Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Far Removed by Distance, But Close to Our Hearts

That was a message that came across my twitter stream yesterday afternoon from a drama teacher in North Carolina. I thought it was a fitting title for this week's post. Although we are separated by over 1,000 miles, we share in the grief of the families at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. To say it is difficult for the community and families [to be living through this nightmare] seems like the most absurd statement of all time. My heart breaks like all of yours, and each night when I get home from work, I search for answers on the news. Have they learned anything? What was the motive? How can we prevent this from ever happening again? Answers so far have been slow coming. It has just been one sad and grief stricken story after another.

This event may in fact be one of those defining moments in our lives when years from now we will be able to recall with clarity where exactly we were when we heard that awful news.

On Friday morning I found myself attending our monthly conference superintendent meeting in Grundy Center. Our meetings are pretty jovial events where we spend time talking about issues that we all share in common, often times joking around with one another and dealing with business of the conference. It is a pretty informal atmosphere and a networking event that most of us very much look forward to each month. We were well into our discussion, of what I can't really remember right now. As always, there were many cross conversations going on as each superintendent tried to make their voice heard above the other, when a colleague sitting to my immediate right checked his email and Twitter.

In an almost whisper he said, "There has been a school shooting in Connecticut". The conversation around the table began to die down as he scrolled through the feed. A few moments later, it got even worse, "It looks like it was an elementary school....there are....26 or 27 people who have died...wait 20 of them are 5 or six years old". You could have heard a pin drop at this point. All conversation stopped immediately, and no one knew what to say. It was as if the entire world just came crashing down around us. After a few moments, someone asked that we turn on the television so we could see exactly what was going on, and the  breaking news on television confirmed the worst.

We all just sat there in complete disbelief and lack of understanding at what had just happened. I don't know what was going on inside the heads of my friends sitting around the table, but my head was spinning with thoughts of fear, anger, and intense grief. I immediately wanted to leave and head back to the district. That seemed to be the consensus around the table because it wasn't long afterward that we did in fact break up the meeting and head for home. There wasn't the usual lingering around that normally happens at the conclusion of the meeting.

The last several days have been spent reflecting on this tragedy and evaluating where improvements can and should be made to our own crisis plans. I have asked for a review of all of our procedures and information about possible upgrades to systems. At our board meeting last night I briefed the members on our plans and shared that I hoped to have recommendations for improvements ready in January. As we look for answers and preventative measures there have been numerous calls nationwide for legislation ranging from greater gun control to arming school officials. I don't know what the answer is. I am not interested in entering a political debate. But really, can you legislate against evil? I don' think so. From the looks of it, they did everything right at Sandy Hook Elementary. The teachers and administration acted with courage and valor, giving their lives so that others may be saved. A determined madman can defeat most security systems and wreak complete chaos on the best of systems.

So here we now are, just days away from what is supposed to be one of the most joyous days of the year. What do we do to make everyone feel better and understand what has happened? Sorry, but there isn't an answer to that question. We won't understand, and we can't make them feel better. But what can you do? Hug your children real tight. Tell them that you love them, and enjoy being with your family this holiday season.

We will continue to be vigilant and make improvements to our systems, of that I can assure you. On behalf of the entire school district, I would like to wish you a very peace filled holiday season.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dangers of Constantly Changing Technology

Parents last week received a letter from the district describing an unfortunate incident that took place at the high school. To protect the privacy of those involved, details were left out and names were not mentioned. For those of you that are not parents in the school and didn't receive the letter, here is basically what happened.

Some of our students were taking inappropriate photos of their classmates and sharing them with others.  (An important distinction: While the photos were inappropriate, they were not obscene.) They were using an app called Snap Chat. Luckily, our administrators were able to quickly get a handle on the situation and apply an appropriate amount of discipline as allowed by our policies. (Another important distinction: As much as people may wish to know exactly what discipline was administered, FERPA and board policy do not allow us to make this public.) Our administrators took the additional step of holding class meetings with the high school student body to not only remind them of the dangers of harassment, bullying, and cyber bullying; but also to remind them that the consequences for actions such as these can have implications that reach far beyond  high school.

I found that statement, well, interesting. I can remember my days as a principal handling discipline issues. While visiting with parents and students about the discipline that was being administered, I would often mention that the discipline was meant as a teaching tool. "You see", I would tell them, "I would much rather you learn this lesson while you are here with us in a protected environment. This suspension (or whatever sanction had been imposed at that particular time) may seem like a big deal now, but it will pale in comparison to the consequences when you get out into the real world."

My how the world has changed in just a few short years! We now live in an age where students tweet, blog, Facebook, etc. Whatever we post has an infinite lifespan. If we post something hateful, hurtful, or embarrassing you just can't push the delete button or erase it with the click of a mouse. It is there forever.

So what is this Snap Chat? Well, I am sure you have all heard the term 'sexting'. This is when young people take pictures of themselves, often times obscene, and then share them with a boyfriend or girlfriend. What is meant to be private usually is not because the receiver is likely to share that photo with others and before you know it, that photo goes viral. Snap Chat is an app that was designed for sexting, but doesn't allow the receiver to send it because after a few moments the shared photo vanishes. So people think they are safe because you can't save the photo, forward the photo, or even see it again after a few moments. How naive! I need to explain something to all my young readers out there so please pay attention: If a couple of college kids who are bored in their dorm room can figure out how to make an app like this, then certainly a couple of others can figure out a work around! Heck, I'll bet someone reading this already has it figured out.

Here is something that will really blow your mind: The evolution of Snap Chat was first brought to our attention that very morning during a story on the Today Show. How ironic that very afternoon we would be dealing with it in our own school.

In light of all this, we continue our discussions about going to a 1:1 laptop environment in our high school. I'll bet this adds another layer of concern for parents. After all, won't a laptop just provide another possible way for kids to get into trouble? Perhaps, but lets be realistic. If a student engaged in malfeasance prior to going 1:1, it likely isn't going to matter if they have a laptop computer. Likewise, students who doodled in the margins of their notebooks will probably continue to do so no matter what tool we provide them. I made this same argument last week. 

