“The academic programs of The Pinnacle Schools are designed to support students therapeutically by providing a safe learning environment in which their self-esteem is positively impacted by success in school.”
From al.com, Nov. 2, 2012:
“Police on Wednesday arrested a security guard for Pinnacle Schools, the Huntsville school district’s alternative school, in connection with the alleged beating of at least one Huntsville student at the school last month.
“Julian Lorenzo Boykin, 31, of Huntsville is charged with torture and willful abuse of a child, according to Harry Hobbs, a Huntsville Police Department spokesman. . . .
“Will he receive more charges?” Hobbs said. “My best answer would be (that) he might be charged with some more misdemeanor level charges if the evidence supports the allegations.”
Pictured: Julian Lorenzo Boykin (Madison County jail)
Pinnacle Schools stands behind him. Innocent until proven guilty — fine. But you know what? Huntsville police spent 21 days investigating before pressing charges. I was starting to give up hope that this would not just disappear into the ether. I’m glad to see that this hasn’t happened.
“Boykin is accused of pulling several students out of class on Oct. 10 for talking.The boys were allegedly locked in a room with Boykin, who students know as “Mr. B,” and another security guard and forced to assume the plank exercise position.
“‘Mr. B teamed us all up and made us do planks on the ground, if one student fell the other team mate got punched in there (sic) sides and we were being hit so hard it was knocking the air out of us,’ one 13-year-old boy wrote in an account provided to The Times by his mother, Nacole Seldon.”
These are 13-year-olds. What’s the most one of them likely weighs? Average weight for a 13-year-old boy is 102 pounds.
Take a look at Boykin. Weighs a bit more than 102 pounds – likely more than 204.
What kind of lesson is being taught when you (allegedly) team kids up, force them to do exercises in the planking position (already outlawed as dangerous in a number of states), and then, when the one exercising falls — falls, mind you — you punch the other team mate black and blue.
I know Superintendent Wardynski doesn’t know squat about pedagogy — that is, teaching techniques — but would this be tolerated at any military boot camp?
Of course not. It teaches nothing but helplessness. It teaches that those who are bigger and stronger can behave as sadistically as they please to those at their mercy.
Now, what I want to know is, if this is going on among the day kids at Pinnacle, what in hell is happening out at Elk River? Well, Supe? Board? You are responsible for this despicable situation. You should be ashamed.
Cancel the contract with Pinnacle. I’d say if these charges stick, it should lose its license, but I can’t find anything to suggest the day school is licensed. I’d say it should lose its accreditation — but it isn’t accredited. Great choice, W and Board
“The staff at The Pinnacle Schools has been carefully screened and selected for their leadership skills, maturity and compassion.”
Compassion? Compassion? Compassion?
The Lees are hopeless. So let’s invite comments from some of these other compassionate professionals.
Wayne Wilson, Ed.D, Licensed Psychologist. Dr. Wilson: please explain to me how the “beat the team member when his partner falls down” approach to discipline for talking in class contributes to a safe learning environment and academic success.
Albert L. Sprinkle, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. Dr. Sprinkle: Is the “beat the team member when his partner falls down” approach to discipline one you encourage at Decatur General West? Did Boykin train with your night staff over there? Listened to any concerns of your patients (yes, patients: or so they are regarded when it is time to file for insurance) regarding their after-hours’ experiences? How about your private patients? Do you suggest the the “beat the team member when his partner falls down” technique to their parents? Great way to build healthy sibling relationships.
Kimberly Cox, RN, BSN, Director. Nurse Cox: I notice you are proud of your training “to facilitate others in interpreting the Bible for themselves.” Is the “beat the team member when his partner falls down” approach to discipline based on biblical principles?
You didn’t know what was going on? Sorry. That won’t cut it. Why didn’t you know?
Wardynski, McCaulley, Blair, Robinson, Birney: Enough is enough. Resign or start taking responsibility for your actions.
Good luck, new Board member Mike Culbreath. You’ll need it. I wouldn’t want to be associated with this crew. Don’t drop to their level of incompetence and indifference. Please — please — be a voice for integrity, decency, responsibility, and, yes, compassion.
Update, October 29:
Well, what a coincidence. I posted this on Friday, and today, Monday, there was some news on Butler’s “News” page and some more content on its homepage. Two of the events are for Tuesday, the 30th and one for the 31st. Not much notice then, but better than none.
Money for the Shredder.
With all the news about the beatings at the Pinnacle Schools and the propaganda regarding the digital initiative, you may have missed this article in the Huntsville Times by Challen Stephens: “Alabama leads nation in desegregation cases; Huntsville looks to shed 42-year-old order.” Stephens notes that Huntsville City Schools “remain under judicial order to erase signs of a dual system based on race,” but have “now decided that ending the order should be a top priority and has made that a performance goal for new Superintendent Casey Wardynski.”
