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