Blog: Federal Court Hearing in Huntsville School Rezoning Case

Computer Keyboard

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – We’ve finished day two of a hearing at the federal courthouse in Huntsville.  The Huntsville City School Board is asking a federal judge to approve its rezoning plan, however, the Department of Justice opposes this.

Read our blog of the proceedings below:

Claire Aiello May 22, 20148:48 am

Good morning – we are in place at the federal courthouse.  The hearing starts at 10 a.m.  We will live blog throughout the proceedings, and because I am using a laptop, I’m in the overflow courtroom downstairs.  The hearing is taking place in the upstairs courtroom.  I will watch the proceedings on a monitor.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20148:49 am

Normally, the federal courthouse doesn’t allow any electronics, and all cell phones must be turned off.  Today, though, the judge has given special permission for journalists to use laptops to live blog. If we are doing this, we must be in the downstairs courtroom, so that’s the reason. Cameras are still not allowed whatsoever.  Our crews are outside.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20148:52 am

There was a long line outside the courthouse at 7:50am, and we all got screened by about 8:20 or 8:30am. There are many people here to watch.  We haven’t seen any protestors yet, but WHNT News 19 learned this morning that permits for protests have been filed.  Police say the permits cover the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Thursday and Friday.  Several Huntsville Police officers are present outside as a precaution, and the sidewalks outside the courthouse have police tape roping them off.  There are also several U.S. Marshals present.  

Claire Aiello May 22, 20148:56 am

A court officer just said the upstairs courtroom is full.  There is a large crowd to watch the proceeding.  The upstairs courtroom holds about 70 people.
A few people have come into the downstairs overflow courtroom where I am.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20149:08 am

This report includes several links of WHNT News 19’s coverage in the past several months as this case has unfolded: http://whnt.com/2014/05/20/hearing-thursday-in-huntsvilles-school-rezoning-case/

Claire Aiello May 22, 20149:14 am

A few people are getting here now and have asked why they can’t sit upstairs.  It’s full and it’s been full for a while – there was a line out the door at 7:50 a.m.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20149:32 am

More and more people are coming in, realizing it’s an overflow courtroom.  People were here in line at 6:30am, we hear.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20149:42 am

Huntsville Police are set up outside, and there are barricades in case of protestors, but so far, none are out there.  There are 6-8 officers standing by in case. I have seen some familiar faces in the overflow courtroom, and in line earlier waiting to get in, of people who have protested in the past. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 20149:45 am

This is a picture of police officers out front. (Photo: Melissa Riopka/WHNT News 19)

Claire Aiello May 22, 20149:46 am

And officers to the side of the building. (Photo: Melissa Riopka/WHNT News 19)

Claire Aiello May 22, 20149:48 am

In case you’re curious about the inside of the courtroom, I can’t show it to you. Cameras are strictly prohibited and cell phones must be turned off.  The overflow courtroom is more conversational, until we get started at 10am, and people are talking about what a big crowd there is. Upstairs, the judge’s seat is empty and lawyers are making final preparations.  There is a large painting that takes up much of the background and a U.S. flag to the left of where the judge will sit. (Judge’s right.) We will watch the proceeding on a video monitor down here. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 20149:53 am


This is a photo of U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala. We expect to see her shortly.  She was named a federal magistrate in 2012 then nominated for federal judge in 2013 by President Obama. The U.S. Senate confirmed her appointment, which is lifetime.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:03 am

We should get started shortly.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:10 am

Both courtrooms are full. No one else is being allowed in.  Maybe after lunch.. but it’s first-come first-served in both courtrooms.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:17 am

Judge is here. Proceeding is underway. Judge is addressing the courtroom about what to expect in the hearing.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:19 am

Judge Haikala says she has enjoyed her time in Huntsville (she lives in Birmingham.) “It is a lovely city, and it’s a great pleasure to spend time with you here.”  She said she visited a few schools too. The judge remarked on last week being the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. The Board of Education ruling.  She said the crowd’s presence here shows education is important to all of us. “It is the core of what prepares our children to go out into the world.”

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:22 am

Judge is talking about reviewing the case – “It’s like touching history.” She is talking about reviewing documents from times where schools were segregated, and of the people who worked to integrate them.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:24 am

Judge now talking about the various files, motions and evidence both parties have filed, and what the court will consider in making a decision.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:25 am

Judge said both sides have declined opening statements, and would like to dive right into the evidence. The school board attorneys are up first, and attorney J.R. Brooks has called Dr. Casey Wardynski, superintendent, to the stand.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:25 am

Judge also thanked Mayor Tommy Battle for his hospitality, and members of the Huntsville school board in attendance.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:26 am

Dr. Wardynski is on the stand. A handful of people in the overflow courtroom could be heard making grumbles when he was called to the stand.

Wardynski is talking about his background before becoming superintendent.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:29 am

Dr. Wardynski is talking about his background in the U.S. Army, at West Point, and further on for the Secretary of the Army. He was then selected as one of 14, from a group of 500-600, for training in education leadership. He worked as a Chief Financial Officer in Aurora, Colorado.  The position for superintendent in Huntsville came open, and he was selected on July 1, 2011.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:31 am

Dr. Wardynski explains on the record he is hired by the school board (hired) not elected.  He talks about his role for the school system, overseeing 40 schools and developing a vision for the next 10 years. Just shy of 24,000 students.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:31 am

Attorney JR Brooks asking Dr. Wardynski to explain the steps he’s taken, that he feels, will move the school system forward.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:33 am

Wardynski: Huntsville school system is unique. Has the potential to be the best school system in the U.S. but needs to address some issues, including equity. “Bringing the best possible resources to every child in the school system.”

He defines equity as “Fair. What I would want for my child. That every child in the school system has equal access to resources they need to succeed.”

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:37 am

Says the process started with leadership – choosing the right leaders, the right principals, making sure they were in the right positions. Then, teachers – making sure they were in the right schools. He cites Grissom as an example. “A lot of the teachers had faces like mine,” Wardynski said. Talks about teacher transfers that used to be in place; he said teachers would gravitate toward the most successful schools.

He talks about changing that process – making teacher hiring more centralized. 19,000 applications – the best teachers and principals in the school systems were brought in to go through that pool and select the best and then distribute them equally across the school system.

Wardynski also says standards needed help. Some schools had B or B- averages, – standards were not being applied equally. Kids would get As and Bs, and parents would be happy, but their children were not prepared for college.  He said school system needed to raise its internal standards so they were prepared to graduate and succeed in college.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:39 am

Wardynski talking about Pre-K programs now. “It’s not a daycare program, it’s a Pre-K learning program.” Has increased Pre-K openings – says only 9 children are on a waiting list currently for Pre-K out of 1800 kids.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:42 am

City schools now select kids by need, not random lottery. If kids are in a home whose parents work 2-3 jobs, that child may need extra help to close the gap, Wardynski said.

Every school has at least 1, some 2, some 3 pre-k classrooms, depending on the local demand.  System has a total of 50 pre-k programs. There are some additional HeadStart programs that have been brought in, which are funded separately.

Talks about 2 adults per classroom (teacher + aide). 

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:44 am

Wardynski talking now about the digital initiative. Says it’s important to connect the child with the world around them, and a laptop is a tool that helps do this. Every child in 3rd-12th grade assigned a laptop computer to use at school and home. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:47 am

The digital curriculum can show the teacher what the child has done to complete the homework – if the child sailed through the homework, the teacher will see it, and be able to accelerate that child’s learning.  If the student struggled – if they tried, or tried get help from an online tutor – the teacher will see that too and give the children additional help.  Wardynski said this can help personalize the child’s education. He said it can also help if a student is struggling – that wouldn’t show to other students, he said, and the teacher could work with that student individually to help him or her without the student having to be embarassed.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:48 am

Wardynski now talking about wifi service – in schools, on buses. He said disciplinary problems are down 71% on buses this year because the wifi service gives students something to do. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:49 am

Wardynski also talking about partnering with local businesses, library, restaurants, Housing Authority, internet service providers, to make internet service available to children whose families may not be able to afford it.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:55 am

Wardynski explaining process of expanding AP classes. Talking about offering more classes, partnering with A+ College Ready to incentivize teachers – if a student scores well on the AP exam, the teacher gets $100. Talking about increasing the number of AP students in Johnson and Butler High Schools.

Also talking about International Baccalaureate program at Columbia High School. “It was good, but it was limited.” Talking about how if you didn’t live in Columbia’s school zone, you couldn’t go there to pursue the IB classes and diploma. Now, all IB student from ASFL (Academy for Science and Foreign Language) can connect all the way to Columbia. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 201410:57 am

Wardynski talking about ‘Laying The Foundation’ program and ‘Project Lead The Way’ to get students prepared for specialized classes – biomedical, manufacturing, computer engineer, etc.  Also talking about STEM labs (now STEAM) – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) – will be in all elementary schools by the fall.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:00 am

Wardynski now talking about the summer feeding program, and adding a breakfast program. Kids can now eat with their teachers, family-style, so the teachers can get caught up in what’s going on in the child’s life (other than school.)

As far as the summer feeding program goes, the federal government has made the money available for several years, Wardynksi said. During the summer, kids don’t  stop growing – their need for a healthy meal doesn’t end. 

Also talking with groups who provide food for backpacks on the weekend. For some kids, this is all they have over the weekend, Wardynski said.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:02 am

Wardynski asked about achievement. He cites academic improvement at Lee, Johnson and Butler High Schools – specifically, improvement in the graduation rate.  Also, New Century Technology High School – graduation rate has gone from 95 to 96%.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:03 am

Attorney introduces exhibit to show change in graduation rate since 2011, when Wardynski took office. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:08 am

Dr. Wardynski says New Century is the most diverse school, with about 45% African American students and the rest ‘other.’ 

Judge asks Wardynski about Butler’s graduation rate in 2010. Wardynski said he felt Butler was “barely a school.” Students were taking the same courses twice, not showing improvement, and the teachers and leadership needed to change.  Students were not learning.  Wardynski said the things that have changed are good, but more improvement is needed.  Current rezoning plan (proposed by school board) has about 43% of Butler’s students going to the new Jemison High School. (Butler is scheduled to close.)

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:11 am

Wardynski now talking about Common Core standards. He said they are much more helpful in showing teachers/principals where students are. The standards, then the testing, shows them instantly where the students are in real-time.  He said it helps them plan summer school, plan re-allocation of resources in the fall. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:12 am

Wardynski said student discipline has also improved.  He talks about SROs (school resource officers) also confirming discipline has improved.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:13 am

Attorney JR Brooks now asking Wardynski to go over the school construction plan.  Said in May 2013, the Dept. of Justice confirmed to move forward with the plan.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:14 am

School system was bankrupt when Wardynski arrived.  Wardynski said state was involved, and was looking at closing schools. That discussion had begun, and he watched that discussion from Colorado. The first thing he said when he arrived in Huntsville, he said “We’re not closing any schools.”  He went out and listened to the community about the situation.  Various community groups, church leaders, realtors, etc. to see what was needed to fix the problems.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:15 am

He had an analysis done of the brick-and-mortar (which buildings needed significant repair) and another analysis on school capacity. (A school may have been built to hold 2,000 students, but was holding 500.)