Will the Board achieve this goal by obeying the law, doing the right thing, and eliminating the numerous disparities between predominantly white and predominantly black schools?
Not exactly. No, their strategy instead is — surprise — to hire a consultant: “Wardynski this summer brought in Maree Sneed, a Maryland educator turned Washington lawyer and desegregation specialist.” As of October 12, 2012, “Huntsville has paid Sneed for two days of work, $2,448 for July 31 and $2,076.75 for Sept. 14.”
Might as well have sent that $5524.75 through the shredder because Huntsville is nowhere near achieving even a separate and equal school system.
The 3-Minute Tour.
I can show you this in 3 minutes. Open a new tab and go to the HCS site. Now open 2 more tabs, one for Butler High, and one for Grissom. Some consultant (I’m willing to bet) got paid well over the summer to standardize the schools’ websites. Only they aren’t. Compare the Butler and Grissom home pages you just opened. Sure looks to me like a lot more is happening at one school than at the other.
Go a little deeper. Let’s try Guidance. Butler’s page is blank. Grissom’s says it is still under construction, but directs you to link tabs at top of that page, all of which lead to pages full of information and additional links.
And so on.
How Can This Be Blamed on Students or Parents?
This is my favorite aspect of our short little tour. I simply can’t imagine how Wardynski, his enablers, or even the most rabid comment posters can blame this very public, very obvious display of inequality on the Butler student body or their parents. The students aren’t responsible for the website, and neither are the parents. I don’t know who is, but I can tell you that it doesn’t take a $2500 a day consultant to see that there’s a problem here.
If Consultant Sneed has any professional integrity, she’ll tell the Colonel to save his money because she can’t convince the Justice Department that Huntsville deserves unitary status.
She can’t because it doesn’t.
Really guys, just how stupid do you think the US Department of Justice is?
“I don’t want us just to get unitary status, I want us to deserve it,” said McCaulley. I’ll clue you in, Ms. McC — you aren’t getting it any time soon.
McCaulley thinks that “the new digital initiative, awarding laptops to each student, helped standardize the curriculum between schools in different parts of Huntsville,” and that this will make a difference.
Malarky. The curriculum has always been standardized because the same textbooks have been adapted for all schools in the system. Geez, lady, think about it.
David Blair believes it is “way past time” to be getting out from under the deseg order: “It’s the right thing for the kids, right thing for the community and the right thing for the city.” Way past time — agreed. But the order isn’t going away just ’cause you are tired of having it hanging over your head, man.
Here’s a suggestion: instead of talking about digital initiatives, spend a few minutes online visiting the websites of the schools in the system. You might see what is obvious to the rest of us.
And while you are at it, type “Pinnacle” in the search box of the HCS main site.Why, oh why, is there nothing about the system’s alternative school on the system’s site?
One might conclude that the Supe, the Board, and the whole of Merts aren’t proud of their association with this train wreck.
Last year, the Huntsville City Schools outsourced its alternative schooling to The Pinnacle Schools at a cost of $1,596,000, entering a 19-month contract.
You want to find out more?
Don’t bother looking in the Student-Parent Handbook. No mention of the Pinnacle Schools.
Don’t bother looking in the HCS Policy Manual. No mention of the Pinnacle Schools.
Don’t bother searching the HCS website.
(There is one mention of the Pinnacle Schools on the website. Here it is, in its entirety: “A student that is attending the Seldon Center or Pinnacle is only eligible to represent the Seldon Center or Pinnacle. A student attending the Seldon Center or Pinnacle cannot participate at any other school.”)
I have been writing about this since last December. See categories: Pinnacle.
My biggest fear has been the potential for abuse at the Elk River Treatment wilderness camp where Col. Casey Wardynski, superintendent, sends kids that Pinnacle can’t handle. There they are held incommunicado for an indefinite stay — as long as it suits Wardynski [one censored letter home a week. No calls. No visits. No legal representation].
Frankly, even I didn’t expect this at the Huntsville City Pinnacle Schools campus:
If what we see above is what is being done to kids who go home at night, just imagine what is going on at W’s private prison.
I’ll say it again:
If what we see above is what is being done to kids who go home at night, just imagine what is going on at W’s private prison.
I looked to see who licensed the Pinnacle Schools, but on its website no mention of a licensing agency is provided. I wonder if the Board knows. (Elk River is licensed as a detention facility by the State of Alabama, for what’s that’s worth.)
