Who’s Out There: Move Forward

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A reader of this blog (Concerned Parent) has posted a series of good questions that I thought worth of a separate post as we seek a way to move forward.

Please read the questions and respond to them if you wish. You may, of course, respond anonymously.

Here are the questions:

  1. How many Huntsville residents who have a vested interest in student(s) attending HCS have written letters to the HT in the last four weeks concerning issues they have with HCS 1:1 initiative?
  2. Of those answering #1 who have, how many had their letters published?
  3. How many Huntsville residents with a vested interest in student(s) attending HCS have corresponded with their HCS Board member(s) during the last three to four weeks have been told “I have been staying in contact with Principals in the district as well as the Superintendent. As a Board member, my role is to not be involved in day-to-day operations…that is the job of the Superintendent and his staff (which includes all employees of the system). Because I want to stay abreast of what is going on, I do talk with the leaders in the various areas to be aware of any brewing issues?”
  4. How many who have corresponded with their HCS School Board member(s) and received a similar response to that in question #3 are satisfied with Board member(s) response?
  5. How many Huntsville City residents with a vested interest in a student attending HCS have communicated same concerns to their State School Board representative in the last 4 weeks?
  6. Of those who have expressed their concerns to their State School Board representative, how many have received a response to date?
  7. How many of those who have received a response from their State School Board representative are satisfied with response?
  8. How many Huntsville City residents with a vested interest in student(s) are willing to privately gather and devise a strategy (vetting process TBD)?

Thanks for reading and for your responses.


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


  1. Fine, I’ll be the first to go.
    1. I know of three people who have written The Times – including myself (twice).
    2. Zero to my knowledge.
    3. None to my knowledge, but if you count the Super then five parents of HCS students. One of them is a repeat offender with three attempts to communicate with the Super’s office.
    4. To date, none of them have received a response. The repeat offender is quite upset about this and she plans on attending the board meetings in the future.
    5. None to my knowledge.
    6. N/A
    7. N/A
    8. I bet I could get my repeat offender parent to do it. Personally, I can’t. They would have me fired before I could get to the meeting.

  2. One way to move forward might be to capture all the pros and cons of the digital 1:1 initiative somewhere. I’ve started the following list:

    – Children exposed to computers
    – Fast searchs of documents
    – With digital textbooks, less weight to carry

    – Unsuitable for some curriculum
    – Do not teach kids how to write, you know…by hand!
    – Cannot communicate nuances about writing style, content, etc.
    – Cannot give partial credit
    – Promotes multiple choice guessing
    – Vehicle for game play (i.e. student “engagement”)
    – Liability risk for parents
    – Doesn’t show “work”. Teacher can’t find the error in a math problem if work isn’t shown.
    – No stakeholder buy-in (parents/teachers)
    – No suitable curriculum (possibly wasn’t selected per Alabama law?)
    – Slow resonse times. Low network bandwidth.
    – Inability to access text/lessons without network connection
    – Disappearing answers to tests
    – No notes! Can you really set a laptop AND a notebook on the same desk surface?
    – Too much classroom time spent “dealing with the computer”
    – Focus on being “logged in”, not on educating

    1. Nice list. But I’m not sure that the weight is significantly less for say the 4th graders. Could be, but I’d bet it’s close.

      On the plus side: Computers can improve the accessibility of the text for those students who need additional help by having a larger text or having the text read to them.

      Only problem right now is that this was not a focus of the conversion that Pearson put their textbooks through. So what could be a boon for students with disabilities, isn’t yet.

      1. weight: Good point. This is not an issue for all grades, granted. I’m trying to recollect how far back my son DIDN’T have a ton of books (it seems like he always has). I guess is starts in Middle School.

        accessibility: I need to look a little more at the SW that my son’s laptop has. I don’t think it currently has the ability to read the text out loud, though you can probably zoom in to make the text larger.

        Your last point is really the heart of the matter. The focus of the conversion was “Git’ her done!” Not “Let’s figure out the right/best way to use computers to augment what teacher do in the classroom”. The Pro’s can be exploited fully and the Con’s minimized if only a plan were in place and if only buy-in were obtained from parents, teachers, and students.

        As has been seen with this administration, “buy-in” isn’t something that is sought.

