experienced HCS aide $12.81/hour plus benefits which add about a third to the cost or $4.23/hour.

The total cost for an Appleton aide to the district is $21.30/hour. The total cost for an HCS employed aide with benefits is $17.03/hour.

Paying Appleton for the SPED Aides for the district costs the district 20% than employing the aide directly and giving them benefits.

I’m not sure Dr. Wardynski understands what “efficiency” actually means.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” Teach for America Contract

2016 HCS History23

When Dr. Wardynski was promoting Teach for America (a program that brings in college students who typically did not want to be teachers into a district to teach for two years), he claimed that the contract would cost the district $550,000 for a total of three years.

Once the contract was published, the actual cost of bringing Teach for America recruits to Huntsville was going to cost $1.9 million for three years, or almost four times as much.

If you’d like to do more reading about Teach for America, here’s a quick overview of the research for TFA’s effectiveness from 2011.

If you need more evidence, in 2013 WAFF requested data on the TFAers in the district to compare their effectiveness to a typical teacher in the district. Dr. Wardynski, “Mr. Data Himself,” claimed that the district did not have any data on the TFAers effectiveness in the district.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” T&W Operations Social Media Monitoring Program Cost

2016 HCS History24

When Elisa Ferrell was running for school board, she was regularly posting on Facebook to connect to her constituency. (After she was elected, she promptly disappeared. Too many questions might keep her from doing her job, I suppose.)

When she was running, and The Huntsville Times ran a story about district’s first social media monitoring program, (not to be confused with the current program), Ms. Ferrell took to her campaign’s Facebook page to claim that rather than relying upon “gossip, rumor, and conjecture” about the program, she requested a meeting with Mr. Jason Taylor, CSFO, to get the truth behind the story.

The truth as she presented it was that we had paid T&W Operations a total of $1,088,050.00 for various services in FY2012-2013.

According to the district’s check register, we had actually paid T&W Operations $2,107,034.68 in FY2012-2013 or basically twice as much as Ms. Farrell’s “actual information.”

When I questioned her about the discrepancy, she refused to respond saying that I should contact Mr. Taylor about the difference. Mr. Taylor also refused to respond until January 2015 (or three months after Ms. Farrell’s election to the board) to say that I was correct.

He did not offer any reason why his numbers from September 2014 had been so wrong.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” Benchmark Testing Reliability, March 4, 2014

2016 HCS History25

On March 4, 2014, Dr. Cathy McNeal sent an email to the district’s principals offering step by step instructions “to change student test responses,” and “Delete all results from a student’s test.

These were instructions for altering answers, deleting scores, and allowing a student to take the Pearson SchoolNet Benchmark test again, which is the district’s primary formative assessment tool for evaluating student growth and teacher effectiveness.

Thus, every single claim that Wardynski makes about teacher effectiveness using SchoolNet as the basis for that claim should now be called into question.

There is absolutely no way to know if the answer your child put on the SchoolNet test is the answer that was evaluated.

Dr. McNeal has recently claimed that she did not send that email to the district’s principals. As evidence, she claimed that her signature was different from the one she uses.

I have gone back into my email archive. I have at least two emails from Dr. McNeal dating from January 2014 or two months before this email was sent.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise, but the email signatures are identical.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” Time on Testing

2016 HCS History26

In February 2016 during his State of the Schools address, Dr. Wardynski claimed that the average amount of time spent on testing for nearly all of the tests the district requires students to take was “about 0.7%” of the school year.

That’s a strange way of talking about the amount of time spent testing, so I converted that 0.7% number to total hours. Once that was completed, that 0.7% turns out to be a mere 8.5 hours per year.

2016 HCS History27

How much time did your child spend on just the ACT Aspire test this month?

Sometimes the “data” is just laughably incorrect. Like when Elisa Ferrell claimed that printed text books cost more than their digital counterpart.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” Digital 1:1 Initiative Costs Twice as much as Print

2016 HCS History28

On April 7, 2016, Elisa Ferrell responded to a question from a parent about the costs of the digital curriculum as compared to the cost of printed textbooks.

She wrote:

4/7/16 5:14 pm

Ms. Threlkeld;

That is fine. I am double checking my numbers on the cost of the digital curriculum. We had an initial outlay and then some additional update charges with Pearson, so I might be low on both the cost of traditional text books. I am verifying numbers, but I believe the cost of traditional text books would have been $23.5 million for 7 years and the cost of digital was $20.5 million for 6 years.

Elisa A. Ferrell

Board Representative | District 3 | Huntsville City Schools | 256.655.8019

Setting aside the fact that $23.5 million over 7 years is cheaper than $20.5 million over 6 years but about $60,000 per year, these numbers are simply not supported by the contracts the district signed.

When you include the costs of the curriculum, and the computers to view the digital curriculum on (because without a computer, the digital curriculum is useless), we’ve spent $47 million on the digital textbooks ($7.83 million/year) over 6 years as compared to (assuming that her figure is correct . . . which it isn’t) $23.5 million ($3.36 million/year) over 7 years for printed texts.

Since we’re spending twice as much for the digital curriculum as we would for printed textbooks, one would think that we would get twice the education from them.

Sadly, that isn’t the case.

2016 HCS History29

A recent study from West Point (from the economics department – Dr. Wardynski’s old stomping grounds, no less), shows that students who use a computer for note taking perform worse on tests.

And as The Washington Post points out, students who scored higher on the ACT actually did worse on exams than students who scored lower on the ACT and did not use a laptop in class.

Twice as much money; much worse results.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” HCS Enrollment Numbers

2016 HCS History30

Dr. Wardynski likes to claim that the enrollment in Huntsville City Schools is growing by an “elementary school every 1.5 years.” He shared this statistic again during his state of the schools address in February.

But once again, his numbers just don’t match up with the numbers that he reports to the Alabama State Department of Education.

By starting with what was one of the worst years for enrollment in recent history (2011-2012 was the worst enrollment of the past decade), he is able to inflate the enrollment numbers and make it look like we’re experiencing rapid growth.

If you go back and track enrollment for the past decade, you instead see that enrollment has basically been flat over the past ten years. HCS has had 3.6% (All of which comes from the expansion of the free Pre-K program, K-12 enrollment has declined over the past decade.) growth over the past decade while the city of Huntsville has grown at a 13% clip.

2016 HCS History31

Rather than growth, we’re experiencing Wardynski Flight as more and more parents opt out of public schools for private/homeschooling.

Wardynski likes to claim that HCS educates 80% of the school aged children in Huntsville. Assuming that he is correct, that means that children living in Huntsville are twice as likely to go to private schools as the nation average.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” Graduation Rates

2016 HCS History32

Dr. Wardynski’s State of the Schools address claimed again that graduation rates have risen by 22% from 2010-2011.

For once, his numbers actually pretty much match up with the state’s numbers. Except, if you go back just one more year to 2009-2010, you see that the HCS graduation rate that year was 90.38%.

2016 HCS History33

Once again, we see that his amazing improvement in Graduation Rates are simply returning us to where we were the year before he arrived.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” Teachers Resigning and Retiring Double

2016 HCS History34

Our teachers are leaving more than twice as fast this year as last year. We have now lost a total of 580 teachers over the past two years.

And once again, special education is the hardest hit losing almost 4 times as many teachers this year as last.

2016 HCS History35

And our high schools have also been the hardest hit losing 37 from Huntsville High and 37 from Grissom High over the past two years.

2016 HCS History36

When I asked why teachers are leaving, here are some of the reasons they gave.

2016 HCS History37

What I Have Learned?

2016 HCS History38

Ours is a school system that has been in decline over the past five years. I take no joy in writing that; my children are suffering because of it. But denying it does not help our schools improve.

