LEANFrog Conducts “Anonymous” Focus Group


This week, Huntsville City Schools is conducting five separate focus group meetings for teachers to discuss aspects of the Consent Order. These sessions are being hosted by representatives of LEANFrog.

Yes, that LEANFrog.

At the beginning of one of today’s sessions, the LEANFrog representative had this to say:

And we both are employees of a company called LEAN L-E-A-N Frog, and uh, we have been contacted by Huntsville City Schools to be a third-party, independent company to, um, conduct these focus groups. So, that, you know that this is anonymous. We don’t have a stake in this. We don’t have a dog in this fight. So, um, this is strictly your forum to discuss the issue here today.

There is so much wrong with this statement, it’s difficult to know where to begin, but I think the main thing that any teacher who participates in this forum group should remember is that LEANFrog, as a company, has been working for this district, and mirroring Dr. Wardynski’s arguments since 2011. At that time, Wardynski had the CEO of LEANFrog stand before the board to say the following:

Headrick: Oh. Uh, yes. Anytime you create change, you’re going to see apprehension. You’re going to see resistance. You’re going to see people delay and try to hinder or undermine the change. The Huntsville City Schools System will be no different. There will be people who actually try to undermine being held accountable. I mean this is a new standard. If you roll that out, some people are going to be worried.

Mr. Headrick was basically saying that teachers and members of the public who opposed Wardynski’s plans to change the system were just being “apprehensive” and “hindering or undermining the change.” Wardynski restated this by saying, “In the Army, we call that whining.” You can read the entire transcript here if you wish.

Mr. Headrick and LEANFrog have been working, often without a contract of any kind, for the district for the past 5 years. They have been evaluating and recommending “efficiency” modifications since shortly after Wardynski himself was hired.

Even after Mr. Spinelli, the CSFO that Wardynski brought with him from Colorado, resigned as CSFO, he was later hired by LEANFrog at a significantly higher rate of pay.

Mr. Bryon Headrick himself made political donations of $500.00 each to both Walker McGinnis’ and Elisa Ferrell’s 2014 campaigns to win their current board seats.

In short, the LEANFrog employees conducting the focus group meetings this week for faculty were not being completely forthright when she claimed that LEANFrog was “independent,” that the comments were “anonymous” (an identification was required to enter the meeting), and that “We don’t have a stake in this. We don’t have a dog in this fight.”

LEANFrog absolutely has a stake in how Huntsville City Schools operates. They’ve had a stake in HCS since 2011. They’ve been publicly towing the Wardynski party line since 2012. They’ve been contributing to current board member campaigns since 2014, and during the calendar year of 2015, LEANFrog has been paid $961,845.92 by the district for “Other Purchased Serv; Legal Fees,” which is rather surprising since LEANFrog is not a law firm.

If you are planning to participate in the focus groups at Grissom and Huntsville High Schools tomorrow afternoon, you need to keep this in mind. LEANFrog is not “independent.” And they have a stake at the level of about a million dollars a year in what is said at these meetings.

The meetings are a good thing. Teachers should absolutely have a voice in the assessment of the consent agreement (as should parents, students, and the community as a whole). They should have had a significant seat at the table when the agreement was being written. If they had, then perhaps discipline at our high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools would not have basically collapsed over the past six months.

So it’s good that teachers are finally being asked for their opinions. It’s just a shame that the “independent” organization they hired to lead the focus groups isn’t actually “independent.” If you truly wish for your voice to be heard, I would suggest contacting the Department of Justice directly and avoiding Wardynski’s middle man Mr. Headrick altogether.

The more you know . . .

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

6 Comments

  1. The more you know, the more dangerous you are, and the more people want to kill you. Be careful, my friend.

  2. I was a teacher with HCS for a minute. I have never had a more stressful, unpleasant job in my life. And, I’ve worked retail and food service! I dreaded going to work every morning. I was responsible for almost 200 children, which is a ridiculous amount. Another teacher told me he believed 150 was technically the “legal” maximum, whatever that means.

    The problem is, instead of hiring (and keeping) more teacher units, HCS is spending money on LEANFrog and programs that seem to be attempts at quick fixes for larger, deeper problems. For example, just before Christmas, teachers were bombarded with a “behavior program” that HCS paid for. Essentially, faculty were told that, because many students are not being taught at home how to act at school, teachers would be responsible for teaching students behavior during and in between classes, even to the extent that they would have lesson plans to help teach students behavior. Who has time for that (particularly secondary schools who have thousands of kids)? Also, when this was presented, it was a PowerPoint presentation with NO specifics, NO resources, NO plan, and the teachers were told they had to roll it out second semester after the holidays.

    Additionally, teachers are constantly being told that they’re doing everything wrong. A colleague of mine from another school system was asked to do professional development at Columbia High School. Because the colleague’s school system has many minority students (particularly Hispanic), she was asked to lead a session discussing the idea that any student who does not speak standard English at home, or in his/her daily life, should be considered an ESL student during instruction, as he or she will not have the standard language or communication skills that academia requires. The colleague told me that the Columbia High teachers were NOT receptive at all. I had to tell her, “It’s not you. It’s the fact that they’re constantly told they’re doing everything wrong. They’re also told that they’re insensitive to minorities, when that’s not the case at all. They probably resented the fact that they are having to go through professional development for something they already know, understand, and address daily in their classrooms.”

    My final story to leave you with is this: an elementary teacher with HCS who had been teaching for decades and loved her job decided to quit 3 months shy of retirement. She could not even hold out another 3 months to the end because HCS had killed her spirit and her fire for teaching.

    When HCS begins treating and respecting their teachers as qualified professionals again, things may start to change.

  3. The problems in HCS are far to many to count but they all boil down to one source: Commandant Wardynski. First, you can’t run a school system like an Army Garrison. This includes conducting espionage to root out those who dare question the regime. History shows us that all totalitarian leaders execute perceived enemies of the state. Having (hiring) LEANFrog to gather information (intelligence) is such a farce.

    Second, the relationship between Wardynski, Spinelli and LEANFrog reminds me of the political commercials that tout “The senator has funneled millions of taxpayer dollars to his cronies”. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck then it must be a duck.

    Third, any “behavior program” that asks the schools to teach students what they are not being taught at home is pretty much a boot camp mentality. Does a DI ask “didn’t your mamma teach you anything?” If their mamma didn’t, then the Army will teach teach them how to act. The schools already have enough on their plate, they don’t have the time or resources to be surrogate parents. Also, handing out PowerPoint slides with no supporting material is SOP in the Army, I witness it everyday.

    At this point in time, I’m not sure we can even trust the DOJ to step in and do what is right. They left us high and dry when they negotiated the consent agreement. Everyone knew there were ulterior motives as to why school zones were changed (to benefit land developers). They just sat there and went along with the “good ol boy” way Huntsville has always been operated.

    I am half jokingly serious when I say the only people I think we could trust to conduct focus groups would be a firm like the ones who count the votes for the Oscars, Grammy Awards and other high profile clients.

  4. As the old adage states, “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.” The DOJ consent order has not helped this system. A teacher friend of mine who taught in Montgomery County schools when they went through the same DOJ consent order had this to say, “The only thing the consent order did was to establish very good private schools in Montgomery County.” I am afraid the same thing is going to happen in Huntsville. What a shame.

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