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An Open House Thank You

Mt. Gap Elementary

I wasn’t able to go to the Parents’ Workshop at Huntsville High tonight, but it seems that all questions had to be vetted. Walk in, write your questions on a card (as is the Huntsville Council of PTAs practice if you remember from last summer’s Demographer’s meetings that they also sponsored), listen to a Pearson Pep Rally–complete with questionable mathematical claims of a network that runs at 100+%–and leave quietly grateful to have been allowed to bask in the glory of PEARSON [cue the Choirs].

One hour out of a mere seven, wasted. Nothing substantial learned: just more of the same propaganda.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The district is nothing if not repetitive in their approach to dealing with the public.

I wasn’t able to attend the meeting (it’s not my feeder anyway). I instead attended my daughter’s PTA Open House at Mt. Gap. The atmosphere here was much more helpful.

Rather than attempting to manipulate and control parents, this open house was characterized by a love of education, questions and seeking the truth.

The meeting was a bit long. The gym was crowded (as it wasn’t designed to hold both the Elementary and Middle schools at the same time–just one of the many questions that Dr. Wardynski never actually answered when he was last on the campus to meet parents) and a bit warm.

And yet the atmosphere was one where people were ready to help one another.

All in all, I’m sure that I learned much more about our schools by attending this meeting rather than the one organized and run by the Superintendent at Huntsville High School.

Plus, rather than having to put up with more of the Superintendent’s self-praise, I instead got to see something truly amazing.

As I was leaving tonight at about 8:00pm, I saw two of my favorite teachers, both with more than 25 years in the system, trying to help parents to understand and make the best of the digital transition. These are those “expensive” teachers that the superintendent and the board like to complain about. They represent the demographic that should be having the greatest difficulty with the transition. Their parents didn’t understand some of the logistics of logging onto the site, and there they were, doing what teachers always do: teaching.

After a 14 hour day spent educating children, making sure that they are safe, engaged, fed, watered and run in the process, these two teachers were standing, talking to parents, answering their questions, helping them make the best of a horrific situation that has been forced upon them by the Superintendent and PEARSON [cue the Choirs].

Why?

It’s simple. These teachers, librarians, counselors, administrators, staff and volunteers love our kids, love our schools, love our town, and love education.

Even when they’re dead on their feet.

They were doing what teachers do; they were doing what teachers always do (including their sisters and brothers in Chicago): They were helping others understand things they couldn’t understand on their own.

These are our true heroes in our town. If Dr. Wardynski cared about education, he would quit spouting his same propaganda and listen to his teachers for a change and say thank you. Because of their love for our kids, they have dedicated themselves to making the best of this impossible situation. Not because he’s threatening them (which he is), but rather because that’s what teachers do: They adapt to the situation and find a way to teach.

Brilliant heroes, everyone. Dr. Wardynski has no idea what an amazing resource our teachers are. His loss.

Thank you isn’t sufficient.

All day and night long they stand for our children. For this, we stand for them.

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

34 Comments

  1. I was at Mountain Gap tonight, too. The gym was warm because HCS has failed to properly install the brand new A/C unit sitting outside the building. Wardynski demands competence of everyone but his own staff, apparently.

    Yes, the teachers at Mountain Gap are (mostly) wonderful. And fortunately, unlike their “brothers and sisters” in Chicago, they actually perform their jobs well and care enough for their kids not to strike for exorbitant raises and decreased accountability.

    1. Ben I’m tired, and I’m not in the mood to argue about the the teachers in Chicago tonight. Suffice it to say that I think you’re wrong about them. They weren’t fighting for money and less accountability. They were fighting for their students.

      Thanks for the info about the air. Doesn’t surprise me. I’m sure it will be cold in there in the morning.

      1. I guess I’m unclear on which part of a 30% raise (the initial demand), no increase in teacher-paid health insurance premiums, and increased job security (protecting bad teachers) is “fighting for the students,” but hey, whatever.

