HCS Board Meeting, 8/4/11. Thank you, Dr. Wardynski for Taking a Stand Against Corporal Punishment

Dr. Casey Wardynski, the new superintendent of the Huntsville [AL] City Schools,  proposed at the School Board meeting this evening that corporal punishment be eliminated within the system. I guess this will be put to a vote next meeting.

Thank you, Dr. Wardynski.

Thank you for having the common sense to suggest that if an officer is not allowed to beat a soldier who breaks a rule, then surely an adult educator should not be permitted to use corporal punishment on a child.

Thank you for having the insight to suggest to the Board that giving an adult the right to hit a child while decrying bullying in the schools just doesn’t make sense.

I don’t know why in 2011 the HCS still had a policy regarding procedures for hitting kids. I guess I assumed that if in the 21st century it still did, and this is not unusual, I believe, among Alabama schools, then the situation was simply hopeless. In fact, one of the reasons why when my son was born in 1989 I never thought about sending him to public school was because I couldn’t bear to think of that happening to him. I knew too that even if he turned out to be a well-behaved kid, as he did, that wouldn’t be enough to keep him safe from overgrown schoolyard bullies. When I was growing up kids got hit for crimes like coming in last running laps at PE. I wasn’t willing to take that chance.

Three out of five Board members commented.

Laurie McCaulley said she thought the teachers and administrators in the schools would be relieved because now they wouldn’t have to worry about being sued. Of course, they could have avoided that pain simply by not hitting kids, but I won’t quibble.

David Blair expressed concern that teachers and administrators will know that they are still allowed to touch kids if they need to do so to break up a fight. I don’t see the connection between denying ritualized infliction of pain for punishment and preventing kids from doing damage to each other. It’s a little like confusing delivering a hard, brutal punch to a defenseless person’s midsection and performing the Heimlich maneuver.

And speaking of confusion, there’s Dr. Jennie Robinson. She seems to think that like Dr. Wardynski, she has just now arrived in Huntsville. She was enthusiastic about his proposal (good), but this begs a question, does it not? If it is such a good idea now, why didn’t she work toward the elimination of corporal punishment when she was first elected to the Board in 2002? Or the next year, 2003? 2004? 2005? 2006? 2007? 2008? 2009? 2010? Last month? I went 25 pages deep into a Google search for “Jennie Robinson” + Huntsville and found no indication that she has ever taken a stand against corporal punishment. Why not?

Later, Robinson also acted as if she had been pressing for a report on Special Ed staffing for months. Pressing whom? Guess who offered up a report tonight? Dr. Wardynski. (I wonder what Dr. Ann Roy Moore accomplished this week to justify continuing to collect her pay?)

Must Dr. Wardynski do everything himself?

It remains to be seen, however, if the data he was supplied is accurate. I hope heads roll if it isn’t.

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HCS Board: Let’s Play Whack-a-Mole

Trying to keep track of the Byzantine mechinations of the Huntsville City School Board is like playing a really unfun game of whack-a-mole. You think you’ve figured out what they are up to, and then another mess rears its ratty head.

During their July 7, 2011, meeting, they discussed stiffer penalties for misbehaving on the bus. I covered it here. Last night, July 21, Alta Morrison moved to pass the new policy and was seconded by Laurie McCaulley (who had had some reservations about it on the 7th). Jennie Robinson and Topper Birney were  present; David Blair was not, but he was there on the 7th.

Or at least it seemed then as if they were passing the same new policy on the 21st that they had discussed on the 7th. It sure would be a lot easier to keep track of things if they could publish the policies under consideration on their website before, during, and after their adoption.

Then they would at least be approaching compliance with Huntsville City Schools policy number 102-8, which says the Board supports “Inclusion of parents and community as partners in the decisions that affect children and families.”

So today I open up the Huntsville Times and I find the new Bus Rules:

The new rules are similar for all students, including elementary-age children, and include suspension of bus privileges for serious infractions. For the first violation of the rules, the penalty is a written warning for minor offenses and a three-day suspension for more serious ones.