What we are saying is that it is critically important to teach our students how to function in a world that moves at lightning speed and is constantly changing. The educational model that is currently used in most schools in the United States has served us well for over 100 years. That model did an awesome job of preparing people for the industrial age. Go to school and learn your basic facts. How to follow directions. Understand your proper place. This was exactly what we needed because in that era you would graduate from high school and go to work in a factory. Look around, that world doesn't exist anymore. Think about this, if we don't move to a laptop environment, which is very controlled by the way, who is going to teach our youngsters about digital citizenship, and how to function in this era? How about this: When youngsters turn 16 we don't just hand them the keys to the car and say, "Here you are, go figure it out". 

Why on earth would we do that with technology?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Keeping Up With the Joneses

Last Friday I had the opportunity to attend the second annual 1:1 conference at our local AEA. My goal was to leave that conference with greater clarity about the implementation of a laptop initiative in our school district. I do believe that I have greater clarity, but still have questions. This is a very big decision and one that we absolutely must get right. The investment of resources alone is something that we must continue to examine and ask the question: Is it worth it? We are talking about an investment of over $100,000 a year into perpetuity. More and more schools in Iowa are moving this direction every year, and over lunch I heard a statistic that new teachers entering the field have a 1 in 3 chance of being hired in a school district that is 1:1. There are 348 districts in Iowa and over 100 are 1:1. Approximately 40 more are expected to go next year. Last week I read a newspaper article where a district had just voted to go 1:1 next year. When they interviewed the superintendent about why they made the decision, his answer was "We need to keep up with the Joneses". I cringed when I read this and couldn't believe this was the rationale. I will not accept that as our reason to do this, and no one in our community should either.

Folks, I am not interested in keeping up with the Joneses. I am also not all that interested in whether our neighboring district has shiny new laptops for all their kids. What I am interested in is doing what is best for our youngsters, and making sure they have the knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to be successful in life. Being a 1:1 school may be what we need in order to do that. 

Since beginning this journey I have been on a quest to find hard scientific facts-proof if you will that putting laptop computers in the hands of our students is going to improve student achievement. There is some of that  out there, but most of it is not causal (some is, but it is certainly not overwhelming). I am looking for empirical evidence that this is the silver bullet-the golden ticket! But alas, it is elusive. At most we can find anecdotal tidbits here and there.

So during the first session of the conference I had a chance to listen to a panel discussion with colleagues in this AEA who were present to offer advice on how they went about this. I know all of these superintendents very well and have a great deal of respect for what they are doing in their districts. Finally, I had an opportunity to ask the question that many of us in the audience were dying to ask, "How has this impacted student achievement?" The answer provided an epiphany, and made me realize that when I asked the question about student achievement, I had fallen victim to the very thing that I have revolted against for so long. What I had really so naively asked was, "How has this impacted their results on standardized tests?"

The answer was breathtakingly honest and went something like this: "We don't know what the impact is going to be on student achievement because we haven't done it long enough. Frankly, that isn't even the reason we made this decision. This is no silver bullet-and you shouldn't tell people that it is. There are no promises that kids are going to do better on a standardized test because of a 1:1 computer initiative, and that isn't the reason we did it. We did this to prepare kids for life-for what they are going to do next-be it go to college or go into the work force. We aren't even all that concerned if this improves test scores, because we are not preparing our students to go into the world and fill out standardized test forms with a number two pencil on a scan tron. We aren't interested in teaching our students how to answer factual recall questions that don't require higher order thinking skills and can be Googled in 20 seconds. We are preparing students for the exact opposite. How to problem-solve, think critically, collaborate, and create-all in a digital world where number two pencils don't exist anymore."

The next session I found myself sitting in a room full of students who attended schools that were a 1:1 platform and the same question was posed. "Have your grades and test scores improved?" The young man stated with clarity, "I don't know if I did better on the test, but I know that I am a lot smarter than I was before and enjoy the complexity of the learning that is taking place in my school. When my teacher gives me an assignment it makes me smile". 

I wish my colleague would have answered the reporters query with one of those responses rather than, "We need to keep up with the Joneses". 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bullying: Are we Playing Offense of Defense?

Yesterday I attended the Governor's Summit on Bullying Prevention in Des Moines. Hearing the stories that some young  victims endure is truly heartbreaking. Even sadder is when these victims feel there is no place left to turn, no one to talk to, and the utter feeling of helplessness that no one can stop the pain and torture. Sometimes these stories have tragic endings. According to the 2010 Iowa Youth Survey, 50% of Iowa students have indicated that they have been victims of bullying. Nationwide, it is estimated that approximately 5,000 students commit suicide annually due to the effects of bullying.

At Hudson, we have taken a very strong stand against bullying and have been steadfast in our protection of bullying victims. The consequences are severe and meant to send a strong message: Your behavior is inexcusable and there is no place for it in our school. We have employed a three strikes and you are out mantra in the district. If you are found guilty of bullying three times during your tenure as a student in one of our schools, you are recommended for expulsion. During my time as superintendent, we have held expulsion hearings and the Board of Directors has in fact expelled students. Indeed, the message from the Board of Directors all the way down to the student body has been clear and unmistakable. 

In the classroom, teachers and counselors regularly extol the virtues of acting with kindness, standing up for one another, and doing the right thing. Countless lessons are taught about how to disarm bullies, teaching our students that character counts, and the Hudson Keys of Success are good rules to live by. We employ such  programs as Second Step, and hold regular meetings with students in small and large groups alike. But the question remains, are we doing enough?

So far this school year, we have had a handful of reported cases of bullying. A few of those have been founded and appropriate levels of discipline were assigned. What keeps me up at night is the fact that we have had a handful of reported cases of bullying this year. I wonder, which are the ones that haven't been reported that we don't even know about?

Our teachers are trained to be vigilant and observant, and continue to receive anti-bullying training. The administrators and counselors in our school are relentless in their pursuit of student safety in the district. Thanks to the hard work of everyone in the district, our investigations are thorough, complete, and end with the right result.

Unfortunately, we are not able to catch everything. Inevitably, a teacher will turn around to write something on the board, something will happen in the hallway out of earshot of the teacher, on the bus, playground, at the football game Friday night....

