Perturbed by Change

At the Huntsville City School board meeting this past Thursday, August 4, Dr. Wardynski offered a report on special education and the system’s ability to meet the requirements of the children’s IEPs beginning on August 8th. He stated that he wasn’t able to answer my question on July 25th because he needed to review all 2,900 IEPs across the system. (So the number reported by the Huntsville Times is actually a little low. Rather than a decrease in Special Needs enrollment from last year, we have about a 3% increase. And yet, the instructional assists supporting this increase have been cut in half.)

Wardynski claimed that it took a long time to review all 2,900 of these IEPs, but that he had completed that review and offered the assessment that yes the system would be ready to meet the requirements of the IEPs on August 8th.

As I have documented, I disagree. By my assessment, my son’s classroom is still, as of August 10th, not capable of meeting his IEP due to insufficient staffing. Hopefully, Mrs. Costello’s assurance to correct this issue by Monday will prove to be true.

However at the end of this presentation, Dr. Robinson asked Dr. Wardynski a fairly direct question. She asked, if now that the special needs consolidation has been completed (and yes, the system made these changes without a board vote and without even putting these plans in writing for parents), will we stop moving special needs students for the foreseeable future. Here’s her exact question:

Special education children are particularly sensitive to change. My sister was a special ed student and change is still very hard for her. So I’m very sensitive to that. We have made changes to these children and their locations and their schools and their teachers every couple of years now. And every time we do it we say that it’s in their best interest. So we’re making this change. Are we pretty confident the way this is constructed now is going to be the change for a little while?

Wardynski provided a two minute response that started (strangely enough) with a discussion about moving Providence Middle School children. Here’s the text of his response:

Well, I think it goes back to the point that we began with, with Providence School. When we looked at that situation, we had the choice about do nothing, and let something not great get much worse. We could move the whole middle school, lock, stock and barrel. And in thinking about that what we put foremost were the needs of the children. When you’re in middle school you begin building relationships that are pretty important. You are on teams. You’re in activities. So what we do was moved that school grade by grade over the next three years. Sixth grade will begin at Williams so they will have a complete middle school experience. That kind of change you’re addressing was important to those general education kids. It’s important to the special education kids. So we hope our actions speak loudly. The interests of the kids will always come first. I do have resource constraints. Having teachers, and experts, and therapists and so forth spend less time with windshields and more with kids is something I think is important. We’ve attempted here to make sure we have a plan that we can live with. That they won’t be perturbed by change. But, I don’t control the economy. Our country is facing very difficult times. These are not norm . . . these are not what we thought of as normal times, but they appear to be normal times now. But our objective is to provide the learning environment which the children need that supports their growth. You can see that we’ve provided objectives across the board in our goals for learning from general population to special education children. I value those goals every bit as much as the general education population. Moving children between schools is not conducive to achieving those goals. So what I’m telling you in short is, creating a learning environment that those children need is foremost in my mind.

So what wasn’t included in this statement? Any assurance that the system won’t move special needs students again at any time they deem it to be in the system’s best interest.

Dr. Wardynski claims that he hopes “our actions speak loudly.” Well, on that count they do. The actions of the board to move students without discussing their plans with parents, without input from parents, and without consideration to the impact this constant change has upon the learning environment of these children who are indeed, perturbed by change.

My boy is one of the lucky few this time around. We got to stay at Challenger with the same teacher, albeit with a significantly larger class and a significantly larger student to teacher ratio.

And as a result, he’s had a great first week with tons of language and no meltdowns requiring intervention.

Last year, this was not the case. When we put the boy in the public pre-school classroom, he was placed at Farley. We were directly told that even though it was not officially our home school (which is Mt. Gap), that Farley would become his home school from that point forward. As we were even then deeply concerned about the impact that moving him around a lot would have, the decision to make Farley his permanent home was a welcomed one.

But it was not to be.

Just before our end of the year IEP meeting, we were informed that my boy would not be attending Farley, but that he would instead be moved to Challenger.

We were given no reason or justification for this move. We were just told that he would be moved.

Believe it or not, there was a time not too long ago when I thought that fighting the central office decisions concerning my son’s education was not terribly wise. I was concerned about retaliation and becoming known as Dr. Moore put it once, one of those “confrontational” parents.

I’ve since learned that acquiescence is exactly what they’re hoping for and that fighting for my son makes me a good parent, not a confrontational one.

As a direct result of being moved last year, the boy basically lost at least two months. As I look back over the reports that we got from Mrs. Bowling from last year, we spent the first two months celebrating the days when he only had a single meltdown as he adjusted to the change. It wasn’t until nearly Christmas that the boy was comfortable enough to say, “Yea School” last year.

But back to this year. The boy wasn’t moved this year, and even from our first visit to the school on the Friday before school started, his entire attitude about the place was different. He’s acting like a sophomore who knows that he just “gets” it. Yesterday as he was leaving school, he waved and unprompted said, “Bye!” to his teachers and friends.

He was, he is excited about school. And it’s all because, unlike countless others, the superintendent, the board, and the central office left my boy alone.

And yet, when asked a direct question about plans to leave special needs children alone in the future, Dr. Wardynski makes no promises and offers no assurances. He claims that his actions “speak,” and he’s right.

His actions show us that financial concerns will trump educational ones with this administration.

With his accepting a salary $55,000 over the minimum, with his hiring of a $60,000/year aide for himself, with his hiring of a CFO at a “nationally competitive rate,” [“state competitive rate“] with his plans to hire the organization that “trained” him to be a superintendent as a consultant at another $60k, his actions show us that financial concerns still haven’t impacted hiring in the central office.

But they have in the classroom. With a growing special needs population of about 2,900, Dr. Wardynski, and the board have decided that it’s a good idea to cut the number of Instructional Assistants in half from last year.