A second violation results in automatic suspension for at least two days for elementary students. Middle and high school students will be suspended for a minimum of 10 days.

As the number of infractions increases, so does the number of days a student is suspended. Elementary students are suspended for the remainder of the year after five infractions.

For older students, however, that punishment comes after just the third offense.

So, I think, there they are at last, the mysterious Bus Rules that were discussed during the last two regularly scheduled Board meetings.

But things are never straightforward with this Board. I was looking for something else, when I came across page 27 of the Student-Parent Handbook for 2011-2012. What have we here? It’s an even stricter set of Bus Rules.

So my best guess is, this was the one discussed July 7 and the one in the Times is the one approved July 21.

Anyone see what the problem is?

It gets worse. The Student-Parent Handbook for 2011-2012 I accessed this afternoon, July 22, was last modified Wednesday, June 22, 2011 4:22:50 PM. How do I know? If it hasn’t been newly modified by the time I post this (and I took a picture, just in case), you can see for yourself.

Go to http://www.hsv.k12.al.us/dept/merts/pupilservices/handbook.pdf.

Now go up to your toolbar. In Mozilla you see File, Edit…Tools, Help. Click Tools. See where it says Page Info? Click there, and you will find the web link above, and Modified: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 4:22:50 PM.

In other words, the third item under Work Session on the July 7 agenda: “Bus Rules — p. 55-56” was a half-sham and last night’s Agenda’s New Business item 3: “Bus Rules — pp 48-50″  was a half-sham. (Why New Business second time around? Haven’t a clue.)

The important point is that the Board had already decided it was going to have a new policy no fewer than 15 days before the “Bus Rules” item was brought forward for discussion by the Board at the July 7 meeting.

I’m being generous, and calling the agenda items half-shams since, if the Times set is the one approved last night, some action was taken after the Agenda item Bus Rules first surfaced.

These people bear watching.

Duh.

 

Comments appear here.

HCS Meeting, July 16, 2011: Why Bother with a Board? Why Bother with Elections?

In its first Saturday meeting ever, the HCS Board approved the new superintendent’s plan for alleviating overcrowding at Providence Middle by bussing the sixth grade class to under-populated Williams Middle.

Before I get to whether this plan is good or bad, I think that the manner in which the change was made sets a poor precedent. Yes, the start of school is just a few weeks away, and so that is an argument for getting this proposal on the table before the next regular meeting on July 21. But by calling a special meeting, the Board could also justify not taking any citizen comments or questions. So this radical change has been made without any community input whatsoever.

This is how I thought things worked: the community elects Board members. The Board takes into account community preferences and objections in the policies it makes and in approving or disapproving recommendations by the superintendent.

Not a single one of the five Board members — Laurie McCaulley, David Blair, Alta Morrison, Topper Birney, Jennie Robinson — seemed to care in the slightest that by motioning to accept the Superintendent’s proposal and seconding said motion that he or she was advocating indifference to the Board’s constituents.

Don’t come around in 2012 and 2014 when your terms are up claiming that you care what we the people think. You showed us today how much you care.

Now, about the transfer itself. It makes sense, in theory, to move the Providence middle schoolers to Williams. In practice I think it will be wretched. The plan, to the extent made public, is for the sixth graders who take the bus to Providence to continue to do so, only once they arrive at Providence, they are to board a second bus for the trip to Williams, about 25 minutes away. This will mean that some of them will be boarding their first bus at 6:00 am.

This is outrageous. It was bad enough when the 6:00 am routes were first declared — not discussed, mind you — at the last regular meeting, but then there was at least the claim that the kids who got to school at  6:45 or so would get breakfast and tutoring.

The Providence sixth graders aren’t going to get that. They are going to get to spend up to 1 hour and 45 minutes on the bus twice a day: 3.5 hours of doing nothing, and 7 of schooling, if they can stay awake that long.

