“An Agent Of Change”


Tuesday I spent my lunch hour being honored at the American Education Week Luncheon which was sponsored by the NEA and a local organizing committee under the direction of Dr. Roy E. Malcolm of Oakwood University. It was a nice luncheon, and being recognized as a Chancellor’s Award nominee from Drake State was quite nice. Frankly being in the room with a few of the Teachers of the Year in the Madison County area was the true honor. It was clear that I was among a group of educators who have committed their lives to improving our nation through education.

Honestly, I’m not at that level yet. I appreciated the nod, but I’m still learning this craft of education. Maybe when I’m 90, and I’ve been teaching for fifty or sixty years, I might be worthy of having my name called out with those teachers I had lunch with yesterday.


But I wasn’t the only one recognized at the luncheon.

You see, all of the area Superintendents were there and present to honor their teachers of the year. But unlike Dr. Copeland and Dr. Fowler, Dr. Wardynski was honored at the luncheon as well. The introduction and justification for his Special Award was long, and I didn’t capture it all between bites of carrot cake, but the gist of the award was for bringing technology into the district and “being an agent of change.”

An Agent of Change

Education is about change. When I was much younger and deciding where to attend seminary after college, I had a bunch of friends from church warn me about going off to Southern Seminary in Louisville. Their constant refrain was, “Don’t let it change you.”

I never understood that sentiment.

If education doesn’t change you, what good does it accomplish?

I sincerely hope that I am an agent of change in the lives of my students. God knows, they are an agent of change for me. That’s what education is: exposure to the new and unknown and allowing that to change your outlook on life.

And so, being known as an agent of change can be high praise. But in order for to evaluate this, we have to have some context to the changes he has brought to the district. Otherwise being an agent of change is just as nebulous as Atticus telling Mrs. Debose that she looks like a picture. He don’t say a picture of what.

Unless we place Dr. Wardynski’s change within context, there’s little way to know if his agency is good or bad.

Running Good Teachers Off

One contextual clue that we can use to evaluate Dr. Wardynski’s agency of change is the number of mid year retirement and resignations. As of November 1, 2012, or the 53rd day of school, we have seen a total of 52 district employees either resign or retire.

This number doesn’t include the 46 who stood in line on November 1st to sign up for the district’s new retirement incentive.

He has certainly been an agent of change in the makeup of our schools this year.

Some of you may be like a few of our board members when you read this number and think, great, lazy teachers who don’t want to teach are getting out. It’s about time.

Perhaps your opinion is similar to Mrs. Morrison’s and Mr. Blair’s opinions on September 20th when they claimed that the young TFAers were better able to “relate” to their students because they are so young themselves? Perhaps you agree with Mrs. Morrison at the last board meeting on the 1st when she proclaimed, “Teachers are children grown tall” to supposedly defend them against Dr. Robinson’s feigned outrage that we have to incentivize teachers to not take time off. (Yes, Dr. Robinson, even in the “real” world, people get time off.)

With friends like these on the board, is it any wonder that our teachers and staff are leaving in droves?

Honestly, the real question should be why more haven’t left.

The answer to that is simple, but sometimes the simple answers are the hardest to grasp: Our teachers stay and teach, BECAUSE THEY LOVE OUR KIDS.

What We Are Losing

Mrs. Pang

TFAers get praised (usually by other TFAers) for being “involved in their students’ lives.” Mr. Blair certainly took up that argument when they invited him to attend a reception for the new TFAers we’ve hired here in Huntsville. His claim that their youth helps them relate to their students is regularly touted as one of the strengths of having a young teacher.

My experience is significantly different.

One of the 46 who stood in line on November 1st to retire was Mrs. Jerilyn Pang, a second grade teacher at Mt. Gap Elementary (oh, excuse me, just Mt. Gap now thanks to some other of the “change” Wardynski has enacted).

