Huntsville City Schools Since 2011

Huntsville City Schools Since 2011
Huntsville City Schools Since 2011

On Tuesday, May 17th, I offered a presentation to the NAACP at the Harrison Center that gave an overview of the history of Huntsville City Schools from the past five years.

As I’ve been asked several times to share the presentation with others, I decided that rather than simply making a link to the presentation available, that I would also offer my commentary for the slides along with more links to evidence of the claims that I make in the presentation. This is the exact presentation I offered on the 17th, with a few exceptions. Since that night, the board of education met on the 19th and approved 19 more resignations and 2 more retirements. I have updated the slides near the end of the prevention to reflect these losses.

I was asked on Tuesday if I knew that the image above was upside down. The answer is yes. It was intentional. A flag being flown upside down is a symbol for distress. As that seal is a symbol for Huntsville City Schools, and as I believe that our schools system is in distress, I have intentionally chosen to “fly” that symbol upside down to indicate our distress.

Why I Write and Speak About Huntsville City School?

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I am not running for a seat on the school board (or any other political office). I have the best jobs on the planet: I am a teacher, a husband, and a father. And it’s those two little ones above who motivate me to care about our school system.

That’s a picture of my little girl bringing her favorite toys to share with her little brother the moment he first got home almost 11 years ago.

I’m a teacher. I’ve been teaching in this town for the past 13 years, and I’ve primarily been teaching graduates of Huntsville City Schools.

Back in January, Mr. David Driscoll posted a comment on my blog asking, “If it’s so bad why are your children in HCS.” [sic] The simple answer to this question is that I believe in public education. I believe our society is far better off with an educated populace than with an uneducated one. And so, I am fighting not just for my kids to have a good education, but also for them to grow up in a world that values education.

This is why I speak out about the quality of education my kids are receiving.

I started paying attention to the district five years ago when the board was planning to consolidate all of the special education students into just one school, AAA. My son was diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum when he was about two, and so I was naturally interested in their plans to move my son, yet again.

Starting With the Positive

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I’ve been accused of having nothing positive to say about Dr. Wardynski and his tenure here. My response has been two fold: first, Dr. Wardynski has a public relations staff doing absolutely nothing but sharing every one of his accomplishments with the world, and second, the last time I spoke positively at a board meeting about Dr. Wardynski he had security escort me out of the room.

But as he has had some positive accomplishments in his tenure, I thought I would start with those.

I believe the Summer Feeding Program is a good thing. Our society is a better place when our people are not going hungry. The only down side to this program is that, like nearly everything he does, our Child Nutrition Program has become a profit center for the district. HCS makes about a dollar off of every meal that the district serves.

I support the expansion of summer school, and in particular making it free for nearly everyone. My son, as a result of being on the spectrum, attends summer school. Last year, he attended five days a week for a full school day (8:00am – 2:30pm). This year, however, the Extended School Year (ESY) program will be cut from five days a week to four, and from 6.5 hours per day to just 5. In other words, he has cut the ESY program by nearly two full days.

I support the updating of our school buildings. Many of them were absolutely in terrible condition due to years of inattention from the district. However, he has refused to allow the community any voice in the process (unless of course you are a local developer).

And believe it or not, I fully support working to get the district out from under the desegregation order. Sadly, though, his approach to doing so has increased the racial division on our community rather than bringing people together as is the intent of the desegregation order.

The board benefits from a community divided along racial lines. When people are divided, they are easier to control and manipulate.

How Did We Get Here? Financial Issues.

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At the beginning of 2011, the district was approximately $20 million dollars in debt. (This figure changed regularly depending on who was talking to whom, but it was somewhere between $19 million and $22 million.)

This led to the state department of education sending in Dr. Ed Richardson (who has become the “go-to” guy when the state believes a local school district is in dire straits. Dr. Richardson has also been named to the Charter School Commission.)

But in 2011, we began to have the first of two Reduction in Force plans. The first one on February 3, 2011 cut $6.9 million immediately, and $41.6 million after a year.

