Wardynski Speaks: “We’re Moving With Purpose”

Editor’s Note: Below you will find a transcription of Dr. Wardynski’s nine minute monologue that he delivered after the conclusions of Citizens’ Comments on February 2, 2012. This type of response from Dr. Wardynski is a new approach to communicating with the public after the Citizens’ Comments have concluded. (Yes, this could be considered a response even though Mr. Blair repeatedly tells the public not to expect any response. In short, the board was chatty with citizens Thursday night.)

This monologue allowed for no public response as it came at the conclusion of the meeting immediately preceding the adjournment. I am posting it here in its entirety, and I will be posting several extended responses to the comments he made over the next couple of days. As I mentioned, this is a transcription of that statement. Any typographical errors are entirely the editor’s responsibility. Once the video of the meeting is made available, I will also post a link here.


Dr. Wardynski begins:

So, we’ve been implementing a program called Star Enterprise in our district. We’ve got some early results, and I just want to celebrate one or two. We’ve got some outstanding teachers in our schools. And we also have some teachers who are on probation and pending tenure who we are reviewing. Teachers are folks who are key to learning. They’re key to student growth, and there are many who are doing great jobs. And it’s no secret that this superintendent addresses those that we think are not doing great jobs. We continue to do so. But when that becomes the story for our school district, what we miss is the key teachers that are doing great work. They’re the vast majority of the folks in our schools, so for example, Mrs. Murphy.

Mrs. Murphy is a teacher in Rolling Hills Elementary School and in the past nine weeks she has raised student proficiency in her classroom in Math by 17 points. So what was previously about 70% of her students were proficient in reading, er excuse me, in math at the common core standards. So these are standards well above the Alabama Reading and Math Test. She’s raised that from about 70% to about 87% in nine weeks. We have heroic teachers in our classrooms doing great things. Uh, they appreciate working with great teachers. They don’t appreciate working with teachers who don’t do their job. Uh, we don’t have many who don’t do their job, and many of efforts underway are designed to address teachers that aren’t keeping up with the rest of the team. These range from Teach For America to our practice of bringing in teachers at the school district level and selecting them at the school district level because not every school faces the same hiring pool. Some face a fairly thin pool of applicants. And every schools needs to face a very deep pool of talent because every child deserves a great education. So the challenges of some of our schools are not a secret to this board or to this superintendent. But Huntsville City did not get into this position in a day. And we’re not going to get out in a day. We’re working on getting the most excellent teachers we can in the classrooms. That’s going to take some time.

We’re reviewing every probationary teacher this spring. Based on information available to me, that’s a first in this district. Every teacher going for tenure is being review by our committee of excellent teachers and administrators. Many people who think they were going to be tenured will not. Um, we’re building up from a base that was here, that was created over a period of years, and we’re going to reach a new level of excellence. But it is not going to attained in a moment, and it is not going to be retained, attained without great effort. And it will not be attained without measurement. And so we measure everything today.

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.

In our next round of evaluations of school and child performance, we’ll be drilling down to standards. Standards that are being met across the district. Standards that are being met within schools and those within classrooms. To identify systemic gaps in our education across the district, gaps within schools, gaps within classrooms. Uh, this is the work that’s going to take some time, but it’s the work that we’re about. And it’s a very systematic effort that involves the use of data that is now going to be adopted, in my understanding, across the county and within other cities in our area. We’re leading the way in this effort.

Uh, those who claim that testing, we teach to the test, that testing is not a valuable resource simply do not know what they are talking about. There is no way to test, to take, to teach to the STAR test. It’s a computive, computer-adaptive test in which every child will face a different question. And the questions aren’t the kind you can teach to. If you don’t know algebra, you can’t teach to answering an algebra question. If you don’t know how to factor an equation, you can’t teach to answering a question like that. If you can’t read, we can’t teach you what the paragraph said, cause you haven’t seen the paragraph. And so we’re after the business of literacy and numeracy. Uh, we’re taking a very strategic approach to raising the proficiency of our children, and our excellent teachers are responding. Mrs. Murphy is but one of many, many across our district, from schools that here to for have been thought of as challenged, to those that are thought of as excellent. Children are seeing a change in their learning environment.

We’re providing them the resources, from computers, to excellent teachers, to excellent leaders. We’re reaching across our country to do so. We’ve reached across our city to bring in new partners to address discipline problems. Last board meeting we signed on with Pinnacle Schools. We’ve had the opportunity to visit our students at Pinnacle Schools over the last week. It’s a different place. The children over there are working diligently. They’re not visiting with each other. Uh, they’re focused on instruction whether they’re special education students or whether they’re general education students. Those who do not comport themselves according to the regulations and rules of Pinnacle Schools will find themselves living in a teepee. And they won’t be coming back until they can behave. And if they can’t behave, they won’t be coming back to our schools.

So while some of our high schools have seen disturbance, some of them have seen student who don’t know how to behave, some that want to bring street violence into our schools, uh, we are taking steps, we have taken steps. And those steps are now in place and underway. Uh, we have 125 seats waiting for children at Pinnacle Schools. And we have plenty of space in teepees. So misbehave in our schools, and you will see a new regime of discipline. Seldon Center will close at the end of this semester.

Uh, in partnership with bringing on excellent teachers, we’re creating an environment in which teachers can teach and children can learn. Uh, you saw it tonight in our discussion of Westlawn’s proposed school. Uh, identifying a way to structure a building so that sixth graders can enter a more, um, a learning environment for which their more responsible for their learning and others are less responsible. The transition from fifth to sixth grade. Uh, we’re looking to smooth that ramp for them. They’ll be in a space that will be somewhat separate from seventh and eighth. We’ve had previous discussions about ninth grade. Smoothing the transition from middle, which has, um, some structure to high school which has less structure with regard to governing the movement  and the activities of students, needs a ramp as well. So ninth grade academies are a part of that.

We’re well aware of the challenges our students face, and we’re not happy that they face these challenges. Uh, we’re taking steps with the resources we have to provide a safe learning environment. Uh, we delayed the opening of our newest high school to ensure it was safe. We’re installing ZoneR on our buses to ensure we have safe transport of our children from home, to school, to home. Um, not all this can take place in a moment. I know that’s not a comfort to moms or dads who would like for it to. It’s not a comfort to me. Um, we’re moving with purpose. We’re moving with speed and increasing our efforts daily. Uh, I believe our city will see the payoff of this, and I believe it already is seeing the payoff. Uh, when you step into our classrooms, the data is there.You can see the children’s progress. And in the coming months, we’ll report it on our website so that parents can see the progress of classrooms. They can see the teacher’s ability to generate growth among the students in that classroom. Um, Huntsville City Schools is becoming a place that is known in our state and across the nation for rapid innovation, rapid change, but these things still take time. We’re moving with every effort we can muster, and we’re moving as quickly as we can. I’m not happy when a parent comes here and has to be unhappy about a school. Uh, you can be certain of that. So, I know our administrators are working, and I know our teachers and our principals are. And we will continue to do so. So I thank everybody for their attention.


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