Why The Pinnacle of Hypocrisy Matters

8-2 Board Meeting

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.

The History

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.

These are our children that we’re subjecting to the whims and fancies of a private corporation that seemingly has two concerns: 1. To make a profit, and 2. To make sure her own children have a job.

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.

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


  1. Amen and amen. Great post.

    I’d like to know if any one of the Board has ever set foot in the Elk River camp. I’m wondering too when Eric Lee was hired, that is, if he was a “counselor” at Elk River when he was arrested or if the position was created by mom afterwards to keep him out of Huntsville. Huntsville taxpayers are paying a portion of his salary, but I guess seeing the guy’s resume would be too much to hope for.

    And since the Board doesn’t answer questions from its constituents in public meetings, none of these questions is likely to be answered.

  2. I believe the the Superintendent and the board are not only incompetetent, but some are morally corrupt. They have allowed Wardynski a free and willing hand to give contracts to companies that they’re making thousands and thousands of dollars from – blatantly taking money away from the schools, teachers, students and the tax payers. That’s what Broad trainees, like Wardynski do.

    Since Jennie Robinson came on board, our system has gone downhill. And it was she, and she alone, that found and brought to Huntsville Casey Wardynski, a man who had not had ONE SINGLE day’s experience dealing with students. Not one.

    And now we have a new member who knows zilch about public schools. His own kids attend private schools. He is, of course, a home builder. Robinson awarded homebuilders with fancy, overbuilt schools so they could develop land and sell homes.The new member whose name I can’t recall says he’s going to study and learn from Wardynski and the board. God help us all.

    I feel helpless for they’re all in on it together. There’s no one to turn to. What a sorry mess this district, at one time among the greatest in the country has come to. That’s privatization and cronyism does when they’re given a free hand.

    The citizens don’t know what’s going on. The Huntsville Times had an on-going love affair with him, running articles and his picture on the front pages almost daily.

    Thank God for Russell Winn who has for months revealed just how bad and corrupt things are in this once fine school district.

  3. I agree, this is your best blog yet. It’s appalling. I would like to know if the son is actually a licensed counselor or is that just a job title? Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of all the secrets. Eventually, corruption and ineptitude get exposed, and there seems to be plenty of that in the Huntsville City Schools.

    1. If the boy’s mother did report it to W and the board, and they did nothing, are they not then “accessories after the fact?” A person with knowlege of a crimnal activity who does not report it or who helps them out in any way – as in allowing them to continue working – is in fact an accessary after the fact. So this would apply to W and to the entire board. It sounds like serious busness to me.

    2. I know this is an old post, but I can answer the above question. Eric Lee is not a certified counselor and he has been there for a while, since at least 2010. Very few people employed there are certified. The man who runs the place has a degree in PE from Canada. They have a Dr. who visits every once in a while at the remote location.

  4. I still say Coach Henderson was fired because he was a white make to cover for the high tech lynching of Fillis McGhee and Joanne Thompson.

    Another reason this matters is the Huntsville City School system has a documented history of disciplining black students more than white students. By outsourcing the alternative school to a private contractor they can go around the DOJ as they won’t have to report the number/race of the students.

    Another reason this matters is young black males makes up 75% of the prison population for guess what…..possession/sale of drugs and possession of Guns/shotguns. Ask them about innocent until proven guilty. Better yet, ask their parents.

    And yes, I am playing the race card from the race deck.

  5. Typo should read I still say Coach Henderson was fired because he is a white male to cover for the high tech lynching of Hampton Middke School Principal Fillis McGhee, and Davis Hills Middle School Teacher Joanne Thompson, two African American females.

    It’s the elected school board, and as the last election proved it just gets worse and worse. Maybe it’s time for the State or the Feds to come in and take over this board.

  6. Redeye, if there’s any doubters, let them go to the Madison County Jail site and see who has posted how much money as bonds for what crimes and who is sitting in a cell for what crimes.

    I wish I knew something about how contracts work if the company receives tax dollars: are there no accountability, Freedom of Info Acts provisions in these situations?

