So the long promised meeting to discuss the merger of Mt. Gap Elementary and Middle schools in to one Pre-K through 8th Grade school finally occurred.
Remaining true to form, Dr. Wardynski used the majority of the meeting to talk about his own talking points. (This was quite similar to a meeting that he had with Special Education parents back before the beginning of school. Parents were told that the meeting would be to discuss the planned consolidation of Special Education children, but surprisingly, that topic never came up during that meeting.)
Tonight’s meeting to discuss the board approved merger was similar in tone.
As I stated earlier today, I had planned to video tape the meeting, but I was told before the meeting began that “we’ve been told that we cannot video tape the meeting.”
This came as quite a surprise since my understanding of the Alabama Open Meetings Act is that any public meeting can be recorded via any means, but since I wanted to attend the meeting to hear our superintendent’s explanation for his actions, I did not video record the meeting.
As such, I am relying upon my notes from the meeting instead.
Dr. Wardynski arrived at the meeting at about 6:05pm, and the meeting was called to order. The crowd was significantly smaller than had been planned for with Mt. Gap Elementary parents, faculty and staff making up the majority of the crowd.
He began his prepared presentation at 6:10pm after brief introductions and a discussion about the procedural vote to dissolve the Mt. Gap PTA boards in order to formulate a new board for next year. This presentation consisted of approximately 10 slides describing the current state of the entire district as he sees it. The superintendent led the crowd through a discussion of why he is making the significant number of changes to the district. This speech was quite similar to others that he’s offered at Board meetings as well at other public venues. As the majority of this presentation had little to nothing to do with the merger of Mt. Gap Elementary and Middle schools, I’ll leave it to others to summarize.
His slide show did, however, contain several slides that displayed Mt. Gap Elementary and Middle in relationship to other schools in the district. All of the displayed slides showed Mt. Gap Elementary and Middle as two of the top performing schools in the district. However, Dr. Wardynski’s assessment of the Elementary school in particular was that between the first and second rounds of Star Enterprises assessments, Mt. Gap Elementary students we’re “not advancing as rapidly as other schools in the district.”
He offered no explanation of this and seemed disinterested in any discussion of why this might be. He also offered no supporting documentation to back up the data that was displayed on the slide. (Due to the poor quality of the projection, my photographs of the slides are not clear enough to be useful.)
Dr. Wardynski also refused to allow his slide show to be distributed to the crowd. He said that the presentation would not be shared publicly. Despite claiming to be all about operating in a transparent manner, he didn’t want the presentation videotaped, and he refused to share the presentation with the public. (I’m sure I’m dating myself here, but “Hmm?”)
Frankly, it was as if he were attempting to use one single data point to justify the merger of the two schools. When questions arose about the data that he was “presenting,” when people in the audience attempted to offer some context to the idea that Mt. Gap wasn’t “advancing” as rapidly as other schools, he dismissed these ideas with a wave of his hand claiming that he’d heard those excuses before.
After a fifty minute presentation on his attempts to improve education in the district, Dr. Wardynski posted the first and only slide concerning Mt. Gap of the night. It was a listing of capital improvements that would be made over the next two years with a break down of the total cost which was about $6.2 million dollars in improvements.
This listing should not, however, be considered firm as it is, according to Dr. Wardynski, under review by the two consultant firms the district has hired to review all of the capital improvements in the district. (Yes, we have not one, but two firms who are getting paid simply to provide oversight to building projects. They are in addition to the Johnson Controls contract that the district had before Dr. Wardynski arrived. So, I suppose that means that there are at least three consultants reviewing construction projects to make sure they’re cost efficient.)
The improvements, once begun, would take approximately 18 months to complete.
At 7:00pm, the meeting finally began to discuss the planned merger between the two schools when Dr. Wardynski started reading some of the pre-submitted questions about the merger.