It may be months later during an unrelated discussion that we hear the comment, "My child has been bullied for months, and nothing has been done about it." Folks, if we don't know about it, we can't fix it. That is what I fear, and this is how we can all help: tell us. If we know about it, trust me--we will address it. Our Board of Directors is very progressive in this regard and has set specific policies. This is taken very seriously.

Therein lies the rub, doesn't it? If we tell you that it will be taken care of, you may left wondering, "Okay, what exactly did they do? Was the student given a warning? Suspension? What?" That is where we have to ask for a little faith on your part. As much as you may disagree, FERPA does not allow us to share what that consequence was, as much as we may want to or like to.

If you or someone you know has been a target of bullies, let us know. If you see someone being picked on, by all means step in and say something. Believe me, we can't fix this alone. We need your help, and we need the help of our students. As one speaker said yesterday, "Positive social change will not come from us as adults--it will come from our young people saying ENOUGH!"

Finally, I would like to share a couple of resources that you may find helpful. First, and I can't emphasize this enough, if you see something or hear something, report it! It is easy as picking up the phone, or you can even report it online here. You can also visit www.yourlifeiowa.org.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Enjoy the Game

As fall moves to winter, basketball and wrestling season are slowly starting to ramp up. I thoroughly enjoy watching the competition, and even get quite a charge out of our student section. The students do a great job cheering on our teams, often times having special dress up nights. I can remember coming home from one of the first sporting events telling my wife Ann that a couple of students came dressed up as ketchup and mustard, and at another time I believe we even had students dressed up as salt and pepper! Sure, from time to time Mr. Dieken may have to remind our enthusiastic fans to make sure they are cheering for and not against the opponents. 

But, it is really hard--considering the examples that are being set at our colleges and universities. I wonder what happens between high school and college?

I was shocked to read the article posted in the November 19th issue of the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier titled "Fans Behaving Badly". In this article, we read about student sections at some of our own state universities behaving like barbarians. In one instance, a fan from the University of Iowa 'chucked a full can of beer at an Iowa State University Cheerleader's head'. At Iowa basketball games, it is common practice to yell "Sucks" after each opposing player is introduced. Administrators at these universities say little can be done to curb this type of behavior, after it is protected speech. (Seriously folks, that is what one top administrator was quoted as saying.)

And it is not just isolated to the fans. We see coaches setting horrible examples all the time, from professional sports to pee wee leagues. College football's Championship Saturday is next weekend. Pay close attention to the coaches on the sideline and you will see exactly what I mean when you watch these coaches. Sure, referees are going to miss calls. Even in the era of the 'Official Review' there are going to be times when it doesn't go the way we would like.

We all love to go to the games and cheer for our favorite teams. I am so proud of the accomplishments of our athletes, and relish that sweet feeling of victory at the end of the game. But what makes me the most proud is the conduct of our fans when they face adversity and the game doesn't go the way we would like.

Winter sports are here. Go Pirates!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hudson Middle School Shows us the Future is Bright and the Bench is Deep in Oklahoma!

The stage had barely gone to black and the set struck after "Little Shop" when Mrs. Anderson came to me with an idea of doing a musical with our middle school students. I knew right then that she had been infected with the same 'bug' as me when I used to direct musicals. When she shared with me that she wanted to do 'Oklahoma' I thought wow, she is ambitious. Then late in the summer Mr. Dieken and I asked her to take over the high school program. She didn't want to do it unless we still let her do the musical with the middle school. Yeah, she has the bug pretty bad.

You see, there is something truly magical that happens when a school musical goes into production. From those very early rehearsals with cast members stumbling around the stage, bumping into things with their faces buried in the libretto--to a living breathing musical where all the actors hit the mark transforming us to a far off place--there is nothing quite like it. It really is as though the script comes to life when the curtain is drawn. Tonight I felt like those young people really did take me to Oklahoma! Tonight I felt like I did after our last show, a little sadness that I was no longer directing. And it all comes down to the magic that the kids make on stage. They were truly amazing.

To say that I was impressed is a complete understatement. Blown away is more like it. When I tell you that I thought it was ambitious to choose Oklahoma (for a first time middle school musical nonetheless), what I really meant to say was, seriously? How on earth are you going to pull that one off? I had looked at Oklahoma once upon a time, and you need some serious musicians and a solid dance troupe. The choreography alone was enough to scare me off. To do it with middle school? No thanks. To top it all off, this is a big cast musical, something that has been rare at Hudson, and never done with middle school.

Tonight when the stage lights were lit, I knew this was going to be something special, and that this was serious business. Those young people were on, and their voices absolutely amazing. The power strength and maturity of the vocals left me wondering at times if this really were a middle school production. Then there was the dancing, blocking, and chorus--all critical components that were unbelievably solid.

Last year we were treated to some amazing talent. Sometimes after that we are left wondering if it can be replicated. To use a common sports metaphor, we wonder if we are going to rebuild or reload. It is evident that in our case we are simply going to reload. Almost as if foreshadowing this very thing, Mrs. Anderson remarked to me at the conclusion of the show, "I wonder what we can do next?" Indeed, the future is bright for these youngsters and we will have an opportunity to continue to be dazzled by their talents.

Congratulations, I am so very proud of you!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Votes Are In-Its Time to Get to Work!

My wife Ann and I are relatively politically minded, and over the course of the last several months had the opportunity to carefully consider which candidates for office we would support. We had a ton of fun last night watching the polls close across America and listening to the commentators speculate about who would win each state, and thus win the coveted electoral vote (although I must admit that I fell asleep before it was over). In a couple of races I went to bed believing one thing--and then waking up to learn another. 

We read, listened, and debated the merits of candidates before making our decisions. We looked forward to Election Day, perhaps the same way that many of you did before heading off to cast your ballot. The responsibility to vote is taken very seriously in our home, and I am sure many of you feel the same way. We are all thankful when it is over, the dust finally settles, and the political advertisements stop. So today as we evaluate the results and see where the balance of power may or may not have shifted, I wonder what has actually changed?

