Citizens’ Comments April 21, 2016

    Schools In DistressSchools In Distress

UPDATE: Mr. Binner forwarded me the following information in addition to his comments below. They are well worth your time to review:

As standard practice when I have presented Citizen Comments in the past to Dr. Wardnyski and the School Board, I provide 10 hardcopies of my Citizen Comment in a colored folder. For April’s Citizen Comment, I included metrics and detailed plots depicting my son’s Teacher Instruction experience during the 2015-2016 school year that was not included as part of the Citizen Comment verbally presented at the 21 April Huntsville City School (HCS) Board meeting. The metrics listed and graphically displayed below support the main points of my Citizen Comment, which were presented to the HCS Board on 21 April 2016.

10th Grade English Teacher Instruction Metrics:
Teacher 1 4 August – 18 November 2016 70 days
Teacher 2 11 January – 11 March 2016 41 days
Teacher 3 4 April 2016 – Present 14 days
Semester Metrics:
Semester 1: 87 Planned Teaching Days
Semester 2: 68 Planned Teaching Days Through 21 April 2016
Semester 1: 70/87 = 80% Permanent Teacher Instruction
Semester 2: [41+14=55] 55/68 = 81% Permanent Teacher Instruction
For Both Semesters, 19% Of Instruction Provided By Substitute Teachers (30 Instruction Days) [155-127=30]

Figure 1 provides metrics broken out by each permanent English teacher

English Teacher Instruction

10th Grade United States History Teacher Instruction Metrics
Teacher 4 4 August – 12 November 2015 66 days
Teacher 5 5 January – 6 January 2016 1 day
Teacher 6 25 January – Present 56 days
Semester Metrics:
Semester 1: 66/87 = 76% Permanent Teacher Instruction
Semester 2: [56+1=57] 57/68 = 84% Permanent Teacher Instruction
For Both Semesters, 21% Of Instruction Provided By Substitute Teachers (32 Instruction Days) [155-123=32]
Figure 2 provides metrics broken out by each permanent U.S. History teacher

History Teacher Instruction

18.0 Average Instruction Days Per Month For The 2015-2016 School Year
Bottom Line: On average in my son’s case for his 10th Grade English and United States History Classes, 32 Instruction Days, which equates to 1.8 Months out of 10 Months dedicated for the 2015-2016 school year were instructed by Substitute Teachers.

After a four hour and ten minute meeting (yes, you read that correctly) that included a 20 minute Executive Session at the end, the Huntsville Board of Education finally allowed at least 18 people to speak for three minutes concerning the schools.

While I haven’t receive anywhere near all of the comments that were shared, I have received comments from four citizens that are shared below.

None  So far as I am aware, only one of these comments received a response of any kind from the board members or Dr. Wardynski.

You may also be interested in hearing that not all the comments were comments that the board or Dr. Wardynski would consider “negative.” (You know, any comment that doesn’t bend over backwards to praise the superintendent.)

It would seem that Ms. Ferrell has learned a lesson or two from Mr. Blair’s tenure as board Vice-President. On Thursday, it would seem, according to Ms. Ferrell, that some of the citizens who signed up to speak did so by using an “incorrect email address.” (She did not state what the correct email address was, but according to the board’s web site it is board.clerk@hsv-k12.org.)

This was her justification for alternating between people who were raising legitimate questions of Wardynski and the board and people who were specifically recruited to tell the board that Everything Is Awesome. While I do not know that everyone who had nice things to say to the board on Thursday was recruited to do so, the district has done this in the past, and I have a reliable source who states that Ms. Rena Anderson was contacting parents at Blossomwood and Jones Valley Elementary before the meeting to ask that they come and share their positive comments with the board.

Both of the names that I was given before the meeting began did, in fact, speak to the board. And yeah, their comments, unlike those posted below, were well received by the superintendent and the board of education.

District Seeking to Mislead the Board Members?

You know, it kinda made sense in 2012 when the board wanted to stack the citizens’ comment deck. At that time, the board was still broadcasting citizens’ comments on ETV.

Since they no longer do that, I fail to see the purpose of recruiting positive commenters, unless, of course, the board of education is unaware that people are being recruited.

Either way, I have received three comments from people who did speak, and two comments from people who considered speaking but did not. All five of the comments are posted unedited below.

If anyone else who spoke would like to share their comments, you may use the blog commenting feature below to share them. (Alternately, you may send them to me via email at russ@geekpalaver.com, and I’ll get them shared.)

I will be happy to share comments from any of the speakers who spoke positively of the district on Thursday night. I will share those unedited as well.

