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Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Stink

Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Stink

While this article is ostensibly about our local education system, really it could be taken as general life advice. This advice, albeit completely unsolicited and 100% my own opinion, is something I hope many of you take to heart. In doing so, you’ll be making our schools and our community a better place.

So what’s my AMAZING advice?

When you see something, or hear about something happening that is unacceptable to you – speak up. Don’t be afraid that others will disagree with you, that someone in “power” will not like what you have to say. Make sure you are heard even if that means circumventing the traditional outlets for complaints and comments.

Having said that, let me be clear here.

It’s always easier and usually more productive to work WITHIN the system. So join your local PTA, attend school board meetings, get to know your local representatives BEFORE you have a complaint (this way they don’t see you as just a naysayer).

But if you try those avenues and nothing gets done, you are ignored, or you are told flat out that your only remaining option is to “sue the school board” then consider doing things a little differently. Want some examples of what I’m describing?

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  • Or how about our very own Russ Winn, whose simple act of attending board meetings, asking questions, and reporting back what happens on his blog has caused him to be labeled “intimidating” by someone (who isn’t exactly clear since the only people willing to go on record claimed they thought no such thing) and escorted out of a board meeting.

It’s possible you don’t agree with what these three did. Maybe you don’t like the stand they took/are taking. But it’s hard to argue with the fact that they are devoted parents and concerned citizens who are diligently doing their part to fight for perceived injustices that are suffered by those who need our help the most – our children. Marian Wright Edelman once famously said, “If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much.” Who can argue with that?

So, when you see something happening you don’t agree with, don’t let the threat of bad publicity, spiteful comments, or disagreeable looks in the school parking lot stop you from doing what you believe in your heart is the right thing. When you are guided only by a desire to help those who need it, you will be doing the right thing regardless of what others think.


View Comments (16)
  • Absolutely! You can never be wrong standing for what is right!

  • Teachers need parental support and involvement. That truly is the difference between a successful and a failing school.

  • Jennifer, I think I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you on this. While several of the examples listed have gotten results, I think that there are many more quiet examples who follow the correct procedure, go through the correct channels, and get things done. You don’t always have to “make a stink” to accomplish something. In fact, in many cases raising a stink makes people less likely to help you. The old adage “You’ll attract more flies with sugar than with vinegar” does have some truth to it. Another downside is having your children watch you throwing a fit; you’re trying to teach them NOT to throw temper tantrums, but what are you doing? I think these days too many people are skipping the proper procedure, which could get them results, and going straight to throwing fits. It’s unfortunate really, when you realize that the kids are the ones on the losing end of this situation. Stand for what’s right, but learn how to do it in the right way.

    • Lexie,having a temper tantrum is not what Jennifer is advocating. She is talking about standing up for yourself, your kids, and your community. Russ spends hours and hours checking his facts and building arguments, and if you followed his blog, you would know what the Board found most threatening was the evening he used part of his allotted 3 minutes to stand silently awaiting a response, which, unsurprisingly, never came — hardly tantrum behavior. Attracting flies with sugar suggests sweetly persuading people to do your bidding as a favor to you: obeying the law and doing their jobs are not special favors to be coaxed from other adults.

      Jennifer calls it making a stink, I call it making a fuss. These are the considerations I suggest for deciding if it is worth it.

      1. Will making a fuss hurt someone who doesn’t deserve to be hurt? Yes: NO fuss.
      2. How sure am I that things could have and should have been done differently? Not very: NO fuss.
      3. What’s done is done, but is there a good chance that what distressed me might cause someone else anguish in the future? Yes: FUSS
      4. Is there even a remote possibility that my making a fuss could make a positive difference and maybe someday alleviate another person’s suffering? Yes: FUSS
      5. And finally, most importantly, could something happen to make me regret not having made a fuss? YES: FUSS. And its corollary: what could happen that would make me regret having made a fuss?

    • Lexie – I appreciate you speaking up despite the likelihood that you would be in the minority here (that’s kind of what the article is all about). I struggled with how to write this article in a way that conveyed my desire for parents to ALWAYS first work within the system while still encouraging them to not give up if they are convinced they are right even when others think they are not.

