What Else Should We Be Doing To Save Public Education?

Merts

There’s an excellent conversation happening on yesterday’s post Caveat Emptor Computers in the Classroom. If you care to know what your children’s teachers really think about the digital conversion, give it a look. In addition to those details, there was one question in particular that stood out to me.

What else should we be doing?

This really is the central question in the face of overwhelming financial support and an army of advisors. What can we do when our superintendent thinks he’s the only person of intelligence in the city? What can we do when our elected board, who were hired to represent us, ignore their constituencies and tell the superintendent that he should feel free to ignore us as well?

What can we do when Eli Broad, the mayor, the city council, the Arsenal, the committee of 100, the Huntsville Council of PTAs, and even the Huntsville Education Association are all drinking the same Kool Aid as they march to the beat of the Wardynski drum?

How can just one parent who is scared about the quality of education our children are receiving possibly hope to make a difference?

How can you make a difference?

What else should we be doing?

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Talk with your children every day about what they are doing in their classrooms and how they feel about it. I realize that this is like saying you should open your eyes before you try crossing the parkway during rush hour, but it is the first step. Your kids are your best source of information concerning the quality of education they are receiving. Of course, their first response will typically be, “It was fine,” as they put their earbuds into their ears, but you need to draw more information out of them. Ask them about what they studied in English. Ask them about what they’re reading. Ask them about their math, science, social studies, and language studies. Ask them about their art and music classes. Ask them about PE. Ask them how many other kids are in their class. Ask them how they feel about their teacher. No one else (especially not the superintendent) can evaluate your child’s education better than you. But it will take time and effort for you to do so. Take that time. Every single day.
  2. Talk to other parents in your child’s classroom. Get to know them. Form a FaceBook group for the class so that y’all can talk with each other quickly and easily. Ask them what their children are saying about school and the classroom. Often times, despite our best efforts, our kids just simply don’t want to talk to us about what happened during school that day. If you’re friends with other parents in the classroom, you can glean information from them on the days when your kids clam up.
  3. Talk to your teachers (and anyone else working in the classroom). How often do you have a conversation with your kid’s teacher? At the teacher conference at the beginning of the year? When there’s a problem? Make a point of talking to your teachers at least once a week. This doesn’t have to be an extensive conversation/meeting. It could be as easy as a quick email to them to say thanks. But get in touch with them. Make sure that they know you’re interested, engaged, and that they can call on you at any moment. Yes, our teachers are overworked and buried under a ton of red tape these days; however, unlike the superintendent, I have never heard a single teacher say she (or he) doesn’t have time to talk to a parent. They want your help.
  4. Support your teachers (and anyone else working in the classroom). They’re human, and they’re overworked, underpaid, stressed, frustrated by a lack of support from their supervisors, and often have to deal with irrational people with irrational fears. They need to know that you appreciate the miracle they are working to produce for your kids. You would be amazed at the difference a simple thank you note makes, which is truly a sad commentary on our world, but yes, simply saying thanks to your teacher (and reminding your child to do so as well) makes everything go much more smoothly.
  5. Get to know and support your principals (and everyone else working in the building). Again, our schools are under an extraordinary amount of stress these days. Everyone is attacking them. Having a person simply say thank you makes a difference.

Those are the basics. Every single parent with a kid in a school should be doing these things already. But you’re probably thinking, “Thanks Russ, for reminding us that water is wet.”

And you’d be right to do so.

So, what else should we be doing?

