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Third Consent Order Reports

Filed November 15, 2017

Introduction

Defendant, Huntsville Board of Education (the “Board” or the “District”), files this day its third, annual Consent Order Report with the Court. As it has done in the past, the District files this Notice to help the Court, and the citizens of Huntsville, better understand the many Consent Order Reports. This Notice provides context and explains notable features of nearly every document in the Consent Order Report.

As the Court is well aware, the Consent Order (Doc. 450) requires many reports. Nearly all reports require data from the preceding school year. As such, the date range for the data in this year’s reports is July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, and the data in most of these reports is from year 2 of the District’s implementation of the Consent Order.
 
With this Notice, the District wants to discuss some of its present challenges. The District believes that this Notice can serve as a communication to the community and the Court. While it is appropriate to use the Notice to shed light on the information contained in the Court reports, the District also wants to use this Notice to clarify possible misconceptions about the District’s implementation of the Consent Order.
 
Second Year Struggles
The second year of implementation was affected by a significant number of changes that occurred during the 2016-17 school year. The major changes are included below: 
  • Dr. Casey Wardynski, who oversaw the negotiation of the Consent Order and early implementation of the Consent Order, announced his resignation early in the 2016-17 school year;
  • The Board selected a former District administrator, Mr. Tom Drake, to serve as the Interim Superintendent;
  • Two new Board Members joined the Board following their election in the fall of 2016;
  • Edith Pickens, who served as the administrator responsible for Consent Order oversight, announced her retirement shortly after Dr. Wardynski announced his resignation;
  • Dr. Barbara Cooper, under whose leadership the District began implementing most of the academic initiatives contained in the Consent Order, was selected to serve as a Deputy State Superintendent in the fall of 2016;
  • The District ended its relationship with Pinnacle Schools – the contractor responsible for managing the District’s alternative school program – and the ending of this relationship resulted in litigation during the winter of 2016;
  • Jason Taylor, who served as the Chief School Financial Officer under Dr. Wardynski during the negotiation and early implementation of the Consent Order, announced his resignation in the spring of 2017;
  • The Board of Education interviewed five different candidates to fill the Superintendent position, and selected Dr. Matt Akin. He began serving as Superintendent in March of 2017; and
  • Since Dr. Akin’s selection, the District has had many changes to its District-level administration based in large part on Dr. Akin’s realignment of central office positions.

Although there were many positives things accomplished by Dr. Wardynski as Superintendent, one issue that became apparent after his departure was the need to rebuild relationships with some groups in the community, including teachers. Dr. Akin has spent a considerable part of his first eight months as Superintendent rebuilding and repairing relationships that may have deteriorated during Dr. Wardynski’s final last years as Superintendent. The District believes that Dr. Akin’s efforts were apparent in the comments that many community members made during the court’s September 2017 public status conference. His efforts will be necessary both to unite the community and to address many of the misconceptions discussed below.

Clarifying Misconceptions

Since beginning implementation of the Consent Order, the District has taken the position that the student discipline provisions of the Consent Order will be the most challenging to implement. This is due to many different reasons, including:

  • The District’s Behavioral Learning initiatives are considerably different from the District’s pre-Consent Order discipline policies in some critical ways. Namely, the new policies focus more on helping students change their behaviors rather than on removal from the school environment, which is a change not only for the schools but also the community.
  • An incredible amount of professional development and repeated practice is required to implement the policies that will help students change their behavior.
  • While trying to learn this system, the District’s teachers have also been working to implement the interventions necessary to close the achievement gap.
  • This process requires the hard work of school personnel and the patience of the community.
  • Many teachers have expressed a feeling of being overwhelmed by all of the new initiatives.

Over the last two school years, especially since the development of the Behavioral Learning Guides, when a school discipline issue – especially a social media video of a fight or a threat – is made public, a common community response has been to blame the Behavioral Learning Guide. This misplaced blame is one of the misconceptions many have about the District’s implementation of the student discipline provisions of the Consent Order. Those misconceptions include:

  • Students cannot be disciplined.
  • Teachers and principals have their hands tied by the Department of Justice.
  • Teachers can be attacked without consequences.
  • Students may disrespect all adults without consequences.

Board members, District-level administrators, and other District leaders have been asked questions about the above misconceptions over the last two years. Moreover, the local television news stations have even begun to champion these misconceptions: raising them and making them “news” stories. District-leaders, in an attempt to track these issues, regularly review student discipline data throughout the school year. That review has shown that, by and large, the District’s student discipline statistics are staying stable or increasing. In other words, the data does not support the above-listed allegations. This is apparent in Report VII.I.4.

It is important to acknowledge and emphasize the errors in these misconceptions. The Superintendent and the Board are committed to safe school environments for teachers, students, and everyone who finds themselves in a District school. There are serious consequences for threatening violence or committing violent acts at school. These consequences are a critical component of the District’s approach to Behavioral Learning and must be paired with the District’s efforts to change student behavior. The District wants its administrators, teachers, students, families, and the greater Huntsville community to understand that the District can and will work toward closing the discipline gap between Black and White students while maintaining safe schools.

The District remains committed to implementing all aspects of the Consent Order, including student discipline. However, in light of the recent media attention concerning student discipline, the District’s focus for the remainder of the 2017-18 school year is the good faith implementation of its Behavioral Learning initiatives via support of its school-based staff. As the District’s schools grow more comfortable with the realities of the Behavioral Learning initiatives, so too will the greater community.

More Information About Each Consent Order Report

As part of its Consent Order Report Filing, Huntsville City Schools also files a cover document that provides more details about the reports.  This document is called a "Filing Notice," and it includes clarifications, pertinent background information, and any other information that HCS thinks will help the Court and the public better understand the work that it is doing to implement the Consent Order.  Before clicking on the individual report category links below, it is recommended that you read the cover document.  To access that document, please click the following link:

PDF iconThird Consent Order Report Filing Notice.pdf

Third Consent Order Reports

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