Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Challenges Behind Us; The Future Before Us

Today marks my one year anniversary of becoming Superintendent of the Hudson Community School District.  I think, officially, people can stop referring to me as the New Superintendent!  (Although, I think that moniker wore off around January and people now use another word in front of Superintendent!)

This past week I have had the chance to take some time off and reflect on this past school year.  There is nothing quite like the peace and tranquility of yard work to really think things through.  I sometimes think that I come up with my best ideas while cutting grass!  There is no mistaking the fact that this school year was fraught with enormous challenges, challenges ranging from student discipline to balancing the budget; with the latter being what you are most familiar with.  I don't believe anyone could have foreseen the difficulties we would face or the resulting decisions that would come to bear a year ago.  I certainly didn't, although it is safe to say that my eyes were wide open to the fact that school districts in Iowa were suffering, and that we were no different with declining enrollment and unspent balance.  Some have asked me that if I would still be here if afforded the benefit of hindsight.  I can unequivocally say yes.  Hudson is a great school, with fantastic teachers, community, and school board.  While we have our challenges, there is no place I would rather be at this particular point it time.

Whenever there are challenges such as these, there is no doubt going to be great controversy and disagreement over how best to meet and overcome these obstacles.  We heard from many that both agreed and disagreed with our approach.  While uncomfortable in the moment, we can take solace in the fact that regardless of a particular view or opinion, the argument was always centered on what was in the best interest of our students.  It is certainly difficult, uncomfortable, and stressful; but the debate remained above board and professional.  We debated issues, not people.  That is one of the great things about this community.

Difficult and painful decisions have been made, and some of our friends and neighbors are no longer with us.  We are in the process of discovering a "New Normal".  The first steps have been made to ensure that we have a sustainable school for decades to come, and we are on the right path.  However, don't be lulled into thinking that all the heavy lifting has been done.  There will be difficult decisions to come, and there will be disagreements on how best to solve those problems.  That is healthy and what is necessary to ensure that we continue to grow.

When one door closes another door opens.  June 30 marks the closing of one fiscal year, and July 1 marks the beginning of a new one.  That being said, the answer to the most pressing question "What is our unspent balance going to be", has yet to be answered.  We won't know that until after we complete posting all of our expenses for fiscal year 2011.  Please stay tuned, I am as anxious as you are to see the final numbers.

Regardless of the challenges we have faced and will continue to face, there is room for optimism.  We are busy getting ready for the new school year, and are excited for all that it will bring.  The first phase of the high school parking lot upgrade is being completed as we speak, and it appears to me to be slightly ahead of schedule at this point.  A major electrical upgrade is underway in the elementary that will better equip our classrooms to meet the demand of a 21st Century classroom.  We are completing the first phase of this project this year as well, and the centerpiece of this summer's work will feature a brand new computer lab in the elementary school.  A major technology purchase was also recently approved that will replace outdated computers, and in some instances increase the student to teacher ratio.

We are also excited to begin the process of aligning our school district more fully with the Iowa Core Curriculum in the coming months.  This is an opportunity for our teaching staff to become involved in professional learning communities, and improve their practice in the classroom by learning from their colleagues.  A new professional development website that embraces online learning for our faculty is being beta tested right now with the hope of launching it live in August.  We will be implementing what the research tells us about increasing student achievement by fully embracing the Iowa Professional Development Model.  The most important component in determining how well a child does in school is the quality of the instructor in the classroom.  We are committed as a school district to ensuring that your child's teacher is equipped with the latest techniques and strategies by providing them with a comprehensive and continual training program.

They say that change is difficult, and indeed it is.  But change provides us with great opportunity to grow.  Change provides us with what we need to avoid complacency.  Change provides us an opportunity to discover.  Change provides us with excitement, with a fire, and with a purpose. 

I am so excited about what the future holds for the Hudson Community School District, and all the challenges and difficulties we will face together!  Indeed the future is bright!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Organziation is Key

I still sometimes smile when thinking of that very simple phrase.  When my niece was about 5 years old I taught her to say "Organization is Key" anytime I would ask her what the most important thing was that I taught her.  She used to run around the house stating "Orsganishasun is Key!" on demand.  While a funny memory, it continues to be something that I take relatively seriously.  I suppose it hearkens back to my days in the Navy when we were taught "There is a place for everything-everything in its place."

