Updated: Huntsville Council of PTAs Restricts Parents’ Voices

I took this photo with Pro HDR for the iPhone!

Update: So you know those visits to the classrooms that Mr. Robbins took today? He visited Columbia, Weatherly, and Davis Hills to see the digital curriculum in action. Well in case you were wondering, I’m hearing from parents that those visits were planned for and staged. Parents were told to make sure the laptops were charged and ready to use. The laptops that were relegated to occasional usage in favor of [shudder] textbooks were trotted out for the visiting dignitary. I’m sure that will come as no surprise. The rooms that Mr. Robbins visited today were all informed of his visit, and like nearly every other classroom in this district, those classrooms haven’t made active and regular use of the computers for the past two weeks.

Again, if Mr. Robbins wanted a realistic assessment of the digital initiative, he should have been willing to open tonight’s closed meeting. He should have asked someone other than the Huntsville Council of PTAs to organize his visit.

Tonight, Mr. Michael Robbins “a senior advisor for the U.S. Department of Education” is meeting with a group of “parents” to hear real, honest, and heartfelt opinions about the digital transition. Didn’t hear about this? Of course not. The Huntsville Council of PTAs decided that the only way to get these real, honest, and heartfelt opinions about the digital transition is to have the meeting behind closed doors, out of the sight of the public and that the only parents who are deemed worthy of having a real, honest, and heartfelt opinion about the computers in this town are PTA Presidents. So tonight from 6-8pm at Grissom High, Mr. Robbins will meet with the PTA Presidents and whomever else the Huntsville Council of PTAs deems worthy of attending so that he can hear from people who are not likely to rock the boat by telling him the truth.

PTA Presidents who have spoken their minds about the reality of the digital initiative have been told that if they want their schools to remain open that they had better get on board and stop making waves.

Care to take any bets about how many PTA Presidents will be speaking the truth to power tonight?

The only reason that the digital transition is “working” at this point is because the computers have been replaced with textbooks in the classroom.

But that goes against the sound bite that the Secretary of Education wants to hear. Arne Duncan has long since decided that whatever the education “reformers” like Eli Broad wants is good for American students. Regardless of what research shows. Regardless of what parents have to say.

In fact, they are so afraid of what parents might tell them that they believe that they will hear the truth by meeting with only those parents who are not allowed, either by propriety or under threat of closure of schools, to actually speak the truth.

Mr. Robbins is a native of Huntsville. He was educated at Grissom High, but now he is afraid to hear from parents–who have no agenda other than the health of their children’s education–concerning the intentional ineptitude of transitioning an entire district to computers even though they knew that the network couldn’t handle the load.

The only reason that this year hasn’t been a complete waste of time for our students is because our teachers, despite being beaten down by this administration, have refused to allow the digital transition to destroy their kids’ education. They have stopped using the computers and returned to reliable pedagogical methods.

But that doesn’t fit Mr. Robbins’ plans. And so the meeting remains closed to the people who pay his salary, who paid for his trip, who paid for the very school they are meeting in.

And once again the Huntsville Council of PTAs is doing their best to silence any voice that might point out that the latest pot of gold at the end of the “reform” rainbow is a myth. Unless of course you’re Pearson, HP, Microsoft, or Eli Broad.

For a century we have bounced from one miracle cure to another. And not once have we stopped to ask parents and teacher what they think we should be doing.

As Diane Ravitch said in The Death and Life of the Great American School System:

We will continue to chase rainbows unless we recognize that they are rainbows and there is no pot of gold at the end of them. We certainly cannot address our problems unless we are willing to examine the evidence about proposed solutions, without fear, favor, or preconceptions.

The district, the Department of Education, doesn’t care if there is nothing at the end of the rainbow for students. All they care about is themselves. And that’s wrong.

And the Huntsville Council of PTAs is once again demonstrating that their motto, “Every Child . . . One Voice,” is meant to be taken literally. And that one voice will be used to silence even the very people that the P(arents) T(eachers) Association are supposed to represent.

One voice indeed. All the other voices are not invited.

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


  1. Once again, I’m disappointed in the Huntsville Council of PTAs. They seemingly act without much buy-in or consultation with their member PTAs. This is very reminiscent of their nomination of the superintendent, who hadn’t been on the job for long at all, for a “superintendent of the year” award. Member PTAs were not aware of these events, yet the Council felt free to speak for us. I don’t have to always get my way…but if you represent me you ought to at least hear my voice.

  2. Mr. Robbins wouldn’t be at my school. I still don’t have enough i-Pads. I only have enough for half my class and am told that we should be getting more. October is nearly over and I’m still waiting.