        1. Our district, and the unfair working conditions that have been placed on teachers here, is the primary example why due process laws are crucial to the survival of our schools.

          Wardynski isn’t just attacking “bad” or “lazy” teachers, Ben. He’s attacking all of them.

          In fact, as this post points out, he’s attacking the best teachers MORE.

          I understand that you and I have differing political views on matters like these, but a world were teachers have no rights is Wardynski’s (and any dictator’s) heaven.

          1. Have to respond briefly to this: You will not find me defending Wardynski or his treatment of teachers (or parents). As the husband, son, grandson, and nephew of teachers, I take a backseat to no one in terms of my gratitude for the job they do or the sympathy I feel for how they get jerked around by administrators.

            That said, I just think there has to be a middle ground between the Wardynskis of the world on the one hand and the unions on the other. A world where unions call the shots, where bad teachers can’t be fired (NYC with its “rubber rooms” is the worst example of this), and where — as in Chicago — 3/4 of new money flowing into education has to go toward paying retirement benefits instead of educating kids, is not good and is utterly unsustainable.

        2. And if a union votes to end a strike without achieving one of their “initial demands” perhaps that should indicate to you that it wasn’t the actual reason most of them voted to strike in the first place.

          http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-todays-assignment-seal-deal-with-chicago-teachers-20120918,0,7319589.story

          Rahm Emanuel sued the union on money because “they weren’t striking over money.”

          The teachers will be receiving smaller raises in the deal they “won” than in the deal they previously had.

          Concerning Teacher Evaluation:

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/why-rahm-emanuel-and-the-new-york-times-are-wrong-about-teacher-evaluation/2012/09/12/d0c53044-fce7-11e1-a31e-804fccb658f9_blog.html#pagebreak

          And finally, from one teacher’s own mouth:

          http://chiteacherx.blogspot.com/2012/09/why-im-striking-jcb.html?m=1

          1. When the teachers voted to strike, most of their demands had already been agreed to, and the main sticking points (per CTU boss Karen Lewis) were related to pay, benefits, and job security.

            I read the post from Xian Barrett the first time you posted it. That’s quite a list of discrepancies he has there, but he curiously included items where agreement had already been reached before the strike and omitted items (like pay and benefits) that have nothing to do with the students. It takes quite a bit of chutzpah to justify a strike with a heartstring-pulling list of grievances when your union’s main efforts are focused on other matters entirely.

            No, the CTU didn’t get the 30% it wanted — only 16%, which in this economy, is pretty darn good. Question: If CPS had agreed to address all of the items on Barrett’s list in return for no pay raise, do you think the CTU would have agreed to it? The question answers itself.

            1. Actually, since they agreed to a cut in benefits, yes, I think it does answer itself in the affirmative.

              I’m not looking for a world that is “controlled” by anyone: union or corporations. Of course there needs to be a balance between the extremes. And yes, unions have often overreached and abused their power. They are not perfect, and I haven’t claimed that they are. (In fact, I believe if you re-read my posts you’ll find that I am critical quite often of HEA/AEA.)

              However, right now the corporatists are the ones with nearly all the power. And Wardynski is evidence of this. His abuse of our teachers is also evidence of this.

              So if I one time post one sentence on this blog that is in support of teachers working together to fight against those who are, in my opinion, destroying our schools, you’ll have to forgive me. (I don’t believe that I posted the Barrett link on the blog before. I posted it on my FB wall, but that’s separate and more personal than this blog.)

              I’m not attempting to needlessly politicize this blog. I’m not running for office or seeking to change your mind about which party is right or wrong.

              I’m simply expressing my gratitude to teachers for standing up for their kids. That’s what I believe our teacher here in Huntsville do every day. That’s what I believe those in Chicago did as well.

              As I mentioned to you on a post before, it would damage my credibility to be someone other than who I am. That I won’t do.

              I appreciate that we have a difference of opinion and that you’re willing to express that here. I’m not trying to demonize you in anyway. If you’re reading and commenting here, I’m comfortable calling you a friend of teachers and students.