To do that, we have to see the problems and begin addressing them. Simply pretending that everything is awesome, or as Mr. Driscoll claims, better than they have ever been, will not help us return to the district that draws parents into Huntsville.

This is what it was when my wife and I moved here. Sadly today, the quality of the schools is driving families to Madison City instead.

What Can We Do to aid Huntsville City Schools?

2016 HCS History39

Please, if you are not already registered, get registered before the deadline of Tuesday, July 19, 2016, (According to the city’s website, the last date to register to cast an absentee ballet is August 8, 2016) and plan to vote on Tuesday, August 23, 2016.

You may begin the process of registering to vote at this site: http://www.huntsvilleal.gov/clerk/alabam_voter_registration.pdf

After completing the voter registration, you may mail it to:

<

p style=”padding-left: 30px;”>819 Cook Ave. Suite 150
Huntsville, AL. 35801

You may also register to vote online at 

madisoncountyvotes.com

I would also encourage you to start following Huntsville United at their website HuntsvilleUnited.org or on Facebook. You might also seek to follow the “Let’s Talk – Huntsville Community Forum” on Facebook

If you have any questions or comments about any of the information I’ve provided in this prevention, please ask them below. I will make every attempt to answer any question I’m asked.

 

Exit Interviews from Teachers

After my last post, I’ve received two separate suggestions that we need to hear from our teachers who have left. Since the district hasn’t made a good faith effort to either collect or interpret the data that they might have received from the Exit Interviews, it strikes me that having a place where former teachers can share the reasons why they have left the district.

And so, I offer this as a place for any teachers who wish to share why they chose to leave Huntsville City Schools.

If you wish to share your reason for leaving the district or for retiring, the community would love to hear from you who have left, why you have left.

The comments area below is open, and it can be completely anonymous. If you wish to use your actual name and email, feel free, but it is not a requirement. You may make up a “name” and an email if you wish. (Either way, whatever email use will only be available to me, and I will not use it for anything at all or reveal it to anyone.)

If you wish to follow the district’s feedback form, you may, but we would love to hear any feedback you would like to share with us.

 

What We Have Lost: 559 Educators Leave Over Two Years

Educators Leave
Resignations/Retirements Since May 2014

UPDATE: In addition to the teachers who leave voluntarily, the district also terminated 93 teachers on May 20, 2015. While I do not currently seem to have the exact numbers of teachers were were terminated in 2014, on average the district terminates about 100 teachers every year.  This raises the total number of teachers gone over the past two years to 652.

According to the 2016 Budget hearing, the district receives funding for 1,291.60 Teacher Units and 1,440.60 Certified Units. This is down from 1,306.67 Teacher Units and 1,459.17 Certified Units in 2015. While this is does not represent the total number of teachers the district hires, it is fairly close. I will work on getting a more accurate count.

Last year was a terrible year for educators leaving from our district. This year is twice as bad.

“Talent Management” Under Wardynski

For the past five years, on the remarkably few occasions that Dr. Wardynski has answered a question about the number of people who have left this district since he arrived on July 5, 2011, he has claimed that our teachers are leaving at about the same rate that they have always left. The last time he spoke about Talent Management was August 6, 2015. On August 7, 2015, I wrote Mr. Johnny Giles the district’s Chief of Staff to request specific numbers surrounding the slides that Dr. Wardynski shared that night as seen below:

image image image

I wrote Mr. Giles requesting a total of 30 numbers to support these slides. He declined to produce those numbers.

He did, however, suggest that I could look up all the information on my own via the Human Resources reports that are voted on and approved in every board meeting and work session, but that aren’t available electronically to the public. If I wanted to review the HR reports, I would have to go to Merts and request them at a cost of $0.25 per page.

Over the past two years, there have been fifty HR reports containing a total of 622 pages.

I have now obtained these HR reports dating back for the past two years to May 1, 2014 through May 5, 2016 (the most recently approved report).

All of these reports have been unanimously approved with one exception: on May 19, 2014 Topper Birney voted no to approving that evening’s HR Report. As is typical of this board of education, every other report was unanimously approved typically without question. (Topper Birney and Walker McGinnis have both asked about exit interviews on two separate occasions over the past two years. Below is an example of the “Voluntary Exit Feedback” form that is collected. No summary of the data collected from this form has ever been released.)

image image

559 Certified Educators Leave HCS Over Two Years

As you can see from the image at the top of the page, from May 1, 2014 through May 5, 2016 there have been a total of 423 certified employees (teachers primarily) who have resigned and 136 certified employees who have retired. A total of 559 educators have left the district by either retirement (24%) or resignation (76%) over the past two years. There have also been 150 certified employees (staff) to resign (76) or retire (74) over that period. Additionally, there were 7 revised resignation dates (duplicates removed), one rescinded resignation, and sadly three deaths.

Perhaps if the board of education had done their job of actually reviewing the HR Reports before unanimously approving them, they would have at a minimum caught some of the numerous errors I found in the reports.

Hoping that they might care enough to ask why so many teachers are leaving the district seems a waste of time at this point.

Twice as Many Educators Leave This Year As Last

If we look at the effective date of the resignation or retirement, between May 23, 2014 and May 22, 2015 (the beginning and end of the 2014-15 school year) there have been 154 resignations and 12 retirements. Between May 23, 2015 and May 27, 2016 (the last day of school for teachers) there have been 268 resignations and 87 retirements. 38 educators have announced their resignation (2) or retirement (36) between May 30, 2016 and December 18, 2016.

In other words, twice as many certified personnel are leaving the district this year as compared to last, so far. If history is any indicator, there will be many more resignations/retirements scheduled for May 27, 2016 at the next two or three board meetings.

60% More Teachers have Left HCS During the School Year

If we look at strictly those teachers who left during the school year (between the first teacher reporting day and the last day of work for teachers) we find that between Tuesday, August 5, 2014 and Friday, May 22, 2015, 66 educators resigned (55) or retired (11).

Between Tuesday, August 4, 2015 and Thursday, May 26, 2016, 108 educators resigned (92) or retired (16), so far. Again we see that during the school year when their absence would have the greatest impact on students, 42 more teachers have left the district this year as compared to the previous year.

This number, by the way, does not include the number of teachers who have been moved from their classrooms this year or who have been granted extended leaves of absence.

In short, if you thought that your kids’ classrooms were being disrupted at a higher rate than usual this year, you were right.

As Usual, Special Education Has Been Hardest Hit

image

Here’s a chart showing which disciplines have been hit the hardest. As you can see, more than twice as many special education teachers, gifted teachers, speech and occupational therapists have left as any other group. And they’re leaving at a much faster rate this year than last. In 2014-15, 17 SPED teachers resigned or retired. In 2015-16, that number jumped to 65.

Dr. Wardynski was correct when he claimed in August that SPED/Collaborative “is becoming a hard to fill position.”

It seems it’s a hard to retain position as well. They’re running out of this district nearly four times as fast as they did last year.

You can see the other disciplines above.

More Teachers Leaving Huntsville and Grissom High Schools

image

If you break the departures down by school, we see another interesting pattern: two of the best high schools in the state are having a tough time keeping teachers.

Huntsville High School current lists 105 teachers on its website. Grissom High School lists 108. Over the past two years, HHS has lost 36 teachers and GHS has lost 33 to resignation or retirement. A third of the faculty has turned over in two years.

Even more troubling is Rolling Hills Elementary, Dawson Middle, and Mt. Gap P8.

Rolling Hills list 38 teachers on its website currently, and it has lost 29 to resignation and retirement.

Dawson has 36 teachers and has lost 24 over the past two years. (Most of these left last year before the current principal was placed there.)

Mt. Gap has 56 teachers and has lost 22 over the past two years.

I Mourn What We’ve Lost

This has been an impossibly difficult post to write. I know a great many of the 559 educators who have left our district over the past two years (as well as the countless others that left the three years prior). Many of them represent the best educators I have ever known.