To the speakers: thank you. I appreciate you taking an entire evening and night away from your families to participate in our democracy.

Mark Binner: Teacher Retention At Grissom High School


Good Evening. My name is Mark Frederick Binner, I am a citizen of Huntsville Alabama and I reside at ———. I am not representing any organization and I want to briefly discuss with you this evening my concerns about Teacher Retention at Grissom High School and how it has impacted the quality of my son’s education, who is currently in his sophomore year.

Bottom Line Up Front:

Based on my son’s personal experience and the alarming number of permanent and substitute teachers providing instruction for two of his core classes – 10th Grade English and United States History during the 2015-2016 school year, my Citizen Comment will focus on fact based discussions with my son, discussions with his 10th Grade English and United States History permanent teachers, discussions with the administrative staff at Grissom High School and course work that my son was allowed to bring home from Grissom High School.


Fact 1:

My son has had three (3) permanent English and approximately twelve (12) substitute teachers during the 2015-2016 School year. My son has also had three (3) permanent History and over eight (8) substitute teachers during this same time period.

Fact 2:

My son’s second permanent English teacher only taught a total of 41 scheduled instruction days with no explanation on why she was removed from the classroom. My son’s second permanent History teacher submitted his resignation after only being a HCS employee for one (1) day.

Fact 3:

Based on review of the 10th Grade English Pacing Guide, my son did not receive the necessary instruction and processes to research, construct and write a research paper, as the other 10th Grade Grissom English classes have completed for his second semester, primarily due to the fluctuation of permanent and substitute teachers. In my son’s first semester, he did not receive all of the necessary instruction prior to taking the First Semester exam. He and the other students in his class attended a two hour cram session the day before the final exam.

Fact 4:

My son’s Medical Terminology teacher submitted her resignation and left the Huntsville City School system in early April. As of this date he has had substitute teachers.


It is unfortunate that my son had so many permanent and substitute teachers for two of his core classes this school year, which resulted in limited continuity teaching the lesson plans and implementing the learning strategies. It was devastating to my wife and me when my son confided to us “I did not learn much in my English class this year.” All that I could do is turn to my wife and tell her that I have failed my son for allowing him to remain in the Huntsville City School system – It is truly a travesty. As you have stated previously Dr. Wardynski with regards to a child’s education, “We only have one chance to get it right.” In my opinion not focusing on Teacher Retention was a primary contributor for my son not receiving a quality education this academic year. I come to you and the School Board to ask “Why?” Why was there such a high teacher turnover rate for my son at Grissom High School this school calendar year?

Thank You:

Thank you for allowing me to present my Citizen Comment to the Huntsville City School Board.

Barbara Schantz: Gifted and Talented Education in Elementary Schools

Hello. My name is Barbara Schantz. I am a citizen of Huntsville residing at —-. I am a mother of four children at Huntsville City Schools, including twin boys in 2nd grade at Goldsmith-Schiffman Elementary.

The two high priority concerns that I’m going to address this evening are the lack of information about the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program and understanding how students are evaluated and selected for participation in GATE. Let’s remember that the primary mission of a school district is to optimize the achievement of all students.

One of my sons received the initial invitation for further screening, but the other did not. This prompted me to investigate the new GATE program. My two older children were in the SPACE program, yet I still feel like I don’t know much about how the process works.

I started by reading the documents that came home with my son, which referenced a state Matrix for Screening/Eligibility Determination. On the Alabama State Department of Education’s web site, I found that matrix and I learned that parents have the right to refer their child for gifted screening, so I sent an email to that effect, which allowed my other son’s folder to be sent to the district committee for review.

I visited the HCS website and found that there are ten links from the Gifted Education page. Of those ten links, seven lead to pages that are blank. The three pages with information are vague, leaving parents who have made it this far still confused about GATE.

I spoke by telephone with Wendy Graham, Coordinator of Gifted Services for HCS. She explained to me that they evaluate the whole child, not using the state matrix, but looking only at strength areas and using “loose criteria.”

I next spoke with Shirley Farrell at ALSDE, who was unable to provide me with any further information except the name of the person at the state who might be able to tell me more about HCS’s LEA Plan for the 2015-2016 school year, for which a waiver was requested. I have tried numerous times to contact that person and have not yet succeeded.

My son who did not qualify for GATE got a 98 on the STAR Math test, has all 3s and 4s on his report card, is now learning 4th grade math, and is very well behaved. What is missing from his “Body of Evidence” is a record of how very hands-on he is, something not easily tested on paper or computers or represented by data. He scored a 97 on the STAR Reading test this week, so I made sure that was added to his folder for future consideration.

