Racism? Profiling? Prejudice? Or Incompetence? The Tale of One Student, Zoned for Butler.

If you think there is no systemic racism in the Huntsville City Schools, perhaps you could explain to me why, without even opening her record, a Mexican girl who transferred from Butler to Lee in 2010 was automatically enrolled in Lee’s remedial classes.

Oh, but you say, this happened 4 years ago, pre-Wardynski. True, but it was the same Board of Education with the exception of Culbreath. And considering the hostility of Wardynski to transfers within the system, it would surprise me to learn that transfer students are now treated with respect. Or given a chance at least.

OK, you object, this was one counselor’s decision. I met with this counselor the next year and found her, as kids had told me, to be a pleasant person who seemed to care about her students. A meeting that should have taken 15 minutes took at least 90 because she was interrupted repeatedly by kids who needed help. If the events that transpired in the letter here were of her making, they were in the context of the HCS’ culture.

The story is laid out in this letter of complaint I sent to Lee. I’ve changed the girl’s and parent’s names.

“I am contacting you on behalf of the mother of one of your freshman students, Maria Garcia. Her mother, Ana Garcia, has fairly good oral comprehension of English but still feels inhibited when she tries to speak in formal situations.

“I have known the Garcia family for six years and was instrumental in Maria’s enrollment in Holy Family School after she completed 5th grade at University Place since we were all dubious about the atmosphere at Ed White Middle School. Maria was zoned for Butler High and entered Lee under the No Child Left Behind provisions.

“My understanding from Maria and her mother is that they are concerned that nevertheless she is in fact at risk of being left behind since at Lee she was scheduled into classes that seem very basic to her, especially her math class. Maria wants to go to college. She is a bright young lady and should go to college.

“If her placement was based on her final grades at Holy Family, there are a few things that should be considered. First, Holy Family uses a traditional grade scale [A 93-100; B 84-92; C 74-83; D 65-73; F 64 and below], so an 83, which would be a mid-level B in the Huntsville City Schools, is a C at Holy Family. Secondly, at least half, perhaps three-quarters, of Holy Family’s graduates go on to Catholic High, which is a college prep school (more than 60% take at least one AP course, 100% college acceptance rate). Unfortunately, although she was accepted to Catholic High, her family could not afford the $6,900 tuition, and so instead are trying to get her the best education they can at Lee.

“Maria tells me that she has been to see you and her understanding is that she will need to wait until her sophomore year before her placements can be re-evaluated. The logic of this is hard to see: why not make the decision now, and let her start getting challenged during the second semester of her freshman year?

“May I ask you to please talk with Maria and explain what Lee has to offer her? Perhaps that would be enough, or we could arrange a conference with you, me, Maria and her mother. Should you have any questions, I can be reached at xxx-xxxx.”

Maria’s schedule was re-cast that same week.

So what do we have here? Was Maria pipe-lined into remedial classes because she was Mexican? Because she was zoned for Butler? Because she was presumed to have gone to a Butler feeder school? Or all of the above?

There’s been a lot of insulting, condescending editorializing over at al.com this week about the need for parental involvement. This girl’s parents cared about her education, although they have little themselves. They did not, however, know how to work the system.

What became of Maria? Despite never seeming to spend a moment studying, she made As and Bs at Lee, but never had much interest in her classes. By the end of her sophomore year, she had lost a lot of her sparkle and ambition.

Her parents sent her back to Mexico to live with her grandmother. They thought she would be safer there and would get a better education. She excelled, and is now in college.


Last Week in Wardynski’s World

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:

  1. It is possible to be in two places at once.
  2. Talk is quantifiable.
  3. 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.

2. Bullying

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.

The West and the Rest

For as long as I can remember, there has been much talk of the division between South Huntsville and North Huntsville whenever the Huntsville City Schools system is the topic. But if you look at the zoning maps, you’ll see that the most radical division is that between the West and the rest of Huntsville.

It’s hard to get a clear picture of this since it’s an Adobe file. Best to go here and see for yourself.

Basically, west of 53/Jordan and north of Sparkman and west of Wynn, you have two school zones: 2 elementary schools (Providence and Williams), 2 middle schools — for now– soon to be 1 (Providence and Williams), and 1 high school (Columbia [NewCentury is also in the West but is an unzoned school of choice. Columbia occupies part of New Century’s building]). Providence and Williams’ buildings both accommodate K-8, bringing the total number of facilities in the West to 3.

In the rest of Huntsville, you have 5 magnet schools, 22 elementary, 9 middle, and 5 high schools. All of these except the magnets are in separate facilities; total: 36.

The two West zones cover an enormous area. The farthest northern point is a small stretch along 53 that ends at Kelly Springs. The farthest western stretch is along I65, and the farthest southern point is at the Tennessee River, south of Triana.

Using Google maps, it looks like the farthest north point where there are homes is the subdivision south of Nick Davis and west of Old Railroad Bed. It looks like this may be the farthest populated western area as well; the rest of the zone appears to be all farmland, with a few stretches of homes excluded in the City’s annexations. Down south, it looks like Roundtree Pl is the southernmost residential street.

From northernmost houses to southernmost is about 18 miles, from western to eastern, 10.5 miles.(Nick Davis/Old Railroad to Hwy 53 is about 7.5, and it’s another 3 miles to the easternmost point, at Hwy 53 and Oakwood.)

For comparison’s sake, the distance from Johnson to Grissom High is 13.6 miles via the Parkway (12.3 if you get off to Pulaski Pike).

For the rest of Huntsville, the southernmost residential street is probably Adkins Dr. off Hobbs Island Rd, and northernmost, Liberty Hill. These are about 25 miles apart. West to east, imagining lines extending along Carter’s Gin and McMullen, is maybe 10 miles.