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:17 am

He said the community’s response gave him clear answers: “We like our elementary schools local, we like secondary schools to be strong, and we like solid feeder patterns.” People wanted to know what to expect, Wardynski said. He said they all that together, and then brought in a demographic firm to identify which schools should close, which ones should be modified, and where should the system build new schools. Where are the children? Where is the transportation? And resource availability.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:19 am

Wardynski talking about the mil tax, that renewed in August 2012. The school system knew if that passed, they could undertake a fairly strong construction campaign.

Also considered the BRAC funding, which would bring in money to help with construction.

That, combined with the demographic study, showed where to focus the construction efforts – and if new growth was coming, where that may happen, in order to plan for it.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:21 am

Talking about the replacement for Johnson High School.  Very early on, Wardynski looked at that.  It was about 500 students in a building for 2,000, and most of the building was empty. “The Johnson facility was simply not ideal. Investing further in that school would have been a bad idea.  We needed a new school for the students that would be attending school in north Huntsville.”

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:23 am

School system was built for about 36,000 students. We currently have about 24,000. We have a lot of square footage that costs to maintain it, Wardynski said.

Decision made to build a new school for Johnson students.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:24 am

Also talking about court order to merge Terry Heights Elem and Univ. Place Elem – the new Hereford Elementary will be built by August 2016, on the Terry Heights campus.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:27 am

AAA – Academy for Arts and Academics – we want to grow it, Wardynski said, but it’s constrained. Also want to upgrade Davis Hills and Ed White Middle.  School board proposed, court agreed, to use Ed White Middle for these students.

Also talking about McNair Junior High School, on the campus of the new Jemison High. Wardynski talking about benefit of students getting to know the teachers at both schools, vice versa, as the students move up, and teachers in the upper grades being able to recruit students for engineering classes and other specialties as the students mature.

The crowd has some dissent about this in the overflow courtroom.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:29 am

Wardynski now talking about Grissom’s new construction and why the school system chose that site (the large field next to Sam’s off South Memorial Parkway.)

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:32 am

Wardynski talking about changing Whitesburg School to a P-8. Whitesburg’s current building is old with electrical problems.  New construction is underway, and will be the premiere feeder school for Grissom.

Huntsville High School – relatively new school.  May 2013 – Dept. of Justice approved construction of 9th grade academy. There was no opposition from the DOJ and plaintiffs at that time. Court order approved to build it.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:34 am

At the same time, there was discussion about Butler High School closing, but he asked the court not to put it in the order. He said it would have disturbed learning at that time.. students, teachers, principals, community needed to be focused on learning. News of a school closing would have disrupted that.

Crowd in the overflow courtroom definitely grumbled at this. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:35 am

I have to imagine there aren’t these kinds of reactions in the upstairs courtroom, because the judge hasn’t ordered anyone to be quiet.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:38 am

Wardynski now explaining why the school construction plan was revealed before the school assignment plan.  Judge asking him for further clarification. He said system started looking in fall of 2012 with the demographic study, as to what the school assignment plan would be. Court approved the plan in May 2013. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:39 am

Court now reviewing renderings of new school construction by the architect.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:44 am

Wardynski says the  main reason for this construction plan is to move students into the 21st Century. He also said safety is a big factor – each new school will have a tornado shelter. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:49 am

Attorney Brooks now asking about majority-to-minority transfers and planning for school capacity based on those numbers. Also, basing the estimates on the number of kids in a certain zone who go to a magnet school. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:53 am

Selection for majority-to-minority transfer is now done by a lottery. He is explaining how students apply for this, say, for if the school is already at capacity. Children wanting to do a m-to-m transfer would have to try for a school that is not at capacity.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201411:59 am

Prior to 2014, students who did M-to-M transfers will be grandfathered in to that same feeding pattern. New students who try for M-to-M transfers now will fall under the new rules.  

Claire Aiello May 22, 201412:08 pm

Wardynski still on the stand.  He is talking about various talks with the Dept. of Justice to discuss the school zoning plan.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201412:09 pm

Wardynski now talking about meetings with various community groups, PTAs, church leaders, realtors, schools, to explain proposals.  

Claire Aiello May 22, 201412:11 pm

Wardynski said experts were present at each meeting to discuss transportation, location (where people would go – which schools) – and construction people – all were at each meeting to talk with people. Lee, then Grissom, Huntsville High, Columbia, Johnson, Butler. 

Then, a special-called meeting to present the plan again. Board voted unanimously to approve rezoning plan.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201412:16 pm

Rezoning plan entered as evidence. Wardynski is now reviewing the proposed plan and the various schools impacted.  See the plan here: http://www.huntsvillecityschools.org/?DivisionID=11142&DepartmentID=11319&SubDepartmentID=8057&ToggleSideNav=

Claire Aiello May 22, 201412:25 pm

The judge talked about her visit to Blossomwood yesterday, and said she was very impressed. Said it is a model for the nation.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201412:31 pm

Wardynski now reviewing online student records and how they can see the growth of minority students at Blossomwood.

Claire Aiello May 22, 201412:32 pm

Judge is calling for a lunch break. 1 hour. We’ll pick up at 1:30pm.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20141:39 pm

We should resume shortly. Dr. Wardynski is on the stand ready to go. Judge just walked back in.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20141:42 pm

Still waiting for various parties to gather – could be a few more minutes.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20141:45 pm

Court has resumed.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20141:48 pm

Attorney JR Brooks is asking Wardynski what the new school rezoning plan would do as far as diversity for Jones Valley – it would bring it from 4.5% to 19%, Wardynski said.  

Claire Aiello May 22, 20141:48 pm

Wardynski said Westlawn Middle School would go from majority black (56%) to majority other (47%  black)

Claire Aiello May 22, 20141:49 pm

Morris Elementary would go from 58% black to 51%. These are all examples of how various school makeups would change under the school rezoning plan.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20141:51 pm

Weatherly Heights Elementary – would go from 10% to 11% minority.

Mountain Gap P-8 – goes from 3.2% to 5.9%.

Whitesburg P-8 – goes from 27% black to 33%. 

Huntsville High School – goes from 10% black to 12%. 

Grissom High School – goes from 7.6% black to 12.4%. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 20141:52 pm

Columbia 69% to 67%

McNair – 89.9% – students coming from schools that are 90% and 92%.

Jemison – 91% African-American. Precursor school is 93.3%.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20141:54 pm

With regards of majority-to-minority transfer students – he is now looking at various schools and how many students are grandfathered in through their high school graduation. 

Blossomwood – 29 more African American students
Jones Valley – 15 more African American students
HHS – 64 more African American students.
Grissom – 90 more African American students.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20141:56 pm

Now, Attorney Brooks is asking Wardynski about a plan presented by the Dept. of Justice.  “Do you think that plan is feasible?” Brooks said.  “No,” Wardynski replied.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:00 pm

The variation has to do with Blossomwood adding a grade (P-6), and factoring in the M-to-M transfers.  It would put Blossomwood at 111% capacity. Wardynski said this goes against what they’re planning for – designing the buildings with students’ needs in mind. That, according to 2012-13 data. Blossomwood had 60 additional students this year, meaning the percentage would be higher than 111%. (That figure doesn’t take enrollment growth into account.)

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:03 pm

Jones Valley – the DOJ plan would make it a P-6. For the same reason, this isn’t feasible, Wardynski said, this would put Jones Valley at about 116% capacity. 

We’re still talking about the DOJ’s option 1 plan.  Supt. Wardynski said safety is also a concern. If new schools are allowed to be built (McNair, Jemison), but students are not sent there, they will be denied security measures being put in there. (Wardynski is referring to tornado shelters, as well as school resource officers, per students.)

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:07 pm

Wardynski now referring to Title 1 funding. Goes to support student aid – tutoring, extra funding to help their education. McNair and Jemison will be Title 1 schools. 

The money is attached to the school. If Hereford students go to McNair and Jemison, they will continue to get that funding.

If the Hereford children go to Huntsville Middle and Huntsville High, they would not get the funding when going to those schools (because these are not Title 1 schools.) McNair & Jemison need that funding to continue to support those students as they further their education, Wardynski says.

Wardynski said this would be a loss of about $1.5 million/year.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:12 pm

DOJ Option 2 – is it feasible, Brooks asks? Wardynski says no.

Option 2 would include Option 1 – moving Hereford into HH pattern, Monte Sano into the Lee pattern. He discusses safety concerns about putting a bus on Bankhead Parkway.  Bus coming down Governors Drive would bring them right past Huntsville Middle, where they currently attend, to go to another school – Chapman, or Lee.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:13 pm

DOJ Option 2 also overcrowds Jones Valley Elem. and Blossomwood Elem. 

If Monte Sano students move to Lee, and Montview students move out, Lee would no longer be a Title 1 school and lose its Title 1 funding.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:13 pm

Wardynski says 75% of the students at Lee High School use tutors, funded by Title 1 funds.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:14 pm

Montview Elem. students would lose Title 1 funding if they go to Huntsville Middle, Wardynski said.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:15 pm

Attorney JR Brooks asking more about the safety concerns of sending a school bus on Bankhead Parkway. Wardynski said he simply won’t send a bus down that road. It’s not safe.  DOJ Plan (Option 2) has it going down that road.  Wardynski’s other option is to send it down Governors Drive, which takes the students by schools they currently attend.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:16 pm

Time for cross-examination.  DOJ lawyer now questioning Wardynski.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:17 pm

Female attorney (I don’t know her name) is asking about AP classes and IB classes, which Wardynski discussed earlier today. Asking racial composition of Johnson and Butler.  Talking about numbers of AP classes offered there, vs. how many are offered at Grissom.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:18 pm

Attorney is asking why there will be a discrepancy in the number of AP classes offered at Johnson and Butler vs. Grissom.  Wardynski said no, there won’t be.. there’s a difference between classes being ‘offered’ and students being ‘enrolled’ in them. He say the classes are offered, students just have to want to take it and enroll in it.  

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:20 pm

Judge is asking how students learn about these classes being offered. Wardynski said the district’s website explains it, counselors at different schools explain this, etc.

Some members of the crowd in the overflow room seem to disagree with this. It appears they feel the information is not readily available.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:24 pm

Wardynski explaining how Grissom students/parents learn about these AP courses. “Through the enrollment process,” signing up students in the spring for fall classes, Wardynski explains.