    And what if this had happened under Ann Roy Moore? Well, it wouldn’t have, would it? She doesn’t run with the pill hill crowd.

  7. Fillis McGhee was the principal of Hampton Cove Elementary. She appealed her firing, had a hearing in court in front of a judge, and the firing was upheld. She was absolutely proven to be guilty of nepotism, forging observation documents for teachers, and blatantly lying about her niece’s age to gain free access to the HCS preschool program. I do not understand the “high tech lynching” comment.
    Russell, I feel that the walls of the ivory tower may be beginning to crumble a bit. Do you? The media seems to be more involved than ever. Parents have become agitated enough to speak out, and W seems to be backing down a bit with some of his directives. W has publicly offended the public at the board meetings (Mr. Wittenborg), and he may gave finally gone too far with the Pinnacle cover-up.
    Great job on your part! If not for your blog, so many would not have any idea what is going on.

    1. I agree! If this board and superintendent go down soon (as they should), a big share of the credit should go to Russell for his tireless efforts to expose their corruption.

  8. “McGhee is absolutely guilty of nepotism ” but Karen Lee is defended. There is more than a whiff of hypocrisy.

  9. Yes, definitely hypocrisy on the part of the board, but McGhees’s actions aren’t defendable, and Karen Lee cannot be held accountable for the actions of her sons. If anything, it is truly admirable of her to come forward and tell the board and superintendent of her sons’ arrests. Now, any morally sound person would never let anyone who has just been arrested for drug trafficking to work with troubled youth. Karen Lee,herself, seemed to realize this when she made a full disclosure to the school board. The board and super, however, seem to have had no problem with it.

    1. Anonymous writes, “Now, any morally sound person would never let anyone who has just been arrested for drug trafficking to work with troubled youth. Karen Lee,herself, seemed to realize this when she made a full disclosure to the school board.”

      One of Karen Lee’s sons who is out on bond for trafficking worked at Elk River as a counselor until this Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012.

    2. I’m sorry; Mrs. Lee can be held accountable for her decision to knowingly employee an individual charged with trafficking marijuana as a “counselor” for troubled youths. It shouldn’t have taken her 9 months to decide that this employee’s duties should be changed.

      There actually ought to be something in the contract that gives the school district an out fo a situation like this, but given how eveything is rushed and rubberstamped, I’m sure it wasn’t considered important enough to include given the urgency.

  10. Precisely my point- Karen Lee, the board, and W are not morally sound. Of the three aforementioned groups, however, one (Lee) did come forward to let the other two know of her sons arrests. The other two obviously dismissed it as unimportant. Unbelievable!
    Lee’s actions, to that point, were somewhat admirable. But what did she do after the board and super threw her their support (and mega amounts of money)? She kept her historically troubled, presently arrested son on as a counselor of troubled youth! Again, unbelievable!

  11. Anonymous we are going to have to agree to disagree that McGhees actions were indefensible. There are two sides to every story and the only side the public heard was Wardyndki’s side.

  12. It’s just amazing, the difference in Wardynski’s response to a DUI v. trafficking.

    Well, I sent an email to by school board rep re Pinnacle and also the aticle in The Times re the computer cluster. Pointed out super’s hypocrisy, pinnacle’s poor judgement and questionable effectiveness, and Wardynski’s lack of communication.

    I’m sue my email will go in the round file as all the othes seem to have, but at least Topperr Birney knows that 1 consituent isn’t happy with Wardynski’s performance.

  13. Redeye- there may be two sides to every story, but, believe me, I was VERY close to this one. McGhee did everything she was fired for. I believe we agree on every other point on this entire blog- I always enjoy reading your comments.

  14. I figure W will take his money and bail out soon. Thanks to Russell Winn, there are just too many things coming to light.

    I adore the Madison Cunty School System.. They are just so low-key, never hear a word of discord or scandal and they always have a super school board and a level-headed, non-publicity seeking superintendent. Oh, yes. And stellar students.

