Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Competency Based Learning

Students experiment with growing sweet corn in the greenhouse.
There is currently a proposal in the Iowa House's Education Reform Bill that allows school districts to award credit, or advance students from one grade to another based on the student demonstrating competency in that particular discipline.  The Senate version of this bill supports competency based learning, and this was one of the center pieces of the Governor's reform bill.  Current law allows for school districts to apply for a waiver to implement competency based learning, and any district that applies for the waiver is granted one. 

Currently, students are advanced from one grade to another, or are awarded credit based on the total number of minutes they have accumulated in a grade level or discipline.  For example, a school year is 180 days long, and once students have satisfied 180 days, they are advanced to that next grade level.  We further organize our students into grade levels and have arbitrarily stated that a 6 year old is in first grade, while a 10 year old is in fourth grade.  The principle is essentially the same in high school, students meet the seat-time requirement for a particular course and are awarded a Carnegie Unit.  It takes an accumulation of 56 Carnegie Units to graduate from Hudson High School.  Within that system, we require that a student needs to have a certain number of Carnegie Units in specific disciplines such as Math, English, and Social Studies.

Changing to a competency based system would be a significant paradigm shift for Iowa school districts.  After all, we are all used to a 16 year old being a sophomore in high school!  The seat time and social promotion model has served us well for over 100 years, but is it time to change that model?  Think about this for a second in the simplest of terms.  Does it make sense that the same 16 year old mentioned above is granted a driver license by merely passing a test and reaching a benchmark age, or should they be required to demonstrate competency behind the wheel?  Pretty simple principle isn't it?

When we look at competency based education it may be all too easy to simply measure competency by administering a series of tests and assessments, but we also know that this type of measurement doesn't necessarily measure competency, but rather a students' ability to memorize trivial facts and figures.  To truly measure competency, we must provide our students with real world problems to solve, relevant research to conduct, and opportunities to experiment. 

That doesn't mean that there isn't a place for traditional assessment, there most certainly is! In fact this afternoon our students will be dismissed early from school so our faculty can participate in an inservice on the topic of assessment and how it can be used as a means in which to form instruction.  Sorry, I digress, that wasn't the point of this post so I will continue.

The idea of using real world problems to demonstrate competency got me thinking, how difficult would it be to make the switch?  I began to take stock of what was going on around the district to see what types of projects students are engaged in with teachers, and it didn't take very long to find numerous examples! 

Last night for example, I had the honor of attending the annual FFA banquet and was so impressed with our students.  A lot of credit certainly needs to go to Mr. Deppe for serving as the Advisor to this group as well as the Agriculture instructor for the district.  I was so proud of the accomplishments of the students!  They were recognized for a number of projects and skills.  Without demonstrating competency in these fields, they would not have earned these honors.  Our program has such a solid reputation of demonstrated competency, that our group earned a $2,500 grant from Monsanto!  We have talked a lot about the greenhouse this year, and continue to be amazed at the number of plants and the work the students have done.  Last night, I realized that this is much more than a mere greenhouse; it is also a science laboratory.  I was listening as Mr. Deppe was explaining to a group of parents an experiment that a student was conducting to see if she could get seeds to propagate without using the germination chamber.  It was a fascinating experiment.

Middle School students answer questions about their
NHD projects at the Grout Museum.
This morning I stopped out in the shop to see what Mr. Scott had going on in the shop.  Really, I was interested in seeing how they were progressing on the car they were building for the Ultimate Mileage Competition that will be held in Altoona later next month.  Last year they were able to construct a vehicle that got 147 miles per gallon, this year the goal is 200 miles per gallon.  Talk about an incredible competency based project!  The students in this class had to design the car, develop plans, and be able to defend their decisions.  Before starting the construction, I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation from the class where they explained to me in great detail why they had selected the material they were proposing and the physics behind the tires that were selected.  Anyway, that class wasn't in session this morning, instead Mr. Scott had a group of students tearing down in internal combustion engine and identifying the parts.  Competency based, anyone?

Last week, our middle school students participated in the annual National History Day presentation at the Grout Museum in Waterloo.  This is a huge social studies project that Mr. Haskovec has his students do annually.  Basically a theme is chosen and students develop a project around this theme.  Not only are students expected to become experts in their topic, but they need to be able to present their findings in a visually appealing way.  This is done through a variety of medium including website development, creating documentaries, or through a traditional research paper.  If the project isn't enough, these youngsters need to be able to articulate their findings and presentations to a panel of judges who evaluate them using a scoring rubric.

