HCS Superintendent Interview – Wardynski

Dr. Casey Wardynski, CFO of the Aurora CO Schools, interviewed for HCS Superintendent on Wednesday, May 25.

I believe that Wardynski is the best candidate for our next HCS Superintendent.  Some of my belief comes from knowing his background (and sharing some of that type experience).  Some of my belief comes from learning about the Broad (rhymes with rode) Superintendents Academy – each of the other candidates mentioned Broad – Wardynski was a fellow at Broad.  Some of my belief comes from his having lived in Huntsville (his son was born here) and having his former co-workers attend his interview (many more wrote Letters of Recommendation – IIRC including former Mayor Steve Hettinger of SAIC).  IMO Wardynski also nailed the interviews: he gave compelling presentations and knew every issue in depth. 

Wardynski speaks in terms of data-driven approaches, proven techniques, and results.  To be fair, so did the other candidates, but IMO Wardynski had a greater understanding of “why” stuff works (and just as importantly, why stuff doesn’t work).

Assessing Wardynski against the standard of “letting food rot in an emergency”:  Wardynski would have anticipated the threat four years ago, wired the schools for mobile generators, acquired mobile generators, trained and drilled staff in the response plan, asssessed the current food stock versus the needed stock through the end of the school year, not only arranged for students to volunteer serving non-perishable foods, but also served excess food, then awarded extra credit for students who wrote Powerpoint presentations on probabilistic analysis of weather patterns applied to disaster management in a value-added learning culture.  Teachers would have volunteered, modeling good character and effective leadership while applying vocabulary lessons.  Principals and staff would have collected metrics for use in improving the performance of the system, which would be used to calibrate the plan based on data and lessons learned.

BTW note that Madison County Schools are wiring their buildings for mobile generators and plan to buy enough generators to rotate among the schools, so I totally ripped that great idea off.

UPDATE:  interview notes

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HCS Superintendent Interview – Springston

Brett Springston, Superintendent of the Brownsville TX Independent School District interviewed for HCS Superintendent on Tuesday, May 24.

My opinion:  Coach Springston is a hard-working, passionate, and bright candidate.  He has a record of improving student academic achievement and system financial  performance.  He started coaching basketball at a junior college for a scholarship to UT – Tyler.  Just like candidate Brigman, his approach to education includes every good lesson learned and proven technique that I’ve read about.  I was unsure about Springston from my online research – he seemed to be good but some of his current school board was trying to get rid of him – turns out he is good and the school board situation is beyond his control and not of his creation.  Brownsville’s school system is more than twice as large as Huntsville’s.

Assessing Springston against my new standard of letting food rot in an emergency:  Springston would have kept the frozen food frozen, gathered students to help prepare and serve still-good perishable food at relief centers, and organized sports programs for the children of tornado victims and relief workers – all in a safe environment.

Much more below (updated with even more muchness!)…

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HCS Superintendent Interview – Brigman

Dr. Daniel Brigman of the Macon County NC schools introduced himself and responded to questions at Fort Book on Monday, May 23.  About 40 people representing various community groups attended, as well as State Representative Laura Hall (D-19) and School Board members Birney, McCauley, Morrison, and Robinson.

My opinion: Brigman is a very sharp candidate.  I liked him when I researched him initially, and he is better in person.  His approach to education seems to include every good lesson learned that I’ve read about.  He seems to be a good leader and communicates well.  My new standard for a Superintendent is: will they let food rot in an emergency?  Brigman would have found a way to keep the frozen food frozen, plus he would have gathered a team of students to help prepare and serve the still-good perishable foods at relief centers.  Students would be offered extra credit for writing reports on tornadoes.

More below…

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HCS Superintendent Recommendation

Dr. Daniel Brigman, Superintendent of the Macon County NC Schools, interviewed Monday, May 23 to be the Superintendent of Huntsville City Schools.   Brett Springston, Superintendent of the Brownsville TX Independent School District, interviewed on Tuesday, May 24.  Dr. Casey Wardynski, CFO of the Aurora CO Schools interviewed today May 25. 

I attended the Community Forum each morning at the Library for all three candidates, plus the School Board interviews for Springston and Wardynski.  The Schools will be running the interviews on ETV (Comcast 17 and Knology 71) and I’m told they will have the interviews available online.  I also got a chance to chat with each one but only got to ask questions of Springston and Wardynski.

