The Teaching Way


On January 19th, the board met and enacted a number of changes, as has become their practice. I’ll have some comments on these changes soon; it’s been a sickness filled weekend around here. I thought before getting into those changes (new, centralized hiring of teachers, The Pinnacle Schools contract) I would share my comments that I made to the board on Thursday night.

It would seem that some comments do elicit a response from members of the central office. And those comments reveal the difference between a teacher’s approach and the approach taken by someone who doesn’t care about education.

Here’s what I said. [Editor’s Note: These comments are slightly expanded from the ones I actually read to the board. During my comments, when I got to the list of changes in the boy’s classroom, I did not have time to go into detail with those changes. I have placed the unread details in italics for clarity.]


On January 9th, my boy’s report card came home for the second 9 weeks. On most items, he was doing well, but on one of his IEP goals he was not doing well. This item was one of the primary goals for the year. Because autistic children need to model behavior of non-autistic children, and because he has shown us time and again that his language takes off when he is integrated into a typical classroom, we are pushing for him to be around his friends in Mrs. McCord’s classroom.

In the first nine week period, he did extremely well going into Mrs. McCord’s class. His report read, “He is doing much better with going into the general classroom. He protests less, participates more, and seems to like his routine.”

However during the second nine weeks, he began protesting so much that they were not able to get him into the classroom on a regular basis. His report read, “He had some setbacks during the second nine weeks. We had some behaviors that had to be resolved, so he didn’t go into the general classroom as often as the first nine weeks. Regular schedule will resume in the 3rd nine weeks.”

What changed? Why did he regress?

Because of decisions made by this superintendent and approved by this board, my son’s classroom faced radical changes during the second nine weeks. During this nine week period, he has had to endure:

  • A Revolving Door of Aides: While the two aides who finished the year with the boy last year were eventually re-hired, only one of them was placed in his classroom on a regular basis. This was his only significant connection with personnel from the previous year. Then after about a month, this aide was reassigned to another location in the building due to the need to shuffle staff around to cover shortages. Currently he has two aides who began the year with him out of about six who have rotated in and out during that period.
  • Three and a half Occupational Therapists: Due to an overwhelming workload, Challenger Elementary has had three OTs in four months. One OT worked for basically one week.
  • Two Speech Therapists: Again, due to an overwhelming workload and an unwillingness to pay staff outside of the superintendent’s inner circle, Challenger Elementary has had two STs in four months.
  • An Entirely New Class: Because the central office attempted to fund special education on a minimal basis, there was a need after two months to take an Autism teacher from another school in the system, and move her to Challenger. Once there the boy’s existing class that had 11 students in it was split in half. While my boy’s actual room stayed the same, there were at least four classes in the system that were dramatically disrupted because the Superintendent wouldn’t fund the hiring of one additional teacher.

It seems plain to me why my boy would have a difficult time adjusting. In short, your decisions are hurting the very students you’re supposed to be administrating and supervising.

But it isn’t just special education students who are being hurt by your decisions.

When presenting the P-8 concept on September 15th, Dr. Wardynski said, and I quote:

We’re going to go down and have a discussion with the community, the PTAs and the principals and make sure that that concept fits with what the community would like to see. And then once we’ve got that, John’s already working on some concept drawings, come back to the board with a discussion about how that would unfold for board approval.

To date, this meeting still has not occurred with Mt. Gap parents. Yet on November 3rd, the board voted unanimously to approve this decision without having a discussion with the Mt. Gap community to “make sure that this concept fits with what the community would like to see.”

Because of this and the uncertainty surrounding this decision to combine schools, on January 5th, Mrs. Murphee, our excellent principal who has served our community for 15 years announced her retirement.

This hurts our kids.

Your refusal to allow parents to have even a voice in the decision making process is hurting all of our kids. These same type of stories are happening all over our community.

It’s time that our children came first.

Thank you.


I’m please to say that since I asked no questions, spoke continuously, and kept my eyes down that my comments were not deemed a threat to anyone. At least as far as I am aware as I write this.

Unsurprisingly, my comments elicited no public response, but I did receive not one, but two responses once the meeting was concluded. Neither wished to respond to any of the issues that I raised concerning the boy’s classroom experience during the second nine weeks of the school year. No one ever wants to deal with issues surrounding their actions toward Special Education staffing this year.

