Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Benefits of a Small School

The other day I had the opportunity to visit with a youngster who was contemplating an open enrollment to a neighboring school district.  Whenever that happens, I like to take some time to find out what the reasons are in an attempt to see if there is something we can do to avoid this transfer.  If there is a problem that is occurring in the classroom, I want to see we can solve it, and if it has to do with a conflict with another student, we are going to fix that problem.  In this particular instance, the youngster was interested in taking some classes that we didn't currently have on our list of course offerings.  This person has pretty high aspirations for life beyond high school, and wants to make sure they have some specialized courses.  Luckily, I think we are going to be able to accommodate this person and offer those classes through Hawkeye, the PSEO program through UNI, or in some instances we may be able to offer them in an online venue.  The point that I was able to make with this person was that if there is a particular class being sought, I believe we can find a way at Hudson to accommodate that request.    I am optimistic that we will be successful. 

As our conversation progressed, mom and dad asked excellent questions, but one question they asked had to do with the benefits of a smaller school like Hudson as opposed to some of our much larger neighbors.  I was very happy and thankful to answer this question, because it has so much to do with the culture of our school!  In our school, we have the opportunity to know your children on a personal level.  You have the ability to visit with your child's teacher, principal, and even superintendent pretty much unannounced.  In fact, just today I had some parents drop in to see me about an issue.  I am not certain you can just drop in on the superintendent in larger districts.  Although I could be wrong... 

We know how your child learns, what makes them tick, and are able to respond to issues quickly, efficiently, and effectively.  In fact, in all my years in education I have never had the privilege of working in a system where 'issues' were handled so effectively and efficiently.  At our school, there is a very high level of accountability; because of that we are a very safe school.  Do you have that at a large school?  Perhaps so; we have very good schools in our area, but at Hudson it is just different, and in a good way.  It is part of our culture that makes us so appealing.  Our core purpose is to 'Create effective learning environments that result in success for all students'.  That statement comes up in our meetings with teachers and administrators more than you probably realize.  The benefits are almost too numerous to count! 

Finally, last night another example of the benefits of our school hit me while I was at the Winter Concert.  As I was looking at the students performing on stage I noticed something interesting, that I knew but didn't really pay that much attention to.  The performers on stage were the same group of kids I saw on the basketball court the Friday night before, or the wrestling meet next week, or selling the fruit for the FFA, or...

You get the picture.  At our school, students have the opportunity to be involved, and not in just one activity, but as many as they want.  These young people are having the ultimate high school experience.  It is our size that enables us to do that.  Everyone can have the opportunity to shine!

Well, that is about all for this edition.  It is likely that this will be my last blog entry until after the new year.  That being said, on behalf of the Board of Directors I would like to wish you a very safe and joyful holiday season.  We hope you have the opportunity to rest, relax and recharge.  I look forward to seeing you in the new year! 

Friday, December 9, 2011


On Tuesday evening we had the opportunity to play host to Jesup in a varsity double header.  We had a pretty nice crowd on hand, considering just up the road a mere five miles UNI was hosting the University of Iowa in a Men's basketball game.

Now I have been around here for long enough that most of you know that I take sportsmanship pretty seriously.  In fact, when I have the chance to visit with coaches and talk about expectations they get to hear my thoughts.  It is pretty simple for me, winning is certainly important.  Losing gracefully is an equally valuable learning tool.  It would be pretty unreasonable to have the expectation that we win every game.  Who could live up to that?  What is a reasonable expectation is that we always react and interact in a respectful way to those around us.  Win, lose, or draw I tell the coaches that while they are playing to win the game, above all they are to teach our student athletes honor.  They are there to teach our youngsters how to be young men and women.

The University of Iowa's Men's Basketball coach Fran McCaffery failed miserably at that on Tuesday evening when he received a technical foul and was then escorted to the locker room by law enforcement.  His press conference following the game was equally disturbing.  Instead of owning up to his behavior and publicly apologizing to his team, he focused his comments on short sentence fragments about how well  he thought his team had played. 

Athletics and competition are an important learning tool in education.  They teach our students the value of teamwork, collaboration, and fair play.  Above all else they should teach respect and grace.  Who better than to model this than coaches?

Tuesday evening at Hudson, we saw a graceful display of sportsmanship on both sides of the basketball court.  Athletes and coaches from both Hudson and Jesup are to be commended for honoring their commitment to the students they coach and the communities they serve.

Coach, young high school athletes all across Iowa look to you for leadership and inspiration.  The right thing for you to do now is apologize to all the fans and young athletes you let down with your completely inappropriate behavior.

On Tuesday evening six miles to the North we saw a disgraceful embarrassment. Perhaps Coach McCaffery should borrow a page from our playbook?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Blueprint

For several weeks now, many people have been asking me to comment or blog about the blueprint.  I have resisted those requests for about as long as possible, always giving the excuse that I was waiting to hear more details, because to me it seemed as though the most important detail had been left out: the cost.  We still don't have the answers to those questions, but there are a few details that have begun to emerge that have given me a reason to raise my eyebrow. 

First Grade students showing off their finished gingerbread
houses they made.  Demonstration of learner performance goals
Quality Producers and Collaborative Workers.  Yes, it was also
fun and probably created memories that will last a lifetime!
One of the centerpieces of the reform plan was to be an overhaul of the teacher compensation system.  For those of you unfamiliar with teacher compensation, teachers are compensated according to years of service and degrees of education.  The basic salary structure is laid out in a matrix, and a teacher with a Bachelor's degree with three years of experience could expect to earn less than someone with a Master's degree and ten years of experience.  Now, there are certainly problems with this system and I am in agreement that we should look for new and innovative ways of compensation, but I am not completely sold on this one.  As I said in my opening, the details are what will determine which components of the plan rise and fall. 

A few weeks ago, the Governor announced that he was tabling the teacher compensation plan so it could be studied further.  That could be, but I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that there was (and is) no way to pay for this plan, and that lack of adequate funding may cause the entire plan to become yet another casualty of education reform in this country.  On one hand we have a Governor that says he is fully committed to restoring the education system to the best in the nation, even the world.  On the other hand, the allowable growth formula for this year is zero.  That's right, zero.  Believe me, I understand the challenges of trying to balance a budget when there is little revenue available, we lived through a major budget reduction last spring here at Hudson

But it is hard to take a plan like this serious when the answer to the funding dilemma is that we have enough money, it just isn't being used efficiently.  I suppose one could take offense to such as statement. Is there an assumption that perhaps money is being wasted?  It was not until documents were released over the weekend under the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) that we truly had that 'aha' moment.  My esteemed colleagues suspected that many or most of the categorical funds would be tapped to pay for the plan (a move we all object to), but I don't think anyone suspected the SAVE funds would be on the table.  There was no mention of schools who have already bonded against or obligated those funds.  In Hudson, we are no different.  Those receipts are being used to pay back our General Obligation bonds, a move that keeps property tax rates down.  Is this a misunderstanding of how Iowa school finance works?  A re-appropriation of those funds would  inevitably cause property taxes to rise.  Not a good plan for someone who ran on a platform of property tax reform!

