Educational Pornography, or First View of the $75 MILLION new Grissom High

Separate but equal is still segregation in the US, so I assume separate and unequal would be too, wouldn’t you?

As you may know, the Huntsville City Schools has been fighting desegregation for 54 years.

Magnet schools were one compromise, and New Century Technology High School is a magnet STEM high school that has been around for nearly a decade. Like a bastard step-child, it got shuffled from the Research Park, which has no neighborhood near it, when Columbia High’s population increased. Then it went to Robert E. Lee Senior High, which got a new campus about 5 years ago. But it is, shall we say, on the wrong side of the tracks.

In spite of very low disciplinary problems, a robotics team who has gone to international competitions, and so on, New Century never worked as a magnet school because it was housed on the same campus as a predominantly black school, and, well, you can’t be so blatant as to have segregated bathrooms and lunch counters.

Even in Huntsville.

Let’s look at some pictures of the STEM magnetic high school in Huntsville.

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Whoops. There aren’t any.

Now we will look at the new Grissom.  (Photos by Bob Gathany, here used for educational purposes.)

I’m really puzzled about these very, very expensive patient dummies.
If HCS is going to have these dummies, they belong at the STEM magnet.

Then there are 3D printers. Is there a real need for three of them?


Robotics belongs at the STEM magnet. But why would anyone go to the magnet (desegregation, remember?) if they have this down the street:

roboticsIt goes on and on and on. Consider, if you will, the “Cyber Cafe” and “media center.”

cybbberI know I’m an old lady, but where are the books? I know library is a forbidden term in the educational realm, I get that, but when I use USPS “media mail,” I’m mailing books.

And don’t high schools run kids out 15 minutes after day’s end? So when will they visit the Cyber Cafe? I don’t even want to think about the cafe part, but drinks and school-issued laptops are probably not the greatest combo on the menu.

If you want more HCS eye candy, go to

By the way, the HCS has to run double shifts of buses because buses are sooo expensive. And the new supe has a $900/month car allowance. That’s $10,800 a year. Just saying.


New Century + Lee = ? What Other Surprises Are in Store for Lee?

I may be totally off-base here, but I am worried that there are more surprises in store for Lee High than having its name changed.

First, I have been opposed to moving New Century to Lee or anywhere outside Research Park since I first read of the so-called demographer’s recommendations. I wrote to Dr. Wardynski:

Tell the Board to strike this recommendation. Remind them that they hired you to solve problems, not to create new ones; that it is foolish to make a change that would do no good and may well do harm; and that when people and programs are working well, sometimes – often, perhaps — the best thing to do is to stay out of their way and let them get on with it.

I still believe that there are better reasons to leave New Century alone than there are to move it.

And this is not because I dislike Lee. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I regretfully transferred my daughter out of New Century and to Lee several weeks ago for reasons that have nothing to do with either school’s academics. I’m delighted to say we both have been very impressed with the culture of Lee High. It is a proud and welcoming school; I understand already why its community doesn’t want to lose its identity. They are famiLEE.

Second, there’s the arrogance. From the Huntsville City Schools site: “What we have decided is to discuss the name as part of the merger of New Century Technology High School and Lee High School.”

Who is this we? Has Superintendent Wardynski adopted the papal or royal perogative of referring to himself in the third person plural? The document goes on to say that a committee will be formed “to address the school name and how to honor the history of Lee and New Century Technology High Schools.” Already the Lee name has been removed from the new building. That was, in fact, the first notice the Lee community had regarding this “discussion.”  Act first, discuss later?

But this name change business is, I fear, just the first blow to Lee as it exists today. Look very closely at this FAQ response on the Huntsville City Schools site.

Q: Why is this combination high school a good idea?

New Century Technology High School, which draws students from across Huntsville, has been identified in national publications as one of the nation’s Top-500 high schools. It is recognized for its innovative programs in computer science and related fields. Lee High School has award-winning magnet programs in the arts, dance, and engineering. The combination of the two schools on one campus will allow the New Century and Lee Magnet programs to grow within Huntsville most state-of-the-art campus while eliminating overcrowding at the Columbia campus. This new school has capacity for added enrollments and presents the community with a unique opportunity to spur student achievement and community growth by harnessing what will be the district’s most modern school as an engine for positive change.

Now consider:

1. New Century is a school of choice. You have to apply to go there. It has no zone, no neighborhood. All who are there are there because they chose to be.

Lee is a zoned high school with magnet programs. If you live in the Lee zone, its neighborhood, you automatically go there, unless you transfer out on a Majority to Minority basis or apply to and are accepted at New Century. Or you transfer to Lee to attend the magnet programs. The magnet programs are comparable in this respect to the whole of New Century.

And that is where the difference lies. The whole of New Century is an unzoned, special interest, selective school. Within Lee, as part of Lee, there are special interest, selective programs.