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This wasn’t deemed enough, so on February 10, 2011, the board fired 137 staff including 65 Instructional Assistants. In case that title isn’t familiar to you, these are the special education aides who work with special needs kids to ensure that they are benefitting from the education we’re providing.

For the safety of special needs kids, instructional assistants are absolutely crucial. And they represented the largest number of cuts during the RIF.

On April 21, 2011, the board conducted another RIF firing 154 tenured teachers, and an additional 32 instructional assistants. Not counting the 154 teachers fired, which did include special education teachers, the district laid off 97 special education aides and 2 Speech/Hearing Interpreters. This represented 41% of the personnel cuts made during the two RIFs.

David Blair claimed that “security personnel” received the deepest cuts in the two RIFs. 41% is, by the way, eight times as large as the 5% of security personnel who were cut.

But then this district has never been concerned about addressing the needs of our neediest students. These additional cuts led to a savings of $17,300,000.00 of the $19 – $22 million deficit the district was facing.

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In his presentation to the board on April 21, 2011, Dr. Richardson claimed that the cuts they had made had resulted in the eradication of the deficit.

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The District was Out of Debt Three Months Before Wardynski Arrived

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This is a chart taken from Mr. Frank Spinelli’s budget hearing on August 16, 2012. It clearly shows that the budget crisis was over before Dr. Wardynski was hired. Mr. McGinnis likes to give Dr. Wardynski credit for getting the district out of debt.

This is a re-writing of history. The district was out of debt before Wardynski was hired on July 5, 2011.

Enter the Broad Foundation’s Board Academy Superintendent

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Our district’s financial issues led Huntsville City to being targeted by the Broad Foundation for take over.

The Broad Foundation is led by Eli Broad who “trains” personnel—often former military—to be superintendents in about seven months of weekend training on educational issues. Wardynski had exactly 9 months of K12 Experience when he applied for the Superintendent’s Position.

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One of the best resources for information on the Broad Foundation is The Broad Report. You can also find an illuminating list of characteristics of Broad Superintendents at “How To Tell If Your School District Is Infected by the Board Virus”. A few of the highlights include:

  1. Schools in your district are suddenly closed.
  2. Even top-performing schools, alternative and schools for the gifted, are inexplicably and suddenly targeted for closures or mergers.
  3. Repetition of the phrases “the achievement gap” and “closing the achievement gap” in district documents and public statements.
  4. Repeated use of the terms “excellence” and “best-practices” and “data-driven decisions.” (Coupled with a noted absence of any of the above.)
  5. Power is centralized.
  6. Decision-making is top down.
  7. Local autonomy of schools is taken away.
  8. Principals are treated like pawns by the superintendent, relocated, rewarded and punished at will.
  9. Culture of fear of reprisal develops in which teachers, principals, staff, even parents feel afraid to speak up against the policies of the district or the superintendent.
  10. Ballooning of the central office at the same time superintendent makes painful cuts to schools and classrooms.
  11. Sudden increase in the number of paid outside consultants.
  12. Superintendent attempts to sidestep labor laws and union contracts.
  13. Teachers are no longer referred to as people, educators, colleagues, staff or even “human resources,” but as “human capital.” (Or “FeedStock”)
  14. The district leadership declares that the single most significant problem in the district is suddenly: teachers!
  15. Superintendent lays off teachers for questionable reasons.
  16. Teach for America, Inc., novices are suddenly brought into the district, despite no shortage of fully qualified teachers.
  17. The district hires a number of “Broad Residents” at about $90,000 apiece, also trained by the Broad Foundation, who are placed in strategically important positions like overseeing the test that is used to evaluate teachers or school report cards. They in turn provide — or fabricate — data that support the superintendent’s ed reform agenda (factual accuracy not required).
  18. Superintendent behaves as if s/he is beyond reproach.
  19. The superintendent receives the highest salary ever paid to a superintendent in your town’s history (plus benefits and car allowance) – possibly more than your mayor or governor — and the community is told “that is the national, competitive rate for a city of this size.” ($175,000 per year with an “evergreen” clause that automatically renews.)
  20. Your school board starts to show signs of Stockholm Syndrome. They vote in lockstep with the superintendent. Apparently lobotomized by periodic “school board retreat/Broad training” sessions headed by someone from Broad, your school board stops listening to parents and starts to treat them as the enemy. (If you still have a school board, that is — Broad ideally prefers no pesky democratically elected representatives to get in the way of their superintendents and agendas.) (“HCS BOE Have Never Voted No — On Anything.”