Attorney asking about ‘course guide.’ She is clarifying the course guide may contain subjects that may not later be offered, depending on whether or not students sign up for them.”

How many classes will be offered for Butler and Johnson in the fall? She asks.

“20” Wardynski replies.

Crowd in overflow courtroom disagrees.

“20 courses children have the potential to take,” Wardynski says.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:26 pm

Attorney now asking about graduation rates of Butler and Johnson.
She asks, based on chart, in 2012-2013, graduation rates approached 78% at Johnson. Wardynski confirms.
Butler is at 49%.

The same year, at Johnson, Spring of 2014, less than 30% of students were at or above grade level in math. Wardynski said this is based on a national comparison.

Attorney says this is substantially less than Huntsville and Grissom. Wardynski says yes, this is why we’re moving to the Common Core.  It establishes a benchmark.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:28 pm

“Your students at Johnson and Butler are not up to the standards of Grissom and Huntsville.”
Attorney is holding firm in her question. She wants a ‘Yes’
Wardynski is standing firm too, though.  He’s not giving her one.

“It means they’re not achieving the same outcomes,” Wardynski said. “That’s why we are putting more resources in.”

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:29 pm

Attorney now asking about the school construction plan. Did the school system submit a student assignment plan at the same time?

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:30 pm

About the same time, yes, Wardynski says.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:31 pm

Attorney says Wardynski claims to not have heard a response till Dec. 2013.
The DOJ asked for more information in that summer, through Aug 2013 – there were meetings in New York. 

It’s not really clear where she went with this question.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:33 pm

Attorney asking how the school system came up with its district rezoning plan. The school system used the demographic study, demographer’s analysis, etc.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:36 pm

Attorney asking if minutes were kept from these work sessions. “No,” Wardynski replied.

“These work session were closed to the general public?” she asks. Wardynski said yes, they were staff meetings.

Attorney asks if the district came up with multiple plans. No, it was a single plan, Wardynski replied.

Attorney seems to be asking why not multiple plans. Wardynski holding firm. Says the one plan is comprehensive and takes into account many, many aspects.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:38 pm

Attorney asks if any other plans were presented.  Wardynski says no. It was a single assignment plan, the board voted on it and voted yes.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:39 pm

Attorney asking about the community conversation meetings.
“There were no changes as a result of feedback, were there?” she asked.  “No,” Wardynski replied.

The school board voted on the plan the day after the last meeting.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:45 pm

Attorney asking about M-to-M transfers (majority to minority). 

“Isn’t it your position that M-to-M transfers suppress graduation rates?” she asks.

“My position is that we have strong schools, and when engaged students leave those schools,” (it hurts those schools’ graduation rates.

It’s hard to quote all of this… but in essence, he says he is proud of all of our schools – but when students leave the schools, and negative stories show up in the newspaper about it, people think less of those schools.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:50 pm

Attorney is playing an interview Wardynski did (not sure if this is from a news story, or a school board meeting.) He is discussing M-to-M transfers and a story The Huntsville Times published and graduation rates falling.  

“The problem is the kids are fine, but the kids are moving,” Wardynski said in the recorded statement.

He explains that once Jemison is built, and if students who live in that area go there, the predicted graduation rate would be 78%.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:51 pm

In that video, he explains hundreds of students move from Butler and Johnson to do M-to-M transfers to Huntsville and Grissom.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20142:58 pm

Dept. of Justice attorney asking Wardynski about M-to-M transfers and how the timing changed to apply. You can apply through this month (May) for the 2014 school year. Then, you can’t apply till May 2015 for fall of 2015.

Attorney asking what kind of parents/students got about this.   He said it was on the district’s website, was announced in schools.

-Reporter’s Note: It also came through in two system-wide phone calls to all families in Huntsville City Schools.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20143:04 pm

Attorney and Wardynski are talking about the logistics of M-to-M transfers.
A lot of technical explanation, but at the end, he goes back to chiding the newspaper for its story on lower graduation rate because students in majority black high schools (Johnson and Butler) transferred to majority white (Huntsville and Grissom.)

Claire Aiello May 22, 20143:07 pm

“You agree that Butler students will be in a more segregated environment under your plan?” attorney asks.

“I believe that 47% of them will be,” Wardynski says.

He certainly isn’t giving her yes or no answers.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20143:14 pm

Attorney now asking about Wardynski’s perceived safety issues presented in U.S. DOJ alternative.

“Fewer students would have access to tornado shelters and the layered security that goes into those buildings,” Wardynski said.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20143:16 pm

Blossomwood has a tornado shelter, and is the only one currently.

8 schools will have them after the school construction plan. 

Attorney asks if Huntsville High School has a tornado shelter. “No,” Wardynski replied.

Asking about other schools that don’t have tornado shelters, as opposed to Jemison, which would.

“I consider them much less safe,” Wardynski replied.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20143:17 pm

Attorney asks if moving Hereford students to the Huntsville High School feeder pattern would benefit diversity.

“It would benefit diversity,” yes. But Wardynski said they would lose Title 1 funding.

Attorney said they’ll talk about Title 1 funding later.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20143:19 pm

On the subject of students continuing to go to majority white schools, under the DOJ plan (for example, Hereford students to Huntsville High) – would the students benefit from that diverse environment? the attorney asked.

“They will be going to schools that are not used to dealing with students who are not on grade level,” Wardynski said, of students who may go to majority white schools under the DOJ plan.

Several people in the overflow courtroom did not like that comment at all.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20143:27 pm

Attorney is asking Wardynski about Title 1 schools. 

Johnson – 93% black
Dawson – 87% black
Ed White – 89% black
Davis Hills – 91% black
Lakewood – 82.5% black
Rolling Hills – 90% black
University Place – 67% black (will become Sonnie Hereford Elem.)
MLK Elementary – 76% black
Lee High School – 70% black
Butler – 66% black
Westlawn – 56% black
Ridgecrest – 37% black, 1/3 population is Hispanic
Morris – 57% black

Attorney: There’s no school that was a Title 1 school before the system drew its proposed plan that is no longer a Title 1 school? 

“I believe that’s correct,” said Wardynski.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20143:31 pm

Attorney asking Wardynski about Monte Sano students passing by Huntsville Middle to get to Chapman or Lee. (Under the DOJ plan.)

Attorney: Shady Grove students are bused to Monte Sano (20 minutes away) – You’d agree Ridgecrest is closer for these students.

“But it’s educationally not as strong,” Wardynski said.

Wardynski said these students are high-mobility – they move one day and come back the other. 

“It takes a special approach. You’ve got to keep them from falling through the cracks.”

Many of these students are ELL – English Language Learner.

Wardynski admitted Monte Sano doesn’t have an ELL program, but “they can handle it.”

Claire Aiello May 22, 20143:33 pm

Attorney is finished.  10 minute break.  We’ll return at 3:45pm.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20143:55 pm

Court is back in session.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20143:56 pm

The school board attorney, J.R. Brooks is now doing follow-up questioning.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20143:57 pm

Brooks’ follow-up questions are over.  Judge now has some questions.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20143:58 pm

Judge asking about her visit to one of the schools yesterday. Mentions a plaque talking about donors. Asks how the gift process works.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:00 pm

Blossomwood is the school the judge is referring to.  

“Not every school is in a position where people can give like that,” Wardynski said.

Wardynski talks about another giving process, where teachers can post desires/wishes online of things they need (tutoring, classroom needs, books, etc.)
Some of the financial gifts to schools go through a ‘pot’ at the school board office that is distributed this way.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:02 pm

Judge asks about demographer, and how he looked ahead 10 years in coming up with the plan.  

Asking what happens when other needs come about in 10 years.  Wardynski said this is really for 5 years – 5 years down the road, other needs will come up, and the school board will have to come up with ways to fund them.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:05 pm

Judge asks about the age of some of the schools. Many of the schools in north Huntsville were built in the 60s and 70s, Wardynski said. To the west, Columbia and Providence are both new. Going south, Whitesburg, 60s, Chaffee, 60s, early 70s – Farley – 15/20 years old. Mt Gap – 25-30 years old, Challenger – 20 years old, Grissom, 45 years old, Huntsville High – within the last 8-10 years. He is skipping a few schools here and there.. Hampton Cove School is relatively new.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:07 pm

Wardynski adds the oldest schools are in the north because that’s where the city started. 

Wardynski said the next schools he would like to replace are Westlawn and another.. also mentions Chapman, Highlands, 

Then Farley. He’s looking 8-10 years down the road. “Thumbnail sketch” he called it.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:08 pm

Judge asking about diversity.  “What do you believe the value of diversity is to the student body?”

Wardynski: “Education is a stepping stone to life. Life diversity brings great strength to organizations. A diverse teaching faculty is important. Kids learn how to work with people who have different perspectives.”

He refers to a girl at Jones Valley reading to a younger student. Wardynski said that shows children the importance of helping others. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:10 pm

Judge asks Wardynski to go back to the point where he didn’t want to disclose the closure of Butler, because he didn’t want to disrupt learning.

“Our understand was the negotiations were confidential. In the military, we learned confidential was confidential.”

Wardynski talking about how things were discussed.. why other things weren’t discussed. With Grissom, there had to be land purchased – so that’s why they met with different groups to talk about where to build.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:15 pm

Judge: asking if the school board would like relief from certain orders, in regards to school construction.. that would better allow school system to address diversity?

(Are the court’s orders precluding the school system from addressing diversity?)

Wardynski said the 2008 court order seems fine. Hereford Elem will help strengthen the community. He’d like to explore MLK Elementary and new construction, if the court were to entertain a request along those lines.

“Would that affect the proposal the board is making?” judge asks.

Wardynski said this would strengthen things. (It’s hard to understand his answer.)

Some of the crowd in the overflow room disagrees. Many people shaking their heads and saying “no, no, no.”

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:18 pm

Judge asks about internet access. “If you have a section of the community that may not have access to the Internet” how can they know about changes they’ve announced? (M-to-M transfers.)

Judge suggested putting that information on the children’s computers would be helpful.

“That would be a good idea,” Wardynski replied.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:20 pm

Judge asks about Title 1 funding. Comes to schools based on free and reduced lunch.
He says school systems are always strapped, but Title 1 funds can help them go above and beyond their goal (set even higher goals.)

Judge asking him to elaborate on his testimony about funding for Title 1 districts, and school moves.

Wardynski: When students in a Title 1 take an M-to-M transfer, their school loses the money. The money doesn’t go to the new school (assuming it’s not a Title 1 school.)

