Double Standards For Complaints About “Strong Leaders”


Back when Dr. Wardynski was still in his honeymoon period, one of the most common phrases used concerning him was, “There’s a new sheriff in town” in reference to the discipline that he was directing toward his faculty and staff. He was a superintendent who was quick, often times too quick as it turned out, to pull the trigger. In rapid succession, teachers and administrators were being told it was time for them to leave. Their services would no longer be needed.

It was my belief then and remains so today that Dr. Wardynski cultivated that reputation intentionally. He wanted his “human capital,” as he liked to refer to them, to be afraid of him.

After all, a demoralized and frightened work force is a compliant work force. They don’t ask questions about policy changes. They don’t ask questions about curriculum shifts. They don’t ask questions about decisions that hurt our kids.

His goal was and is to frighten, berate, intimidate and fire anyone who works for him who dares to ask questions. This is his same approach with those few who don’t work for him who are challenging his decisions. He has implied at least twice (here and here) that I was a liar despite evidence to the contrary. In short, he is quick to respond to complaints about teachers and principals who had the audacity to actually work for our schools before Wardynski was hired.

There are two classes of employees in Huntsville City Schools these days: those hired by Wardynski (along with a few who have seemingly earned his trust) and those who were already working here before he arrived. We’ve already seen that these two classes have different hiring standards. We’ve seen that there is no formal way to lodge a complaint against the board or superintendent. Now we’re seeing that filing a complaint against those brought in by the superintendent will be summarily ignored.

For example, I wonder what would happen if a teacher in Huntsville City Schools had a complaint of harassment brought against him or her? Anyone want to take a bet that that teacher might at least be placed on administrative leave while an investigation followed? How about if a teacher had a sexual harassment complaint brought against him or her?

Anyone think that teacher would need to report to school tomorrow after the holiday?


Nah, me neither.

But just as some are more equal than others in regards to their salaries, it now seems that some are more equal than others in regards to complaints that are leveled against them.

Let’s take a look at what Dr. Wardynski had to say on Thursday night during Bryon Headrick’s Lean Frog presentation on the inefficiencies he discovered in the business practices of the district during the past ten years. At the end of Mr. Headrick’s presentation, Dr. Wardynski offered a seven minute sermon on the importance of “strong leadership,” and the poor educational practices employed in the system during the past ten years.

(No, Dr. Wardynski did not make it clear why following a presentation on poor operational decisions he felt it necessary to preach about poor educational decisions, but more on that later.) You can read my transcript of the entire seven minute speech here.

Near the end of this sermon, when he finally returned to talking about the business practices of the system (you know, the actual subject of Mr. Headrick’s review), Dr. Wardynski had the follow to say:

So on the business side, the measurement, what does that look like in apprehension?

Mr. Spinelli is charged with the business activities of this district. I brought, I recommended him to this board, and this board selected him on my specific recommendation based on his abilities. Um, on any given day, any number of people with apprehension are claiming any number of things. Um, we haven’t got a lot of time for nonsense. The kids need to be well educated. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Uh, my CFO is doing an excellent job, and he has my full support. (Emphasis Added)

Honestly at this point of the evening, I had no idea what Dr. Wardynski was talking about. (Although I did enjoy his Freudian slip where he had to correct himself from saying, “I brought,” to  “I recommended him to this board . . . .” I’m sure the board appreciated that correction.)

I hear all kinds of rumors about the school system and employees in the system. As someone who is regularly writing about the system, people often come to me with rumors. Only occasionally have I had anything to say about them. My standard mode of operation is to evaluate the validity of the rumor and the importance of the rumor. If I can’t verify it, or if it seems simply frivolous, I ignore it.

I’ve never published anything that I wasn’t able to verify for myself usually several times over. On the occasions where my interpretation may have been wrong, I’ve corrected my mistakes.

I share this with you to say this: I am not aware of any claims concerning Mr. Spinelli. I’ve met him and spoken with him on several occasions. He strikes me as a friendly guy. That there seems to have been people “claiming any number of things” about Mr. Spinelli was news to me.

But if Dr. Wardynski said it in a board meeting, there must be some truth to the idea that there have at least been “any number of people with apprehension . . . claiming any number of things.”

Dr. Wardynski continued his sermon about the business practices in the system:

Um, we will be coming to the board subsequent to this presentation in the coming days with recommendations regarding employees who need to be apprehensive, who have not done their job, who needed to do their job and have cost our children vital years of educational opportunity.

But apprehension will not stop us. Claims of harassment, claims of sexual harassment, all sorts of nonsense, will not stop us from giving our children what they need. And I know our board certainly won’t tolerate it.

Uh, but the apprehension takes many, many forms from missing documents, to calls to the media, to complaints about oversized district overhead and GNA, and so forth. So at this point, I just wanted to draw that out and say, strong leadership is critical because with weak leadership, the rest will fall apart. (Emphasis Added)

So, it would seem that Dr. Wardynski felt it was necessary to offer Mr. Spinelli his “full support” in the face of apprehensive “claims of harassment, claims of sexual harassment, all sorts of nonsense . . . .”

I wonder why he felt this was necessary to say?

It would seem that Dr. Wardynski has received “any number” of complaints about Mr. Spinelli including “claims of harassment” and “claims of sexual harassment” that he considers to be “nonsense.”

Please note, I am not claiming that any of this is true of Mr. Spinelli. I’m only attempting to interpret Dr. Wardynski’s statement. I have no reason to believe that Mr. Spinelli has had any claims of any kind filed against him. I have no reason to believe that if there have been claims filed against him that those claims have any validity.

