Ever stop to wonder exactly why Huntsville City Schools made a transition to the digital 1:1 initiative in just under two months time? I mean, seriously, even Pearson’s consultants were frustrated by the speed with which the district was moving. They knew that we weren’t ready. And they knew that our rush would reflect badly on them.
And it did.
So why the rush?
Could it be that Dr. Casey Wardynski, Superintendent of Huntsville City Schools, who makes $175,000 a year and was willing to give up his $10,000 a year bonus in exchange for a two-year extension on his contract felt that he wasn’t making enough?
Could it be that Dr. Casey Wardynski was thinking ahead of all of the potential “consulting” jobs he could take to promote Pearson’s Digital 1:1 Initiatives across the nation?
Could it be that screwing over our kids, and ruining a year’s worthof their irreplaceable education, was all about the opportunity to consult for Pearson?
Wardynski and Pearson
A quick search of “Casey Wardynski” and “Pearson Education” returns 16,700 results. This is by no means a comprehensive listing. After all, as useful as Google is, it doesn’t find everything. But inside those 16,700 are a bunch of articles announcing our transition back in June 2012 (less than two months before the start of school). The first of which is a press release from Pearson.
(Interestingly, this press release claims that Pearson 1:1 Learning works with an iPad. As the iPad doesn’t support Flash, it doesn’t. Kinda makes one wonder what else isn’t true in this press release?)
Another link is from a Real Estate agent trying to sell homes in Huntsville. So naturally the articles are also of a Press Release nature.
What you won’t see on Pearson’s site or on the Real Estate site are reports like this from WHNTdetailing just a few of the problems that the system faced from transitioning to digital over the summer.
Wardynski’s Consulting Gigs?
But when you make it to page two, you begin to see some links of a different nature. Starting at the beginning of the calendar year, you begin to see references to things that Dr. Wardynski is doing for Pearson:
First is a Pearson link to their Archived Webinars. One of these webinars is dated June 12, 2013 and entitled: Preparing Students to Succeed in the Conceptual Age. This webinar is used by Pearson to encourage other districts to go digital.
This Pearson press release states:
The Florida school district leaders will work with Dr. Casey Wardynski, superintendent of the Huntsville, AL school system, the largest school district in America to have moved to digital learning materials all in one school year, starting last August. . . . Huntsville’s Superintendent Wardynski last month was named national Tech Leader of the Year by Tech & Learning magazine for his efforts in the district’s conversion to digital learning this school year.
This meeting took place on Monday, January 28, 2013 at the Westin Orlando Imagine in conduction with the Florida Educational Technology Conference.
So instead of talking and listening to the community over his broken promises concerning the location of Grissom High School, Dr. Wardynski was helping Pearson to sell this digital fiasco to even more districts while hanging out in Orlando.
I wonder if and how much he was paid for his sales pitch?
Then you’ll remember the next day, Dr. Wardynski was speaking to a group of educators brought in from across the nation to hear this same sales pitch here in Huntsville.
What they didn’t hear about was the plan to dramatically increase the fees that the district was planning to charge students if they violated the new computer use policy that they made students sign without parental consent.
If you keep looking, you’ll find this link from The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) promoting: Teaming for Transformation II, which will give attendees a “unique opportunity” to
hear Superintendent Casey Wardynski from Huntsville City School District (AL) and other national thought leaders’ recommendations for transforming the culture of teaching and learning [sic]
Teaming for Transformation II is made possible “with support from Follett Library Resources, Pearson Education, and Presidio.”
The positive feedback loop continues with Pearson issuing a press release congratulating Wardynski for receiving the “prestigious award for tech leadership.” This “prestigious award” was offered by eSchoolNews which regularly receives advertising dollars from . . . Pearson.
But why would Pearson spend time congratulating Wardynski? Maybe because they were just about to start using that award in their promotion of conferences where Wardynski would soon be speaking?
In short, Pearson sees Dr. Casey Wardynski as crucial to their future sales of their Digital 1:1 Initiative to other school systems across the nation.
In just over a year, Huntsville City Schools has spent or committed to spend $30 million dollars on the Digital 1:1 Initiative. Imagine what a larger system might rake in for Pearson? I guess this is what Wardynski meant when he told parents who asked questions about the digital transformation that Pearson:
is the largest educational solution provider in the world. They are not a fly-by outfit.
Well they had best not be, eh, Dr. Wardynski? If they were, the potential for raking in “consulting fees” from them wouldn’t be nearly as great.
Wardynski’s Consulting Clause
On December 20, 2012, the Huntsville City Board of Education approved a contract extension for Dr. Wardynski of two additional years ending June 30, 2016. This was approved after one and only one evaluation of the superintendent by the board.
The new contract contains the following clause concerning consulting work by the superintendent. Paragraph 2.C: Commitment to the System, states:
The Superintendent shall devote his full time and attention to the job and to use his skill, intellect, training, and experience to the utmost for the successful operation of the public school system of Huntsville, Alabama.
Paragraph 3.D. Outside Activities, states:
The Superintendent may lecture and engage in writing, speaking engagements and other activities, with or without honorariums, which do not interfere with and are consistent with the duties of his employment. The Superintendent may engage in consulting activities with the approval of the Board. In no case will the Board be responsible for any expense attendant to the performance of such outside activities.
The key phrase in this clause of his contract is highlighted above. The superintendent may engage in consulting activities with the approval of the Board.
I’ve attended or recorded and watched every board meeting this year. In order for the board to offer it’s approval for anything, they must do it in a formal, public meeting.
The Huntsville City Board of Education has not publicly approved any consulting activities by the Superintendent since he was hired in July 2011.
It would seem that Dr. Wardynski might be in breach of contract. I’m sure that the Board will wish to investigate this matter. I’m sure that they’ll find that none of these activities are legally deemed “consulting” on their part.
What Did Wardynski Receive for His Activities on Pearson’s Behalf?
Honestly, I don’t know. It is at least possible that he received nothing in the way of monetary reimbursement for these activities.
He could have easily traveled to Orlando on his own dime. (Certainly a man being paid $175,000 a year can afford a trip to Disney.)
He could have made the webinar after-hours and without district resources (but having watched it, I doubt it).
He could have given access to himself to CoSN as part of their “unique opportunity.” It’s a shame that the public and his teachers don’t have such access.
All of that may be evidence of his selflessness devotion to the cause.
But at the very least, it would seem that the Superintendent’s time, during typical work days, is being freed up for him to participate in these events. Either way, the Superintendent and the Board owe the people of Huntsville an explanation. Because it certainly seems as though Dr. Wardynski is actively working on Pearson’s behalf.
And that is a clear conflict of interest.
The Real Story of the Digital 1:1 Initiative
During the 2013 Grissom High School graduation, Principal Thomas Drake stood and listed many of the accomplishments that his graduating class had seen. The list was a long one and resulted in substantial applause from the 2,000 or so graduates and families in attendance.
One of the items on the list was that this graduating class was the first to operate under the Pearson Digital 1:1 Initiative.
When Mr. Drake reached this accomplishment, there was silence in the Von Braun Center.
It would seem that despite all the money that Pearson has spent promoting its amazing system that they failed to convince the people and students who actually participated in their “digital revolution.”
Most of us here at ground zero know the truth–The Digital 1:1 Initiative was a waste of time and money.
And Wardynski is to be blamed for this, not praised.