Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Reflections from Retiring Board Member Jerry Griffith

When asked to reflect on my eleven years as a Director on the Hudson School Board, five of which I served as President, I have a deep sense of accomplishment as well as gratitude to those who supported the Board, Administration, Staff, and students to make Hudson Schools an outstanding environment to raise a family and have all of our children receive a top rate education.

Our family moved to Hudson Schools in 2002.  My wife, Susan, and I enrolled three children in school:  Ian, 8th grade, Zach, 6th grade, and Olivia, Kindergarten.  I always wanted to be involved in our kids’ education and soon found myself visiting classrooms in the elementary, participating on the board of the Athletic Boosters, and actively supporting the Music Boosters.

In 2006, I was encouraged to run for school board and was elected with 100% of the vote.  Needless to say, I was the only candidate on the ballot, but it was still nice to get that vote of confidence that stakeholders in the school cast their vote for me.  Ever since that first election, as well as the subsequent elections I won in 2009 and 2013, I have taken my responsibility as a school board member very seriously.  Often times, we get asked as board members why we decided to take the action or make the decisions that we do as a board.  My thoughts on this are if others were to study the issues and understand all the facts with clarity without mixing in personal opinions, rumors, or only a part of the whole story, they would very likely come to the same conclusion.

There are four areas of accomplishments of the school board over the last 11 years I would like to elaborate on:  leadership, financial responsibility, student achievement, and facilities enhancements.

Leadership
One of the most important roles of the school board is making sure we have excellent leadership in our Superintendent of Schools.  During my time on the board, we have worked with four different Superintendents:  Mr. Dave Pappone was just leaving our district as I was coming on the board.  Due to the timing of his departure, after the school year had begun, we had an interim Superintendent for a year in Mr. Ron Crooks.  We then hired, in my opinion, two outstanding Superintendents to lead our district, Dr. Roark Horn, 2008-2011, and Dr. Anthony Voss, 2011-present.  It has been a pleasure to work with them in that relationship between the School Board and lead administrator of our district.

Financial Responsibility
During the first several years on the board, our financial position was slowly deteriorating.  There are many financial metrics we monitor and try to manage, but the most important gauge of our financial health is that of Unspent Balance.   It was quickly going to be in the “red” if we didn’t take action.  The primary contributors to our Unspent Balance are student enrollment and employee salaries.  We have been on a downward trend in enrollment almost every year during my time on the school board.  The good news is, there appears to be some optimism that this trend will start to reverse itself soon as we are seeing several developments and housing opportunities to allow families to move into our school district with school-age children.  But while we continued to see reduced numbers of children enrolled in our schools it became necessary to make some adjustments to our staffing and curriculum to balance our funding available and start to turn the trend around regarding the status of our Unspent Balance.  Some of these required adjustments were not very popular with certain stakeholders in our district.  They were not taken lightly and much debate and thorough analysis took place at the board table to try to make the best decision for our students, staff, parents, and others invested in our schools.  I am happy to report we have achieved a much more comfortable level of Unspent Balance during the last several years given the size of our budget, and continue to monitor it very closely.

Student Achievement
In addition to our regular review of student achievement goals, navigating our direction due to changes at the state and national level regarding the core standards for education, measures of academic progress, and funding support for new curriculum materials, there have been four paramount initiatives the board has worked hard to fund and support our administration and staff to incorporate into our learning environment:  Professional Learning Communities (PLC), the Teacher Leadership System, Connected Learning, and 4 Year Old Pre-School.

The school board has provided the funding and support for the entire staff to participate in training during the summers over the last several years to become knowledgeable and proficient in the use of the concept of professional learning communities.  This has allowed them to be more effective team members and problem solvers. 

Hudson Schools was fortunate to be one of the first schools chosen to participate in the new Iowa Teacher Leadership System.   Now, four years later, all schools in the state of Iowa have the ability to participate in this system and gain the benefits that it provides through an additional emphasis on teacher coaching and support. 

A few years ago we began our connected learning initiative, which some refer to as a one-to-one computer environment where every student has a school-issued laptop.  We were deliberate in how we rolled this out and funded this initiative, as this is a very expensive undertaking.  But when you measure this against the expense of continuing to support computer laboratories or other technology in the classrooms, the numbers started to make sense when we began the initiative, and now we have a connected learning environment at all grade levels, with laptops available for every student in grades 5-12.

I am excited to see Hudson Schools begin a four-year-old preschool this year.  For many reasons, this took a lot of persistence and persuasion by our administration to convince the state that we should be allowed to proceed, but in the end, we now can provide this education service that had been a gap for our school district relative to almost all other schools in the state.