  3. *Sigh*

    1. The meeting was held in a Public School Building to discuss Public School business. If Robbins wanted to keep the public out he should have held the meeting at the home/office of the President/members of the Huntsville Council of PTA’s.

    Question; Did the PTA Council pay a building usage fee, if so how much, if not, why not?

    2. The Huntsville Time headline Top Department of Education adviser who is Huntsville to learn about the Digital 1.1 initiative is a bit misleading. According the U.S. Department of Education Robbins is the Senior for non profit partnerships in the office Faith based and Neighborhood Partnerships (FBNP) with a focus on digital learning. He also served on the board of the District of Colombia Charter School Association. http://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/list/fbci/bios.html

    3. “On Friday, Robbins will meet with business and civic leaders for a round table discussion at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce. He said for the digital initiative to truly work as it should, it will take collaboration from the community, parents, and everyone involved.”

    Is he here on official U.S. Department of Education business, or is he here to speak to the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce and who is footing the bill?

    4. Was the media invited/allowed to attend/report on the meeting at Grissom?

  4. I’m PTA President and I didn’t know anything about being invited to a meeting until I read it on al.com.

    1. Thank you for your service to our schools.

      Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me at all.

      Some are more equal than others it seems.

    2. This comment has been attributed to me, Lee Anne Bryant, ASFL PTA president and I would like to make the following statement. I did post something similar at another location stating that I did not receive the invitation but I have been able to confirm today that Huntsville Council of PTA’s did in fact send the invitation to my personal email address and it was most probably a mistake on my part. I apologize for any angst this has caused the Huntsville Council of PTA’s.

  5. My children attend Davis Hills Middle.
    Yes, there was pre “walk through” prep.
    Yes, students and teachers were warned about their behavior during this time period.
    Yes, there was more computer usage than on a normal day.

    Davis Hills does not even have a PTA for this school year yet. The organizational meeting isn’t until November! Interesting the Huntsville Council of PTA’s scheduled a visit to a school that doesn’t even have a PTA!

  6. Dr. Jenny and Laura McCaulley PTA have done it again and probably with a little assist from the Committee of 100. Wouldn’t surprise me if the next candidate to replace Dr. Jenny is the current Council of PTA President who appears to be a good rubber stamper.

    1. Yep they have done it again….I think it’s safe to assume this is another media enabled publicity/propaganda stunt to justify replacing textbooks with computers, giving the illusion everything is just lovely.

      Read the Bio’s of the FBNP Staff Bios-Faith-based (Church) and Neighborhood (Tax Payers) Partnership and see if you see a pattern.


      There is no right way to do the wrong thing.

  7. What is it with you ladies and gents. None of you including the writer ever have positive words. Everything is a conspiracy to silence someone or hide something. Yes the 1:1 has had its issues. Yes the network was not ready to handle the load and yes Pearson software needs work. Ok now that I have put the issues out on the table now what. They have improved all of the above. Oh and star scores seemed to be just fine. Also i have not heard flamming messages from parents about there kids grades being down because of the 1:1.

    Some of your teachers have moved to textbooks to solve issues but many many others are all digital all the time. They have learned to adapt. This is the direction the world is going . Those of you left in the world of paper and not adapting the techniques of the past to current tech will be left behind. It’s very simple. If the 1:1 is such a huge problem then band the teachers , parents ,admin together and make a stand. But instead of that you have the same 10-15 people complain about the same issues and not enough people to protest and make any kind of difference. Before you ask I am not in Dr. W inner circle or any other conspiracy theory.

    1. Redline:

      Thank you for sharing your opinion of how much better the computers are working in the classrooms. I would suspect if you were willing to let the Huntsville Council of PTAs know your opinions (and your name), you would be at the top of their list to be invited to meetings. Yours is, after all, the only opinion that matters.

      I do not think that “everything is a conspiracy to silence someone or hide something.” I do, however, know that the Huntsville Council of PTAs decided that they needed to control the message yesterday.

      I wonder why they felt that way?

      Thanks as always for sharing your opinion. If you’re convinced that “none of you including the writer ever have positive words” I wonder why you bother to read and comment at all?

      Just curious.


      Russell Winn

    2. Yes, the STAR tests seem to be fine. That might be because, according to my child’s last teacher, a child who doesn’t do well is tested over and over and over again until his score is where they want it to be. The time that could be spent giving that child instruction is instead spent sitting the child in front of the computer until he somehow does well enough on a multiple choice test.