I wonder if anyone down at Merts, like the play-dead Board maybe, knows what standards are used to employ personnel for this cash cow. The CEO’s (Ms. Karen Lee’s) only qualification for running the place is that she has two sons who have run afoul of the law. She has no credentials in education or mental health services. Well, hell, we have an unqualified superintendent, so what? We do know that she saw fit to employ one of her sons who is awaiting trial for drug trafficking as a counselor at the Elk River detention camp, but when this was publicized, she moved him to Pinnacle instead.
What are the qualifications of the thug who beat this kid?
How many other kids have been beaten at Pinnacle Schools Huntsville campus and have been afraid to speak out because doing so could well mean that they risk being disappeared to the teepees until the Colonel decides they have been neutralized.
Even without the smacking in the ribs, planking or face-down restraint — and yes, I realize no mechanical restraints were employed to keep the kid in this position, unless you count risk of a beating about the ribs as a mechanical restraint (I would) — has been outlawed in more progressive states and has been at the core of a number of suits related to deaths in treatment facilities.
Guess that’s what the citizens of Huntsville are waiting on for their wake-up call: a death.
Then there can be tears and hand-wringing, candlelight vigils, messages from pulpits, all the usual useless brouhaha to assuage a community’s guilt at just not giving a damn.
I never wanted to be in the I Told You So position because it would come only when someone’s child had suffered.
Haven’t you had enough? If not, what would be enough?
Incoherence is indicative of an “indisciplined” (to use one of W’s favorite words) mind. Last week we learned from Colonel Wardynski, Superintendent of the Huntsville City Schools, that:
- It is possible to be in two places at once.
- Talk is quantifiable.
- Obeying the law is optional.
1. The Lee Knife Incident
My kids were wee toddlers when they figured out something couldn’t be both in the playpen and out of the playpen at the same time. The Colonel and crew seem to have trouble with this concept. Consider this report from WAFF concerning a student who was on his way to Lee or at Lee with a knife.
“The school district confirmed the student was taken into custody by school leaders before he ever made it on campus with the knife.”
“They took the student to the office last Thursday, questioned him, searched his backpack, and that’s when they discovered the knife.”
So was the kid on campus with a knife in his backpack, or was the kid not on campus with a knife in his backpack?
In the pen or out of the pen, but not in the pen and out of the pen, OK?
Sounds like some quick backtracking to me, as if the spokesperson realized that if the kid were walking down Meridian Street with a Swiss Army knife in his backpack, that isn’t quite the same as walking the halls of Lee High with a knife in his backpack. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it is still legal for me to walk the city streets with my pocket knife in my purse, right?
I’m curious about what “school leaders” have the right to take a kid into “custody” “before he ever made it on campus.”
But no matter: “Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski said the district did everything right when responding to the threat.” Whew, that’s a relief.
The Colonel said, “There are layers of security at the door, layers of security inside, there are humans inside looking at those types of things, and we have people watching the internet.”
What does this mean: “humans inside looking at those types of things”? What types of things? And “humans” as opposed to what, exactly?
As for “people watching the internet,” what can I say but welcome to my site and I hope you spend a good long time here.
I do have one suggestion on how better to employ the “humans inside.” Could they spare a few moments for a glance at the closed circuit TVs? Surely keeping an eye on what is happening now is important, too.
When WAAY 31′s Shea Allen questioned Wardynski about bullying in the HCS, he was insulted and unable to comprehend the simple metaphor, sweeping it under the rug (“‘And what rug?’”).
Since he’s a numbers guy, he then tried to explain reality to us in his own language:
“Bullying has been going on for a long time. There was bullying when I was a kid. But I can tell you when we look at the statistics, while its [sic] about 80 percent of what you guys talk about its only about one percent of what we see.”
Questions: Who are “you guys” and how do you quantify whoever they are’s talk and come up with 80% about bullying? Then how do you compare this 80% of “talk” to 1% of what “we” [who?] see?
Malarky. Gibberish. Nonsense. Waste of space.
And what are we to make of this:
. . .Wardynski disagrees. “We look at statistics. We look at student discipline in our classrooms and our schools. Its [sic] gone down 60 percent in one year. So we’ve taken a lot of actions,” he insists.
Here, the antecedent of the pronoun it is discipline. So, according to W, discipline “in our classrooms” has “gone down 60 percent in one year.” If you say so, Supe.
3. Federal Funding
For the background on this, go to geekpalaver. Basically, the HCS didn’t obey the law when it came to accepting Federal funding for Special Education and now the Feds and State want back $2.6 million.
WAFF reported that “Wardynski said it’s disappointing the feds are so fixated on following spending formulas instead of what’s actually achieved”:
“And what is achieved, of course, is that we’ve gone in the right direction on student achievement. The number of schools that failed for special education students on AYP went down as this was all transpiring. So I think the appropriate thing for government to do is focus on ‘what are taxpayers getting for their money?’ and not on ‘we gotta spend a lot of taxpayer money,’” he said.