              That really is all that matters to me.

              Thanks!

              1. “I don’t believe that I posted the Barrett link on the blog before.”

                It was on your “reader” links on the right at one point.

                But fair enough — I’m not trying to pick a fight. I have been very critical of Wardynski, but I see the unions as being just as bad in their own way. I just hated to see the fine teachers at Mountain Gap conflated with the CTU.

                1. I stand corrected about the link. I forget that the things I star on Reader, show up here.

                  I apologize that my conflation of our teachers with other teachers offended you.

    2. Well said Russell! Most (almost all) of our teachers go above and beyond, elementary and middle. Yes I said almost all. Enough about that. 🙂

      For the A/C in the gym, the PE teachers did tell the middle school parents during our “class rotations” that the A/C unit was brand new and not working. HCS was blaming Trane, and Trane was saying HCS is to blame.

      1. That is often the way with contractors . . . the two are paired off against the middle.

        Ultimately, the responsibility rests with the district, however. It’s their job to oversee these types of issues.

        Seems to me that one of the “selling points” for the merger last year was that it would free up some much needed funding to allow for repairs to the building . . .

  2. The air in the gym at Mountain Gap has ALWAYS been a problem even when my kids went there. It was great to read about the number of parents that came to the PTA meeting. At my school I didn’t have any of my students parents to show up. The other teachers had two or three to show up.

  3. ” it seems that all questions had to be vetted. Walk in, write your questions on a card (as is the Huntsville Council of PTAs practice if you remember from last summer’s Demographer’s meetings that they also sponsored), listen to a Pearson Pep Rally–complete with questionable mathematical claims of a network that runs at 100+%–and leave quietly grateful to have been allowed to bask in the glory of PEARSON [cue the Choirs].”

    This is who they are.
    This is who they will always be.

  4. Russ,
    I’ve got to side with Ben on this one. Teachers in Chicago are asking a bit much and they KNOW they are harming the kids right now by striking. Sorry, no sympathy for them from me.

        1. Eh, I put the line they’re referring to into the post.

          No, it’s not the point of the post, but I did include the line about the Strike. So while we are spending a lot of time on a single sentence, it is actually part of the posting I made. So, in a sense, I’ve hijacked myself here.

          Sorry about that. 🙂

  5. I attended the “parents workshop” last night and wasn’t that surprised. Of course they made a point to introduce all the “dignitaries” in the crowd (Board members, Wardynski, etc) and practically all of them were acknowledged with a rather tepid response. I thought we would be able to verbally ask our questions, listen to the response, then address the response accordingly. That doesn’t seem to be the MO of this group of folks. They simply do not want dialogue. Iwas a bit disturbed by the lecture Wardynski gave on “Digits,” the math course that does not use a book and is so wonderful becasue it is “highly interactive.” Hey dimwit….it’s teacher-student interaction that we need here, not computer-student interaction! Only a teacher can assess, discuss, and walk through a child’s approach to solving a math problem. The computer only says whether you have gotten it right or wrong. Let me be just a little clearer in my language. The computer is a damn tool that should be used as a teaching aid by a well trained, experienced educator. Regarding last night, I am also interested to see if indeed all of the questions submitted will be posted with answers. I know that they did not read ONE of the three questions I submitted.