Setting the money factor aside there are pieces of the plan that I am supportive of, after all who wouldn't be:  attracting and supporting talented educators, creating educator leadership roles, improve and expand the Iowa Core, a new assessment framework, ensure third grade literacy (although I have a concern with the punitive retention component), and of course anytime anywhere learning.  Sure I could go on, or even delve into these items in detail.  But the bottom line is that financing this package is going to be a pretty big hurdle to jump, and the answer isn't in re-appropriation of money.

Jamie Volmer spoke to school boards and superintendents a few weeks ago and gave an interesting analogy.  He said that we need to stop viewing eduction as an expenditure in the budget, but rather as a revenue or investment.  Well educated citizens get good paying jobs and pay taxes.  Well educated citizens improve the quality of life in our communities, contribute to society, and keep crime rates down.  A poorly educated citizenry, well the exact opposite is true.

I believe we are building two new prisons in Iowa right now.  According to the Center for Creative Justice it costs Iowa taxpayers approximately $30,000 a year to incarcerate an inmate, and the prison population in Iowa has increased by 340% from 1980-2006.  The cost to educate a student in Hudson for one year is $6,058.  Which would you rather pay for?

The education blueprint: sure there are parts of it that I am not too crazy about, and there are parts of it I want to hear more about.  At least we have a conversation started, I will give Department of Education Director Jason Glass credit for that.  They guy has certainly taken his share of criticism and body blows lately, but he should be credited for making education reform in Iowa a topic of conversation around the dinner table, and very soon in the halls of our legislature.  Let's make sure this conversation doesn't die on the vine for lack of funding.  We need to vet the ideas, find out which ones have merit and are good for Iowa schools, and figure out a way to implement them.  The ones that we are not so hot about, lets talk about why and figure out if there is another alternative.

I just don't know if we have the political will to put up the dollars it will take to make anything positive happen.  When the plan was released I was cautiously optimistic.  Now....just cautious.

Monday, November 28, 2011

From the Board Table: Senator Danielson Attends November 21 Board Meeting

We had a very productive meeting last week!  I think sometimes a perception exists that school boards are rubber stamps that merely provide the imprimatur of the superintendent's recommendation.  That could not be further from the truth for our school board!  The Hudson school board is thoughtful in their deliberations and thinks on their own.  They ask excellent questions and work hard to make the best decision for the school district.  My role is to make recommendations, answer questions, guide them in their decision making, and execute their wishes.  Because of this, we enjoy meetings that are rich with debate and discussion!  Rarely do our meetings last less than 90 minutes, and typically go between two and three hours (sometimes even longer)!

The Board was very pleased to have in attendance Senator Jeff Danielson, who addressed us on the status of the state budget.  He also provided his thoughts and insight into the Education Blueprint and predictions for the upcoming session.  I was happy that Senator Danielson took time out of his schedule to be with us the entire meeting.  He participated fully in the meeting and answered questions where appropriate.  I can say that the Senator is very receptive to our thoughts and ideas.  I very much look forward to working closely with him during the upcoming session!

Action was taken on a variety of building and grounds issues, and an update to the facilities plan through the 2014-2015 school year was shared.  If you have any questions on this plan or would like to see it, please give me a call!

Several policies were up for review or adoption, and I would just like to mention a couple here that you may be interested in hearing about.  First is the Student Permit Policy (Board Policy Code No. 502.10E1).  We have many students who have not yet earned a drivers license who are eligible for a school permit to drive to and from school and school related activities.  A new requirement was adopted into this policy requiring these students to complete the 8th grade before being issued a school permit.

The other policy that I wanted to mention is the Retirement Incentive Policy (Board Policy Code No. 402.6).  This policy provides financial incentive for employees to retire before they reach the normal retirement age.  You may be wondering why we would do something like this when the district is experiencing financial stress.  First, retirement incentive is paid through a separate funding source, so it has little bearing on the General Fund (which is where our challenge is right now).  So this is a way to reduce the those expenditures.  It is likely the Board will consider staff reductions this spring, but if some of our employees who are eligible for retirement take advantage of this incentive, it would provide a way to achieve some of these reductions through attrition.  Indeed this is a double edged sword for the district.  On one hand we stand to lose quality employees who bring a plethora of real world experience and expertise to the classroom.  On the other hand, we can hire a replacement teacher at a fraction of the cost.

Perhaps one of the most important decisions the Board made was a resolution to continue funding the At-Risk/Dropout Prevention program.  Mr. Lipinski addressed the Board during the meeting and shared with them numerous data to show the effect this programing has had on our school district in terms of preventing dropouts, decreasing failure rates, and an improved student culture.  It is worthy to note that the success of our program has been observed throughout the state.  Often times, Mr. Lipinski is asked to consult with other school districts who are in the process of setting up their own programs, and look to our school district in an effort to emulate what we are doing here at Hudson!

For a full accounting of all the action taken at the Board meeting on November 21st, please refer to our meeting minutes which are published in the Hudson Herald.  If you have specific questions about any Board action, please feel free to give me a call.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving and All That!

This morning as I was getting ready for work I happened to be watching Good Morning America, and they were running a story that suggested 'Black Friday' had now become 'Black Thursday'.  Spokespersons for the various department stores justified their actions that 'this is what our customers want', while at the same saying they were eager to show profits for the first time this year.  I am proud of those retailers who have stood firm in their convictions that they will not be opening early because they believe, after all that we should celebrate one holiday at a time!  A special note to all you readers out there:  I have no intention of visiting any stores on Black Friday (or Thursday)! 

Since I am on the subject, I was dismayed to return home from work one evening shortly after Halloween to see that quite a large number of folks had put up Christmas lights!  That's right, we skipped right over Thanksgiving and had moved on to the next holiday.  Have we nothing to give thanks for this holiday season?

I suppose it would be easy to think so, with the tough economy, the failure of the Super Committee, and the plethora of natural disasters that are ongoing around the world.  In spite of all that, I have a lot of optimism, and tons to be thankful for!

I have the opportunity to get up each day and come to work in a great school district!  I have the opportunity to interact with a group of professionals who are dedicated to creating effective learning environments for each students.  I have the opportunity to see struggling students have that light bulb come on and witness that 'aha' moment. 

I have the opportunity to know, beyond a shadow of any doubt, that in spite of the challenges that are facing the Hudson Community School District, we will be stronger because not only can we do this, we will do this!  Our school district is awesome because everyone here is working toward the common good and has the best interest of the students in mind.  This school district is awesome because of you, and what you do for our school district, no matter your role.  So then, I am thankful for you and what you bring to the table.