  3. 1. I wrote
    2. Nothing printed
    3. I was told such by my board rep
    4. Not satisfied
    5. I have
    6. Have not
    7. Looking forward to receiving response
    8. Count me in

  4. Just for the record (and kind of off-subject, Sorry!)….
    My child already broke their laptop when they accidentally dropped it.
    The school replaced it immediately and said “not to worry about it.”
    That’s a GOOD thing, because I was fully prepared to fight them on the following:
    HCS has a self-Insurance “Pool” going by charging each student $35.
    By my rough estimations, that’s about $770,000.
    Last year, when they did the “trial run” with 5th Grade, they only used a small percentage of the monies that they collected for Insurance.
    If last year is an indicator, I am GUESSTIMATING about $400,000-$500,000 will be left over after repairs and replacement costs.
    I’d have to go back and find all the exact figures, and I’m on an iPhone, sorry!
    Just food for thought on this “Insurance.”

    1. Yep. I noticed that as well. Thanks for pointing it out!

      They marketed the $35 as being the same as the textbook deposit which “everyone” paid.

      I have no memory of paying a deposit for textbooks at all in K-2nd years.

      1. I have had a child/multiple children in HCS for 20 years now and have never paid a textbook deposit. We have paid for required reading books, lab fees, workoook fees, and fees for high school electives – but still had to pay those this year at a higher rate than last year. Got a reference for the textbook fee claim?

        1. i know in some classrooms they are using the “instructional fee” to buy workbooks for the students, at least at the elementary level. it also covers their weekly reader membership as well as a few others.

  5. 4/23 – 9/16, I have sent Topper Birney 4 emails re various concerns. 0 responses to date. BTW, I do not use the email option on the school district web site. It does not have enough room.

    I have emailed C. Bonvillian, and usually an editor, several times re their lame articles (but I must say they seem to do a good job reprinting press releases. /snark). The only time I received a response? when I emailed that I found the “dog ate the superintendant’s response” to the computer criticisms a little too convenient. C. Bomvillian saw fit to defend the superintendant.

  6. Off topic but how many teachers will be getting $700.00 added to their paycheck and where is that money coming from?

    Did the textbook committee meet and approve the digital conversion?

    Aren’t board members required to respond to tax payers questions/concerns in a timely manner?

    1. There are 1,289.34 foundation teacher units in the 2013 budget. There are a few more than that, I believe, but that likely covers most of them.

      1. So 1,289.34 teachers are going to receive $700.00 dollars in their paycheck which they don’t have to account for.

        No wonder the board was glad when the tax increase passed. 🙂

      1. Remember that property tax extension vote that just passed?

        “A vote for an old tax could mean new schools for thousands of Huntsville students. Huntsville government, school and business leaders took one last opportunity Monday to ask residents to renew a property tax that pays to maintain city schools and would provide the cash to replace eight outdated schools over the next decade. The leaders gathered in the library at Whitesburg P-8 to push for renewal of the 6.5mil tax that brings in about $14 million for capital improvements to the schools each year.
        The tax, first approved in 1955 and up for renewal every 30 years, is anticipated to generate about $420 million over its lifespan.
        “This pre-existing tax provides resources for our school system to build buildings (and) to maintain buildings, and we have a great deal of work to do in that area,” Superintendent Casey Wardynski said during a news conference in the Whitesburg library.”

  7. 1. Can’t do without losing my job
    2. ditto
    3. Still could lose my job
    4. The answer to any question is Wardnyski is always right.
    5. I need my job.
    6. ditto
    8. Scared to death of getting caught and losing my job. I have seen enough where a teacher says anything negative they are labeled trouble makers. We must learn to be Stepford teachers!

  8. the $700 is being taxed, so not sure how much of it they will actually end up with afterwards. personally i think it is his version of “there i gave you something now shut up.” cannot do any of 1 through 8 due to the possibility of my wife losing her job, which we need.

    1. Fustratedteacherhubby- Have you any information of what specifically the $700 is for? If it is taxed it is income- not classroom money. I haven’t heard anything and Friday is coming. I want to know before it happens.

      Redeye- students are learning that grownups can be bullied too. 🙁

  9. I will write a letter to the Huntsville Times.
    I have emailed to the contact email twice. I have not received a response. The questions were very simple.
    I have emailed my board representative (David Blair) a few times. I asked for a brief meeting with him. He initially responded positively, but has not responded to any other emails since then. In short, I have not received a response.
    I will contact my state school board member.
    I would LOVE to meet.

