SHCA Legislative and Superintendent Forum

Me and Ben and about 300 of our closest friends attended the South Huntsville Civic Association Superintendent reception and legislative forum this evening at Grissom High School.  This was HCS Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski’s first public meeting in his new job, and the SHCA invited every member of the South Huntsville legislative delegation to help welcome Casey. 

State Senator Arthur Orr (R), Senator Paul Sanford (R), Senator Clay Scofield (R), Representative Mike Ball (R), and Representative Howard Sanderford (R) were on hand to answer questions during the forum.  BTW it feels really good to be writing (R) after all of those seats.  Huntsville City Councilman John Olshefski was also on the panel.  Read on for Casey’s speech and the Q&A…

Notables included: Madison County Commissioner Phil Riddick (R), Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Deputy Mayor Rex Reynolds, Chief Mark Hudson, Councilman Mark Russell, HCS BOE member Jennie Robinson, BOE member Laurie McCauley, BOE member Alta Morrison, former Mayor Loretta Spencer, and former Councilman Sandra Moon.

Former Congressman Parker Griffith and Wayne Parker (recently appointed to the Governor’s Insurance Commission) attended, as well as Coach Walker McGinnis.   The Huntsville Times reporter Crystal Bonvillian (who wrote an excellent article about Superintendent costs) and WHNT-19′s Emmy-nominated reporter Venton Blandin provided news coverage.

I know it’s probably difficult to find a good school superintendent joke, but let’s be clear – Dr. Casey Wardynski is not a comedian.   Thankfully, you don’t need to be a comedian to run the schools.

Wardynski spoke about “best value” for student achievement and “alternatives generating the greatest value”.  “Value is normative based on community engagement”.  “Develop consistent criteria based on values”. Schools are part of the City as a whole and must “reflect community values”.  “Think in terms of the future instead of closings”.

Wardynski plans to apply a systems analysis approach to education, which may work well in Huntsville.  At least we’ll know what he’s talking about.  “Systems analysis line toward propagating excellence”.  “Need to have an eye toward the weaker parts of the system”.

Wardynski focuses on the “human” factors first, as shown in the process developed for hiring 9 new principals.  Casey assembled a review board of principals for their ‘recognized excellence’ (Pickens of Challenger, Drake of Grissom, Scott of Rolling Hills, plus others I can’t take notes fast enough to include – those three are great principals – so far so good) and included some parents on the team.  Casey’s approach is to identify excellent principals, recognize them publicly (humans usually like that), and have them help select excellent candidates for hiring.  Casey believes that this process will “create a culture” with “high expectations, rigor, and high achievement”.

Wardynski likes testing and plans to work toward NEAP (national) standards rather than ARMT (state) standards.  “Leaving people behind requires reinvestment”.

***Q&A***

Q to Wardynski – renew HCS relationship with State legislators?
A – “embedded in the question is the answer”.  “Reducing resources requires increased flexibility for compliance”.  Note that Casey was at the table with five legislators who can and have and will work to improve education.

Q to Senator Arthur Orr (R) – education budget and pro-ration?
A – “state of crisis”, spent rainy day fund and stimulus money – now no more, passed “rolling reserve” budgeting model which “when implemented should phase out pro-ration”.  Based on monthly numbers, there should be “no more pro-ration this year”.

Q to Senator Clay Scofield (R) – immigration law impact on schools?
A – “We are not taking away anyone’s right to be here”.  There are “plenty of ways to come here legally”.  The law requires schools to verify citizenship, not enforcement power.  Trying to measure impact of illegal immigrants.  The law has a “severability clause”, if any part is overturned, the rest will stand.

Q to Representative Howard Sanderford (R) – ethics reform in the special session?
A – subpoena power and funding for the ethics commission, stop AEA deduction, double dipping ban, lobbyist spending limits and ethics training, PAC to PAC transfer ban, pass-through pork ban.

Q to Mike Ball (R and occasional Flashpoint contributor) – tenure reform?
A – authority for superintendents and principals to discipline teachers, revised arbitration process, those with the “authority to hire should have the authority to fire”, noted that State BOE member Mary Scott Hunter and HCS BOE member Jennie Robinson helped draft tenure legislation.

Q to Senator Paul Sanford (R) – Constitutionality of recent laws?
A – considers the role of government when voting. Litmus test is “equal protection of life, liberty, and property” “applied equally to people, businesses, and industry”.  Voted against immigration bill even though agreed with 95% of the bill because E-verify invades the privacy of businesses and their employees.

Q to Councilman John Olshefski – redistricting?
A – “it’s fair”, public meetings, DOJ numbers must be considered, District 3 wants Grissom HS included and he “will fall on the sword for that”, District 3 is the least affected by redistricting but may lose some areas west of the Parkway to gain areas north of Weatherly.

Alabama State Board of Education member Mary Scott Hunter was unable to attend but sent a message of support and recapped the recent Middle Years Conference (to improve 8th grade transitions to high school).

***PUBLIC Q&A***

Q to all – “who will support a property tax increase”
A – crickets followed by chuckles…
Sanford – given the mismanagement at the state and local levels, improve accountability before considering tax increase.  “Don’t just throw money at the problem”.
Ball – Superintendent Richardson says Huntsville has a “good tax base”.  Government “can always spend or take more money”.  “We don’t need to talk about a tax”.
Sanderford – Alabama government provides good value for the money, we can raise taxes by three times and be at the national average, low taxes attract people and businesses.
Wardynski – value, efficient.  “Money follows children, not adults”.  “Not aware of pressing need for property tax increase”.

Q from Hugh McInnish – was going to ask a different question, but challenged the tax increase question using the Kansas City Schools example (Lessons from Kansas City).  “There is no correlation between money and achievement”
A from Wardynski – aware of Kansas City example, “money does not a school system make”

Q to Wardynski – testing balance?
A – “good tests are vital”, “computer adaptive testing where it works”, formative testing quarterly then summative testing end-of-year, “can’t let students be water under the bridge”.

***

So dear readers, that was more than two hours of meeting summarized into a few minutes…  [UPDATE: Note that when Wardynski left the stage (after the testing question) I went to the lobby to catch up with some people; there were a few more questions asked and answered that I missed.]

Wardynski seems to have raised hopes in Huntsville for substantial improvements to the school system.  I like that Casey thinks about the taxpayer and the community as a whole – not just students and parents and teachers.  I hope that Casey thinks about fixing the rotting ceiling before school starts.

Thanks to Jeannee Gannuch and David Pinkleton for hosting the event – nice job!

UPDATE:  Crystal Bonvillian of The Huntsville Times wrote “New Huntsville superintendent, state legislators field questions at town hall meeting”:

“Folks here are keenly interested in property value,” Wardynski told the crowd. “I am also keenly interested in value.”

Wardynski said that focusing too much on price could cause the system to lose many programs of value. He reiterated that he intends to take schools’ success into account when deciding which schools to close.

3 thoughts on “SHCA Legislative and Superintendent Forum

  1. Thanks for the well written follow up of the meeting. Much better than the article on the Huntsville Times website. I wish I could have attended.

    • I also appreciate the summary.
      Within the next couple of days we should have a video of the entire meeting posted on the website. I’ll post a notice here when this is accomplished.

  2. Good to meet you tonight! Hope we can work together on the HCS mess in the future. Drop me a line when you get a chance.