Probably not that much. This is what we have learned. The White House will be controlled by President Obama, a Democrat. The United States House of Representatives will remain controlled by the Republicans, and The United States Senate will remain under the control of the Democrats. A split government, exactly the status quo before the election.

Equally important (and in some instances more so) were local races for state governmental office. Since the Governor was not up for re-election it remains under the control of the Republicans with Governor Branstad. The Iowa House will remain under Republican Control (although the Democrats picked up a few seats), and the Iowa Senate will remain under democrat control. Again, a split government, exactly the status quo before the election.

I consider myself a patriot and will support the elected officials we have in office. Provided of course they assume this duty with a bit of humility and willingness to compromise and collaborate. Provided of course they can think on their own and vote with their own voice--and not that of the party. I also believe in split government, much like we have in Washington and in our own little corner of America--provided of course we can move beyond partisanship. Done correctly, the two party system can prevent bad things from happening. It is sort of like a checks and balances on the system.

But the wheels start to come off when we talk about compromise and collaboration. We have serious problems in our nation and in our state that must be solved. These problems will not be solved without compromise. What will our country do about the Middle East, global warming, the fiscal cliff, a $16 Trillion deficit? What will our state do about education reform, property tax relief, and job creation?

Those are serious issues that must be solved. Chest thumping, character assassination, and bullying will not solve the problems of the day. And that is exactly what we have been treated to--not only this campaign cycle, but for the last two years. Our politicians laud the dangers of piling debt on our kids or leaving [any of] these problems for the next generation to solve. "Think of the Children", what a great campaign slogan that would be! Yet the example that has been set is the only way to get ahead  is to cut down people who don't agree with our position and refuse to work together for the common good.

So, here we are trying to teach youngsters not to be bullies, treat everyone with kindness, and not call each other names. We are teaching them to be collaborative workers and critical thinkers. We are teaching them--hopefully be people of integrity, and the value of flexibility. (See Hudson Learner Performance Goals and Keys of Success.)

I am an optimistic person and believe that we are on the brink of seeing great things happen in our nation and in our state. I have faith in the two party system and look forward to the upcoming General Assembly and working with our elected officials on education issues. There is no doubt that our elected officials are optimistic as well, that they have the very best of intentions, and that they want to do an awesome job and solve the problems of the day. So, lets do it together and show our young people that we can collaborate in a spirit of cooperation and good will.

In closing, I would like to congratulate Representative Walt Rogers (R) and Senator Jeff Danielson (D) on your re-election. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work, and I know you both are too!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Teacher Leadership and Compensation

I have the opportunity to participate in a variety of professional organizations as a result of my role as Superintendent. One such group is the School Executives of Iowa, which is a branch of the School Administrators of Iowa. The Executive group meets about four times a year with the primary goal of reviewing pending legislation and developing position statements as to whether or not we support legislation, support legislation with caveats, or are opposed to legislation. Those position statements are forwarded to the legislature and Governor, finally becoming talking points from which we are able to engage our elected officials. 

This last week we had an opportunity to review the recommendations of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Task Force, and are now in the process of preparing a white paper with an official position from the school executives of Iowa. I am not going to go into all the recommendations and rate them with a thumbs up or thumbs down, but will rather provide some comments in broad terms. You can check out the proposed recommendations here. When the white paper is complete I will be sure to share that with you.

The task force was a directive of the General Assembly and was given the directive to evaluate the way in which teachers are compensated and make recommendations to improve upon this system. It was also a goal to find ways in which to increase wages of teachers and to develop a mechanism to increase the average salary of teachers who take on leadership roles. Twenty-Five stakeholders representing a cross section of professional educators including teachers, principals, superintendents, education associations, school boards, the Department of Education, and higher education. Early on it was decided that only recommendations that were reached through consensus would be included in the final report. This in an of itself is worthy of note: everything that was included in the recommendation was supported in principle by the task force.

If adopted, the recommendations have the ability to completely transform how teachers in Iowa have been compensated. Currently Iowa teachers are compensated based on the number of years they have been in the system and the level of education they have received. This new system proposes to radically change the structure, classifying teachers as initial, career, model, mentor, and lead. Again I encourage you to read the report yourself.

In essence, the executive leaders of Iowa will endorse this plan with caveats. The biggest question mark right now is the cost. Depending on which model you look at, the cost of increasing the base salary of entry level teachers to $35,000 and implementing the proposals is well north of $100 Million--as a conservative estimate. During the past three years cuts to education in Iowa have been deep. This makes it hard for me to believe that this is something that will actually be funded. One of the recommendations explicitly states a need for a new infusion of revenue into this system. It also calls for an evaluation of existing allocations to see if they may be 'repurposed'. This concerns me--and it should you too. Last year when the idea of re-purposing was brought up, the early childhood block grant was under scrutiny. This is the money that we used to reduce class size. Although our class sizes aren't small by any stretch of the imagination, think of what they would be without this appropriation. In regard to properly funding this proposal and education in general, there does appear to be some good news. Current estimates suggest an ending fund balance on June 30th of $1 Billion.

Whether or not our political leaders choose to invest in Iowa's future is another question entirely.

So the bottom line in all this discussion is that nothing really matters if our political leaders can't set aside their differences and work for the common good. Depending on when you read this--if online before the election or in the newspaper after the election; we can all agree that the advertisements that we have been subjected to were over the top. Since the dust has settled (or about to), hopefully we can get back to the business of the people.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

1:1 Laptops: Should We, or Shouldn't We?

In Iowa there are approximately 350 school districts. Of those, roughly 120 have decided to implement a laptop computer initiative (coined the 1:1) with either part of [or all of] their student body. Each year, the number of school districts making this investment continues to grow, with another 40 school districts expected to 'go' next year. Many will tell you this is the greatest reform in education since the pencil and paper--and this tool will completely revolutionize education. As more and more school districts begin to embrace this new paradigm of learning, the pressures for school districts to make this investment increases. I have always been an advocate of 21st Century Learning and believe that having computer access is critical for our learners. But is it the right time for the Hudson Community School District to take the plunge?

