After “endorsing” two candidates two years ago, and watching one of those two candidates then run away from actually asking questions of the superintendent and school board as he implied to me that he would, I decided that endorsing candidates was a hot mess that I didn’t want to have any part of in the future.
Thus, GeekPalaver is not offering an “endorsement” per say. (And I am certainly not offering any funding to these candidates from this website. I do not advertise on this site, nor do I accept any donations. Hosting this costs me money; I do not make money from this in anyway. If I do donate to anyone, I will do so with personal funds.)
By the way, I think I have made this clear on my About page, but just in case no one clicks over there (and few people do), GeekPalaver is just one single person at this point, and that person is me, Russell Winn—husband, dad, teacher, writer, geek. Every post since about 2011 has been written solely by me. Thus, if you’re looking for someone to yell at for the opinions expressed here, I’m your guy. Yell away.
As I wrote on a comment that was criticizing yesterday’s post, I do actually appreciate criticism. Criticism leads to self-evaluation, and self-evaluation is an important part of education. I like it when my students question me in my classes. I like it when my kids question me. She might doubt it, but I like it when my wife questions me, too! (Because, as I learned long ago, she’s smarter than me, and she’s always right. My life would be infinitely better if I listened to her more. There. It’s in print, sweetie.)
I like questions because they help me learn. Education should be irritating. It should be frustrating because if it isn’t, you’re not learning anything.
Thus, feel free to question away.
That is, by the way, the primary quality I am looking for in a school board member.
Someone To Ask Questions
Believe it or not, I don’t like writing about the school system. I’m an off the scale introvert, and I would much prefer writing about computers, movies, books, or even my own stories. (That was the original purpose of this blog when I started it five years ago. I would love to return to that.)
But the more I paid attention to what the district was doing to my kids’ education, the more I realized that asking questions in private about why special education students were being segregated into just two schools, the more I noticed that SPED was responsible for the lion’s share of the personnel cuts that took place in 2011, and frankly the more that my school board member, Dr. Robinson, would brush aside my questions by telling me that I’ll just “have to wait,” well, the more I realized that our school board then and now is populated by people who seemed completely incapable of asking questions of either Dr. Moore, Dr. Richardson, or especially Dr. Wardynski.
For example, the first time in three years that any member of the board has questioned Dr. Wardynski in public on anything that might reflect poorly on Dr. Wardynski was June 27, 2014 when Mr. Birney commented that it seemed to him that the number of teachers resigning had increased recently. Since Wardynski arrived in July 2011, the district has lost at least 803 teachers and staff members to either retirement or resignation. Most of those 803 have been teachers who have taken a job elsewhere.
In THREE YEARS of constant resignations, this was the FIRST time a board member even bothered to ask about it. #hsvboe
— Russell Winn (@russwinn) June 27, 2014
In other words, I’m not writing and posting here because I enjoy being critical of the district. I love public education. I love our schools. But I cannot sit by quietly and watch our teachers be abused if they question why the district is insisting our kids take a standardized test of some form on a weekly basis. I cannot sit by quietly and watch the quality of my kids’ education plummet because there just isn’t time to teach them even to write because of all the testing that Wardynski insists that they do so he can evaluate teachers.
I cannot sit by and watch our schools die.
If I had any faith at all that our elected board members would ask questions and then follow up when the answer is clearly self-contradictory, I promise, I would shut up and return to writing about things that I really cared about.
But they don’t. They do not, have not, done their job. As is written at the beginning of their own Policy Manual:
The Board has the authority and responsibility to administer and supervise public schools that are located within the City of Huntsville, Alabama.
I do not understand how it is possible to “administer and supervise” without asking questions.
Thus, despite the reputation some believe I have, I’m really not that hard to please. The primary quality I’m looking for in a board member is a person who will ask questions of why the superintendent is doing the things he is doing, and insist that the answer be based on evidence. By the way, Wardynski’s answer to Birney’s question two months ago was:
Birney said, “this is more than I’ve ever seen.” Wardynski responds, “No, it isn’t.” And that was enough to shut Birney’s questions. #hsvboe
— Russell Winn (@russwinn) June 27, 2014
So my first and primary criteria for selecting a school board member is simply, will this candidate actually ask questions about what we’re doing to our schools and why?
Candidates Who Won’t Ask Why
I believe that there are five candidates who have either actively demonstrated that they will actively criticize someone who asks questions or who have not demonstrated that they will themselves question Dr. Wardynski. These candidates are:
- District 2: Beth Wilder (She believes Wardynski deserves “an A, by going with the current board’s judgement.”)