      I have not heard anyone complaining about grades going down. What I am hearing is that when children are not able to complete assignments on the computers, the parents just send a note saying the child couldn’t do his homework. And that’s it. They just don’t do it. And when the computers slow down the pace of the curriculum, then so be it. Of course children are going to have good grades when homework doesn’t always count and they aren’t having to learn as much material.

      As far as not enough parents banding together to change things, I agree that is the case, and it is most unfortunate. Many parents have no idea what their children are actually doing in school. As long as A’s and B’s come home on the report card, they think all is well. They do not know that children in other school systems are being offered so much more during the school day. They don’t realize that what HCS considers to be the grade level standard is lower than at many other schools in the region. The administration doesn’t care, and many parents are too tired/overwhelmed to worry about it. That doesn’t mean that Russell and others have to just give up. It’s nice to see people who actually do care about what children are learning.

      I am not the least bit surprised that the Huntsville Council of PTA’s orchestrated this “tour” of the schools and “discussion” with parents. There is no way they would let anyone speak who might disagree with them. Actually I am surprised that news of the visit got out into the media at all.

      1. Just because you haven’t heard it personally, you cannot assume that no one is complaining about grades going down. If you don’t believe children’s grades are suffering, talk to the Math and Science departments at Huntsville and Grissom High Schools (contrary to opinions offered by Already Gone, the standards at these two schools meet and exceed many other schools in the nation – check the rankings). Talk to the parents of high school honor students from these schools to see what the impact is in terms of scores, time, and general stress levels. I am one of those parents and my school and school board are hearing the complaints.

        All high schools are getting textbooks – not sure, but I think it’s for all core subjects and foreign languages. Check with your schools. Librarians are supposed to already have downloadable CDs on hand so that access to WiFi is not an issue.

        If you think homework just doesn’t count if the child brings a note, think again. The assignments are just repeated in the classroom (sometimes on paper) and the class falls behind in the lesson plan – especially in the upper level classes. The impact on PSAT, SAT, and ACT scores hasn’t showed up yet because the first tests are just taking place and scores will not be in for 4-6 weeks afterward. I wonder how the changes will affect the number of National Merit Scholars from these schools this year – the qualifying tests were last week.

        Why do I emphasize the high school level? Because high schoolers’ grades are a permanent influence on their futures in qualifying for college admission and for scholarship potential. There is still time to catch up and relearn basic information without permanent penalty until high school. Beginning with 9th grade, every report card is more than important because it counts toward the student’s lifelong earning potential.

        Has anyone heard anything about what came out of this meeting?

        1. Robbins claims that he received a true picture of the digital transition (supposedly “both sides”), and that computers are the wave of the future.

          Sounds like his mind was made up before he arrived.

          Other than that, PTA Presidents seemed hesitant to talk today.

        2. It’s interesting to hear from people at the high school level. My children are younger, so I am only hearing people talk about elementary and occasionally middle school (and I do know from experience that elementary standards are low). I really feel for the older children who are having to worry about the ACT and SAT and applying to college, as well as the frustration of the computers and the new curriculum. I wish them all the best.

      2. Already Gone said- As far as not enough parents banding together to change things, I agree that is the case, and it is most unfortunate. Many parents have no idea what their children are actually doing in school.

        Actually many parents have no idea what is going on because all they hear are “positive words” about the school district in the media and from elected officials.

    3. Redine,
      I am a teacher in HCS. I do not have enough i-Pads for my students to use. We are supposed to be 1:1 but my class has 1 i-Pad for every two kids. I cannot test all my kids at the same time because of this. STAR and portions of Pearson do not work on the i-Pads due to compatibility issues. I have been told REPEATEDLY the more i-Pads are coming. I am tired of being lied to. Everything is not alright and just because it its working in one school doesn’t mean its working in all schools.

  8. “I do not think that “everything is a conspiracy to silence someone or hide something.” I do, however, know that the Huntsville Council of PTAs decided that they needed to control the message yesterday.”

    He/She who controls the message controls the outcome.

  9. Redline, I applaud your positive attitude, but all is not rosy and improving in our education system. There remains a very strong undercurrent of discontent among the teachers and parents in this community. That right there is not healthy. And why? Because we have an administration that is trying to build its legacy for digital transition despite the effects it has on our kids. Wardynski is not and has never been an educator, yet he says he knows best how to educate our kids. The reason that the laptop situation appears to have improved is because that is the party line. It was so bad at rollout it could only improve. But I will say this….two of my child’s teachers have totally abandoned the laptops and have ordered and distributed text books. They will use the laptop as it is meant to be used..as a TOOL. Another teacher used the laptop for one day this year and has since used textbooks. And you know what? My child and the rest of the class are doing great! Please, spare me the quip about “this is the way the world is going.” I heard the same gibberish back in the 60’s when solar energy was the way we were going as well.

