What Would My Desegregation Plan Be?

I’ve been critical of the recently released Memorandum Opinion that Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala offered on Tuesday night as her seal of approval for the Proposed Consent Order that the Department of Justice worked out with Huntsville City Schools and submitted to the court on March 11, 2015.

I’m critical of this plan for four basic reasons:

  1. The public plan almost entirely excludes the public from the process of unifying. Yes, there were “public” hearings held, but with the exception of grandfathering in Seniors, not one other suggestion from the public was seriously considered resulting in a change to the plan.
  2. The plan calls for the “limiting” of one school’s offerings to enhance another’s. You cannot enhance a school by limiting another. Education is not a zero-sum game.
  3. The plan furthers harms teachers by dismissing the importance of personnel transfers (allowing teachers’ children to attend school where a teacher teaches). It doesn’t prohibit it out right, but many principals have already informed teachers that their children will not be allowed to attend their parent’s school next year.
  4. The plan calls for and celebrates the moving, again, of Special Education students around the district. In general, I believe that students should be in their home schools (or as close as possible), but the praising of instability that Judge Haikala mentions in her opinion is disheartening.

None of these may, at first glance, seem to be significant issues in this massive process. You’d probably be tempted, “Damn Russell, nitpick much?”

And I’d probably be tempted to agree. This is a historic agreement, after all. And the desegregation of our town is absolutely important to me.

But I’m convinced that these four points demonstrate that the plan is fundamentally flawed and will, as a result, lead to an increase in segregation and distrust across this city rather than the opposite.

But, as was pointed out to me on Facebook where I was discussing this with some people I trust, simply being critical here isn’t enough.

What would I do differently? How would I address the issue of segregation in this town if I were in charge?

(No, I don’t want to be in charge, and no, I am not running for any office. What I am attempting here is to offer a reasonable pathway forward for this city to address the issues that we’re all facing.)

What Would My Desegregation Plan Look Like?

This is, by necessity, a broad outline of a “plan.” It might be helpful to think of them more as guiding principles, but I think that each of these ideas is crucial to helping to unify our city, which is the ultimate end-game that we’re supposed to be shooting for.

  • I would focus first and foremost on addressing the quality of the academics at all schools. In order to do this, I would encourage the city, state, nation to begin to address the issue of poverty. I know, there goes the liberal preaching about inequality again.

The single most persistent correlation that we see tied to educational achievement is how far above the poverty line the child’s parents are. If we truly wish to improve the quality of education in all of our schools then we must work to raise the standard of living of the families at all of our schools. We can certainly do this. We’ve done it before as a nation. This needs to be job one and everyone who cares about education in this country needs to be working to address this single issue. Unfortunately, poverty (like religion and politics before it) has become the unspeakable issue in our nation.

  • I would work to ensure that every school in the district had high quality teachers. Thus, despite the difficulty it places on teachers, I think Wardynski’s plan of centralizing hiring is, in theory, a good one. (Someone please tell him I said he did something right. I’m sure it would irritate him to no end.)

However, I think he undermines the effectiveness of this step with his hatred of teachers, and his refusal to pay teachers above the state minimum. Thus we’re running off excellent, effective, experienced teachers and attracting less qualified, less-experienced teachers.

Paying teachers a wage comparable to their training and importance would aid this step. Wardynski, however, is more concerned with keeping his corporate backers happy and profitable than he is with actually making our city unified.

  • I would work to enhance the Magnet Schools without intentionally hamstringing the non-magnet schools. You cannot improve the Arts at one school by “limiting” the Arts at another. Education doesn’t work that way.
  • I would, before I began a process like the desegregation of a city, work to make sure that I had earned the trust of the city first. Wardynski has actively isolated himself from anyone in this city who disagrees with him.

That’s asinine and shows that he knows nothing of education, leadership, or even how to be a decent human being. Without having the trust of the city, any unification process anyone undertakes is doomed to failure. In order to bring unity to people, people must believe that they have a voice in the process and that they matter.

The public’s voice in this process has been systematically silenced by the district, the DOJ, and the court. That does not support the goal of unity. It only supports further segregation. (Which is, if you listen to the conversations in the car lines, and diners in this town, exactly what is happening.)

Wardynski has failed us by failing to treat others the way he wishes to be treated. This process will fail for the same reason.

  • I would actively work to make sure that teachers absolutely know that the superintendent has their backs. Supporting them is the only way that the district has of supporting its students. (That’s the structure. You cannot support “students” without supporting the people responsible for teaching them.)

This would make teachers want to work harder/longer/and more innovatively to change the repeating circles of poverty leading to more poverty that our nation is embracing. This would make them volunteer to move to another school where they might be more effective. Unfortunately, Wardynski will never do this. I believe teachers intimidate him. (Seriously.)

  • I would make absolutely sure that every single step of the desegregation process, every single meeting, every single negotiation, every single executive session were completely transparent with every comment available for public scrutiny. That is the only way that the process will ever have the trust of the public. Placing a gag order on the parties was a stupid move by the court.
  • I would make certain that every action/decision we took in the process of bring unity were open to public examination with reason-based justifications offered for every zone line modification and every SPED placement explained clearly and reasonably. We’re talking about education after all. Any educational process that is unquestioned and unexamined is not worth being called education.

