Eight Reasons Our Teachers Are Leaving

Classroom conditions.Yesterday morning the Huntsville Times ran “Huntsville City Teachers Resigning Shows Low Morale, AEA Rep Says” as a follow up article to their piece from last Thursday concerning which districts have the least experienced teachers in Alabama.

While it should come as no surprise, Huntsville City Schools was number 5 on the list with 20% of its teachers having a year or less experience.

By the way, this data was compiled by Alabama School Connection. If you’re not reading that site on a regular basis, you’re not informed about education in this state.

28 Teachers Leave In Two-Weeks

After reading a summary of the bi-weekly Human Resources report at the board meeting last Wednesday, Dr. Wardynski referenced the article about experience and claimed that the report was basically meaningless as it only considered a single year of data.

So let’s listen to what he had to say:

There was some article that came out recently in some newspaper, and um, it talked about what percentage of our teachers were new verses other school systems. Uh, I think it said last year 14% of our teachers had a year or less of experience. [Editor’s note: The article in the Huntsville Times said that 20% of our teachers had a year or less of experience. Wardynski is constantly fudging the numbers to suit his purposes.] We hired about 335 teachers last year. We did some increased staffing, um, we were looking to beef up new programs. This year, I think we’re hiring about 150 teachers, so this year about 6-7% of our teachers will be new. [Editor’s note: According to the FY2015 budget, we have 1,306 teachers. Assuming his 150 number is accurate, that’s 11.5% not 6-7%.] Um, we usually look at the five year mark. Up through five, you see learning gains that are pretty important for teachers. After that, things kind of tail off. People are seasoned. At that, I think we’re at about 30-31% of our teachers have five or less years service. And when we look around the state for comparables, Madison City has a smaller share with that level of experience. Vestavia. The schools systems we’re looking to keep track of. We’re right in there with them where they have a little less experience than we do. Um, so this year we’ll see a little bit less number than we saw last year. They bounce around from year to year. But as I explained to the fellow from the paper, you don’t really know anything if you look at just one year. You’re looking at the whole picture of your teacher pool, the strategy are we growing are we shrinking? Are we changing programs? Did we have lumpy hiring in the past? And so if you 20 or 30 years ago if you had a big hiring spree, well 30 years on, you’re going to have some retirements. So, those things all go into this, and we keep a pretty good close track on that as well as other things we’re looking at as we implement our consent decree.

First, always remember that when Wardynski, the self-described “numbers guy,” mentions any numbers that could be seen in a negative light, he will just make those numbers up so that they make him look better. It comes so naturally to him, I don’t even think he knows he’s doing it anymore.

Of course, he failed to offer any evidence during his defense to show that it was in fact meaningless. He did mention that Huntsville City had 31% of the staff had five years or less of experience.

He was proud of this detail.

This was also after the board had unanimously approved an HR report that had 28 teachers resign since the previous meeting in June. (This was along with four teacher retirements, one staff retirement, and one other staff resignation.)

As is typical, not one board member asked a single question about the high number of teacher resignations in this report.

Since August 2011 (the month after Dr. Wardynski was hired), our district has had at least 1,067 teachers and staff either retire or resign from this district. That’s about 267 a year who have volunteered to leave. The majority of those leaving are our teachers

This doesn’t count the teachers and staff who are “non-renewed” every year. Approximately 120 people are told at the end of every school year of the last four that their contracts will not be renewed.

And the board doesn’t question why so many teachers are leaving this district. Not one single question.

Wardynski Wants Teachers To Quit

The board doesn’t ask, and Wardynski is completely unconcerned about morale for one simple reason: it works to his advantage for teachers to hate teaching in his system.

There’s simply no other conclusion that one can draw from the four years of harassment and abuse that he has leveled on the employees of Huntsville City Schools.

It works to his advantage because teachers with experience:

  1. Cost him more money in the short run. (In a short period of time-five years, a more experienced teacher will cost more in salary than hiring a new teacher; however, over longer duration, turnover is far more expensive.)
  2. Are less intimidated into silence in the face of poor policy and curriculum changes.

