On January 19, 2012, Dr. Wardynski recommended to the board, whom subsequently unanimously approved (no surprise there), yet another step towards his plan for total control of Huntsville City Schools.
From that date forward (technically this started with the hiring of the Pre-K teachers in December), Dr. Wardynski will decide which teachers will be hired, promoted, given tenure, and allowed to progress through the tenure process during their first and second years of teaching. You may view this proposal on the school board’s website.
Previously, the hiring of teachers rested primarily with the local schools and their principles. When a prospective teacher applied to work in Huntsville City Schools, they applied to work at a particular Huntsville City School. They were then interviewed by the principal who typically made the final decision of whom to hire.
Not so any longer.
As with most of the Superintendent’s decisions, he has again offered no clear evidence that this change was needed. I suppose since the board is approving somewhere in the neighborhood of 99% of his recommendations unanimously he doesn’t see the need. Whatever he wants, he gets.
(Funny, this, combined with the overwhelming praise being heaped upon Dr. Wardynski by the board of education, sounds eerily familiar. Close to the same percentage of unanimous votes as well as perfect evaluations were given to Dr. Ann Roy Moore as late as 2009. She was fired in 2011. In other words, our esteemed board is quite good at repeating patterns.)
It seems that it would be easy to prove that centralized hiring of teachers in the system is a necessity. After all, conventional wisdom holds that schools on the South side regularly have more and perhaps better qualified candidates applying for positions than those on the North side of town. The constant refrain is, “Title I schools have a greater difficultly in hiring teachers than non-Title I schools.”
Again, this should be fairly simple to prove, if it is actually the case. But despite questions from the public concerning issues such as this, Dr. Wardynski sees no need to provide actual data supporting his claims. A simple phone call to his principals asking for statistics from their last round of hirings is evidently too much to ask.
I’m sorry, but wasn’t he sold to us as someone who bases his decisions upon data and not preconceived notions? We haven’t seen evidence of that in this decision, in the Teach for America decision, in the decision to merge six elementary and middle schools into three, nor even in his budgeting decisions.
It’s as if he’s simply following a script that was written for him by, oh I don’t know, The Broad Foundation. If Dr. Wardynski is indeed making “data-driven” decisions, why is he so hesitant to share that data with the public?
So, we have nothing but anecdotal evidence that there is actually a problem hiring for Title I schools in our district. We have no evidence that the hiring practices, tenure review, and non-tenure review procedures were failing to work. We have no evidence provided that any of the these procedures needed to change, and yet now they have been.
And this reorganization is going to cost the system an additional $141,000 in stipends for the 62 members serving on these committees.
Yes, we can pay a stipend to teachers to make Dr. Wardynski look good, but hiring an additional aide or creating a new classroom just simply costs too much.
Since there’s no presented evidence of need for this reorganization, why might Dr. Wardynski wish to centralize hiring of teachers?
Well, I can think of a few reasons.
- It increases his power and influence in the system.
- It decreases the influence of the principal to develop his or her school, and yet the responsibility of school’s performance still rests upon the principal’s shoulders. They now have the responsibility to perform with dramatically reduced ability to effect change in their schools.
- It reduces teachers to the level of pawns that Wardynski is free to move at will. If he likes a teacher, he can place that teacher in a classroom with predominately highly performing students. If he dislikes a teacher, he can place that teacher in a classroom with predominately lower performing students.
- It decreases the morale of our current principals and teachers further encouraging them to retire or seek employment elsewhere.
- It dramatically increases the cost of recruiting teachers to the system. One of the primary arguments that I and others have made against using Teach for America is that those “teachers” cost the system an additional $5,000 per teacher, per year to recruit. One way to try to negate that argument is by raising the cost of recruiting all new teachers. This is a step in that direction.
There are, as always, many unanswered questions about this new program. Here are just a few:
- How will teachers and administrators be chosen to serve on these committees?
- Will the TFAers hired as a result of the Teach for America contract also face these same committees, or will they be exempt from this process?