Wardynski is finished.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:23 pm

School Board calls Edith Pickens, Director of Strategy and Innovation for Huntsville City Schools. She was just appointed to that position this week. Prior to this, was director of Secondary Programs for the district.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:23 pm

We believe Maree Sneed is the attorney questioning her. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:24 pm

Pickens began as Director of Secondary Programs in 2011. Worked with the middle and high schools, grades 6-12, managing all aspects of the curriculum. Works with principals, administrators. Freshman academies, counseling, Lead the Way, AP classes, and much more.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:26 pm

Prior to this – in 1990 she was a counselor at Jones Valley Elem. Butler High School – counselor from 1992-96, in 1996 central office, manager of staff development. In 1997, asst principal at Challenger Middle. In 2000, principal. In 2011, moved to Director of Secondary Programs. 

Prior to 1990, she was employed as a school counselor in Fontana, California. Also a teacher in another California school district. Worked in Georgia schools prior to this. First teaching job, prior to that, a biology teacher in North Carolina.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:27 pm

School board attorney asks about Pickens’ role in developing the school rezoning plan.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:29 pm

Attorney asks Pickens to talk about district’s efforts with Johnson to improve education for the students there.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:30 pm

Pickens: First, putting in place a strong leadership team – with a vision for high quality education. “They have been instrumental in providing school-based professional development.”

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:32 pm

Pickens: Johnson’s leadership team had been involved in a turnaround effort at another high school. Principal impressed them in interview. Talked about bringing in his leadership team.  Since they were hired, they’ve had a focused development plan on growth mindset.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:34 pm

They establish standards for every classroom. Rigor, student engagement, teachers actively working with students, (teachers not behind their desk) are a few examples of the changes the team implemented at Johnson.

Team looked for leaders and teachers who share the new vision.  Also worked very hard to get Johnson partnered with A+ College Ready to get more students taking AP classes at Johnson, Pickens said.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:35 pm

Attorney asks Pickens if she’s spent time at the school, developed relationships with students there. “Yes,” Pickens replied.

She talks about a student she met through email. Student emailed in again, to ask about things happening at Johnson, and she then learned he was a student.

The student is graduating today with a scholarship. Pickens said she looks forward to turning her cell phone on so she can get a picture of him from graduation.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:37 pm

Talking about working with faculty on lesson planning, rigor in the classroom. 

Pickens now talking about changes made at Butler – principal hired different staff members to teach different areas of expertise, including computer science.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:38 pm

Pickens – talks about square footage at Johnson and Butler – excess space – 

“That is difficult to properly supervise/manage… we would rather their focus be on instruction,” Pickens said.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:39 pm

Attorney asks about teachers’ role in being involved in the design of the new McNair and Jemison schools.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:41 pm

 Met with community members, students, teachers, design team for input about athletics, fine arts, science, career tech.. for a school that will be here 30, 40 years from now. 

Her most recent meetings at Johnson and Grissom, for their new campuses (Jemison & Grissom) were with a national consultant, to make sure science labs would serve the schools well for the future.

“I want to stand in the labs and not know which school I’m in,” Pickens said, referring to her desire to make labs at both schools equal.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:49 pm

Pickens is going over student achievement, and how students enter AP & IB classes.

Reporter’s note — I apologize if I’ve missed a few details of testimony. I stepped away for a few minutes to write a story for WHNT News 19 at 6:30pm.  I’m back now.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:51 pm

Attorney asks Pickens to explain difference between AP & IB classes. 
AP – Advanced Placement
IB – International Baccalaureate

“IB is viewed with the same type of distinction as AP,” Pickens said, and a certain score will earn students college credit.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:53 pm

Attorney asks Pickens about 
Since 2011, school system has seen a 34% increase in participation/enrollment in AP classes.

58% increase for minority students – more than 400 students.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20144:55 pm

Attorney asks Pickens to explain how the district decides which AP courses to teach at various high schools.
Pickens: Process begins in November. First step is to contact high school principals, see if they need to make changes, what to add, what to possibly delete.. principals discuss this with teachers and provide feedback.

January – meets with all high school principals – 1/2 day to day-long meeting, going through course description guide 1 page at a time. 125-page document. Principals can bring up any changes they’d like to make.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:00 pm

The team also reviews new classes being added (math/finances, etc.)

Course description guide is published in February. That guide posted to web, distributed to parents. In late February, early March, counselors begin working with students. Use a pre-registration form.

The form lists the core content courses for students (biology, or honors biology).. 

Counselors talk about courses, graduation requirements, colleges wanting students to take honors and AP courses.. incentives for those… also, parent meetings.

Pickens asks principals to make a school cast phone call, so parents will know students are bringing this information home.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:01 pm

Once the forms come back, the information is entered.. staff determined.. and that’s how “classes offered” move to “classes being taught.”

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:05 pm

Pickens now discussing various changes that have happened in the last few years, including the Digital 1:1 Initiative, the school system’s vision for the Pre-K system and how it will benefit the system overall, and STEM projects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.)  “[These programs] help build a pipeline,” Pickens said repeatedly.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:13 pm

Attorney asks Pickens to discuss the benefits of A+ College Ready, various other curriculum enrichment programs. Pickens says these are beneficial to students and teachers, because teachers learn new ideas too.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:16 pm


File photo of Edith Pickens, the person on the stand now. She is Huntsville’s Director of Secondary Programs.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:19 pm

The crowd in the overflow courtroom is growing thin. Far fewer people than this morning. We are at 5:20pm and the testimony is still going.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:24 pm

School board’s attorney continues to ask Pickens about various school system programs and how they are implemented. Currently, she is discussing Project Lead The Way – a STEM curriculum. 

I apologize.. I’m going to have to step away for a few minutes to prepare my report for WHNT News 19 at 6:30pm. I’ll try to be back shortly.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:43 pm

We’re in a 5-minute break. Cross examination will take place after this.  Crowd has thinned out upstairs too, we’re told. The few people left down here, other than Challen Stephens and myself, are headed upstairs to observe. We’re here due to the fact that we have laptops.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:47 pm

We’re back – Dept. of Justice attorney will do cross-examination of Edith Pickens.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:49 pm

Attorney asking Pickens about differences in various schools.
Grissom had 24 AP courses, Huntsville High had 14.
Johnson taught 5 AP courses.

“Do you agree Grissom and Huntsville are predominantly white?” Yes (Pickens).
“Do you agree Johnson is predominantly black?” Yes (Pickens.)
“Do you agree Butler is predominantly black?” To the best of my knowledge, Pickens replied.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:50 pm

Attorney: Irregardless of class size, do you agree there is a discrepancy in the number of AP classes offered?

“We teach on what the students ask for. So, based on demand, that’s what we teach,” Pickens said.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:52 pm

Attorney asks if there are requests for 7, 10 additional AP classes at Butler – would you be teaching those?

“Yes,” Pickens replied.  But, she said it also has to do with staffing.

Attorney: If there are enough students asking that 10 additional AP classes be offered at Johnson, would there be adequate staffing to do that?

“Yes,” Pickens replied. “There would be adequate staffing and I would be thrilled to offer that.”

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:54 pm

Attorney: How much fluctuation at Grissom do you expect this coming School year? How many AP classes do you expect will be offered?
22, 23, Pickens estimates.
Grissom will have a new AP class – a seminar and research class. It’s a pilot program for 2014-15, being offered at 100 high schools across the nation.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20145:56 pm

Attorney asking will this program be offered at any other school in the district next year?

“In 2014, it will be offered at Grissom,” Pickens replied.

Pickens re-iterated this program was offered to Grissom as a pilot program from a national program. It was not something the school district offered.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:02 pm

Attorney presents evidence for Pickens to review.  Document, Pickens believes, is a sheet counselors give students to find items more quickly in the course description.  A “cheat sheet” if you will. “Frequently used course numbers.”

Attorney asking Pickens if these are ‘frequently used course numbers’ for Grissom High School. Pickens is taking a moment to review the document.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:03 pm

Judge overrules this line of questioning.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:04 pm

Attorney for DOJ rephrases.  Asks about various AP courses taught at Grissom. Physics, Calculus, Studio Art, German…

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:07 pm

Attorney asks Pickens to look at another exhibit – a document provided by the district. 

More questioning to confirm which AP courses were offered at Grissom this year.

Calculus, Studio Art, and one more.

“Were any of these courses taught at other schools in the district this year?”

Pickens: “No.”

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:08 pm

Judge: Is there a limit on the number of students in an AP course?

Pickens: We try to keep those classes relatively small – 25 students or less. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:11 pm

Attorney asks Pickens about Project Lead The Way – asks her to confirm if all schools offered Project Lead the Way: Yes, Pickens said.

Attorney asks her to confirm how many Project Lead The Way courses were offered at one school vs. the other. Pickens would like to explain how numbers of Project Lead The Way courses are determined. The attorney asked her to wait on that.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:16 pm

I’m going to step away for a bit to do our 6:30 live report. I apologize.. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:38 pm

Back in the overflow courtroom. DOJ attorney is still questioning Pickens.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:40 pm

The most recent question had to do with unitary status – if the system gets it, the court is no longer involved. I think the previous questioning had to do with if the system is granted unitary status, wouldn’t it want to continue to provide various data on the schools. (I believe.)

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:45 pm

Attorney asking Pickens more questions about Project Lead The Way. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:46 pm

Pickens says district is providing funding for all schools to participate in Project Lead The Way.

That’s the end of the cross-examination.

Judge has a few questions for Pickens.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:46 pm

Judge asks about new leadership at schools – is it for Johnson and Butler?

Pickens says yes, both schools.

Judge asks her to clarify what challenges the new leadership is facing at these schools.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:47 pm

Pickens says one of the main challenges is growing the graduation rate. Also, they’re under tremendous pressure from the district and from outside to grow programs like AP – but when you have such a small number of students, it’s hard to grow as fast as we’d like for them to sometimes.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:48 pm

The principals and leaders are pushing themselves to grow their academic programs as quickly as possible, Pickens said.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:48 pm

Judge says a big thank you to teachers. “They are so crucial to the success of our community.”

“They should also be paid more,” the judge said.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:52 pm

Judge asking Pickens about a teacher she talks with at Johnson, who encourages students to take 1 AP course or the other.  “There’s such an intense focus on growing the programs,” Pickens said.

Judge said it appears the onus is on the student to request an AP course. She indicates it would be better to have more teacher-type figures to explain the AP courses and encourage students to take them, to encourage them to excel further.

Pickens agrees, and said she doesn’t expect teachers to wait in the classroom for students to come take the AP course. She expects teachers to go out and search for students. 

Claire Aiello May 22, 20146:57 pm

Judge to Pickens: What does diversity mean to a student body?

Pickens: One thing we ask of our teachers and students, is to work more collaboratively.  That teamwork aspect prepares them more for the future. (This is not word for word.)