  1. Join your PTA. Just because the Huntsville Council of PTAs thinks he’s the superintendent of the year doesn’t mean that everyone who is a member of the PTA agrees. Volunteer. And then be vocal about your opinions. If you think a decision by the superintendent is a good one, say so, and say why. If you think a decision by the superintendent is a bad one, say so, and say why.
  2. Talk to your friends and associates about your opinions. Again, as my dad used to say, opinions are like butt-holes: everyone has one and most of them stink. Make sure your opinions don’t stink by backing them up with a justification and research. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in.
  3. Talk to your board member. Yes, they will listen to you, at least at first. Depending on the issue you raise with them, they may even do what ask them to do. When you see for yourself that there are a lot of issues that they ignore you on, then you can move on to step four.
  4. Vote them out of office. This Tuesday, August 28th, the District One seat (currently held by Laurie McCaulley) and the District Five seat (currently held by Alta Morrison) are both on the ballot in those districts. Ms. McCaulley is running for re-election. Ms. Morrison is not. Because of a complete lack of responsiveness from Ms. McCaulley on issues I’ve raised with her in the past, I cannot support her for reelection. As I have written before, I support Ms. Pat King for District One, and Mr. Carlos Matthews for District Five. I believe both will be far more responsive to the public than anyone on our current board has proven themselves to be.
  5. Talk to Dr. Wardynski. Again, see for yourself the traits I’ve described countless times on this blog. Once you see for yourself, make it a point to hold him accountable. Ask questions and insist that he engage in a discussion with you. He works for you.
  6. Attend the Board Meetings. The board typically meets the first and third Thursday of each month in the Merts building, 200 White Street, at 5:30pm. When attendance is low, the board members assume that means that everyone loves them not that we’re just so disgusted that we can’t stomach to listen to their sycophantic support of a non-educator’s bad ideas.
  7. Speak at the Board Meetings. Silence is assent for our board. Speak out. Even if it means that the superintendent calls you names, has you escorted out, and has his minions spread lies about you in the press, SPEAK OUT. Your children are worth it.
  8. Call every elected official you know and tell them what you think. I doubt that most of the officials in our city have any idea how completely Dr. Wardynski disregards his employers: Parents. Tell them.
  9. Study. There is not a single idea that Dr. Wardynski has enacted in his 14 months that hasn’t been tried somewhere else and shown to be a failure. These “reforms” he’s enacting are not new. They have been tried in other districts, and they’ve failed. I regularly hear that “we’ve got to do something” and I agree. We do. But do we really have to do things that have already failed elsewhere? Please get a copy of Dr. Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Dr. Ravitch is a school historian. She, at one point, supported many of the efforts that Dr. Wardynski is putting into play here in Huntsville, but as she studied them, she changed her mind. Read her book, read her blog, and find out why.

Finally, what else should we be doing?

We should be standing up for our children and for what we believe in. Dr. Wardynski is putting forth and enacting a political agenda that has been developed for him by the Broad Foundation. He is not acting in the best interests of our kids. He’s acting in his own best interests. And his best interests are not what is best for your children.

He is using his power, budget and influence to silence critics. He is using every political tool he has to enact his agenda of privatizing public schools, of ending public education in America.

He is a part of a well-organized, well-funded movement that is seeking to destroy public education in America.

And the only thing that is standing in his way are parents who are willing to stand up, ask questions, and insist on answers for their children.

So long as we have the conviction of our beliefs supporting us, it doesn’t matter how wealthy the opposition is. It doesn’t matter how well-organized they are. It doesn’t matter how rude they are. If we stand by our convictions, if we stand for what is right, if we stand for our teachers, and most importantly, if we stand for our kids, we will make a difference. We will turn this ship around.

We can save our schools and make sure that they remain ours.

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

16 Comments

  1. Another suggestion: Start a blog, or at least comment regularly here. You’ll be surprised how much of a relief it can be to get your frustrations out of your head and into the world. You’ll be surprised how many supportive people will get in touch with you, sometimes in comments, sometimes directly.

    Russ has two elementary aged kids. We need to hear what is going on elsewhere in the middle and high schools, too. How did the kids who had to take the early bus and who got home at dinner time fare last year? Who knows?

    Have you tried w/o success to get help with an ongoing problem? You should be keeping a log of your efforts — may as well share it.

    Blogging is free. You can be anonymous, or not.

    We are all journeying down similar paths. If you can help your fellow travelers, do so. And let others help you as well.

    The supe knows that technology can be used to indoctrinate. It can also, however, be the most effective means of seeking the democratic ideal that has come our way in hundreds of years — if we use it. Claim your voice. Your concerns, thoughts, and ideas — and your story — matter.

    And your kids might realize that writing matters, too. Certainly they will come to realize that when you ask about their day, it isn’t just an empty, routine inquiry, but that you really want to know what is working in their lives and that you are committed to finding a fix for what isn’t.