These are the steps that I believe this process has, almost without exception, failed to accomplish. On this all three parties, HCS, DOJ and the court have completely failed us.

The result, therefore, rather than bringing people together, is ripping them apart.

In the words of John Lennon, you may say I’m a dreamer for thinking anything like what I’ve described is possible. You might be right. But it is the way that I would have done this, and it is, in my mind, the only way forward.

I’m sure there are other points worth mentioning. I’m sure I haven’t begun to think through all of the steps in the process. But that’s the beauty of my approach as compared to the one we’ve suffered through: I’m not afraid of other people’s opinions.

Diversity is crucial to life. It’s a shame that the desegregation plan that’s being forced on us did not embrace a diversity of ideas.

Feel free to tell me how full of crap I am below.

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

11 Comments

  1. I agree with all of this. The next issue may well be transparency and the imperative that no gag order be in place when it comes time to monitor the compliance with the order and to evaluate whether it succeeds or fails. And I think it will fail because segregated neighborhoods + zoning linked to neighborhoods = segregated schools. Unsegregating neighborhoods may well never happen. But school zoning can be eliminated. Which high school is the least segregated and arguably the strongest academically? New Century. Who is zoned for New Century? No one.

  2. You often express (even if they can’t or won’t show it) what so many parents, teachers, and citizens (I refuse to use the word stakeholders) are feeling. I wish I knew to what extent, but I know it’s enough that we can bring real change with stamina, truth, and passion.

  3. Just one clarification for you. I taught in Huntsville city schools for 18 years before moving to another system. My child was not allowed to attend the school where I worked even before the present superintendent came along. We had to move for him to go to school with me. This is not something new.

  4. The first thing that I would do is fire the superintendent, his cronies, I mean cabinet and the entire board of education, and replace them with a diverse group of certified educators and people who honestly care about educating children instead of furthering their political careers and lining their pockets. People like you Russell.

  5. Rather than focusing on “what I would have done” we need to focus on what we can do as individuals to hold the district accountable for results under this plan.

    #1: Wardynski is super only as long as he has the support of South Huntsville. I notice that neither Grissom nor Huntsville High made the list of most challenging schools (or some name to this effect) that came out the last week or so. so the parents of South Huntsville need to express their concerns with quality of education under Wardynski to their school board representatives (districts 2, 3 & 5 in my judgement) McGinnis, Ferrell, & Wilder. McGinnis does read & respond to emails.

    #2: The school board hires & fires the super. 2 of the members responsible for Wardynski (Robinson & Blair) are no longer on the school board. When the current board gives Wardynski a performance review that you disagree with, let them know. When Wardynski implements some policy that you disagree with (spying on students’ social media, anyone?) let them know. They remain in office at the voters’ pleasure.

    #3: When you read an article in AL.com that you think is incomplete, too favorable, whatever, let the author know. I’ve emailed the author of several. A response I got back recently was interesting: since Wardynski was hired & is implementing policies that the school board members agree with, they get a big shrug from the Times. I believe that our voices can change this view. emails and letters to the editor are ways to change the narrative.

    #4: The income divide. Are you voting for state representatives & senators, governor, federal representatives and senators that are working to improve the divide or not? Are you voting? (Turnout is bysml, especially in nonpresidential years, and among the 18-2 year olds age group.)

    #5: The Justice Department, NAACP & SPLC are interested parties/watch dogs in this case. The court record shows a big shrug from the Justice Dept and NAACP. Your voices can change that: remember, someone up & wrote to the Justice Department and the Justice Department exposed the school district’s lie about not being able to reveal the District’s rezoning plan with the public. Without that letter we’d never have had even the sham town halls before the rezoning plan was formally submitted.

  6. I’m so happy that I found your blog. As a parent to a child currently IN Huntsville City Schools, I am blown away by things I see happening there. My son attends Chapman & though our experience there has been great, this past school year trumped every positive thing we’ve had happen there.

    The difference has been his teacher, who is absolutely incompetent, completely disorganized, has no plan for dealing with or teaching ADHD students & zero talent for conflict resolution. Bottom line, the woman is a JOKE & the more I think about how lackluster her teaching skills are, the more furious I become that my son had to suffer in her classroom this past year. The woman has pointedly lied to my face on numerous occasions & said multiple things that could’ve (and might still) cause a law suit with herself & HCS.

    Just when I think that she couldn’t possibly do anything else badly this year, she surprises me YET AGAIN this week. Her lack of professionalism & hack job method of teaching has prompted me to consider home schooling my child until High School or until I can get him transferred out of Chapman. Sure, you like some teachers better than others, but I HATE this woman. My son went from kindergarten, all good marks, A & B equivalent for that grade, to straight A’s 1st grade through 3rd to barely getting by in 4th grade. This is the first year I have felt completely lost in regards to what my son is doing in the classroom. This woman never communicated in a timely manner, if she responded to parents at all. An email sent on a Monday, might get a response the following week on a Thursday, repeated letters with legitimate questions were ignored for weeks at a time. I’m talking notes put at the front of his binder, post it’s stuck to his homework & it would take a visit to his classroom to get an answer after weeks of no response.

    I was looking for the form to submit to file a grievance & found your blog! I’m glad I did, I was beginning to wonder if I was the only parent having this experience with HCS.

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