Yes, we are having very serious conversations about whether or not to 'take the plunge'. But, my point from the beginning of these conversations has been the same. We need to make sure that if/when we do this, it is for the right reasons. If we do this because the school district to the east or west of us is; well that would be the wrong reason. If we do this because of external pressures from constituents, that would be the wrong reason. So our deliberations are careful, thoughtful, and hopefully broad ranging. To speak metaphorically, if we do this for the wrong reason, we may end up with a 'boat in the driveway we don't want' or a 'pacifier that is way too expensive'.

The monetary investment is certainly worth considering. We are not talking about buying computers for our students and then being set for life. This is an investment into perpetuity. How old is the computer that you have at home? I would guess that if it is older than four years it probably doesn't have the memory or RAM needed to make it work with the latest and greatest software. Many modern websites probably don't work very will either. Our plan must consider how we are going to refresh the fleet to make sure we have modern machines that work without fail for the students. To provide laptop computers for just 9-12 grade students is a recurring cost somewhere in the vicinity of $120,000 annually.

Another consideration is teacher training. Believe me, if we purchase computers for the students and then just turn the teachers loose, this will not be a successful venture. In school districts where this has failed it has been because there was not a concerted effort change the paradigm from which the teachers are operating. A comprehensive professional development program will most certainly be a necessity for the successful implementation of an initiative such as this.

Considering everything that has been mentioned this may seem like an insurmountable task, one not worthy of further deliberation. I don't believe that to be true. The fact is, I believe the reasons we would do this are noble and not based on some faulty assumption that it will cause our enrollment to grow. I believe that it will be expensive--but at the same time I believe it is an investment worth making. Teacher training will absolutely be critical, and I can assure you will be a component in which we will not cut corners.

So then, why?

Let's consider first what may be at stake if we don't. Schools are very different from when you and I attended. Not only are we teaching students how to read, write, and do math, but we are also giving them a strong background in science, technology, 21st Century Learning. When you and I grew up, we didn't have the world at our fingertips--students of today have that advantage. We are teaching them how to live, interact, and work in a global marketplace. Consider this: Our Board of Directors can now hold a board meeting with members located around the world. And not only can we do this--we have done this. It almost sounds cliche, but we are training young people for jobs that didn't exist ten years ago. Did you know that you can go to UNI and major in Global Supply Chain Management? A job like that certainly didn't exist ten years ago, let alone when you and I were in school.

Granted, the advent of 1:1 computer initiatives in schools is a relatively new phenomenon, and such the research is somewhat incomplete. However, the research that exists is compelling. As one example, the state of Maine has had a comprehensive 1:1 program longer than anyone in the nation. They have found that students have seen significant improvement in statewide writing scores. Other studies suggest that students involved in 1:1 computing score higher on problem solving. How about reading and literacy skills? Indeed, studies show increases in reading skills. Our own empirical research into the benefits of using computer based instruction with kindergarten students shows a correlation in reading scores and the utilization of the Reading Eggs program.

There are additional benefits as well. Student engagement has been shown in increase, behavior is better, student motivation increases, and teacher practices change.

More research needs to be done, but the evidence thus far is that this is a solution that works. The question that remains: Is this right for us? We are trying to figure that out right now. I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Help us to make the right decision for our students. There are a couple of ways you can share your thought. First, I would encourage you to take our needs assessment survey, which you can find right here. Or, you can respond with your comments to this blog post.

I am looking forward to hearing from you.

"What does the Research Say About School One-To-One Computing Initiatives", by Nick Sauers and Scott McLeod. CASTLE brief, 2012.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New Tool Aimed at Attacking Bullying in Hudson Scheduled for Deployment October 31

Guest Post by Dave Lipinski

Keeping students safe is a primary goal of the Hudson Community School District.  In all honesty this has become more of a challenge as technology has advanced.  Once upon a time students had face to face communication and written notes as methods of communication for all things positive and negative.  Use of the telephone was typically limited to positive interactions.

Today school staff, parents and the police are often involved in student to student harassment and bullying that is increasingly electronic and pervasive.  The proliferation of social media and the coinciding eroding social norms regarding behavior that is socially acceptable has made it easier to be mean.

There is no question that schools today are required by the state to attend very closely to matters considered to be in the realm of bullying or harassment.  For years Hudson has provided staff and students alike training in everything from appropriate conflict management to how to report concerns of bullying and harassment.

Unlike something as obvious as vandalism, harassment/bullying is often a much more difficult situation to prove.  There are many factors such as determining the relationships of students involved, intent of actions and pervasiveness of the behavior.  One thing that is for sure and difficult to bring to light is the differences that exist between each situation we become aware of.  Frankly, we can only do something when we know about it and most people think we know more than we do.  Students are not prone to misbehave while a staff member is listening or watching.

In an effort to take advantage of the technology available to us and to do everything we think we can to deter or stop bullying/harassing behavior the school will be implementing a new tool for anyone with credible concerns or information to use.  It is called a Google Form and is basically an electronic method to provide the school with information.  The information provided will be confidential to administrative staff only.  Anonymous forms are not encouraged and may result in being ignored unless critical.  Investigations require speaking with actual people and hence identification is an important aspect of this reporting method.

The link will be “live” on the school website for all grade levels starting October 31.  Students in grades 4-12 will receive information about this method.  Of course it is still preferable for reports to come to a school staff member, however we readily acknowledge that sometimes it is timely and best for information to come when a person is able and ready.

Anyone wishing to learn more about how Hudson works to prevent, investigate and remedy bullying/harassment may contact any school administrator.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Every Day is An Adventure

This week I want to give a shout out to the Hudson Fire Department, Gordy Clarke, and Jeff Dieken for their hard work and putting in all the extra hours yesterday during our accident. For those of you that are wondering exactly how we ended up with a two hour late start, here is a brief synopsis of the days events. 

At approximately 3:30 a.m., the sprinkler system in the Art Room was activated. When this alarm goes off, it automatically triggers a call to the fire department. Upon arriving on the scene, it was discovered that the lid to the kiln was left open. This allowed heat to escape, increasing the temperature of the room. Once the temperature exceeded 155 degree, it triggered the sprinklers and alarm. As a result, we experienced approximately 2 inches of flooding in the art room, the west hallway was impacted, along with Mr. Puls room, and Mrs. Maves room. 

