HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Almost two weeks remain until the start of a new school year in Huntsville, but some parents have already banded together to discuss real solutions to problems they say exist within the school system.
This yet to be named group of concerned parents and even those without students in the Huntsville City School System say they want to facilitate a conversation about demanding transparency. Dovetailing off a town hall meeting hosted by Representative Laura Hall last week regarding the state of city schools labeled as failing, a group of concerned parents gathered for the first time Monday with parent involvement being one of the priorities on the agenda.
"I think it's even more important nowadays than it was before with the corporate reform movement and things that are going on now; things aren't as they appear and if you just take everything on surface value then it sounds all good and well and fine but once you really understand what's happening, what the motivations are, what's going on behind closed doors - then you become really concerned," said educational advocate and event organizer, Terri Michal.
Michal says it is all about empowerment.
"We have to advocate, we have to ask questions we have to know what's happening because what's happening in the schools is not always in our child's best interest so you have to know what's happening so you can ask the right questions and you have to be educated. I mean, parents nowadays have to do their homework," contends Michal.
Members say they might not know the exact direction the group is headed, but they certainly intend to take local school activism to the next level.
That "attack phase" includes the publishing of an internal email and allegations Huntsville teachers are being asked to change grades.
WHNT News 19 obtained a copy of an email we are told is from now retired University Place Elementary School Principal Lee McAllister to school instructors.
Terri Michal made the email public knowledge at a town hall meeting last week and posted an image of the email on her personal Facebook page Sunday.
The message that has been circulated on blogs and social media reads:
"It has been the procedure all year that no child is to receive below a 50 on their report card as the grade for any subject."
The email goes on to say if any teacher has given a grade lower than 50, it should be changed. Many, including Michal, are challenging the school system claiming the email proves instructors are being forced to bend the truth about student achievement.
"They are passing children who maybe aren't passing," says Michal. "These parents don't know this because they're being told one thing and it's another thing."
The education advocate and others are calling foul. This comes a day after a report that two Montgomery County teachers told the school board they felt they had been reassigned to other schools after their refusal to falsely raise student grades.
"They have unwritten policies they're enforcing that parents are unaware of, that's where it's wrong," says Michal. "We need this board to be transparent, we need them to be honest about how they grade."
"What I try to do is keep my eye on the key matter sat hand," said Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski maintaining he has no issue whatsoever with transparency.
"In one of our elementary schools the principal put out 'don't give kids less than 50 percent'; I'm fine with that," said the school leader. "If you're in second grade and you get a zero it's going to be very difficult to recovery from. A 100 and a 0 average out to a 50 - that's still an F. What we want to convey to kids is have they mastered these skills or haven't they - and have you mastered them on a high level, an advanced level or just barely; those are the key ideas.," explains the city's top educator.
The self-proclaimed watchdogs and champions for student in Huntsville say they remain unconvinced.
"How about if we fix the grading system instead of implementing unwritten policies that start a slippery slope," suggested Michal. "Okay, 'we're only changing their grade of 45 to a 55, that's still failing' - what's to say it's not going to go to the next level."
Superintendent Casey Wardynski says any allegations of grade changing for a more favorable school rating are not only false, but counterintuitive to the system's goal of getting every child ready for life and career. Those who say they distrust the school system maintain they will continue to dig, advocate, organize, rally and expose.