Old and busted

Lack of planning by Huntsville City Schools…

Poorly sited trees at Merts

Poorly sited trees at Merts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New hotness – making informed decisions based on a long range vision…

I attended the HCS Board of Education meeting at noon today – which illustrates the sense of urgency that I believe Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski brings to the schools.  The Board has been meeting fairly often and on fairly short notice to make decisions, and I commend them for taking prompt action.  My Board member David Blair ‘attended’ the meeting via telecom – which is a welcome use of time and technology.

The School Board approved:

1) a Human Resources report hiring 18 people, mostly for replacements.  The schools still need to hire another 15 or so people to be approved at the next Board meeting.  Note that no classes are unsupervised and that substitute teachers are filling in for now.

2) Temporary agreements for 11 nurses through October.  The plan is for the State to train some nurses to cover multiple venues and then re-evaluate / rightsize the agreements for the next fiscal year.

3) a new job description for the Director of Community Engagement and Partnership Development.  This position seems to roll three current (but unfilled?)  positions into one job - replacing Public Relations, Grants, and Partnership positions.  The position was recommended by The Schools Foundation Speak Up program. 

IMO, Speak Up seems like a feel good PR program – nice website but not much substance; for example, Speak Up posted their Huntsville City Data Results on July 14, 2011, but the data ‘presented’ was from the ‘community engagement initiative’ of 2006 and 2007.  The presentation consisted of four PDF files (92 page, 41 page, 29 page, 41 page) listing ideas gathered at the meetings.  My guess is that the meetings covered more than education – comments about getting a Macy’s department store and more restaurants seem more appropriate for the Mayor’s business initiative.  There may be some nuggets in the files but there are no results.

Wardynski spoke about the University Place Elementary student who got onto the wrong bus Wednesday.  The child was expected to be on an after school bus but didn’t have the parental note – Casey said that the principal resolved that issue and that the bus procedures were “fine”.  The schools are looking at setting up a swipe card system to track students, in addition to the GPS and video on board the buses.

However, this afternoon a second child got on the wrong bus at Morris Elementary

The procedures may be “fine” but it seems like a mishap reduction stand down may be necessary.

***

Special education parent Russ Winn attended the meeting.  Winn posted ‘Perturbed by Change’ in which he includes this quote from Wardysnki:

The interests of the kids will always come first. I do have resource constraints… We’ve attempted here to make sure we have a plan that we can live with. That they won’t be perturbed by change.

Casey was answering a question about the special ed consolidation using the Providence to Williams move as an example:  minimizing disruptions to kid’s educations through planning.  Let’s hope Casey comes up with a good plan that satisfies the needs of the kids and the taxpayers.

Winn also wrote:

…there was a time not too long ago when I thought that fighting the central office decisions concerning my son’s education was not terribly wise. I was concerned about retaliation and becoming known as Dr. Moore put it once, one of those “confrontational” parents.

Casey assured us that people won’t be punished for speaking up (remember C.J. Grisham), however while Dr. Moore may be ‘gone’, many of the people involved in retaliating against a parent for speaking up at a PTA meeting are still employed by the school system.  Winn’s concern is authentic and valid.  IMO until those involved are held publicly accountable the public cannot really trust the school system.

***

The dead trees at the Merts Center were planted in the wrong place – whoever planted them didn’t have a good long term plan for growth. That’s old and busted – let’s hope the schools have the new hotness.

New school CFO and IRL

This afternoon, the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education approved the hiring of Frank Spinelli as Chief Financial Officer. Crystal Bonvillian of The Huntsville Times wrote “Huntsville school board hires new CFO during special meeting”:

…Spinelli, a certified public accountant and certified internal auditor, served as a manager for BDO Seidman in New York, which today is part of the fifth largest international accounting and consulting network in the world. He also spent time at Reichmann International, a real estate holding company with headquarters in Toronto.

Board member Jennie Robinson said Spinelli has a strong background in finance, but also in project management and strategic planning.

As an employee of the board, Spinelli will have dual accountability, Wardynski said. He will report directly to the superintendent on a day-to-day basis but will also report to the board.

The school board meeting was focused and over quickly; in addition to hiring Spinelli, the Board authorized the rehiring of several teachers, including three special education teachers.  The board also voted to approve some temporary agreements which exposed the need to improve financial processes.  Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski noted “workflow issues” and commented that the system is “currently on paper and needs to be electronic”.  Casey also observed that funds need to be available before being obligated.

In real life…

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

Casey is OUR Superintendent

Three of the five members of the Huntsville City School Board voted for Casey Wardynski to be OUR school Superintendent,

Retired Army Colonel Wardysnki (who prefers to be called Casey) developed the America’s Army video game for the US Army, taught at West Point for 15 years, improved Army personnel policy, and learned about education at the Broad Academy (which is the premier education policy center in the US).

Casey speaks in terms of “feasibility and efficacy” and also gets glowing comments from those who’ve worked with him.  Several people have told me that you will work your butt off to please him, because he inspires that level of commitment.  Having known leaders like Casey, I’m excited for our schools.

***

The school board meeting was held at City Hall in (correct) anticipation of a large crowd.  As a prelude to the selection of our new superintendent, the demographer hired by the city gave his report.  Quick look (with more after I review the full report):

High School:
1.  Close Butler High School
Middle School:
Either 1a)  combine Davis Hills, Ed White, and Westlawn into middle school at Butler, or 1b)  close Davis Hills MS to Ed White and Chapman
Either 2a) close Whitesburg MS to Mountain Gap and Challenger or 2b) close Mountain Gap MS to Whitesburg and Challenger
Elementary School:
1)  close Monte Sano to Blossomwood
Either 2a) close Whitesburg ES to Chaffee, Weatherly, and Jones Valley or 2b)  close Mountain Gap
3) close West Mastin Lake ES
4) close Montview ES

Non-zone:
Move New Century to the new Lee High School

Celebrate Success!  The rate of 9th graders advancing to 10th grade (which is a critical transition) improved from 78% to 91% in the past five years.  That is huge.  Why? How? Who?

Kudos to the City of Huntsville for funding the demographer Dr. Steve Salmon.  The report should be available on the HCS website soon.  Public meetings will be held very soon (like starting next week) for comments.

My first guess is that Salmon didn’t look outside current school zones for consolidation; in fact, one of his recommendations was for the school system to establish a student GIS.  This recommendation complements the databases proposed by all three candidates for superintendent.  Note that one of my concerns is that members of one of the most partisan and hateful (and cheatful) political organizations would have access to any school database developed by the school system.  Privacy should be a fundamental concern for administrators – we’ve already seen Huntsville schools punish parents for speaking out – what could they do with more data?

***

Kudos to Topper Birney for running a good selection process.  My only complaint (shared with The Huntsville Times) is that the board went into closed executive session to talk about “the good name and character” of the candidates.  If “good name and character” was still an issue after downselecting to the top three candidates, then the process was flawed (were any of the three candidates bad characters?). 

IMO the board went into special session to try to get a 5-0 vote (which didn’t happen).  Casey was supported by David Blair and Jennie Robinson (and all right-thinking people), while Dr. Dan Brigman was supported by Alta Morrison and Laurie McCauley (and the AEA).  Morrison mis-remembered Casey’s interview to criticize him while McCauley was just plain “unfair” (saying that Casey wouldn’t relate to inarticulate people).   Birney was the swing vote. 

More later.  For now, congratulations to Huntsville.

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

Continue reading

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!)…

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

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.

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.