We see so many things in society that makes us think there’s that lack of respect for people who are different. It’s incumbent upon us as educators to make sure everyone understands we all bring something different to the table.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20147:08 pm

Judge wants to make sure she’s clear on the AP course offerings.
If a student requests to take AP German.. if it’s a year the school can’t offer it..

Pickens uses AP Calculus at Johnson as an example. She says the school system is putting pre-requisites in place to make sure the students take mandatory classes first, to then take the pipeline into AP Calculus.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20147:11 pm

We’re about to wrap up. Judge is asking lawyers to talk with her privately about what time they’ll get started tomorrow morning.

Claire Aiello May 22, 20147:13 pm

Judge says we’ll get started at 9am tomorrow.  Court is adjourned for tonight.

I’ll see you then.  I appreciate everyone reading along today. It was a long day but I appreciate you sticking with us.  Thank you also for the emails a few of you sent. 

Claire Aiello May 23, 20148:34 am

Good morning everyone.  Reporter Daniela Perallon and I are in the downstairs overflow courtroom ready to bring you updates.

Court resumes at 9 a.m.  We’re hearing it will be another long day, with several more witnesses being called. 

Claire Aiello May 23, 20148:55 am

We’ve got a much smaller crowd in the downstairs (overflow) courtroom today. There are 4 of us.  Several seats are open.

Dr. Wardynski just dropped in to see what the overflow courtroom looked like.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:04 am

The judge is here.  The government is calling a witness.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:05 am

Michelle Watkins is the witness – she is a lifelong resident of Huntsville.  Attended University Place Elem, Davis Hills Middle and Johnson High School. Has a bachelors of Business Administration from AAMU, secondary education and masters degree from AAMU, and education specialist degree from AAMU.  

Watkins has two children, ages 27 and 29.  Attended Lee High School. Also, ASFL (Academy for Science and Foreign Language.)

Watkins is currently employed by the Department of Army.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:09 am

Prior to this, she taught at Johnson H.S. – personal finance, marketing,  business. Taught 11th and 12th mainly, and some 10th graders.

She was also involved with DECA Organization at Johnson. Also the cheerleading sponsor, senior class sponsor and an advisor.  

Also a member of the PTA since 2006.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:10 am

DOJ lawyer asking Watkins to talk about knowledge of the schools, when she was a teacher. Racial makeup.

Watkins: 96-97% African American. 
Currently, Watkins estimates it’s 97-98% African American now.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:12 am

Dr. Fredonia Williams was the principal when Watkins taught there. Also taught under Mr. Louis Berry, hired when Williams retired.  Mr. Berry was reassigned to Providence in 2011, and Paula Thompson, Asst. Principal, became acting principal. 

In 2012, Michael Campbell hired as principal. 
Mr. Jones is principal now.

Attorney asks how many different people in leadership since she was there..

“They’re on their fifth,” said Watkins.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:12 am

DOJ lawyer asks Watkins if she thought they had adequate resources when she taught there.

“I don’t think they were adequate, they weren’t sufficient for what we needed, not compared to the schools in south Huntsville,” Watkins replied.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:13 am

School board’s attorney, JR Brooks, objects. 
Judge allows DOJ attorney to continue with this line of questioning but will determine if it’s appropriate.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:15 am

Watkins now talks about the computer lab, how some of the computers didn’t work.

When she’d visit other schools, such as those in south Huntsville, they had computers, laptops, and all worked.  She named Huntsville High School.

Watkins said she had refurbished computers that didn’t work.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:16 am

Watkins talks about a class she taught, where she didn’t have books to give her students.

She researched what book she could use, and bought it out of her own money, to give her students instructional material they could use.

Attorney asks about her opinion on variety of courses offered.

“There wasn’t a lot of variety,” Watkins said.  She had the basic business courses..
Other schools would have computers labs to offer media design.. she named Huntsville High, Grissom, Columbia.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:16 am

Attorney: “Do you know if the variety of classes has improved since you taught at Johnson?”

Watkins: “I don’t know, but I don’t believe they had.”

Attorney Brooks objects.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:20 am

Watkins clarifies.  When she goes to the community conversations, and listens to what’s happening, she says she hears what classes Johnson has does not match up to the course description online.

Attorney asks Watkins to elaborate on community conversation.

It was set up like a science fair, Watkins said, with different booths.  Watkins said there was no opportunity to ask questions or give input.. information was provided, but that was it.

“I was really shocked at the curriculum for Johnson.” She saw logistics technology.. and asked about it – she took classes on it in college. She said the person explained it as training for more of a manufacturing-type job.

She asked him to switch to Grissom and Huntsville High’s curriculum. They had bio-med, others.. and she wanted to know why Johnson didn’t have these classes offered.

“I was very concerned. I felt our students (students in north Huntsville) aren’t going to be prepared to go to the workplace.”

“But when I look at the students in south Huntsville, they’re being prepared to go to college.” – Watkins.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:21 am

DOJ attorney asks about extracurricular activities offered at Johnson during her time.

Said there were only basic clubs offered.  FBLA, DECA, Foreign Language, but very few.

Attorney: did other schools in the district have these?

“Yes, south Huntsville had them,” Watkins said.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:22 am

Attorney asks why Watkins joined the PTA (she is still involved, since 2006.)

“I became involved because I was a teacher. I wanted to make sure I had interaction with the parents as well as the students, and I wanted to bridge that gap.”

Community members could also join, Watkins said.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:23 am

Attorney: Is there a criteria to join the PTA?

Watkins: Not really, you just attend the meeting, you don’t have to live in the zone. 

Do you have to have a child who attends/attended Johnson to be a member of the PTA?

Watkins: No, several people in the Johnson PTA currently don’t have students at Johnson.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:24 am

Attorney asks Watkins about the school rezoning plan.
Did the Johnson PTA approve the plan?
“Yes,” Watkins said.
“I was surprised when they sent the judge a letter saying they supported the plan,” Watkins said.

“In reference to the zone lines, I don’t agree with them. You’re going to put 4 failing schools on one campus together. That doesn’t benefit the students,” Watkins said. 

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:26 am

Attorney asks Watkins about the benefit of diversity for white students.

“I think it can benefit all students.  If we are working together and attend school together, we can understand each other, and can co-mingle and get along.”

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:27 am

Attorney – what alternatives would you propose for Butler students?

“I believe Huntsville High is closer for Butler than Johnson is. I think the reasonable thing to do is to re-assign those students to Huntsville High.”

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:28 am

Attorney asks about Watkins’ grandchildren.
She has 2 grandchildren, 10 and 6.  They are zoned for Lakewood, Davis Hills and Johnson High.
Currently attend Union Chapel Christian Academy.  Christian school. Not part of Huntsville City Schools.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:29 am

Attorney: When discussing school for the grandchildren with Watkins’ daughter, why did the family decide to go to private Christian school?

“If your children don’t have the foundation at the very beginning, then they’re going to be lost. Both of them, young African-Americans, have to get the opportunity that doesn’t exist for them all the time. I didn’t think this would be an education they could get, foundation-wise, starting out at Lakewood,” Watkins said.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:31 am

Cross-examination – Attorney JR Brooks says he is also a grandparent.
Asks why she made this suggestion.
“I believe the parents trusted my opinion because I’m an educator,” Watkins replied.

Watkins asks why the family didn’t request a majority-to-minority transfer.
“At the time the school system wasn’t allowing alot of these, and I didn’t want to take the chance with my grandchildren.”

Brooks said Huntsville City Schools didn’t deny any M-to-M transfers at the elementary school level.

“Again, I didn’t want to take that chance with my grandchildren,” Watkins said.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:33 am

“I didn’t want to take the chance on the application not being approved,” Watkins said.

She said they are excelling at Union Chapel, and the family had already applied there.

Brooks: “You could have applied to Union Chapel and the majority white schools in the southeast, but you didn’t want to take that chance?”

“I didn’t want to take that chance,” Watkins replied.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:35 am

Attorney JR Brooks asks about when she was last a teacher.

Watkins said she taught last summer at Drake State Technical College. (Summer STEM program.)

Brooks: you were last a teacher at Johnson 5 years ago, correct?

“Yes”

Brooks discusses principals Watkins named earlier – goes through the names she named. Eric Jones is principal now.  Brooks says Dr. Ann Roy Moore was superintendent then.

“You have not served under the administration of Dr. Wardynski,” Brooks said.

“No,” Watkins replied.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:39 am

Brooks asks Watkins about community conversations at booth at Butler.
Watkins said she talked with person about courses offered.

Brooks and Watkins are going back and forth now about what she asked the man at the conversation about what classes would be offered at Johnson vs. Grissom.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:42 am

Brooks: “Did you learn interior design would be offered at Grissom?”
Watkins: “I did question that.. and one thing he did state was, the subjects on the curriculum are subject to change.”

(Brooks is asking about what specific questions she asked.)

Brooks then asked about community meetings she attended, and what she asked.

Watkins: I attended a lot of meetings, but you didn’t allow questions to be asked. You had us put them on 3×5 index cards.. but I’m still waiting to get an answer on mine.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:43 am

Brooks: You will agree Project Lead The Way is a good course to offer at your school, Johnson, where you serve on the PTA?

Watkins: “Johnson’s not going to be my school anymore, because it’s going to be renamed.”

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:45 am

“I’m not upset about anything, I’m upset our kids aren’t getting a good education.” 
A name doesn’t matter, Watkins said, referring to Johnson.

She isn’t backing down.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:47 am

On the subject of the PTA.. and the letter in support of school rezoning.

Brooks: “The board at the PTA did not agree with your opposition to the rezoning plan.”

“They never asked me,” Watkins said.

No further questions from attorneys.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:50 am

Judge has a question for Watkins.
Referring to yesterday, about some the positives mentioned by Dr. Wardynski and Edith Pickens. Pre-K, etc..
What was it about Lakewood that didn’t make you want to send your grandchildren there?

“I was concerned about the test scores. I didn’t think Lakewood was the best school for them to attend.”

Brooks: Union Chapel – what is the racial makeup?

“Union Chapel is diverse. We have African-Americans, we have caucasians, we have Mexicans.”

Brooks: “Is it majority black?”

Watkins: “Yes, but it’s not as high as Johnson.”

Brooks: “Is it majority black?”

Watkins: “Yes.”

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:51 am

Brooks saying he wants to show a disc that would show the Bankhead Parkway route for Monte Sano students. Judge said she would rather look at the disc later, on her own, and get through some more witnesses.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:52 am

School board calls Tracy Richter, demographer for Huntsville City Schools.

Richter going over his background –  was a teacher in Georgia for a bit.

DeJong and Associates – educational planning firm. He’s worked there since the early 2000s.

Now DeJong Richter. Looks at long-range educational planning for various school systems.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:54 am

The company employs GIS specialists, educators, and others.