Comparison of West Huntsville to the Rest:

  • West (N to S): 18 miles.
  • Rest (N to S): 25 miles
  • West (E to W): 10 miles.
  • Rest (E to W):10 miles

Number of school facilities [buildings, campuses] in August 2011:

  • West: 3
  • Rest: 36

There is nothing as far as I can see to be done about this: it is what it is.

But you have to wonder if the City of Huntsville thought about education as it continued annexing lands.

When the Rest of Huntsville talks about preserving neighborhood schools, it sounds like a good idea. Frankly, neighborhoods sound like a good idea. But you look at this map, and it is obvious that for most of the West, neighborhood schools aren’t there to preserve.

And Even When You Do Plan…

I remember when the Village of Providence was built. It was supposed to be

a real neighborhood, not just a development. It is a pedestrian friendly village where residents will have the freedom to live, learn, work, shop and play in an authentic neighborhood built upon time-tested principles of traditional architecture and town planning. . . .

Another important civic element is our school, which serves kindergarten through eighth grade. The Huntsville Board of Education worked tirelessly to develop a school that promotes the “neighborhood school concept” where children can actually walk to school. The design complements the traditional landscape of Providence and is the backdrop for childhood memories for generations to come.

But nearly as soon as Providence K-8 opened, it was overcrowded. And now the Middle School’s days are numbered, and the Providence villagers’ middle schoolers will not be walking to school. Far from it, in all ways.

And Then There is the Lee Question

By all accounts, Lee High School was falling apart. A new facility or extreme renovations were needed. But why did the HCS decide to turn Lee into the high school with the largest capacity in town? Lee High School’s enrollment last year was 807, down from 870 five years before, and  projected 2015-16 enrollment is 761. So why has Lee been built to accommodate a student capacity of 1672? Lee is off Oakwood and Andrew Jackson. It is not where new growth is or is anticipated to be, as best I can figure.

At least the Situation is good for Master of Urban Planning Students

There are so many great thesis topics just waiting for writers. Get busy, grad students. Maybe you can make some sense of this; I can’t.

Huntsville City Schools Debacle 2011, Part 6: That $70,000+ Report cont’d

There’s been a good deal of talk about neighborhood schools in the community meetings. New Century Tech High School [NCTHS]/Columbia has no neighborhood.

Look at the far left edge center. See where there’s a bulge in the yellow? That’s the NCTHS/Columbia campus. Page 60 of the demographer’s report has a street map. There is a residential area west of the campus — but it is the City of Madison.

One of the more heated exchanges at the June 16 community meeting was between the New Century Technology High School [NCTHS] parents and the ex-superintendent. The NCTHS parents maintain that securing a location for NCTHS in Research Park preceded the decision to also place the new Columbia High School on that site. Try as I might I haven’t been able to find a timeline — yet. But my inclination is that the parents are probably right because their explanation makes sense of why this campus is where it is. According to them, there had to be a zoning variance for the school to be built in Cummings Research Park, and the reason that happened is because NCTHS and the businesses in Research Park are partners in educating the NCHTS kids. Keep that in mind.

Words matter. Names matter. Because people hear that NCTHS is housed in Columbia High, they think that Columbia is the host and NCTHS the guest. But that isn’t true. Near the Sparkman Wal-Mart there is a facility containing both an A&W and a Long John Silver’s. Does the A&W house LJS or does LJS house A&W? Neither. Or both.

Back to the Facility Utilization Study. I discussed the cluster fallacy and pages 41-46 already, but I have one more comment.

  • Page 46: Lee High table. Capacity is 1672 for Lee High; enrollment in 2005/06 was 870 and in 2010/11, 807. Is this 1672 capacity figure for the Lee High that is being built? For the old Lee High? Either way, why, oh why, oh why, did a 1672-desk school either need building or replacing for an 870-person student body?
  • Page 47: Non-Attendance Zone Schools and Special Programs. We have some problems here, folks.

The Academy for Science and Foreign Language [ASFL] and Davis Hills Middle School share the same address: 3221 Mastin Lake Road Huntsville, AL 35810. On page 47, ASFL’s capacity is 768. On page 45, Davis Hills’ capacity is 697. Does this mean that the facility located at 3221 Mastin Lake accommodates 1465 kids? I don’t think so. New Century Tech High School, in contrast, has no capacity (it shares an address with Columbia HS).

  • Page 47 and page  60. On page 47, NCTHS’s 2010/11 enrollment is 304. On page 60, a map purporting to show the home location of these 304 students, placed after the report’s recommendations, claims the total enrollment is 292. No year is provided. Does this mean the table is using 2010/11 figures and the map — well, what? 09/10? 08/09? 07/08? 06/07? Not 05/06 — that figure is provided as 215. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

And I won’t even begin to try to guess why the Demog Duo of Salmon and Wilson claim that the NCTHS enrollment was 304 last year and will be so again in 2015/16 and will be so yet again in 2020/21, world without end.

But one of their recommendations is that NCTHS be moved to Lee –out of Cummings Research Park and to the opposite end of the City.

Remember, NCTHS does not have a stand-alone facility. It’s not like there’s a building to sell, or land to sell after razing a building.

Let me remind you: the reason for paying Salmon $70,000 and Wilson an additional $500 a day was to gain factually based recommendations on how to immediately save the system money.

How will moving NCTHS save one penny?

That’s it, that is what I want to know most of all.

  • Pages 48-59, 61-62: Recommendations. These are presented in a great big font to bulk out the study. One page would have sufficed. They aren’t worth discussing.

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