    Let’s get Russell Winn on the school board.

      1. There’s not a single educator on the board, or as Superintendent.
        You’re both a parent of public school children AND you are an educator – and a fine one at that I’m sure! We need a board made up of people like you, not home builders!

      2. Russell you can be both a teacher and a school board member. You are the kind of public school parent/teacher the public school board needs. Strike that. You are the kind of public school parent/teacher students deserve.

  15. First let’s work on a recall election.

    ALA CODE 11-44E-168 is confined to mayor or any commissioner. Perhaps we should approach our legislative delegation members about sponsoring legislation to include school board members in this section of the code. Citizens of Huntsville need to take back their schools.

  16. Actually, not true. Wardynski was brought to town by the headhunter firm. It is, however, true that Robinson spearheaded the ultimate choice of Wardynski and has been his biggest cheerleader. As much as this disappoints me, credit should be given where it is due. Back when Ann Roy Moore was running the system into the ground, Robinson was the ONLY board member who questioned anything about what was going on, and she was pilloried repeatedly for doing so. The rest of the board just sat there and gave ARM straight-A’s until she was eventually fired. For having the guts to stand up to ARM, Huntsville owes Robinson a huge “thank you.”

    Her current blind support for Wardynski, however, is certainly depleting the reservoir of good will, though.

  17. Actually, not true. Wardynski was brought to town by the headhunter firm. It is, however, true that Robinson spearheaded the ultimate choice of Wardynski and has been his biggest cheerleader. As much as this disappoints me, credit should be given where it is due. Back when Ann Roy Moore was running the system into the ground, Robinson was the ONLY board member who questioned anything about what was going on, and she was pilloried repeatedly for doing so. The rest of the board just sat there and gave ARM straight-A’s until she was eventually fired. For having the guts to stand up to ARM, Huntsville owes Robinson a huge “thank you.”

    Her current blind support for Wardynski, however, is certainly depleting the reservoir of good will, though.

    1. The board members were not innocent bystanders in the selection process, Ben.

      They chose the headhunting firm. The reviewed the names brought to them. They suggested that some names shouldn’t be brought to them.

      Heck, even Morrison was questioning the process and the influence that certain board members had on the selection of those receiving interviews.

      And if you consider the final three candidates, honestly, it looks even more predetermined. How Springston even got an initial interview is beyond me. I think he preceded Wardynski in the schedule just to make Wardynski look better.

      The certain member of the board certainly did direct the process.

      1. There was a wonderful guy from North Carolina in the final three. He had a REAL PhD in a real subject and from a brick and mortor school, which I don’t believe W has. (Check out Rand Academy) He also had 12 years experience as superintendent in a successful school in North Carolina. I was aghast when the board turned him down for W who had no experience credentials in public education whatsoever.

  18. Argh… not sure why my replies to other posts keep going to the bottom. I’m sure it’s Wardynski’s fault though. 🙂

    1. As superintendent, she was ultimately responsible for our schools. We had (and have) schools in our system where scores on state assessments fall way below state minimums. When we first moved here from Texas where I taught in a Title 1 school, I could not believe the discrepancies in scores across our district! Under her watch, this continued year after year with not a whole lot of discussion or concern raised. Then when the Times ran an article, “adjusting the scores for poverty” or something like that, I thought it was all a bunch of baloney and one more excuse. ALL children can learn and ALL our schools can be successful, with ALL grade levels achieving above state minimums. Excellent teachers, along with passionate, driven administrators, can turn a school around (even without parental involvement in my experience). I think it begins and ends with the superintendent . Just for the record, I have many concerns regarding the one we have now, but I do appreciate his emphasis on accountability.

      1. Lynn,
        System test scores were way below minimum state standards long before ARM became “ultimately responsible” for our schools. As a matter of fact, there the same schools who fell “way below minimum standards” under her tenure are the same schools that are falling “way below minimum standards under Wardynski.