So then, on behalf of the Board of Directors, I would like to wish you and your family a very safe and relaxing Thanksgiving holiday.  Take some time to relax, eat a big meal, and enjoy your family.  We can start worrying about that other holiday on Monday!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Iowa Core Curriculum and the Common Core

Mrs. Owen-Kuhn discusses the Geogrpahy of the Mississippi river during
a recent 4th grade class.
The Iowa Core Curriculum, or Common Core, as it is now referred to, is often times mistakenly identified as merely a set of standards and benchmarks that we expect our students to know and be able to do when they complete a grade level or course of study.  The reality is that it is much more, and much deeper than that!  To describe the Common Core as standards and benchmarks is overly simplistic. 

The Iowa Department of Education describes the vision of the Iowa Core in this way: "Iowa's students deserve an education that helps them succeed in today's technology rich, global economy. The Iowa Core (formerly known as the Iowa Core Curriculum and the Model Core Curriculum) provides academic expectations for all Iowa's K-12 students.

"It does so by helping teachers take learning to a deeper level by focusing on a well-researched set of standards in literacy and mathematics and essential concepts and skills in science, social studies, and 21st century learning (civic literacy, financial literacy, technology literacy, health literacy, and employability skills). The Iowa Core is not course-based, but rather is a student-based approach that supports high expectations for all students.

"The vision for the Iowa Core is to ensure the success of each and every student by providing a world-class curriculum. The Iowa Core is designed to improve achievement of all students, preparing them for the world of work and lifelong learning. It identifies the essential content and instruction of critical content areas that all students must experience."

Notice that phrase "World-Class", it has been mentioned before, most recently during the roll out of the Education Blueprint.  The Department goes on to outline six key outcomes to assist in the implementation of the Core. 
  1. School leaders build and sustain system capacity to implement the Iowa Core.
  2. Community members and other supporting agencies work together to support the implementation of the Iowa Core.
  3. A continuous improvement process to improve teaching and learning is used at the district and school level.
  4. District leaders and other educators monitor and use data to increase the degree of alignment of each and every student’s enacted curriculum and other relevant educational opportunities to the Iowa Core.
  5. Educators engage in professional development focused on implementing Characteristics of Effective Instruction and demonstrate understanding of Essential Concepts and Skills.
  6. Educators implement effective instructional practices to ensure high levels of learning for each and every student.
The question  now must be, where is Hudson in the implementation of the Core?  Well, we are full steam ahead in the implementation.  Outcome #1, mentioned above calls for school leaders to build and sustain capacity to implement the Iowa Core.  In the Hudson Community School District, we have identified and implemented a professional development leadership team comprised of district administration and faculty.  This committee is charged with the development and delivery of professional development efforts that emphasize the implementation of the Core.

In outcome #4, we are most concerned with the alignment of our enacted curriculum.  Enacted and intended are two different concepts, and it is our intention to make sure that our intended becomes our enacted.  We are aligned with a group known as MISIC (Mid Iowa School Improvement Consortium), which helps to ensure that our standards and benchmarks are in sync with the Iowa Core.  It is our responsibility to ensure that these standards are being taught at the right depth at the right time.  In the Hudson community School District, we have trained a core group of educators to oversee and train the balance of the faculty to begin stage one of the curriculum alignment process in January of 2012.

The best curriculum in the world is virtually useless unless implemented with effective and research based instructional strategies.  In outcome #5, the characteristics of effective instruction have been identified.  In the Hudson Community School District, educators are engaged in professional learning communities where the focal point of these groups is the study of CEI (characteristics of effective instruction).  During our most recent early dismissal, the topic of study was student centered classrooms.  In case you are wondering, the characteristics are as follows:
  1. Student centered classrooms
  2. Teaching for understanding
  3. Assessment for learning (Formative Assessment)
  4. Rigorous and relevant curriculum
  5. Teaching for learner differences

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Winter Weather Procedures

Last night while watching the news, and then again this morning I was reminded that the winter weather season is quickly approaching!  Although this first little skirmish is predicted to be very mild by Iowa standards, I thought it would be important to remind everyone how you can stay up to date on school delays and cancellations. 

Technology has changed so much since I started in this business, and luckily it is no longer necessary to wait to see the name of your respective school scroll by on the bottom of the television screen (although you are more than welcomed to do it that way if you would like).  Our procedure includes all the major Media outlets, but you can always jump on the web and get instant and up to date information. 

We also utilize Iowa School Alerts, and you are encouraged to go to this website and sign up to receive instant alerts and text messages to learn about changes to the school schedule.  Most of the media outlets also have a feature where you can sign up to receive text alerts when there is a delay or cancellation.  I encourage you to utilize whichever medium best suits your needs.  The following are the medium that will be utilized by the Hudson Community School District this year:
Media Notification
1.       School Alerts
2.       KWWL
3.       KCRG
4.       KGAN
5.       Blog Post
6.       Twitter Feed

I can assure you that during the winter weather season we are constantly monitoring the radar and weather forecasts.  We have people standing by who actually go out and drive on the roads to help determine when/if it is necessary to alter our school schedule.  Our decision making is rooted on the solution that is in the best interest of everyone in the school district.  Safety of our students is of paramount concern and we will always err on the side of student safety.  As always, if you feel it is in the best interest of you and your family to be absent from school due to a weather event we will respect your decision.

Finally, I ask in advance for you forgiveness on those occasions when I am certain to make a bad call.  Here's to hoping that we won't be utilizing an early dismissal/late start/cancellation very often!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hudson School Tax Rates and the Rollback

We have spent a little time the past few weeks discussing the financial health of the school district, how enrollment impacts the budget, and a little bit about school foundation aid.  I think that it is important also, to discuss property tax rates for the school district, what they are used for, and how much money is generated by them.  There has been quite a bit of press lately about the Governor's plan to reform property tax during the next legislative session.  He tried to get some of this done last session but fell short of his goal. 

To understand the context of the discussion, you need to understand a little bit about the rollback.  When the school tax rate was set by the Board of Director's last spring, the rate remained virtually unchanged.  However, when most of you received your tax bill in the mail, you probably noticed that your taxes had indeed increased.  Why was this?  Well, the simple answer is that you only pay tax on a portion of assessed value for your residential property.  Last year the percentage of property valuation you pay taxes on increased.  This year it is scheduled to increase again.  Currently you pay taxes on 48.53% of your residential property value.  Next year that is scheduled to increase to 50.75% of assessed property value.  This means that even if tax rates stay the same, tax bills will increase.

While residential properties are subject to the rollback, agricultural property taxes are based on productivity, while commercial and industrial property taxes are taxed on 100% of the valuation.  The Governor believes this is precisely the reason why businesses don't want to come to Iowa, commercial property taxes are too high.  He hopes that a reform to the state's property tax system can pass during the 2012 session that will focus on creating jobs and improving Iowa's business climate.