And their experience is irreplaceable.

This past Saturday morning, Weekend Edition Saturday ran a story called, “Special Needs Teacher Comes to the Rescue On Flight.” I would highly suggest you give this brief story a listen if you care about education at all.

Sophie Murphy is a nearly 20 year veteran special education teacher from Melbourne, Australia, and she was on a flight that could not land recently because a young boy was sick and having a meltdown. When she heard the flight crew call for a “teacher,” she thought they were kidding, but when she saw the situation, she immediately got down on his level to talk to him. She said:

So I guess my instant reaction as a teacher and special needs teacher of nearly 20 years – that I knew that the relationship was the most important thing that I needed to gain with this little boy. And so not really looking at anyone else or the emergency, just connecting with this little boy.

That’s what teachers do. Everyday. As Ms. Murphy concluded:

And this was not just me. This was what teachers do. This is what they do in their classrooms every day. They problem solve, and the connect with children on a daily basis. And any one of my colleagues and friends who are teachers would have done exactly the same.

This is why I mourn the loss of 559 teachers over the past two years and the 393 teachers we’ve already lost this year alone. These teachers’ experience at problem solving and connection will take us a decade to replace.

 

Citizens’ Comments April 21, 2016

    Schools In DistressSchools In Distress

UPDATE: Mr. Binner forwarded me the following information in addition to his comments below. They are well worth your time to review:

As standard practice when I have presented Citizen Comments in the past to Dr. Wardnyski and the School Board, I provide 10 hardcopies of my Citizen Comment in a colored folder. For April’s Citizen Comment, I included metrics and detailed plots depicting my son’s Teacher Instruction experience during the 2015-2016 school year that was not included as part of the Citizen Comment verbally presented at the 21 April Huntsville City School (HCS) Board meeting. The metrics listed and graphically displayed below support the main points of my Citizen Comment, which were presented to the HCS Board on 21 April 2016.

10th Grade English Teacher Instruction Metrics:
Teacher 1 4 August – 18 November 2016 70 days
Teacher 2 11 January – 11 March 2016 41 days
Teacher 3 4 April 2016 – Present 14 days
Semester Metrics:
Assumptions:
Semester 1: 87 Planned Teaching Days
Semester 2: 68 Planned Teaching Days Through 21 April 2016
Semester 1: 70/87 = 80% Permanent Teacher Instruction
Semester 2: [41+14=55] 55/68 = 81% Permanent Teacher Instruction
For Both Semesters, 19% Of Instruction Provided By Substitute Teachers (30 Instruction Days) [155-127=30]

Figure 1 provides metrics broken out by each permanent English teacher

English Teacher Instruction

10th Grade United States History Teacher Instruction Metrics
Teacher 4 4 August – 12 November 2015 66 days
Teacher 5 5 January – 6 January 2016 1 day
Teacher 6 25 January – Present 56 days
Semester Metrics:
Semester 1: 66/87 = 76% Permanent Teacher Instruction
Semester 2: [56+1=57] 57/68 = 84% Permanent Teacher Instruction
For Both Semesters, 21% Of Instruction Provided By Substitute Teachers (32 Instruction Days) [155-123=32]
Figure 2 provides metrics broken out by each permanent U.S. History teacher

History Teacher Instruction

Perspective:
18.0 Average Instruction Days Per Month For The 2015-2016 School Year
Bottom Line: On average in my son’s case for his 10th Grade English and United States History Classes, 32 Instruction Days, which equates to 1.8 Months out of 10 Months dedicated for the 2015-2016 school year were instructed by Substitute Teachers.

After a four hour and ten minute meeting (yes, you read that correctly) that included a 20 minute Executive Session at the end, the Huntsville Board of Education finally allowed at least 18 people to speak for three minutes concerning the schools.

While I haven’t receive anywhere near all of the comments that were shared, I have received comments from four citizens that are shared below.

None  So far as I am aware, only one of these comments received a response of any kind from the board members or Dr. Wardynski.

You may also be interested in hearing that not all the comments were comments that the board or Dr. Wardynski would consider “negative.” (You know, any comment that doesn’t bend over backwards to praise the superintendent.)

It would seem that Ms. Ferrell has learned a lesson or two from Mr. Blair’s tenure as board Vice-President. On Thursday, it would seem, according to Ms. Ferrell, that some of the citizens who signed up to speak did so by using an “incorrect email address.” (She did not state what the correct email address was, but according to the board’s web site it is board.clerk@hsv-k12.org.)

This was her justification for alternating between people who were raising legitimate questions of Wardynski and the board and people who were specifically recruited to tell the board that Everything Is Awesome. While I do not know that everyone who had nice things to say to the board on Thursday was recruited to do so, the district has done this in the past, and I have a reliable source who states that Ms. Rena Anderson was contacting parents at Blossomwood and Jones Valley Elementary before the meeting to ask that they come and share their positive comments with the board.

Both of the names that I was given before the meeting began did, in fact, speak to the board. And yeah, their comments, unlike those posted below, were well received by the superintendent and the board of education.

District Seeking to Mislead the Board Members?

You know, it kinda made sense in 2012 when the board wanted to stack the citizens’ comment deck. At that time, the board was still broadcasting citizens’ comments on ETV.

Since they no longer do that, I fail to see the purpose of recruiting positive commenters, unless, of course, the board of education is unaware that people are being recruited.

Either way, I have received three comments from people who did speak, and two comments from people who considered speaking but did not. All five of the comments are posted unedited below.

If anyone else who spoke would like to share their comments, you may use the blog commenting feature below to share them. (Alternately, you may send them to me via email at russ@geekpalaver.com, and I’ll get them shared.)

I will be happy to share comments from any of the speakers who spoke positively of the district on Thursday night. I will share those unedited as well.

To the speakers: thank you. I appreciate you taking an entire evening and night away from your families to participate in our democracy.

Mark Binner: Teacher Retention At Grissom High School

Introduction:

Good Evening. My name is Mark Frederick Binner, I am a citizen of Huntsville Alabama and I reside at ———. I am not representing any organization and I want to briefly discuss with you this evening my concerns about Teacher Retention at Grissom High School and how it has impacted the quality of my son’s education, who is currently in his sophomore year.

Bottom Line Up Front:

Based on my son’s personal experience and the alarming number of permanent and substitute teachers providing instruction for two of his core classes – 10th Grade English and United States History during the 2015-2016 school year, my Citizen Comment will focus on fact based discussions with my son, discussions with his 10th Grade English and United States History permanent teachers, discussions with the administrative staff at Grissom High School and course work that my son was allowed to bring home from Grissom High School.

Facts:

Fact 1:

My son has had three (3) permanent English and approximately twelve (12) substitute teachers during the 2015-2016 School year. My son has also had three (3) permanent History and over eight (8) substitute teachers during this same time period.

Fact 2:

My son’s second permanent English teacher only taught a total of 41 scheduled instruction days with no explanation on why she was removed from the classroom. My son’s second permanent History teacher submitted his resignation after only being a HCS employee for one (1) day.

Fact 3:

Based on review of the 10th Grade English Pacing Guide, my son did not receive the necessary instruction and processes to research, construct and write a research paper, as the other 10th Grade Grissom English classes have completed for his second semester, primarily due to the fluctuation of permanent and substitute teachers. In my son’s first semester, he did not receive all of the necessary instruction prior to taking the First Semester exam. He and the other students in his class attended a two hour cram session the day before the final exam.

Fact 4:

My son’s Medical Terminology teacher submitted her resignation and left the Huntsville City School system in early April. As of this date he has had substitute teachers.