        You said-“I have many concerns regarding the one we have now, but I do appreciate his emphasis on accountability.”

        Yep, it appears his emphasis on accountability applies to everyone but him. What about his accountability to taxpayers?

  19. It was Robinson who kept her on. Dr. Moore, I always thought, was overwhelmed by Robinson. She kept her in because Moore posed no obstacle or threat for her plans.

  20. Just a thought….How was it that Pearson was selected for this contract? Were they properly vetted? Was there a proper proposal process and evaluation of proposers? Why did Wardynski blatantly rush this transition into the Huntsville system and why wasn’t it gradually done, i.e., perhaps starting with middle school only until the kinks were ironed out? Was Pearson involved at all in the school district in Colorado that Wardynski only spent a year at before leaving? Will he be high tailing it out of here in a year or so for another school district, and “coincidentally” introducing Pearson’s digital transtion there as well? This stuff could make for a great novel, but it would be a slick move if he had developed a “partnership” with Pearson, and then went out and moved from school district to school district every couple of years introducing the digital classroom concept and bringing in Pearson each time.

  21. Excellent comments and discussion, guys, but I think many of you are missing the big picture.W wants your system broken. W wants your free public education to go away–replaced by private “charters” who operate on a for profit basis. When that happens, you will have no voice in how your child is educated or what they learn. Teachers will have no freedom to teach anything but rote memorization and test-taking (No Child Left Behind is simply a euphemism for No Child Leaving high school with higher order thinking skills). You will have no options if you don’t like it (other than home-schooling). The more you can pay, the better your child’s education will be. Just like health care, education will become a privilege for those who can afford it, not a democratic right. Privatizing public education will be the deathblow to the middle class as we know it. Look at the history–free public education and the rise of the middle class happen at roughly the same time in this country. That is no coincidence. Don’t mean to be a conspiracy theorist or anything, but W and those of his ilk would see your system replaced by corporate charters just like the public school system in New Orleans after Katrina. What do they have in New Orleans now, like 4 public schools? The rest are charters. Thanks, Russ for taking a stand. Complacency on our part is the biggest ally these guys have.

    1. To be fair, New Orleans has ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS been dominated by private schools, typically parochial schools. They never had as much public school attendance as you might expect in a city that size.

  22. As a former educator at the Seldon Center, I feel compelled to comment about the Pinnacle situation. Wardynski totally threw us under the bus! He stated that we didn’t have any students there…but if he were to have asked someone, he would have found out that our total averaged around 100 students. If he would have bothered to visit us more than one 15 minute visit, he would have seen us in action working with these challenged students. I wonder how Pinnacle is going to do with 100+ Class 3 expelled students? Also, I read on Pinnacle’s website a boastful letter to the board about the seniors they graduated…like none of the students who attended Seldon ever did anything. ALL seniors at Seldon graduated. They returned to their home school where they could walk across the stage with their class at their home school. Keep up the great work Geek Palaver and let us know if Pinnacle is worth all the money HCS is paying them!

  23. Redeye, it is obvious you are a friend of this woman or know nothing about her. She absolutely did everything she was accused of and more! Do you know that she had parents making out checks in HER NAME instead of HCES for various events that required payments?

  24. A good Christian woman doesn’t forge signatures. Has anyone ever done that to you, Redeye? A good Christian woman doesn’t fabricate birth records in order to get free babysitting (preK) for a niece. A good Christian woman doesn’t fire someone for no reason just to make room for her sister. A good Christian woman doesn’t conduct writing classes beginning at 2:30 in the afternoon when she is still on the clock as a principal and charge $45- checks payable to Fillis McGhee. A good Christian woman doesn’t steal a harddrive from her school computer. Choose another role model, Redeye. She was wrong and got caught. She’s lucky she didn’t get arrested for forgery. The teachers were very forgiving to not press charges.

  25. Karen Lee is disgusting and delusional for thinking it is in the best interest of our children to allow her criminal drug addict son to watch over our children. She gave her children everything wealth could buy. All she really cares about is making more money!

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