- District 3: Elisa Ferrell (She believes Wardynski deserves “an A because he has done what we asked him to do.”)
- District 3: Ellen Brusick (She would rate Wardynski “very high for what he has done.”)
- District 4: Kimberly Battle (She would also give Wardynski an A. “Dr. Wardynski was the medicine that our school district needed.”)
- District 4: Walker McGinnis (He would give Wardynski “an A, possibly an A+.”)
I do not believe that any of these candidates will actually ask Wardynski a question. Thus if you believe that Wardynski is “the medicine” that has cured our schools, if you believe that parents should just smile and say thank you sir, may I have another, these are the candidates you should support on Tuesday.
Candidates Who Will Ask Why
I believe that the following candidates will ask questions and insist on reasonable answers:
- District 2: Richard Buchanan (He has not taken PAC funds as of his most recent reporting. He isn’t bought and paid for already like some.)
- District 3: Anson Knowles (He does ask questions, but ultimately he is seeking the same things that Dr. Wardynski is seeking—the privatization of our public schools.)
- District 3: Kathie Rooker (She has a history of working with parents, teachers and our schools. She is committed to making them better for all of our students.)
- District 3: Pat Sanders (He is one of the few talking about the hostile working environment Wardynski has created.)
Kathie Rooker Will Have My Vote
As I live in District 3, Kathie Rooker will be the candidate that I vote for on Tuesday, August 26, 2014. I have followed her campaign closely, and I believe that she will be the best board member of those running. She strikes me as thoughtful, inquisitive, intelligent (which is something we could sorely use on the board), and committed to doing what is best for our kids. I am convinced that she will stand up for teachers. Also, and I’m saddened to say that this is not true of all of the candidates running, so far as I am aware, Mrs. Rooker has not “cut-corners” or broken rules about campaigning just because everyone else is doing it. This is important to me. The ends do not justify the means.
If I lived in District 2, I would support Mr. Buchanan for similar reasons. If I lived in District 4, I would likely write in the name of a third candidate as I cannot support either Battle or McGinnis.
However in District 3, Mrs. Rooker has my vote.
I cannot support Mr. Knowles despite his opposition to the board. As I mentioned above, Mr. Knowles believes that the Alabama Accountability Act, which currently allows parents the “choice” of withdrawing their child from a public school (along with the vast majority of the funding that goes along with that child) that is labeled “failing,” should be an option for all parents regardless of the quality of the school their child attends.
If this were to occur (and thankfully, this isn’t a local school board decision), this would effectively be the end of public schools. I cannot support this. He and Dr. Wardynski are actually more alike than they seem on the surface: they both support privatizing our public schools. They just want to do it in different ways. Wardynski has privatized schools by redirecting public funding to private companies (many of whom are supporting Ferrell, McGinnis, Battle, and Wilder as I pointed out yesterday.) Neither Wardynski nor Knowles has our kids best interests in mind in this regard.
Knowles’ plan to “expand” school choice for parents would actually reduce the number of options that we have right as public schools would not survive. And if public schools die, the option or choice for my son who is special needs to attend school with students who are not special needs would disappear. Yes, there would likely be a private school option, but it would be a segregated option, not an integrated one.
Mr. Sanders, on the other hand, has done an excellent job of speaking out for our teachers, and I thank him for that. But I do not believe that he will be able to do the best job of building coalitions on the school board. (Along those same lines, anyone who has worked with Mrs. Ferrell—if they will speak openly with you—will quickly tell you that she struggles when working with those who disagree with her. She insists on her way and her view. She will not be able to build a coalition with other board member who disagree with her.)
Mrs. Rooker, on the other hand, makes building coalitions look easy. (Honestly, she’s far better at this than I would ever be.)
The best recommendation that I can offer is this: I was recently helping a friend move, and I had the opportunity to speak with her son who attends Whitesburg and is in the same grade as one of Mrs. Rooker’s children.
As we passed one of Mrs. Rooker’s signs, this young man said to me without prompting, “I really like Mrs. Rooker. She’s in our school helping us out all the time.”
Out of the mouths of babes . . .
On Tuesday, August 26, please vote. When a race can be decided by just one or two votes, every vote matters.
First, I would like to thank you for your time and effort in providing unbiased and insightful information … information that doesn’t seem available from traditional sources. Sound voting decisions begin with knowledge, and your significant contribution is unprecedented. Thank you.