When Mr. Dieken and I arrived on scene it was apparent that we would not be able to start classes on time and I made the decision to call for a two hour delay, keeping my options open and assuming that we would not be able to hold classes that day at all. (Another hats off to Steamatic Cleaning who was on the scene by 6:00 a.m., and had made significant progress by 8:00 a.m.)

At this point, the art room and Mrs. Maves room continue to be out of commission and we anticipate those spaces to be impacted for several more days. 

We have to recognize this for what it was; an accident. Luckily no one was hurt and in the whole scope of things, the damage is pretty minor. We will end up with a cleaning bill, a few repairs to the art room, new carpet in one of the classrooms, and maybe a replacement kiln. The upside here is that the sprinkler system performed exactly as it should have. I shudder at the thought of what may have happened had the sprinkler system not performed. Perhaps that is the best news of all?

In closing, I want you to remember my comments last week in regard to October being National Principals Month:

Or in this case, several hours before the start of the day!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Greatest Job You'll Ever Love

Kind of sounds like that ad we used to see right? If memory serves me correctly, that was a recruiting slogan for the United States Army. In this case I am not playing the role of an army recruiter (I was in the Navy after all, why on earth would I want to do that!), but instead want to talk with you about our building principals. October has been designated as National Principals Month by U.S. Senate Resolution 552 and U.S. House of Representative Resolution 781. I can tell you that it is a very tough, difficult job. Believe me, it really takes passion and love to be a building principal.

I can remember being a youngster in school and looking up to the school principal. There was some mystic there (admittedly), with a bit of respect and admiration. (I can remember a couple of times being a 'client' in the principals office!) I used to think , 'man, that guy has a cool job!' He is the 'boss of the school', in charge of EVERYTHING. That must really be awesome. To have that kind of power! The principal seemed to have all sorts of clout and could make things happen. Who would have known that a few decades later I would have an opportunity to be a principal. If I knew then what I know now...

It is a great job full of rewarding experiences, from providing vision and leadership to their respective faculty and students--to setting the academic tone for the buildings. Among the hardest working of individuals in schools, they are often the least recognized. Why is this? Because that is not why they do it. They do the hard jobs they do because they want to impact change on a large scale. They want to provide opportunities for the children they serve, and they want to advocate for the teachers they supervise.

As I stated above, it is a tough job. Indeed, it takes a very special type of person to to have the courage and talent to lead a school as a building principal. It is not for the faint of heart and takes someone with very thick skin to handle the pressures of the principalship.

There is no typical day, and perhaps that is part of the allure. One never knows from one day to the next what challenges will be faced. A quiet day in the office completing paperwork can be blown up within the first couple minutes of the day starting. (Sidebar: Very rarely is there such a thing as a quite day in the office for the building principal.) Principals do not have typical work days or hours either. Their day starts before 8:00 a.m. and typically lasts well into the evening. While dashing between meetings with parents, handling disciplinary issues, and answering to an ornery superintendent, they may find time to answer some of the email that has begun to pile up in the office. (Sidebar: It is not uncommon for building principals to have email messages in excess of 100 daily.) Often this email will be read, reflected on, and answered in the late hours of the evening when all is quiet around the house.

The job of building principal is confrontational by its very nature. The building principal can expect to be confronted by an angry student, parent, teacher, citizen, or any other category of human being multiple times during the course of the school day. Most of the time, the building principal is in a no win situation. They have to make a decision, and that decision is going to make people angry. Why? Because it isn't fair, they didn't hear all the facts, my child isn't a bully, you are just picking on me, I don't want to teach that grade level/class.

The building principal never really has a day off. Sure, they may have the day off--but we can find you. The superintendent has your cell phone and isn't afraid to call at anytime. You can't really go to the grocery store because the last time you went to the grocery store a parent spotted you and wanted to 'talk'. Sometimes you can't go home, because we know where you live and are completely willing to stop by unannounced if we have something on our mind that we think you need to 'know'. Or we will call...just when you are getting ready to tuck the kids in.

I want to tell you how much I appreciate the work of Mr. Schlatter and Mr. Dieken. These are two of the finest building principals I have ever had the privilege of knowing and working with. I can see the passion they have for the work they do. These individuals are committed, passionate, and hardworking. It is my great honor to work with these talented building leaders. They are up to the challenge and handle the pressures of leading their buildings famously. I encourage you to please thank these gentlemen, for the work they do on behalf of the children entrusted to their care.

And then ask them, "Why do you do it?" I'll bet you are proud of the answer they give.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Education Reform in Iowa: Creating a Laser-Like Focus and Rallying Point for All

Two weeks ago I published an entry exposing the ludicrousness of the multiple reform efforts that are being studied and dissected by numerous task forces right now. My hypothesis remains the same: the issues that we are grappling with are far too contentious to have any hope of survival once the Legislature convenes in January. You need to look no further than the strike of the Chicago Public Teachers Union to see how contentious some of these issues are. It appears teacher evaluation is one of the major sticking points in the new contract, something that is currently being discussed in Iowa. How do you think that is going to go over in our state, I mean really? Unless we have single party control in state government, I wouldn't hold my breath that anything substantial is going to be decided on that particular issue.

So anyway, I have an idea, or a thought. Let's stop the spinning plates and create that laser-like focus. How about an idea that we can all get behind and support? I actually have one. Let's start by clearly defining and articulating what it is we are supposed to be teaching in our schools, and develop an assessment system that measures it. You probably think we already have that, don't you? You would say something like this, "We have the Iowa Core Curriculum (which is now the Common Core). Isn't that what you are supposed to teach?" Then you would say something like this, "The measurement that is used is the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (which is now called the Iowa Assessment).

Well, we do have both of those things. The problem is they are not even close to what we need. Let's take the Common Core first. Studies suggests that in order for schools to adequately cover all the standards we would need an educational system that was twenty-three years in length. Consider that for a minute: we currently have an education system that is thirteen years in length (K-12). It is safe to say that it is not feasible to cover material in the Common Core in any way that ensures mastery.

