Occasionally I’m told that my expectations of the school system are unreasonable. I often feel that the school board believes that. Heck, Dr. Moore all but told me that I was being so once. But occasionally I hear this from someone who doesn’t have something to gain by telling me I’m being unreasonable.
So are they right?
The only way I know to evaluate that question is to examine my motivations and goals.
What do I want? What am I looking for the school system to do? What are my expectations?
It seems to me that I have both short-term and long-term goals. I thought it might be helpful for me to list them here. (Pssst. Huntsville City School Board of Education: If you’re listening, here’s how to make me go away.)
- “The Plan”: I would like to see the Special Needs consolidation/segregation plan (the one that is forcing students who spend the majority of their day in a resource room to either attend Challenger or AAA) in writing. This should contain a justification of the decision to move students from their home school (or another school) into either AAA or Challenger. Why do you believe doing this is necessary? Educators should be used to answering the question “why.” That’s really the only question I’ve been asking since March and it’s really the only one that matters.
- The Special Needs RIF: I would like to know the exact numbers of special education teachers, instructional assistants, Adaptive PE teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, and other special needs personnel that you have dismissed en masse as a result of the Reduction in Force that happened in February and in April.
- The Human Resource Plan: I would like to know the exact number of special needs personnel you intend to rehire before the beginning of school in 10 days. (We’re ten days out. It is gross incompetence not to know exactly what your staffing needs will be by now.) I’ve heard that right now there is exactly one aide per classroom. One. And the average number of students in the classroom is doubling from last year.
That’s it. That’s all that I’m asking for. Three simple things: Why are you consolidating special needs students, why have special needs personnel received the deepest cuts (and how deep were they), and what are you planning to do about it in the next ten days?
Three simple items. I first started asking publicly and privately for “the plan” in April, but still haven’t received it. I began publicly and privately asking for an explanation of the unfair Special Needs cuts in May, but again I still have not received any response.
Is this unreasonable? I don’t think so, but let’s check my long-term goals just to be sure.
- Put Students First: Is this going to be good for students and offer them the highest educational experience? Is the special needs segregation decision in the best interests of the education of special needs students? If so, show us. If not, stop it.
- Put Teachers and Support Personnel Second: Teachers and their aides are on the front lines. We must support them. We must make our system known as the best place to work in the state if not the nation. We’re nowhere near there now. Madison City and County are widely known as better systems to work in. Was your decision to wait until July 14th to post even one job showing support of teachers? Was your decision to fire every aide that you could showing support for either aides or, more importantly, teachers? Putting just a single aide in a classroom is going to quickly drive the great teachers we currently have away.
- Stakeholder Involvement: Involve the stakeholders in your decisions. If you’re making a decision about where special needs student are going to school, involve special needs parents, teachers, principals and when possible students in the decision. If you make a decision to close a school, discuss it with the people impacted before you do so. This will not substantially impact the speed with which decisions are made, and you might actually manage to avoid spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on consultants. The stakeholders in this system are among the best educated people in the state and the nation. Involve us. Use us. We fill out extensive contact information every August with e-mail, cell phones, business phones, and mailing addresses. You have a website. You have a television station. Use the resources available to you.
- Transparency: Every decision you make, excluding some of the personnel decisions that involve the dismissal of an employee, is public information. We live in an age when it costs nearly nothing to publish information (look at this blog for example). The public shouldn’t have to beg and plead with the board and the system to know what the board and the system are doing. You work for us. It’s your job to show us what you’re doing. It’s your job to allow the public to be involved in public meetings. Operate in the open and we’ll trust you. Operate, in even open meetings, in code, and we won’t.
- Do Your Job Competently: I don’t expect or require perfection. Everyone makes mistakes. All I ask is that you work to minimize your mistakes, and own and correct them whenever possible. Has the board publicly taken responsibility for allowing $175,000 worth of food spoil?
Again, that’s it. That’s all I’m looking for or expecting. Honestly, if you even make an attempt at most of these, I’ll probably sing your praises.
It would thrill me to never write another blog post about Huntsville City Schools except in praise.
I would love to have my Thursday nights back.
But so far I’ve had little to no indication that the board or Dr. Wardynski intends to do any of these things. The approach they’ve taken since July 5th is to limit transparency and limit stakeholder involvement. And it’s just insane to expect a written copy of a plan.
Am I being unreasonable? Are my expectations too high? Feel free to let me know if you think so below. Unlike our elected officials who are paid to listen to us, I am thrilled to receive feedback from the public.