As I see it, there is nothing for a rational, law-abiding person to talk about here. It’s as clear as a choice can be.
If you don’t want to play by the rules, stay out of the game:
- Take Federal funds; follow Federal laws governing the distribution of those funds.
- Refuse Federal funds; join the Crowley crowd: Do what thou wilt shalt be the whole of the law.
In its own right, what happened to the young girl in the bathroom at Butler High on September 17, 2012 is bad enough.
The aftermath reveals that there are huge cracks in accountability in the Huntsville City Schools, and it shows that the superintendent, Colonel Wardynski, is a loose cannon, out of control of the Board, all five of whom have collectively decided to lay down and play dead.
Only after being embarrassed in the media did Wardynski throw a bone to the victim’s mother who had for ten days requested a transfer out of Butler for her daughter.
Through a spokesperson, Wardynski notified WAFF that:
“’Until the investigation is complete, Huntsville City Schools will grant an immediate temporary transfer for the student to [withheld here but initially not by HCS] High if her mother has concerns for her safety,’ said Dr. Casey Wardynski on Thursday, according to a school spokesperson.”
Problem 1: There’s no mention of “temporary transfers” in the HCS Policy Manual.
Just not there. Have a look for yourself. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems clear Wardynski just made up this special category on the fly because he is determined not to allow this child to get on with her life.
He doubled this by identifying her destination. You won’t find it in WAFF’s current article, which was revised, probably when their legal team reviewed it after the public asked what the hell the Supe thought he was doing by sharing a bullying and assault victim’s future plan for safe schooling with the world.
Problem 2: The transfer policies specifically exclude temporary transfers [provision i, Duration]:
“Only in exceptional circumstances as determined by the
Superintendent or Delegate Assistant Superintendent will consideration be given for the student to transfer to a different school during the school year if a transfer has already been given for or within that year.”
Oh, but wait. This must be an “exceptional circumstance,” right? This is just one of dozens of “policies” that the Supe or his appointed minion can over-ride at will. In other words, he can do as he pleases. Period.
Problem 3: Transfer policies in the HCS manual neglect to include Ala Code 290-3-1-02, which reads:
“A student who becomes a victim of a violent criminal offense committed on school property during school hours or at school-sponsored activities shall be given an opportunity to transfer to a safe public school within the local education agency. The school shall notify the student’s parent/guardian of the right to transfer within 10 calendar days from the date of a final determination by the school board that a violent criminal offense has occurred. Alabama students who attend a school deemed persistently dangerous by the State Department criteria will be offered a transfer option to another school. A persistently dangerous school is one in which for 3 consecutive years the school has expelled 1% of the student population or 5 students (whichever is greater) for violent criminal offenses committed on school property during school hours or committed at school-sponsored activities. (Ala Code 290-3-1-02).”
Moreover, the HCS policy manual seems to defy Alabama State Statutes since it insists “and only applications for the following reasons will be accepted” — and Ala Code 290-3-1-02 isn’t there. There is, however, provision h:
“Transfers for other reasons may be approved as prescribed by the Superintendent.”
Sound familiar? Provision h is followed by provision i, quoted earlier, which also reserves for the Colonel the right to over-ride the HCS stated policies.
Are you beginning to get an idea of how this man has ensured that he can do as he damn well pleases?
Well done, Board. Well done indeed.
Over at geekpalaver, you’ll find all the relevant information on Wardynski’s latest outrageous behavior. Briefly, on September 17 a 15-year-old girl was assaulted, her ribs bruised, in a bathroom at Butler High by at least three other girls who then stole her top and bra forcing her to seek help through the halls of a high school with her chest exposed. The facts are not in dispute. When something horrible like this happens, there should be a clear, unequivocal procedure to follow.
Here’s the clincher: only after her mother told the story to WAFF, only after Wardynski realized he was going to be shown up again as a failure, did he do the most minimal of things to help this child – that is, grant the transfer out of Butler her mother had sought for ten days. And mind you, this is only a temporary transfer. And Wardynski then sabotaged the girl’s safety further by, for no reason whatsoever, revealing to all the world where she is going.
The man has the moral fiber of puddle scum.
There are three School Resource Officers at Butler. That is, there are three Huntsville Police Department officers at Butler.
The three girls who pounded on the one were not simply breaking school rules or misbehaving.
They committed a crime.
I want to know why the following did not happen:
1. The girl should have been seen immediately by the school nurse, HEMSI summoned, and then likely transported to the ER. If there is bruising, ribs could have been broken. She could have been concussed.