Why must all schools start at the same time? Don’t make the Providence kids who have to spend 3.5 hours on the bus get up at 5 for the “privilege” of doing so. Keep their bus schedules as they were last year, and start Williams at 8:30. The Providence kids are already getting the worst deal with the two-bus routine. Or — here’s a radical idea — ask the kids’ parents what they think.

 

Comments on this post appear here.

About the HCS Board Meeting 7/7/11

I attended my first HCS School Board meeting July 7, 2011, and I was struck by how what I was seeing seemed minimally connected to what information is readily available for public scrutiny. So my assessment is based on my position as an audience member watching a  performance. I have no interest in a blow-by-blow. You can see the meeting for yourself  at the HCS site.

Best Bits

First, I was very impressed by the demeanor of Dr. Wardynski. If his actions prove consistent with his expressed commitment to basing his decisions on what is best for the students, then I am cautiously optimistic about the future of the HCS. He can’t do it alone, however.

My favorite three minutes were courtesy of a citizen’s comment. One Dr. Scales confirmed what I’ve suspected for the past month: Steve Salmon of Education Planners is no more a demographer than I am. Scales says he checked with the professional association for demographers, the Population Association of America, and Salmon is not one of its members. I just visited the website, and James Wilson also does not appear in their directory. Well done, Dr. Scales. Welcome to the world of DIY investigative journalism.

He then proceeded in about a minute to list what took me seven posts to cover, that is, the main faults of Salmon’s Facility Utilization Study:

  • No problem statement.
  • No methodology.
  • Incomplete and missing data.
  • No analysis.
  • No conclusions.
  • Recommendations are not supported by data.

Earlier in the evening, Dr. Wardynski said he would be meeting with Salmon on July 8. My fantasy is that the not-demographer has been summoned to Huntsville for a verbal thrashing.

An Interesting Exchange

The third item under Work Session on the agenda reads: “Bus Rules — p. 55-56.” Now, whether you look at the Bylaws published on the HCS site or those designated as revised 4/21/11, “citizen comments germane to an item on the Work Session agenda may be allowed,” but citizens have to sign up to speak before the meeting. (Questions about these Bylaws were raised during the meeting, and my impression is that there is no consensus regarding which ones are in effect. I’ve looked at Minutes for meetings prior to 4/21/11 and I can’t find when the revision was first proposed.) The problem is that if citizens lack information regarding Work Session items, for example pp 55-56 (pages of what?), how will they know ahead of the meeting time whether they have questions or comments on a topic?

Anyway, from what I could piece together, Dr. Richardson recommended cutting back on bus aides as a cost-savings measure and implementing a no- or low-tolerance plan for dealing with any misbehavior on the bus for all grade levels. Nobody is going to argue, I hope, that behavior on the bus which endangers the riders’ safety can be tolerated. But the impression I got is that the issue is punishment for bad but not risky behavior, like using profanity. I got the impression that the penalty for just about anything has been changed to being kicked off the bus for 3 days. (I’d much rather tell you the facts rather than repeating I got the impression, but those are not for my eyes — or yours, apparently.)

The problem wasn’t stated like this, but my analysis of the disagreement is that it comes down to this question: If the same punishment is meted out for the same behavior to two kids but the practical consequences of the punishment are radically different, then can the policy be just?

Board Member Dr. Jennie Robinson, who represents the affluent Southeast, began the discussion by asserting that riding the bus is “privilege and not a right.” Board Member Laurie McCaulley said she had been contacted by a single mother of an elementary school kid who lives off Balch Road and had been kicked off the bus for 3 days for using bad language. She had no car and no way to get him to school (probably about 7 miles — lucky he doesn’t live on Dogwood Flats, 19 miles away from its zoned elementary, Providence).

Let’s think about this, starting with the privilege vs. a right issue. We agree that in the US all kids have a right to a public school education. This doesn’t mean that they can’t lose the right temporarily through suspension or permanently through expulsion, but there are guidelines in place (I assume) regarding what kind of behavior gets you in that kind of trouble.