Every graduation during the past 11 years I have had the privilege of being a participant in the graduation ceremonies.  This is, in my opinion, one of the best parts of being a school board member.  Almost every year, we have 100 percent graduation rate for our seniors.  It is with great pride we hand out the diplomas to our graduating seniors, especially when I can be the proud father to hand a Hudson High School diploma to each of our three children.

Facilities Enhancements
The last area I would like to reflect on is some of the improvements we have made in our facilities over the last 11 years.  These are often times much more visible to the public than the first three areas above that I have discussed concerning leadership, financial responsibility, and student achievement.  During each board meeting, we first focus on these items as well and then discuss our needs regarding facilities.

One of the first improvements I sought as a board member early in my time on the board was a five-year plan for investments of PPEL (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) and SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education) funds.  This is a rolling plan that is a living document and serves as our roadmap of spending for projects to improve our facilities through the use of these funds.  I have appreciated the board’s approach to funding our facilities improvements.  We have been patient and waited until the funds were available before we have taken on new projects.   We could get anxious and aggressive and try to fund much larger projects through seeking bond referendum approval, but I much prefer the pay as you go philosophy, which provides much more flexibility to changing needs and careful consideration on how the school’s limited funds are being utilized while minimizing the tax burden on our constituents.

We have accomplished many facilities improvements over the last 11 years through funding solely from the PPEL and SAVE funds directly under the control of the school board, but many projects have been done in conjunction with other school support groups such as the athletic boosters, music boosters, FFA support groups, and PTO, to name a few:
  • Greenhouse for Vo-Ag and Science curriculum
  • Parking lot and lighting improvements: East of Elementary/Middle School, North of Middle School, and High School
  • Weight Room, Concession and Restroom enlargement
  • Baseball/Softball Lights, new Concessions Building, and Dugouts
  • Acquisition and Development of adjacent hotel property for additional green space and future campus expansion flexibility if needed.
  • High School Auditorium upgrades for Fine Arts
  • Recurring budget committed for band instrument needs
  • Carpet and flooring replacement throughout campus
  • All locker rooms refurbished
  • Wrestling practice room refurbished
  • Middle School Commons and restrooms refurbished
  • High School Commons refurbished
  • High School Gymnasium bleacher seating and enhancements
  • Elementary restrooms refurbished
  • Building entrance security improvements
  • Bus, van, and automobile fleet upgrades

A study was commissioned several years ago titled Hudson 2020.  One of the results of this study was the priority we should put on updating our Elementary School facility.  As a result, we are on a several year project to do just that.  The first phase was completed this summer and as a result, 100 percent of our campus is now air-conditioned.  During the first phase this summer, air conditioning, new windows, LED lighting, ceiling tiles, exterior lighting, and handicapped parking stalls were established for the East portion of the elementary school.  Future phases will accomplish similar improvements to the remainder of the building.  But one of the enhancements I am most proud of is the completion of handicap access to our competition gymnasium in the Middle School for our students as well as our visitors via a ramp along with an ADA (Americans with Disability Act) accessible restroom in this hallway.

In summary, my goal 11 years ago was to have a better understanding of what was happening at our schools and to have a positive impact on the education for all of our students. I wanted Hudson to come to mind first when people think of a vibrant, thriving mid-sized school.  We have exceptional students, outstanding faculty and staff and a forward-thinking administration.  I worked cooperatively with fellow school board members, administration, faculty, staff, and other stakeholders in the community to continue building on the positive momentum we have at Hudson Schools.

I encourage everyone to get involved in Hudson Schools in some way, whether you have children in school or not.  The vitality of our school has a big impact on the vitality of our town.  Whether it is as a classroom volunteer, student mentor, PTO, Lego League coach, music, athletic, of FFA booster, an audience member at a fine arts performance, a fan at an athletic event, or maybe even consider serving as a school board member, all of these actions help support our students and the mission statement of our school board, “We create effective learning environments that result in success for all students.”

It has been a pleasure and an honor to serve the Hudson Community School District.
Thank you for this opportunity and Go Pirates!

Jerry Griffith
Director, Hudson School Board
2006-2017
President, Hudson School Board
2011-2016














Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Flat World

This blog idea has been percolating in my draft bin since 2011. I have been patiently waiting for that moment of inspiration to arrive, and it finally has! The title is a nod to the New York Times columnist and best selling author, Thomas Friedman. I became a fan of Friedman's after reading his book, 'The World is Flat', and have subsequently read most of his work including his columns in the NYT. While the purpose of this post is not to review or provide crib notes, to briefly summarize, the book is about the power of connectivity in today's society and how that has led to, in Friedman's words a 'flattening of the world'. Modern day technology has given us the capability to connect with anyone, anywhere, and at any time. The power to collaborate globally is now on a scale that was unimaginable twenty years ago. My apologies to Mr. Friedman for boiling down his book to a few meager sentence, I certainly don't do it justice and would recommend you read it!

