Violating Trust: Wardynski Abuses Position


On Thursday, September 26th, Dr. Casey Wardynski, Superintendent of Huntsville City Schools, took to the Huntsville Times to make his case for changing the name (or as we just heard for the first time today from board member Laurie McCaulley, closing) J. O. Johnson High School upon the opening of a new school in 2016.

(You may find Wardynski’s opinion here: “New, Inspirational Names in Order for Johnson High, Other New Huntsville City Schools”, and McCaulley’s opinion here: “J.O. Johnson High School is Closing, Not Being Renamed.”)

The Superintendent and the President of the school board are going all out to defend their decision (and yes, I’m convinced that the decision has long since been made) to alter the name of the high school on the North end of town.

On Thursday, Wardynski wrote, “the names we select must . . . speak to the aspirations that we know will drive our students forward to high levels of achievement . . . .”

Today, McCaulley wrote that the board approved on May 16th, not only to build a new school in the North, but also, “J. O. Johnson High School is closing.”

Making It Up As They Go

This was, by the way, the first time that the building of the new schools would mean the closing of a school. It’s interesting how she is now choosing to change her argument, isn’t it?

There was no mention whatsoever on May 16th that the recommendation that the board approved meant the “closing” of Johnson. Interestingly, that same proposal called for the moving of the existing Grissom High School (which is also a violation of trust) from its current location to:

Lot 1 of National Subdivision, Third Addition, Huntsville, Alabama to replace existing Grissom High School facility. . . . Upon completion of this construction, the existing Grissom High School building will no longer be used as a school.

This is, in other words, exactly the same wording that was used in that recommendation to discuss Johnson High School:

Upon completion of this new school, the existing J. O. Johnson High School will no longer be used as a school and students in grades 9-12 who would have attended J. O. Johnson High School will attend the newly constructed school.

I haven’t heard any discussion yet that the board and the superintendent are planning on closing Grissom High School, have you?

In short, McCaulley, as is common to the board, the superintendent, and the district, is making this up as they go.

Naming/Closing Johnson

You know, I don’t actually have a dog in the fight concerning the name of Johnson High School. Assuming that my children remain in the district long enough to attend high school, they will both attend Grissom High. (In fact, we moved here a decade ago because of the reputation of Grissom and the district’s schools. Sad isn’t it?)

However, I do have an issue with the superintendent’s consistent attempts to use the power of his office for his own political gain, and once again, that’s obvious if one simply reads what he wrote.

Just as he did when he decided to release the name of the school that a bullying victim would be transferred to last October, it seems that now he is using private student transfer records as political leverage in his battle to rename (or close) Johnson High School.

Violating Trust

He wrote last Thursday:

Indeed, I will be mindful that even while some public persons who now speak to retain the name of a school which will retire in 2016, their progeny have long since sought and obtained transfers to schools outside their attendance area.

Once again, Wardynski is abusing the power of his position and the access to private records that his position affords him.

He is violating our trust.

Transfer records are a private matter and a private decision made by parents seeking the best interests of their children. For Wardynski, such information is simply a political weapon.

Just as when he decided to attack all special needs kids as being too expensive and a drain on our schools back in September 2011, just as when he decided to out where he was sending a bullying victim in October 2012, just as when he decided to put a contract with Pinnacle Schools above the safety of our students, just as when he decided to balance the system’s budget on the backs of the neediest children of our community, now he is willing to use private records of school transfers to attempt to discredit his political opponents.

This is an abuse of trust. It is an abuse that began before he arrived with the majority of the current board members, and it is an abuse that he has continued and, frankly, ratcheted up during his two years of employment.

Being Supportive in the Face of Untrustworthiness

A few weeks ago, I led a meeting concerning opting out of the insane amount of testing that the district is requiring our students to complete. While Dr. Wardynski didn’t choose to attend this meeting himself, he did order one of his staff members to attend the meeting. During our discussion after the meeting concluded, this staff member shared with me that he does, in fact, read this blog. He had a bit of advice to offer me: namely, that I should spend more time acknowledging that the district doesn’t get everything wrong. He claimed that if I would do this that the district leadership would be more willing to take me seriously.