Conclusion:

It is unfortunate that my son had so many permanent and substitute teachers for two of his core classes this school year, which resulted in limited continuity teaching the lesson plans and implementing the learning strategies. It was devastating to my wife and me when my son confided to us “I did not learn much in my English class this year.” All that I could do is turn to my wife and tell her that I have failed my son for allowing him to remain in the Huntsville City School system – It is truly a travesty. As you have stated previously Dr. Wardynski with regards to a child’s education, “We only have one chance to get it right.” In my opinion not focusing on Teacher Retention was a primary contributor for my son not receiving a quality education this academic year. I come to you and the School Board to ask “Why?” Why was there such a high teacher turnover rate for my son at Grissom High School this school calendar year?

Thank You:

Thank you for allowing me to present my Citizen Comment to the Huntsville City School Board.

Barbara Schantz: Gifted and Talented Education in Elementary Schools

Hello. My name is Barbara Schantz. I am a citizen of Huntsville residing at —-. I am a mother of four children at Huntsville City Schools, including twin boys in 2nd grade at Goldsmith-Schiffman Elementary.

The two high priority concerns that I’m going to address this evening are the lack of information about the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program and understanding how students are evaluated and selected for participation in GATE. Let’s remember that the primary mission of a school district is to optimize the achievement of all students.

One of my sons received the initial invitation for further screening, but the other did not. This prompted me to investigate the new GATE program. My two older children were in the SPACE program, yet I still feel like I don’t know much about how the process works.

I started by reading the documents that came home with my son, which referenced a state Matrix for Screening/Eligibility Determination. On the Alabama State Department of Education’s web site, I found that matrix and I learned that parents have the right to refer their child for gifted screening, so I sent an email to that effect, which allowed my other son’s folder to be sent to the district committee for review.

I visited the HCS website and found that there are ten links from the Gifted Education page. Of those ten links, seven lead to pages that are blank. The three pages with information are vague, leaving parents who have made it this far still confused about GATE.

I spoke by telephone with Wendy Graham, Coordinator of Gifted Services for HCS. She explained to me that they evaluate the whole child, not using the state matrix, but looking only at strength areas and using “loose criteria.”

I next spoke with Shirley Farrell at ALSDE, who was unable to provide me with any further information except the name of the person at the state who might be able to tell me more about HCS’s LEA Plan for the 2015-2016 school year, for which a waiver was requested. I have tried numerous times to contact that person and have not yet succeeded.

My son who did not qualify for GATE got a 98 on the STAR Math test, has all 3s and 4s on his report card, is now learning 4th grade math, and is very well behaved. What is missing from his “Body of Evidence” is a record of how very hands-on he is, something not easily tested on paper or computers or represented by data. He scored a 97 on the STAR Reading test this week, so I made sure that was added to his folder for future consideration.

In conclusion, parents of 2nd graders, as well as parents of Pre-K to 1st graders, are not informed as to when and how children are evaluated for the GATE program. From what I have learned, it appears that Huntsville City Schools is moving forward in selecting students for GATE with an LEA Plan that has not been approved by the state. Certainly, my son is not the only student who was overlooked by the process. Many other parents do not realize that the opportunity for GATE evaluation has even come and gone. I speak tonight on behalf of all young HCS students in hopes that more information about GATE will be available online and discussed in meetings for Pre-K through 2nd grade parents. As with so many school-related topics, lack of communication is keeping our children from receiving the educations they deserve.

Thank you for your time.

Deb Stern: ACT Testing Payments

I’m Deb Stern, a citizen of Huntsville and have children at Huntsville High. We have lived in this area for 9 years. My husband and I served a combined 46 years in the United States Navy. I retired after my youngest son was diagnosed with autism. At age 4 he was developmentally an 18 month old. He is now a freshman at Huntsville High enrolled in grade level courses. In celebration of autism awareness month please feel free to ask me anytime what it has taken personally and financially, to keep him in grade level classes. We know we are fortunate because many other families face the same hurdles with different results.

I am also a supporter of our schools and district. I volunteer wherever I can. I stood on the steps out front in unison with most of you.

But, for the life of me, I can’t understand why we are giving monetary rewards to students and teachers for AP and ACT scores? After recently completing the college application process with my oldest son, I know how valuable those scores are. I am here tonight to ask you to reconsider this unethical cash flow to students and teachers you have identified worthy for a cash incentive. I don’t understand why having the ability to attend various advanced courses and taking the ACT, free of charge, is not reward enough. There are also the many ways for them to prepare for the tests at no extra cost. It is discouraging to think a student only recognizes the value of these tests after a cash bribe.

It’s great to celebrate student success and you are doing really well for advanced opportunities. Please use the cash award money to be just as innovative for opportunities targeting your struggling, below grade level students. They are a very big part of your forest.

Invest in identifying learning styles such as auditory vs. visual, to help create more effective instruction. There are intense reading and math programs that can help students gain years in a shorter amount of time than the current curriculum. There are autism class rooms that open with nothing, and lack qualified teachers.

My older son received some cash by barely studying for both the ACT and AP exam. He is not a gifted student. He did well, because he has had teachers giving him a solid foundation. In elementary and middle school, he was immersed in reading. Novel studies, independent reading assignments, and plenty of books readily available in the class room and library. By giving AP teachers bonuses based on student assessment scores, and even more money for students predicted to fail, whatever that means, you are undervaluing the hard work of all other teachers. Advanced classes are the result of academic success built year by year. If a student has not been successful up to that point, I can only think we are endorsing a spark notes type education. Please value all teachers for all student successes.

These are the comments I’ve received from people who shared them with the board. In addition to this, I would also like to share comments from a teacher who was in attendance at the meeting Thursday night, but when the board adjourned for their Executive Session, she left.

Debbie Hester: Partnering with Teachers

For those who asked, the speech I did not give last night due to the board’s political maneuvers is posted below and is public for sharing.

By the way, all the teacher committees they referred to last night are just for show. I have served on these before and will not do it anymore. They are put in place only to implement decisions already made. There is no honest exchange at all. The last one I just heard of yesterday was where they offered teachers with a BS degree and less than 12 years experience twice as much money to serve on a committee as teachers with a masters and more than 12 years experience. I could not make this stuff up people! I am asking for a REAL exchange of ideas.

In addition, a month ago I was scheduled to be on the agenda along with a student of mine to be acknowledged for the NHD awards. Wednesday night I signed up for public comment. Thursday morning I received word that there would not be time on the agenda to acknowledge my student and me. They would put us on the agenda for the next meeting.

Board Meeting Speech

I’m Debbie Hester and I would like to speak today about improving partnership in our schools. Partnership is critical in the education process.

Students learn better when I partner with their parents. When parents respect my professional expertise and I respect their intimate understanding of their unique child, we can make that child’s school experience wonderful.

I partner with my teaching team. I partner well with my administrator. My principal’s door is wide open to me. I feel my input is valued and heard.

I do not sense a partnership with central office. Instead there is a culture of fear that is heartbreaking to me. Whether or not you will admit this fear is justified, I know for a fact this it exists.

Since my recent Facebook post expressing concern over textbook removal, many people have contacted me to ask if I have been fired. In this culture of fear, countless people have warned me that punishment may still come, probably in the form of a forced transfer. I have had no indication that this will happen, so I will choose instead to be optimistic. Many parents and teachers have thanked me for having the courage to speak out.

Board members, are you not puzzled as to why it is a considered an act of great courage to respectfully offer an opinion on an issue that greatly impacts your work environment? This is toxic should be addressed.

I implore you to work to improve this situation and begin an open and honest partnership with your teachers where we feel free to share the things of concern to us.

For example, you could listen when teachers, students, and parents tell you that they prefer textbooks.

Hear us when we tell you that testing is causing enormous stress in our system.

The benchmark is not a state-mandated test nor a good measure of learning. You could make that go away today.

