Why is it when a public teacher does something wrong, everyone immediately calls for her (or his) head, but when a private company does the same thing, or usually something far worse, everyone rushes to defend it? This is indeed The Pinnacle of Hypocrisy.
According to Karen Lee, CEO of The Pinnacle Schools, Dr. Wardynski and the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education knew that her sons had been arrested for drug trafficking in December. As reported by WAFF’s Nick Lough, Lee said, “When my sons were arrested I let them [Superintendent/BOE] know and that was before the board vote took place. I let them know immediately what was going on and that this was the situation.” The Board and Superintendent knew and yet yesterday they chose to defend The Pinnacle Schools’ actions.
If you’d like to read the background on how all of this information came to light, please read the excellent Merts Center Monitor blogs on the issue beginning on September 11, 2012: (“The Pinnacle of Hypocrisy,” “Why Didn’t The Huntsville Times Report That 24 Pounds of Marijuana Were Confiscated December 9, 2011,” “The Pinnacle Debacle: Who Knew What When,” and “Thank You Crystal Bonvillian. Innocent Until Proven Guilty. Nepotism.” If not for this blogger’s work, none of this would have ever come to light, and Eric Lee would still be working as a counselor with Huntsville City Schools students staying at the Elk River facility. I would also recommend reading The Huntsville Times article published yesterday: “Huntsville school officials defend alternative school after owners’ sons face drug charges.”
The arrests occurred on December 9, 2012 a week after Karen Lee made her sales presentation to the board of education on December 1st. (The Times got the date wrong). According to her statement to WAFF, the board of education knew of the arrest “when my sons were arrested.” In other words, they had just under one month between being informed and their next discussion of The Pinnacle Schools agreement to think about the implications of contracting out the district’s students to a private organization. And they did it anyway.
This is a dereliction of duty.
During the board work session on January 5, 2012 concerning the contract with The Pinnacle Schools, the board spent about thirty minutes discussing at length how HCS students would be better served, for less money (even though it actually costs twice as much), by The Pinnacle Schools as opposed to The Seldon Center.
Anyone care to guess what not one person in the board room discussed during the January 5th meeting? That’s right. There was not one mention of the arrests of Lee’s sons, despite the fact that during her presentation she used her son’s troubled youth to sell her services.
The Board and Superintendent’s Response
Mr. Blair is right: It’s often unfair to judge a parent for the actions of her children; however, when the parent sells the district a $1.2 million dollar contract by referring to her sons, well, it seems to me that she is pointedly upholding their actions as a model to follow.
But no one in the boardroom mentioned it.
As Merts Center Monitor points out, either they believed this information “unimportant,” or they “banked on the public not finding out or not caring.” Neither option is good for our schools or our students, is it?
On January 19th, the board met to vote on the contract and spent about another 10 minutes discussing it. Evidently the district added language to the contract that required The Pinnacle Schools to hire “a diverse staff and will be purposeful in recruiting and retaining staff from diverse backgrounds.” I doubt that addition was made to include those with a recent, and as yet unsettled, arrest for drug trafficking, but I could be wrong.
It’s clear that the board and superintendent knew things that I didn’t.
The contract was unanimously approved.
This is the same contract that Blair said was, “carefully” examined by the board. It seems that careful examination doesn’t include the public’s right to know, does it?
The Board And Superintendent Defend Pinnacle
During the months that followed, Eric Lee served as a counselor at the Elk River facility until Thursday afternoon, yes Thursday afternoon. An individual with an unresolved drug trafficking and weapons possessions case was serving as a counselor at a facility designed as the last stop to help students who might themselves have drug abuse, trafficking, or weapons possessions issues (as detailed in Class III – MAJOR OFFENSES in the 2012-2013 Official Student-Parent Handbook).
Perhaps the board thought no one could be better suited to work with “those” kids than someone with an open arrest case?
While I do not know that the board knew that Eric Lee was a counselor working at Elk River, we do now know that they knew he was an employee with The Pinnacle Schools.
They knew, they did nothing to stop it, and they defended it.
This. Is. Wrong.
Why It Matters
So why would any of this matter? The contract is signed. Why should anyone care at this point? Haven’t all of our children done things to embarrass us? Surely, Mr. Blair was right when he said that parents shouldn’t be judged by their kids, right? (And my all time favorite:) This is old news.
Here are a few reasons why this matters, today:
Corporatized Education means that the public, and in particular parents, no longer have any voice in our schools.
From February until Thursday, September 13th, a person with an unresolved felony arrest was actively working as a counselor with Huntsville City Schools students. As Lee told the Times on the 13th, “her son would remain an employee, just as any employee would if they were charged with a crime but had not been convicted.” Perhaps she should have made it a bit clearer by saying, “but had not yet been convicted,” but either way this represents a radical departure from the standards applied to all of our other teachers and counselors in Huntsville City Schools. And that’s the problem.
As I was told on a Facebook discussion yesterday, “Outside groups cannot tell any business how to handle internal issues.” Exactly. Once we subcontract our public education funds to a private business, we no longer have any say over the quality of the education that occurs there. We no longer have any say over the hiring practices/employment policies that occur there. We no longer have any say over what happens in those schools.
And that’s the problem.
This matters because the public no longer has a voice in public education.
Eric Lee was actively dealing with his own drug/criminal activity while attempting to “counsel” children.
While it is true that an effective counselor is one who can identify with those whom he/she is counseling, no one is capable of counseling others out of a situation they are in themselves. That’s like trying to tell your neighbor living in a hole how to climb out while you’re stuck yourself.
The Pinnacle Schools claims under their values, “We will never violate the trust placed in us.”
Public School Teachers are held to a higher standard.
Do you remember Coach Keith Henderson? Coach Henderson was arrested for DUI on August 14, 2011. According to Coach Henderson, he made repeated requests to meet with Dr. Wardynski, and all of those requests were refused. Coach Henderson was fired four days later by the superintendent.
I apologize to Coach Henderson for bringing up this painful time in his life; I’m pleased that he is currently employed by Arab City Schools.
For the record, Coach Henderson was never convicted of the DUI charge.
Why is it okay for our students to be counseled in a private setting by someone with an outstanding drug trafficking charges against him, but if a Huntsville City School employee were facing the same charges, they would be fired nearly immediately?
Why is the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education, which voted unanimously to fire Coach Henderson, now defending The Pinnacle Schools’ decision to keep Eric Lee in the classroom?
This is what having money and connections will buy you in this town: more money and an active and vocal defense when you or your employees do something wrong.
Corporatized education can evidently do no wrong in this town. And it seems from the point of view of our board and superintendent that public teachers can do no right.
What Coach Henderson did was wrong. But if the board and superintendent can defend Eric Lee and The Pinnacle Schools, then they owe Coach Henderson and his family an apology.
Mr. Blair, and the rest of the board of education for whom he spoke on Thursday, should be ashamed.
I don’t believe that Dr. Wardynski has it in him.
And finally, the main reason that this matters:
Because ALL of our students, even those who make mistakes, MATTER.
Dr. Wardynski likes to claim that every student in our district deserves a high-quality education. This incident proves that neither he nor the board actually believe that.
It’s far past time to rid our public schools of those who hate public education. We need to start with the Superintendent and the Board of Education.