2. Simultaneously, her mother or an emergency contact should have been summoned.
3. Either at the school or in the ER, a police report should have been filed and the girl’s injuries photographed. At this point a case number is assigned by HPD.
4. The mother should have been instructed on how to go to the Neaves Center (detention home) on Oakwood Avenue to sign a juvenile delinquency petition against her daughter’s attackers. Since the girl is a minor, a parent or guardian has to do this. This is the same as pressing charges.
5. The girl should have immediately been offered a permanent transfer to the school of her choice. Why the hell is there any question about getting a transfer out of Butler for any student these days? It has failed and failed and failed to come up to minimal state standards.
6. The 2012-2013 Parent Student Handbook says that “an intentional assault upon any individual which does not result in serious physical harm” is a Class II offense; one that causes “serious physical injury” is a Class III. Suspension is the first response to a Class II, and expulsion is “normally” the consequence of a Class III, “with a suspension to the hearing panel unless otherwise authorized by the Superintendent” [5A, 7A-8A]. While they hash out the fairly wide divide between not serious and serious physical harm, immediately the same thing should have happened: suspension.
7. Whatever the HCS decides to do or not do has nothing to do with the criminal case against the girls. This little “temporary” transfer is so bogus and disgusting and shows no understanding of real life. Months are going to pass before the girls’ criminal trial. And let’s say that in spite of the event being on film the DA’s office completely botches the case, are the child who was beaten and her three assailants going to live happily ever after? Get real.
I hope this girl’s family sues the HCS to hell and back.
If the Board doesn’t have the guts to admit they have made a very, very big mistake in hiring Wardynski — if they can’t face up to the fact of their failure — then each one needs to resign.
As for you, Wardynski, may I suggest a trip to Afghanistan so you can see some combat up close and personal for once in your glorious career? Isn’t it about time you visited some field hospitals and met some of those kids your game America’s Army enticed into the military? Or maybe you could make yourself useful by accompanying some of their corpses home?
Just get the hell out of the lives of our kids.
A commenter on “The Best Board Money Can Buy” asked if I’ve ever even been to a Huntsville City Schools Board meeting.
The answer is yes, and that my mood sours each time I walk in the boardroom. There used to be the big soft chairs. Now we’re too 21st century for such, and of course, flush with money, so the big soft chairs have gone to the dump and have been replaced by high-techy looking, ergonomically correct, breathable mesh, tilt and height adjustable at the touch of a finger chairs.Then there are the hard, narrow chairs. These remain.
It’s the same down in Montgomery, when I used to go to PACT meetings. On the soft chairs: elected State Treasurer at the time Kay Ivey, whose neglect and incompetence were largely responsible for the near-bankruptcy of the Alabama Prepaid Affordable College Tuition plan, and the ten grim men who enabled her. On the hard chairs: those of us who elected her and entrusted these fools with honoring the contracts we had purchased.
I have a problem with these boardroom configurations. Big expensive chairs on a pedestal for the few. Hard little desks or folding chairs for the masses.
Dear Colonel and the Board, my hind end is no more (or less) well padded than your own. My hour, like yours, has sixty minutes.
These furnishings suggest that the ones in the fancy chairs are more deserving than those in the hard ones, that they are the ruling elites. Being on a pedestal, looking down on the huddled masses, encourages complacency and induces amnesia in elected public servants.
They forget that they once had to go to the public and ask for votes — and money — and for folks to stick ugly little signs in their yards so that they could represent the people in the governance of the public’s school system. Once in the soft chairs, Blair, Morrison, McCaulley, Robinson, and Birney came to identify with the Colonel, the center soft chair, and to leave well behind the people who put them there.
I wrote Alta Morrison last week regarding the Pinnacle debacle. Did I get anything in return? I did not. Am I the only one so ignored? Hardly. Go have a look at geekpalaver who is running a little poll based on questions from one of his readers. Two pertain to attempts to communicate with these elected representatives. The answers show a dismal basic lack of respect on the parts of these five people to their constituents. I wonder how much money you’d have to contribute to their campaigns to get the courtesy of a response: $500? $5000?
At your typical Thursday night meeting, after the done deals and in-jokes among the privileged few, there follows a condescending preamble to citizen’s comments proclaimed from on high, and then the commoners who previously submitted their names, ranks, and serial numbers are allowed three minutes a piece.
They come down the aisle like Oliver Twist. Those of us of a certain age (the one where clerks tell your kid to be nice to her granny) may remember the musical Oliver! (1968), based on Oliver Twist, a novel by Charles Dickens, an author who wrote long books that somehow we found time to read in high school.
