The Pinnacle Schools: What Are We Waiting For?

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: 20121010194922

Read about it here and here.

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.

You can read about it here, here, here, here, and here.

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?



Colonel, We Need to Talk About BLOOD

Those of you following the latest example of systematic ineptitude in the Huntsville City Schools know that the superintendent Col. Casey Wardynski’s reaction to the beating of a 15-year-old girl in a Butler High bathroom is beginning to sound chillingly similar to the litany of domestic abusers: first, underplay the seriousness of the crime (for example, calling it horseplay. Colonel, when it is three against one, it isn’t horseplay) and next, blame the victim (for example, for being “in a bathroom 20 minutes after class begins“).

I hope I’m wrong but I can easily imagine that the next command from the Colonel will be that teachers cease and desist from granting bathroom passes or be prepared to answer to his beady-eyed wrath. Kids can go between classes or not at all will be the theme.

Colonel, there are reasons, good reasons, why a female of child-bearing age may need to go to the bathroom at an unscheduled time.

I haven’t any reason to believe this pertains to the girl in the Butler case. That doesn’t matter.

It pertains to all females who menstruate. Yes, folks, I’m going to describe to the Colonel in graphic detail why sometimes a female might need to go to the toilet 20 minutes after class begins. So if this might offend you, just click out. The Colonel needs to know what it means to bleed for 2 to 7 days every 21 to 35 days. I doubt that strategies for accommodating menstruating students was a topic discussed at Broad Academy, Rand, Harvard, or West Point.

While the average age for starting to have periods is still claimed as 12 in the US, girls who start as young as 8 are not unusual, and 10 to 11 seems to be increasingly common. I can bet you that some fourth or fifth grade teacher in the HCS is going to have to deal with a girl getting her first period right there in his or her classroom.

It happened to a girl in her class when my daughter was in fifth grade. The little girl was terrified. The male teacher got two older girls, one my daughter, who from her requests through the year to go to the nurse’s office suggested to him she knew what was happening, to take the girl to the nurse so she could call her mom and get cleaned up and calmed down. This, Colonel, is what it is like some days in the classroom.

When girls first get their periods, they are irregular, and in fact there isn’t a woman reading this who even after years of bleeding hasn’t been caught by surprise. When a girl tells the teacher she needs to go to the bathroom or to the nurse, telling her to hold it til the next break isn’t going to work if she has started to bleed. Blood flows. Menstruation isn’t like urination or defecation. There’s no way to control it.

But you object that by the time a girl is 14 or 15 or 16 she should be experienced enough to handle her “problem” without disrupting the school routine. If she has five minutes between classes on opposite sides of the building, does she really have the time she needs to wait her turn in the bathroom and then go through the hassle of changing a tampon or a pad? If she can’t do the impossible and is thus tardy to class, she has a strike against her. So maybe she thinks it is better to get to class on time and go to the bathroom once things settle down.

Or maybe she is caught off guard. Her period starts early, and it happens to be ten minutes into an hour-long class. Maybe she is wearing loose heavy dark jeans and absorbent cotton briefs and it comes on as a drip drip. But maybe it comes on as a full flow and she is wearing tight lightweight white pants. She needs to get to the bathroom and she needs to go now.

Or maybe she went to the bathroom and changed pad and/or tampon between classes but she is having a really heavy period. She passes a big black glob of blood that she knows has leaked past the tampon and has a good chance of overflowing the pad, if she is double protected, which wouldn’t necessarily be the case. I can remember a time when I went to the toilet, changed tampon and pad, went out to get the newspaper, passed a blob, and immediately returned to the bathroom. Colonel, this happens. And when it happens, a girl needs to go to the bathroom. Now.

No, it isn’t the HCS’s fault that for females of child-bearing age life is sometimes — well, regularly — a bloody mess. You can blame it on the parents, I guess, for giving life or the chance for a life, to females. Female students’ bloody messes are something that they bring with them into Wardynski’s world. Make it more difficult for them to go to the bathroom when they need to and I guarantee you you’ll see a rise in absences.

Colonel, this is life. This is what you have to deal with if you are going to involve yourself in the lives of real flesh and blood young women. You can’t stop their blood flowing. If you can’t handle the bloody messiness of real life, go back to your virtual solider games where the blood doesn’t stain and doesn’t stink.

“Temporary Transfer” or Making Up Policy On the Fly

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.


It Gets Worse. If the Board Won’t Fire Wardynski, All Five Must Resign. Now.

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.

The Asses in the Ergonomic Chairs

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.

Of Logging In and Learning, Or Digital School Daze


When I saw this map on geekpalaver, what first came to mind is Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.The Huntsville City Schools Board Room is now a War Room. Strategies are plotted to “position” materiel ["As content is positioned in libraries," says Wardynski].

Wardynski doesn’t want us to think that he is mapping which rooms in a school have their students logged on as a means of disciplining those teachers whose students are forced to “learn the same old way their grandparents did.” That last sentence is from a very bizarre document,Key facts/discussion points regarding the Digital 1:1 Initiative. It talks a lot about the space program, and how “the children of Huntsville will fly into the digital age in the classrooms of schools across the city.” I imagine Neil Armstrong learned using not a calculator or a laptop, but a slide rule. No matter.

No, Wardynski claims his map is needed to find which classrooms may need technical assistance in getting their students logged on.

This means, of course, that if the kids aren’t logged on, they should be.

Are there then no classroom scenarios which would not require logging on? Let us imagine a Q & A session of “What if’s.”

Q: What if the teacher was lecturing and the kids were taking notes?

A: Teachers don’t need to lecture. There are plenty of lectures online on every subject conceivable. What could a HCS teacher have to say that hasn’t been said before and better by those who are online? And why would kids be taking notes when they can watch a lecture over and over again until they learn the content? The teacher is there to make sure the computers are up and running.

Q: What if the kids were learning long division? Surely they aren’t meant to use a keyboard to work problems?

A: Why on earth do kids need to learn long division like their grandparents did? Here, I’ll teach you long division. Go to “All Programs.” Choose “Accessories.” Click on “Calculator.” Enter numbers. Click divide. Next question?

Q: What if the kids are writing essays? They need to get on-line to submit their essays but not to write them.

A: Look, there are 20,000 written compositions already graded available for students to choose from. It’s not like any of them really have any original insights into Hamlet or the Constitution or what have you. They choose one of these, and hope they got one that was assessed positively. What’s important is that they learn what makes the grade, right? That’s a useful skill. Teachers just need to summon up the assessment for the essay chosen.

I expect no more whining from teachers about class prep time and having to grade papers all weekend. This new initiative means they can walk out of school empty-handed and be ready to deliver pizzas or sell washers at Sears, do some real work, in their free time.

Ah yes, now that HCS is “at last doing away with the traditional boundaries of time and space” as they “journey to a new frontier in education,” now that kids are no longer “expected to unplug and logoff, and then study and learn the same old way their grandparents did,” there will be time for them to prepare for their futures. Time to log on to America’s Army.

Best Board Money Can Buy

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.

Want more? Wikipedia quotes SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.):

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.