    1. “Please, spare me the quip about “this is the way the world is going.” I heard the same gibberish back in the 60′s when solar energy was the way we were going as well.”

      Spare me too..who says “this is the way the world is going” beside those who stand to profit from the conversion? Just because they say “this is the way the world is going” doesn’t mean it’s true. Where is the proof “this is the way the world is going.”?

      I don’t have a problem with the digital conversion per say, I have a problem with they way the digital conversion was implemented without parental and educator involvement or training. They should have conducted a pilot program in a Title 1 school and a non Title 1 school worked all the kinks out, then integrated the program system wide, if, I repeat if, it was successful, and by successful I mean it had proven results of student achievement. They are experimenting on our most precious resources with our resources.

      And yes Redline, I’m complaining about that. I sure am.

  10. And what did Mr. Robbins learn during the school tours and at the Council of PTAs “special meeting” re: the success of Special Education programs? How have those students benefited from the digital 1:1 transition (you know, assistive technology, I-Pads, I-Pad apps, etc)?

  11. I am a HCS teacher. Concerning the comment about grades, I want to state that my students grades have suffered and many parents feel the 1:1 digital is responsible. Many parents in our school cannot afford to provide internet access in their homes, so how do their children do their homework? Sure they can go to the library or McDonald’s or one of the other locations the superintendent and the mayor have gotten it set up in. But what if you work at night or you are sick or have other children who can’t sit still while the others do homework in a public place or any of the myrid of other issues that would cause one to not be able to go public for homework. Yes, grades and learning are suffering. The one area that students are growing and excelling in due to the “1:1 Digital Technology Initiative” is their gaming ability. They spend more time on video games than homework. They know all the lyrics to all the latest trashy audio. They know how to circumvent all filters. They know how to get on Facebook at school and how to highjack their computer so their digital books do not work. Yes, this is the technology of the future … children who can’t write with an ink pen, can’t add without a calculator, can’t write a paragraph, but they will be able to win all of the fastest finger video game contests!

  12. I so agree with “I Teach”! My students were spending far too much time “fiddling” with their laptops and NOT listening, NOT participating, and NOT doing assignments as instructed. Students were caught playing games, surfing the net, doing homework from other classes, texting, emailing, etc., rather than doing their assignment or listening in class. I found that I was NOT able to TEACH for supervising laptop use and being an IT Tech during instructional time.
    I have grown weary of trying to put a positive spin on this new program because it is NOT consistent and students are abusing the laptops. They have learned to bypass filters, hide games and websites, disconnect or reconfigure the Pearson programs, and unfortunately were caught lying about not being able to access the onlione programs so that they could do their work.
    About 3 weeks ago, we were told by an administrator in a staff meeting that if we as professional educators need to teach a lesson, concept, or unit, and the Pearson program/lessons and/or the laptops were not alligned with what needed to be taught, that we could put them away and TEACH. After all, the INSTRUCTION is what matters! . . . Hmmmm, that is something I’ve known since I was a student in HCS and while in college studying to be a teacher! How innovative that our current adminstrator is just now realizing this FACT. I guess pressure from parents and the media can make a difference in the view of our HCS adminstrators.
    Since I was told that I could actually TEACH using whatever resources I felt were best, we are no longer using the laptops in class. Students are free to do their homework assignments and research on the laptops, but in class we use books or other resources I’ve selected, we discuss and take notes, and we do most assignments on paper. I have found students to be much more engaged and are progressing much faster. I do plan to utilize the laptops for projects, research, and some future lessons, but I not longer feel that we are held captive by Pearson and the laptops.
    Technology is a wonderful tool, but a computer cannot teach a child like a caring, dedicated, creative teacher can. Please TRUST ME to know how to teach your children; I am a professional. I care for my students and want them to be successful, confident, and happy. Confusion, malfunctions, and high levels of stress do not make for happy, successful students, parents, or teachers.

    1. “Technology is a wonderful tool, but a computer cannot teach a child like a caring, dedicated, creative teacher can.”

      There in lies the problem, the present administration (state/federal/local) want to replace teachers with computers.