Wardynski Arrives

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And the moment he arrived, the attacks and threats began.

Dr. Wardynski made it clear that he was not going to be responsive to the public, the teachers, the principals, or anyone else in town who did not openly support his agenda.

Wardynski Attacks Parents/Teachers/Principals

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The attacks on anyone who disagrees with Wardynski continued.

And notice the exchange that Dr. Wardynski and Dr. Robinson had concerning the repeated shuffling of administrators around the district:

Robinson: “I know that schools get real attached to their school leaders. But this is a corporate model. And it’s what corporations use to develop leadership strengths.”

Wardynski: “Right.”

Robinson: [Shrugging as if that resolves the matter once and for all, says before the board moves on] “That’s what we’re going to do.”

First, let me point out that while corporations do often follow one another, there is no such thing as “a corporate model” that every corporation follows. For example:

Organizational_charts

Our world will never be a one size fits all world. Educating ourselves to adapt to differing circumstances is one of the main purposes of school, after all. Following one model isn’t a sign of education, but rather indoctrination.

Second, it’s important to remember that while our schools do certainly have some business-like qualities, they are not actually businesses. Our children are not Dr. Wardynski’s product that he can then sell to the corporations of the world. Our children are not to be standardized “like golfballs” as David Blair once famously quipped.

A corporate education model would be far different from the model most of us think of when we think of a school system.

Corporate Education: Pinnacle

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The Pinnacle Schools was hired as an “alternative” school to replace The Seldon Center as a place to send a child as an alternative to expulsion. When Frank Spinelli was discussing the contract with Pinnacle, he claimed that it would cost half as much as keeping The Seldon Center open. As is a pattern we shall soon see, when the contract was published, the costs were actually twice as much.

Shortly after the contract was signed, The Pinnacle Schools were soon in the news for abusing a student there. This demonstrates one of the most significant problems of “corporate education:” When the district uses subcontractors to educate our children, the public loses a voice in how that subcontractor operates.

Corporate Education: David Driscoll

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David Driscoll began being paid by Huntsville City Schools in October 2013. From October 2013 through March 2016 (the most currently available report), The Driscoll Group has been paid a total of $302,721.42 over the past 30 months.

For nearly two years, no one outside of Mr. Driscoll and the Merts Center had any idea what Mr. Driscoll was being paid to do for the district as the 2013 contract was not published until June 2015 when Mr. Driscoll received a “supplement contract” to the August 28, 2013 contract which had not been published. You may download the August 2013 contract and the June 2015 contracts here.

Mr. Driscoll is paid $150/hour for the first 24 hours/month and $100/hour for any additional hours above 24 per month.

According to the August 2013 contract, Mr. Driscoll is being paid to:

  • Assist Superintendent and Board in communicating the changes planned for each school to parents, students, community leaders, and key elected officials.

    Assist the Superintendent and Board in meeting with various groups (PTAs, Elected Officials, the Press).

    Assist the Superintendent and Board with Facebook pages to announce changes and post events at schools.

Now, why does the superintendent, who claimed in 2012 that he would rather quit than communicate with “some people” in this town, need the assistance of a public relations firm like Mr. Driscoll’s to communicate?

Furthermore, Mr. Driscoll has regularly been seen in the parking lots of several parents meetings of late. He and Mr. McGinnis attended the HEAL meeting sponsored by the South Huntsville Civic Association on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. Mr. Driscoll also appeared at a Huntsville United meeting on Sunday April 17, 2016 and sat in the parking lot for approximately 30 minutes. (I was told that he did the same at the NAACP meeting on Tuesday, May 17th, but I did not see him for myself.)