  6. Jefferson County, Florida Middle School:
    Each of the 450 students in Howard Middle School has been issued a laptop computer. The school serves grades five through eight. While individual teachers and students have experienced some successes with the laptops, overall this initiative provides more lessons learned for other schools that will be starting laptop programs. Initially, the laptops had little tool-based software that the teachers were made aware of. (Most teachers were not even aware that the laptops contained a word processor.) Instead, students were expected to utilize a number of web-based content and testing providers. The drill-and-practice exercises did little to raise student interest or achievement. Rather than reforming educational practices in the school, the laptops tended to reinforce existing, traditional methods of teaching. The lack of appropriate inservice training and the isolation of the school (Howard is the only middle school in the county) meant that teachers had very little direction aside from the vendor presentations supplied by the web-based content and testing service providers. Lessons learned:
    • Laptop computers should include appropriate tool-based software and teachers should be given sufficient inservice training to utilize it effectively with their students.
    • When the predominant teaching style in a school is “instructionist,” extensive professional development is required to model ways of integrating project based learning into the curriculum.
    • Several laptop initiatives give their teachers laptop computers a semester or even a full year before their students so that the teachers can get comfortable with the capabilities of the computer and explore ways of integrating it into their curriculum. This practice could have eased the transition for the Howard faculty, many of whom stated that they had limited experience with computers and were very uncomfortable using them in the classroom.

  7. I attended the HHS Parent Workshop as well. For parents who were uninformed and knew very little, I think it was probably helpful. For those of us who are more involved, it only seemed to go over stuff we already knew or could find out ourselves in the FAQ of the HCS page. But I would also like to point out that the breakout sessions also had teachers in them showing parents how to utilize the information. They had also been on their feet all day teaching but came to help at this event that served a wider population than just their students. My child attends a magnet school so HHS is not my feeder school either. I think I’ll attend the Grissom session tonight as well.

  8. I don’t understand how the Superintendent could legally get financial gain from this deal with Pearson.
    Sounds like a “Kickback” hidden somewhere in this deal.
    Has no one contacted the State Dept. Of Audit to investigate this HUGE expenditure?
    You don’t even have to give them your name.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion. It sounds like you might have filed a report like this before. Do you have suggestions for the following fields?

      Which best describes the problem you are reporting?
      State Government Employee?
      State Government Employee in conjunction with others?
      Government Contractor/Grantee?
      Recipient?
      Other?

      Should we report Pearson or Huntsville City Schools?

      The nature of your allegation is best represented by?
      Theft of Government Property?
      Employer Abuse (Civil Rights)?
      Whistleblower Retaliation?
      Employee Fraud?
      Contractor/Grantee Fraud?
      Recipient Fraud (Claims)?
      Financial Fraud (Tax/Mail)?
      Kickbacks/Bribes/Extortion?
      False Statements/Certifications?
      Conflict of Interest/Ethics Violations?
      Environmental Violations?
      Mismanagement/Waste By Government?
      Mismanagement/Waste By Contractors/Grantees?
      Other?

      Also, in the field where we describe the event, should we simply describe it as a large contract with little seeming benefit to the district? What would you suggest?

      Feel free to contact me privately if you wish. russ@geekpalaver.com

  9. Russell, sorry that I have not thanked you until now. It is admirable that you stand up for people who are oppressed. That is the principles in which our country was founded. Isn’t that what teachers should teach students? As for Ben; being a husband, son, grandson, and nephew of teachers is great. You have an outstanding linage of teachers. Obviously, by your comments, you are not a teacher.

    1. There is neither a need to apologize or to thank me, but you’re welcome. It is my honor.

      As I said, y’all stand for my kids, every single day. This is the least I can do in return.

      I hope tomorrow is a good day.

  10. I am a teacher. I am so very proud of what I do to help my children learn every day. For the most part, seeing them grasp and apply new concepts, seeing them happy and healthy, seeing them explore new interests and try new things . . .all of this is my REWARD. But I have to say, it surely feels good to hear someone say I’m doing a good job in what I feel is a bad situation. Thanks, Russ! It is refreshing to hear that there are a few parents out there who support us as teachers rather than blame us for everything that is wrong with HCS, the new laptops, the internet connection, the new Pearrson online textbooks, and/or their child’s less than perfect or ideal performance, attitude, and behavior. We simply work with whaqt we are given. We are not miracle workers; we are teachers.

    I went to college to earn the degrees that were necessaary to prepare me to teach children and the subject I love. I did not go to school all those years to be the new IT guy, to teach technology, or to use only technology to evaluate my children.