The other side of the argument is that as a rollback is placed on commerical property owners, it shifts the tax burden to residential property owners.  This brings me back to my original point:  during the 2010-2011 school year, the tax rate for the Hudson Community School District was $16.89800.  This year, the tax rate for the Hudson Community School District is $16.89198.  Although the rates are nearly identical, you still experienced a higher tax bill because of the change to the rollback formula. 

Below is a breakdown of the tax rate and how those revenues are dispersed:

 Tax Rate  Revenue Generated Purpose
General Fund  $    14.27238  $             2,224,360.00 Operational Expenses
Management Fund  $    0.949600  $                 147,996.00 Property insurance, claims against the district, unemployment benefits, retirement benefits
Voted PPEL  $    1.340000  $                 219,936.00 Repair of equipment, buildings and grounds
Regular PPEL  $      0.33000  $                   54,163.00 Repair of equipment, buildings and grounds

The revenue illustrated above is what is generated from property taxes.  The balance of the revenue that supports the budget is generated through a combination of state foundation aid, sales tax revenue, and from other sources that are classified as miscellaneous income.  If you have any questions about tax rates or how categorical funding works within the confines of operational expenses you are encouraged to contact my office at avoss@hudson.k12.ia.us.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Financial Health of the Hudson Community School District

The financial condition of the Hudson Community School District deteriorated over the course of the 2010-2011 school year.  This is due primarily to the fact that the district has been subject to declining enrollment at a time when cuts were made to the state aid portion of the foundation formula over a three years (including the fiscal year 2010-2011).  In total, the district experienced a cut in state foundation aid of $574,295.  In the fiscal year 2010-2011, state aid was underfunded by $222,435. 

Additionally, the state failed to adequately fund the allowable growth formula, which contributed to a deterioration of the unspent budget authority and cash balances.  At the close of the Fiscal Year, June 30, 2011 the unspent balance had deteriorated to $78,380, down from $210,606 the previous year.  Unspent budget authority is one of the most important financial indicators in a school district.

The Board of Directors acted decisively in the spring of 2011, making significant and systematic budget cuts totaling over $574,000.  While the financial condition of the school district is beginning to improve, it is important to stress that now is not the time to relax.  As we continue to face declining enrollment and an allowable growth of zero percent for fiscal year 2013, we will need to carefully examine our spending habit, ensuring that we are maximizing all of our capital and human resources wisely.

Creditor's Equity Ratio
The table and chart to the left is what is referred to as the Creditor's Equity Ratio.  This tool is used to measure the amount of current assets that are provided by creditors.  The amount of short term borrowing would be symptomatic of how dependent the school is on credit to cash flow business operations.  Logic would suggest that as a school increases available cash to service operations, the less dependent on short-term debt it would become.  Ideally, this ratio would be zero.  There are two key takeaways from this ratio.  First, the district currently participates in short term borrowing, typically during the month of September, which is prior to the first state aid payment of the school year and prior to the first of two large tax draws during the school year, and second; this ratio is on the decline which is good news for the school district.  For Fiscal Year 2011, the district borrowed $350,000 in the month of September.  In Fiscal Year 2012 (current) for the same month of September, the district borrowed $250,000. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No Child Left Behind Rights Notification

Parents/Guardians in the Hudson Community School District have the right to learn about the following qualifications of their child's teacher:  state licensure requirements for the grade level and content areas taught, the current licensing status of your child's teacher, and the baccalaureate/graduate certification/degree.  You may also request the qualification of an instructional paraprofessional who serves your student in a Title I program or if your school operates a schoolwide Title I program.

Parents/Guardians may request this information from the Office of the Superintendent by calling 319.988.3233, emailing avoss@hudson.k12.ia.us, or by sending a letter of request to the Office of the Superintendent at 136 S. Washington Street; Hudson, Iowa; 50643.

The Hudson Community School District ensures that all parents will be notified in writing if their child has been assigned, or has been taught by a teacher who is not considered highly qualified.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Certified Enrollment and the Budget

Do you realize that on Friday, we will finish the first quarter?  It is pretty amazing to me that we are already this deep into the school year.  All of our fall sports seasons are beginning to wrap up, and we enjoyed a music concert just this week.  I always seem to catch myself making comments like "next week won't be quite so busy", only to find that it is, and in many instances even more so.  However, there is no mistaking the fact that the fall season is an incredibly busy time for reports to be filed with the Department of Education.  Believe me, there are a plethora, and while each important in its own right, none can top the importance of the certified enrollment report.  This data is used to collect the primary variable for the school aid formula.  The number of students we have in our district this fall multiplied by the district cost per pupil will, in a nutshell determine the part of the foundation formula that is titled "Regular Program District Cost" for next year, and is the largest component of general fund operations. 

Back in the days when I worked in the Catholic school system, this was a pretty simple evolution to complete.  On count day we simply counted our students and presto, we were all done!  It is not nearly as simple as that, and is part of the reason why we have a two week window in which to complete this transaction.  Here is how it works:  On October 3rd, Count Day, we take a census of our student population.  The data is cleaned and uploaded onto a state database website where we can view duplicates.  Each student in Iowa is given a unique identifying code (kind of like a social security number) that follows them throughout their academic career.  When they move, transfer, open enroll, etc., this number remains constant.  Once that data is populated on the state site, we have to correct errors with other districts.  This is pretty normal and expected.  We may be counting a student that another district is counting for any number of reasons.  What we need to do then is have a conversation with that other district and come to an agreement on who should be counting them.

After the reconciliation of the data is complete, on October 15th, we certify the results and sign an electronic affidavit claiming the data is "true and accurate to the best of my knowledge".  From now until the end of the month, we will have several conference calls with the Department of Education for further clarification and reconciliation of the data.  (My first conference call will be at 4:30 this afternoon.)

Here are a couple of things to remember about the certified enrollment process:  any student that enrolls after October 3rd is not included on your official count, and therefore is not eligible for funding, and the certified enrollment number is used to calculate revenue projections for the next fiscal year.  You are all probably aware of the fact that we have enrolled a number of students since count day, and that a  number of them are concentrated in kindergarten. This has cause alarm and concern for all parties involved, and we are in the process of problem solving that issue right now.

Now there are different numbers that we need to be concerned with, including certified enrollment, BEDS enrollment, open enroll into the district, and open enroll out of the district.  For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on BEDS and open enrollment.  The point to remember about all these trendlines is that they are in decline and it is critical that the district respond to these changes in demographics.  To put it quite frankly, we need to make sure we are staffed properly for our size of district.  The charts and graphs included on the next page illustrate the enrollment trends for the Hudson Community School District. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Board/Superintendent Goals

As a school we are constantly evaluating our students, collecting data, and setting goals.  Once we have set those goals, we write an action plan on how we plan to achieve those goals and then periodically provide updates as to how we are progressing on the goals.  While we pay most attention to how our students are progressing, we also must be cognizant of how we are doing as teachers, administrators, superintendent's, board members, and school districts.  After that, we should be identifying areas for growth and improvement, after all we are all about continuous improvement for everyone!