I wrote Mr. McGinnis to ask him if Mr. Driscoll were billing the district for his attendance at the HEAL and the Huntsville United meetings, and Mr. McGinnis responded on April 18, 2016, “I talked to David late yesterday night.  He is not billing the HCS for either meeting.  He never intended to,  nor would it be right to do so.”

I followed up that statement by asking, “If he isn’t billing the district for either of these meetings, then what is he billing for?” I pointed out that it would be remarkably easy to hide $75.00 (for sitting in a parking lot for 30 minutes) in what has basically become a monthly bill of $10,000.00, Mr. McGinnis chose not to respond. (Driscoll was paid $15,589.00 for “Other Professional Services” in March 2016.)

Mr. Driscoll worked for Mr. McGinnis’ 2014 board campaign, Ms. Ferrell’s 2014 board campaign, Ms. McCaulley’s 2012 board campaign, and Dr. Robinson’s 2014 City Council Campaign according to campaign finance reports. Anson Knowles filed an Ethics Complaint about this in April 2015. The Alabama Ethics Commission dismissed the complaint in June 2015.

The rumor is that the Ethics Commission dismissed the complaint after conferring with the board’s legal council J. R. Brooks to seek out his opinion on the complaint. When he stated that the board’s actions weren’t a violation, the Ethics Commission dismissed the complaint.

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The question of what exactly Mr. Driscoll is billing the district for remains unanswered, but it is nice to know that a person who has been hired to promote Huntsville City Schools so readily takes to blogs and Facebook to suggest that parents should pull their children out of HCS, and that parents who ask questions are simply, “a noisy group of small people with an misinformed agenda pushed by a union of teachers.”

If he were correct that our schools are in better shape than in the history of the system, I assure you, no one would be raising questions about them.

Corporate Education: Lean Frog

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LEANFrog is a local Sigma-Six corporation was hired originally in 2011 to evaluate the district’s efficiencies. From the beginning of 2012, I began asking the district for a copy of the contract that the board had approved with LEANFrog. I was eventually told that “the district does not have any documents responsive to your request.” At the time, the district had spent $28,790.00 without a contract.

Since November 2011, the district has paid LEANFrog $3,806,872.80 via various contracts. (4/5/12,8/16/12 Agreement, 8/16/2012 Schedule of Pricing,4/21/2016) The most current agreement has no cap on the amount of work that LEANFrog may be asked to do for the district.

In 2014, Bryon Headrick made political donations of $500.00 each to Mr. McGinnis’ board campaign and Ms. Ferrell’s board campaign.

Authoritarian Leadership

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In October 2013, the school board, at Dr. Wardynski’s insistence, violated their own school naming policy by renaming J.O. Johnson High School because they wouldn’t wait an additional 17 days before voting to change the name.

Seventeen days was too long to wait to name a school that still has not opened yet almost three years later. They pushed ahead with the immediately changing the name of the school because Dr. Wardynski wanted to keep the public from being able to organize against the change, a lesson he learned when he was attempting to rename Lee High School in 2011.

McCaulley argued that she hadn’t violated their own policy since they weren’t changing the name of Johnson, but they were rather building a new school and closing Johnson. When asked why Grissom, which was building a new school and closing an old location, did not also change names, she offered no logical response.

The simple truth was that Wardynski wanted the name of the school changed. And so the board broke their own rules and changed the name. Once again, Topper Birney was the lone dissenting vote on this matter.

As Challen Stephens wrote in February 2015, the most effective way to get a school off the state’s “failing school list” is to simply close or rename it.

Federal Government Requires HCS to Repay $2.6 Million in Special Education Funding

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Because of the massive cuts that were made to special education in 2011 by the RIFs and the $7 million cuts in the SPED budget, Huntsville City Schools was ordered by the Federal Government to repay $2.6 million in funds in October 2012.

Dr. Wardynski claimed that he was being punished for being “efficient.” If he were being “efficient” then why has he returned special education aide staffing to the level it was at before the board cut 99 of them in the 2011 RIF?

Efficiency is no justification for breaking the law, no matter how many community news directors of the Times claim that it is.

