Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Five Years Later...

Today is a milestone for me! When the calendar rolled over this morning I began my 6th year at Hudson! Yep, July 1, 2010 was my first day as Superintendent of the Hudson Community School District. In addition to that, I was starting from scratch because I had never been a superintendent before. I am also not quite sure you all remember this, but all of my experience prior to arriving at Hudson was in the parochial system.

I can hardly believe so much time has passed. It began with very little ceremony and not quite as I had anticipated. Although it was safe to say I didn't know what to expect, after all I had never been a superintendent before! Admittedly I was pretty naive about my new role and all the responsibility that would come along with it. For starters, the only people who work July in most school districts are the central office staff and custodians. All the principals, teachers, and students were gone. The beginning of this month tends to be pretty quiet, and with the Independence holiday on July 4th, if it works out right the staff can enjoy a long weekend. 

So as I began that July day in 2010 it was peacefully silent around the office. I had a lot of time alone and took the opportunity to try out the new set keys that had been left on my desk with the departure of my predecessor. Indeed I knew that I had big shoes to fill but felt up to the challenge. The only question was, where do I begin and what should I tackle first? Well, it was apparent that the first thing that had to be tackled was figuring out where everything was. While I was treated to a tour of the district and facilities during the interview, there were other thing on my mind that day than remembering where the restrooms were!

Those early days were filled with experiences that at the time seemed like major decisions. Today many of those same decisions are no longer considered major, but rather the routine variety of tasks a superintendent performs. I remember a couple brief moments of panic those first weeks: like receiving a bill for over $100,000 to renew our property and casualty insurance; or the second moment of fear: needing to borrow money to meet payroll in September. 

That large bill for property insurance still comes in early July, but fortunately we are no longer borrowing money to meet payroll obligations. It seems like an eternity ago! I sometimes marvel at all the changes that have occurred in the intervening years. I like to think that we have gotten better in our time together.

So today as the calendar turns over, I want to take a moment to welcome all the new superintendents in Iowa that are starting their tenure today. The next several weeks may at times seem overwhelming, but be patient with yourselves and take a deep breath. We were all there once.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Please Practice This Summer

I am very happy to see our weight room getting so much use this summer. The other day I stopped by and was impressed to see many of our student athletes working out! It is evident that our coaching staff has instilled a strong work ethic in these young people and convinced them that without practice and training they will ultimately be left behind. Parents deserve some credit too, after all you are supportive of these efforts. It is also not lost on me that your support sometimes includes a stern warning to get out of bed and out the door in the morning!

Practice is important in all aspects of our young people's development, in the weight room and in the classroom. Often the summer becomes a time to relax and not worry about school, particularly those things that are academic in nature. However, if we spend too much time relaxing and not practicing the academic concepts we have worked on during the school year, it can cause us to go a little bit backward in our learning. As an example, each fall as we get started with the school year a portion of our time is spent in review, catching up from the well documented and studied concept of summer slide. Practice is even more important this year, especially when considering the length of our summer. With the dismissal of school on May 21st, we won't reconvene until August 24th. That is quite a gap in learning!

Just like our athletes are spending time in the weight room and at open gym(s) this summer practicing and refining their skills, I would invite all our students (and athletes) to make sure that you are exercising your mind as well as your body! You don't want to be left behind on the field of athletic competition, and we don't want you to be left behind in the classroom either. There is perhaps no skill more important for continued practice than reading. In fact, the stakes couldn't be higher! To remind everyone, beginning in 2017 any student that is not a proficient reader by the time they complete the 3rd grade is required by law to be retained or participate in a remedial summer school program. In some cases both may be necessary! While we may agree that this heavy handed approach is misguided, it certainly shines a light on the importance of reading.

I have long opined the most important skill and concept we teach in elementary school is reading. Think about it for a moment. There is no other content area that has so much devoted instructional time during the course of the school day. The financial resources that we commit to reading not only include instructional material, but personnel as well. We have a teacher on staff specializing in reading instruction and working with struggling readers, as well as a full time instructional coach that focuses on literacy and the implementation of research based instructional strategies that we know will work. Candidates for elementary teaching positions at Hudson Schools are often disqualified if they do not have an endorsement for reading instruction. The fact is, there is no concept or skill that is more important than learning how to read. 

But just like those skills we have worked so hard to refine in the gym, if we don't practice them we tend to get rusty and lose our edge. I implore you to continue to sharpen and refine those skills this summer! A few suggestions might include taking advantage of the summer reading program at the Hudson Public Library. This summer, they are hosting a reading program titled, "Every Hero Has a Story". If you haven't checked it out yet, I would encourage you to do so! We are also once again hosting the UNI Summer Reading Clinic here at Hudson. A mutually beneficial partnership, the clinic serves as a practicum field experience for pre-service teachers learning how to teach reading, while also providing a valuable tutoring service for our students. 

There is no doubt that summertime provides a well deserved break from the rigorous academia of the school year. We want all our families to enjoy the summer and have a lot of fun in the sun! But at the same time, please take a little time each day to practice those skills that you worked so hard to develop during the school year.