      I’m afraid my word choice has thrown some people off and I’ll admit to taking creative license there because I just think the term “Make a Stink” sounds better for a title than “Make a Fuss”. I most definitely am NOT encouraging people to throw temper tantrums. Having worked as a teacher and administrator in three different schools systems before staying at home with my daughter, I have dealt with that type of parent and you are absolutely right. That is a terrible example to set for children and it makes the people you are interacting with not want to work with you.

      In all three examples I gave, the adults went through the proper channels (speaking with teachers, PTA members, administrators, etc. first) but had varying levels of success with those channels and ultimately had to pursue other options (local media, blogs, partnering with other local organizations) to draw attention to something that our school system refused to acknowledge or answer to until they did so. I didn’t go into specific details about the various examples because that’s not really what the article was about. I wished for it to be a more general reminder that parents shouldn’t be wary of standing up for something so precious to them – their children.

      These examples are obviously extreme cases and I truly believe most issues parents have are better resolved at the teacher/parent level or the teacher/school level. So I agree with you (and Laurie), be very discerning about when you make a stink. If you don’t, you’re not changing much, you’re just stinky. 🙂

    • Well I would just like to stand up and say that a bully is a bully and I know personally that the Mountain gap mother who was trying to make sure kids had proper nutrition was not even trying to step on toes, make a stink, or anything else people claim. She was trying to plan a fund raiser set up a fund and give schools free money for children. Unless the whole situation is known I don’t think it is right to assume someone is “throwing a fit” in fact she was doing the opposite and teaching her children when you want to help others make a plan and put it in action. The school board was the one throwing the fit

  • Laurie, I appreciate your response. I agree with your considerations and I’m glad that you posted them. My concern is that more people skip these considerations and go straight to the making a stink portion.
    Also, perhaps I should have phrased my post a little better- I did not mean sweetly persuading other people to do your bidding. My meaning was to try civil discourse instead of other behaviors.
    As someone who watches the school board very carefully (and I am very aware of Russ Winn and his history of stunts) I unfortunately see people who behave obnoxiously and then expect representatives of Huntsville City Schools to bend over backwards to help them. It’s painful to watch and I wish more people had a list of considerations like you do!

  • “Stunts” are actions inappropriate to the setting: I’m unaware of any Russ Winn stunts. “Civil discourse” is what I believed he has sought, and is certainly what I have when I make a fuss, that is direct, unequivocal, truthful answers to questions, and explanations for actions — or inactions.

  • Very good point, Jennifer. Things don’t change if you don’t question authority, and when authority doesn’t listen, then you definitely find a way around it. The fact is that some of our local officials have a poor track record of responding to parent concerns, so at some point, you accept that for what it is, but you don’t give up trying to make things better. Any procedures that are in place should be as a guide for navigating the system–they should not to make it impossible for us to be heard or to advocate for change. Unfortunately, this is where things are headed. Russell’s experience proves that–you can’t even get an answer at the school board meetings. When our elected leaders refuse to listen, then as far as I’m concerned, the rules go out the door. In the case of the school system, the priority should be about helping our kids, and any and all discussions should be welcome. As someone who has been called a troublemaker, I’ll happily accept that label, because at least it means I tried to make a difference.

  • Lexie,

    Thank you for speaking out on this blog. I truly appreciate that you are willing to share your opinions especially when your opinions are different from mine. (Yes, I’m sure that will sound “sarcastic.” I do not intend it as so.)

    It has never been my intention to have a “history of stunts.” Nor has it been my intention to really make a stink.

    My intentions are simple: I would like my children to have a fair education.

    Beginning back in April of 2011, I began asking a simple and direct question. I wanted to know why the district had decided to consolidate special education kids into primarily three schools, and I wanted to receive a copy of the plan to do so in writing so that I may attempt to understand it.

    I asked the questions through all of the proper channels. I asked them privately via emails and phone calls.

    I was constantly assured that I would have my answers soon. I simply needed to wait for Dr. Moore to make a presentation. Then I simply needed to wait for Dr. Richardson to sign off on the decisions. Then I simply needed to wait for Dr. Wardynski to arrive. Then I simply needed to wait for Dr. Wardynski to study the situation.

