Painting Away the School Year

Mt. Gap Painting

Dr. Wardynski often claims that our children need and require every single moment of instruction to succeed in this world today.

He cites this as justification for cracking down on truancy by calling in even parents of children with doctor’s excuses into court to explain why their child was absent. He cites this as justification for the obscene amount of formative assessment that the district does via not just one (STAR Enterprise) but two (SchoolNet) standardized, benchmark formative assessment tools to determine if your child is showing adequate growth. He cites it as justification for automatically denying any and all personal leave during the beginning and ending of the school years.

He even cites this as justification for canceling PE, Art, Music, and field trips.

In other words, those 180 days are sacrosanct.

That is, of course, unless the district decides that it needs to paint a classroom.

Summer Projects Are More Important than Education

On April 3, 2014, the district announced their summer projects. Among the projects were “Comprehensive Painting Projects.” Here was the list of projects they announced that night.

2014 Budget Amendment #1 Powerpoint Presentation

At the time, I was pleased to see that the district was doing something at Mt. Gap. When Dr. Wardynski presented a list of things that he would do at Mt. Gap after the Elementary and Middle schools were merged, and two years later, nearly nothing on the list had been completed.


The improvements that had happened at Mt. Gap had almost always been the result of parents and teachers working together to make the improvements, and this included the color scheme and painting of classrooms.

At least until this year when the district decided that all the colors needed to be standardized across the district. And that’s the point here: the district makes all of these decisions without consulting anyone, without really even telling anyone. And when anyone questions any of the decisions (like merging two excellent schools together), their response is, as Dr. Wardynski stated then, you should just be happy that we’re not closing your school down all together.

Strong Leaders Strike Again

You see, nothing matters in this district unless Dr. Wardynski says it matters. And the only thing he cares about are test scores that he manipulates to suit his needs. That’s why on Tuesday, May 20, 2014, three days before the end of the school year (but a week after testing ended, which was the real end of the school year), Dr. Summerville, principal for a few more days of Mt. Gap, had the following notification sent out.

Painting Email

So after taking up student computers a week and a half before the end of school, taking up student books a week before the end of school, now teachers at one of the best elementary schools in the district were being ordered to remove everything from their walls (yes, officially just their “non-teaching walls,” but as well see in a moment, that didn’t matter to the district work-staff that arrived later that afternoon), so that the district could get their painting done.

Because clearly the district’s schedule matters far more than the students’ education.

Ripping Down the Walls

Here are a few photographs to show what I’m talking about.

Mt. Gap PaintingMt. Gap PaintingMt. Gap PaintingMt. Gap Painting

Those show the condition of our school at the close of the day on Tuesday night.

This is what a typical classroom looked like on Thursday morning, two days before the end of school.

Classroom conditions.Classroom conditions.Classroom conditions.Classroom conditions.

Despite Dr. Summerville’s email that only the “non-teaching walls” should be cleared (which is a meaningless phrase anyway), most of the classrooms on the elementary side (and in particular in the pre-k through first grade wings) were completely stripped of bulletin boards, white boards, books, and all teaching materials. The bulletin boards had been moved into storage.

Classroom conditions.Classroom conditions.

On Thursday morning before many (but not all) students had arrived, Dr. Summerville also decided to make an announcement that teachers should be aware that school is not over, and that it was their responsibility to ensure that their students were learning on both Thursday and Friday. Any and all activities must have an educational basis.

That’s a helpful approach isn’t it? Blame the people who have zero input into the problem.

She then left the building to attend the district’s rezoning show at the Federal Courthouse downtown.

Students, Parents, and Teachers are Inconsequential

So let me ask you, if you have a classroom of 25 third graders whose laptops were taken up the previous week, whose books were collected a couple of days later, and whose classroom was stripped of all material, how much of a chance would you have of maintaining their interest in learning two days before summer break?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

It didn’t have to be this way. It could have been better (or sadly worse). Some of the schools on that list received notification about the need to strip walls about a month before it needed to occur. They had plenty of time, therefore, to plan for the disruption. Some of the schools on that list are, in addition to the disruption, having to deal with paint fumes as they have already started painting before school ended.

But that’s the problem. There is a pervasive attitude in this district that the students, parents and most of all the teachers are the least important parts of the district. All of these components exist to serve the “strong leaders” of this district.

Now, I am well aware that this summer is going to be markedly shorter than last summer. There will be less time to accomplish these summer goals this year by about 20 days. I get that, but you know what, that isn’t the students’ nor the teachers’ fault. They had nothing to do with either the calendar or the amount of work the district was going to attempt to complete this summer.

All of those decisions were made at far higher levels than a lowly teacher.

