How the School Board Can Shut Me Up

HCSBoard Seal

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.)

Short-term Goals:

  • “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.

Long-term Goals:

  • 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.

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

14 Comments

  1. Sometimes I feel like it is just you and me out here in the virtual (and real for that matter) worlds, trying to make sense of things.

    It’s a Sisyphean task, and it shouldn’t be. I act without hope. But I act.

    Sometimes you just have to throw up the window and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.” (Are you too young for that allusion?–a great movie moment.)

  2. I’m dumfounded..you are exactly right they need to answer these questions..but they’ll double talk throw facts around and work their own agenda..keeps up the fight & I’m there with you and all the other parents..the sad part is..If they answer the questions honestly we’ll see the situation for what it is, then they can’t hide behind the smoke screen of what is happening & will have to be held accountable for it all. Yes, I’d love to be proved wrong, but they try to wiggle out of every question or try to flip it in another direction to avoid answering questions or make it too hard to get all the facts..SAD

  3. know there are a lot of teachers who agree with you (even though they cannot really say anything publicly at the moment). one of the reasons i keep reposting to get more information out there.

  4. I love this quote, “My first priority is always going to be the students,” …”they only get one shot at an education.” Wardynski

    Prove it Dr. Wardynski….and make sure it applies to ALL students!

  5. I think you are right on track… until the past few years my sense is that the HSV city schools were well run and there was little need to monitor the board. Not so now… It seems that the disorganization and waste at the central office has led to an inability to compensate / plan now that the school system has built too many schools and is in a budget crunch. The signs were clearly there in 2008 when they ended the year without the required financial reserves.

  6. God Bless You Russ, for having the patience and tenacity to keep on those people. Thank you. I hope you get an answer.

  7. Thank you for bringing light to this matter!! I am a parent of one of the children that will be segreated @ AAA and I am fuming mad. I have not recieved a single letter stating that my son’s school has been officiaily changed and got little help when I called the Special Education office this morning. They informed me that the school will notify me -WHEN!!! We have sligtlhy over a week until school starts. How did your meetingn go with Dr. Wardynski? Does he realize how this violates the laws put in place to help special needs children. What about inculsion for the middle school stduents? AAA is only elementary!!! I’m composing a emial to Sledge and Wardynski now but I was sooooo pisssed I had to take a break and calm down.

    #concerned parent#

    1. It’s always a good idea hold those emails until you’re calm.

      The meeting with Dr. Wardynski, as I mentioned in the posting, did not go well. He did not/would not discuss the consolidation plan. He did not/would not discuss staffing. All he would commit to was to operating in a transparent manner and to listening.

      While I am grateful to him for both of those positions, by not discussing things that need to be discussed (that I was specifically told he would discuss), he isn’t really operating in a transparent manner in my opinion.

      As I told him, I am terrified that there will be an incident of a special needs child being hurt or endangered on Monday, August 8th as a direct result of insufficient staffing. I hope and pray that I’m wrong, but my meeting with the Superintendent did nothing to reassure me.

      I’m truly sorry that you’re hitting these walls with your son as well. Maybe you’ll get some answers that I haven’t been able to get yet.

  8. The two that jump out at me are “students first” and competence. We need educators making decisions, not politicians. In your jobs, if any of you demonstrated half of the incompetence demonstrated by the board (or Dr. Moore), you would have been out of a job long ago. If any retail outlet prioritized its customers in the same manner this system prioritizes its students, they would have been out of business long ago. Every decision (and by every, I mean every) must be made with the students’ best interest in mind. To not do so is not only incompetent, it is self-defeating. If an administrator is incapable of putting students first in their decision making, they need to find another job. We must care for every student. If we do, the larger picture will take care of itself. Huntsville city has no excuses. This system should be among the best in the state. We have an educated populace, plenty of revenue, all we need to be the model system that other systems aspire to. Instead, the Huntsville City system is a model for what not to do. As long as this system holds that dubious honor, we must hold them accountable.

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