In conclusion, parents of 2nd graders, as well as parents of Pre-K to 1st graders, are not informed as to when and how children are evaluated for the GATE program. From what I have learned, it appears that Huntsville City Schools is moving forward in selecting students for GATE with an LEA Plan that has not been approved by the state. Certainly, my son is not the only student who was overlooked by the process. Many other parents do not realize that the opportunity for GATE evaluation has even come and gone. I speak tonight on behalf of all young HCS students in hopes that more information about GATE will be available online and discussed in meetings for Pre-K through 2nd grade parents. As with so many school-related topics, lack of communication is keeping our children from receiving the educations they deserve.

Thank you for your time.

Deb Stern: ACT Testing Payments

I’m Deb Stern, a citizen of Huntsville and have children at Huntsville High. We have lived in this area for 9 years. My husband and I served a combined 46 years in the United States Navy. I retired after my youngest son was diagnosed with autism. At age 4 he was developmentally an 18 month old. He is now a freshman at Huntsville High enrolled in grade level courses. In celebration of autism awareness month please feel free to ask me anytime what it has taken personally and financially, to keep him in grade level classes. We know we are fortunate because many other families face the same hurdles with different results.

I am also a supporter of our schools and district. I volunteer wherever I can. I stood on the steps out front in unison with most of you.

But, for the life of me, I can’t understand why we are giving monetary rewards to students and teachers for AP and ACT scores? After recently completing the college application process with my oldest son, I know how valuable those scores are. I am here tonight to ask you to reconsider this unethical cash flow to students and teachers you have identified worthy for a cash incentive. I don’t understand why having the ability to attend various advanced courses and taking the ACT, free of charge, is not reward enough. There are also the many ways for them to prepare for the tests at no extra cost. It is discouraging to think a student only recognizes the value of these tests after a cash bribe.

It’s great to celebrate student success and you are doing really well for advanced opportunities. Please use the cash award money to be just as innovative for opportunities targeting your struggling, below grade level students. They are a very big part of your forest.

Invest in identifying learning styles such as auditory vs. visual, to help create more effective instruction. There are intense reading and math programs that can help students gain years in a shorter amount of time than the current curriculum. There are autism class rooms that open with nothing, and lack qualified teachers.

My older son received some cash by barely studying for both the ACT and AP exam. He is not a gifted student. He did well, because he has had teachers giving him a solid foundation. In elementary and middle school, he was immersed in reading. Novel studies, independent reading assignments, and plenty of books readily available in the class room and library. By giving AP teachers bonuses based on student assessment scores, and even more money for students predicted to fail, whatever that means, you are undervaluing the hard work of all other teachers. Advanced classes are the result of academic success built year by year. If a student has not been successful up to that point, I can only think we are endorsing a spark notes type education. Please value all teachers for all student successes.

These are the comments I’ve received from people who shared them with the board. In addition to this, I would also like to share comments from a teacher who was in attendance at the meeting Thursday night, but when the board adjourned for their Executive Session, she left.

Debbie Hester: Partnering with Teachers

For those who asked, the speech I did not give last night due to the board’s political maneuvers is posted below and is public for sharing.

By the way, all the teacher committees they referred to last night are just for show. I have served on these before and will not do it anymore. They are put in place only to implement decisions already made. There is no honest exchange at all. The last one I just heard of yesterday was where they offered teachers with a BS degree and less than 12 years experience twice as much money to serve on a committee as teachers with a masters and more than 12 years experience. I could not make this stuff up people! I am asking for a REAL exchange of ideas.

In addition, a month ago I was scheduled to be on the agenda along with a student of mine to be acknowledged for the NHD awards. Wednesday night I signed up for public comment. Thursday morning I received word that there would not be time on the agenda to acknowledge my student and me. They would put us on the agenda for the next meeting.

Board Meeting Speech

I’m Debbie Hester and I would like to speak today about improving partnership in our schools. Partnership is critical in the education process.

Students learn better when I partner with their parents. When parents respect my professional expertise and I respect their intimate understanding of their unique child, we can make that child’s school experience wonderful.

I partner with my teaching team. I partner well with my administrator. My principal’s door is wide open to me. I feel my input is valued and heard.

I do not sense a partnership with central office. Instead there is a culture of fear that is heartbreaking to me. Whether or not you will admit this fear is justified, I know for a fact this it exists.