How about that assessment then, you know the ITBS? Well, let's have that discussion. First, tell me what you know about Box and Whisker plots? If you are like me, probably not a lot. I so know a little bit more than I did a week ago. You see, I am finishing my doctorate and am taking a class on quantitative research methodology right now. Last week in class we were looking over a statistical analysis website and low and behold, I saw my first real life reference to the Box and Whisker graph! Why is this important? Because there are questions about Box and Whiskers on the 5th grade Iowa Assessment! Do our kids need to know this? I would argue that they do not.

The other HUGE problem with the Iowa Assessment is that is it a norm referenced test. This means that it doesn't measure whether or not the test taker knows the material, but how well they compare to a sample of their peers. I know, in this country we want to know our ranking, and if we rank higher than our neighbor or the student that sits across from us in science class. Would you rather your child knows how to do a specific task, or would you rather know their ranking? I would argue that what we really need is a criterion referenced test which measures whether or not students know the material.

So at Hudson, we have embraced the PLC at Work Model. That is the Professional Learning Communities. We are committed to clearly articulating what it is our students need to know and be able to do. This is called identifying our Essential Learning's. After that, we are developing formative assessments to help our teachers determine if the students have learned the material.

If we were able to do these two things statewide, and I mean do them well, I think we would be well positioned to tackle some of these tougher issues. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Measure of a Man

I remember a few years back when Tim Tebow was a senior at Florida preparing for the NFL draft. There was quite a bit of discussion about whether he had the skill set to be an NFL quarterback. He ended up drafted to Denver, and this past off-season was traded to the Jets. Tim's biggest athletic criticism is how he releases the ball and his tendency to be flushed from the pocket too soon. Since the NFL is known to be a passing league these days, those may be fair criticisms. Now, I am a pretty big football fan, and this time of year if the television set is on, it is probably tuned to a football game. You may also see me roaming the sidelines on Friday night here at Hudson. That being said, I am by no means an expert and don't pretend to know all the strategies and nuances of the game. As mentioned above, those may be fair criticisms of Tim, but that is for him to work out with his coaches. All I know is when he does step on the field, it is pretty exciting to watch.

What isn't fair is the criticism to his value system. This young man takes a lot of grief because he is a good guy. Now, please don't mistake the point I am trying to make here. This isn't an endorsement of Tim's faith or anything remotely related to his specific beliefs. I do believe that Tim is genuine in what he says and how he acts. Does it seem a little backward to you that he is criticized for this?

In an era where our youngsters emulate professional athletes as role models, isn't Tim Tebow just the kind of athlete you would like your child to look up to? Instead, we hold up as role models athletes who have had all sorts of legal problems ranging from adultery, armed robbery, assault, domestic abuse, and even dog fighting.

Stay with me folks, I am going somewhere here. 

Certainly it is argued that some of our fallen athletes are admired for their athletic prowess on the field or court. Perhaps that is fair considering our own commitment to high school athletics across our country. High school sports are an important part of what we do [and who we are] in our schools. Not only is it an ingrained component of school culture, sports teach many things that can't be taught within the walls of the classroom. 

This is a critical point to remember when we talk about education reform in Iowa. A lot of comparisons have been made between American schools and our counterparts around the globe. Many of these school systems do not have sports as part of their curriculum (I use the word curriculum deliberately in this instance).

So what are we teaching our student-athletes? Hopefully we are teaching them that there are things in life way more important than winning. Now winning is important, but it is not the most important. What is important is teaching our young student-athletes to be a little bit more like Tim Tebow and a little less like Brett Favre.

The person or persons responsible for teaching that directive are our coaches. We can either have a coach like Fran McCaffery (you may remember Coach McCaffery's ride on the crazy train last December; you can check out my comments on his antics here) or we can have a coach like Barry Scott.

Are we doing that here? You be the judge. When Coach Scott interviewed for the head coaching job, he told Mr. Dieken and Mr. Wurzer that one of his goals was to teach 'these boys' to be men. Pretty profound statement, and one that may be hard to live up to with the pressures of winning.

So anyway, last Friday night Applington-Parkersburg came to town. AP is one tough opponent, and they had something to prove after getting beat pretty bad by Union the week before. You all know how the game ended, we got beat....handily. It seemed that we just couldn't really get anything going, and there was a lot to be frustrated by. 

However, there was a silver lining. After the game, the head referee stopped Mr. Dieken and myself at the locker room and said, "Your coach is a class act. Most wouldn't have responded to that the way he did." Now I know the team didn't hear this, and at the time didn't really care. In fact, Coach Scott wasn't all that interested in hearing about the silver lining of the game that night.

But here is the point, and be warned it is very cliche: "It isn't whether you win or lose, but how you play the game." We lost honorably. Our student athletes have a great role model to look up to, and yes to teach 'these boys' to be men.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Education Reform in Iowa: Spinning Plates & Groundhog Day

Ever see the movie "Groundhog Day" starring Billy Murray? You know the one I am talking about, right? He wakes up, it's Groundhog Day. In fact, everyday is Groundhog Day. By changing his daily routine,  he hopes to finally awaken to a new day, but try as he might-success just seems to be out of reach.

That is kind of how I feel about education reform in Iowa. We can't seem to get anywhere useful, but if we keep changing our routine, we hope to find success. The fact is that there are no shortage of ideas about how to fix all that is wrong [with our schools] and provide the students of Iowa what Governor Branstad calls a "World Class Education". There are so many potential solutions that you can't see the forest for the trees! Some are pretty good, others not so much. 

As I see it there are some significant flaws in these efforts. The problem is that a:) there is simply too much political division, b:) we lack focus, and c:) we have involved people in the process who have no business being involved (i.e. tourism lobby). Let me explain.

While the legislature was pretty ineffective in passing education reform last session, they were very effective at kicking the can down the road. Instead of enacting useful reform efforts they asked for a plethora of Task Forces to be established. Why? Because these are very tricky things that about 50% of the electorate would love to see enacted while the other 50% would not. So, how many task forces are there?

