Morale Matters

Wardynski

It seems that nearly every week, Dr. Wardynski does something else to consolidate his power over our school system. This week, every principal in Huntsville City Schools awoke on Sunday to read, “All Huntsville Principals’ Jobs on the Table, says Superintendent.”

This type of headline tends to put a bit of a damper on your week, don’t you think? Not exactly making that Monday morning commute to school an enjoyable one did it?

I’m certain that if you asked them individually, they would tell you, with no prevarication, that it didn’t effect them in the slightest. Our principals are professional educators. And every single one with whom I’ve worked or met absolutely loves their job. Without exception, they would clearly tell you that they have the greatest job on the planet as they get to help educate our children.

So, since that would be their public response, I want you to step into their shoes for a moment. Imagine how you would feel if you woke up Sunday morning to see your direct supervisor telling the city that your job is on the table? (I fully realize that this isn’t a difficult thing to imagine for many of you. The tragic cuts to NASA have made this a recurring reality for many in this city.)

Answer honestly: Would seeing that in the paper have an effect on your morale? Would it affect your desire to go to work on Monday?

For myself (and I’m one of those people who do have the best job on the planet), the answer is a resounding yes.

This is why I decided to speak at the board meeting on Thursday night. Again. Yes, I know that the board and superintendent are sick of me and wish I would just go away. I know that many in the community who attend the meetings or watch them online feel likewise.

It may come as a surprise, but I feel that way, too.

I hate spending every other Thursday night away from my family. I hate sitting and watching the board members (not all, but the overwhelming majority) fall all over themselves praising Wardynski (pretty much as they did in the article above). I would much rather spend my evenings at home helping with homework and playing with the kids.

I go for one reason: I believe it is the right thing to do. I believe standing up for our kids, our teachers, our principals and schools is my duty as a parent and citizen.

And so I go: if only to remind the superintendent and the board that they work for us.

Here are my comments from Thursday night:

I’m here tonight to speak about morale in the district.

Morale and Motivation Matter. It matters how you treat people. It matters what you say to them. Morale matters.

When our teachers go for four years without a raise, when they see their step raises frozen, when they see their starting salaries reduced to the state minimum, all while the board votes to give bonuses, “state-competitive salaries,” and raises to the maximum posted salaries of the senior administration because they wouldn’t come for less, morale matters.

When our superintendent dismisses “traditionally trained” teachers as often ineffective in teaching students in high poverty areas, morale matters.

When our superintendent attempts to “motivate” teachers by posting student performance data on teachers’ doors, morale matters.

When our superintendent says that “all principals’ jobs are on the table,” morale matters. Punitive or not, morale matters.

When our board members claim that our superintendent is doing exactly what he was hired to do in doing these things, morale matters.

A love for education is what motivates teachers like Mrs. Roth to organize a star gazing event, on her own time, for Mt. Gap elementary students.

It’s what motivates Mrs. Bowling to continue to push her students to express themselves even when that expression is difficult to understand.

It’s what motivates Mrs. Dodson to take on extra work of evaluating additional assignments like poetry writing projects to encourage advanced students to continue to grow beyond merely the requirements of the test.

It’s what pushes parents and teachers to work together on projects like this year’s PTA Reflections competition on Diversity allowing for a total of 42 students across the district to go the state competition.

Good morale is not an enemy. We have excellent teachers. We have excellent principals. They love education. Help them, let them do their jobs.

Strangely on Thursday, the board seemed more than willing to respond to citizen comments. Dr. Wardynski, however, held his response to my statements until the very end of the night. This time, at least, he made his remarks in a publicly. You may read a transcript of all of those remarks here.

At a couple of points, Dr. Wardynski seems to be directly responding to myself and a parent who followed me, Ms. Kelli Thomas who spoke passionately about the fear she experiences every time she sends her child to school. I will be responding in great detail to his speech in the coming days, but there’s one issue that I would like to clear up tonight. At one point during his comments, Dr. Wardynski claimed that I was mistaken in my assertion that he was attempting to “motivate” teachers by posting student performance data on their doors. He did, in effect, imply that I was lying about the posting of data. Here’s exactly what Dr. Wardynski said during his comments following Citizens’ Comments:

We know the growth of students in our classrooms. Uh, we do not post it on the doors of our classrooms. We don’t need to. Our teachers can see it on their computers. And we discuss it every week in virtual teleconferences with our principals and our school leaders. And we review school performance at the classroom level in some cases, and at the school level in all cases.

Seemingly in response to my comments (although I know for a fact that many other parents have raised this issue with Dr. Wardynski privately as well) that teachers (at least in the “managed” schools) are required to post their students’ performance on standardized tests such as DIBELS and STAR Enterprise Testing in public areas for the entire school to see. Dr. Wardynski said, “Uh, we do not post it on the doors of our classrooms. We don’t need to. Our teachers can see it on their computers.”

Concerning this, this superintendent is mistaken. It is actually quite common among the managed schools (those who students do not achieve some pre-determined testing goal) for compiled student testing performance data to be posting in public places in these schools. Some schools, such as Morris Elementary, post this information on the wall immediately beside the teachers’ classrooms. Other schools, like Highlands Elementary have posted all of their classes scores on the window looking into the lunchroom as seen in the photos below. I have intentionally blurred these photographs so that no personal information may be seen in them, but the photos still clearly show 22 individual charts displaying the standard STAR Enterprise Test Report. Highlands Elementary’s website shows that they have 20 Grades 1-5 teachers or if you prefer classrooms. Here is a sample of the STAR Enterprise Tests Classroom Report.

