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!