Anyway, orphan Oliver and his fellow workhouse urchins are eating their small bowl of thin gruel in the workhouse while the institution’s board members are gorging themselves on a huge feast up on the pedestal in the soft chairs. The orphans would like a few more slurps of gruel that day, so they decide whoever draws the short straw will ask for seconds. This falls to Oliver, and all music stops as he makes the long walk to the
microphone front of the room, and trembling says, ”Please, sir, I want some more.”
The elite go ballistic and Oliver is sold into service. This isn’t quite how things go at HCS board meetings. No, to recall another 1960s show, Get Smart, it’s more like a cone of silence descends over the pedestal. You can see the board members smirk, scowl, then drift off into reveries of prideful power, but for all intents and purposes, it is as if they are protected from having to hear your pleblian voice.
What I don’t get is what the Board has to lose — and, unfortunately, based on the re-election of McCaulley, you can be a rubberstamper and not lose. It’s not like Wardynski can fire them. Morrison is a lame duck and the last educator on the Board. Maybe she is just old, weary, disgusted, and despondent. But she has absolutely nothing to lose. Come on, Alta, rally! You know things are going to hell in a handbasket. Is this the legacy you want?
Finally, would someone who isn’t scared of W please let him know how embarrassing it is to send a kid to school in a district where not a single person in the central office is literate enough to change “Reward and Recognition” to “Awards and Recognitions” on the home page of the HCS website available to all the world to see? Or, on second thought, don’t. Let the world see for themselves what we the people in the hard chairs have come to know: the countdown to implosion has begun.
We’ve all learned quite a lot about the ethics and values of the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Col. Casey Wardynski in the past couple of days, namely, that it was so important to contract with Pinnacle Schools and have access to its own private detention facility, aka the teepees at Elk River, that they were all willing to overlook that the only argument for the effectiveness of programs like Elk River, its CEO Karen Lee’s assurance that such had done wonders for her kid, was just a little questionable, since when they approved the contract, not one but two of her kids were out on bond facing charges of drug trafficking and possession of a small arsenal.
Today I want to talk about the campaign finances of Superintendent Wardynski’s most fawning cheerleader and the Board member usually credited for bringing him to Huntsville, Dr. Jennie Robinson, and the Pinnacle Schools’ apologist, Board member David Blair.
When Robinson ran for re-election in 2010, she raised over $60,000, far more than her opponent, and the record amount ever raised by a Huntsville School Board candidate. She had “three main backers”: “the Committee of 100, the Alabama Builders and John A. Nolan III.”
Reporter Challen Stephens calls The Committee of 100 “a group of local lawyers and business leaders.” There are also a number of doctors in the 100. Working through this list might prove interesting. They supported Robinson to the tune of $17,500. Half of David Blair’s total contributions came from this group. What return did they expect on their $20,000 investment in Blair and their total $37,500 in the District 2 and 3 races in 2010?
In the 2012 election, The Committee of 100 endorsed Laurie McCaulley for Huntsville Board of Education, District 1 and Mike Culbreath for District 5. Both won.
The Alabama Builders PAC gave Robinson $10,000 and Blair, $7,000.
What really jumped out at me, though, was the third of Robinson’s supporters, John A. Nolan III. He and his wife gave her $13,600 directly. Stephens reported that she “also received $5,500 during the runoff from North Alabama Christian Conservatives PAC, a new group. Nolan said he gave to that PAC, but does not run it.”
Why would an individual donate $13,600 (or maybe the better part of $19,100) to Robinson. What horse does Nolan have in this race?
I don’t care who Robinson’s pals are; that’s none of my business. But I am interested in her campaign backers because money is a big factor in the sucess of a campaign. While individuals donate to the Humane Society or UNICEF out of the goodness of their hearts, I simply don’t believe they make large personal donations to candidates for purely unselfish, altruistic reasons.
So I googled, and this is what I learned. In my value system, Nolan would qualify as a unsavory character, not one I’d like to owe any favors. But I think it is fairly obvious that my values are not those held by the Board and Supe.
When Nolan owned Phoenix Consulting, he could fairly have been called a corporate spy for hire. One of his own clients — Proctor and Gamble – says his company was “out of control.” Proctor and Gamble was involved in a corporate spying scandal in 2001. Fortune magazine reported that P&G:
engaged in a corporate espionage program against competitors in its hair care business – Unilever, in particular – that even the company itself admits spun out of control. . . After . . . senior managers discovered what the company is calling a “rogue operation,” P&G executives wrote a letter to Unilever outlining the situation.. . .
