A Time To Stand Against Might Makes Right

December 1st Board Meeting

Friday, I got to spend the morning in two of our schools volunteering and helping teachers with computer issues while they taught their classes. I got to witness first hand the difficulty our teachers are facing in attempting to educate our children over the past two weeks. Hostile working environment doesn’t really cover the might makes right approach of the superintendent these days.

A Difficult Start

The opening of the school year has been an extremely difficult one for our teachers. They’ve been put in the impossible situation of having to teach their overcrowded classrooms without textbooks, without the promised computers for at least a week, without working, reliable, stress-tested networking support.

They’ve been reprimanded for not using the computers enough, despite the fact that the computers and the network they’re connecting to are not working properly.

They’ve been reprimanded for using paper.

They’re being monitored down to the level of pings coming from a classroom. Principals are receiving threatening calls from the central office insisting that they bring more teachers and students online, even though as I’ve mentioned, many classrooms did not have computers/iPads available until Friday of the first week, and even though the network regularly fails as a result of the number of people attempting to log onto the network as required.

They’re being required to stop their classes so that the Superintendent can film propaganda films, and interrupt classes to take a photo-op bus trip, to show how much they love the new technology.

You know, I’ve come to realize that if you’re doing the right thing, you rarely have to force people to speak well of it. Wardynski’s need of propaganda, which will be shared at the board meeting on Tuesday, proves that all is not as rosy as the Superintendent would have you believe.

Monitoring Email?

There are suggestions that even email is being read by some unknown and unnamed consultant firm working in a “War Room.”

Please keep this in mind if you are contacting your child’s teacher about anything via email: You’re “private” discussion with your child’s teacher is likely being read by a consultant of the district. This consultant likely gets paid to identify problems, so if you indicate in anyway that your child is not perfectly normal (god help us), it’s a fairly safe assumption that someone’s going to notice.

You should not assume that what you think is a private conversation actually is. If you want to discuss anything that you’d like to remain confidential, schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher and meet her/him in person.

Hostile Working Environment

This is the impossible situation our teachers are operating in as school begins.

And yet despite this hostile working environment, our teachers are meeting the needs of our kids. They are managing to guide their students through these turbulent times. They are managing to help our students adjust.

Our teachers, despite the lack of textbooks, networks, computers, and support from the central office, are managing to teach our kids and help prepare them for their futures.

They’re doing this because they care for our kids and their future. They want to see our schools succeed. They want to see our community to continue to grow in wisdom, insight, and understanding, you know, the products of education that cannot be evaluated by a standardized test.

These are the qualities of education that Dr. Wardynski seems either unwilling or incapable of understanding, and yet these are some of the true markers for a well-educated person.

Project RED

Dr. Wardynski, however, just continues to defend this reckless transformation by citing such works as Project RED. Project RED is another propaganda piece from three private organizations–The Greaves Group, The Hayes Connection, and One-to-One Institute–who benefit from selling contract services to help convert districts to digital systems.

In short, the “evidence” Dr. Wardynski is citing to support his reckless actions is nothing other than a simple PR stunt masquerading as research. Project Red is not research. It has not been peer reviewed. It should not be considered authoritative in any way.

So why would Dr. Wardynski cite such dubious evidence in support of this transition? I can think of four reasons:

  1. He didn’t bother reading it before he mentioned it at the last board meeting when he was calling Mr. Wittenborg’s suggestions “absurd” and “ludicrous.”
  2. He didn’t think anyone else would bother reading it for themselves since it was, in his words, “quite a tome.”
  3. He knew it didn’t matter anyway since the board had already approved his recommendation to transform how the district’s classrooms operate a mere two and a half months ago.
  4. He knew that there isn’t any empirical evidence supporting this level of transformation on a district wide level.

The truth is probably some combination of all four of the reasons, but the fourth one sounds really familiar to me. When it was announced that six of our elementary/middle schools would combine into just three schools, one of the first questions I asked was, “what evidence do you have that shows that merging high performing schools allows for a continuance of that high performance?”

His answer: It doesn’t matter if I have evidence or not, if the schools don’t merge, they will be closed.

Might Makes Right

The man holding a gun to your head doesn’t need to provide you with evidence that his ideas will work. Might makes right.

His responses to Mr. Wittenborg were exactly the same.

His treatment of teachers is exactly the same.

His disregard of parents is exactly the same.

I’m right because I’m strong. And you will do what I say, or I will destroy you, your schools, your teachers, and your children.