Special Education Matters

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Dr. Wardynski has long despised special education. You may find the details of the above quote on Debra Jenkins blog, Dreaming With Your Feet.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” SPED Aides

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In November 2015, Dr. Wardynski had Ms. Amy Sledge, Director of Special Education, offer a report on how much better the services for SPED kids are today than they were when he arrived. One of the many slides that she shared was the one you see above that shows that the number of aides in the district has increased from 151 in 2011 to 250 in 2015.

This sounds fantastic until you ask yourself why he chose to start with 2011?

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Well, if you go back to 2011, you’ll see why. It was in 2011 that the district unfairly cut SPED more than any other area in the RIFs. How many aides did we cut?

You guessed it: 99.

So the amazing increases in services that Dr. Wardynski was touting was nothing more than a return to the level of services offered in 2010.

During this prevention, Dr. Wardynski again argued that following the SPED law led to “inefficiencies” because the HCS employed aides cost “about a third more” than Appleton aide.

As is typical, this is not true. The district pays Appleton $21.30/hour without any benefits. (Appleton aides are only paid $15.00/hour by Appleton; the rest goes to Appleton.)

The district pays the most experienced HCS aide $12.81/hour plus benefits which add about a third to the cost or $4.23/hour.

The total cost for an Appleton aide to the district is $21.30/hour. The total cost for an HCS employed aide with benefits is $17.03/hour.

Paying Appleton for the SPED Aides for the district costs the district 20% than employing the aide directly and giving them benefits.

I’m not sure Dr. Wardynski understands what “efficiency” actually means.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” Teach for America Contract

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When Dr. Wardynski was promoting Teach for America (a program that brings in college students who typically did not want to be teachers into a district to teach for two years), he claimed that the contract would cost the district $550,000 for a total of three years.

Once the contract was published, the actual cost of bringing Teach for America recruits to Huntsville was going to cost $1.9 million for three years, or almost four times as much.

If you’d like to do more reading about Teach for America, here’s a quick overview of the research for TFA’s effectiveness from 2011.

If you need more evidence, in 2013 WAFF requested data on the TFAers in the district to compare their effectiveness to a typical teacher in the district. Dr. Wardynski, “Mr. Data Himself,” claimed that the district did not have any data on the TFAers effectiveness in the district.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” T&W Operations Social Media Monitoring Program Cost

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When Elisa Ferrell was running for school board, she was regularly posting on Facebook to connect to her constituency. (After she was elected, she promptly disappeared. Too many questions might keep her from doing her job, I suppose.)

When she was running, and The Huntsville Times ran a story about district’s first social media monitoring program, (not to be confused with the current program), Ms. Ferrell took to her campaign’s Facebook page to claim that rather than relying upon “gossip, rumor, and conjecture” about the program, she requested a meeting with Mr. Jason Taylor, CSFO, to get the truth behind the story.

The truth as she presented it was that we had paid T&W Operations a total of $1,088,050.00 for various services in FY2012-2013.

According to the district’s check register, we had actually paid T&W Operations $2,107,034.68 in FY2012-2013 or basically twice as much as Ms. Farrell’s “actual information.”

When I questioned her about the discrepancy, she refused to respond saying that I should contact Mr. Taylor about the difference. Mr. Taylor also refused to respond until January 2015 (or three months after Ms. Farrell’s election to the board) to say that I was correct.

He did not offer any reason why his numbers from September 2014 had been so wrong.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” Benchmark Testing Reliability, March 4, 2014

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On March 4, 2014, Dr. Cathy McNeal sent an email to the district’s principals offering step by step instructions “to change student test responses,” and “Delete all results from a student’s test.

These were instructions for altering answers, deleting scores, and allowing a student to take the Pearson SchoolNet Benchmark test again, which is the district’s primary formative assessment tool for evaluating student growth and teacher effectiveness.

Thus, every single claim that Wardynski makes about teacher effectiveness using SchoolNet as the basis for that claim should now be called into question.

There is absolutely no way to know if the answer your child put on the SchoolNet test is the answer that was evaluated.

Dr. McNeal has recently claimed that she did not send that email to the district’s principals. As evidence, she claimed that her signature was different from the one she uses.