With the assistance of the Board of Directors, I have developed goal areas for this school year.  We all have areas in our personal and professional lives where we can (and should) improve; regardless of our position.  I want to take an opportunity to share with you the goals that the Board and I have set, and periodically I will provide you with an update of my progress toward those goals.

Our teachers are asked to write their goals based on the Iowa Teaching Standards, administrators likewise use the Iowa Standards for School Leaders. The following is the framework upon which the Iowa Standards for School Leaders are based:
  1. Shared Vision
  2. Culture of Learning
  3. Management of the Organization
  4. Family and Community
  5. Ethics
  6. Political/Social Context
This year I have chosen to focus my goals on three main areas: improving the Culture of Learning (Standard Two), by working collaboratively with our faculty to improve our professional development and curriculum alignment work within the Iowa Core, which will have the net effect of improved student achievement; shared vision (Standard One) and building relationships in the district (Standard Four), by providing more communications such as these and being visible in the school district and finally; management of the organization (Standard Four), by improving our fiscal condition in the school district.

To find out more about my action plan and specifics, read on!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Conversation with Senator Jeff Danielson

It has been a few weeks, but I had the chance to sit down with Senator Jeff Danielson on September 19th to discuss a variety of issues that are facing not only the Hudson Community School District, but school districts all across Iowa. 

At the time of our conversation, we didn't yet know for sure what the Governor's Blueprint for Educational Reform would include, other than some very general themes.  With the release of the blueprint yesterday, the conversation around education reform is definitely picking up steam.  Now that we know specific recommendations, the conversation will need to focus on how we can pay for these reforms!  There is no doubt that it will come with quite a price tag.  If the last legislative session was any indication, this will be a significant debate.

From our conversation, it was apparent that Senator Danielson was (and still is) very sympathetic to the educational challenges that face our state.  As one example, during the last legislative session, he was in support of an allowable growth model of 2%.

As I mentioned in a previous post, now is a great time for all of us to visit with our local legislators about all of these very important issues. If you have comments about the education reform plan, make your voice heard!  As we all learned yesterday, the proposed plan, if enacted will be a seismic shift in education policy in Iowa.  Almost all of the proposed reforms will require a change in legislation, and our lawmakers need to hear from us. 

Senator Danielson was quite well informed about the Hudson Community School District.  He asked good questions and was very interested in hearing about the impact of zero percent allowable growth on our school district, and how the budget guarantee had a negative impact on local property tax.  He took a substantial amount of time out of his schedule to meet with me and asked great questions to ensure that he had a total understanding of the issues that we are facing in Hudson.

As we continued our conversation, I wanted to ensure a consistent message was being shared with all of our local legislators:
  1. Modified Allowable Growth. Some of the rules and constraints on the use of this funding has made it very difficult for school districts to adequately serve the At-Risk population. This has the unintended consequence of becoming a program designed toward response instead of prevention. We are of the belief that it is much better, and cost effective, if we can use preventative measures in our work instead of response when something becomes a problem.
  2. Education Reform. Undoubtedly this will be a huge topic of the next General Assembly. 
  3. Unfunded Mandates. I explained how unfunded mandates are having a very negative impact on our ability to educate students, and that every time an unfunded mandate becomes law it has the effect of diverting money from some other purpose in our general fund. I shared that we can't do everything in education with fewer and fewer resources every year.
If you are interested in hearing more from Senator Danielson, he has accepted an invitation to attend our board meeting on November 21st. Please plan to attend.

Well, that about wraps it up for today.  Some of you may have been hoping to hear my thoughts and comments on the Education Reform Blueprint, but I am saving that for next week.  On Wednesday I will have the opportunity to attend a meeting with the AEA 267 Superintendents in Clear Lake.  Our guest speaker for the day is Education Director Jason Glass, who is expected to take questions about the plan.  I am seeking more information before I comment further (although I did agree to an interview with KWWL yesterday).  If you are interested in joining the statewide conversation on the blueprint, you can follow along on Twitter, just use the hashtag #IAEdFuture and you will be able to hear the latest!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

End of and Era: Hanson & Goodnight Pass the Gavel

Trent Goodnight (R) and Maureen Hanson (L) accept a plaque commemorating their years of service
to the Hudson Community School District

We are incredibly grateful for the years of service of both Trent and Maureen.  Both board members decided during the last year that they would not be seeking another term on the Board of Education.  I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with both of these fantastic community leaders during my first year as superintendent at Hudson.  As they were finishing up their tenure, I asked each one to reflect on their years of service.  Thank you both for your service, please don't be strangers around the school!

Trent Goodnight, Director        6 years of service
  • What did you expect board service to be like, and how did it differ in your time on the board?  I reluctantly said yes to board service as a way to do my part for the community.  My general impression was that my role would be centered around the idea of impressing a community viewpoint on the School.  In other words, I thought board members were primarily there to act as a liaison for complaints or ideas from community members.  This turned out not to be the focus, or primary need.  Rather, the board's real job is week-to-week support for public education in general, and the Hudson school universe in particular.
  • What was your greatest achievement, or what were you most proud of during your time on the board?  Hiring three superintendents.  Plus, I quickly grew to care deeply about teachers, administrators, support staff, and the community, and I tried to fairly represent each one of them at the appropriate times.
  • What was the most surprising aspect of serving on the school board?  How much time it takes, especially during key events, and how important it really is for our American way of life.  Plus, I was surprised by the quality of people involved with public education; most are very impressive individuals.
  • What advice would you offer to the next board?  Learn quickly that board service is a responsibility to represent and serve many others, and they are counting on you to work hard on their behalf.
  • What will you miss?  Being involved with the week-to-week trials and joys that go on.  It will be difficult to find another role that serves the community as much as board service.
  • How will you stay involved, or what are your plans now that you are no longer serving on the board?  Not sure yet.
Maureen Hanson, President of the Board      22 years of service  (Continued on the next page)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Board of Education Changes Leadership

The board met on Monday evening, and as a matter of formal business said our goodbyes to longtime Director's Maureen Hanson and Trent Goodnight.  After a brief meeting of the outgoing board, we were quickly on to new business.  Please be sure to check back next week since my post will be devoted to the extraordinary service of both Maureen and Trent.  We will take time to reflect on their years of service and memorable moments.  I can assure you that it will be something you won't want to miss.

After a quick final meeting of the retiring board, we had to take some time to organize ourselves for the new session.  The role of President is a critical component of the board, and we were all thankful that Jerry Griffith stepped up to the task.  Jerry and I will work very close over the course of his presidency to set the agenda and direction for the board, serve in a ceremonial capacity, and to ensure that the board stays on task during meetings.  He will be the one to control the tempo of the conversation, making sure everyones voice is heard before calling for the vote.  We are in very capable hands!