These are the classic responses of a bully.

It’s an excellent example of the implementation of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine here in our home town. If you want to remake the world into one where people lay aside ideas they would never consider laying aside before, wait for a crisis (or manufacture one), and while the people are confused, panicked, and disoriented, swoop in with a plan to take over, privatize, and strip mine for profits.

A lot of people have gotten quite rich off of our “broke” district over the past fourteen months.

The problem is that with every penny we give to Microsoft, HP, Pearson, TFA, and all the rest of the Broad supported organizations that Wardynski fights tooth and nail for, our children suffer.

They suffer in ever increasing class sizes. They suffer in decreasing services. They suffer when classrooms are disrupted on the whim of a superintendent who wants some good press, or videos, or decides two months before classes start to completely change everything that happens in the classroom.

A Time To Stand

And yet our teachers press on despite the hostility they face. The press on because they love children and because they love and believe in the power of education.

We need to support them by standing up for them. We need to be their voice in our community. We need to make sure that their voice is heard in the board meetings.

Because no one else is doing it.

Teachers are fighting every day and night to help our children learn. The least we can do is speak out on their behalf.

This Tuesday (yes, Tuesday) September 4th at 4:00pm the district will have its second budget hearing for the 2013 budget. Following that, at 5:30pm, will be the bi-weekly board meeting. During this meeting, the superintendent will present his propaganda film on how amazingly the digital transition is going.

If you have questions about the computers, you should be there. If you have issues with the computers, you should be there. If you think the digital transition is the most amazing thing ever, you should be there. If you believe it was reckless to implement such drastic changes over the period of two months, you should be there.

If you believe that our teachers are doing an amazing job in an impossible environment, you should be there to speak for them.

The one thing that a bully fears is when those he is bullying stand up and say no more. It’s time to stand.

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


  1. “a” sent out an email updating her parents on what was going on. she showed it to her principle who then stated anything else sent out needed to be approved by her first. there was nothing negative in the email. it did state the problems they had been having but did it in a very positive way. more micromanaging at its best.

  2. “The one thing that a bully fears is when those he is bullying stand up and say no more. It’s time to stand.”

    Other than parents/teachers who read your blog no one knows what’s going on in the school system. All they know is the inept black superintendent was replaced with a white competent superintendent who is turning the school system around.
    As the last election proved we can’t even vote them out of office because the majority of voters are uniformed/misinformed.

    Wardynski is doing the job he was hired to do which was stand up to democrats, liberals, AEA and ACLU types, and stop the majority to minority transfers.

    The teachers need to organize and take a stand, if they do, parents will stand behind them.

    1. I agree that the teachers need to organize more. HEA has failed them in many ways this year. But I think parents need to stand in front of the teachers rather than behind them.

  3. What will make parents and teachers rise up and speak out? I am hearing all of the problems but no one is unifying.

    1. Teachers (and even Princiapals, Counselors, etc.) cannot afford to unify or speak out. We will be set up for failure, shunned, punished in some way, or possibly fired for insubordination or incompetence. If we speak negatively about Dr. W, his cohorts, or his new program to anyone — students, parents, administrators, fellow teachers, the media — we are viewed as uncooperative, negative, or too “old”, “lazy”, “dumb” to learn and use this complicated and frustrating new program that has been shoved down our throats without adequate training and time to practice.
      Action will have to come from PARENTS and people in the community who take the time and make the effort to really find out what is going on with HCS, its highest level of administrators (plus consultants), and its newest program and all the problems that have arisen and are still not solved.
      Are parents really unaware and uncaring about WHO is running our school system, the quallifications/education/experience of these people, what they have personally vested in this school system and community (for some they have NOTHING invested in Hsv. or its schools), what their motivations are, what their connections are, etc.? All of this info is readily available. Check it out; you might be shocked about a lot of things.
      Where are the newspaper and TV reporters? Why is local media just accepting whatever HCS Administrators and Board Members are feeding them? Where is good investigative reporting when you really need it? It’s not in Huntsville any more.

  4. Parents, please take a stand. Teachers want to but feel they will be bullied and threatened and trust me, it’s all try can do right now to keep their classroom together. They are fighting their fight. Parents, go into your child’s class and see firsthand then go fight for your teacher. You’d do it if you didn’t like something the teacher was doing, you know you’d be all about going over her head no matter what the cost. Go fight the battle your teacher cannot fight right now. Go ask the tough questions. Go BE the squeaky wheel!