  2. Letters to the editor, if they are published, are also a good way to spread the word.

    Attend school board meetings and sign up to speak.

  3. I wish more people could see this. At my school we are still short lap tops and i-pads. Plus the ratio is changing, they say the i-pads will be 1:3 for kindergarten and 1:5 for Pre-K. I had a hard time testing kids because they kids were bumped off line, not enough ban width. The textbooks came- after school was out on Friday, like I have nothing else to do. But I can’t use the textbooks because I must be using i-pads. I can’t use the i-pads until student information is loaded on by me. Then because of software issues not everything will work. When am I supposed to load this information? Lets see I am supposed to teach bell to bell(I wonder why?), so that means nights and weekends. I guess I will have a life when Dr. Wardynski assigns it to me.

  4. The problem started with Jennie Robinson, as I’ve stated a million times. It is my opinion that she\ ran our system into debt by building fancy schools to appease land developers. Of course the Homebuilders, Biz Tech, Committee of 100 supported her campaign for election by contributing $60,000. Her oponent had around $5, as I recall. She won by a mere 101 votes out of almost 6,000 cast. Not much to show for all that money. Nevertheless, she won and it’s been big business, deals, hiring ” supervisors” who are no more qualified, certified that my cat. In the meantime over 400 teachers and other personnel were laid off.

    The board is incapable of monitoring them, have in fact been cheerleaders because they don’t know any better, don’t really comprehend what’s going on.

    I have long advocated an appointed board. I believe in it now more than ever.

    1. The construction debt isn’t all on the school board – Mayor Spencer was and Mayor Battle is all gung ho for construction. This is just one reason that an appointed board isn’t necessarily the answer. And who is an appointed board answerable to – the public, or those who appointed them.

      We have the school board we elected. We voted out the school board when they bought out the contract of the superintendent before Moore; I still say Wardynski will be bought out – but it’s looking like only after the school district is out of money again.

      1. I have been considering the idea of an elected superintendent. I know that is another can of worms, but those worms may be more appealing. I have also said from the beginning tthat this would be another Gene Thompson situation with a buy-out. Hopefully Wardynski will leave for a job at Teach For American or at Pearson first. We will be left to pick up the pieces and deal with the people he brought in. It will take years clean it up.

  5. The problem is the school board the special interest got elected. Blair, Robinson, McCaulley, three rubber stamps, Birney is the spare tire.

  6. Russ, you’ve written a very thoughtful, inspirational article, as usual. It does feel kind of hopeless, until we can get rid of these selfish, special-interest-inspired board members. I’ve been asking my kids what has been going on with their days, and I’m actually very concerned about my daughter in middle school. Let’s see-they have exactly FOUR minutes between classes. If they need to go to the bathroom, that’s when they have to do it. If they take longer than that and are tardy, then they have to sit by themselves at lunch. All for going to the bathroom. Do we do that to adults? No. And it took until Friday to get the computers distributed. I asked her how much work she has done this week, and honestly, I don’t think they’ve studied anything, at least from what I gathered through our conversation. The textbooks are gone, and all the information was on the computers…however, they didn’t have computers. Let’s see….. I’m VERY concerned that as our school conducts the great computer experiment, my child might very well miss out on a full 6th-grade education. I’m going to be monitoring it closely, that’s for sure.

    1. I don’t know about middle schools, or even about other classrooms, but in my classroom, with no classroom sets of the hard copy of the books, no online books until Friday (they finally logged in during an entire class period on Thursday), and not even allowed to make copies of handouts to give to kids, I did not much more than repeat the school rules three days in a row. I am now a week behind the pacing guide I’ve used for years, and predict it will fall even farther behind due to technology glitches. I don’t expect to cover much of the course of study this year thanks to the “improvements” implemented in the schools. How is that teaching?

      1. It isn’t. And sadly that’s the point. Having an administrator with zero education experience (ok, 11 months), means that our district’s leadership no longer values education. In fact, Dr. Wardynski consistent derogatory references to “teacher colleges” demonstrates this.

        He doesn’t care about education.

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