- If one of the main reasons for hiring TFA is to address the supposed problem of getting good applications for Title I schools, which Dr. Wardynski repeatedly claims, then haven’t we solved that problem now?
- How will the issues of having one’s peers review one’s work be balanced?
- How will this “super committee” effectively evaluate Special Education teachers who have an entirely different set of qualifications and standards that they are required to meet? (Yes, once again, SPED is an afterthought in our system.)
In short, centralizing the hiring of teachers directly benefits Dr. Wardynski and his goal of directly controlling every aspect of Huntsville City Schools. He receives all the praise if student performance increases. He receives none of the blame if they don’t because you officially cannot hold the superintendent or the board responsible as they have shown time and again.
As Lord Acton wrote in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
There appear to be no checks on Wardynski’s power at the present time.
As a side note: I’ve received reports that Huntsville City Schools has now officially added Geek Palaver to their restricted list. In other words, if you’re connected to the internet via a HCS network, when you attempt to visit my site, you will not be able to do so. You will receive a warning that is similar to the warning that you would receive when attempting to access sites like Facebook or other “dangerous” sites.
When I first heard this, I really could not stop laughing. My first response was, “I wonder what took so long?” (By the way, HCS is completely within their legal rights to restrict the use of the HCS network in nearly anyway they wish. But it is disturbing when an educational system decides that some knowledge is just too dangerous or subversive to be allowed.)
However the more I thought about it, the more I felt it important to write this short note.
While I have not confirmed this at this time, if it is indeed true, then the software that is used to block sites is also likely logging the MAC Address (a specific and identifiable number for each computer), date, time, and login information used to access the site.
In other words, if you read this site on the HCS network, likely, Dr. Wardynski will receive notification that you have done so. This will likely happen even if you attempt to view the site during a break or planning period.
Yes, Big Brother is watching you.
And as I have laid out above, I am convinced that Dr. Wardynski is capable of developing a Nixonian Enemies List.
For the record, I do not believe that many teachers and HCS employees are reading these posts at work. My site stats that show when people hit the site show that the vast majority of hits come during non-school hours (early mornings before school are particularly busy.) Frankly, they are far too busy in overcrowded and understaffed classrooms to even take a bathroom break many days, they’re not going to take the time to read my posts. But in case someone did occasionally check the site, please know that Wardynski or others in his administration will likely know about it.
I hope for two things. First, that this is simply a rumor. Honestly, doesn’t the superintendent have more important things to do? And second, I hope that any Huntsville City Schools employee who reads this blog will do so away from work. Use your extremely limited time to take a restroom break. My posts aren’t going anywhere. Read them later. Our kids need your experience all the more now that the Superintendent is actively working to get rid of experienced teachers and administrators.
Seriously, is this what we’ve come to in Huntsville City Schools?
“As a side note: I’ve received reports that Huntsville City Schools has now officially added Geek Palaver to their restricted list. In other words, if you’re connected to the internet via a HCS network, when you attempt to visit my site, you will not be able to do so. You will receive a warning that is similar to the warning that you would receive when attempting to access sites like Facebook or other “dangerous” sites.”
Translation-You must be doing something right, sorry for the bad pun.
“In other words, if you read this site on the HCS network, likely, Dr. Wardynski will receive notification that you have done so. This will likely happen even if you attempt to view the site during a break or planning period.
Yes, Big Brother is watching you.”
Translation-HCS employees have no rights. Apology for another bad pun
“Our kids need your experience all the more now that the Superintendent is actively working to get rid of experienced teachers and administrators.”
Translation-There will be no child’s behind left in the HCS. This is my last bad pun.
PS Chanel 48 inside Teach for America, have they contacted you?
Nope. They haven’t. But there are others in the area who are better informed on the issue of TFA than I am.
I’m having issues with Facebook links. They’re sending people to spam sites. I have no idea why. Typing in the address directly works though.