What we see in the photo below are complied student performance results for the STAR Enterprise Tests displayed in a public area for everyone to see. These pictures were taken by a concerned parent with a child at Highlands Elementary.

STAR Test Scores

Next we see a shot of the DIBELS testing results as well.

DIBELS

I have furthermore received reports that similar displays may be seen at the following schools:

  • Chapman Elementary
  • Highlands Elementary
  • Monte Sano Elementary
  • Morris Elementary

I am fairly certain that these four schools are not anomalies in this. In so far as I am aware (I have not searched the entire school in either case), neither Challenger Elementary nor Mt. Gap Elementary have similar displays. I am convinced that either they have not been asked to do so, or that their principals have simply refused to do so. Either way, I am grateful.

Education is not a zero-sum game. It is not a competition where teachers fight against each other to make sure that their scores are higher. When such competition occurs, the result quite often destroys the educational process.

Posting scores in this manner creates a competitive environment in our schools between our teachers and between our schools. If this continues, our kids will be the ultimate losers.

Thus, it would seem that Dr. Wardynski is correct when he states that “we do not post it on the doors of our classrooms.” So far I haven’t found an actual case where it is posted specifically on the classroom door. However, it would seem that he is mistaken when he suggests that the scores are only displayed on teachers computers.

Either way, I am convinced that there is a systematic effort underway at the district level to demoralize our principals, teachers, and at least the “uppity” parents who question decisions and actions of the superintendent. That was what I was speaking against. It is what I am writing to oppose even today.

No single resource is as valuable to the education of our children as our teachers. Now, I agree with Dr. Wardynski that not every teacher should be a teacher. There are a small handful of teachers in every system who likely should be doing something else. And he is also correct when he says that good teachers “don’t appreciate working with teachers who don’t do their job.”

However, despite his words to the contrary on Thursday night, I know that given the concerns I outlined in my comments that the morale of the teaching and principal corps of our district are currently at dangerously low levels.

Our teachers and principals are the public face of our educational system, and it’s far past time that they were honored for the nearly impossible task they have shouldered. It’s far past time that we parents recognized our excellent teachers and principals publicly.

Look, as a parent first, I am completely aware that any teacher or principal caught on the wrong day can come across as difficult, uncaring, or blindly stubborn. I’ve had a few of “those” meetings where I left shaking my head thinking, “Were we talking about the same child?”

But those times, even in an extraordinarily stress-filled year as 2011-2012, are extremely rare. And when they have happened, in my experience all that has been required to correct the issue is simply another discussion with them to clear the air.

Our teachers and principals are human. They are not machines. They will occasionally make mistakes or seem brisk in their tone. However, these issues pale in comparison to the ever-increasing workload, ever-decreasing financial support, and more importantly, steadily increasing attacks.

Teachers and principals teach because they love our kids and believe in education. It’s far past time that we realize that standing up for our kids means that we must almost always stand up for our teachers because they are usually on the same side.

I do not believe that this superintendent nor this board are regularly standing up for neither our kids nor our teachers. And it is far past time for that, and the kind of attacks I’ve mentioned above to end. Not to challenge Willie Nelson, but my heroes have always been teachers. They are the light-bringers. They are the Truth-tellers. And if we value those qualities in our community, we must stand for them now.

I hope that the superintendent and the board have a better Sunday morning than they gave to our principals last Sunday.

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

6 Comments

  1. You said- Yes, I know that the board and superintendent are sick of me and wish I would just go away. I know that many in the community who attend the meetings or watch them online feel likewise.

    The board and superintendent are sick of you and wish you would just go away, but many in the community who attend the meetings or watch online are behind you 100%. Who wins if you just go away? Not the parents, teachers, support personnel, and students that’s for sure.

    You said-I hate spending every other Thursday night away from my family. I hate sitting and watching the board members (not all, but the overwhelming majority) fall all over themselves praising Wardynski (pretty much as they did in the article above). I would much rather spend my evenings at home helping with homework and playing with the kids.
    I go for one reason: I believe it is the right thing to do. I believe standing up for our kids, our teachers, our principals and schools is my duty as a parent and citizen.
    And so I go: if only to remind the superintendent and the board that they work for us.

    Again, you don’t have to apologize for or defend your actions. If not you, who? Silence helps the oppressor, not the oppressed. Education is the hope of the republic.

    1. Thanks as always, Redeye. Sometimes it’s important to remind yourself and others why you’re doing something. I appreciate your kind words.

      And yes, Education is the hope of the republic.

  2. Russell,

    I teach about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to my students. Under FERPA, school districts are not allowed to share grades or other “personally identifiable information” with those who do not have a valid educational interest. In fact, if these scores have been posted in a public place and have names attached, HCS is taking a huge chance that it could be in non-compliance with federal regulations.

    For any parent who feels that HCS is not in compliance with FERPA regulations, I encourage you go go to the website http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/index.html and educate yourself on what schools can and cannot share regarding personal information. Bernie Cieplak is the person who works in this office and he and I have spoken before regarding other issues. Know your rights parents and stick up for the privacy of your children.

    1. Thanks for the info, Jason. As far as I am currently aware, none of the data contains student names. (Although I have heard a rumor that one school has put student names on the data.)

      I hope that isn’t the case.

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