I concur that Ms Rooker would be a good choice for School Board. However, in my opinion, Mr Knowles is the best choice for the following reasons: 1. Mr Knowles is the only candidate to reject Common Core. 2. Mr Knowles has an accounting background, which I think would be beneficial to investigating all of these non-contract expenditures, non-bid sales, and the basis for all of these school closings and relocations. 3. In previous candidate forums, Mr Knowles seemed to have the tenacity and courage to challenge the current Superintendent, who has a reputation of intimidation. 4. In a recent candidate forum, The question was, “What grade would you give the current Superintendent?” Mr Knowles replied, “D” (without hesitation). I think Ms. Rooker replied “2.5”.
I may be wrong, but I don’t think that Mr Knowles wants to privatize the school system. I think he wants to give parents a voice in the education of their children. Parents should have the final decision involving the education of their children … to do otherwise is a repudiation of the American way. I believe that, on a level playing field, Public Schools can do as well (or better) than Private Schools … but, that is a debate for a different occasion.
Thanks for your message. I appreciate it, but thanks aren’t really necessary, and I’m actually rather biased. 🙂 All I can say is that I try to be upfront about my biases insofar as I am aware of them. (I support teachers. I think parents must have a voice in education. I think that it is a good thing to differentiate education rather than trying to standardize it. The list goes on.)
Thanks for offering a counterpoint. You’re correct. Mr. Knowles does oppose CCSS/CCRS, and so do I. CCSS/CCRS is a state matter, however. The local school board really doesn’t have much of a say in the matter. It would be nice to have some options other than Pearson curriculum, and that is a local decision, but until and unless the state drops CCSS/CCRS, it doesn’t matter much what individual board members believe on the issue.
I agree that having an accounting background could be helpful when the superintendent has Mr. Taylor make presentations, but unless he’s looking at nearly every single document, which would be a full time job, I’m certain that Wardynski could push nearly anything he wished past an individual board member.
I also agree that Mr. Knowles has spoken out against Wardynski the most clearly, and I respect that. But in order to accomplish anything the individual board members must build a coalition with other board members. Mr. Knowles’ outspokenness would interfere with this. While I do believe it is important to shine a light on what is happening, a board member should be able to both do that and build and convince other board members to go along with him or her. This is where his outspokenness would be a hindrance.
Frankly, this is one reason why I decided against running: I would be one vote among four others, and even if I opposed Wardynski, I doubt that I would be able to convince two others to vote with me on a regular basis.
I do believe this is a skill that Mrs. Rooker has.
I agree that parents must have a voice in education for education to be effective. This is perhaps Wardynski’s biggest failing. Mr. Knowles believes that every parent should have the freedom that AAA gives to students in failing schools. (Or at least this is my understanding of his position when we discussed it this past Tuesday night. If I am mistaken, he is certainly welcome to post his views here.) Thus, he believes that parents should have the choice of pulling their child out of public school and using public funds to pay for the cost of doing so. This is, in my assessment, a privatization of our public schools, but I agree that this is probably a debate for another day. (My opinion of the Alabama Accountability Act is certainly biased. 🙂 )
I appreciate your offering a well-reasoned response, and I thank you for it (even though I disagree with your conclusion).
Thanks for reading and commenting.
“But I do not believe that [Sanders] will be able to do the best job of building coalitions on the school board.”
Why not? Not challenging you, just curious about your reasoning. He is in the insurance business, so he knows how to work with people. His innate likeability and talent at getting along well with others while holding firm to his principles is one of the things that attracted me to his candidacy.
That’s a fair question, and really Ben, I’ve been challenged by you before. It’s not a problem. 🙂
I am not opposed to Mr. Sanders at all. As I stated, his outspokenness about the hostile working environment that our teachers are facing is accurate and honest. And I respect him for it.
But as with Mr. Knowles’ outspokenness, I think that Mr. Sander’s might hurt him a bit there. (As I stated in another comment, this is why I wouldn’t be a good candidate.)
I do think that Mr. Sanders could be a good school board member. Mostly, I just think that Mrs. Rooker would be better. But yes, it was a close call.
Either way, I think we’re going to end up with a run-off. Should Mr. Sanders make it into a run-off and Mrs. Rooker not, he would certainly have my support.
Thanks for the question and giving me a chance to clarify my statement. And please, challenge away. 🙂
Anson Knowles questions Wardynski when it is convenient.
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