I’m with you here about data and transparency. That said, it strikes me you could object to everything HCS does on that basis, almost.
Operating in the dark as we are though, my guess is that there are very good reasons to centralize control of hiring and tenure. I think it can be taken as read that it is more difficult to recruit in title 1 schools, and a system in which more successful schools can cream the best, most experienced teachers seems to me to be one which only compounds inequality. (yes, I know there are many great, experienced teacher in title 1 schools).
Further, as was amply demonstrated in Hampton Cove local control of hiring can lead to corruption.
I agree that HCS come across as high-handed and opaque, but they just might be correct here. Unless we have an open process we will never know.
P.S. blocking your website is childish and shameful, but it also makes me, as a journalist, jealous!
You make an interesting point about the centralized hiring decision, however here are two points that are troubling. Dr. Wardinski is taking control from principals who actually work in schools and who have education experience. I might sound like I’m being petty here, but Dr. Wardinski has never been a teacher nor has be been a principal.
HCS is not having trouble finding qualified applicants for teaching positions, rather hiring through the central office is a way to weaken the influence of individual principals. To be fair, in some cases this might be a good idea (e.g., the nepotism case at Hampton Cove) but it seems that the principal would be more able to tell which candidates are the best “fit” fore individual schools.
This is one of those decisions that makes sense from an “efficiency” standpoint (which Dr. Wardinski is really good at improving, based on his military accomplishments) but has nothing to do with “having student achievement in mind” (which is what one board member was quoted as saying in today Times.
Thanks for the response.
The argument about Wardinski not having teaching experience is one which, if accepted, denies him legitimacy in any decision he makes. I don’t think we can simply oppose whatever he does as superintendent on that basis, and further if we do it weakens our otherwise strong arguments which are based not on authority (educator vs “non-educator”) but on data, law and fairness, such as the division of cuts.
Actually Jim, I respect your opinion on that. However, I think it is important to look at the background of the superintendent when considering his decisions. At no point was I implying that he didn’t have the (legitimate) authority to make these decisions. Rather, my contention is that his lack of experiene in education is leading him to make these decisions based on fallacious notions…
Since you brought this up, I will add this. The fact that Dr. Wardinski has never been a classroom teacher nor an administrator yet was hired to run an entire school district is one of the things that are really wrong with HCS. If I were to hire a doctor or lawyer who went to a three month “summer doctor institute” to learn to be a physician, would you have faith in his ability to heal? If the city hired an engineer who went to a five week course to learn how to build bridges, would you be willing to drive on that bridge?
The questions are rhetorical, but I think I know the honest answer. Dr. Wardinski is an efficiency expert who has (in my opinion) very little understanding of what happens in real classrooms. I’m not sure whether the direction of HCS is moving in a positive direction right now, but I know that it’s important for me to do what I can to help “right the ship” because I have five students attending HCS currently.
And I made a typo in my first post and said “fore” instead of “for”…I hate when I do that. Also, I asked about doctor and lawyer institutues and then referred only to doctors. Sorry, I didn’t proofread closely enough (which I’m always telling my students to do)…Shame on me. But I should only lose half credit because I corrected it myself.
All of that may well be true, and certainly should have been weighed in a hiring decision, but he’s been hired now. He may be making poor decisions for the reasons you outlined but in the end we should be able to evaluate those decisions based on the their owns merits, rather than based on suppositions about his background.
If we write him off we are at an impasse, and one in which he holds all the cards. If we can actually get him to present data and justify decisions on their merits we have a chance.
I respect your opinions too and enjoy the discussion.
I honestly don’t think he feels like he has to present data to justify decisions. His military background (sorry, but there it is again) interferes with this. I honestly feel like he expects people to obey his orders. Three meetings ago at the school board, Dr. Wardinski basically said to the board “You hired me now let me do my job” and the board agreed.
The next year is going to be really interesting as we watch the effects of the new policies.
Thanks for interacting, I appreciate the intelligent discourse.
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