Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Phase III Checks a Lot of Boxes

Our school district is currently in the bidding window for the biggest project since construction of the high school: Phase III of the elementary renovation. The journey to get to this point has been long and included multiple trips back to the drawing board, reorganizing our priorities, and asking for community input. We began planning for Phase III over a year ago, and in February of 2018 we engaged with a community stakeholder group to consider the future of our school district and specifically facility needs as we anticipate enrollment growth. Since those cold February meetings, the school board has been focused on developing a plan that addresses some of those priorities, while at the same time working within the confines of an unforgiving budget. During our deliberations the school board has come to realize that not all our priorities are going to be met and that there will always be a 'next project' right around the corner. However, with an 'all in' budget of $5 million, we'll find out on January 15th just how far we'll be able to go, and how much we will be able to accomplish. 

The number one priority as outlined by our survey of the community and focus group is to address deferred maintenance in our facilities and have a refreshed image of the school district. Rounding out the top three are locker room improvements and enhanced building security. In all, there were nine identified priorities with a price tag that was just staggering. But as the saying goes, the only way you eat an elephant is one bite at a time. If you are interested in reading the full report, click here.

As a start, our Phase III work will complete what was begun in Phases I and II; the replacement of windows, lights, and HVAC in the lower elementary wing. We learned some valuable lessons in Phase II when we were faced with the difficult problem of determining how best to tackle some air quality issues this past fall. Investigations into the cause included pressure testing the facility and incorporating those findings into the scope of this next project. That has led to this next phase including the addition of a dedicated outside air system which will exchange the air in and out of classrooms creating positive pressure outflows.

The centerpiece of this project is included in the photo rendering above and meets the 'refreshed image' and 'improved security' priorities. A new elementary entrance will include enhanced security features that force patrons to enter the facility by first going through the office. Eliminating the blind entrance at the 'front door' to the elementary school was a big priority. At the same time all other entrances at both the elementary and high school attendance centers are scheduled to be replaced with a key card access system. Also, by relocating the elementary and middle school offices to this location it will enable the spaces currently being utilized for this task to be re-purposed into classrooms. Rooms like these will be needed as our enrollment grows.

What is unseen in the depiction above is what is happening on the other side of that facade. As a start, we plan to expand and renovate the commons, while at the same time creating an accessible entrance to the competition gym on the north side of the valley. Also, the restrooms and locker rooms are being renovated and updated, meeting a priority that was very high on the list for our students. Truth be told, whenever I have the pleasure of giving tours to prospective families, the one area I try to avoid is the locker rooms. Finally, the plan includes opening up the media center, creating great collaborative space for students and faculty to work together. 

Those are the highlights. How much and how far we will be able to go in order to make this project a reality depends on how the bids come in, which is scheduled to happen on January 15th. In the meantime, if you are interested in viewing the plans or seeing additional renderings please stop by my office. I would love to show them to you, share our vision, and answer any questions you might have. Following the receipt of those bids, the board will hold a public hearing on this project at 6:00 p.m. on January 21st in the board room. At that meeting, the board will make a final decision on this Phase III project.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Every Student Succeeds

Yesterday morning the Iowa Department of Education released the new online reporting website which describes how schools are performing as outlined by the new and updated Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). You may recall a prior version of this federal law, which was known as  'No Child Left Behind' (NCLB). The re-authorization of the law is titled the 'Every Student Succeeds Act' and replaces the punitive measures that were a mainstay of NCLB. Yesterday's release meets the [federal] school accountability requirements of the law. While schools are still designated as having met or not met the prescribed benchmarks, punitive measures are no longer used as a hammer for school districts. Instead, the law is designed to provide supports and assistance to school districts that have been designated as needing comprehensive or targeted assistance. 

As mentioned above, when designating a school or school district there are two different categories in which a school district can be identified for assistance: comprehensive or targeted. A school that is designated as needing comprehensive assistance means the school has not met the prescribed benchmarks. On the other hand, schools designated as receiving targeted assistance would indicate a school district where a subgroup is not meeting benchmark. 

There are a number of criteria used to make the determination, including participation in the statewide assessment, graduation rate, proficiency, and growth. This is not an exhaustive list, so you can read more about these indicators, the others used, and the formula applied in the calculation of the designation by reading the report. This new system marks a significant change in determining school designations. In the past, a heavy reliance was placed on proficiency; whereas under this new model more emphasis is placed on the growth that a student makes along with the other indicators described in the report. That could be the reason why some school districts with high proficiency find themselves on this new list. 

Nevertheless, I am happy to report that all schools in the Hudson Community School District have met the targets as outlined in the Iowa School Performance Profile. You can view our results by clicking right here. We are very proud of the academic performance of our students and of the hard work our teachers put in each and every day on behalf of the children of this community. 

At the same time we recognize that work remains. While this result is good, we are still working to better understand some of the internal variables, mechanisms, and nuances of the reporting criteria. Why is this? Because we want to be better than good! We are now making preparations for a new statewide assessment that is better aligned to the content taught in our classrooms. We anticipate this assessment will enable us to further fine tune and target our instructional practices in a manner that takes our achievement to the next level and further closes the achievement gap.