Nonetheless, my interest in his work is to understand how these dynamics impact our P-12 educational system and our goal of preparing young people for this ever changing and globalized work environment. Certainly, our work with connected learning in our schools has given us the tools to engage in the modern, globalized world. As one example, a colleague of mine believes the advent Google is the most transformational component of our modern educational system. He points to the way Google, for example, has made collaboration locally and globally seamless. Taken further, the use of connected devices allow teachers to transform the educational experience and take our students to places that we never would have dreamed of even a few years back. I was at a presentation with George Couros last week where he commented that while we have great teachers in our schools with deep content knowledge on a whole host of topics, there is no substitute for an expert in the field. Consider a classroom unit on space. While our teachers are knowledgeable and qualified to deliver this content, the most capable teacher would be an astronaut because of the experiences they bring to bear. Connectivity allows us to bring those experiences and 'expert teachers' to our classrooms, and teachers do just that!

Education is meant to prepare our students for the day they will be members of a global community, not students in a classroom. And indeed, we often tell our students that in many cases we are preparing them for jobs that haven't yet been invented. One of my favorite stories comes from a business internship I participated in during my preparation to become a superintendent. At that time, (about a decade ago), I sat with young college graduates who had majored in 'Global Supply Chain Management'. While commonplace now, at that time it was an unheard of field of work. These young professionals were working to ensure the supply of a raw material from China made it to the manufacturing plant in the southern United States. There was great concern of a disruption (I can't remember exactly what the problem was anymore) that would have cost thousands of dollars for every hour the line was down. I think that major or occupation probably isn't all that fascinating or unique anymore. But how about this?

What about those careers that are considered 'traditional' occupations, that are just done differently now? Or high skilled jobs that may not require a BA, but the training and knowledge one must have to be successful in these careers is just, well....fascinating!

My wife Ann and I have a son Nathan who farms South of Cascade. After graduating, he attended NICC in Peosta and completed a welding program. By the way, Nathan's welding skills were discovered and honed by his agriculture teacher at Cascade High School. In addition to welding, Nate enjoys working outdoors, in particular agriculture and farming, so he also completed a beef production program at Kirkwood. These days, Nate operates a custom feeding operation on his farm, has some row crops and has carved out a nice career for himself. I am often amazed when he explains to me the complexity of the work he does in the cattle business, the calculations that go into the feed mixtures that are used, how much corn to feed, grass, etc. With his calculations, he can tell me how much weight a particular steer is going gain each day. His cattle barns are very pretty high tech, giving him the ability to change the air flow to maintain the temperature and comfort of his stock.

But what is really interesting is how Nate has built his welding business. Now, for starters let's understand that he is very good at what he does. I'm not bragging here or anything, but the evidence can be seen in the amount of business that comes his way. Recently he has begun to see an increase in custom fabrication, and one project he completed not too long ago included installing a cab on a piece of farm machinery that wasn't originally designed to have one. The engineering that went into this was complex for sure. But what happened in the last two weeks is what really blew my mind and brings us back to this idea of a 'Flat World'.

Nate was contacted by a guy who lives in Dubuque and works for a company in San Francisco. Interestingly enough, he got Nate's number from a competitor! Anyway, the guy wanted to know if Nate would be able to design and fabricate some parts that were going to be installed on skyscrapers in Pittsburgh. Well, during the planning process he needed a little more information in order to determine what material would be best suited for the parts. He found out that the company was piloting an autonomous car project in Pittsburg and needed these parts to affix GPS locators that would be used by the cars. I'd show you a picture of the part he designed, but I think it's proprietary so better not. I'm sure you've even heard of the company: it's called Uber.

Make no mistake. It's 2017 and the jobs that we are preparing our students for are changing. Whether it is a job in the high tech field of agriculture, designing for Uber, or working as a chemist on a cure for cancer; the ability to collaborate across the country, or globally is a pre-requisite for success.

Thankfully we are making those type of learning experiences commonplace in our school district. From the connected learning environment to the inquiry space: our students have the tools and the teachers to prepare them for this future and these type of careers!

Oh, and the revitalization of our business program and the 'Entrepreneurialship' class has come at just the right time,don't you think?