Director Marsch graciously volunteered to remain in her capacity as Vice-President.  This too is a critical role for our board, stepping in when the President is unable to attend or at other official functions.  We are very lucky to have Director Marsch serve in this capacity, and she is always willing to attend an extra meeting when necessary and can be available in a pinch.  I am also grateful that she is once again going to be our representative to the Delegate Assembly in November when we vote for our legislative platform.

Rounding out our returning board members is Director Cory, who is a fantastic board member.  Mr. Cory is the member we can count on to boil the issues down into common sense facts.  He is not afraid to ask the tough questions and is willing to hold people accountable.  Director Cory has a marvelous understanding of the issues and has courage to stand up for what is right for the citizens of Hudson and taxpayers.  He has the ability to look critically at the issue from all sides of the equation and make a decision that is in the best interest of the school district. 

When Maureen and Trent decided not to seek re-election, there was certainly some time spent trying to persuade them to seek another term!  We are very sad to see them depart our board, and there was some anxiety felt, especially early in the nominating process, when no one filed paperwork.  Luckily it all worked out for the best, because Tanya Higgins and Karyn Finn both heard the calling!

Monday evening was their first meeting, and I can say that so far I am very impressed with their passion and poise.  Both were willing to jump into the fray immediately and try to gain an understanding of the issues.  Great questions and thoughtful comments are hallmarks of outstanding board members.  Both have those skills in spades!

After all the ceremonial and organizational issues, we still had regular business that needed attention.  Among those items:

  1. Approved the second reading of the Board Policy Code No. 401.13  Among other things, this policy will permit teacher use of Facebook and other social media for educational purposes with the permission of the superintendent.
  2. Approved the first reading of the Student Driver Permit Policy (Code To Be Assigned) Adds a requirement that students must complete the 8th grade before being eligible for a student driver permit.
  3. Waived the second and third readings of Board Policy Code No. 212 Closed Sessions Policy and Board Policy Code No. 401.5R1 Employee Records Regulation  Further defines when a board can enter into closed session and what employee records are considered public documents.  These policies were amended to reflect recent changes to the Iowa Code.
  4. Approved the first reading of Use of Video Cameras Board Policy Code No 711.2R2 Describes the use of video cameras on school property and that those video can be used and become part of the record of a student disciplinary hearing.
  5. Approved Board/Superintendent Goals  These are goals that are established annually that are used as a measure of the effectiveness of the superintendent and school board.  They will become the focal point of my annual evaluation.  In a few weeks this will be the subject of my blog, so more information will be provided at that time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Annual Progress Report

The Iowa Department of Education released the State Report Card for No Child Left Behind on Thursday, September 8th.  That's all well and good of course, but again we need to take the information that is included in the report and make sure it is presented in the appropriate context.  This report is the one that is used to determine whether or not a school has met Adequate Yearly Progress, and if they haven't, they end up on the SINA list.  Just to remind everyone reading out there, Hudson made AYP this year, so we are not on any lists.  You may recall last year that we were on the Watch List because one of our sub-groups did not show AYP.  Failing to meet AYP two years in a row is what results in designation as a SINA school.

To remind everyone, the premise behind whether or not a school makes AYP is dependent on whether or not the students tested have successfully achieved proficient status on the ITBS/ITED Tests in the area of math, science, and reading.  Proficiency is calculated by ranking students from 1-100, and any student who achieves above the 41st percentile is considered proficient.  Each year, the percentage of students who must achieve proficiency is raised, until such a time that 100% of all students are deemed proficient.  The legislation has picked 2014 as the date to have all students reach that bar.  I know, I can literally see the wheels turning in your head now:  "Wait.....if we are ranking the students and everyone who falls below 41 is not proficient.......won't there always be students below that line?"  Exactly right!

Everyone admits this is a flawed system, from Jason Glass to yours truly.  This is one of the many problems inherent with our current "State Test".  It is a 20th Century Test (maybe even a 19th Century Test), being delivered in the 21st Century that requires absolutely no critical thinking skills.  In fact, you can Google the answers to most questions on that test in about 5 seconds.  It is all factual recall.

Now that I am sufficiently off task, the point of today is the Annual Progress Report for the Hudson Community School District.  In Hudson, we have long recognized all the flaws of the test, and the lack of value in measuring proficiency.  (I won't get into the statistical flaws or we will be here all day...)  We have taken the approach that every student is unique and will grow at different rates and can expect different results.  One thing we can agree on is that every single student should meet targeted growth annually.  That has become the basis of measuring our progress.  In our school district, we have identified 15 benchmarks for student growth and achievement based on student growth.  We are looking at where a student starts, and where the end up.  If they have achieved what has been identified as targeted growth, well then mission accomplished.  If they didn't, then we need to go back, figure out why, and take another shot.  Of the 15 benchmarks, we met our target in 11!  This is great news and time to celebrate, but we can't get too excited, because we still have work to do on the other 4.  This week I have included for you what those benchmarks are, how we did, and what we expect to do this school year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Walt Rogers Visits Hudson Community School District

Representative Walt Rogers explains to Mr. Simmer's
Government class how a bill becomes a law.
In educations circles around the state, there is much conversation centered around the education reform effort that will be proposed by Governor Branstad.  It is his intention that education reform will be a centerpiece of the 2012 General Assembly.  This is in response to the Governor's Summit on education that was held this past July.

Right now, policy makers are busy drafting proposals and sharing ideas.  The Governor and Department of Education have included various stakeholder groups in the conversation, including representatives from the Iowa Association of School Boards, School Administrators of Iowa, and the Iowa State Education Association.  At this time, we do not know exactly what will be included in the proposed reform initiatives, but continue to receive regular updates from the organizations the represent us in the legislature.  The draft proposals are scheduled to be released on October 3rd, and between that time and when the legislature convenes, we will all have an opportunity to provide feedback as the proposals are refined and sharpened. 

When school starts in the fall is an opportune time for us to visit with our local legislators about these types of issues or others that are important to Iowa school districts.  In light of what we expect to be major education reform that will result in a significant paradigm shift, there is no time like the present to visit with people that have been elected to represent us.  I extended an invitation to Representative Walt Rogers to visit with me at Hudson Schools on September 6th.  We used that time to discuss educational issues, the challenges that we face at Hudson, and what education reform may look like in our state.  This was followed up with a tour of district facilities and an opportunity for Representative Rogers to answer questions from teachers and students.

Over the course of the last session, Representative Rogers and I shared many email correspondences in which I disagreed with the position that he was taking with regard to some of the issues that directly affected our school district.  One example was the funding formula as it relates specifically to allowable growth for Regular Program District Cost.  Because of some of these differences, I wasn't quite certain how our conversation was going to go, or how it would progress.

What I will share with you is that Representative Rogers was eager to learn about the Hudson Community School District!  He asked very good questions, and took notes during our conversation.  He shared with me the rationale behind some of the decisions that he made during his first session as a state legislator.  I felt that he really took the time to try and understand the difficulties that we are facing, not only at Hudson, but statewide. 