    Technology is just another tool, another resource that I can use creatively. I have no problem using it as such. However, no one will ever convince me that a computer can do an better job of evaluting your child’s learning ability, progress, or mastery than I can. Do you know why? . . . Because I am an educational professional who is passionately committed to every child’s learning and because I CARE ABOUT YOUR CHILD. That damn computer and online textbook do not.

    The new Pearson program does have some useful features, however, the inconsistency in utlizing this new program, the frustration of losing one’s work or data, the lack of training and practice for those of us who MUST use and teach this new system are all serious problems. I attended both meetings at Huntsville High and Grissom last week and all I heard for answers to the many different questions is this: “We are aware of ______ problem, and we are addressing and sassessing the _______ problem, and we are working on that issue.” Exactly what the hell does that mean? I never heard anyone give a specific date for a problem to be FIXED or an explanation of the manner in which the problems would be FIXED.

    I am so tired of having to smile and pretend that all is well, that everything is getting better, that we all must keep trying.

    Today some of my children were complaining that they could not acccess the Pearson textbooks this past weekend. I tried to be encouraging, yet after a while, I resorted to just telling the children that they and their parents should call everyone and anyone in charge at the HCS Central Office to express their concerns. No one at my school can FIX all thesedifferent computer problems; my suggestion is that parents and students go up the ladder, above my meager pay scale, to demand action and answers. Why should I keep covering for these people who got us into this mess? That is NOT my job; my job is to teach. So let me teach, and give me freedom from my new IT duties that I am NOT trained to do, nor do I want to do.

    I do not like to feel threatened about losing my job or being reprimmanded for not using this new program. I, like many other teachers, do not feel that I can talk to fellow educators and administrators because most of us feel we can’t “trust” anyone. Morale is at an all time low at my school and many others. We are stressed, pressured, worried, frustrated, and tired all the time. Many of us arrive early to school daily and stay very late because we are trying to learn this new program. It’s a slower process when one has to teach oneself a totally new educational and teaching system/method while still managing to plan creative and engaging lessons, teach those lessons, attend meetings,tutor students in need of extra help, answer parental emails or return calls, keep records, assess STAR Test results, devise and implement interventions for those performing below grade level, complete reports, . . .Oh, and occasionally spend time with our own families, eat, and sleep. We’ve been in school 5 weeks, and we’re exhausted! And there is NO Fall break this year to use as a time to decompress and relax.

    And did I mention we’ve had NO raises in 4+ years! Yet Dr. W. generously provides incentive pay for his administrators who drink his kool-aid and march to his drum beat. Oh, I’m sure he thinks that providing teachers with all this “marvelous” technology and $700 of “hush money” in our Oct. check are more than enough for the “grunts”. Really? I have to ask . . .If HCS has the funding for this huge Pearson transition, all these new laptops, remodeling schools that ought to be closed, building new schools that we relly don’t need, then HCS ought to be able to give its teachers a decent raise. . . and a THANK YOU.

    Dr. W has been far too successful in intimidation and dictating to teachers what they will and will not do. He is more concerned about numbers, budgets, test scores, and positive media exposure than the well-being and needs of our children, their parents, or his “grunts’ (otherwise known as teachers). I really question the integrity, honor, and wisdom of a man who marches into our town and begins to change/shake up things just because the Board of Education has given him the freedon to do so. What was the Board of Education thinking when they hired this type of person to lead our school system? He is NOT an educator. Dr. W has NEVER taught a child or a classroom full of them; so I have to ask, how the hell does he know better than I HOW to teach, how to evaluate, how to lead, guide, and care for my students?

    Thanks for giving us this place to vent, to comment, to really discuss our concerns and frustrations, Thank you for listening to us. Thank you for acknowledging all that we do and why we do it. Thank you for PUBLICALLY STANDING UP for US when no one else will. It means a lot to me to know that there are parents like you who are involved and want what is best for the children, just as I do.

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