GIS allows them to look at data on interactive maps. Shows all sorts of data, including student data. Can plot those students on a map and show where they live/school boundaries/their address.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:56 am

Tracy Richter said he’s probably worked on 1,000 committees to plan new schools in his experience.  Helping various communities with GIS, to show things that are happening in school districts.

Helps with long-range planning, facility standards development, enrollment projections, demographic analysis, strategic planning, community engagement.. 
(Brooks asking about each of these, Richter confirms each one.)

Unitary status – they have worked with Duval County, FL – a system that achieved unitary status and is working to keep it.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20149:58 am

DeJong-Richter developed construction standards for new elementary schools in Huntsville, starting in 2012. 

Developed 10-year enrollment projection for school system? Yes.

Did company do analysis reports? Yes

Student population analysis and reports? Yes

Capacity analysis/program analysis? Yes

Program analysis helps show how a building is designed and what it’s used for. Measures the types of space and how they’re used.

Also did design analysis for future capacity of schools.

Daniela Perallon May 23, 201410:08 am

Brooks asks Richter if his opinion, based on his background and expertise, is that the district plan increases diversity, best utilizes space of schools, best utilizes magnet program to meet diversity and capacity goals, and considers safety and travel time of students? “Yes.”

Brooks: Do you believe that the DoJ’s option is feasible?
Richter: “No I do not. In best planning practices the long-term plan schools need to remain at 100% utilization or lower. Preferably lower. [Their] plan does not allow for fluctuate or adjustments in the future.”

Richter says DOJ plan would create over-utilization of Blossomwood, without even considered Majority-to-Minority transfers.

Daniela Perallon May 23, 201410:13 am

Richter says the direction of any student-assignment plan is that you are least disruptive to the students that are in your schools. Says students will continue to transfer and attend magnet schools, and he does not believe DoJ plan reflects that.

Daniela Perallon May 23, 201410:20 am

Richter discussing DoJ feeder patterns and safety issues of Bankhead Parkway.

Brooks references sign that forbids vehicles longer than 30 feet from driving on Bankhead. 

Brooks diverts his questioning. Richter has been working with the district since 2012 and estimates he has made more than 50 trips to Huntsville and visited every single school, several more than once.

Richter says most school buses are over 30 feet, so he can safely assume buses should not be on Bankhead.

Under DoJ plan buses/parents could take Governors to get to Chapman Middle, but Richter says they would pass right by Huntsville Middle School.

Daniela Perallon May 23, 201410:25 am

Cross-examination has begun.

DoJ Attorney asks if Richter attended group planning meetings where Student Assignment Plan was created. He only attended one.

He confirms he is not a specialist in GIS technology.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201410:29 am

DoJ Attorney asking about estimated enrollment is calculated in various boundaries, factoring in the number of students who go to magnet schools.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201410:34 am

DoJ attorney asking about AAA, ASFL and Lee magnet and “whole school magnets.” Lee is not a whole school magnet, it’s a magnet in the building, but it’s a large magnet, Richter said.

DoJ arguing over fine points as to whether Richter’s numbers of M-to-M transfers are correct, at Lee. Difficult to understand this line of questioning.

Continuing with questions about student develop analysis.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201410:41 am

DoJ attorney and Richter are talking about different methodologies for considering magnet enrollments in scenario planning for Jemison, Columbia, etc.

This is very technical and tough to understand.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201410:46 am

DoJ Attorney: You believe the district’s plan increases diversity, correct?

Would you consider a 1% change really that much of a change?

Richter: I think it depends on the size of the school.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201410:47 am

DoJ Attorney: Butler students would move from a school that is 60% black to Jemison, that is 90% black?

Richter: Correct.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201410:48 am

Talking now about capacity of schools – and how full they would be under the school board’s rezoning plan.

DoJ Attorney: MLK would be over 100% capacity, yes?
Richter: “Yes, but MLK isn’t built yet, so we could adjust its capacity depending on the needs.”

Claire Aiello May 23, 201410:53 am

DoJ Attorney talking about Blossomwood’s predicted over-capacity… attorney asks him to estimate, that means about 1 more student per classroom, correct?

Richter: Yes.

Daniela Perallon May 23, 201411:05 am

DoJ Attorney: “Would you say diversity is a worthwhile thing to consider in student assignment plans?”

Richter: “I would, yes.”

DoJ Attorney: “Would you say it is best to avoid high-density poverty where students are only exposed to students of mostly the same socioeconomic status?”

Richter: “Where it is possible, yes.”

Claire Aiello May 23, 201411:05 am

DoJ Attorney asking Richter about free and reduced-price lunches and how this factored in to planning.
No further questions from DoJ.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201411:10 am

Attorney Brooks does some follow-up.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201411:13 am

DoJ attorney asks more questions of Richter about methodology.

Judge has some follow-up questions for Richter. 
The demographic prediction is for 10 years out, correct?
Is it for consistent growth, or the numbers that currently exist?
“You’re not going to see big spikes,” Richter said.

Judge: From what she sees, the south part of Huntsville is where growth has occured. Is that likely to continue?
Richter thinks that will level off. Doesn’t see a huge bump-up coming there.
In the long-term, student potential analysis shows growth in Providence area.. that could be a large area.                                                                     

Claire Aiello May 23, 201411:17 am

Judge: references made to percentage race transfers. 
Judge decides to ask another witness that question.

Judge asks about M-to-M transfers and how this number was factored in.  

Richter says we’re always aware of those transfers and how they roll in to the overall picture.
Judge says “don’t those transfer numbers impact the final column?” referring to a document.

Richter said the document is important, and that number does impact it, but it’s just a benchmark. We still want the students to have the opportunity to have choice.

Judge asks why the M-to-M transfers weren’t captured in the overall number. Why was it important to capture the magnet students, but not the transfer students.
Richter: the students were at those schools for a magnet program. He essentially says magnets are different than transfers (aren’t counted the same way.)

Claire Aiello May 23, 201411:20 am

Judge asks about Jemison, and how magnet was determined there. 
“Do you think students from outside the zone will be attracted to go there to attend that magnet?”

Richter: “I think if the right programs are offered, they will consider it, yes.”

Claire Aiello May 23, 201411:24 am

Judge: is it typical to come up with building plans first, and then school zone lines? (in his experience of doing other school planning elsewhere)

Richter: it has to be done in conjunction.  It has to be an interactive process of the two. One will help drive the other.

He gives an example – when looking at the size of the school you want to build.. what does that do to enrollment, centralization.. does that mean you take the elementary schools out of the area…

When you do typical facility planning, you want to look at student potential/enrollment projections, program deliveries intended to happen..

“There is no way to separate the two, and put 1 in front of the other.”

“Adjustments can happen over time.. because we have to plan for growth.”

MLK (new school) is an great example.. it might reflect the capacity today, but [we can plan to expand the school in the building process]

Claire Aiello May 23, 201411:25 am

Judge: the work you did after 2013 was refining the numbers/student arrangements/whole schools… 

“[Yes] feeders, to assure we could meet the goals we wanted to meet,” replied Richter.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201411:27 am

Lunchbreak.. we’ll return at 12:30 to resume testimony.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201412:43 pm

We’re back.  Court is in session.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201412:44 pm

U.S. calls Matthew Cropper to the stand.  He is a GIS specialist.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201412:45 pm

He does various presentations on school planning, data, analysis.  

Claire Aiello May 23, 201412:46 pm

He is the president of Cropper GIS Consulting, since 2005.  Prior to that he was GIS director of DeJong and Associates, and before that he did GIS work with another firm.

In 2005 he left DeJong and Associates to start his own company.

Cropper GIS Consulting works with school districts across the U.S. Specializes in school redistricting, mapping, planning, facility planning, demographic studies.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201412:51 pm

Cropper has testified in court before, in a case involving a Texas school district.
DoJ attorney is referencing a case from 2013. 

Claire Aiello May 23, 201412:52 pm

He’s now talking about student assignment planning he’s done with various school district.  Some of it had to do with court desegregation orders, others had other types of imbalance.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201412:55 pm

Cropper giving other examples of districts where he’s used race as a component in his demographic planning. 

His team looks at percentage of black and white enrollment, or percent minority. It varies from place to place, especially if there are court orders.

With Huntsville – he has conducted district-wide student assignment planning.

Says he has done at least a dozen other plans for district-wide planning.

Claire Aiello May 23, 201412:58 pm

Has done work for the Dept. of Justice. This generally consists of working directly with the school district to help facilitate meetings between schools and DoJ.

All of this testimony has been to establish him as an expert witness. Judge allows it.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:00 pm

U.S. Dept of Justice hired Cropper to do a demographic/GIS study here.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:03 pm

Cropper discussing what he did here for analysis in Huntsville.  Road and traffic patterns, GIS, student enrollment, etc.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:07 pm

Cropper talking about enrollment numbers vs. the database provided to him by school district. Wasn’t much of a difference, he said.

DoJ Attorney introduces a document, showing field codes for student enrollment databases provided to him. “Did any of these indicate the student was a magnet student?”  “No.”

For example, if a student attended Lee, which has a magnet program, he couldn’t differentiate between Lee magnet students and regular-program students at Lee.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:10 pm

DoJ attorney displays a map, an example of a GIS map he would use to show various pieces of data. Attendance boundaries, proposed boundaries. With GIS, you can color-code students based on various attributes, including race.  Show various races by colored dots.  

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:12 pm

Cropper talking about how facility planning differs from student assignment planning.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:18 pm

Cropper explaining program capacity. A capacity figure that accounts for special programs being offered in that school. For example, special needs classes, special programs like art, music.. kids aren’t always in those classrooms – these affect capacity.
DoJ attorney is basically asking Cropper to explain various columns in his report.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:20 pm

Reporter’s note: I’ll be honest, it’s hard to describe this in great detail for you – it’s highly technical information and we also can’t see the reports Cropper is describing.  

Also remember, we are in a downstairs courtroom (overflow room) watching via video monitor.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:23 pm

DoJ attorney asking about magnet schools in Huntsville now.

He explains he didn’t factor AAA and ASFL into his attendance boundaries chart, because students come there from all over the city. He did use New Century Technology.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:35 pm

Cropper is now detailing his plan. He is referencing various schools, assignments and various recommended changes due to Butler closing, Johnson closing and Jemison opening.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:39 pm

DoJ asks Cropper for his opinion on the school district’s plan, in regards to racial demographic.  Wants to start with elementary schools.

School board attorney JR Brooks objects.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:40 pm

Brooks says Cropper’s opinions are fully detailed in his report. 

Judge will allow the question.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:41 pm

Crooper says there are improvements made in some of the elementary schools. Blossomwood and Jones Valley will have increased diversity.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:42 pm

DoJ attorney asks Cropper what his opinion is, for the district’s plan, in regards to increasing diversity in the high schools.

Attorney Brooks objects again. 