    Finally, I simply needed to forget about the issue because it was at that point, fait accompli.

    I attempted to receive answers to my questions via the proper channels for six months before I began to speak out.

    I repeated this same process with a simple question of why the district was cutting the special education budget by $7 million dollars from 2011 to 2012.

    Again, I asked the questions in private and received no answer. I was told if I would simply file a grievance with the board that I would receive an answer within seven days.

    I received a phone call from Mrs. McCaulley, who assured me that I would get an answer if I only followed their procedures, within moments of filing my grievance telling me that the board “does not have a policy for when the citizen concern is really against the board.”

    I have been attempting to follow all of the rules and regulations for raising issues with the board of education for more than a year.

    Not once have I received a straight answer.

    I’m curious, what approach would you recommend I follow to bring issues to their attention and to receive an answer to my questions?

    Again, thank you for your advice and opinions. Unlike the board, I appreciate hearing from people who disagree with me.



    Russell Winn

  • Russell: You’ve taken a lot of grief and abuse in your attempt to ask questions and get answers. It is our duty, as parents, to advocate for our children, and you have done so admirably for your son and for other children in special education. Asking questions should not be threatening to people who don’t have questionable intentions. If their heart is in the right place and they’ve done their homework, then they shouldn’t mind it. But if someone has power issues or something to hide, then I guess they won’t like it so much.

    You’ve been an inspiration to me, that’s for certain.

  • Lexie
    I can attest to the fact that Russell has indeed attempted to follow the correct procedures and utilize the correct channel in his dealings with the board and the administration. Initially, Russell joined myself and other concerned parents to form a group with the goal of working with the board/administration to address concerns and issues specific to the treatment of special needs children. We were assured by the board members that we’d have a voice in the new administration and that they desired to work with us to facilitate an appropriate education and environment for our children. We were given the opportunity to participate in the selection of our next leader and were again assured at various stages that the new administration desired to work with us to address these concerns. Unfortunately, these assurances now appear to be nothing more than smoke screens to buy time until the new administration could assemble its power base. No genuine attempt has been made to proactively engage the parent groups and in fact in some instances, as documented on Russell’s blog, this administration as acted with disregard of parental concerns. After experiencing zero progress in this regard, parents banded together to form a PTA for special needs children, with the hope that a more official organization would garner better attention from our superintendent. Alas, we are still waiting for real dialog with this administration.

    In light of that, I’d say that the only other reasonable course of action, until such time that board members can be voted out of office, is to make use of board meetings and blogs to continue to raise the issues before the leadership with the hope that somehow reasonable minds will realize the need to address these issues. Standing for a short duration expecting an answer to a question that has been asked a multitude of times is no more a “stunt” than enacting across-the-board changes like the merger of schools without reasonable discourse and buy-in from stakeholders. I’d say that posting security guards around a board meeting because of one parent is more of a “stunt” than that same parent attempting to record the meeting. The acts of Russell which might be seen as stunts are really nothing more than a final attempt, using the only real means remaining available, to seek answers to very specific and important questions. These are answers that should be readily available but are hidden away by this administration. We can speculate on why these answers are hidden, but the bottom line is that this board and this administration simply refuse to engage and answer to we the people, and more importantly their employers.

    Before you draw the conclusion that I’m a Russell Winn cheerleader, let me state that although he and I have many ideas in common, we also disagree on some things. We don’t always agree on what qualifies a person to lead a school system. We don’t always agree on how the school system should be run. We don’t use the same tactics to elicit change in the school system, and that’s OK. Russell and I can agree to disagree on many things, understanding that each of us has a primary goal of obtaining a better education and better treatment of our kids. As long as that end goal is achieved, I think we would both be happy regardless of how we got there. However, despite the differences we have I can certainly say that Russell has been above board in his dealing with the administration, and has made use of all of the proper procedures and channels.

    • Thank you for adding your viewpoint here. The information you’ve shared is helpful to our discussion and much of it is news to me (despite the fact that I know Russ well).

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