As we continued our conversation, I wanted to share three main areas for Representative Rogers to think about during the 2012 General Assembly:
  1. Modified Allowable Growth.  Some of the rules and constraints on the use of this funding has made it very difficult for school districts to adequately serve the At-Risk population.  This has the unintended consequence of becoming a program designed toward response instead of prevention.  We are of the belief that it is much better, and cost effective, if we can use preventative measures in our work instead of response when something becomes a problem.
  2. Education Reform.  Undoubtedly this will be a huge topic of the next General Assembly.  I encouraged the Representative to listen closely to what constituents are saying back in his district.  I also shared that it is not going to be enough to simply to say what the reform effort is; but rather make sure there is a solid plan to pay for it, less it become an unfunded mandate, which brings me to my final point:
  3. Unfunded Mandates.  I explained how unfunded mandates are having a very negative impact on our ability to educate students, and that every time an unfunded mandate becomes law it has the effect of diverting money from some other purpose in our general fund.  I shared that we can't do everything in education with fewer and fewer resources every year.
Finally, we had a walking tour of the school district.  My point during this tour was to brag about the wonderful education we have occurring in our district daily.  I wanted to show him our students, and how proud I am of them each and every day.  I wanted him to see the wonderful things that are going on daily in the schools, and we had an opportunity to do that.

Equally important, I wanted him to see the impact of our budget cuts from last spring, and how difficult it was becoming for all schools, not just the Hudson Community School District, when our budgets are continually cut.  So what is going to happen going forward?  I really don't know.  What I do know is that unless we visit with our local legislators and share with them what the impact is of the decisions they make in Des Moines, we can expect more of the same.  Will we continue to have disagreements?  No doubt about it.  But now that we have had this important conversation, we can be assured that Representative Rogers understands the challenges we face and is able to put them into context!

If you are interested in hearing more from Representative Walt Rogers, he has accepted an invitation to attend our board meeting on October 17th.  Please plan to attend.

Representative Walt Rogers listens as kindergarten
teacher Andrea Hottle explains the challenges associated
with a large section of kindergarten.

For those of you who are wondering, I am scheduled to have this same conversation with Senator Jeff Danielson on September 19th.  Our local legislators are available to you!  I would encourage you to contact either one with questions or concerns.  They are more than willing to listen to you!  Take advantage of this time to visit now before the session begins!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Revenue Purpose Statement-What it is and Why It's Important

Most of the time when we have discussions about school finance and the status of our financial condition at Hudson, I am specifically talking about the general fund.  This is the largest fund that makes up our budget, the one that bears the cost of operations for our school district including salaries for staff, electricity, and other instructional supplies.  This is the fund that we are typically most concerned about when we talk about such things as financial solvency ratio and unspent balance. 
The Greenhouse project was funded through a combination
of PPEL and LOSST funds.  The total cost of this project
was in the neighborhood of $53,829.50.
In addition, there are other funds that we use in tandem with the general fund that are incredibly important to our bottom line.  Each fund has a separate purpose and only certain expenditures can be attributed to that particular fund.  For example, the nutrition fund can only be used for expenses related to the hot lunch program, while the management fund can only be used to pay for such things as property/casualty insurance or benefits for our early retirees.  The health fund is pretty self explanatory; we use that to pay health insurance premiums and claims, while the dental fund serves a comparable purpose.

We also have two funds that are designated specifically for physical plant purposes such as the repair, replacement, or upgrade of our facilities.  Those would be the PPEL Fund (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) and the LOSST Fund (Local Option Sales and Service Tax).  While repairs and upgrades can also be paid out of the general fund, our guiding philosophy is to pay for as many of our repairs and upgrades as possible out of our building funds in an effort to protect the financial stability and solvency of the general fund.  When we are preparing to initiate various projects, it is important during the planning phase to determine which fund is most appropriate.  Part of that consideration has to be what is currently allowable under state law.  Provided the sum of the repair project or upgrade exceeds $500, we can use these funds for repairs to the buildings and grounds, furnishing buildings and providing equipment for classrooms, or they can be used to fund improvements and building projects in our school district.  Without these funds and the revenue they generate, the cost of repairs and improvements would be borne out of the general fund.  I think everyone is aware of the challenges we are facing in our general fund, and the fact that our general fund simply could not support these building projects. 
This may not look like much, but it was the best I could
come up with for a photo!  Phase One of our elementary
school electrical upgrade was completed this summer.  The
total cost of this project (excluding engineering and
architectural fees) was approximately $87,000.  The
school was also the recipient of a $25,000 Harkin Grant
to help defray the costs of this project.

The PPEL fund is supported through local property taxes at a rate of $1.67.  This rate is calculated through the combination of a board approved levy (.33), and a voter approved levy ($1.34).  In our current fiscal year, we expect to collect approximately $277,624 in our PPEL fund.  The voter approved levy is scheduled for voter re-authorization in 2014.  The LOSST fund is supported through collection of the 1 cent sales and service tax.  During this fiscal year, we expect to collect approximately $535,690.22 in sales tax revenue.  In all, we expect revenue in our building funds (PPEL and LOSST) to exceed $810,000. 

When we specifically talk about the 1 cent money, the voters of the Hudson Community School District have the opportunity to decide how those funds are going to be spent, which becomes the purpose of today's post.  This is decided through what is commonly referred to as a Revenue Purpose Statement.  The Revenue Purpose Statement is just that, a statement, or letter of intend to the voters of the Hudson Community School District, on how the school district intends to invest the 1 cent penny tax back into the Hudson Community School District.  On September 13th when you cast your vote for school board members, you will have the opportunity to case a vote for the renewal of our Revenue Purpose Statement.  We think it is important for you to know that the current Revenue Purpose Statement doesn't expire until 2019.  Because of that you may be wondering why we are putting a question on the ballot at this time.  Well, there are several reasons for doing this, but the main reason is to align our Revenue Purpose Statement with the most current legal language.  Here are some specifics:
  1. The penny sales tax is now a statewide sales tax and not county by county. 
  2. The statewide sales tax expires in 2029; in Hudson our Revenue Purpose Statement is set to expire in 2019.
  3. The name of the fund is no longer called LOSST; but now is referred to as SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education fund).
Although it may not look like much, almost $50,000 was
invested in the drainage around the high school over the
summer as we make preparations for paving the high school
parking lot next summer.
PPEL or LOSST funds.  Without this Revenue Purpose Statement, we would not be able to fund these project, or many of the other projects that we have undertaken this past school year. 