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:45 pm

Brooks: He has an opinion that is expressed in his report. 

Judge and Brooks can’t come to a middle ground on his argument.. she’ll allow the testimony.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:45 pm

Cropper: Butler is 68% black. School zoning plan has those students going to a more segregated environment, Jemison, which is more than 90% black.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:47 pm

High school boundaries for Huntsville High – minor adjustments made. Nothing to address the high white percentage at HHS, nothing to adjust the high black percentage at Lee.

Butler is closing, I don’t want to call that an opportunity because a school is closing, but the school boundary is gone, so it opens up the door to further desegregate the lines.  – Cropper.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20141:50 pm

Cropper, in developing his plan, wanted to change the school system’s plan as little as possible (for as little disruption as possible) but wanted to include more diversity in his – to provide a more diverse environment at as many of the schools as he could, within reason.

So, he started by using the school district’s plan.

Daniela Perallon May 23, 20141:56 pm

Cropper responding to claim Blossomwood would be at 106% capacity. DOJ Attorney asks if he has any concerns about that.

He says he is not concerned. Cropper says District plan includes other schools going over capacity. Says his plan isn’t different from District proposals in that way.

Daniela Perallon May 23, 20142:00 pm

They are now discussing transportation issues. Cropper acknowledges Monte Sano to Chapman, driving along Bankhead Parkway or Governors, is a concern.

Cropper says passing by Huntsville Middle School to get students to Chapman gives him “a little heartburn,” but the benefits outweigh the concern.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:04 pm

We’re in a 5 minute break.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:12 pm

We’re back.  JR Brooks is cross-examining Matthew Cropper about what he was paid for various work.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:12 pm

Brooks: The one time you testified before, in the Richardson case, the court found your conclusions and the entirety of your testimony problematic, for a number of reasons. Am I correct?

“Apparently so.”

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:14 pm

Brooks: One of the reasons – “Cropper provides neither credible evidence nor argument to..” [back up his research on school zone lines]
(Brooks is reading from the Texas case, and the court’s findings on Cropper’s testimony there.)
“That’s what it reads, yes sir,” replied Cropper.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:15 pm

Brooks, school board attorney, is basically trying to discredit Cropper’s past research and court testimony.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:18 pm

Brooks asks Cropper if he was aware of all the community meetings held about the school board’s plan, about TV information provided etc.  “Are you aware of that?”

“Yes,” Cropper replied.

Brooks: Has the public had any opportunity to comment on Option 1 or Option 2 (DOJ’s plan?) 
“No, they have not.”
“Have you talked to anyone about it, other than the DoJ lawyers?”

Brooks: Did you communicate with any member of the public? Group meeting, private meeting, any sort of meeting, etc? You worked on this primarily yourself?

“That’s correct,” Cropper replied.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:20 pm

Brooks: In regard to Monte Sano – that gave you [Cropper] heartburn..”

“It’s not something that would be an optimal situation.”

Brooks: Those people who live on Monte Sano – they didn’t get an opportunity to talk about this, give input, before you put it on the table for the judge.

“I didn’t talk to the Monte Sano people, no.”

Brooks: Asking Cropper if he knows what Andrew Jackson Way is. He said “is that Governors Drive?” 
“No, replied Brooks.”
“I could find it on a map pretty quickly,” Cropper said.

Brooks asks if he knows where Oakwood Avenue is.
“No.”

“I don’t know every road inside this city, sir.” Cropper said.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:21 pm

Brooks asks how long Cropper was in town.

“2 days,” Cropper said.

Brooks: “Did you go to any school? Inside any school?” 
“No.”

Did you talk to any parents? 
“No.”

You drove around to some of the schools?
“A good number of them.”

 Brooks: Did you talk to any community leaders, or any groups of leaders?
“No sir.”

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:22 pm

When was the last time you came back to town?
“The first week in May.”

May 2, DoJ lawyer says. Cropper came back for his deposition.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:24 pm

Brooks:”One of the things you did was time from Monte Sano to get to Huntsville Middle, to Chapman and Lee.. you put down the times.”
Cropper: “Yes sir.”

Brooks: You took those drives between 8 o’clock and 10 o’clock in the morning. 

“It was in the morning, yes sir. I was on the road prior to 8 am.  I started calculating distances and times at 8am.”

Did you take that in a school bus? Brooks asks.

“No, I cannot rent a school bus. I drove the speed limits a school bus would typically drive,” Cropper said.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:25 pm

Brooks said “You did this after schools were already in. School traffic had already dissipated.”

“Yes,” Cropper said.

Brooks: The only drives you made a record of were the ones I just described.

“Yes.”

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:27 pm

Brooks: You criticize the board for the Shady Grove students that were assigned to McDonnell 
(about 50 students)
Brooks: Those 50 students, Hispanic students, (yes sir) – you included them in your plan for going first to Monte Sano, and then in middle school, to be going to Chapman, and then after that, to be driving to Lee.  Am I correct?
Cropper: I maintain that component of my plan, [unless they have a school closer to them]
Brooks: It’s in this plan that you proposed to the court. 
“Yes” Cropper said.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:34 pm

Brooks asking Cropper about the DoJ plan and his notes.

Also asking Cropper if he works with school systems on any educational programs.
Cropper : No.
DoJ attorney objects to this line of questioning.

Cropper starts talking about ELL (English Language Learner) program at Monte Sano.

Brooks clarifies.  “You leave school programming to local school administrators to do.”
“Yes” Cropper says.

Cropper says he does discuss student programs as they relate to student assignment.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:35 pm

Brooks: You do not program new schools, such as the new school at Grissom.
“That’s correct,” Cropper says.
Cropper says there might be times he recommends programs based on student population.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:38 pm

Brooks: You understand Huntsville City Schools has such experts (to design programs?)
Cropper: I assume so, yes sir.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:42 pm

Brooks asking Cropper more questions about enrollment of schools vs. live-in.. asks if his data is based on enrollment.
“Yes.”

Brooks: This is based on student enrollment, in the building, not based on where students live?

“Yes sir.”

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:47 pm

Brooks is citing various figures in Cropper’s report… 

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:48 pm

Brooks is citing various figures in Cropper’s report… questioning how he came up with them, vs. various data.  Again, hard to be specific here since I’m not seeing what he’s referring to.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20142:50 pm

Brooks asks why AAA and ASFL are not on the report. He asks why New Century Technology is on the report.

“You don’t know whether New Century has boundaries or not?” Brooks asks.

“I don’t know if there are any type of rules.. if kids in the Lee boundary get priority..” Cropper replies.
 
“If you don’t know the answer to the question, did you ask?” Brooks.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:01 pm

Brooks is going back and forth with Cropper about black students at Huntsville High School – whether they were live-in or transfers.
Judge asks Brooks what the point of this is.
Brooks says he is trying to confirm what the actual facts are.

Brooks still trying to make his point.

Judge asks again what the point of this is.. we’re trying to fit in what we need to get done, unless we all want to come back another day.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:02 pm

Brooks is going back and forth with Cropper about black students at Huntsville High School – whether they were live-in or transfers.
Judge asks Brooks what the point of this is.
Brooks says he is trying to confirm what the actual facts are.

Brooks still trying to make his point.

Judge asks again what the point of this is.. we’re trying to fit in what we need to get done (timewise of this hearing), unless we all want to come back another day.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:11 pm

Brooks now asking about forecasted enrollment for various schools. Questioning is difficult to follow.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:17 pm

Brooks is finished, DoJ has no further questions. Cropper is dismissed.

Next witness: U.S. calls Carolyn Harris.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:19 pm

Harris lives in Huntsville. Has 3 children in Huntsville City Schools. 1 son at McDonnell Elem, 16-year-old daughter attended Huntsville High and Butler this year. Went to McDonnell and Ridgecrest for Elementary, Williams and Hampton Cove for middle. She has also attended Lee High School.
Third child is in 11th grade at Columbia High School. Went to McDonnell and Ridgecrest Elem, Williams Middle.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:21 pm

Carolyn stays at home with the children. Is involved with her children’s education. Involved with softball booster club, volunteers in classroom, goes on field trips. Volunteered today at Field Day at McDonnell. Also went on a field trip with McDonnell students on Wed to Hsv. Botanical Gardens. Has been involved with the PTA in the past.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:23 pm

Middle daughter’s experience with schools – Butler and Huntsville High this year. Started the year at Butler.
Carolyn was concerned about teachers, and availability of classes. When they went to pick classes, she realized there was a larger variety at Columbia than at Butler.

In regard to teachers, Kayla had come from Lee (in the magnet) – and Carolyn said she thought there would be just as many opportunities as Lee had.

Progress report, 5 weeks in – there was no math grade – Carolyn asked about it, and found out there was no math teacher.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:25 pm

Kayla told her mom there was no math teacher. Carolyn went to the school and found out they were in the process of hiring a teacher.  Carolyn was concerned – they were 5 weeks into the school year. She learned a substitute had been in the classroom for the time being.  

Carolyn was not happy with the school’s answer.  She contacted Pupil Services.  
Didn’t get anywhere with that phone call either.  So, she contacted a news station.

A few days later, a teacher was hired.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:25 pm

Carolyn was concerned her daughter would get behind. “She missed 5 weeks of math. There’s really no way to make up that 5 weeks,” Carolyn said.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:27 pm

At Huntsville High – does Carolyn’s daughter have permanent teachers in all her classes?
“She does,” Carolyn said.

Did Carolyn feel her daughter was challenged academically at Butler?
“No, I do not,” Carolyn said.

Her daughter’s homework was very easy, she got through it quickly.

What difference does she notice in the HHS instruction?

Daughter was a little behind, so teachers had to adjust her exams, instruction, etc.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:29 pm

Carolyn talking about bubbles she saw on the ceiling at Butler. She was concerned it was mold. Was not satisfied with the answer from the school system.

Carolyn said HHS is a much cleaner facility. No problems with the building that she’s noticed.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:31 pm

DoJ attorney – asking if she knows where Butler students are zoned to go in the school district’s plan.
“I would assume the new Johnson,” Carolyn said.
Attorney: “Do you think that’s the best answer for reassigning the Butler students?”
“I don’t think so. HHS is alot closer to where I live, and for that matter, so is Grissom,” Carolyn Harris replied.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:32 pm

Attorney asks Carolyn about her impressions of the diversity at Columbia.
“It’s a very pleasant atmosphere, teacher/student ratio is good. Good interaction with teachers.”

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:33 pm

Attorney asks about her thoughts on the closure of McDonnell.
Harris: I don’t support it. McDonnell is a community school. It would break up the community, put programs at other schools, split up the community. (Summarizing)

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:36 pm

Attorney JR Brooks is cross-examining Carolyn Harris about various high schools. 

Middle daughter was happy at Lee High School. “Moderately happy,” Carolyn said.