By my count there are five, but somewhere I read that there were actually six. This is what I could find:
  1. Instructional Time Task Force
  2. Task Force on Teacher Leadership and Compensation
  3. Early Childhood Assessment Task Force
  4. Competency Based Instruction Task Force
  5. Administrator Evaluation Task Force
  6. ???? (I am pretty sure this one is out there but can't for the life of me remember what it is)
Task force, task force, task force (tsk, tsk, tsk). Are you serious? Let's see if we can put one more spinning plate in the air. There is so much to focus on, we don't know where to focus. Our Director tells us that this is all critically important and that our kids deserve the very best. I agree. But  let's be honest. Our kids also deserve action. Most of these ideas are highly controversial, and they have almost zero chance of becoming anything more than a Utopian ideal. By the time they reach the floor of the legislature, they will be gutted. Oh sure you say, other states have done it. Maybe, but did they try to do everything at once? Did they try to cram controversial reform down the throats of the LEA, or did they build a coalition of support? Or, after they enacted those reforms, are they better off? Really?

Look, I don't mean to be a pessimist, but I have been to this rodeo. If we want this to work, and I mean really work, let's first stop with the spinning plates. How about a laser-like focus on one area that we think will really make an impact? A good place to start would be on something that we can all agree on so we can get the ball moving down the field. If we can build some momentum, then perhaps, just perhaps, we can begin to tackle some of these more controversial issues. Until then I guess we can just continue to do the same thing and hope when we wake up tomorrow morning it isn't still Groundhog Day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Goals for the 2012-2013 School Year

Each year we ask each member of our professional staff to consider goals that will enrich their career and improve the school experience for our students. Goals may be in an area of interest to the faculty member or a specific teaching strategy they would like to explore in the classroom. In some instances, a goal area may be directed by a supervisor that asks the employee to consider an area that may need focus or attention in their practice. In my case, I write goals with the input and consideration of the Board of Directors. These goal statements are written over the summer and shared with the board for input and discussion over the course of two months. The board adopted these goals at our meeting on Monday night. 

When goals are written, they must be what we call SMART Goals. Those are goals that are strategic and specific, measurable, attainable, results oriented, and time bound. In my case, I am taking this one step further by sharing these goals with you. So, when you see me around town or in the district don't be afraid to ask how I am doing on my goals.

Goal #1 – Instructional Program (Standard 2):  Meet or exceed the Annual Progress Goals established by the Board at their August, 2012 Board Meeting.

Explanation:  The Board has an expectation that the Annual Progress Goals, recommended by the SIAC and approved by the Board in August of 2012, will be met or exceeded.  These goals are to increase the percentage of students who meet targeted growth in the areas of Math, Reading, Science, and Language Arts.

Action Steps:
1.  Staff and Administration will engage in the Professional Learning Communities at work model.  By the end of the school year, each PLC group will have completely gone through the entire PLC process, answering the four key questions. In grades 7-12 the focus will be in content areas whereas grades K-6 will focus on math.
a.   Faculty that attended the PLC conference in St. Louis will serve as the professional development team for the 2012-2013 school year.  This team will meet one time per month to evaluate the progress of PLC work and to solve problems as they occur.
b.   An additional group of teachers and at least one administrator will be recruited to attend the PLC conference in St. Louis during the summer of 2013.
2.    During PLC meetings, time will also be devoted to reviewing the characteristics of effective instruction and ensuring these characteristics are being implemented in each classroom.
3.    Academic achievement goals will be posted in each instructional space.  Administration will review goals periodically with faculty during grade level meetings and discern progress on the goals.
4.    By the end of the academic year, the district will be positioned to make an informed decision regarding the relevance and necessity of purchasing a comprehensive district wide math curriculum.
5.  All teacher professional development will have a direct relationship to the PLC implementation process.
6.       Faculty will continue to utilize and align curriculum with the I-CAT tool.

Goal #2 – Develop a Vision for Learning that is Shared and Supported by Others (Standard 1); Respond to Diverse Community Interests and needs, mobilize community Resources (Standard 4): 

Explanation:  This is the Hudson Community School District.  As such, the community should have an opportunity to help shape the vision on the district and provide input when it is relevant to do so. By creating a spirit of collaboration and cooperation, the district will be able to accomplish more than they would without community support.

Action Steps:
1.   The Superintendent will engage stakeholders in a visioning process beginning in September with a goal of completing a strategic plan through 2020.  A draft of the plan will be available to the Board of Directors for the April 22nd meeting.
a.      The SIAC membership will serve as the governing stakeholder group for the visioning process.
b.   SIAC will meet on a more consistent and regular basis with a clearly defined agenda with goals and objectives.
2.       The Superintendent will continue to blog weekly and post regular updates to twitter.  Additionally, a new website was launched on July 1st that is dynamic and rich in content.  This website will be continually maintained and updated by a variety of users.
3.    The Superintendent will host a monthly breakfast meeting at the AMVETS hall prior to each monthly board meeting in an effort to discuss topics of interest and gauge community interest in school topics.  Citizens will be encouraged to ask questions and provide feedback regarding issues related to the school district.

Goal #3 – Finance (Standard 3): Continue to improve the financial position of the Hudson Community School District in Regard to All Key Financial Indicators.

Explanation:  The final determination of the unspent balance figure for Fiscal Year 2011 is still unknown.  However, the Board has the goal of continuing to advance unspent balance to the level set on January 19th, 2009 ($550,000), and then preserving that balance within a range of $50,000 through FY14, and feels that with careful overview of District revenue and expenses this goal is challenging, yet attainable.

Action Steps:
1.    The Superintendent will provide to the Board a projected USB once the district audit and CAR is filed.
2.  The Superintendent will continue to oversee all purchases and expenses incurred by the district, finding efficiencies where possible while not impacting the District’s educational integrity.
3.      The Superintendent will prepare a line item budget for FY13 in conjunction with the financial audit, and will use that line item budget as a tool in which to look for additional financial efficiencies.
4.    The Superintendent will complete an energy/maintenance audit in conjunction with FBG and present findings to the board for review.  This audit will contain valuable data to be used in making decisions in regard to future energy projects with an aim of improving efficiencies.  Additional data will be provided that will enable the district to make informed decisions about the staffing of the maintenance and custodial departments.