Ask a teacher how much time is really spent in testing. 15 minutes for STAR and Benchmark? Stop misrepresenting reality in our classrooms and partner with your teachers. You must also include the practice tests we feel compelled to do, because we know that we will have to prepare power point slides comparing our scores. Slides that can’t begin to reflect the broad range of need in our very different classrooms.

Partner with me and listen when I tell you that you cannot propose to be all about project based learning and then judge my social studies classroom based on a trivial pursuit contest otherwise known as the Pearson benchmark. Partner with us to build classrooms where learning is meaningful again.

It is not necessary to spend money on expensive public relations. If you truly worked to partner with teachers, you could see an explosion of trust and good will in our community.

Teachers should be involved in the decision making process because we are the ones with intimate knowledge of the classroom and the factors that will lead to student success. We are not soldiers but creative professionals. Are we expected to merely obey or could we be allowed to contribute creatively to our students’ success.

Neither the board of education nor the superintendent responded to any of these comments. While Dr. Wardynski did respond to one of these comments, the board sat silently. They are not willing to, in Ms. Hester’s words, partner with teachers or parents in the district.

They seek only our obedience. Our creativity is seen as a threat to be silenced.

 

 

Citizens’ Comments February and March

Schools In Distress
Schools In Distress

As I mentioned in the previous post, I will be offering people an opportunity to publish their comments to the board of education on this site. To start us off, I thought I’d begin by sharing two comments from two citizens who spoke at the February and March meetings. Both of these individuals have given me their permission to share their comments here.

As I hope will be clear, I am not responsible for the content of these comments. Just because someone shared something with the board, and it has been posted here does not mean that I agree with the comments. The writers are solely responsible for the content of their comments. (I do, however, reserve the right to refuse to share a comment if I deem it necessary to do so.)

Mark Binner’ Comments: February 18, 2016

First up is Mr. Mark Binner who shared the following comments at the February 18, 2016 meeting:

Introduction:

Good Evening and thank you Superintendent Dr. Wardynski, District 3 Board Representative Mrs. Ferrell and other esteemed Huntsville City School Board members for allowing me the opportunity to present my Citizen Comment this evening. My name is Mark Frederick Binner, I am a citizen of Huntsville Alabama and I reside at ______. I am not representing any organization and I want to briefly discuss with you this evening my concerns, which are shared with other Grissom High School student parents about the current safety posture at Grissom High School. My son attends Grissom High School and is currently a sophomore.

Recently there have been three incidents involving student misconduct, which have included having a weapon on school property (29 January 2016), assaulting a teacher and fighting in the hallway (both incidents occurred 4 February 2016). These students have been punished according to the Huntsville City School Code of Student Conduct 2015-2016. These high profile incidents unfortunately highlighted concerns of potential systemic violence within Grissom High School, which begs the question to administrators “How safe are our children when they are at school?”

Bottom Line Up Front:

Even after the Grissom High School administration expelled and suspended students, Grissom High School parents are still very, very concerned, as you would expect about our children’s safety when they are resident on the Grissom High School campus. Do expulsions and suspensions curtail a student’s intent on exciting violence or bringing a weapon on school property? Our goal in the very near future is to be educated by the Huntsville City School and Grissom High School administrators at a very top level on the Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) that are in place or potentially implemented to increase the safety posture at Grissom High School and for that matter all Schools in the Huntsville City School system. I am here not to complain or find fault – this serves no purpose, but in a broad sense I want to briefly discuss safety concerns and present result oriented solutions. Unfortunately today, we live in a world where people no longer think twice about harming others and the associated consequences of their actions.

Safety Concerns:

Based on my time limit this evening, I would like to take this opportunity to present four (4) Safety Concerns totally based on observation and conversations with other concerned Grissom High School parents and follow-up questions for further investigation and discussion for the Huntsville City School Board and Grissom High School administrators.

Multiple Ingress Entry Points

Grissom High School has too many points of Ingress, which provides a significant security risk for non-students or students that have been expelled to freely enter the school campus. This makes verification of who is getting into the school extremely challenging. The Grissom High School administration in my opinion will never have high confidence (100 percent certainty) that students and personnel not cleared to be on or in the Grissom High School campus are denied access.

Building Access Control Measures

  • Students, Teachers and Administrators are issued School Identification Cards. Are Identification Cards used as credentials to control building access?
  • Are there any plans at the new Grissom High School to implement card access systems?

School Safety Assessments 

  • How long has it been since the Huntsville City School district conducted a school safety assessment for Grissom High School and the other schools in the Huntsville City School system?
  • Has the school/community environment changed since the last professional assessment you had conducted? I believe the answer to this question with regards to Grissom High School is “Yes”.
  • What is the average response time for security personnel in responding to incidents of violence or fighting?

Physical Security Measures

Cameras

  • Can Grissom High School Administrators access all in-house security cameras from their Desktops?
  • Is the surveillance system protected with adequate firewalls so it can’t be broken into?

Use of Metal magnetometers (Wands)

Safety Recommendations:

You have been presented a few security concerns this evening. I graciously ask that the Huntsville City School Board and Grissom High School Administrators to please assess these safety concerns and review the current security posture at Grissom High School. I would also like to recommend that Grissom High School Administrators in the very near future provide Grissom High School parents a broad overview of current and future security TTPs – High-quality communication can actively reinforce culture. Finally I would like to recommend that Huntsville City School Board utilize security experts and Security Posture programs already in use on Redstone Arsenal if you have not already taken advantage of this excellent resource.

Conclusion:

In summary consider the concerns and recommendations that have been presented to the board this evening. My son and the entire Huntsville City School district student’s lives depend on your actions and security programs that you put in place to increase the security posture at Grissom High School. There are many Grissom High School Parents that are now fully engaged based on the recent acts of violence and will be watching for actions to become realities by both the Grissom High School and Huntsville City School administrators.

Thank You:

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss these concerns in further detail. My contact information is included in my prepared statement packages that were provided to the board. I would like to thank the Huntsville City School Board, Dr. Wardynski, Mrs. Ferrell – District 3 School Board Representative and other Board Representatives the opportunity to present my Citizen Comment this evening.  Finally I want to express my sincere appreciation for the teachers and staff at Grissom High School and all of the other schools in the Huntsville City School system – I applaud your tremendous contributions that you make everyday instructing our students and preparing them for the future.

Elisa Ferrell’s Response via WHNT: February 19, 2016

Ms. Ferrell responded to Mr. Binner’s comments to WHNT On February 19th via email writing:

Mr. Binner and I have spoken and emailed on a number of occasions about many different topics, the most recent being security at Grissom.

One step in keeping a high school moving forward is to make sure we know the needs of the students as they come to us. We are seeing several high school students return to public school from private and home school. When you couple that with families moving to Huntsville from out of town or out of state, we have a sizable number of new students. In response to the large number of students we are receiving, and the need to have accurate and consistent registration practices in our city, Huntsville City Schools is considering centralizing new student registration. We would be able to obtain school records from other cities or states more rapidly and efficiently. Prompt receipt of official records along with placement exams, would give us additional tools to accurately address our students’ academic needs. Those same records also allow us to evaluate any student discipline issues we need to address. We would be able to quickly identify the students who need extra assistance with their behavior, and work with their parents and a team of educators to help them with the transition to our schools. I am not sure if you are aware that in Alabama, if you are expelled from one public school, you are expelled from all public schools. The rapid receipt of the official out of town or out of state records would also help us quickly identify the students who are prohibited from enrolling in our public schools.