Mrs. Pang has been teaching for nearly 30+ years. She has raised a daughter who has followed in her footsteps as a teacher. She has sponsored the Math Club at Mt. Gap for years and is one of the primary reasons that Grissom has regularly produced a world class math team for so long. Mrs. Pang could have, and probably would have, retired years ago. Honestly, it would have made good financial sense for her to do so.

But she didn’t.

And do you know why?

Because she loves her students. She loves seeing them excel. She loves helping them fall in love with education.

Mrs. Pang is retiring at the end of the year.

She will be joined in retirement by one of the best second grade teachers I have ever known, Mrs. Gayle Dodson.

This is the change that the AEW Committee “honored” on Tuesday. A change that drives the best of our teachers out the door. A change that drives our teachers who give their own time, energy and love to their students out of the classroom. A change that replaces a teacher with the experience to be able to look at a child and know exactly the right thing to say to heal a broken heart because they’ve done it a thousand times.

That’s the change that the American Educator’s Week and the NEA were honoring on Tuesday when they honored Dr. Wardynski.

As I said, with “friends” like these, it’s a wonder that any of our teachers survive long enough to reach retirement age.

But that’s the goal of this change. To make sure that our schools are staffed with cheap, inexperienced test proctors. Teachers just aren’t worth it to Dr. Wardynski and his corporate backers any more.

And every day we lose another lifetime of experience and expertise to this man’s inept handling of our district.

The More Things Change . . .

At the board meeting tonight, the school board will be discussing some “modifications” to the superintendent’s contract. If I had to bet, I would put my money on an extension. After all, none of the three board members who voted to hire him will want to deal with his contract during an election year.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

There will be a board meeting tonight at 5:30. If you can’t come in person, please follow me on twitter @russwinn or on the GeekPalaver Facebook Page. You can also watch the meeting live on channels 17 (Comcast) or 99 (Knology) beginning at 5:30pm. The district also streams the meeting on the web on the district web site.

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


  1. Topper Birney attended the Mensa Kids Trek Inventors Workshop last night. Topper continues to be an inspiration to all of us who need encouragement. He was excited about the new Mind Gear Labs that is opening here in Huntsville tomorrow, Nov. 16 and plans to share the information with the other school board members. Topper has supported Mensa Kids Trek and even served as one of the judges for the annual Young Inventors Day in February, along with Walker McGinnis, Philomena Grodska, Bob Harrison, Larry Rice, Jeff Mastin, Jerry Tripp, Roger Williams, and others.
    If you want to see families who really enjoy education, you should attend the Mensa Kids Trek programs. On Oct. 22, we presented our 25th annual Chemistry Night at Oakwood University Chemistry Lab, hosted by Dr. Kenneth LaiHing and his lab assistants. The next Kids Trek will be “Gifting the Gifted” on Dec. 12, 2:30-4:30 p.m., in the Huntsville Public Library auditorium. Participants will share their talents and visit with other families who love learning.
    Mensa Kids Trek is free, open to the public, and geared for all ages. Children must have adult partners. For more information and to receive a calendar of the Mensa Kids Trek events for 2013, please contact Martha Williams, marthafeld@earthlink.net.
    Part of my philosophy is that every person is a potential genius. If children can find their areas of interest, receive peer and adult support, and discover opportunities in those areas of interest, there is no limit to the success they can achieve. Never underestimate a child.

  2. Hmm….Oakwood university is a private faith based university with a K-12 school developing relationship with the public school system all of a sudden? If this were Alabama A&M, UAH, or Athens State I could see it …..

    1. RedEye, Mensa Kids Trek is not attached to public school or any other organization. It is an international organization. You can find out more about it at http://us.mensa.org/.
      Mensa Kids Trek has presented programs at Alabama A&M, UAH, Auburn University, the National Space Society Convention, etc. We are a non-political, non-religious based group.

      1. Martha, my comments were in response to Russ’s post regarding the event at Oakwood University honoring public school teachers and Wardynski, not your comment on Mensa Kids Trek, sorry for the confusion.

