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.