Sources say that P&G hired corporate spies through a contractor, and at least some of them worked out of a private “safe house,” nicknamed “The Ranch.” Sources say one of the companies that was employed by P&G was The Phoenix Consulting Group of Huntsville, Alabama. Phoenix was founded and is staffed by former government intelligence officers, including its president, John A. Nolan III, who served in the Phoenix Program, a covert operation in Vietnam. Nolan declined comment.
Oh, my. Next I goggled the Phoenix Program. Nauseating.
The CIA-backed Phoenix Program assassinated and jailed large numbers of Vietnamese civilians without evidence of judicial procedure. This fact was confirmed by [former CIA Dir William] Colby in an admission to Representative Reid in his July 1971 testimony before Congress. According to Colby, the Phoenix Program had resulted in the deaths of 20,587 persons as of May 1971. That number, proportionate to population, would have totaled over 200,000 Americans deliberately assassinated over a three-year period had Phoenix been conducted in the United States.
The Vietnam War Phoenix Program is controversial to this day. Supporters say that it was a legal and closely controlled US-Vietnamese intelligence program aimed at destroying the Viet Cong infrastructure, while the critics say that it was an illegal system of arresting, torturing and murdering innocent Vietnamese civilians.
Let’s conclude by reviewing recent local history:
- June 2009: Superintendent Ann Roy Moore receives perfect evaluation from Board.
- Fall 2010: Robinson re-elected to School Board.
- January 2011. Superintendent Ann Roy Moore agrees to Board’s contract buy-out.
- Spring 2011: Colonel Casey Wardynski recruited for Superintendent position.
Crystal Bonvillian, education reporter for The Huntsville Times, is a brave woman worthy of respect. In today’s Times, she has a lead story, “Huntsville school officials defend alternative school after owners’ sons face drug charges.” Well done, Ms. Bonvillian. She is also seeking to discover what is going on in the HCS classrooms following the 1:1 Learning Initiative I-pad / laptop / Pearson curriculum thrust: “How is the Huntsville schools district’s digital transition working for you?”.
Bonvillian reports that Karen Lee, CEO of Pinnacle, said “‘My sons are innocent until proven guilty.’” That’s true. But the question I raised in yesterday’s post, did Lee tell Wardynski and the Board about the arrest before the lucrative contract with her company was signed, remains. [Update 9/14 evening: "When my sons were arrested I let them know and that was before the board vote took place," said Karen Lee in an interview with WAFF. I didn't think anything could surprise me. I was wrong.] Whether she did or not apparently doesn’t matter when it comes to Board member David Blair’s opinion: “‘If everybody got judged by their kids, a lot of people would be in big trouble.’”
As a commenter on al.com noted, “Compare this to Wardynski’s ‘off with his head’ response when Grissom’s football coach was charged with a DUI while mowing Grissom’s field.” Point well taken.
Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Charles Lee, Jr. and Eric Lee aren’t convicted of trafficking. Maybe they were just at that house to deliver a fruitcake to Stephanie Porter, it being the holiday season and all, and had nothing to do with the “24 pounds of marijuana and about $37,600 in cash during the bust” or the “weapons, including shotguns and rifles.” I find it very odd that a reasonably intelligent woman like Porter (see comments here) was stupid enough to get caught again this summer with four pounds of pot. Make of that what you will.
When you look at mugshots over at the Madison County Jail site, smiles are few, and people who look like they are about to burst out laughing rarer still. Here’s the trio of interest here: Charles Lee, Jr., Eric Lee, and Stephanie Porter. Doesn’t Eric look like he is thinking, what in the hell have these two gotten me into this time?
It’s just weird. So Eric is too old for being one of the bad kids in the teepee, but Ma Lee needs to keep an eye on him, and so installs him at Elk River. Or maybe he was already working there as a counselor (does the Board ask for resumes of their contractors’ employees? Isn’t that kinda standard? What’s his degree in? Any relevant training?).
Bold as brass, but here’s another consideration: doesn’t the HCS have a rather extreme nepotism policy in place? See Redeye’s blog and geekpalaver. An owner’s son as employee? No prob, according to Wardynski, since Lee will be “removing him from the Elk River program and he will be working other duties.”
Board member David Blair, who lives just down the hill from the Lees, is still a big fan of Pinacle’s. He claims,
. . . he and fellow board members looked carefully at the issue of whether to close the Seldon Center and go forward with Pinnacle before their January vote.
“We looked at Pinnacle, their past performance, their methods and the whole-child offerings for our kids that are struggling and are having some discipline problems,” Blair said. “Pinnacle has a proven track record.”
Problems, problems, problems, Mr. Blair.
Pinnacle’s past performance, which he alludes to, was as a very costly, private school.