The same is true for "The Organization", [that being] the organization of the Hudson Community School District.  We have [and are] experiencing a paradigm shift as we move to a model of organization with one less administrator among our ranks.  Administratively speaking, we will be organized as a K-6 grade and a 7-12 grade system.  What that simply means, is that if your child is in grade K-6 and is in need of an administrator that will be routed to Mr. Schlatter.  In grades 7-12, that would be routed to Mr. Dieken.

Logistically, nothing will change.  All logistical items (calling if for a sick child, contacting a child's teacher, sending lunch money, etc) will be handled through the same office as before.  In grades K-4, logistics will be handled through the elementary office with Mrs Hansen.  In grades 5-8, logistics will be handled through the middle school office with Mrs. Sallee, and in grades 9-12 you will handle those items through Mrs. Delagardelle in the high school office.

We also recognize the importance of each building having a presence, or a go to person; not only to help when issues arise, but also to lend an identity to that organization.  For that reason, we have invited Mr. Lipinski to relocate his office to the middle school, where he will share office space with Mr. Dieken.  Although Mr. Lipinski is not a principal, he is definitely a 'go to' person.  He is well versed in dealing with student issues and can act as a calming influence in times of stress.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?  We had two part time vacancies in our high school for a Chemistry teacher and Vocal Music Director.  I honestly don't know how Mr. Dieken does it, but he manages to find outstanding candidates that turn into high quality instructors for our school district!

I am very happy to announce to you that the the Board of Directors approved the hiring of Teale Burford and Jill Humston at the regular meeting of the Board last evening.

Teale Burford joins our staff as our new Vocal Music Director.  She has her Master's Degree in Choral Conducting and has been highly involved at the University of Northern Iowa working as an adjunct instructor with experience working with the UNI Varsity Men's Glee Club.

Jill Humston has accepted an invitation to become our next Chemistry teacher at the high school.  Jill holds a PhD in Pharmacology and has previously been working as an adjunct professor in the science department at the University of Northern Iowa.

We are very excited about our new faculty members!  Please join me in welcoming them to our community.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What Our Data Tells Us About Bullying

I was a little disappointed to see the recent headline in the Waterloo Courier "Schools Fail to Meet Anti-Bullying Requirements".  The article accuses school districts of "under reporting or flat out ignoring student harassment" (sic).  To add insult to injury, the Director of the Department of Education, Jason Glass implies that the reported numbers are unbelievable.  I respectfully disagree with Director Glass.

It could be that the numbers are under reported, but if that is the case it is not because of subterfuge on the part of the school district.  If the numbers are unreported, it could be that students are not reporting bullying and harassment to district officials.  I can assure you that when a case of bullying and harassment is reported at Hudson, it is vigorously investigated and if founded appropriate consequences are administered.  I can also take great pride in the fact that we have very few instances where there is a second bullying offense.  We go to great lengths to properly educate our staff and students as to what bullying is, how to recognize it, and what to do when they see it. 

In fact, this year we were even more vigilant in our efforts to prevent, investigate, and protect the rights of students due to the rash of student suicides across the nation this past school year. 

The problem is that the bully is incredibly sneaky.  How often do you think someone is actually bullied right in front of a teacher?  Or, when it is reported it is done with the caveat (from the person reporting the bullying) that we don't do anything about it out of fear of retribution.  That's right, we have received phone calls from upset parents who want to report an incident of bullying but they don't want us to do anything about it.  However, more often than not it is simply ignored by the victim, the student doesn't say anything or swears his or her friends to secrecy.  It makes it kind of difficult to do our jobs with our hands tied behind our backs.

Now then, the question you are all dying to ask.  How many cases of bullying and harassment were reported and founded at Hudson during the 2010-2011 academic year?  Fifteen, and consequences ranged from additional education with the perpetrator on what defines bullying and harassment, all the way up to and including expulsion of the student.

We will never back away from what our data tells us.  If it is true that our numbers are under reported, you can help us.  How?  If you see something that doesn't look right please tell a school official.  If your child has been a victim of bullying and harassment, have them report it.  Don't let them talk you out of it, and if necessary go with them to visit the principal or At-Risk Coordinator.  If you are wrong, there is no harm done.  If you have a child that may have perhaps crossed that line, help us to educate them.  I always tell parents that it is much easier to learn that lesson now than it is later on in life.