In the Summer of 2014 there were some inaccuracies in reporting on our SAFE Schools program. If you will recall, SAFE Schools was the program where we received tips on potential threats and reviewed sources like social media to evaluate the tip. There was public outcry against the program due to the inaccuracies of the report, so ultimately HCS discontinued the program. The SAFE schools program prevented several incidents that were very similar to the ones that recently happened at Grissom. Had the program not been discontinued, two of the three situations at Grissom would have been prevented. As an aside, Huntsville City Schools found when the public had accurate information on the course and scope of SAFE Schools, they were overwhelmingly in support of it.

We are always exploring and evaluating all our options to keep our students and staff safe. Our new facilities have been built with security in mind, and we have brought in experts in the security industry to assist us in the design. The new Grissom building is being built with an eye towards safety. Also, our new facilities all have state of the art tornado shelters. Considering we live in Tornado Alley, a tornado is probably the greatest threat we have to the safety of our students and staff.

One of the things Mr. Binner requested was a parent meeting where Huntsville City Schools would share all the information on the security plans we have in place. Revealing our complete plan for security would negate or eliminate its effectiveness. It would be similar to publicly posting the combination to a home safe. There may be 99.9% of the population who would never even consider opening the safe, but the ones who would, were just given complete access. Mr. Binner also wanted us to remove or block doorways to prevent people from getting into the building. We have fire codes that we are required to follow. In the event of a fire, we must have multiple points of egress to accommodate the evacuation of 2000 students and the staff and faculty.

Thank you again for contacting us. The safety of our students and staff is paramount to Huntsville City Schools. It will always be a top priority to provide a safe learning environment.

Binner’s Follow Up Comments

Mr. Binner concludes this discussion with Ms. Ferrell:

When I got home this evening, I had the opportunity to review Mrs. Ferrell’s E-Mail comments on my Citizen Comment that was presented during this past Thursday’s Huntsville City School Board Meeting. I wanted to take a few minutes to clarify two specific comments in Mrs. Ferrell’s E-Mail.

Parents Meeting:
Mrs. Ferrell stated in her E-Mail response “One of the things Mr. Binner requested was a parent meeting where Huntsville City Schools would share all the information on the security plans we have in place. Revealing our complete plan for security would negate or eliminate its effectiveness. It would be similar to publicly posting the combination to a home safe.”

With regards to the Parent Meeting, I stated in my Citizen Comment prepared statement “I would also like to recommend that Grissom High School Administrators in the very near future provide Grissom High School parents a broad overview of current and future security TTPs – High-quality communication can actively reinforce culture.” I looked up the definition of “broad” and “overview”. Below are the definitions of Broad and Overview from www.dictionary.com:
Broad – not limited or narrow; of extensive range or scope; main or general.
Overview – a general outline of a subject or situation; survey or summary.

Mrs. Ferrell made the assumption from my Citizen Comment prepared statement that I wanted an in-depth detailed presentation of the Grissom High School security plan. I in no way implied in my Citizen Comment or interview that my intent was to have the Huntsville City School System or Grissom High School Administrators provide the entire security plan. As Mrs. Ferrell states in her E-Mail, “Revealing our complete plan for security would negate or eliminate its effectiveness.” I agree with her statement and again this was not my intent. I recommended that Huntsville City School System or Grissom High School Administrators provide Grissom High School parents a “Broad Overview” of security measures to sooth parent’s concerns and increase confidence that our sons and daughters were going to be safe which on the Grissom High School campus.

Multiple Ingress Entry Points:
Mrs. Ferrell also stated in her E-Mail response “Mr. Binner also wanted us to remove or block doorways to prevent people from getting into the building. We have fire codes that we are required to follow. In the event of a fire, we must have multiple points of egress to accommodate the evacuation of 2000 students and the staff and faculty.” First of all I NEVER uttered or wrote these words with regards to removing or locking doorways. Secondly my Citizen Comment discussed limiting the number of “Ingress Entry Points”. Below is the definition of Ingress and Egress from www.dictionary.com:
Ingress: the act of going in or entering; a means or place of entering; entryway
Egress: a means or place of going out; an exit.

As you can plainly see from my Citizen Comment prepared statement, I was addressing “Ingress”. I never once mentioned “Egress” in my Citizen Comment. Let me make this perfectly clear – I would never suggest to impact the Egress of students, teachers and staff from the building so that everyone could quickly exit in case of a fire or other emergency. I made the assumption that points of Egress would not be impacted – In retrospect I should have made the statement in my Citizen Comment that points of Egress would not be impacted . Limiting the points of Ingress would allow the Grissom High School Security Staff the opportunity to monitor who is entering the school building and would be the first step in having students, teachers and staff present their Identification Credentials to gain entry. I believe that Mrs. Ferrell read too much into my recommendation on limiting Ingress Entry Points or perhaps mixed up the definitions of Ingress and Egress.

Ferrell Distorts the Public Record, Again

As an aside, Ms. Ferrell also claimed that the public “overwhelmingly” supported the SAFe Program “once they had “accurate information on the course and scope of SAFE Schools.” If this is so, why didn’t the Superintendent and the Board of Education offer the public an overview of this program before the Superintendent unilaterally implemented it without board approval requiring us to find out about it from the fine reporting of Challen Stephens?

This is, sadly, yet another unsupported claim by Ms. Ferrell.

Lisa Schrimsher’s Comments: March 15, 2016

Despite the length of this post, the purpose here is to create a public record. As such, I’d like to conclude with the comments of Ms. Lisa Schrimsher from the March 15, 2016 board meeting:

I’m Lisa Schrimsher a parent, a 1985 Lee High graduate, and being respectful of your time, I’m representing numerous students and parents tonight. I will be embarking on my 20th year, as a HCS parent next year. This is the first time in 2 decades that I’ve been compelled to speak at a Board meeting. I respectfully ask that you sit back and really listen to me as I share my concerns about the increase in fighting in our schools, changes to the Code of Conduct, and lack of support for teachers in regard to discipline.

I would first like to note the high level of security that you have at board meetings. I’d say that this is a safe meeting environment. It’s in direct contrast to the current environment in our schools.

In fact, the Consent Order requires the District to “create a positive school environment”. Right now violence is negatively affecting that environment. The quality of education my children are getting has declined drastically since my oldest graduated in 2010. I’m very disappointed in your inability or unwillingness to provide an optimum, safe learning environment.

The changes in the Code of Conduct have been disastrous, and I am asking them to be revised. It is obviously not working. It’s very hard to start a year with relaxed procedures, and then try to tighten them up. Students are very aware of the lack of discipline. Our children are becoming desensitized to fights. Observing defiant behavior is commonplace.

Teachers must be free to dismiss disruptive students from the classroom without fear of repercussion. Many do not believe that is currently the case. Teacher’s actions are restricted, and students know they can’t be properly disciplined.

I can’t help but wonder if disciplining students for videotaping fights was initiated for keeping the truth hidden. It’s easy to downplay fights as little skirmishes, until the public and nation actually see them. They are brutal, and it takes an unacceptably long time for adults to intervene.

Cameras are good for investigating after the fact, but they are not decreasing the amount of fights taking place. Students are aware of places that are camera free.

We have parents here tonight whose children are afraid to walk the school halls, who have pulled their children out of the system, and those who are planning to do so at the end of the year. Numerous families are leaving this system because of a negative learning environment. A poor school system, with which we currently have, will eventually take a toll on the entire city.

We have an increase in fighting, an ineffective Code of Conduct, poor support for teachers regarding discipline, and a deplorable teacher retention rate. It’s up to you to make the necessary changes for the good of our students, parents, teachers, and community.

I stand before you tonight as a parent, addressing our superintendent, asking him to care about our children. Thank you very much for listening to my concerns.

Laurie McCaulley Responds Via WAFF: March 15, 2016

Ms. Schrimsher received no direct response from the board, but board president Laurie McCaulley said the following to WAFF in an interview with Ms. Schrimsher after the meeting:

There have been incidents where children come to school and not act the way we want them to act, but we’re not prepared to throw them away because we have no disposable children.