Pinnacle’s curriculum, as I understand it, is delivered digitally. As we all know, presumably much of all the HCS’s curriculum is delivered digitally these days — when it is delivered at all. So why did the alternative education program need to be contracted out to a private school-of-sorts? Why couldn’t the Seldon crew have used the same technology and software that Pinnacle’s staff gets up and running?
But most important, to me, are Pinnacle’s Elk River programs, the private prison that Huntsville taxpayers are supporting to the tune of $750 a day, every day (now at $193,500).
What’s its track record? What is the track record of any of these wilderness camps? Again, if you can stomach it, watch “Congressional Hearings Regarding Deceptive Marketing Practices, Torture, and Death at Behavior Modification Programs for Teens.” Visit the HEAL website, where “you will find links to lawsuits, news articles, and survivor websites detailing the abuses experienced at these facilities.” Elk River isn’t one of the horror stories yet, but aside from any moral or ethical arguments, how about running some cost-benefit analysis for this boondoggle, Mr. Blair? Or paying an unannounced visit? Talking to ex-staffers and inmates?
You want to know why I keep banging my keyboard about this? It’s simple. I’m appalled that children, even badly behaved children, have so few civil rights, including a right to legal representation, privileged communication with a legal representative, and protection from abuse and false imprisonment. And for people to make money, a lot of money, taking advantage of this, is despicable. Got it?
Update 9/14 evening: “When my sons were arrested I let them know and that was before the board vote took place,” said Karen Lee in an interview with WAFF. I didn’t think anything could surprise me. I was wrong. It seems that it was the Huntsville City Schools Superintendent and Board that
- Thought this unimportant, and/or
- Banked on the public not finding out or not caring.
Update: If you go here, you can search current and released inmates at the Madison County Jail. While the municpal news wire reported that bond for the four suspects was set at $1 million each, the bond listed for the Lee brothers is $25,000 each. Stephanie Porter’s was $1 million, but has been revoked because of her second drug trafficking arrest while out on bond. The fourth suspect as reported by the news wire, Corey McDonald, does not show up as a current or released inmate.
Speculation: Considering the paucity of media attention, I doubt that Superintendent Wardynski or the Board learned that the two sons of Pinnacle Schools CEO Karen Lee had been arrested for drug trafficking the morning after she presented the proposal for contracting with the Huntsville City Schools to provide alternative education formerly administered by the HCS via the Seldon Center. (If you’re just joining us, read the previous two posts.)
Question: Is it plausible that Pinnacle CEO Karen Lee did not know before the contract was signed with HCS that her sons had been charged with drug trafficking?
Answer: Doubtful. The boys likely did not each have $25,000 readily available or the resources to keep the story out of The Huntsville Times.
Reasonable Conclusions: Before the contract was signed, Karen Lee had two choices:
- Tell the Supe or any of the Board about the arrests.
- Don’t tell the Supe or the Board.
Option 1. Considering the value she places on “character,” one would think that she would tell the Supe or the Board. It may not have a direct impact on the work Pinnacle does, but sooner or later, the truth will out, and it would prove (is proving?) mighty embarrassing to the HCS.
Let’s suppose she did tell the Supe or at least three Board members. That would mean they entered into this contract knowing that Lee’s claims for programs like hers, based on her own kids’ experiences, were dubious at best.
Likely? I doubt it. That, if you trust Lee, is exactly what they did.
Option 2: Lee is a businesswoman with a lot of financial resources and clout in the community. Not telling would mean a good chance of getting a lucrative contract. I think this is the more likely scenario.
She was running a risk, but having kept the story out of the Times, she and the Board and the Supe probably thought
she they could get away with it.
She made two miscalculations:
- Anything that ever was online will surface, sooner or later.
- She didn’t factor in how many of her staff would return to civilization, disgusted and disillusioned.
Now what? I haven’t a clue. But while we are thinking about what the Board really knew about Pinnacle when they signed the contract, I have another speculation and question.
Speculation: Did the Supe arrive in Huntsville thinking, what I need are some teepees where I can a handful of bad kids since that would surely establish order in the HCS? Could be, but I think it more likely that someone who stood to profit by an HCS – Pinnacle agreement brought Pinnacle to him. I haven’t found the connection to the Supe or to any of the Board — yet — but see number 1, above.
Questions: Since January 1, 2012, when the HCS started paying $750 a day ($192,750 as of today, the 257th day of 2012). to reserve five teepees at Elk River:
- Has the Supe or any of the Board paid a surprise visit to the camp? Oh, wait. How do you pay a surprise visit to a place without an address in a remote location? And if the visit is scheduled, you might as well stay home.
- Have any of them talked to one of those released from the teepees with provisions in place to preserve anonymity or at least lessen the risk of reprisal for telling their stories?
I doubt it.