And so, when you’re unconcerned about the long-term health of a school system or city, running off teachers can certainly work to the superintendent’s advantage. It frees up more money in the short term and makes it easier to funnel that money towards his pet projects and private companies to do things like, oh, I don’t know, run an ad campaign to recruit students into public schools.

So now that “some newspaper” (The Huntsville Times) is finally running stories about the high turnover rate that has been obvious to anyone paying attention over the past four years, what is Wardynski’s response?

Same as it ever was: there isn’t a problem. These numbers are exactly the same as they have always been.

“Teachers Aren’t Leaving Too Often”

This is what he said to Topper Birney last June (June 27, 2014) when Mr. Birney became the first (and probably the last for at least the next few years) board member to ask why so many teachers are quitting.

Dr. Wardynski claimed that teachers were not leaving at a higher ratio than before.

One would think that with Dr. Wardynski’s certainty that he clearly would have asked for a report from his Chief of Staff to support such a claim.

So, I wrote Mr. Giles on June 27, 2014 to ask for just such a report that would show that teachers were not leaving at a higher rate than before.

Mr. Giles wrote back that “we do not have the information you requested . . . .”

That was a year ago.

When it comes to matters concerning the number of teachers leaving the district, Dr. Wardynski claimed this past Wednesday that “we keep a pretty close track on that as well as the other things we’re looking at as we implement our consent decree.”

Without evidence, there’s no reason at all to believe Dr. Wardynski knows what he’s talking about.

If the numbers are exactly the same, why not produce evidence to support this claim?

If you need more evidence of the lack of “track keeping,” consider this.

From May through July 7th, according to their HR reports, the district has only hired approximately 90 teachers. They are still advertising for positions. Rumor has it that we have at least 70-80 positions to fill. There are two weeks of summer left before teachers have to report, three weeks before students go back, and we still haven’t filled nearly half of the projected vacancies. And I know for a fact that there are more resignations coming in the next two weeks.

This is the definition of a poorly run, poorly managed, failing school district.

Wardynski Is Only In It For The Money

So, did you notice how quickly Wardynski transitioned from talking about morale to money in Huggins article? Why do you think he took that approach?

[Wardynski] added after talking with Keller, he believes the district with more than 1,500 teachers mostly has a pay problem, not a morale problem.

Well, simple. If he can turn public opinion against these “money grubbing teachers,” then it will be much easier to avoid the discussion about morale that is entirely his responsibility.

I used to say that no one goes into education for the money. That’s actually no longer true. People like Wardynski have gone into education for the money. His salary as an Army Colonel jumped from about $91,000 a year to $120,000 a year as Director of Economic and Manpower Analysis at West Point. It jumped again as the CSFO at Aurora Public Schools to $138,400.

When he started working in Huntsville, we gave him a base salary of $175,000 a year. Basically doubling seems a good justification for jumping into education, isn’t it.

Thus, since he came to education for the money, he naturally believes that everyone does.

This is probably also true of his administration. Here’s a list of starting salaries (and trust me, none of these individuals are making the starting salary. All in the first three groups are making 6 figure salaries.):

  • Deputy Superintendent: $85,901.40 with 4.6% annual raise
  • Chief of Staff (To do all the management that Wardynski doesn’t want to): $78,977.81 with 4.6% annual raise
  • Various Directors (Compliance, Strategy and Innovation, Instructions, Finance, IT, Operations): $72,054.26 with a 4.6% annual raise
  • Other Directors (Networked Learning, HR Manager, SPED, Talent): $65,723.24 with a 4.6% annual raise

Teachers have not had a Cost of Living Adjustment since 2007. Over that period, employee insurance and retirement contributions have increased. Administrative salaries increase by 4.6% every year, however.

While some of these personnel have a background in education, the Chief of Staff, and most of the Directors positions, are filled by people who came from other walks of life. Most have a military background which is a prerequisite in the Wardynski Administration.

You have to get down to Grade 4 (which is actually 7 levels down) before you find a person who works directly and regularly with students. Principal’s starting salaries are $51,000.90 with a 4.6% annual raise.

Therefore, it’s reasonable to believe that many of the administrative staff of this district went into education for the money.

But this isn’t true of our teachers.