  5. Perhaps it is time to request a town hall meeting with our state board education representative, Mary Scott Hunter, and voice our concerns (if any one thinks that would be of educational benefit to our children). Does any one know her?

  6. “Perhaps it is time to request a town hall meeting with our state board education representative, ”

    Good idea Concerned Parent! Parents should organize and conduct the meeting, not our “elected representative and the Superintendent.

  7. All concerned parents need to call their own town hall to organize and strategize. Then call a meeting with their local school representatives to let them know immediate change is required and expected.

  8. And I’ve heard through the grapevine that the “photo-op bus trip” involved taking children off school property without parental consent.

    1. All of this is scary, and as a teacher I am finding this very stressful. Teachers are afraid to speak out, we have been told in no uncertain terms that we could lose our jobs if we didn’t do as we are told. And heaven help those who do speak out against Dr. Wardynski! I wish the news media would look into this but I am afraid that they are on his side. The “photo-op bus trip” kids should tell their parents if they were taken off school property. Those who do know the kids should be talking to their parents to find out the truth.

  9. I take a small measure of comfort from reading your articles and comments because at least I know that there are a few people out there who really do care about our children and what we as teachers are dealing with in our classrooms.
    I think technology is a wonderful tool and should be used wisely and often, but as a teacher I KNOW that I DID NOT receive enough training from Pearson or HCS or get nearly enough time to practice using this new on line textbook program to feel confident in teaching my students how to use it.
    We should have been given the option of receiving training in June/July, and we should have had the option of having time in the summer for practice and additional training. Although, such extensive training and practice to the degree that they are really needed would have intruded on our much needed and precious family time.
    Also, I received NO TRAINING in trouble-shooting various computer problems or internet connection issues.
    I went to college to become a teacher of children, a teacher of a subject that I love and want to pass on to others, NOT to be an IT expert or a “big brother” laptop monitor (we’re constantly told we must monitor what the children are doing on their laptops). How do I physically watch 25 to 30 laptop screens, trouble shoot computer problems, correct disruptive behavior (which is going to happen while I help Johnny or Susie and all the others are sitting there waiting, then talking, then . . .?), assist a few special needs children (as required by their IEPs) who are also in the inclusion class,. . . AND manage to teach any kind of a lesson???
    I attended college 30 years ago and not one of my education courses then or in recet years taught me how to do all of that!
    And by the way, I managed to get a B.S.B.A. in less than four years, work 25-30 hours a week, do real research in a library, write countless research papers, take real tests, attend real lectures, participate in live & meaningful discussions, and study/read real books . . . all without a computer! Wow! What an achievement! I doubt our more modern students could do all of that and go on to continue learning so that they could stay current with their subject area and teaching methodolgy, assessment, technology, etc. Professional development has always been a priority in my career, and I’ve invested lots of money and time in continuing my education and training. Having an entire new sytem and textbook program being thrust upon us while being inadequately instructed and prepared is far more than most of us can deal with. I’m intelligent and can and want to learn, but this new program should have been phased in over a period of years, and we should have had much more training. We also need more tech support in our schools.
    I do NOT think it’s fair to expect me to be either a monitor or an IT specialist AND be an excellent teacher all at the same time. We need assistance and tech support personnel in the classroom because one teacher cannot do all of this for 25-30 children. I am a very devoted and effective teacher with many years experience, and I fully resent anyone (Dr. W & his “yes” men/women, an administrator, a parent, a reporter) who thinks or tells me that I’m not a good teacher because I can’t learn and effectively utilize this costly and complicated system in less than a week. Are you kidding me? I’d like to see Dr. W and the board members learn all that teachers are expected to know/use in 3 days!
    In the last 3 weeks, I’ve had children crying &/or extremely tense and frustrated in my classroom because they can’t get their computers to do what is required. I’ve had parents tell me that they feel totally inadequate in helping their child on this new program. At least with a textbook, paper, and pencil, they could review material and assist with homework. Often they can’t even access the on line textbook to see what the lesson is about!
    I hear other teachers saying that this new program and all the delays in laptop distribution, trouble shooting, Wifi or internet failure at school or home, children who don’t charge their laptops or have already lost their chargers, etc., has cost them valuable instruction time. Nearly every teacher I know is at least 1-2 weeks behind compared to previous years’ lessons and pacing.
    I am very upset that HEA is NOT standing up for teachers. HEA representatives are supposed to be our advocates.
    I am even more upset that teachers feel they cannot talk to one another or their adminstrators for fear of being seen as uncooperative or negative. I am NOT uncooperative or negative. I am trying, but I do not feel that this program is working well at all and is NOT helping any of us get off to a good start. Teacher morale is very low, commaraderie between teachers is almost non-existent, everyone is fearful of losing his/her job if they don’t or can’t jump through the hoops Dr. W has put in place.
    Frankly, I’m sick of essentially lying to my students about this system and trying to put a positive spin on what is clearly spinning out of control! Kids are not stupid, blind, or deaf — they know that we are as frustrated as they are, so why continue to appease “Big Brother” and lie more to the children, parents, and the community?
    I also highly resent that my children and I are being watched while we are trying to do our work and be productive. I really question WHY this degree of monitoring is being done and why Dr. W is so very interested in such information. If this program is so fantastic, why does he need more & more data to prove his decisions were right. . . won’t the program and people using it speak loudly enough to validate success?
    I’m just tired of all this change for change’s sake. When will it end? Teachers are being told (not asked) to do more & more & more, learn this, apply that, . . .report this, track that, monitor this, research that, . . .offer more tutoring (When? — we already have to be at school at 7:20 and it’s not to work in our rooms, but to monitor kids who arrive early — then we’re required to do haLL/bus duty till 3:30 — then we return to our rooms to work till 6 or 7:00 p.m.!), . . .provide more & more differentiated instruction (not always easy to do with so may different needs being present in a classroom & fewer Special Ed. teachers in our schools), . . .abruptly change our effective teaching methods to ones that are yet unproven. . .yet all we get in return is frustration, long hours at school and away from our own children and families, stress and pressure while at school from administrators, fear about getting trouble or losing our jobs if we can’t or don’t really know how to comply with every directive, and NO HOPE OF A RAISE!
    We are in the “trenches” every day with our little “troopers”. . . where are our support systems, our encouragers, our affirmation, our helpers?
    Thankfully I still love teaching and I love my kids, and I like to think they need and care for me, but I really could benefit from an admistration that treats and respects me as a professional, trusts me to know my children and their needs, trusts me to teach to the best of my abilities, and to support me and reward me as I do my job well.