“You understand it’s majority black.” “I do, she replied.

“Butler is majority black,” Brooks said.

“I think not having a math teacher at any school is a problem,” Harris replied.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:38 pm

Brooks asking why she wouldn’t be as happy with her kids going to Grissom. (As I understand this questioning, under the new plan her  kids would be zoned for Grissom.)

Harris said she is not as familiar with Grissom.

“I would prefer they go to Columbia,” Harris said.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:38 pm

10-minute break.

Claire Aiello May 23, 20143:44 pm

By the way.. the news station Carolyn Harris called, to address the problems with Butler not having a math teacher for the first 6 weeks of school – that was WHNT News 19.  Here’s our report: http://whnt.com/2013/10/01/parent-wants-something-done-about-butler-high-schools-math-teacher-problem/

Drew Galloway May 23, 20143:57 pm

Interactive Content Producer Drew Galloway here, taking over live blog duties for Claire Aiello.

Court is still in a break. Stay tuned for court to resume.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20143:59 pm

Court has resumed.

Attorney Brooks has called Stephani Hyatt to the stand.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20143:59 pm

Hyatt lives in Huntsville and Teaches AP English at Lee High School for 8 years.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:02 pm

Hyatt is detailing her curriculum vitae. She is a graduate from UAH and a member of many academic and pedagogical societies.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:04 pm

Hyatt assists English teachers throughout the Huntsville City School system. She provides instructional support to teachers to ensure students receive the best schooling possible.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:06 pm

Brooks is asking if she assists teachers at Johnson High School. She says she does.

She says she observes at Johnson the English teacher are incredibly enthusiastic and energetic teachers. Added Literacy blocks to 9th grade at Johnson has improved reading comprehension scores there, according to Hyatt.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:07 pm

Hyatt says the teachers at Johnson–more-so than any other school in the system–use data driven models to influence their teaching curriculum.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:09 pm

About Butler High School, Hyatt says the English department is the most collaborative department in the school system.

During their planning periods, teachers get together and share ideas for lesson plans.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:10 pm

Hyatt is explaining the digital one-to-one initiative.

Every student is given a laptop for instructional purposes and teachers use those to provide lessons.

Hyatt says she loves the initiative.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:12 pm

“I don’t know how I taught writing before Microsoft Word,” says Hyatt.

The majority of teachers have found positive ways to use the technology provided to the students, according to Hyatt.

She says the technology is most important for those who do not have access to computers at home.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:16 pm

Hyatt is explaining test data that teachers use to identify students that would do well in AP level classes. The use of this data has increased the number of students in AP classes.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:19 pm

Hyatt says the standards for each grade level are the same system-wide.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:21 pm

Brooks asked if teachers have the ability to fail a student.

Hyatt says yes, they can. When a teacher fails a student, it is at the end of a process that involves communicating with the parents of the student–and often after giving a student a “second chance.”

The racial breakdown of Hyatt’s AP class is approximately 70% African-American and 30% White/Other, according to Hyatt.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:22 pm

Hyatt says things aren’t perfect, but things are moving in the right direction with a lot of positive momentum.

Tests scores are improving and there is a lot of positive data coming out of the school system.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:23 pm

Hyatt says the reaction to the academic rigor of the AP classes in her school is “beautiful.”

Cross examination begins.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:25 pm

The DoJ attorney is asking for a breakdown of Hyatt’s instructional support of other teachers.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:28 pm

“It’s very hard to take a student reading well below grade level and move them up to current-grade level,” Hyatt says. She says she focuses on growth data rather than proficiency data.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:31 pm

Hyatt has left the stand with no further questions from either side.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:31 pm

Brooks says he has no further witnesses.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:33 pm

The judge says the court has a few additional questions for Dr. Wardynski. She also says she is entertain having some public comments added to the record.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:35 pm

People are lining up to give public comments that will be added to the record.

The judge says comments will be limited, due to this being a holiday weekend. The judge says she is going to try to have the proceedings done by 6 p.m.
Brooks renewed his objection to public comments.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:39 pm

Richard Showers Sr. is at the microphone.

He says he was employed by the Huntsville City School System for 36 years and all his children attended Huntsville City Schools.

He says he is speaking out of concern for young boys and girls. He says he was disappointed because he was disrespected by the administration’s “arrogancy.”

People were told to “hush” and “you can’t speak.” Replies were given “bluntly” and “negatively” to people who asked questions.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:40 pm

Showers says he asked at a community forum why students who were failing would be moved to already-failing schools and was not given a good answer.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:41 pm

Showers says there is a tendency in this administration to pretend that there are no dividers between the schools at the north end of town and the schools at the south end of town.

The judge has ended Showers’ speaking time.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:43 pm

Mary Scott Hunter has taken the microphone.

She is the state school board representative for this area. She also has children in the Huntsville School System.

She says that Dr. Wardynski has been nothing but fair with her.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:43 pm

Hunter says the credibility of the persons and leadership behind the plan speak to the fairness of the plan.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:45 pm

Mayor Tommy Battle has taken the microphone.

He says through the past 5 months, he has been in the majority of the schools in the system, most of which are school classified as “failing” by the state, to investigate what is going on to change that status.

He says in each school, he has found eager administration, teachers, and students in every school.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:45 pm

Battle says he found a system “on the move and going in the right direction.”

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:46 pm

Battle says everyone is in the court room for the students. He says that he is thankful to make a difference.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:48 pm

Elizabeth Flemming has taken the microphone.

She says she is a graduate of the Huntsville City School System and her mother is a teacher at Huntsville High School.

She is the director of the School’s Foundation in Madison County, a non-profit.

She says what they are seeing in Huntsville City Schools in an intense focus on professional development that will get students ready for AP classes.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:50 pm

She says everyone is worried about change, but she believes this plan will give equal access to quality education.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:50 pm

Jeff Grimes, a parent of children in the Huntsville School System, has taken the microphone in support of the plan. He has encouraged the judge to favor the plan put forth by the Huntsville board.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:54 pm

Oscar Montgomery Sr. has taken the microphone.

He says he is compelled to stand and ask the judge to support the position of the Department of Justice. He says that will ensure the good programs put in place in the Huntsville City School System will be put in system wide.

He says the Huntsville City School System has to be forced to do the right thing.

He also says his trust in the system has been betrayed in the past.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20144:57 pm

Mary Jane Caylor has taken the microphone.

She says she is a former superintendent of the Huntsville City School System.

She was a teacher in 1963–when the Huntsville City School System was integrated.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:01 pm

Caylor says in 1982 she became superintendent. She says she inherited a school system that was drawing up a redistricting plan that was not going in the right direction.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:03 pm

Caylor retired in 1991.  She served on that Alabama State Board of Education for several years after that.

She says, speaking from her experience, it is not the responsibility of the superintendent to go before the board wit four or five plans, but to lead the system and do the due diligence needed.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:05 pm

Caylor says Dr. Wardynski listened and was accessible at meetings.

She voices her support of the Huntsville City School plan.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:08 pm

Ann Kavah has taken the microphone. She is a vice president on the Huntsville Council of PTA’s.

She says Dr. Wardynski puts the needs of the students first in everything he does. She says there is still work that needs to be done, but they are moving in the right direction.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:10 pm

TC Johnson has taken the microphone. He is a local pastor.

He says he was shocked when he attempted to purchase a house in 1977, he was shopped to north Huntsville, while white coworkers of his were shopped to south Huntsville.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:12 pm

He says he doesn’t want the DoJ out of this case until it is ensured that the right thing is being done.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:15 pm

Huntsville County of PTAs President Elisa Ferrel has taken the microphone.

She says the biggest problem in the school system is the achievement gaps, but she doesn’t want to bring down the high achieving schools, she wants to bring up the poorly achieving schools.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:16 pm

Michael Jones has taken the microphone. He says he was upset when he saw the new plan. He says the service technology classes were being moved to north Huntsville and the robotics and engineering classes were being moved to south Huntsville.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:23 pm

Ocie Maddox Jr. has taken the microphone. He says he lived in Huntsville during integration.

He says he has a problem with the disrespect dealt to him and his friends at the Huntsville City School Board meetings. He says he loves Huntsville but does not love the “railroad process” the plan was approved through.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:27 pm

Clarence Johnson has taken the microphone. He says he is a local pastor who arrived in Huntsville in 1989.

He says his experience as the president of a local social action committee was that he was not heard at board of education meetings.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:31 pm

Johnson says he is upset about the renaming of Johnson High School. He says it was not done in the time laid out by the school board.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:39 pm

Kathy McNeal has taken the microphone. She is an employee of Huntsville City Schools in assessment in accountability.

She says since Dr. Wardynski came to the system, Huntsville City Schools’ quality of education has increased.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:45 pm

Jane Dneefe has taken the microphone. She says she supports the DoJ plan. She says combining Johnson and Butler does nothing to further integration.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20145:58 pm

Marjrie Battle has taken the microphone. She says she’s not worried about the name change to a high school. She says this whole trial is about race.

She says there are two different Huntsville’s, and they are not treated equally.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20146:01 pm

Lucia Cape, Vice President of Economic Development of the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville Madison County, has taken the microphone.

She says 46% of the people in Madison County are not from here. She says the first question she is asked by people moving here is “what are the schools like?”

She says, as a parent, she has faith in the school system.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20146:04 pm

The judge will allow three more short comments before concluding.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20146:09 pm

The judge has asked Dr. Wardynski to return to the stand.

The judge is explaining that the trial is not at a point that a declaration of unitary status can be asked for or received with this motion.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20146:11 pm

The judge is asking Dr. Wardynski about timing concerns the school board has.

Wardynski says time is of the essence. He says every day the kids at Butler don’t have an answer about what will happen, their focus drifts and they could be looking elsewhere.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20146:13 pm

Wardynski says Butler is too small to field many programs right now, including a football team. He says students leaving Butler are sending a message.

He also says that people won’t be choosing places to live in the future, they will be picking schools.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20146:15 pm

He is stressing that he needs a decision soon to give people certainty. He says the decision the judge makes could affect the size of Jemison High School.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20146:15 pm

Wardynski says what’s best for the kids is to be able to offer them a school with the best programs.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20146:17 pm

Wardynski says if the judge makes a decision, he can begin to take actions.

The judge says a lot of his concerns could have been avoided if the board had come before the board with a student assignment plan, which is at the center of this hearing.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20146:24 pm

Dr. Wardynski has left the stage. The judge has dismissed people who want to leave while she takes comments from two audience members who were not able to speak. Those two people’s statements will be added to the record and the hearing will be adjourned.

Video feed has ended in the overflow room.

Drew Galloway May 23, 20146:26 pm

Thank you for following this hearing with us. WHNT News 19 at 6:30 starts shortly.



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