  13. Amen, I Teach and Terry & Johnnie. Because of largely unrealistic goals regarding standardized testing, districts are constantly grasping at the next, new, bigger, better teacher training program/textbook series/technology to show they are doing something to get their scores up. Accountability is the name of the game! Great resources are spent on often relatively short-term trials of these shiny tools, presented with great expectations to teachers who know what they need for their kids to succeed but often have no power or say in how to get it. While I am not saying that technology is a short-sited investment, if it is prioritized over things like small class size, balancing various school populations, teacher planning time, and even basic materials. Poorly planning and implementing these programs just adds insult to injury to the teachers we trust with our children and their omnipotent test scores, but not with decisions on the resources or methods used to teach them. As a parent of children in Madison CS, when a fellow PTA member/parent complains that Huntsville students are getting laptops/ipads and we aren’t (not hearing that so much anymore!), I tell them to consider prioritizing. While HCS has strengths that MCS don’t, I value their willingness to add teachers to overcrowded classrooms and maintain (relatively) consistent instruction and opportunites from one school to another. Fowler understands that when teachers have to buy their own paper, student 1:1 laptops need to wait. When you’re relying on government proration to get you out of huge debt, or the federal government has to tell you to spend more on special ed, ipads shouldn’t be on the top of your list (nor should paying a consultant to get your district unjustifiably resegregated, but that’s another story) . Duncan and Warydynski don’t seem to get it, and the mainstream media often doesn’t, either.
    Hopefully MCS and other districts can learn from HCS’ (and other guinea pig districts) and make a teacher-supported, financially sound, logistically reasonable decision on if and when to adopt all-digital textbooks and other new tools.

  14. I noticed under the Hunsville Council of PTAs September 2012 page on HCS website archived “Dates to Remember” the calendar list:
    9/17 Pres. Mtg MERTS 12:00 – 1:30 PM
    9/28 Pizza, Pepsi, and Postage Mtg. MERTS CENTER 12:00 – 1:30PM
    9/30 Alabama PTA Golden Apple and Early Bird deadline
    10/1 Fall Grants Application deadline
    10/1 Pres.Mtg 12:00 – 1:30 PM MERTS
    10/15 Meet the Supt and his Cabinet. Event for PTA Pres. and one board member (Location TBD 6:30 – 8:30 PM)

  15. I am a parent that is concerned. I have sent the below emails to the superintendan, school council, mayor, us congressmen, state congressmen, principals and teachers.
    I am concerned and so should you. Everyone I talk with feels the same as me, but has not spoken up. It is now time to speak up….PLEASE SPEAK UP……
    Hello Mr. Wardynski,
    I hope you having a great year. I am the parent of student at Huntsville Middle. He is a very good student and was second in his class in the 6th grade. He is my third child to pass through HMS. His computer failed while he was at school last week. This was not his fault as he is very careful. This is putting him at a disadvantage during this time without a computer because all assignments involve this new “tool”. I was told in many announcements that his computer would be replaced in a timely manner. It would be replaced from a pool of computers that were supported from everyone’s $35 fee.
    “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. Thirty-eight computers needed new screens and the district had to fulfill 257 work orders on software issues, the superintendent said. The district also had 114 warranty claims. “
    If I perform the math, (2+38+257+114) = 411. There were 411 complaints out of 1956 computers issued. That is a yield of 79%. You will be out of business quickly with these numbers in a commercial enterprise. Ask soldiers if they would like there equipment to perform at this yield?
    More than a week is not timely. Can you please tell me when he should expect a replacement? I am the parent of four children in the Huntsville City School System. I also graduated for the Huntsville School System. I am very concerned that we were misled during the conversion to computer learning. First reports to the parents, were that this was digital textbooks. After school starts, we learn that the entire process of learning and testing went digital. I believe the public was very much misinformed. I believe it will have a lasting impact on our sophomores, juniors, and seniors in their ability to perform at the Universities. Please tell me what University has taken the teacher out of the equation from learning. There have been so many issues with this process; homework time doubles, cannot go back and check work on tests, slow websites, lost work. I can go on and on with the issues. The problems will be eventually worked out. This is too late for our High School students. You have wasted their time in many instances. This program should have been implemented in 6th grade and then rolled out in succession. Next year, 7th grade would participate and so forth.
    I work with computers on a daily basis. The amount of support needed for this digital conversion was vastly underestimated. The trouble is starting to show and it is only going to get worse unless resources are allocated to solve the problem. Currently, the resources are not there. From conversations with parents, I am very surprised that many lawsuits are not being filed as I type this letter. It is that serious. I have contacted government officials as well. They need to be made aware of what is happening with education in their districts. I applaud the job you have done in the finance issues with our school system. But, the digital learning conversion has been a disaster and it appears to only be getting worse.
    Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.
    I very much would appreciate a response.
    A very concerned parent,
    I very much appreciate you responding. My child did receive his laptop today as well as many other students. (One who has been without for 6 weeks.) Currently, I am not seeing any benefit to the computer for learning. (Maybe lighter backpacks and saving the writing hand from cramps. Please see attached article from the HHS Paper.)
    I have a Junior, Sophomore, 7th grader, and a 3rd grader.
    My children are spending more time for the same work as last year. This is taking away from other activities. Their frustration levels are higher. I am talking about students that make all A’s and are in Advanced and AP classes. One big area of frustration for me as a parent that is involved, is the lack of feedback. Homework and Tests used to come home for us to review. We would go over what was missed and work in those areas. This does not come home anymore. All I see is a score. Please go out and talk with the people. I have not spoken with anyone that has a positive comment. If you really wanted to save money on textbooks, issue a Kindle. Very durable and no paper books. Let the teachers make the material and test like they used too. Send the work home so the parents can also help in the learning process. Just tonight, Knology had an internet outage. My children had to leave and go find internet access from friends to finish homework. Another hour or more added to homework…