I have gone back into my email archive. I have at least two emails from Dr. McNeal dating from January 2014 or two months before this email was sent.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise, but the email signatures are identical.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” Time on Testing

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In February 2016 during his State of the Schools address, Dr. Wardynski claimed that the average amount of time spent on testing for nearly all of the tests the district requires students to take was “about 0.7%” of the school year.

That’s a strange way of talking about the amount of time spent testing, so I converted that 0.7% number to total hours. Once that was completed, that 0.7% turns out to be a mere 8.5 hours per year.

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How much time did your child spend on just the ACT Aspire test this month?

Sometimes the “data” is just laughably incorrect. Like when Elisa Ferrell claimed that printed text books cost more than their digital counterpart.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” Digital 1:1 Initiative Costs Twice as much as Print

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On April 7, 2016, Elisa Ferrell responded to a question from a parent about the costs of the digital curriculum as compared to the cost of printed textbooks.

She wrote:

4/7/16 5:14 pm

Ms. Threlkeld;

That is fine. I am double checking my numbers on the cost of the digital curriculum. We had an initial outlay and then some additional update charges with Pearson, so I might be low on both the cost of traditional text books. I am verifying numbers, but I believe the cost of traditional text books would have been $23.5 million for 7 years and the cost of digital was $20.5 million for 6 years.

Elisa A. Ferrell

Board Representative | District 3 | Huntsville City Schools | 256.655.8019

Setting aside the fact that $23.5 million over 7 years is cheaper than $20.5 million over 6 years by about $60,000 per year, these numbers are simply not supported by the contracts the district signed.

When you include the costs of the curriculum, and the computers to view the digital curriculum on (because without a computer, the digital curriculum is useless), we’ve spent $47 million on the digital textbooks ($7.83 million/year) over 6 years as compared to (assuming that her figure is correct . . . which it isn’t) $23.5 million ($3.36 million/year) over 7 years for printed texts.

Since we’re spending twice as much for the digital curriculum as we would for printed textbooks, one would think that we would get twice the education from them.

Sadly, that isn’t the case.

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A recent study from West Point (from the economics department – Dr. Wardynski’s old stomping grounds, no less), shows that students who use a computer for note taking perform worse on tests.

And as The Washington Post points out, students who scored higher on the ACT actually did worse on exams than students who scored lower on the ACT and did not use a laptop in class.

Twice as much money; much worse results.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” HCS Enrollment Numbers

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Dr. Wardynski likes to claim that the enrollment in Huntsville City Schools is growing by an “elementary school every 1.5 years.” He shared this statistic again during his state of the schools address in February.

But once again, his numbers just don’t match up with the numbers that he reports to the Alabama State Department of Education.

By starting with what was one of the worst years for enrollment in recent history (2011-2012 was the worst enrollment of the past decade), he is able to inflate the enrollment numbers and make it look like we’re experiencing rapid growth.

If you go back and track enrollment for the past decade, you instead see that enrollment has basically been flat over the past ten years. HCS has had 3.6% (All of which comes from the expansion of the free Pre-K program, K-12 enrollment has declined over the past decade.) growth over the past decade while the city of Huntsville has grown at a 13% clip.

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Rather than growth, we’re experiencing Wardynski Flight as more and more parents opt out of public schools for private/homeschooling.

Wardynski likes to claim that HCS educates 80% of the school aged children in Huntsville. Assuming that he is correct, that means that children living in Huntsville are twice as likely to go to private schools as the nation average.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” Graduation Rates

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Dr. Wardynski’s State of the Schools address claimed again that graduation rates have risen by 22% from 2010-2011.

For once, his numbers actually pretty much match up with the state’s numbers. Except, if you go back just one more year to 2009-2010, you see that the HCS graduation rate that year was 90.38%.

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Once again, we see that his amazing improvement in Graduation Rates are simply returning us to where we were the year before he arrived.

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:” Teachers Resigning and Retiring Double

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Our teachers are leaving more than twice as fast this year as last year. We have now lost a total of 580 teachers over the past two years.

And once again, special education is the hardest hit losing almost 4 times as many teachers this year as last.

