Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Exploring Preschool

This year, 322 of 333 school districts in Iowa participate in the statewide voluntary preschool program. What began as a grant initiative in 2007 has now expanded to include the vast majority of schools in the state. The purpose of the statewide voluntary preschool program is to ensure that all 4 year old children in Iowa are ready to start kindergarten by providing access to high quality, research based preschool curriculum. While the Hudson Community School District was (and is) committed to ensuring our youngest citizens enter school ready to learn, we have felt that this was best served through our community providers. Indeed, our community providers have done an outstanding job of preparing our youngest students for kindergarten. Because our community providers have done such an outstanding job, the idea of implementing the statewide voluntary preschool program has been previously discussed in the district, but not with much vigor.

Now, almost a decade later, those discussions are beginning to occur with greater frequency and intensity. Not because there has been any erosion of service from our community partners; quite the contrary! They do, and hopefully will continue to serve a vital role in the education of our youth! The difference now is that our needs as a school district are changing.

For starters, we are now serving a greater number of children with special needs prior to kindergarten. Unfortunately, because we don't offer the statewide voluntary preschool, those students have to be served elsewhere. This is because preschool students with an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) are required to be served by a licensed teacher. We now have multiple students with special needs who are being transported to another school district each day for preschool. A preschool program in Hudson would eliminate that need. Our intention would be to employ someone with an early childhood and special education endorsement for this program.

Additionally it appears the wishes of our community are beginning to shift. When new families move to the area and ask about our programming, they are often very surprised to hear that we don't provide the statewide voluntary preschool. Have families opted to move elsewhere because of this? I'm not sure I could make that claim yet, but a school district that operates a comprehensive PK-12 program might be more appealing than one operating a comprehensive K-12 program.

Finally, our window of opportunity may be beginning to close. In 2007, what began with a $15 Million grant serving 5,126 students has grown to an annual allocation of $73 Million serving almost 23,141 students. Again, 322/333 or 97% of school districts in Iowa offer statewide voluntary preschool programs.

So our planning begins. Indeed we have our work cut out for us! At this point we have more questions about the process than answers. I am sure you do as well, and I encourage you to share them with us right here. Rest assured, we remain committed to working with our community partners ensuring all our children are prepared for success in school. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bullying and Harassment Defined

Our school district has one of the most comprehensive and strictest Anti Bullying/Anti Harassment polices that I have ever seen. In fact, the consequences of a student being found in violation of this policy can be quite severe. Our policy states that any student found in violation three times throughout their tenure at an attendance center of the Hudson Community School District will automatically be referred for expulsion. Think about that for a moment. If a student is found in violation once in the 4th grade, then again in the 5th grade; and finally again in the 6th grade they are referred for expulsion. This 'three strikes' policy predates my administration, and unfortunately we have had to enforce this provision several times during my tenure. Further, every time a bullying and harassment case has been brought before the board, they have followed through and indeed expelled students. There should be no mistake that the school district takes bullying and harassment very seriously at Hudson. Yet in spite of these incredibly stiff and final consequences, we are not naive enough to think that bullying and harassment doesn't occur. Our data would suggest otherwise.

If you would like to report bullying, please visit
www.hudsonpiratepride.com and click on this
button on the right hand side of the screen.
On the other hand, it is important to point out that not every report is a founded case of bullying or harassment. Additionally, if a complaint isn't filed with the school district, we can't very well investigate. So then, it is somewhat troubling that from time to time someone will state that their child has been a victim of bullying and the school district hasn't done anything about it. Upon investigation we often learn that the alleged bullying was never reported. 

Or, perhaps the case was investigated and wasn't founded. On occasion a bullying allegation is made in response to an unrelated issue that has come up in the school. These are also investigated, but just because someone alleges something doesn't necessarily make it true according to the criteria we use in our investigative process. In other words, it didn't rise to the level of bullying or harassment by the investigator. When investigating these claims, there are several criteria that must be met. For starters, the student is being targeted because they belong to a protected class as outlined in Board Policy Regulation 102.E4 and the Iowa Civil Rights Code. Those classes include: Age, Disability, Familial Status, Gender Identity, Marital Status, National Origin/Ethnic Background/Ancestry, Physical Attribute, Physical/Mental Ability, Political Belief, Political Party Preference, Race/Color, Religion/Creed, Sex, Sexual Orientation, or Socio-Economic Background.

There must also be a power differential between the bully and the target. Third, the bullying must cause a substantial disruption to the educational process as described or observed by a reasonable and prudent person. Finally, the behavior is usually (though not always) a repeated behavior. 

When we visit with our student body about bullying and harassment we emphasize these points while at the same time reminding everyone that conflict and insults on their own do not rise to the level of or constitute bullying behavior. We also remind our students that the most powerful deterrent to combat bullying is the bystander who reports the bullying, and the upstander who intervenes when they see someone being targeted. After all, bullying and harassment rarely occurs when a teacher or administrator is watching. 

We believe at Hudson we do a good job of investigating and properly combating bullying and harassment in our schools. However, like most school districts in Iowa we are cognizant of infrequent reporting. I will remind you that we have a reporting tool available on our website and would invite you to please use it to report alleged bullying cases. Or if it is more convenient I would encourage you visit with an administrator. As always, if you feel that an investigation has not been properly executed or the findings are in question, please contact my office.