    Thank you, but I am definitely not convinced at the way this curriculum has been installed.
    I am definitely not against change…but I prefer change for the better not worse.

    Very concerned parent,
    Mr. Jernigan,
    I appreciate your help. But, I am a very concerned parent that is very frustrated. Eli received the new computer, but it nor the other three in my house can help him. The home work site keeps giving an error tonight. He cannot complete his assignment. I believe we are being robbed of an education this year. I am not sure what can be done but this curriculum is not good. I am attaching the dialogue I have sent to the Superintendent, School Board, and Government officials concerning this matter. I believe the parents are about to really start complaining. We have given this system the time it deserved. The time is now running out….
    Very Concerned Parent,
    Mr. Jernigan,
    I appreciate your help. But, I am a very concerned parent that is very frustrated. My child received the new computer, but it nor the other three in my house can help him. The home work site keeps giving an error tonight. He cannot complete his assignment. I believe we are being robbed of an education this year. I am not sure what can be done but this curriculum is not good. I am attaching the dialogue I have sent to the Superintendent, School Board, and Government officials concerning this matter. I believe the parents are about to really start complaining. We have given this system the time it deserved. The time is now running out….
    Very Concerned Parent,
    I am sincerely interested in working with you to address the concerns you have shared. I would like to meet with you and the principals to develop a plan of support for your children. Our principals and teachers are always willing to assist you with getting the tools you need to help your children be successful with homework, quiz/test review and offline access to the curriculum.

    Parents are our partners in education and we will work with you to ensure that your children continue on a path of academic success. I will contact you to schedule an appointment to address your concerns. Thank you again for your commmitment to education.


    Barbara J. Cooper, Ph.D
    Deputy Superintendent
    Huntsville City Schools
    Still no Meeting….She will not respond to emails anymore.
    I appreciate you responding. I do see your point about the instant feedback on homework. We were always given the odd problems to complete, but the book only had the even answers. I always thought the answers were helpful for instant feedback. I am most concerned with the tests not coming home. This is especially important for my third grader. They do not have that much computer work at home. I agree with you point below, but with all of the problems so far, I prefer to have the books. Talking with a lot of parents of the younger children, they are having a difficult time maneuvering the laptops without a mouse. The software is very buggy and I am curious if you know whether it was certified with IE 9. With all the problems, it appears that it was not. They have not dealt with much client / server applications of this magnitude and were ill prepared. It shows every day. If I released software like this at my company, I would now be on the unemployment line…

    Thank you,

  16. Hi, I emailed to Michael Robbins and told him about some of my concerns. He emailed back (despite Sandy) and asked to set up a phone conference. That will be next week. Please email him- he is looking for more information about how the Digital 1:1 is REALLY working in Huntsville.

  17. Russell:

    When bonehead2 emailed me to ask about the meeting with Michael Robbins he asked why only PTA presidents were invited, I gave him all the information he asked for. I told bonehead2 that Mr. Robbins wanted to speak with the PTA or PTO leaders in the city about what was and wasn’t working with the digital conversion. I sent emails to all but one of the PTA presidents in the schools in the city. One of the PTA presidents is a senior adult, and she doesn’t use email, so I called her at home to let her know about the meeting. She wasn’t sure if she was going to come out after dark or not, but she was invited. I didn’t receive any bouce back emails. I did, however, receive emails from 4 presidents who were holding meetings at their own schools that night, and from 4 other presidents who were either out of town, or were attending other events and were not going to be able to make it. We have 3 schools that didn’t have PTAs at the time Butler, Davis Hills and Morris. One have one community based PTA, HSEPTA – Huntsville Special Ed PTA, and their president was also invited and present.

    I cannot pick and choose who I want to represent each school. Each school has already done that when they elected their president. Their elected president is the person who represents them to their school staff, to the city and to the state so they are the person I invited. This is what I told bonehead2, and he is welcome to email me or ask me at church on Sunday, because we see each other almost every week there.