The Board of Education will select our next Superintendent from those three candidates at the June 2 meeting.  I thought that the Board did a nice job of downselecting to the three candidates interviewed.  IMO any of the three would do a good job.  However…

There can be only one, and I recommend Dr. Casey Wardynski for our next Superintendent. 

As a good citizen: I listened to the presentations, did some research, thought about it, and provided my input to my School Board member David Blair.  I encourage you all to watch their interviews, read all about it in The Times, and read my following posts for each candidate (rather than write for hours and leave you hanging I decided to just go public with this post first).  Then, contact your School Board member and let them know what you think.

Note that each one of the candidates was pleased by the reception they got in Huntsville and impressed by the support shown by the community. 

I think that the City will emerge from this episode stronger than ever.  However, keep in mind that children stuck in failing schools suffer for our City’s mistakes.  It shouldn’t have taken a financial crisis to wake people up to the deplorable academic performance that is accepted at many of our schools.  David Blair calls it “immoral”.  Whatever you want to call it, it is time for positive change.

Now, on to each candidate’s presentation…

HCS Superintendent Search

So far, two of the three candidates for Huntsville City Schools Superintendent have been interviewed.  So far, I am impressed by the candidates: Dr. Daniel Brigman and Brett Springston – I attended a few of the events and will post my write up as soon as Dr. Casey Wardynski finishes interviewing tomorrow.  Brigman and Springston each made suggestions that are worthy of further study.  The Board of Education deserves commendation for implementing a process that produced these three finalists.

The Board will choose our Superintendent at the June 2 regular meeting next week, then give the successful candidate 30 days to wrap up and move to Huntsville starting in early July.  Note that each candidate prepared a “60-day Plan” for the Board that should be available on the Schools’ website in the next day or so.  Each candidate was also asked to prepare an analysis of a failing school – I hope that the Board makes each candidate’s assessment and recommendations public.

The Board will also make the demographer’s report public at the June 2 meeting.

Mo Brooks Huntsville Open House

Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) will be holding an Open House in his Huntsville District Office, located at  2101 W. Clinton Avenue, Suite 302, on Friday, March 4, from 2 to 4 p.m.

“I’m looking forward to meeting with constituents from the Huntsville area and hearing their concerns,” said Brooks. “I hope a lot of people will stop by. My staff will also be on hand to answer casework questions, and help in any way they can.”

Congressman Brooks also announced plans to hold future open houses in other district offices in the Shoals and Decatur. “We’re going to have open houses at the Shoals and Decatur offices in the next few months,” said Brooks. “In addition, my staff will be visiting locations around North Alabama and setting up temporary offices so that folks who can’t visit the three main offices can meet them and ask questions.”

For more information about the Huntsville Open House, please call the Huntsville Office at (256) 551-0190 or visit brooks.house.gov.

School dilemma no easy fix

Kevin Wendt, editor of The Huntsville Times, wrote today’s editorial “School dilemma no easy fix” (no link available yet). 

Wendt writes about the “conversation” and “community-wide discussion”, then identifies types of “dialogue” that “do not help”.  Wendt uses the example of the NAACP’s “provocative quote” (“violent revolution”) then overreaches to balance it with an example of south Huntsville “passing letters to parents about the inevitability of busing”, in effect blaming south Huntsville parents for responding to NAACP provocation.  Of course, if all you read is The Times, you may not know that the NAACP proposed busing as a solution.

Wendt asks “What is the solution?” to the “enrollment demographics” of a school system divided into “predominately black” and “predominately white” neighborhoods.  Wendt then highlights three points:  “transformative” Lee High School, new construction to replace some north Huntsville schools, and the “spirit of community involvement” at Lincoln Elementary.

I think that Wendt makes some good points, but he overstates the success at Lincoln when he says that “involvement from churches and volunteers helped generate some of the best test scores in the city”.  The 10 to 1 student teacher ratio and hundreds of volunteers and an innovative principal did have a tremendous impact, but Lincoln wasn’t transformed into one of the best schools – it was average – and Wendt should’ve known that from reading his own newspaper. 

Lincoln could have been expected to score in the 20s (like MLK) on 3rd grade SAT tests, but scored in the 40s (like Providence).  The best schools in Huntsville scored in the 80s (and all schools in Madison scored in the 70s and 80s).  Lincoln’s 5th grade performance was better with scores in the 60s (better than Providence), but still, not the best.