These simple steps can help save a student from perpetual torment, and consequences that are far graver than a suspension or expulsion.  School is supposed to be an enjoyable, safe, and fun place for our students.  Can you help ensure that it is?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Democracy In Action

Does it seem at all to you like the political process we go through to elect a president begins earlier and earlier each election cycle?  Here we are, the middle of June 2011 and the first debate of the Republicans candidates vying for their parties nomination are underway.  Did anyone fail to mention that the election is not until November of 2012?  I am sometimes accused of being a political junky, but I do get quite a charge out of the entire theatre of this process.  I watch the Sunday political talk shows with amusement and irony as candidates make the same arguments as to why they should be elected, or are better than the current candidate in office.  These same candidates fail to mention that the position they are taking at this particular juncture in time is the exact opposite of the position they took just a few short years ago.

With all the rhetoric it can make us feel utterly helpless, that it doesn't matter because the "machine" is just too big to change, and that all we can truly hope to accomplish is maintaining the status quo.  You will get no argument from me on this point.  But, I would quarrel with anyone who thinks that it doesn't matter, or that you can't make a difference.  Believe me, you can.  And the perfect opportunity to do just that is not quite as difficult as you may imagine.  You have the chance.  You have the opportunity.  You can make a difference in your own little corner of the world.  All you have to do is run for a seat on the school board.

Sometimes Boards of Education get a bad rap.  Yes, it is very hard work.  Board members make decisions that are at times unpopular and likely to cause their phones to ring at inopportune times.  This past year was certainly a year of unpopular decisions.  It is also true that being a member of school board is the only elected position in Iowa that does not have a paycheck to go along with it.  Oh, yes and that 'one' board meeting a month that you have to attend and vote?  Don't be fooled into thinking it is just that 'one' meeting a month.  There are issues that will come up, and problems that need to be addressed.  Sometimes the superintendent will call you late on a Friday night with some bad news.  Back to that 'one' meeting a month.  You will probably need a good weekend of study and research before coming to the meeting so you are well informed on the issues and able to make an informed decision.  Don't even get me started on Iowa School Finance!  There are other things that will come up, but I don't want to scare you off.

All of that being said, if you ask any one of your board members that are currently serving, they will tell you that it is all worth it.  They would do it again, and in fact many of them have.  They have served multiple terms and provided a great service to the community and school district.  I only hope they choose to run again and take the opportunity to serve another term.

With all the challenges and sometimes headaches that come with the job, why do it?  Is it really worth it?  Absolutely.  You have the opportunity to have a voice at the table.  To be a in a position of leadership in the community and school district.  The Core Purpose of the Hudson Community School District is to "Create Effective Learning Environments That Result in Success for All Students".  To be a Board Member is to shape that purpose; to mold; to craft; to vision!  Anyone who has served or is currently serving will no doubt tell you that to be a member of the Board is nothing that they thought it would be--it is much more.  Satisfying, fulfilling, and most definitely rewarding.  To be a member of the school board certainly takes courage and determination. 

At the beginning of this post I described the challenges with politics and how it often seems as though we are really going nowhere.  Perhaps, the foundation upon which this country was built is alive and well in our local governments, and no place is it more prevalent that in your local school board.  One could argue that the local school board is the purest example of democracy that we have left in our nation.

The time to act is now.  Papers for you candidacy can be picked up now at the Central Office.  Filing dates for the election this September are from July 11 to August 4, with the election date of September 4.  If you have any questions about board membership you are encouraged to contact anyone who currently serves and visit with them.  As you discern your candidacy I am available at anytime to visit with you and answer any questions you may have.  More information can be found at the Iowa Association of School Boards website.

Are you ready to make a difference?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Welcome to My Blog!

Blogging used to be a pretty efficient and effective way of communicating for me, but I confess that since arriving at Hudson, it has not been something that I have had the opportunity to explore.  Since beginning here almost a year ago (it will be one year on July 1), it seems that there have been other items that have taken my attention.  Now that we are a year into it, I think it is time that I can get back to.  For these first few entries, I am just going to be trying some things out.  I encourage you to subscribe to the blog or check back frequently.  Please give me some feedback on my posts!  You probably know by now that I am very rarely at a loss for words!