Furthermore, if Dr. Summerville had been as concerned about quality of the education in her school as she was with obtaining her new position, Director of Magnet Schools, perhaps the last minute, dictated email could have been sent sooner allowing teachers to plan for the disruption, as other principals in the district managed to do?

But she’s long since bought into the ideology that the only people in our school district that matter are those who are in charge. Those “strong leaders” who decide from on high what should happen, how it should happen, when it should happen and why without involving the people affected by the decisions in any way.

If Teachers or Parents Had A Voice, Would This Have Happened?

I realize that when and how we paint in a district is a minor decision. And if the way this had been handled were an isolated incident, it wouldn’t be worth noticing.

But it is worth noticing because it drives home, yet again, how the district’s “strong leaders” feel about the people who are the reason their jobs exist in the first place.

We should reject this corporate model of top down leadership of our schools (that honestly tends to fail even in the corporate world far more often than it succeeds). We should embrace a model of service that acknowledges that the most important people in the system are the students.

The driving question behind every decision should be, “How will this decision impact our students?”

Additionally, this model would recognize that the most important people employed in the district are those who work closest with the students. They should be the highest paid, most valued people in our district, not the so-called “strong leader” of Casey Wardynski who attacks students, yells at parents who question him, berates and runs off more than a third of our teachers in two years.

Ask yourself, if our teachers’ opinions mattered in our district, if our parents’ opinions mattered, would our students have been sitting in this, to end the year?

Classroom conditions.

Nope, I didn’t think so either.

They are painting away the school year and hoping that we wouldn’t notice or say anything about it.

Here’s hoping that U.S. District Judge Haikala keeps Wardynski in court indefinitely. He can do far less damage there.

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


  1. Sounds like someone needs to GO and be done. If one can’t choose the health, safety and education over paint he has no business in his position.

  2. It has always been my belief that the school district’s mission is to help teachers teach students…silly me! 🙁

  3. If you think Dr. Summerville has bought in to the Wardynski way of doing things, then you’re going to LOVE the new principal, Heather Bardwell. She’s a very high-energy, likeable person, but a complete toady for the Testing Mafioso. During her time at Weatherly, kindergarten naps and the end-of-year program were canceled. They represented wasted time that could be spent making kids (kindergarteners!) “college and career ready.” Field trips became basically non-existent for all grades. Unless teachers could justify a field trip as a purely academic exercise, it did not get approved, so most teachers just stopped asking.

    Weatherly had a longtime tradition of dedicating a couple of hours per day during the next-to-last week of school to an enrichment program. Special classes were put together by teams of teachers on topics of interest to the kids — dinosaurs, CSI, space travel, etc. — and students could sign up for what they liked best. It was a wonderful opportunity to engage their imaginations and get them fired up about a subject they were interested in. Yeah, that was canceled, too. Waste of time. Need to get those kiddos ready for NEXT year’s tests, I guess.

    Project American Life (projectamericanlifealabama.com) has been a staple for Mountain Gap 6th graders for many, many years, and for a lot of kids, it is the single best thing they do in middle school. I will be shocked if Mrs. Bardwell doesn’t kill that trip the day she walks in the door.

    So just wait. This time next year, you’ll be fondly looking back on the halcyon days under Dr. Summerville.

  4. “We should reject this corporate model of top down leadership of our schools (that honestly tends to fail even in the corporate world far more often than it succeeds). We should embrace a model of service that acknowledges that the most important people in the system are the students.”

    If you look at successful public education models (like Finland, for example), this is exactly what you see. In Alabama (and in most of the rest of the country) educational decisions are made by politicians (like W and the board) and not educators. If we could make this one adjustment, all of our students would be better for it.

    excellent point, Russ.

  5. As parents and taxpayers, we should all be livid at what’s happening. Not only do we get this revamped mode of education shoved down our throats, we are also required to supplement the schools with everything from tissues to paper, to a long list of classroom necessities. But what really got me riled was observing the last week (basically the whole month of May) of the school season. Did the teachers review the coursework for the year in preparation of finals? No. There were more standardized tests given. My daughter’s high school math teacher wasn’t around to teach the class because he was required to oversee testing. This was not an isolated occurrence. Many substitute teachers were called in to babysit classes that did absolutely nothing. I asked my high school student how her last week was when she wasn’t testing. Let’s see…she watched two movies, played a couple of games, and basically had free period. My son’s middle school was no better. They handed in laptops the week of May 12th. All testing was completed. So the last week was filled with games, picnics, outdoor play, etc. When I attended school, we worked right to the end. We reviewed the year’s work during that last week, took our final, and the school year ended. Now we have an over abundance of school testing, a reduction in physical education, arts, and music, and a whole lot more useless and trivial play time at the end of the year. And we wonder why as a nation we are falling behind?

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