2. Now, look at this sentence in the FAQ response quoted above: “The combination of the two schools on one campus will allow the New Century and Lee Magnet programs to grow within Huntsville…”.

What is here: New Century and Lee Magnet programs.

What is missing: Lee High School. The non-magnet Lee High School. Where does it fit in this picture?

Could the answer be, it doesn’t?

I hope I’m being alarmist and paranoid, but remember, Johnson and Butler are also underpopulated facilities.

A Message for Dr. Wardynski, Superintendent, Huntsville City Schools

Welcome to Huntsville. I hope that what I am going to tell you, you already know, and that what I’m going to suggest is on your agenda. So I will be brief.

In your Entry Plan, you named identifying three things going well in the Huntsville City Schools as one of your goals. Surely, New Century Technology High School must top the list.

  • It is the only school in North Alabama to be named one of America’s best 500 public high schools in the US by Newsweek in 2011.
  • It is a US News Silver Medal School.

The NCTHS graduation program lists 74 graduates in the Class of 2011. Of these:

  • 47 earned advanced diplomas [64%]
  • 45 were Pathway Completers
  • 36 were award advanced diplomas and were Pathway Completers
  • 1 earned an appointment to the US Air Force Academy
  • 24 reported having won at least one merit scholarship [32%]; 51 scholarships are listed, but the final total could well be higher since these figures are based on what information was available before the graduation program went to press.

Consider the demographics of the self-selected 2010-11 student body of 304 (142 female/162 male) pupils:

  • 16 Asian
  • 126 Black
  • 32 Hispanic
  • 1 Indian
  • 129 White

Also, 41.45 % qualify for free or reduced charge lunch. No other school in the City approaches such a racial or ethnic and economic balance.

It would be great to have the resources to enhance all programs at this high school, but the HCS does not. It costs nothing, however, to appreciate and, especially, protect such a school. NCTHS is not a problem and should not be made one.

Unfortunately, such an obvious analysis is not universally shared: one of the poorly executed Facility Utilization Study’s recommendations is to move NCTHS to Lee High School. However,

  • No money would be saved by moving New Century; Dr. Richardson acknowledged this at the fifth school closure public meeting.
  • A move could reasonably be expected to lessen the involvement of local industries in the School’s programs. NCTHS is now located in the same building occupied by Columbia High School in the southwest corner of Cummings Research Park. This is not a residential zone. The property was first secured for New Century to facilitate partnerships with Research Park tech companies, none farther than a 5-minute drive in light, low-speed traffic unlikely to pose problems for new drivers. Lee High School, in contrast, is 10 heavily traveled interstate miles and 20 minutes away from Research Park.

This brings me to my suggestion. Tell the Board to strike this recommendation. Remind them that they hired you to solve problems, not to create new ones; that it is foolish to make a change that would do no good and may well do harm; and that when people and programs are working well, sometimes – often, perhaps — the best thing to do is to stay out of their way and let them get on with it. End of discussion.


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This One’s for John Peck, Editorial Page Editor, Huntsville Times

Usually reading a Huntsville Times editorial is like encountering the Scarecrow of Oz before he realizes he has any brains. Remember when Dorothy asks which way to Oz, and the Scarecrow replies by telling her to go one way, then turns around and immediately tells her the opposite is an equally good option, and then returns to his first suggestion?

So I was surprised to see something resembling an assertion in John Peck’s editorial, “Welcome, Mr. Schools Superintendent.” Peck, editorial page editor, writes:

“And while [Casey] Wardynski must ultimately be the one to present school closing recommendations to the board, some pressure will have been lifted off of him by a demographer’s study that the school board is mulling. That study recommended closing four elementary schools and four middle schools, closing Butler High School and relocating New Century Technology High School to the rebuilt Lee High School – but not until the 2012-2013 school year.

What is outrageous about Peck’s summary is the unquestioning assumption that “some pressure will have been lifted off of Wardynski by a demographer’s study.” What is Peck suggesting here? It sounds like Peck thinks that Wardynski doesn’t need to  read the demographer’s study critically, consider the consequences of the Board’s “mulling,” or pay the slightest attention to the comments gathered in the five public meetings. All Wardynski need do is just sign off on the demographer’s recommendations.

At first I thought, does Peck not read his own paper? Obviously he doesn’t bother running an occasional Google blog search for “Huntsville City Schools,” or he would know that time after time after time members of the Huntsville community have challenged the validity of the demographer’s findings. When I looked again at the Huntsville Times’ coverage of this debacle, I realized that reading his own paper wouldn’t get Peck very far. Still, the comments readers posted on articles regarding the school closure meetings should have sparked his journalistic curiosity.

If we are lucky, Wardynski will be bright enough to recognize that the Huntsville Times is bought for the sports pages, obituaries, classifieds, movie and TV times, and comics.

If we aren’t lucky, and Wardynski says to himself, ”That Huntsville Times crew, they are really on the ball!”, then nothing and no one can help us.

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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