While I am grateful to Ms. McCaulley for the clarification that there are “no disposable children,” as I’m sure you noticed in Ms. Schrimsher’s comments at no time did she suggest that the district should throw children away. This is yet another example of McCaulley’s attempt to make use of reductio ad absurdum (reducing an argument to the absurd in order to discredit it) logical fallacy.

It’s a shame that our board is more concerned about defending themselves than they are about defending all of our children.

It is also a shame that our board members will only respond to citizens’ comments when these comments are taken to the press.

There will be more comments from our citizens after tonight’s board meeting.

 

Publishing Citizens’ Comments to the HCS Board of Education

Schools In Distress
Schools In Distress

In order to help people to realize that they are not alone in their concerns about the state of our schools here in Huntsville, I’m going to be dedicating a blog post the day after every board meeting in the future to publishing citizens’ comments here.

Citizens’ Comments: A History

Back when I first began attending board meetings in 2011, I was concerned about the status of our Special Education students. At that time, the board allowed citizens’ up to three minutes to speak to the board (as they do now) at the conclusion of every work session (usually the first Thursday of every month) and board meeting (usually the third Thursday of every month.)

As they were refusing to answer my questions about the plan to consolidate special education students in just two schools in the district, I typically spoke at the conclusions of both the work sessions and the board meetings.

However, because waiting silently for a response from the board made the board “uncomfortable” and attempting to record a citizen’s comments at a board meeting was deemed “intimidating” they eventually cut the number of times that citizens could bring concerns to the board from every meeting of the board (twice a month) to just the official “board meeting” (once a month).

Then before the old board left in 2014, they further limited who could speak to the board during citizens’ comments to residents of the city of Huntsville because listening to the public for three minutes at the end of one meeting per month was, according to Dr. Jennie Robinson (currently City Council Member), “interfering with our ability to do the business that we needed to do.”

This was, of course, BS.

So they currently listen to citizens’ concerns just once a month at the end of the Board Meeting (even though the board conducts business every time they meet). The comments must be limited to three minutes. They will not be televised on E-TV as they do not wish to allow other citizens to hear what citizens might think.

A Solution: Share Your Citizens’ Comments Here

So, since I was at least somewhat responsible for the reduction of citizens’ comments by asking the board questions and waiting for answers (or “grandstanding” as Mr. Carlos Matthews called on his Uplifting HCS Facebook page), I thought I would allow any citizen who wished to share their Citizens’ Comments with the public to do so here.

If you wish to share your comments to the board of education with the city as a whole, here’s how you can do so:

  1. You may email me a copy of your comments to russ@geekpalaver.com either before or after the meeting. (I will wait until 24 hours after the meeting to publish any comments I receive.)
  2. I will then compile those unedited comments into a blog post that will be shared approximately 24 hours after the conclusion of the board meeting.
  3. If you do not wish to send me your comments before I post the blog, you may, of course, share the comments in the comment section under the post.

I will share any comment that I receive regardless of the content of the comment in an unedited form. Yes, I will publish any positive comments I receive as well. (I will, of course, not allow anyone to make a threatening comment.)

If you want your comments that you’ve shared with the board of education to be read by a wider audience, you may use this approach to do so.

I hope this helps our community to realize that there are many people who care about our schools and the direction our district is heading.

 

Digital Curriculum Costs Twice As Much As Print

Yesterday, Elisa Ferrell offered her views on the removal of textbooks from the classrooms to several different parents who wrote her with their concerns. She also claimed that the digital curriculum costs less than the printed curriculum. One parent requested permission to share this response. You can read the responses online on HCS Book Removal Discussion.

I’ve taken the liberty of copying Ferrell’s response below.

4/7/16 10:41 am

Ms. Threlkeld:

Thank you for your email. Thank you too, for including your school in your email, so we know which one of the five of us should respond to you first.

I hate to make this a long email response, but I always like to make sure everyone knows the history behind our Digital 1:1 transition. If you are an educator in Alabama, then you have up close and personal knowledge of the historical funding issues we have had for text books and libraries. We were at $95 a student for texts, then $75, then $0 for several years. When Dr. Wardysnki [sic] started in HCS our text books were in a state of advanced age and disrepair. There was one school who had been using a set of Biology texts that were over 40 years old. When the state cut funding, our elementary students were the hardest hit, because so many of those texts are consumables…tear out sheets. HCS was in a position that we needed to do a complete system upgrade on our texts because it had been neglected for so long as a result of a lack of funding. The cost to update all the texts was in the $19-$20 million range and we were in debt by about $21 million, so there was just not money to do it. Curriculum was becoming digitized and we found that it we did a system wide curriculum digital 1:1 transition rather than purchasing hard copy text books, that the financial impact would be less, all our students would have equitable access to the same curriculum, HCS would be able to move towards individualized learning for each student, and we would catapult our students into the digital age that they will be living in as adults. As an aside, one of the most frequent comments we receive from our graduated seniors after the first year of digital 1:1 was that they found they were more prepared for the college transition, with its digital texts and digital homework and test submissions, than their peers were. As a result they were more successful.

Change is never easy though, and a few parents struggled with the transition. Some wanted hard copies. Some students with vision issues needed hard copies. We worked with our curriculum provider and received a classroom set of text books that first year, for those students who were not ready for the transition and wanted to use hard copy. Those classroom sets have been in the classrooms for classroom use for the last four years. Fast forward to today, , and the majority of our students are comfortable, fluid and very fluent with digital 1:1. We have decided to move the classroom sets out of the classroom and into the library. Students who still want to reference a paper copy of the text can now check them out and use them at home, if they need to. Contrary to the social media and blog traffic, we are not holding some sort of dystopian book burning party somewhere. We are retaining the textbooks, making them accessible, and making it possible for a student to check them out and use them at home. Of course, any student with an IEP or a 504 who has vision challenges, has accommodations in place for those challenges.

I hope this helps to clarify some things.

Elisa A. Ferrell

Board Representative | District 3 | Huntsville City Schools | 256.655.8019

She followed up Ms. Threlkeld’s questions with the final response:

4/7/16 5:14 pm

Ms. Threlkeld;

That is fine. I am double checking my numbers on the cost of the digital curriculum. We had an initial outlay and then some additional update charges with Pearson, so I might be low on both the cost of traditional text books. I am verifying numbers, but I believe the cost of traditional text books would have been $23.5 million for 7 years and the cost of digital was $20.5 million for 6 years.

Elisa A. Ferrell

Board Representative | District 3 | Huntsville City Schools | 256.655.8019

State Funding for Textbooks

Yes, state funding has been inadequate for textbooks over the past decade; however, it is not zero in the current budget. In 2014, the budget allowed for $35.00 per student. In 2015, the budget was raised to $52.71 per student. While this is not sufficient to cover the complete cost of the textbooks, the city of Huntsville does make up the difference. The state does currently provide funding for textbooks. By finishing her history with the state providing zero funding, she is not offering a clear picture of the current situation.

”Our Text Books Were In A State Of Advanced Age And Disrepair”

Prior to Dr. Wardynski’s arrival, the Textbook Curriculum Committee had last met in 2008 to update the district’s textbooks. As textbooks typical remain in circulation for at least six years, these books were approximately three years old when Wardynski arrived.

Ms. Ferrell claims that there was a Biology textbook being used in “one school . . . that were over 40 years old.” I have checked extensively with teachers across the district who were here in 2011. (Sadly, most of these teachers are no longer teaching in our schools.) None of them have any memory of a school using a biology textbook that was 40 years old.

In fact, the typical response to this claim was laughter. To be frank, most were ROFLMAO, if you take my meaning.

This is almost as goofy as a time when she told a Special Education parent that before Wardynski arrived in the district, all a SPED parent had to do was threaten a lawsuit, and the district would pay them $20,000.