        I wonder if the students at Oakwood Academy all use laptops and ipads instead of textbooks. First visit from the office of faith based initiatives from the U.S. Department of Education promoting the digital conversion and now this. I didn’t even know Oakwood was a member of NEA (National Education Association) being a private, faith based school and all. I wonder if they are a member of AEA also?

        1. RedEye, according to the information I gather from the Alabama Education Association website, http://www.myaea.org/AEAmembership.html, one must be connected with public education to be a member.

          It would be interesting to find out if educators and leaders of the private and homeschool organizations have a union that encourages and protects them.

          I have retained my membership with AEA since I retired specifically because Rex Cheatham, Bonnie Edmundson, Shirley Wellington, Cathy Kulas, and others have gone beyond the minimum throughout the years in helping develop better approaches to public education and in assisting and protecting teachers when individuals in power attempted to abuse their positions.

          The opportunity to discuss educational matters through Geek Palaver is excellent. I appreciate the founder and all of you who read and share your thoughts!

          1. ” according to the information I gather from the Alabama Education Association website, http://www.myaea.org/AEAmembership.html, one must be connected with public education to be a member.

            Which begs to question why a private, faith based organization if honoring public school teachers and praising the HCS superintendent for the digital conversion all of a sudden.

  3. Comment regarding last night’s meeting…..3 more years? 3 MORE YEARS???? Why is Wardynski initiating the issue to extend his contract 3 more years? Does the Board believe that he has leverage and has them over a barrell? “Hey, extend my contract, or I’m, walking!” Is that what’s happening? Contract extensions are rewards, generally given for outstanding and desired service. Are we all onboard that this is what we have received from Wardynski? There is such an undercurrent of discontent among our teachers and in our community as a whole because of this guy and we want to reward him with the security of three more years? Please, tell me what I am missing here. I would like to see his “report card” on his first year or so as our superintendent. I am still opposed to the laptop initiative which I still believe was thrust upon this community solely as an initiative for Wardynski to create his legacy here for some down-the-road ambition he still has in mind. For what it is worth, I am calling my board member and letting him know exactly how I feel. I urge others to do the same. 3 more years? Hell no!

  4. Perhaps one of the reasons for the Supts. willingness to forego the $ 10,000 incentive (in the proposed amended contract)is due to the fact he realizes he may/will not satisfy this year’s evaluation criteria. Just a guess!

  5. Maybe the reason he wants three more years is so he can get a nice fat buyout when they decide to fire him for his incompetence.

  6. I am surprised that Dr. W gets an award for the 1:1 digit stuff when my school STILL doesn’t have enough i-Pads. In my class as well as several others it is 1 i-Pad for every 2 kids! I am told they are in a warehouse waiting to be tagged. That was over a month ago.

  7. i hope other teachers will let us know of the current failures of the 1:1 Digitial Initiatives. Is every classroom now receiving hardbooks, internet connections inconsistent, and is accessing the Pearson website trouble free? We can’t fight for the teachers if you don’t keep us updated.

  8. I understand that in any large transition involving technology, there will be issues. I, for one, am still stewing over the implementation of this digital transition and how it was hastily thrown onto us. My son’s laptop had an issue (some encryption error I believe) that apparently affected about a dozen others as well. He turned it in and has had to use a “loaner” for the past 2 weeks. Basically, he has to sign it in and out each day and comes home empty handed. Fortunately, we have a computer at home and his teachers are understanding of the situation. This, however, is but one of the multitude of issues I have with this “system.” What do I recommend? First, terminate Wardynski’s contract, or at least render him a lame duck for its remainder. Rescind the digital transition system, using laptops as a learning tool to facilitate learning. Does he even realize just how many teachers are NOT using the laptop as he dreamed, but instead, have pushed it aside to teach from a textbook? For a guy who told us that he knows what’s best for our kids, he doesn’t know the first thing about the process of education, teacher-student interaction, or the term “collaboration.”

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