He is not doing this because it’s good for the educational environment.

He is not doing this to save money.

He’s doing this so that he can spend the money on other positions that for him have a higher priority than education.

While this doesn’t represent a change, I am still perturbed by it.

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

10 Comments

  1. I am not a fan of Jennie Robinson and I worked VERY hard for her opponent in the last election. Over $60,000 of business money flowed to her coffers Even so, she won by only 101 votes out of 5,600 cast. Her opponent spent $13,000, none of it corporate money.

    Because of her winning and Ann Roy- Moore being made to leave SHE was in charge of picking the new supertendent! Insisting on a nation-wide search and ignoring the fact that Huntsville was made famous because of its rocket scientists & engineers, she and her two puppets, Blair & Birney, chose a man with ZERO experience with school children to be our superintendent! Not only that, after 30 years in the military he attended not a bona fide college or university but Rand Institute which grinds out PhD’s to every Tom, Dick & Harry that enters the door. No realistic course work is required, only “hands on” seminars.

    He then attended Broad Policy Academy that trains people in week-end seminars for 10 weeks to become superintendents. After that,he went to work for Aurora, Colorado school system as finance chief. Worked there for 10 months, was found by Jennie Robinson. The rest is history. Oh, by the way, when he left, Aurora School System $25 million in debt.

    Broad Academy’s goal is to corporatize school systems.. Many Broad superintendents and staff are now in Alabama and all across the country. Wardynski is bringing them in and paying them big money.

    Grissom High is a physical wreck. I attended a South Huntsville Civic Association meeting – which is a political cheering association – and was asked to move because the roof over my head was about to fall! Robinson has neglected that school. Money was spent on building new, fancy schools so Huntsville Home Builders Association could sell homes on land they were developing. Some of those schools are half empty.

    By the way, Robinson’s PhD is in Consumer Behavior. Hardly a core, relevant subject area necessary for school children like math, English, history, algebra, chemistry or biology.

    Are we losing our public schools to Charter Schools that do not work, and to corporate interests?

    The handwriting is on the wall and we must act now before we are further swallowed up by business interests and resulting chaos.

    1. Ms. Davis,

      You and I are very much on the same page concerning Dr. Wardynski’s lack of experience and the political organization backing him both locally and nationally. I will absolutely be watching quite closely.

      I loved Dr. Robinson’s quote on Sunday I believe it was when she said that he son’s class had 40 students in it. She was trying to seem sympathetic, as if she’s in the same boat, but instead she struck me as simply ineffectual. I am not going to stand for my child to be in a 40+ class size, and I don’t sit on the board of education. She does sit on the board, and she shouldn’t stand for it either.

      Perhaps the most telling moment I have seen was at the board meeting on June 2nd when she pushed through Dr. Wardynski. She showed the community that she can and will fight for causes she believes in. This was in stark contrast to her (and David Blair’s) approach to fighting for special needs students. Both occasionally said the right things, but both claimed that their hands were tied. They could not even request that the superintendent put the special needs consolidation plan in writing.

      I assure you that I am now and will always fight for free, public schools that are open to everyone (not just a selected few). I will always fight for students to have access to the best education possible. I will always fight for teachers to have the resources that they need to do their job.

      It’s sad that those goals are pitting me against our own public school board of education.

      Thanks for your note, for reading, and for fighting for public education as well.

  2. @ Esther:
    Do you know what the rationalization was for making Lee High School much bigger than its current and future projected population warrants? I find it one of the bizarrest of many bizarre decisions the Board has made in the past 5 years.

  3. I think that someone should suggest that the new super substitute teach in at least one special education classroom in elementary, middle, and high school in each school district.

    1. Not a bad idea. I have invited him to visit my son’s class at any time. The problem with substitute teaching is that he simply isn’t qualified to do so. (He wore this as a badge of honor during his interview process.) I’m happy for him to visit, but if he teaches without qualifications (which he doesn’t have), then I’ve got a problem.

      1. No ubstitute is qualified it would do him some good as well as all others making decisions about our kids. The classroom is very different today than it used to be(prior to No Child Left Behind)I bet he and many others at Central Office couldn’t make it one day with the situations they have created in many Special Education classrooms. It’s one thing to look feesable on paper and another to actually implement the impossible. Yes a dose of reality would do everyone some good.

  4. I realize that ultimately the goal is to have the school systems act in a ethical and responsible manner with our special needs children. It is my greatest wish that the school system begin acting in a ethical and resposible manner toward our kids. The recent decisions regarding the financial security and educational welfare are highly questionable.
    There are new options available in the Huntsville/Madison area. I have recently learned about a home school private tutor option. I am optimistic about the low ratios and trained staff and would like other parents to know that the public school system is not the only option here. Ideally we will wake up tomorrow and hear about huge pay cuts in administration and huge staffing additions in the special needs budget. However, since that is unlikely to be the case…. there are options for parents that are tired of wasting their children’s time and development on a system that is more concerned about their paycheck than the actual education of the children.

    1. Suzanne,

      Thanks for the comment and for reading. Yes, it is in everyone’s best interest to have an ethical and responsible school system. Even for those who have taken their children out of the system.

      Thanks for the heads up on the options. I completely understand (and I can’t believe that I of all people can say this) why parents would make the decision to take their children out of the public school system. I’m glad there are options available because I can no longer say that we will keep our kids in the public system until graduation.

      But, I’m not ready to walk away from the system yet. My daughter is getting an excellent education at Mt. Gap, and my boy is in a classroom with an excellent teacher, aides, and he is making progress. Right now, I’m fighting to keep our excellent teacher and get her more support.

      In other words, my kids are still benefiting from their experiences, and I haven’t reached my limit. Yet.

      It certainly could happen anytime, though.

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