Since my recent Facebook post expressing concern over textbook removal, many people have contacted me to ask if I have been fired. In this culture of fear, countless people have warned me that punishment may still come, probably in the form of a forced transfer. I have had no indication that this will happen, so I will choose instead to be optimistic. Many parents and teachers have thanked me for having the courage to speak out.

Board members, are you not puzzled as to why it is a considered an act of great courage to respectfully offer an opinion on an issue that greatly impacts your work environment? This is toxic should be addressed.

I implore you to work to improve this situation and begin an open and honest partnership with your teachers where we feel free to share the things of concern to us.

For example, you could listen when teachers, students, and parents tell you that they prefer textbooks.

Hear us when we tell you that testing is causing enormous stress in our system.

The benchmark is not a state-mandated test nor a good measure of learning. You could make that go away today.

Ask a teacher how much time is really spent in testing. 15 minutes for STAR and Benchmark? Stop misrepresenting reality in our classrooms and partner with your teachers. You must also include the practice tests we feel compelled to do, because we know that we will have to prepare power point slides comparing our scores. Slides that can’t begin to reflect the broad range of need in our very different classrooms.

Partner with me and listen when I tell you that you cannot propose to be all about project based learning and then judge my social studies classroom based on a trivial pursuit contest otherwise known as the Pearson benchmark. Partner with us to build classrooms where learning is meaningful again.

It is not necessary to spend money on expensive public relations. If you truly worked to partner with teachers, you could see an explosion of trust and good will in our community.

Teachers should be involved in the decision making process because we are the ones with intimate knowledge of the classroom and the factors that will lead to student success. We are not soldiers but creative professionals. Are we expected to merely obey or could we be allowed to contribute creatively to our students’ success.

Neither the board of education nor the superintendent responded to any of these comments. While Dr. Wardynski did respond to one of these comments, the board sat silently. They are not willing to, in Ms. Hester’s words, partner with teachers or parents in the district.

They seek only our obedience. Our creativity is seen as a threat to be silenced.


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


  1. Dr. Wardynski did come up to me after the meeting, thanked me for my comments and said he would like to discuss further. He asked if they have my phone number. (That would seem obvious) I told him yes , but I would also make sure the secretary has them. I jotted them down on a copy of my comments.

  2. What a great idea you have, Russell. Thanks for your time and effort to get the community communicating, when others want to stop all communication.

    However, there is something that does bother me is your statement “thanks for participating in our democracy” …

    We live in a republic. That may seem like a throw away comment, but I think that gets to the heart of the problem. The school board doesn’t realize that we live in a republic.

    They obviously think it’s some sort of dictatorship or other similar form of nation/community. We as citizens seem to almost be too timid in voicing our concerns to the school board and superintendent too. We don’t want restraining orders, we don’t want retaliation on our kids, and our teachers don’t want to get fired. It’s obvious who is scared of whom.

    We forget that they (SB/super) work at the pleasure of the citizen. They should be scared of us. They are not !!! They should be representing us (we the people.) They are not !!! I think it was Jefferson that said “when the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny”.

    Our local community is under the tyranny of our elected SB and hired superintendent. We need to remove the board and the superintendent.

    Thanks for your effort.

  3. I bought a house semi-recently in HSV.

    I chose the location of the house based on the schools it was zoned for; I couldn’t (and still can’t) afford to live in Madison. The more I read the news, the more a regret buying that house. You see, I have a child living in the house now. The child is years away from going to school, and yet I feel I have a count-down timer until I have to move for the child’s sake. I’ve come to think of HSV as the place were I live, but the continual downhill spiral makes me hesitate to call it home. A place where my child would receive a declining, if not physically dangerous, education can never be home. My neighbors agree with me. I can see two “for sale” signs from my front door and there are more with in a short walking distance. I feel cheated, especially after paying a multi-grand tax bill last year for the privilege of being a homeowner. I don’t want to give up and move, but, in my heart of hearts, I know it may be time to jump. I feel guilty for endangering my child’s future and foolish for believing that by the time my child would be in school, things would get better.

    I regret my purchase very much.

  4. These guys are trying to cover for their failures. Go and visit one of these schools and you’ll see what a failure the The Dr. and his puppets are on the board. Why do you think he threatened students for posting fights on the web. It would show them how much they are lying to the public on how bad things have gotten in HCS system. The code of conduct that has been put into place is a joke. Teachers and administrators are getting cussed out and spat on, the people at the central office don’t see this as a priority to fix. They’re not reporting the true numbers to the DOJ just to make it look like things are fine. Would never, ever advise an outsider to move in and send their kid to the HCS system.

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