  10. This is what happens when one is chosen who has never been an educator in a public school system tells educators how to educate. One would think that a military person who wants to win the war would ask the soldiers on the battlefied what they need to win it. Teachers, who are highly qualified, are being ignored. I’m afraid this is going to backfire on HCS.

    1. As much as I loathe what Wardynski is doing, I have to disagree with you on this one. I think it is perfectly reasonable to think that a non-educator could successfully run a school system AS LONG AS that person knows what he doesn’t know and is willing to seek and heed good counsel. When one is an arrogant bully, however, whose main goal is to create an echo chamber, the result is probably going to be a disaster, education background or not.

  11. Russ, I am slightly concerned over the rumors that they are reading emails in the “WAR ROOM.” I hope that this is just another rumor. Unfortunately, I find that most of the rumors end up being true. Many companies have some type of disclosure letting their employees know that the COMPANY has the right to read their emails at will. They DO and they WILL. I have an aunt who works for such a company.

    Would a hired consultant (a third party) working in the WAR ROOM reading emails to and from teachers and parents concerning their child’s behavior or academics not violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (a.k.a. FERPA)?

    If I am correct, this is a lawsuit waiting to happen: A FEDERAL lawsuit to be exact.

    1. Take a look at how email to teachers and principals is handled now. The district isn’t publishing email addresses for staff on the site. If you click on the name of a person you want to send an email to, there’s an icon in the top center of the screen labeled email.

      If you click on that, you’re taken to a web form where you type your name, email address and text.

      When you hit submit, a copy of your text appears on the screen along with an Email Tracking Code (a 32 digit code).

      While I suppose that emails sent directly to the person (assuming you know their email address) might not be read, you should, I’m afraid assume that your emails being sent to a hsv-k12.org address are indeed being read by others than just the intended recipient.

      Yes, if these emails are being read by consultants (and who else is left in the central office these days?), that would be a violation of FERPA.

      The district needs to make this completely clear along with evidence that emails are not being monitored (yes, I know you can’t prove a negative, but you can demonstrate the positive at least).

      Absent this, parents should assume that their emails to their children’s teachers are being read by someone other than their teacher.

      Meet with your teacher in person or talk on the phone (but probably not a school phone) if you don’t want your discussion monitored.