Now then, if the School Board is making the rules about who can and can’t ride the bus, then it seems to me that it is claiming, in effect, that when the child boards the bus, he is under its authority — he is, for all purposes, at school. And thus, would it not follow that if a kid has a right to attend a public school, he has a right to ride the bus, that it is no more a privilege than is attending classes? Attending school isn’t only a right, it is a legal obligation of the parent and kid.

Now let’s look at what happens to two kids, both kicked off the bus. John lives in a household with  at least one car. Paul lives in a household with no car. John lives 4 miles from his school. Paul lives 19 miles from his school and there is no public transportation. John’s mom or dad or nanny loads him into the car and complains for the 10-minute ride to school over the next 3 days. Paul stays home, picking up 3 days’ unexcused absences, 3 days of zeroes.

John’s driver feels hassled. Paul may as well have been suspended. Question: had John and Paul both broken whatever rule in the school building that they broke on the bus, would they have each received a 3-day suspension?

If you have resources, if you have a car and money for gas, being kicked off the bus is no big deal for your kid. But if you don’t, it is. If you have money, you don’t need to think about what you’d do if you didn’t. But if you are making the rules for those who don’t, spare them an occasional thought, please. Yea, life isn’t fair. But that gives us no excuse for not being as fair as we can be or for making provisions that acknowledge the reality that life isn’t fair.

What provisions am I thinking about? How about the kid can ride the bus if accompanied by a parent or guardian? The miscreant would be mortified, and such a punishment would deter others who would hate to be squashed against their scowling mom all the way to and from school for 3 days.

The most universally effective provision would be to take advantage of the buyer’s market for those hiring and to choose the bus aides wisely. Don’t go for someone who has never commanded people. Find retired teachers and drill sergeants of the finger-shaking, in-your-face, if-looks-could-kill, don’t-even-think-about-it variety. Hell, you might not even have to pay them. Where can I sign on?

 

Comments on this post appear here.

Huntsville Board of Education Neglects Routine Homework But Travels in Time

The Board of Education,  Huntsville City Schools, has failed to do its routine homework for six weeks. Today is July 5, 2011. As of 9:20 am, the last set of minutes posted on its website for a regularly scheduled bimonthly meeting was for May 17, 2011.

No minutes have been posted for the June 2, 2011, meeting, which included the first presentation by the “demographer,” or for the June 16, 2011, meeting which included the decision to throw some more money into the “demographer’s” boss’s coffers. Correction: The June 16 Minutes first have to be approved before posting. However, Minutes for a May 24 meeting appear on a newswire post but not on the HCS site.

No agenda has been posted for the July 7, 2011, meeting. Update: an agenda for July 7, 2011, was added to the HCS site late on July 5, 2011. However, the Board changed its Bylaws on April 21, 2011, to restrict citizen input:

“Citizen comments regarding topics on the Business Meeting agenda are permitted during the time allotted for comments as set forth in paragraph seven and shall not be permitted at any other time during the business meeting.”

The revision also states that

 ”Citizen comments on a topic germane to the Work Session agenda may be allowed at the conclusion of board member questions and comments. . .”.

I don’t know how to interpret that “may,” but I fear that “may” is not the same as “will” in this case.

Does the Board figure that if it restricts comments to “topics on the Business Meeting agenda” and Work Session agenda but doesn’t publish these agendas prior to the meeting, then pesky parents and others will stay home?

By the way, the information on the change to the Bylaws is from a newswire service (see page 10 of the 74 pp pdf) –not the Huntsville City Schools’ site.

Also appearing on the newswire are what appear to be Minutes from a May 24, 2011, meeting (page 1). First thing on its numbered list is “Minutes” including “May 27 (3 sets), May 28 (2 sets)**.”

This is interesting for several reasons. First, a May 24, 2011, meeting isn’t listed on the HCS website’s page, Minutes 2010-2011. Secondly, the double asterisks, although they appear again on page 3, are undefined. Thirdly, and most oddly, the School Board appears to be engaging in time travel. How else could Minutes for May 27 and May 28 appear in a May 24 Minutes?