Last month while praising the superintendent for taking advantage of a “perfect storm” in building new buildings, as the contractor board member Culbreath called it, David Blair decided to take a moment and sing his own praises all the while asking for sympathy from the very people his lack of oversight hurt.
It’s a shame he’s not a more talented singer.
Here’s what he had to say at the board meeting on May 16th:
You know, back in 2009, 2010 uh, I would have to say we were the least favorite people in the city of Huntsville. At the time the school system was $20 million dollars in debt. It was clear that there were achievement gaps between the north side and the south side, and uh it was looking pretty dim. Uh, and so as a board, you know we’re people too. You get beat up quite a bit, uh, friends, neighbors, newspapers, TV, and uh, it was interesting cause I know you say, “perfect storm,” but in a lot of ways it allowed the board to kinda go into bunker mentality almost. We said, “you know what, we’re going to tune everything else out, and we’re going to do what we need to do to do the right thing. And uh, so we hired, uh Dr. Wardynski, and when we were talking about what we’re wanting to see with the school system, there were three things. We wanted financial stability, we wanted the achievement gap to be gone, we wanted all our kids to be ex, to have an opportunity for a excellent education no matter where they lived in the city, and the third was we wanted to get from underneath unitary status.
There’s so much in this brief speech that is so completely wrong, it would take hours to break apart.
- We would still be $20 million in debt if the board of education, including Mr. Blair, had their way. The $20 million was erased by Dr. Ed Richardson and the state board of education coming in in 2011 and conducting the RIF. When he left town, the $20 million had been erased and the district was $3 million in the black. An additional $9 million came from the state allowing the district to transfer capital funds into the general fund, and finally they cut $7 million from the Special Education Budget. The board is the organization that caused us to be $20 million in debt, and they haven’t taken any reasonable action on their own to correct that issue, except to balance their total absence of budgeting ability on the backs of our kids.
- There is still a “clear achievement gaps between the north side and the south side” and that gap is still looking pretty dim. Every single one of the 9 “failing” schools listed on the Accountability Act’s list were north side schools. Every single one.
- I’ll believe that this board will manage to unify the district and end the Unitary Status oversight from the Justice Department, when I see it. So far all we know is that the DoJ is looking at a secret plan.
This is what required a “bunker mentality” from the board: taking credit for others’ work, abusing the most needy kids in the city, and submitting a secret plan to the DoJ. Perhaps Mr. Blair is unaware that a “bunker mentality” is usually used as an insult for a politician who refuses to listen to anyone who might possibly disagree with him or her. In fact, (and yes, I know this is a cliché) Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines Bunker Mentality as:
A state of mind especially among members of a group that is characterized by chauvinistic defensiveness and self-righteous intolerance of criticism.
Honestly, have you ever read a better description of the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education cause I haven’t.
Mr. Blair, simply put, a bunker mentality is not an effective leadership style nor is it conducive to education. It is a style of leadership that results in the “leaders” completely ignoring those they are supposed to lead.
It’s foolish, short-sighted, and leads to abusive letters like this one that was sent to teachers by at the end of the year.
Abusing Teachers with STAR Testing
It reads (typos and all) as follows:
According to the STAR Spring Benchmark in Reading and Math, your students did not make statistically significant growth from the Winter Benchmark to Spring Benchmark to coincide with the District’s growth requirements. Your students are still not performing at a normal achievement rate to ensure grade level proficiency, which indicates that your students are not growing academically. Due to your low SGP at the Winter Benchmark, you were required to provide more explicit instruction in reading and math, intensify core instruction, and to differentiate your literacy/numeracy centers. You were required to set STAR goals for your non-proficient students, refer all students in red to PST, and utilized your individual STAR instructional folders to monitor student progress. However, your failure to adhere to these directives and to implement the previously listed best practices contributed greatly to your Low STAR SGP Scores for the Spring Benchmark.
It is your responsibility, as the expert in the classroom, to ensure that learning occurs for all students in a rigorous and relevant manner. Although you completed your plan of action, your STAR Assessment Analysis, and the STAR Conference Form, you have not been able to effectively implement your plan of action. You will be receiving professional development opportunities to support your deficit areas during the next school year. Also, it is imperative that you spend some time during the summer developing a new plan of action detailing how you will improve the effectiveness of your instruction. Additionally, it is recommended that you attend various professional development opportunities offered during the summer in order to strengthen your core [sic]
So let’s take a look at what this “bunker mentality” resulted in.
First, it led to the implementation of the STAR Enterprise testing as a means of evaluating teachers rather than students. (This letter proves this if you were uncertain of this before now.) This use of the STAR test runs counter to effective instructional pedagogies, best practices and even the stated purpose of the designer of the test.
Second, it led to the district using one single test given on only two separate testing days about a month and a half of school time apart to measure if a student has grown over the course of the year. That’s right, your child’s teacher is being reprimanded and insulted if your child did not “make statistically significant growth” from one test to the next. And who determines what is “statistically significant?” Why the “District’s growth requirements,” of course.
Inside of the bunker, a few individuals decided without consulting you or your child’s teacher, what should be a “normal achievement rate” of growth.
If your child had a bad day when the Spring benchmark test was given or a great one when the Winter one was given, well then your teach will be told that she is a “failure.”
Third, it led to the district directing a teacher to:
- Provide more explicit instruction in reading and math;
- Intensify core instruction;
- Differentiate literacy/numeracy centers;
- Set STAR goals;
- Refer students to PST;
- Utilize STAR instructional folders to monitor student progress.
So you’ve got a student who didn’t measure up to some arbitrary, Wardynski-established standard, (that changed half-way though the year, by the way), and instead of taking to the teacher, or encouraging her to meet the child’s needs, she is instead required to file paperwork.
A Plague of Middle Management
Wardynski is the proving himself again to be the apex of middle management capable of nothing more creative than following Broad orders and assigning more paperwork.
He and our board of Education (who are fleeing this sinking ship) know nothing about educating children. Every decision they have made is made for one purpose: to further their own careers.
All they are capable of is finding someone else to blame for their asinine decisions that cannot improve education. Hence they scapegoat teachers with the encouraging words: “your failure to adhere to these directives and to implement previously listed best practices contributed greatly to your Low STAR SGP Scores for the Spring Benchmark.”
Where exactly is the evidence that the requirements listed above have been determined to be “best practices?”
Tell me, would you rather have your child’s teacher teaching or filing paperwork? Which practice seems best to you?
This is what Mr. Blair’s “bunker mentality” has produced: a system where teachers are quitting, even if they don’t have another job, rather than stay in a system where they are arbitrarily held responsible for events that are entirely out of their control.
This is what he was celebrating this past Tuesday when the board claimed, with Mr. Blair doing most of the cheerleading, that Dr. Wardynski had achieved most of his goals for this year.
When you get to change the ground rules to suit your purposes, it’s fairly easy to accomplish your goals and to accuse good teachers of being failures so that you can then replace them with scrubs.
Mr. Blair, a bunker mentality is dangerous and counter-productive to education. Education is about listening to and learning from opposing ideas, not holding on to your self-righteous intolerance of anything that doesn’t fit your preconceived notion of “the right thing.”
Please, sir, do run for State Senate. Honestly, your bunker mentality will fit right in there. But either way, get out of education and take the rest of your bunker mates with you. You don’t understand it at all.