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And our high schools have also been the hardest hit losing 37 from Huntsville High and 37 from Grissom High over the past two years.

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When I asked why teachers are leaving, here are some of the reasons they gave.

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What I Have Learned?

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Ours is a school system that has been in decline over the past five years. I take no joy in writing that; my children are suffering because of it. But denying it does not help our schools improve.

To do that, we have to see the problems and begin addressing them. Simply pretending that everything is awesome, or as Mr. Driscoll claims, better than they have ever been, will not help us return to the district that draws parents into Huntsville.

This is what it was when my wife and I moved here. Sadly today, the quality of the schools is driving families to Madison City instead.

What Can We Do to aid Huntsville City Schools?

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Please, if you are not already registered, get registered before the deadline of Tuesday, July 19, 2016, (According to the city’s website, the last date to register to cast an absentee ballet is August 8, 2016) and plan to vote on Tuesday, August 23, 2016.

You may begin the process of registering to vote at this site: http://www.huntsvilleal.gov/clerk/alabam_voter_registration.pdf

After completing the voter registration, you may mail it to:

819 Cook Ave. Suite 150
Huntsville, AL. 35801

You may also register to vote online at

madisoncountyvotes.com

I would also encourage you to start following Huntsville United at their website HuntsvilleUnited.org or on Facebook. You might also seek to follow the “Let’s Talk – Huntsville Community Forum” on Facebook

If you have any questions or comments about any of the information I’ve provided in this prevention, please ask them below. I will make every attempt to answer any question I’m asked.

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

11 Comments

  1. An outstanding narrative with detail and citations – this truth is detailed, documented and damning. A thorough read lands like a two foot stack of legal documents being dropped on opposing counsels desk.

  2. I started working for HSV this past year. (Recently moving here from a very strict district in another state) I was pleased to have a perfect year…no behavior issues, parents wrote glowing letters, all my kids showed growth…couldn’t ask for better. I was told that I would be moved because my supervisor didn’t like me. I am easy to get along with and never had cross words with anyone. This alarmed me that I was moved to another position. I keep getting told by other teachers that I should be happy because I still have a job. Very sad 🙁 Teachers here apparently move every year…very inconsistent and not good for anyone. The most concerning part is that the other teacher in that grade throws chairs at children, tortures them in every way, yells all day, and doesn’t care about the curriculum. I have never seen such sad practices by a teacher. Some of the teachers need deep training and monitoring from what I have seen…this would help improve schools and scores. I am sure that there are other problems but the teachers need more training to improve. I am sorry, but some things I have seen have been horrific 🙁

    1. If there’s a teacher throwing chairs and abusing the kids, I want to know that teacher’s name. I personally will go to the school and confront this situation, getting all necessary administration involved. It’s about time someone steps up and does something about this garbage in our schools!

  3. Wake County, NC former Broad Superintendent Tata was not meeting the needs of its students/community back @ 2013. I believe some board members weren’t either.

  4. Thank you! I appreciate the hard work in keeping the public informed when our School board reps do everything to hide or obfuscate the truth.

  5. First, I’d like to start off by stating that this play by play is extremely eye-opening to the many angles and opinions of HCS. It is always beneficial to obtain as much data as possible to better understand specific situations and this presentation does just that.

    However, I just wanted to inform you about one thing about TFA in Alabama specifically that is widely misunderstood and unknown. In Alabama (and several other states), it is illegal for any school district that uses TFA teachers or any type of teacher applying for a teaching job with an alternative certification path CANNOT LEGALLY BE HIRED if a traditionally certified teacher applies for the same position. So, even though Huntsville’s tragic firing of nearly 200 experienced teachers is tragic and something severely problematic, Teach for America is not directly harming the acceptance rates of certified hires signing in the city. The TFA teachers only work where others do not want to be in Alabama in general.

    Now I’m not saying TFA is perfect by any means, but in this specific instance of hiring, TFA is not the enemy. And, of course, data and numbers are essential to determining success in schools, but there are also some incredible successes and growth that cannot be determined by numbers. For example, in regards to culturally responsive education and the implementation and instruction of soft skills that many of the poverty stricken students lack, TFA makes monumental progress in instilling such practices.