    Like you, I have a special needs son. Like you, my special needs son will never be able to live on his own and will be with me until he dies or until I die. He has a 55 IQ and I have a healthy understanding of what that means. Also like you I have a general ed daughter, mine is a senior this year and preparing for college. Unlike you I have another 3 sons, and, hopefully unlike you, I have had to bury a son. Quite truthfully, Russell I don’t have time for conspiracy over something as trivial as a meeting. Life is far too short to dwell on imaginary drama and engage in hateful behavior for the attention. Real life is enough work in and of itself. You and I run into the parking lot every day and I see the anger/pain in your eyes and my heart hurts for you. I don’t recall having ever seen you smile in the years that I have known you. I hope that one day you will find peace and get past all this. Until then you and I will just have to continue to disagree, but I will still wish you and yours all the best.

    Elisa Ferrell
    Huntsville Council of PTAs

    1. Elisa,

      Thank you for your reply. While I am not quite sure why you have chosen to share the story of your family here, I am indeed quite sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to have lost a child. You have my sympathy. Congratulations on your daughter’s preparation for college. I hope that transition is smooth for both her and you.

      I appreciate all the details that you have offered about how difficult it is for you to reach the PTA/PTO presidents, but I’m not sure what that has to do with the question of why the meeting was closed to the public.

      On October 19th, Mr. Robbins wrote on his facebook page that he was coming to Huntsville to meet with Huntsville parents, not just with PTA presidents as you have stated. His full post read:

      Huntsville parents – this Thursday I’ll be leading a parent roundtable discussion with Huntsville City Schools on the transition to digital learning. Scheduled 6-7pm, location TBD. Details forthcoming. Hope you will join us.

      Mr. Robbins actually seems quite interested in hearing what all parents have to say.

      You’re correct that you cannot “pick and choose” whom you want to represent each school. But you could have easily opened the meeting up to the public for the few people who would have wished to attend. For some reason the decision was made to not open the meeting to the public. The question, that you haven’t addressed, is why?

      On a personal note, people always perceive time differently, but I don’t think we’ve actually known each other for “years” as you so compassionately state. The first contact I ever remember having with you was via an email you sent me last April in which you upbraided me for not being a cheerleader for Dr. Richardson’s attempts to close our schools. I don’t think we actually met until his school closing meetings last summer. I’m sure having to see the “anger/pain in [my] eyes every day” just makes it seem a bit longer to you.

      Thank you so much for your concern.

      Also, you must notice me in the school parking lot far more often than I notice you. I’ll have to start paying closer attention.

      You see, the last time that I remember seeing you there was on October 25, or the morning of the meeting in question. It seems that you have forgotten that, what with all that you have to do, as I distinctly remember smiling at you that morning and seeing you respond in kind. I believe we actually had a brief conversation about how difficult it is to keep a growing boy in clothes. At the end, I have a clear memory of both of us smiling knowingly at each other as parents often do when talking about their kids.

      I guess my smiles just aren’t that memorable since you seem to have forgotten it from just a week ago. Perhaps you’re a bit overextended? That could explain your penchant for, shall we say, exaggeration?

      Thank you so much for your wish for peace for me. I wish that for you and your family as well.

      If you should wish to actually explain why the meeting that Mr. Robbins claimed would be open to parents was closed, please feel free to write again.

      Oh, and I’ll be sure and look for you tomorrow so that I can give you that smile that you seem so concerned about. I wouldn’t want you to be deprived. I think I’ll go practice a bit in the mirror to make sure that it seems sincere.



      Russell Winn

  18. Morning Russell…I see that there is more vitriol today. I am sorry to see that. Given that we are at the same school, I thought that we had known each other for at least three, maybe four years; I apologize if I was wrong, and that it offended you so.

    I am not facebook friends with Mr. Robbins. I don’t plan on being facebook friends with Mr. Robbins, and don’t anticipate visiting his site. I do plan on being in contact with him prior to and during his future visits. I do know that he asked to meet with PTA leaders and asked that the meeting be at Grissom. In order to fully represent the entire city, I invited the entire city. I explained in detail who was invited, because someone on your blog said they were a PTA president and were not invited. That is not correct. She posted on another site who she was and she is from one of our magnet schools. I have double checked on her specifically, and she was on the routing list with the email address she gave us as her primary contact. If she would like to contact me, I would be happy to send her all the details of the email address her invitation was sent to, along with the time and date. In addition to PTA presidents, media was invited and attended.