    A few more comments:

    The board policy manual (under “Board” on the web site) has references to the importance of parental/community input and the responsiveness of the board and staff to any concerns. Why are we not getting responses?

    I am not at all “anti-technology” though I am concerned about how and why it is being used. We have not had many connectivity problems. We did violate the contract an put in a password for our wireless.

    I was very concerned that the videos on the Pearson sites were not captioned (for persons with hearing loss) or audio described (for persons with visual impairments. Both accommodations work well for a variety of other learning styles as well. Since I raised those concerns, the captions have appeared on some of the curricula. Is anyone else having a problem with accessibility?

    We are not finding document searches to be fast at all. We use our home computers to search documents (and actually, do a lot of homework on the home computer rather than on the school issued computers).

    For some families who do not have internet access, going to a “hot spot” is also problematic. Transportation is a real issue. Caring for other children while attempting to assist with homework and technology at a hotspot is a real issue.

    I have raised this question several times and have yet to receive an answer: There are several programs that children are using. How do they all fit together and what is each program intended to do? For example, my children are using Pearson, IXL, Accelerated Reading and Accelerated Math. A lot of it seems like drill and rote repetition but I am willing to leave open the possibility that there is an educational gain to be had. What is it?

    How do we, as parents, know that our child’s curricula is being “individualized”? What tells me that my child is working on activities that are specifically geared to him/her on a 1:1 basis rather than as a general class assignment?

    The reliance on multiple choice answers greatly concerns me. I fear that we are raising a generation of test takers. Unfortunately, the standardized tests end at some point in life.

    I find the statement that “implementation of computers has led to increased student engagement which has lead to decreased disciplinary issues” a fallacious statement. The decrease in disciplinary issues could be due to many issues (those students did not return, principals are not reporting, different disciplinary approaches are being taken, et al). Given all the issues that were faced in the first 20 days of school, and the tremendous improvement in disciplinary numbers, it would seem that once the digital initiative is fully operational, there will be NO disciplinary issues. Right?

    My children, as well as others I have talked to, are terrified of using their computer to search for information. When they have had a question and I have either suggested “google” or a specific site such as dictionary.com, they have reacted with true fear. Again, we are using our home computer and other resource material to find information and answers to questions, rather than on this technology.

  10. 1. No. I will write a letter
    2. N/A
    3. No
    4. I have emailed each board member. I got cursory responses from each board member except for Jennie Robinson. Jennie Robinson was the only board member who responded directly to my questions. I contacted Secondary Education and received 2 phone call in response to my questions.
    5.No. I will write a letter to our St. Sch. Board Rep.
    6. N/A
    7. N/A
    8. Yes, I’ll reserve a meeting room.

  11. Alabama PTA names Huntsville schools leader outstanding superintendent of the year


    From the comment section;
    Yes! Well deserved! We are so thankful that Wardynski came along! He is actually saving the city, not just the schools. As the schools get better, housing gets better and home prices get better, businesses stay and expand, etc.

    If the goal is for schools to get better it’s not working.

  12. I have had kids in public schools for years and never paid one penny for a book deposit. But…we pay plenty for “school supplies” like paper, markers, and a whole lot more. SInce the good doctor wants to go completely paperless, I would assume we wil have to supply NONE of this next year. The slush fund built up from these $35 usage fees should leave the school system in very good shape for supplies. On a separate note…I just sent my 3 reminder email to David Blair requesting that he hold a town hall meeting with the parents of schools he has been voted in to represent. Not surprisingly, I have not received a response. I am going to resend the email every day until I hit 25. Then I will ask him personally at a Board meeting why he hasn’t responded to one of the 25 emails he received from a concerned parent.

  13. At that time, parents — except those whose children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals — will also pay a $35 usage fee for the laptops. Wardynski explained last month that the fee builds a “self-insurance” pool to pay for any damages to the computers.
    The district instituted the fee last fall when it issued iPads to the elementary schools and netbooks to all fifth-graders. For 1,956 fifth-grade computers, that insurance fund equaled about $68,460.
    Only about $4,320 was needed to repair the damages reported at the end of the school year, Wardynski said. Just two computers were damaged to the point of being written off as a loss, and none were stolen.
    Source: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/07/huntsville_district_preparing.html?mobRedir=false

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