It is possible that a single school might have had a single teacher who had a text that old in her possession (people who value books don’t throw them away), but there is no evidence that this was the only biology text that an entire school had access to as Ferrell is clearly implying.

Cost of Upgrading Printed Texts

20120816 General Fund Balance
Slide from 2012 Budget Hearing by Spinelli

Ferrell claims that “the cost to update all the texts was in the $19-20 million range and we were in debt by about $21 million, so there was just not money to do it.”

When Wardynski was selling the district on adopting the digital curriculum during a presentation to the board on June 21, 2012, he claimed that the cost of upgrading the printed textbooks would be “somewhere around 15 to 19 million dollars. In paper. And that would involve warehousing and moving it around, all those things people are very used to see that went along with paper.”

It would seem that the cost printed textbook cost has gone up since Wardynski’s presentation.

By the way, there is no need to upgrade the entire district’s textbooks at exactly the same time. Most districts stagger the purchase of new books to spread the cost out.

Furthermore, yes, the district was in debt in 2010 and 2011 due to the school board’s refusal to provide oversight of the finances at that time. The actual amount of the debt varied between $19 and 21 million. However, according to Mr. Spinelli’s Budget Hearing presentation dated August 16, 2012 (or two months after Dr. Wardynski’s presentation on adopting the digital curriculum), the district’s general fund balance was not $21 million in debt, but rather $5,660,950.86 in the black. Further, that report also claimed that the district would have a general fund balance of $14,600,950.86 by October 31, 2012.

2012-2013 HCS Proposed Budget
General Fund Balance in August 2012

By the time that we were signing the contract with Pearson (the initial contract was signed on July 12, 2012), the district was completely out of debt. Dr. Ed Richardson saw to that when he left before Wardynski was hired.

”Financial Impact Would Be Less”

Ferrell claims that going to Pearson’s Digital Curriculum in 2012 would have a lower “financial impact” upon the district. Let’s take a look at that.

Let’s assume that as she claims in her final email that the cost of printed textbooks in 2012 would have been “$23.5 million for 7 years and the cost of digital was $20.5 million for 6 years.”

Is that actually less?

  • Printed: $23.5 for 7 years = $3.35 million per year
  • Pearson Digital: $20.5 for 6 years = $3.41 million per year

The last time I checked, $3.41 million per year is actually more than $3.35 million per year.

Since Ms. Ferrell claimed that she was double checking her numbers, I decided that it would be a good idea to double check the costs of the digital curriculum as well. Here’s what I found.

2012 Digital 1:1 Conversion Pearson Contract

digital curriculum
2012 Pearson Contract

 

The initial contract with Pearson called for a six year contract with Pearson for a total of $21,902,845.

The contract was revised several times since then. The most recent revision that occurred just a month ago, that Ferrell voted to approve, called for a reduction of the Pearson Contract by about $2 million. The current contract for the Pearson Digital Curriculum calls for the district to pay $18,760,902.90.

2016REVISED Contract Amendment - Pearson Education
2015 Pearson Contract Revision

So, assuming that her numbers are correct, the printed texts would have cost $3.35 million per year, and the Pearson digital curriculum would be $3.13 million per year. So, if the total cost of the Pearson digital curriculum were the total cost of the Digital 1:1 transition, that would be a small savings (again, assuming that $23.5 million, which is much more than the $15 million Wardynski estimate from 2012, is correct.)

But the Pearson digital curriculum is not the total cost of the transition, is it?

2012 HP Computer Contract

2012HPContract
2012 HP Computer Contract

The Pearson digital curriculum is useless without a computer to view the curriculum on, isn’t it?

It took quite a while to get it (the contract was signed 6/18/2012, but it wasn’t publicly available until December 2012 for some reason), but the actual cost of the HP computers that the district distributed in 2012 was $10,624,000 for three years. That did not include the cost of distributions or repairs. I don’t have accurate numbers for those costs, but they were substantial. If we take the Lenovo contract as a baseline for repair costs, it’s fair to estimate that they were at least in the range of $2 million, but since I do not have an accurate estimate of those expenses, I’ll not include them here.

The cost of the HP computers to view the Pearson digital curriculum was $3.5 million a year for three years.

That means the cost of the digital transition jumped from $18,760,902.90 to $29,384,902.90. Thus, we are already exceeding Ferrell’s ever increasing cost for the printed textbooks by nearly $6 million. But the computer costs didn’t end there.

2015 Lenovo Computer Contract

2015LenovoContract
2015 Lenovo Computer Contract

In 2015, the district replaced the HP computers with new Lenovo computers. These were much better computers (as is typically the case when you buy a new computer after three years), but they were also more expensive since the contract also included a repair program and assistance with the distribution.

The Lenovo contract was $16,366,000 for three years. Thus, the cost of the Lenovo computers to view the Pearson digital curriculum is $5.5 million per year for three years.

The cost of the Digital Transition have now jumped from $29,384,902.90 to $45,750,902.90.

iPad Costs

I have been unable to find a contract for the purchase of 5,060 iPads in 2012. It doesn’t seem that it was ever brought before the board of education for approval at that time. Sadly, this is not unusual.

Assuming that the district received at least the Apple Educational Discount on the iPads and that they were purchased for less than the retail costs of $499 per iPad (which was the initial cost of the iPad 2s that the district purchased in 2012), we can estimate that the iPads were at least $399 per unit for a total of $2,018,940.

These iPads (despite being 4 years old as the iPad 2 was introduced in March 2011), are still in use. Assuming that they will last until 2017, this breaks down to an annual cost of $336,490.

This raises the cost of the Digital transition from $45,750,902.90 to $47,769,842.90

Digital Curriculum is More than Twice as Much as Printed Curriculum

So let’s review:

  • Pearson Curriculum: $18,760,902.90 for 6 years or $3,126,817.15 per year.
  • HP Computers: $10,624,000.00 for 3 years or $3,541,333.33 per year.
  • Lenovo Computers: $16,366,000.00 for 3 years or $5,455,333.33 per year
  • iPads: $2,018,940.00 for 6 years or $336,490.00 per year.
  • Total Digital Curriculum Costs: $47,769,842.90 or $7,961,640.48 per year.
  • Total Printed Curriculum Costs (Ferrell’s Estimate): $23,500,000 or $3,916,667 per year.

The digital curriculum costs at least twice as much as the printed curriculum. Ms. Ferrell, as is typical, needs to recheck her numbers.

Ferrell Claims Books Will Remain In School; Keith Ward Disagrees

Ferrell concluded, “Contrary to the social media and blog traffic, we are not holding some sort of dystopian book burning party somewhere. We are retaining the textbooks, making them accessible, and making it possible for a student to check them out and use them at home.”

This is not what Board Spokesperson Keith Ward told The Huntsville Times yesterday. He stated, “They will still have them in the library if they need to check them. . . . The books being removed now will enter the system’s ‘asset management’ program. Some will be kept, he said, and some will be sold.”

Principals have been told that the books will be sold. Librarians have been told that they will be allowed to keep no more than a tenth of the textbooks the district is actively collecting right now.

The “plan” it seems is for no more than a tenth of the district’s already limited copies of textbooks to remain in school. Thus, let than 10% of our students will be able “to check them out and use them at home.”

Ferrell may dismiss “social media and blog traffic” as distortions, but without social media and blogs none of this information would have been shared with parents in the district. If Ferrell truly wished to “clarify some things,” it would have been nice if she had discussed any of these “things” before we found out about them via social media and blogs.

Part of the job requirement she accepted when she was elected was to help keep her constituents informed. It’s a shame that she did nothing to communicate this to the community before it was raised by social media and blogs. Perhaps if she were better at her job, the blogs would not need to exist.