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.