Why Our Teachers are Leaving: It’s Not About the Money

While it is important and true that teachers have seen their actual salaries decline over the past eight years, the vast majority of teachers don’t enter education for the money.

Our starting salary in Huntsville City is the state minimum allowable of $36,867 a year. We pay less for teachers than Madison City, Madison Co., Vestavia Hills or any of the districts that, as Wardynski states, “we keep up with.”

So yes, our teachers deserve to make more money than they do. But every single time that recommendation has been brought to Wardynski, even when he’s bragging about having his $30 million dollar surplus, he has immediately shot down a raise for teachers as unworkable.

There are just too many lawyers and public relations firms to pay to offer our teachers a salary increase. There are too many private companies to make sweetheart deals with. He’s going to need another job with one of these companies eventually.

But the morale problem is much bigger than just a “money problem” as Wardynski likes to claim.

At the risk of creating a game plan for Dr. Wardynski to abuse teachers in the future, here are some other reasons why our teachers are leaving this district.

Why Our Teachers Are Leaving

There are, by my count, at least eight reasons why our teachers are leaving the district as quickly as they can, and not one of these is because of the money. They’re leaving because they’re:

  1. Unappreciated by the Board and Superintendent. Our superintendent regularly demeans and dismisses teachers as basically necessary evils and feed stock in our system. It costs nothing to say thank you to more than just your TFAers.
  2. Regularly Treated Unprofessionally. Our teachers are treated exactly like children. They’re even given the same tests as children because clearly we cannot trust their training as anything other than substandard. It costs nothing to be professional and to seek out the professional expertise of our teachers.
  3. Required to Teach to the Test/Pacing Guide. Education must be standardized like golfballs. Teachers cannot be trusted to press pause on the pacing guide when an opportunity arises for authentic education. It costs nothing to allow teachers the freedom to meet the individual needs of our students.
  4. Forced to Adopt Constant Curricular Changes just because. Every single year, and usually in the middle of every single year, our teachers are given new curriculum, new approaches, new and AMAZING pedagogical techniques that will be followed resulting in AMAZING and ASTONISHING, damn near MIRACULOUS, improvements in test scores (the only standard that matters). It costs nothing to allow teachers to adapt the curriculum to meet the students’ needs without constantly changing it. In fact, this would save the district substantial funding.
  5. Overwhelmed by Filling Requests for Data for Huge Classes. Data collection supersedes everything in this district. After all, that data can be traded or sold to companies as a profit center. While it might cost something to slow the selling of our students’ data to private companies, it would be the right thing to do.
  6. Required to Handle All Discipline Issues On Their Own. Teachers are threatened for sending students to the principal for discipline issues. Our district doesn’t want to discuss discipline at all except to claim that using computers has reduced discipline issues. Furthermore, Wardynski blames the victim whenever he can’t blame teachers. It costs nothing to support teachers in addressing discipline issues.
  7. Threatened for Expressing an Opinion. The superintendent regularly hires outside consultants to spy on teachers. He openly threatens teachers for speaking their minds. Or even for sending out information about the status of the district’s network. It costs nothing to allow teachers to openly share their views.
  8. Being Moved From School to School. Every year, and often in the middle of every year, teachers and administrators are regularly moved from school to school. On June 4, 2015, the board, again without discussion, approved the transfer of 225 elementary, secondary, counselors and special education teachers to new schools. This doesn’t count all of the transfers that occur in the middle of the school year.
     

As justification for this when Ms. Elisa Ferrell was asked why administrators are regularly being moved mid year, her response was: “When we go back to when Dr. Moore was here, we would have a principal who was taking money from the gates at basketball games. When you switch all that up, you clean up those problems.”

I asked if she was accusing our principals of corruption.

She responded: “Yes.”

It costs nothing to allow stable educational communities to develop. And if someone is stealing from our kids, fire them, don’t move them as Ms. Ferrell recommends.

I’m certain that this is not a comprehensive list, and I don’t intend it as such. I’m simply trying to offer the superintendent, who seems convinced that money is the sole motivation for why people do what they do, some additional reasons why our teachers are leaving.