  12. As much as I loathe what Wardynski is doing, I have to disagree with you on this one. I think it is perfectly reasonable to think that a non-educator could successfully run a school system AS LONG AS that person knows what he doesn’t know and is willing to seek and heed good counsel. When one is an arrogant bully, however, whose main goal is to create an echo chamber, the result is probably going to be a disaster, education background or not.

      1. No worries.

        I do think that the leader of a district (or the top teacher) should have a background in education though.

        Just as you wouldn’t want a surgeon whose only experience was that they had been operated on once, I do not believe that simply going to school qualifies one to be an expert on education.

        The biggest issue that our schools have faced over that last 40 years is that the educational policy for our country is being determined by people who have little to no understanding of the what, how, and especially the WHY of education.

        But I’m glad we agree on the arrogance part. I do believe that everyone can learn, after all.

  13. I think it depends on the person. Many people with education backgrounds are too wed to “how we’ve always done things” or are too in bed with the teacher’s unions to effectively deal with them. All things being equal, I would prefer someone with an education background, but I think there are effective leaders with a passion for education who might not have chosen teaching as a career, but could nevertheless lead a school system. Unfortunately, Wardynski is not one of them.

    1. I agree with Ben here. I think the comparison of an administrative position with a technical one is a comparison of apples to oranges. While it’s true that I would prefer a SURGEON with surgical training, it is not as important to me that a hospital administrator have medical training. It’s management that is important in a high level leadership position, not technical know-how. Witness the failures of the previous HCS leadership, steeped in educational experience but sorely lacking in organizational management skills. So I think an appropriately humble “numbers guy,” one willing to act on the advice of subject matter experts, would have been suitable as a Superintendent; unfortunately that is not who took over the job.

      The thing that irritates me in all this discussion, however, is the total abdication of responsibility by the school board. Wardynski is one guy. If he behaves like a belligerent tyrant, it’s only because the board members stand idly by (or actively support him). What sort of Svengali-like hold does this man have on that group? Why are they so loathe to respond to the concerns of their constituents? How many of THEM have spent some time in the classrooms to see for themselves what’s what?

      1. Generic management that has no knowledge of the work being done is less effective, even when done well. And it leads to a Machiavellian approach which we’re seeing here.

        Is it easier to work for someone who knows and understands what you do or for someone who understands management theory? I’ve always found the former to be true.

        And the fiasco we see playing out with the computers supports my view, I believe. Such a drastic change would have only been implemented so badly by a person who has no understanding of the distraction and disruption caused in a classroom by having to get 25-30 computers up and running before teaching can begin.

        Districts with educators as leaders understand how a classroom runs best. They would have been much more likely to have approached this transition with the students’ interests in mind.

        Thanks for sharing your views with us even though I disagree with them. 😉

        1. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree — my position would be that it’s fair to say that there are exceptional people in either category: effective leaders without a degree in the field, ineffective leaders with subject matter expertise. I think we’ve seen both at the helm of this school board. My perspective on this comes from struggling against entrenched thinking in educational leadership at the university level — administrators who refuse to allow programs to grow/develop because they are so tied to a particular catechism. If it’s new or different, it threatens their pedagogy. Lots of school systems are languishing under the leadership of trained educators; bad ideas in education aren’t limited to people outside the field and good ones aren’t the exclusive domain of those within it. After all, I’ve said all along that I thought this digital conversion process was ill-advised, and I’m not a trained teacher.

        2. ” I’ve said all along that I thought this digital conversion process was ill-advised, and I’m not a trained teacher.”

          Bingo, and ditto for me. On the other hand, plenty of education professionals have done things just as stupid as what Wardynski has done once they got in a position of power. I could easily see Cathy Vasile pulling something like this.

          Casting it as the difference between “someone who knows and understands what you do” vs. “someone who understands management theory” is a bit too simplistic, Russell. There are great leaders in every field who never did grunt work in that particular area. And there are plenty of tyrants who justify their arrogance in the “moral authority” they gained by coming up through the ranks.

          1. Perhaps.

            Yes, educators screw up. However, typically they at least have an understanding of the process and the goals.

            Those who come in from outside do not. And in my experience, they don’t wish to understand it. They simply wish to control it because there is a ton of public money just waiting to be appropriated.

            Schools are not businesses. They must focus on more than the bottom line.

      2. I completely agree that the board is responsible. They put us into the mess. They brought Wardynski in. They approve every decision he’s made.

Comments are closed.