    Again Russell, all the best, and I’ll see you in the parking lot….smiling 🙂


    1. Elisa,

      And good morning to you as well. I appreciate all of your concern for my mental and emotional state. Since you were basing your evaluation of my mental and emotional state on incorrect information, I thought you might appreciate a clearer view of reality. But I seem to have been mistaken about that.

      If you had, in actuality, “invited the entire city” none of this would have been an issue. You did not. The meeting was not open to the public.

      And you still haven’t offered an explanation of why.


    2. ” In addition to PTA presidents, media was invited and attended.”

      Herein lies the problem, you can not hold an invitation only meeting in a public school to discuss public school business. PTA Presidents and the media don’t have special rights and privileges. Mr. Robbins came to Huntsville representing the U.S. Department of Education, not the Huntsville Council of PTA’s and the media Department of Education. If the media was “invited” the public was “invited”.

      Again, the meeting should have been open to the ALL of the stakeholders, you know, the people who pay Mr. Robbins salary.

      BTW, I noticed on the Huntsville Council of PTA website on 10/15 there was a”Meet the Supt and his Cabinet. Event for PTA Pres. and one board member (Location TBD 6:30 – 8:30 PM)”, Would you mind sharing the identity of the “one board member” and what was discussed?

  19. Redeyel – Each PTA president and one board member from their PTA board is invited to come to a meet and greet with directors, school board members and administrators of Huntsville City schools. Some PTAs have boards of 5 while others have boards of 25. We cannot accomodate 500 people, so we have 2 people from each school come. The current PTA leader, and another officer, chosen by the school not the council. It is a chance for the PTA officers to introduce themselves to the directors, some for the first time, and ask them questions. It is not a “meeting” with an agenda. There is tea and snacks and casual conversation. Some of our PTA officers have never been to a board meeting. We want to give them an opportunity to put names with faces, and get them engaged in the things the board is doing. There is just as much, if not more, conversation happening between PTAs; comparing notes…finding out what is working at one school, and whether or not they might try that reading program/fundraising program/parent enrichment program/teacher appreciation idea, at their school.

    Russell – I invited the elected representives of the PTAs in the entire city. Same same. I invited the people that Mr. Robbins wanted to talk to, the ones that the schools elected to represent them.

    Redeye – it was not a business meeting, it was a meeting in which the USDE wanted to talk to PTA leaders about our thoughts on the 1:1. No business, no decision making, just our opinions on what was working and what was not working.

    1. Elisa,

      Inviting the “elected representatives of the PTAs in the entire city” and opening the meeting up to the public are not the “same same.” But that’s fine; I didn’t actually expect you to answer the question that I’ve been asking.

      Further since Mr. Robbins has been actively talking to parents who have contacted him after the meeting, it would seem that the USDE did indeed want to talk to more than just PTA leaders about our thoughts on the 1:1. It’s a shame that the Huntsville Council of PTAs and our district leadership doesn’t trust the people of Huntsville to meet with USDE officials when they come to town.

    2. You said- it was not a business meeting, it was a meeting in which the USDE wanted to talk to PTA leaders about our thoughts on the 1:1. No business, no decision making, just our opinions on what was working and what was not working.

      So, Mr. Robbins only wanted to talk to PTA leaders about your thoughts on the 1.1? Actually discussing the Digital 1.1 is a business decision financed with tax dollars that was made without public input but that affects all of the stakeholders. The meeting should have been held in the hope/private office of a PTA leader and not Grissom High School.

      You didn’t answer my question about the 1 Board member who attended the meeting held prior to Mr. Robbins appearance and what was discussed, or is privileged that information also?

  20. I think one of the most important facts revealed in these comments is Elisa Ferrell’s remark, “We have 3 schools that didn’t have PTAs at the time Butler, Davis Hills and Morris.” Since this meeting was fairly recent, it is probably safe to assume that those schools still don’t have PTA’s.

    WHY DON’T THEY????

    Aren’t we paying for Rena Anderson to serve as Director of Community Engagement / Partnership Development, one of W’s newly created Central Office positions?

    If getting PTAs organized at these schools isn’t one of the most important community engagement initiatives in the HCS on which Anderson should be focusing, please tell me what the competitors for her attention are.

    1. Actually, Morris does have a group of people who are doing the work of the PTA, but they do not have an official PTA as they could not get anyone to run for the offices. They had one last year that consisted of all of the teachers and about 6 parents. I suppose that having volunteers who do the work without the title isn’t enough to warrant an invitation.

      You’re right that that should be the at least one of the jobs of the Director of Community Engagement/Partnership Development. Interestingly, she was one of the people in attendance at the October 25th meeting.

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