First up was a brief conversation with Dr. Cathy Vasile, the Director the “Empowered” Elementary programs, which means that she provides direction to Mt. Gap Elementary. She approached me to say that they had scheduled a meeting with the executive committees of the PTAs of Mt. Gap Elementary and Middle. I asked if they had met with parents or the community yet, she said that the PTA boards were responsible for that.

I pointed out to her that this meant that my comment that the decision to turn Mt. Gap into a P8 school had still been made without making “sure that this concept fits with what the community would like to see,” but she disagreed with me about that.

Perhaps she believes that meeting with the executive boards of the PTAs is meeting with the community. As I wrote here, I disagree. The executive boards of the PTA are nominated to help direct the planning and organization of the PTA during the year that they serve. They are not elected as representatives of the community.

In short, as I stated in my comments, Dr. Wardynski did not meet with parents before the decision was made on November 3rd. He has still not met with Mt. Gap parents about this decision, and he most assuredly has not meet with the Mt. Gap community.

So Dr. Vasile and I will, as they say, have to agree to disagree on this point. Disagreements like this sometimes occur between educators and parents. But understanding usually follows.

As she walked away, she further shared with me that the reason that Mrs. Murphree was retiring was because she was about to have a grandchild.

It is not surprising for people to have multiple reasons for retiring. Nor is it surprising for different people to be made aware of different reasons. While I am no where near a retirement point, I have had the experience of leaving several positions in my life. As such, I’m fully confidant when I say that I have never told my boss every reason why I was choosing to leave a position. As I have long been advised, “Never burn bridges.”

Thus, I stand behind what I said in my comments on Thursday night.

I am thankful to Dr. Vasile for actually taking the time to stop and engage me in a conversation about my comments. It shows a professionalism and a commitment to serving the public that I’m sure that she learned during her many years in the classroom and serving as principal at Blossomwood Elementary. I appreciate her service to our community, and I appreciate her taking the time after a long day to discuss our differences with me.

Her dedication to working with parents and the public was thrown into sharp relief a few moments later with Dr. Wardynski walked by displaying none of the commitment to working with the public that Dr. Vasile showed me.

Rather than approaching me to discuss our differences, he chose to just address them as he continued walking without breaking stride. As I was speaking with some friends after the meeting, Dr. Wardynski walked past us and said, “Mr. Winn. The reason that Mrs. Murphree is retiring is because of her grandchild. As she informed us back in October.”

When he finished his statement he was back inside the boardroom while I was standing outside in the hallway allowing for no response, no discussion, no debate, and no understanding.

And his approach to me, more than nearly anything else he says or does, shows the character of his leadership. It also shows the fundamental difference between an educator and someone who has little to no interest in education. An educator stops to discuss differences; an educator doesn’t shout his opinion across a room.

Oh, and had he attempted to discuss our differences with me, I would have pointed out to him that Mrs. Murphree’s sharing her decision to retire in October is still at least two weeks after Dr. Wardynski announced his decision to merge the two Mt. Gap schools. But he is simply not interested in discussing things.

A teacher interacts, discusses, considers, debates, and listens. He or she may not agree with others, but there is still listening. A teacher doesn’t shout orders to parents across a boardroom. That isn’t the teaching way.

I wish we had a teacher leading our schools.


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


  1. me too russ. me too. our system would be in much better shape and there would at least be discussion instead of just asinine orders shouted out. i would say more but not getting on my soapbox right now.

  2. Okay, now things really don’t make sense. The reason we need TFA teachers is because we don’t get applicants at title one schools. But now that central office makes hiring and firing decision, they can place hires where they are needed instead of where they apply. So we no longer need TFA teachers, right?

    1. Dang Mike, quit stealing my post ideas! 🙂

      Yes, the primary argument that Dr. Wardynski was making as recently as this past Tuesday to the One Huntsville group was that hiring teachers for Title I schools is extremely difficult. He argues (but to my knowledge provides no specific data supporting this claim) that Title I Schools have significantly fewer applicants than other schools. This is why we “must have” Teach for America. This is why TFA is worth the extra $5K per teacher per year above what we pay certified teachers.

      And yet now that all new teachers who apply to work in the district must agree to teach wherever Dr. Wardynski tells them to, we need TFA because . . . be . . . cause . . . we just do. Please take a look at my next posting. Hopefully I have it up sometime tomorrow.

Comments are closed.