Every single one of these points is directly and solely under the superintendent’s control. With the exception of selling our children’s data to private companies, not one of them will cost the district any money at all. In other words, there is zero reason for failing to alter all of these morale wrecking tools.

The only reason for not changing them immediately is simple (and also the truth): Dr. Wardynski wants teachers to leave as quickly as he can get the board to rubber stamp their resignations.

Teachers stand in the way of his “reforms,” and he hates them for it.

I’ve never known anyone who is as easily intimidated by educators as Dr. Wardynski.

And that’s the real reason he wishes to run them off: teachers scare him. They see through his smoke and mirrors.

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

10 Comments

  1. “There are just too many lawyers and public relations firms to pay to offer our teachers a salary increase. There are too many private companies to make sweetheart deals with. He’s going to need another job with one of these companies eventually.

    But the morale problem is much bigger than just a “money problem” as Wardynski likes to claim.” Thank you. Thank your. Thank you. For not allowing Wardynski and his PR machine to ram false facts down the public’s throat.

  2. I would like to address Mrs. Ferrell’s comments accusing principals of corruption regarding ballgame gate funds.

    I retired in the second year of Dr Wardynski’s rein. I worked several years under Dr Moore and under other supers. Being an older teacher I always volunteered to keep the gate at ballgames. Our principal was always present and was either helping me or popping popcorn. In my day he was considered an involved administrator. I also must mention that this was a school with little if any parent volunteers.

    Now I want to address the method of accounting for gate and concession funds. All receipts were counted by three people: the gate keeper (me), the principal, and a third person (usually a athlete parent).

    Then there was a form we filled out indicating the beginning funds, and showing the gain. Then all three signed and dated the form. Their was always a copy of the form in my box the next day.

    The form was a standard form from Huntsville City Schools.

    When I read Mrs. Ferret’s comments, I felt as if I was being accused. After all, my signature was on the accounting form.

    I don’t know how gate receipts are accounted for now, but when I was involved it would have been difficult to steal said receipts.

  3. Russell, thanks once again for another well-informed insight into the house of horrors, also known as Wardynski’s Board. Like a seasoned politician, he is astute at stonewalling, spinning the facts, and certainly looking out for his own best interest. I know first hand about what teachers are going through. As a concerned parent, I have had multiple discussions with teachers “off the record” in their classrooms where they not only closed the door, but also spoke in a low voice. Can you say paranoid? Not only do they resist complaining or speaking up, they dare not fall behind the expected pace of their teaching agenda, even if more than half the class is failing. They absolutely must “check the boxes” of lessons completed with regard to where they are in the school year. With regard to mandatory laptop teaching, I spoke to several who said that because laptop usage was being monitored for compliance, they would simply have their students power up and sign onto their laptops at the beginning of class, then abruptly close them and put them away. Sadly, this is what it has come to. Now look to what we have on our Board. Sorry to say, we elected them, but could that be because we just didn’t have anyone worth a damn to represent our districts? These Board members are nothing more than self serving bobble heads who relish the concept of consensus and don’t have an individual thought between them. I am totally disgusted with our education system, yet sadly, it seems to mirror the downward trend of education in general in this country.

  4. Let me just follow up on something I hit on in my previous post. Even though students fall behind and seriously struggle with the course content, teachers must forge ahead. It would appear then that you would have many students with failing grades. But this cannot happen, for if it does, it reflects poorly on the teacher and provides the justification Wardynski looks for to terminate (uh, perhaps I should say, force a resignation) that teacher. How then does the teacher get around this? By offering a multitude of opportunities of extra credit. I have seen extra credit being given for returning forms with a parent signature or even bringing in paper towels and other supplies for the classroom. Sometimes the students will just be allowed to take the failed exam home and work on it there, returning it the next day. So this is what “teaching” and “learning” has now become. So when the kids come home with that highly inflated GPA and get into college, guess how well they fare there?

  5. What Board? I know of at least 2 board members who were former educators. Why is noone speaking up for the teachers? Ever heard fingernails going down a chalkboard(which I believe is outdated)?That is what I think of Warndynski and the members. I hope Montgomery is taking notice of what is going on at Huntsville City Schools at the administrative level which leads down to the teacher/students/parents.Parents beware.

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