    Furthermore, TFA teachers are so well-trained on the importance of culturally responsive practices that they have the potential to be true assets to the school’s they service within HSC since the district is focusing so hard on diversity training as part of the desegregation order. In fact, the large majority of the professional development required by HSC for all teachers center around dialogue and awareness activities that are extremely similar if not exactly the same as some of the DEI sessions in which all corps members complete.

    Of course these things do not compensate for all of the downfalls of TFA teachers, but it seems a bit harsh to completely write them all off as the worst solution for a district that has long term substitutes trying to manage classrooms with even less training or content knowledge. It’s obvious that the real issue at hand is one of a top down management situation and is much bigger than the TFA deal, but I thought it might provide a little comfort to share this information about a group of dedicated educators that genuinely want the best for the kids they fight for every day. I know that at the end of the day, we all want to give our children the most excellent educational options the world has to offer.

    1. ThirdEyeCrossed:

      Thank you for sharing this information. Can you please link to a site that offers the details about the hiring of teachers with an alternative certification? I’ve done a quick search of Alabama Code and ALSDE policy, and I don’t see that restriction. Can you share it with me?

      Also, since all of the district’s hiring is centralized, I suspect that this restriction doesn’t apply since teachers are not applying for “the same position.” Applicants to the district apply for positions with the district, not with a specific school within the district. So, I suspect this restriction doesn’t apply here.

      Furthermore, Dr. Wardynski regularly brags that the district receives 19,000 applications on an annual basis for the openings the district has. Even if there were 100% turnover, this would mean that 19,000 people are applying for about 1,300 jobs. If this were actually the case, how would there be any room at all for any teacher with alternative credentials? (Now, I haven’t found that claim believable, but it is one that he regularly makes.)

      Either way, I would prefer to review the specific regulation you’re citing before I agree with your premise that TFAs aren’t replacing traditionally certified teachers in HCS.

      Concerning your claims that TFA teachers are “so well-trained on the importance of culturally responsive practices that they have the potential to be true assets to the school’s they service:” What evidence do you have that a TFA teacher would be more culturally aware than say a teacher who grew up in the community they are teaching in? Do you have evidence supporting this? If so, I’d love to review it.

      I am curious, where did I “completely write them [TFA] off as the worst solution for a district that has long term substitutes trying to manage classrooms with even less training or content knowledge?”

      The criticism I offer in this post for TFA is focused on the district’s inability to be forthright about the true cost of the TFA contract.

      I agree that I am not a supporter of Teach for America. I also agree that the issues our district faces are far bigger than Teach for America. (I think the presentation had a single slide concerning the TFA contract in a presentation with–holy cow–40 slides.) The handling of the TFA contract is, here, being used as one example of the district not being forthright with the public.

      As I suspect that you are one of the TFA teachers in our district, thank you for your service to our kids.

      I look forward to reviewing the policy that you’re referring to. You may post it here or share it with me via email if you prefer.

      Sincerely,
      Russell
      russ@geekpalaver.com

    2. The above situations mentioned seems to be the premise behind TFA. However, this represents why there is such an uproar among the teaching community in Huntsville. There are tons of teachers without jobs and TFAs are given positions in place of these teachers. A co-worker told me that when she tried to get a job with Huntsville, (at the time) they were only hiring TFAs, so she hired on as a TFA to be able to get a job in Huntsville.

      I am afraid this person does not really know what they are speaking of. As a teacher, the only time I have seen long term substitutes used is when Central Office is slow in approving contracts. There is NO shortage of certified teachers in this area. Employing TFAs are a slap in the face of all the certified teachers who went to school to be teachers!! The idea behind utilizing TFAs makes sense in places like New Orleans (after Hurricane Katrina), it makes NO SENSE in a place like Huntsville where surrounding universities graduate a host of certified teachers, EVERY YEAR! Teachers, by the way, who get 4+ years on culturally responsive teaching as part of their degree requirements.

  6. I fear that the HCS Seal will need to remain inverted for several years. The water will remain muddy until you get the pigs out of the stream.

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