Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Miracles Happen Every Day

As discussed in a previous post, we have had a lot to celebrate in our school system recently. Successful athletic teams and great musical performances do a lot to boost morale and strengthen a culture that exudes school pride. Indeed, when the sports teams are winning it seems like everything else in the school tends to operate much more smoothly! Although I readily admit there is a lack of empirical evidence available to suggest a lower rate of absenteeism or fewer disciplinary referrals. Yet there is no mistake that everyone seems to feel a lot better about their school when the volleyball and cross country team(s) end the season as the state tournament runner up! These are the kind of successes that we can easily point to that make us feel good. We can see them, touch them, and celebrate when our team wins.  However, I would suggest that there is so much more below the surface to be proud of-successes on a much grander scale that you are in all likelihood blissfully unaware. 

I submit that miracles happen in our classrooms each and every day of the school year. Unfortunately those miracles are often known only to a handful of people. Miracles in that small space of time when a teacher connects with a student in a way that unlocks a great mystery of learning that had; until that very moment seemed insurmountable. Moments when the teacher reaches into their toolbox of strategies and grasps for their very last idea, and it works. It is then; almost as if you can see the barriers to learning fall away with an expression of wonder on both the face of the teacher and the pupil. For some of our learners this may not only be an instance of jubilant satisfaction and revelation, it can bring both the teacher and student to tears. Success!

Freshman English students learning about lyric poetry recently.
Fortunately for me, I oftentimes have a front row seat to bear witness when these moments of success occur. I have observed the high school student who makes a profound statement about the danger of global overpopulation, where they previously may not have grasped the enormity of life outside our community. And I have seen a second grade classroom perform a 'Readers Theatre' where each and every student, regardless of ability has an opportunity to shine. Some of those students, just weeks prior may have read in halting phrases, painstakingly sounding out words that made it all but impossible to understand and follow a main idea. Or how about the student we were so unsure of, who walks across the stage and receives their high school diploma?

We know the miracle that was witnessed is a result of the hard work that is happening between the teacher and the student. The result of painstaking application of time and field tested strategies. Intense remediation, and the practice that happens during classroom instruction. The extra time and effort that the teacher spends with a student before school, after school, or in what we refer to as 'Pirate Time'.

So while we celebrate with great pride all the success that our school district has had this fall, let's not forget where the real magic is happening! At the end of the day, the score that really counts will be the one in the classroom, and I can tell you those scores indicate that we are winning!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Supporting Residential Development in Hudson

The Hudson City Council voted on Monday night to move forward with a developers proposal to build a series of apartment buildings in the vicinity of Springfield Avenue. Conceptually, the project includes five apartment building consisting of twelve units each. The school district is supportive of this endeavor and encourages the city to move forward with this and other projects like it. Housing inventory that meets a multitude of income ranges is critical to the future of Hudson, and the Hudson Community School District. Since my arrival in Hudson almost seven years ago, the Board and I have lamented the fact that Hudson needs more housing inventory that is affordable for young families. This project is a good first step. 

As Superintendent of Schools I field numerous inquires year round from families who wish to enroll in our outstanding school system. One of the first questions I ask is, "Where do you live?" Often times and unfortunately we are unable to enroll many of these children because they are not residents. When I encourage them to move to Hudson they are unable; either because they can't afford to--or there is a lack of affordable housing inventory. While open enrollment is sometimes an option, families are often devastated to learn their application has been denied because of enrollment policies in place in their own respective resident district.

A lack of affordable housing isn't a phenomenon exclusive to Hudson or the Cedar Valley, as was recently discussed in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on November 20th. The editorial that day did an outstanding job of separating fact from fiction. For starters, the idea that affordable housing will negatively impact educational quality and drive down test scores is nonsensical. In fact, according to the Gazette, "Safe, affordable, and stable housing is a critical key to family stability that enables students to take root and thrive". We need to look no further than some of our own families in the school district who move frequently. It puts undo stress on them and leads to educational gaps, especially when a youngster may be moving from one school district to another. 

We fully understand the unique role the Hudson Community School District plays in our community. Furthermore, we are proud of the symbiotic relationship that exists between the school and the city, and want what's best for Hudson. At the same time all must certainly recognize that our success is interdependent on one another. In order for our city to thrive, so to must our school. And as the council pointed out at this meeting, the economic benefits of this decision are good for the entire community and will grow our tax base. Further, according to the National Association of Realtors, most studies indicate that affordable housing has no long term negative impact on surrounding property values, and some research indicates an increase in value (Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 20). 

Let's also be sure we understand what it is we are talking about here. This is affordable housing, which is a distinctly different paradigm from low income or subsidized housing. Affordable housing is just that: designed for young families that are working and simply don't have an income at this point in their lives that will enable them to make an investment in a home mortgage. When I graduated from college so long ago, I spent the first five years of my career living in an apartment complex that was affordable, in a small town not much unlike Hudson! 

Schools exist where there are children to educate. Obviously without children, there is no school and we have seen the devastating impact this has had on small Iowa communities all around the state. In fact, we don't need to look too far from Hudson to see how this played out. This project is certain to bring children to our community, which will have the benefit of growing our student enrollment as well as the population of our town. We are very lucky in Hudson, people want to move here! This development will provide a solution to a problem I have a front row of observing on a regular basis. When families want to move to town and have their children enroll in school, we will have a place for them to live. 

Hudson is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. People throughout the Cedar Valley recognize that. Our community must continue to move forward and I applaud the City Council on their progressive agenda of growth. I am incredibly proud of the progress that has been made over the last year and support this bold vision. Just look around: development is occurring on the Northern Tier and the second addition of Upper Ridges is open for residential construction. In fact, I eagerly anticipate moving to my new home in just a few short weeks. This apartment project is the next piece needed to move us forward. Again, I offer my strongest endorsement of this project. The school district stands ready to work with the city in any capacity that is requested.