Updating computers and other technology hardware is
a never ending venture!  Over the course of this past summer
we invested over $100,000 in computer replacement, including
the addition of a new computer lab in the elementary school.
These funds are pretty important, not only for projects like the ones that have been described in this post, but also when dealing with the unexpected.  I am no longer surprised when a piece of equipment breaks down and we need to get it fixed immediately.  One quick example I can share with you is some ongoing maintenance issues with the cooling tower at the high school.  It doesn't take long to spend $20,000 to $25,000 when a heating pump or cooling tower fails.  While these items can be covered as a general fund expenses, it can have the unintended consequence of significantly eroding the general fund and depleting the unspent balance of a school district.  With repairs like this, it wouldn't take very long at all to put the district into a much more difficult financial position.  This is exactly the kind of contingency that our Revenue Purpose Statement is designed to address.  Not only is it enabling us to plan for future improvements like parking lot upgrades, or paying off bonds for our high school (which has the effect of a lower tax rate); it also enables us to respond to unplanned emergencies, like a boiler going out or a water leak!

As you consider the merits of the proposed Revenue Purpose Statement, you may have questions.  Please feel free to contact my office at any time.  You may also be wondering if the Revenue Purpose Statement is a tax increase.  The answer to that is an unequivocal no!  This question is simply deciding how we will allocate the funds that we will generate through the one cent sales tax.

Please remember to vote on September 13.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meet the School Board Candidates

September 13th is an important day for the Hudson Community School District, because on that day we will elect two new members to the Board of Directors. Long time Board Members Maureen Hanson and Trent Goodnight have decided not seek re-election.  Tanya Higgins and Karyn Finn have filed paperwork for the election, and we thought it would be a good idea for you to learn a little more about them. I had the opportunity to have lunch with both candidates yesterday and get to know them better.  You will be impressed with the passion they share for education and the enthusiasm they have for board service.  To help you learn more about our candiates, I posed a few general questions to each of them. 

Tanya Higgins
Where did you grow up, go to school, college, and where do you work?  I grew up in northeast Ohio, a small town called North Jackson.  My husband also grew up in this town and our family still lives there.  I attended Ursuline High School in Youngstown, Ohio.  It was a parochial high school and afforded me the opportunity to take honors classes.  My undergraduate was completed at Youngstown State University with a degree in Materials Engineering.  I graduated Cum Laude.  My Master's degree was completed at University of Wisconsin, Madison and is a Master of Engineering, Professional Practice.  Upon graduation from Youngstown State University, I worked in a manufacturing facility in Ohio and a steel mill in Kentucky before joining Johne Deere, where I have worked for the last 10 years.  I am the A&T Division Quality Deployment Manager for North America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Tell us about your family. 
My husband and I have been married for 17 years.  We have 2 daughters, Peyton (10th grade) and Reese (7th grade).  At school, our daughters are involved in academic clubs, athletics, and the arts.  Outside of school, they are both accomplished riders and show horses in the hunter/jumper discipline.  The rest of our family still lives in northeast Ohio.

What drew you to board service? 
Honestly, there was a need.  I have children in the school district and have always been involved in their activities and in their education.  I have a great amount of respect for our past board members.  It is not an easy job and sometimes difficult decisions have to be made, especially in today's environment.

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing education in Iowa? 
The report released this summer by the Iowa Department of Education detailing the overall decline in Iowa academic achievement scores from 1992-2009 in math and reading is very concerning.  Other states and countries are passing us up which will ultimately limit the opportunities available to our students.

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing education in Hudson? 
Given the status of the economy today, we must be more creative in how we use all of the resources available to us so that our students are fully prepared to be globally competitive.

What do you hope to accomplish by serving on the Boad? 
I hope to find a way to continue the great traditions and reputation that the Hudson School District has and to strengthen the learning environment to give our children an advantage when entering college and the job market.  Personally, I hope to further develop my leadership skills and strengthen the community where I live.

Karyn Finn
Where did you grow up, go to school, college, and where do you work? 
I grew up in Metairie, Louisiana just 5 blocks from the parish line of New Orleans “The Big Easy”. I attended parochial school from K-8th  grade. Yes, uniforms and tradition like you wouldn’t believe. I attended Archbishop Chapelle High School, an all-girls school (1200 total students), in a class of 300 still in plaid skirt & white shirt uniforms. Chapelle HS was then and continues to be a model of educational excellence, focused on preparing confident young women for the future.  College preparation was a very important part of the program and I have to admit I was well prepared for entry into college without taking any college classes in HS.   I earned my Bachelor of Science in Physical Education-Athletic Training from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA.  I also earned an Associate of Applied Science in Surgical Technology from Kirkwood Community College. This Fall 2011 I will add to that a Master of Arts in Community Health Education.   My Grandfather who was an immigrant from Mexico in the late 1920’s always said “get an education; it is something that can open doors and can never be taken away”. It was a true statement then and is especially true now in preparing our children for the future: forward-thinking innovative education will be the key.

Tell us about your family. 
Our family moved to Hudson 12 years ago due to work at UNI and since then Hudson has grown on us in ways that I would never have imagined. I have to admit that those first couple of years I wondered if we shouldn’t be in one of the bigger towns to the north but could never justify leaving the hidden benefits of living in a small town with access.  Needless to say, we stayed and have enjoyed raising our three children, Juliann, Ryan and Carmen in Hudson. Kevin, my husband, is a professor at UNI in Exercise Science. I was a part-time instructor for UNI Kindergym for 10 years and also worked at Covenant Medical Center in Surgical Services for 7 years.

What drew you to board service?
After the challenging events of last year in meeting budgets and providing continued excellence in academics for the students of Hudson I thought that there is no better time to get off the sidelines and get into the game than now. In July I considered greater involvement in the community especially in education. I spoke with current and previous school board members to get a better feel for the obligations and expectations of the role.  I was pleasantly surprised at the enthusiasm and support that I received during these discussions.  Since that time I walked the neighborhoods in Hudson to get the petition signatures needed from community members; some with children in the district and many with grown children that were educated in Hudson.  It was an interesting few days during which I gained a new respect for community service.  The opportunity to listen to concerns and ideas from across generations is at the same time overwhelming and inspiring.  The Hudson people are passionate and steadfast with pride in the community. I am glad to count myself among the citizens with pride in Hudson, IA.  The challenges continue and it is in the best interest of the community to have a school that continues to have a great reputation in providing excellence in education and activities that prepare students for future opportunities locally and globally.

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing education in Iowa?
The greatest challenge for education in Iowa is to be caught resting on the laurels of past performance and reputation without adapting the vision to be a leader in cutting-edge educational preparation for future job skills both locally and abroad. 

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing education in Hudson?
The greatest challenge for Hudson is how to prepare our youth with an eye toward an ever changing world.  I tell my kids all the time that the world is bigger than your own backyard.  Hudson has had a great reputation for excellence in education but we need to continue to press forward with a unified vision.  We need to look beyond enrollment and budgets by tapping into our community talent pool during this financially challenging time.  By more effectively utilizing our citizen assets and building partnerships to capitalize on available resources, I have great confidence that we will prevail. Hudson will become a stronger school and community that will attract more families to our town, just as our family was drawn here 12 years ago.