He was asked for a timeline for the planned renovations. He responded that the 18 month project would begin at some point in the future. He had no idea if there would be a common student entrance that both schools would share, but it was likely that visitors would be required to use a single entrance. The Nurse’s office and Library would however be centralized.
(Yes, both 3-4 year olds and 13 year olds will share a library and a nurse’s office, as well as a single principal. What could possibly go wrong?)
He was asked about the impact the changes would have on the administration of the schools. His response was to claim that the district was planning to announce changes of that nature in mid-April, but that everyone in the district should expect for there to be numerous changes in the assignments of Principals. He was quite adamant that he would be moving principals around from school to school on a regular and consistent basis. This is consistent with his statements in the past.
When asked if teachers would be moved, his answers were less clear. While he stated during his presentation that he was “not moving any of your teachers,” when the same question arose during the Q&A, he was much less definitive. Then he made a point of asking an employee of Mt. Gap if she “worked for Mt. Gap, or Huntsville City Schools?”
This approach of answering a question with a question was one that he employed through most of the Q&A. (He also used it when talking to SPED parents back before school started.)
He was asked about staffing changes. He responded that the new school would have the following staff:
- A Principal
- An Assistant Principal
- A “Teacher on Special Assignment” (This will be a new “administrative” teacher who will be in training to potentially become an administrator at some point in the future. He offered no details about how this person would be selected or chosen.)
- A Librarian (Yes, one librarian for approximately 671 students.)
- A Nurse
- Enough PE teachers to support 671 students
- An indeterminate number of secretaries
I’m sure that there will be other changes in staff as there was no mention of lunchroom changes or custodial staff at all during the meeting, but that’s the list of staffing that the new merged school would have.
He was asked about what steps could be taken to ensure that Weatherly Heights Elementary Students don’t feel like outsiders. He responded again with a question, “Do they feel like outsiders now?” He then followed up by saying that while that could be an issue that he was confident that counselors and other staff could certainly help with the transition.
He then read one of the two questions that I submitted to him. His response to this question was the first and only time that he mentioned any justification for the merger at all.
I asked: What specific evidence can you offer to show that elementary schools with historically high test scores perform better after being merged with a middle school?
His answer, unsurprisingly, offered no specific evidence that any elementary school performed better after merger, but rather ran in a wholly new direction. Dr. Wardynski said that if the schools were not merged, that he would bring a recommendation to the board to close Mt. Gap Elementary School.
I’ll give him credit for not attempting to pass the responsibility off on the State for this claim. (Although, he did mention that the state, had it taken over the district, would have closed Mt. Gap.) He said that he, himself, would recommend closure to the board.
So, that’s it.
Dr. Wardynski’s reason for the merger is that the elementary school is operating below capacity, and as such it must either be merged or closed. There were no other options allowed. At one point a parent attempted to point out to him that the reason that Mt. Gap was operating below capacity had more to do with the zoning for Challenger than anything else. Dr. Wardynski quickly dismissed this suggestion by saying that there would be no discussion of other possible solutions to the enrollment issues at Mt. Gap Elementary.
It was either his way or he’ll close the school. And he’ll do so without concern for the well-being of the students. He’ll do so without receiving input from parents. He’ll do so without considering any other alternatives.
The final impression that I had from the meeting was that Dr. Wardynski, as I have noted before, hates having to respond to questions. He hates getting them from parents and he absolutely refuses to accept them from people who are employed in the system. Tonight, he was rude to parents who had the audacity to question his decisions. And he was threatening to the teachers who were brave enough to raise their hands. The one good thing to come from the meeting was that now more people are aware of the type of man we have running our schools.
By the way, he chose to ignore my other question: Why was this merger approved and finalized before this discussion took place?
Then again, I guess such a question is just redundant at that point. Dr. Wardynski never had any intention of taking parental concerns into consideration before making his decision. He doesn’t see the need to study any issue from the perspective that it might or might not have an impact on student performance.
His only concern is his own personal agenda. Strike that: his only concern is the Broad Virus agenda.