So why am I bringing this to your attention. One simple reason: Dr. Wardynski is quick to respond to questions of wrongdoing on the part of those he didn’t bring into Huntsville. He is quick to raise questions about teachers who aren’t doing their jobs based on flimsy evidence. He is quick to fire teachers who offer the appearance of wrongdoing.

So why is he quick to dismiss claims brought against his friends from Aurora?

Why is he quick to insist that the board should ignore complaints against his friends from Aurora?

Ask yourself this one simple question: in an environment where fear, intimidation, and at times direct threats to jobs rule the day, where even tenure is no longer a protection, would you bring a frivolous charge of harassment or sexual harassment against the first person that Dr. Wardynski brought into the system?

Strong leadership does not accept double standards. Strong leadership sets a standard and applies that standard to everyone. Dr. Wardynski believes that our teachers should be held to high standards. He believes that our business operations should be held to high standards. But evidently he doesn’t believe that standard should apply to himself when complaints are brought about him. Evidently he doesn’t believe that standard should apply to his friends–people he brought to the system–when complaints are brought about them.

Dr. Wardynski appreciates a plainly spoken phrase (as you can see in his sermon from Thursday night), so I’ve got one for him.

You know what we call having a different standard for yourself and your friends that doesn’t apply to anyone else? We call that hypocrisy, plain and simple hypocrisy.

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


  1. Reading this and shaking my head.

    The lone African American and best qualified finalist for the Superientendent job was disqualified because of the way he handled a rape case.


    Former Lee Assistant Principal Cleavon Eason was cleared of charges of inappropriate contact but Wardynski said he still wanted to fired him.


    1. Thanks for the links. I should have included those stories in the article. I’ll update it soon.

      1. From King’s interview

        Board Vice President Laurie McCaulley asked about his experience transforming underperforming schools. By using a systemic process of change that promotes continuous school improvement, King said, his system has seen one of its lowest performing schools recognized last year for making the most improvement in the state.
        Financial crises also were an important issue discussed during King’s interview.
        “I think that’s an issue that many school systems across the country are faced with,” King said.
        The Muncie system has faced financial challenges for a number of years, due to declining enrollment. The system established a blue ribbon task force to identify a cross-section of the community and get them involved in increasing the schools’ efficiencies.

        This is the kind of Instructional Leader I wish we had.

  2. My response to “We’ve seen that there is no formal way to lodge a complaint against the board or superintendent” follows.

    GO TO THE POLLS …like citizens have been doing in North Carolina when they took issue with their superintendent (same background training and philosophy)…votes cast brought in a new board with a different mindset.

    1. I agree that is necessary. But the three board members who brought him here are not up for reelection until the end of 2014. The two who opposed him are up for reelection this year.

      In short, there’s a long time between then and now. If we wait for the correction of the polls, it will be too late.

      1. In short, there’s a long time between then and now. If we wait for the correction of the polls, it will be too late.

        Exactly. But we have to be sure the upcoming open seats don’t go to people who will join with current three.

  3. I agree with your statements that W wants everyone to be afraid of him. He BARKS orders like we are under his command in the Army. Would someone please remind him, he is retired from the Army, and WE don’t answer to him? HE is supposed to answer to us. By the terms “us” and “we,” I mean well educated community members, parents, teachers, and students. He is supposed to meet our needs and lead our educational establishment. Yes, he’s found a few misappropriated funds here and there. Show me ONE company who doesn’t have this problem! You think he deserves a trophy for that? The front page of The Times? Here’s an idea… speak softly, do your job, and stop tooting your OWN horn.

    I guess the Broad Academy doesn’t teach MANNERS, public speaking, public relations, or how to successfully woo your constituents and employees. If I have to hear or read one more quote where he says, “Uh,” or “Um,” I just might scream. I could make a Saturday Night Live skit of his board meetings.

    He doesn’t care about us as a community. HE is here to make a name for himself and another notch on his belt. As soon as his contract is up, he will be gone. The same BOE members who HIRED him will be the same ones that FIRE him right before their reelection campaign.

    1. Wardynski left the Aurora Public Schools with a $25 million dollar shortfall.


      How to tell if your School District is Infected by the Broad Virus

      Repeated use of the terms “excellence” and “best practices” and “data-driven decisions.” (Coupled with a noted absence of any of the above.)

      Culture of fear of reprisal develops in which teachers, principals, staff, even parents feel afraid to speak up against the policies of the district or the superintendent.

      Teachers are no longer referred to as people, educators, colleagues, staff, or even “human resources,” but as “human capital.”

      Teach for America, Inc., novices are suddenly brought into the district, despite no shortage of fully qualified teachers.

      Local newspaper fails to report on much of this.

      Local newspaper never mentions the words “Broad Foundation.”


  4. I think you hit the nail on the head. Wardynski sounds as if he’s pre-empting any issues or criticism that may have already come to his attention regardng Spinelli. It sounds like he’s saying no matter what is ‘claimed’ about Spinelli, right or wrong, Wardynski has no time for it. He is obviously setting the stage to fire employees at will and hire more consultants.

  5. http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_17288606
    While reading this article i was tripping out on all the parallels between what Dubya did there and what he is doing now…so with that trend u can predict whats next ….
    The few things he has not done that i am PRETTY sure he is going to try to enforce is making the kids pay $1 to ride the buses and increase the classroom size….. WATCH…..SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE…..how do u accept someone from a system that is similar yet deeper in the hole…and let them just have at whatever they want? WHAT THE WHAT ???!!

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