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Taking Action Special Report: Tech Trouble

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – It can be especially hard being the parent of a student in Huntsville City Schools these days. The system made the leap from textbooks to laptop learning this year.

For many parents, it’s proving to be a tough transition. That’s why the school system is hosting question and answer sessions across the district. The first one was at Hampton Cove Elementary. Representatives from Pearson Education, the company hired to implement the electronic curriculum, were on hand to answer questions. Staff IT reps were also there to provide one-on-one help.

While the digital transition is intended to improve education in Huntsville City Schools, some parents and teachers are concerned student instruction may be suffering right now. In the last week, several parents and teachers contacted WHNT News 19 to voice complaints and concerns about the tech trouble.

WHNT News 19 is Taking Action to get answers for you. We went straight to the top.

We asked Huntsville City School Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski what letter grade he would give the technology transition so far.

“I’d say we’re probably in the B range,” he replied. “This is a very major effort.”

But many parents and teachers don’t feel the move to digital learning is making the grade, and claim the school system’s internet infrastructure can’t handle the load. When we told the superintendent we’d heard complaints that students couldn’t always log on the system and would sometimes get booted off, he responded by saying, “This was a pretty big undertaking and so those sorts of things were things that we anticipated so that’s why we’ve got a whole host of technicians here so when one of those issues is spotted to be able to remedy it.”

Several teachers talked to us but none would interview on camera, saying they feared for their jobs. One did send us an anonymous letter saying the situation “is a mess.” Specific complaints included “the electronic curriculum is incompatible with the iPad and they’re spending more time dealing with tech issues than teaching.


Read the anonymous letter from the teacher.


We also questioned Dr. Wardynski about the allegation that “the central office has issued the command of no paper.”

“First of all, I’m telling you that never happened. But even if it did, they’re not obeying cause I see plenty of worksheets,” Dr. Wardynski said. “And I see plenty of printing and when I see it, I don’t say a word, so wouldn’t you think if I’d given an order like that and I see it going out I’d say something about it?”

“My main comment is, do what it takes to navigate the distance from where we were to where we need to be,” Dr. Wardynski said.  “Use the resources you need to do and if that involves using something from last year, do it. If that involves printing a worksheet, do it. If you need more professional development, ask for it. If you need a technician to come, ask for it.”

A common complaint we heard from teachers, “the central office is threatening us with we’re watching how often you log on.” Dr. Wardynski says the new system uses heat mapping so the administration can see every computer in use. He says that is so internet technicians can balance the Wi-Fi load.

“Is that Big Brother watching?” we asked him.

“Well, this a world of technology,” he replied. “In order to manage a system like that, you’ve got to be able to respond to who needs help and this is our work place, and if you’re in the work place and you’re trying to use the technology, it would be pretty hard for us to help you what antennae, what classroom and that sort of information so this is part of your work place. This is part of the work place at the Arsenal. This is part of the workplace at Cisco, any big firm that’s got a wireless system, this is the way it’s managed.”

Parents like Lastavius Darby love the idea of teaching with computers.  However, his family is struggling with the change.

“I think you should make sure that the service is available to all kids,” Darby said.  He has to take his four children to a business that has free wireless or sit outside their school so they can do their homework. He says he asked for help.

“The teacher spoke to me through the principal and said that she would be willing to work with him and print out some information but I’ve yet to get any of the other teachers to commit to that with my other kids,” Darby told us.

Superintendent Wardynski says this was the right time to make the move to digital classrooms and he’s asking for patience.

“Any new system’s got a break-in period and ours is designed pretty much to go through a year so that the teachers can have time to acclimate to it,” said Dr. Wardynski. “This wasn’t day one, turn it on, you better know what you’re doing and you better go. This is a big acclimation period. This is a lot to learn, a lot of ground to cover so let’s take the time to do it and let’s use the resources that you need to do it and if you need something that’s out of hand, let us know.”

A school spokesperson says students who don’t have internet at home will soon be able to download lessons on their computers. We’re also told Comcast is offering internet to qualified families for less than $10 a month.  The Huntsville-Madison County Public Library is also an option. Library management says there were some problems at first with students being able to get online, but they say the building’s Wi-Fi is now compatible with school computers.

WHNT News 19 is going to stay on top of this matter. We plan to check back in with Dr. Wardynski in a few weeks to make sure the problems are getting resolved.