As for new construction in north Huntsville – I agree with Bob Harrison – the next new school built in Huntsville should be in north Huntsville (located where the demographic study supports construction).

And as for the new Lee High School – it is an ongoing train wreck.  The new location is terrible – the campus is split by a busy railroad track.  Students must cross the tracks to reach the ball fields.  Then there’s parking… Parking at the new Huntsville High is a problem at times, but at least there is a neighborhood for on-street parking to handle the overflow.  The new LHS has limited parking and no overflow.  Then there are the demographics, and I’m going to agree with Bob Harrison twice in one article – there may not have been a need for a new school in that area.  Expecting the new LHS to be “transformative” when it starts with these self-imflicted limitations may be a bit too much.

Wendt (who I like in real life) ends by asking for ideas:

“But this is just a start.  There are hundreds more ideas that could lead to a better system overall.

The Department of Justice letter highlighted the depth and complexity of the challenge.

So here is a question to you: How would you define success in our school systems?”

BTW CSPAN is airing the National Governors Association meeting - the education panel was worth watching.  Summary:  discipline, high standards, better teachers, better principals.  One of the world-class techniques discussed involved tailoring instruction to individual students – Huntsville’s own Appleton Learning Center has researched and developed assessment tools to do just that.  Appleton is developing cutting-edge education methods that measurably improve student academic performance.  That is success.

HCS discipline

Discipline in the Huntsville City Schools is one of the issues of concern to the Obama Department of Justice and the NAACP.  The HCS Student Incident Report summary for 2009 / 2010 does show a striking difference between incidents reported at Huntsville City Schools, but why? 

The HCS SIR report doesn’t provide race information, but the DOJ / NAACP  claims there are “significant racial disparities in student discipline” (I’m guessing the reports they saw had more detail than what is made publicly available).

The Obama DOJ and the NAACP don’t seem to care about why – they’re more interested in “eliminating racial disparities in student discipline”.  Do they mean that each time a black child is disciplined that a white child must be disciplined?  Or should discipline be meted out based on demographics:  should whites be disciplined 60% of the time to reflect the City’s racial makeup – or should whites be disciplined 48.7% of the time to reflect the racial makeup of the school system?

How about this for an out-of-the-box solution:  discipline children whose behavior warrants it, regardless of race.

Here’s some real numbers if you want to “read more”…

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Forever Wild new land purchases

Thomas Spencer of The Birmingham News wrote “Forever Wild pursuing three land purchases”:

Trustees approved buying more than 2,500 acres at the Barbour Wildlife Management Area, one of the largest and oldest state-owned public hunting areas. They also authorized pursuing 2,125 acres in Jackson County, which would add land adjacent to Forever Wild’s Wall of Jericho, a popular destination for hikers and horseback riders. They also voted to buy 30 more acres on Baldwin County’s Weeks Bay.

Forever Wild is a wildly popular conservation program done the right way – Forever Wild buys property to preserve for future generations – we get to enjoy it in the meantime.  I love me some Alabama.

I haven’t been to the Barbour WMA but I know the Walls of Jericho and Weeks Bay. 

Today’s meeting was the first presided over by Gunter Guy Jr., Gov. Robert Bentley’s new director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Governor Dr. Bentley is a supporter of Forever Wild – as are many Republicans – I asked Huntsville area GOP candidates (except Jim Patterson, my own Rep – we talked about other things) two questions during the primary – do you support Forever Wild and Free the Hops – IMO the future looks bright for both issues.

More good news:

Madison County’s curbiside recycling program is getting its first major overhaul since 1991.

This afternoon, officials from the local Solid Waste Disposal Authority and Allied Waste announced that junk mail, cereal boxes, small cardboard boxes, paper bags, office paper, envelopes, newspaper inserts, paperback books and comic books can be recycled curbside starting Feb. 21.

OK, so I missed putting out the recyclables this morning, it’ll be there next week.  In other news, my compost pile is growing nicely.


I’m looking forward to the results of the Beason & Nalley audit of the City of Huntsville, if only because that’s a normal part of doing business.  Huntsville Finance Director Randy Taylor does a fine job, but someone needs to watch him ;)