(I didn’t have the heart to point out to him that the fact that he was being ordered to attend my meeting proved that the district does indeed take me seriously, but maybe he picked up on that on his own. He seems like an intelligent person.)

I told him that he was correct. The district doesn’t get everything wrong, and believe it or not, I actually think that the move toward unitary status is one of the things that the district is generally getting right.

I told him this, and he seemed surprised.

But, as I also told him, I don’t trust Dr. Wardynski.

(And while I’m sure that information was relayed back to Dr. Wardynski at least by the next morning, if you, Dr. Wardynski, were wondering if I actually said that–assuming that you don’t have a recording of me saying it–I did. I don’t trust you.)

I don’t trust him. He has done much to betray my trust, and astonishing little to earn it. (In fact, the last time I complimented the man publicly, he had me escorted out of the board meeting for obeying the law. I, however, don’t mind being recorded.)

I have not found anything in his approaches to dealing with students, parents, teachers, administrators, or the general public to be trustworthy.

This is just one more example in a really long list.

So, if you are among the increasingly tiny group of people in this town that Wardynski hasn’t yet disabused of your trust, rest assured that he just hasn’t quite gotten to you yet.

Dr. Wardynski, Mrs. McCaulley, if you actually do wish to “reason together” with the public, the best way to show that would be to deal honestly and fairly with the public. It’s astonishing how hard you seem to find that to be.

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


  1. Wardynski, McCaulley, and the rest of the board simply do not have the guts to admit the truth here: Johnson is being renamed to remove the stigma currently associated with it. Wardynski wants a new start for the new school because he believes in leprechauns and the magical, transforming power of a new building, a new name, or an Xbox dressed up as a curriculum tool. Thus, you get nonsense such what you quoted above: “the names we select must… speak to the aspirations that we know will drive our students forward to high levels of achievement….” Welcome to Dilbertland. Yes, the students will be driven to “higher aspirations” because their school is named after some other dead guy instead of the first dead guy. How’s that worked out for Dawson Elementary, by the way?

    Grissom, on the other hand, keeps its name because it is the system’s premier academic high school, and you don’t want to mess with the name of your best brand. (Of course, the way the football team is playing this year, a name change might be a good idea.)

    But again, no one can admit any of this. It would be… well, rude. Can’t have that.

      1. One commenter in the al.com story suggested that once Johnson doesn’t exist, kids who were able to transfer under AAA will lose that opportunity. Does the new name/new structure effectively remove that school from the failure list? I think it might. So in this way, HCS could effectively hold kids hostage at a failing institution that just doesn’t have the track record to be characterized as failing.

      2. Jennie Robinson committed a classic gaffe (accidentally spoke the truth) and confirmed my suspicions:


        “There is no effort to change the Grissom name and there is no need to change the Grissom name. It is not a failing school and has a great reputation. I have no doubt that the committee will return a finding that there is an overwhelming desire to retain the name.”

        I am sure that the little general is not pleased with her candor.

  2. I also have another question — what will become of the 6th grade students currently attending Ed White and Davis Hills? The new co-located structure is only for 7th-8th grade students. Are the 6th graders being shoved back to their elementary feeder schools? This seems odd to have a different system in place within the same district — some kids follow the elementary/junior high model, others follow the elementary/middle school model. How will those in P-8 programs be divided? None of this makes sense.

  3. Russ,
    I have some interesting links for you.

    A TN friend sent me the first link of a teacher talking to her school board in Knox County, TN. As I watched and listened, I thought that the problems sounded very familiar.

    After watching, I went to the second link below and began to read about the Knox County superintendent. Except for his teaching experience, his background mirrors another first time superintendent we know.

    There is some comfort in the fact that we are not alone but overwhelming sadness that this is spreading across the country.

    teacher at board meeting…

    superintendent’s background…

    1. Yep, that sounds eerily familiar. This kind of top-down, command-and-control mentality is the product of people who are unable to deal with the realities of modern society. The idea that every school can be just as good as every other school if we just design a smart enough education system with the right carrots and sticks is the backbone of an almost cultist belief system among a bipartisan group of supposed “education reformers” with a major messianic complex. How many good teachers will leave (or will choose not to enter the field in the first place) before this awful fad burns itself out? And what condition will our education system be in by then? I don’t see how this ends well.

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