So, I think it is safe to say that competency based learning wouldn't be too much of a stretch for the Hudson Community School District.  These are but a few examples.  I could go on an on, from the projects that our journalism students produce, to the bean plants that are grown in the 4th grade. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bravo to the Cast and Crew of "Little Shop of Horrors"

Audrey gets a little too close for comfort!
Audrey II sings "Feed Me"
When I began this blog the goal was to write just one simple post a week.  After all, there was a chance that some weeks I wouldn't even be able to come up with a topic.  Sometimes I even wonder if my weekly nuggets are being read!  So you may be wondering why we are out of cycle, and now all of a sudden you have this Friday post.  The answer is very simple. Something wonderful has happened at Hudson High School this week and I wanted to let you know about it before it's too late:  Our high school musical "Little Shop of Horrors" is in production right now, and if you want to see it tomorrow night at 7:30 will be your last chance.  Believe me, you will want to see it.  The student actors are fantastic and amazing. 

Now, many of you know that in a former life I was a high school vocal music director.  Many high school vocal music directors have 'specialities' or areas of expertise.  For some, it is Show Choir, others may have Jazz or Concert.  For me, it was the high school musical.  There was no part of my job that I enjoyed more than the annual production of our high school musical.  In fact, when I left teaching to enter into the realm of administration, many of my friends and colleagues asked me how I could do it, and "wouldn't I miss the excitement of the musical and the energy of opening night".  Well, I didn't miss it; not one little bit.....until last night.  I have been to a lot of high school musicals in the intervening years, but last night, for the first time in a long time I saw pure magic on that stage.  I am so proud of these students and what they have accomplished that I can't even begin to describe the energy and excitement I felt when I left.

Audrey II with a 'full belly' after the show
Full Cast Opening of Act II
It also just so happened that prior to the show last night, we were attending a recruiting event at Price Lab School in Cedar Falls.  As we were visiting with parents and students of Price Lab, one of the parents asked Mr. Dieken to describe some of the project based learning activities that we have in the high school.  He artfully described a plethora of activities ranging from art projects to science labs and everything in between.  After the show last night, I remembered how project based the musical is, and wish that I would have offered this wonderful example.

It got me thinking; how many projects do we have in our school that encompass industrial arts, visual arts, music, english, and journalism?  Certainly there are even more disciplines involved in this musical, but you get the drift.  How often do our students have an opportunity to take a script that is mere words on a page and breath life into it?  Think of the long hours of rehearsal, the sweat and sometimes even tears that turned this show from an inanimate object into a living breathing show?  It is very powerful.

Folks, it is not very often you see talent the likes of this in a high school.  Skyler Wendling was fantastic in his role of Seymour Krelborn.  His vocal abilities are absolutely superior and he will have you amazed at his ability!  Our heroine Audrey is played by the remarkable Peyton Higgins, who has vocal abilities that will blow you away.  She is truly awesome and is quite impressive in her role.  Ben Huber is another of our gifted perfomers, we knew he was a great wrestler, but man can this guy sing!  He looked very comfortable and in his element!  I was very impressed with the versatile abilities of Shawn Drinovsky.  Not only was he able to handle the very complex role of Orin Scrivello and challenging vocal passages with ease, he provided outstanding comic relief!  The trio of Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette played by Olivia Griffith, Bridget McCulley, and Ashleigh Eichelberger was phenomenal.  As a former high school director I am very well aware of the difficulties with multi-layered harmonies.  These young ladies handled it like true professionals and as I understand it, organized their own choreography.  One of the neatest part of the show no doubt is Audrey II, and our pupeteers Chad Smith and Paul Lichty deserve the credit here, but what about the voice!  I was blown away by the peformance of Cody Bascom.  What a wonderful surprise to have such a natural talented bass baritone to fill this role!  It fit perfectly!

Chiffon, Crystal, Ronnette
I remember very early in this production the questions, some trepidation, and maybe perhaps a little fear from our very capapble director Ms. Teale Burford. I can recall those conversations we had early on about the mechanics of production from the development of the rehearsal schedule to the blocking of the show.  Although you asked advice here and there, it was apparent that you most certainly didn't need it!  You have done an awesome job and I am very proud of you as well!  I wouldn't hold a candle to your abilities any day of the week.  Bravo!

Like I said, it was a magical night.  Thank you so much to all of our performers who worked so hard to ensure the success of the show.  Thank you to the parents for tolerating the long and agonizing nights of rehearsal.

To all of our actors, enjoy every minute of this run.  Believe me when I say from experience that it will end all too quickly.  They will call one final blackout and the stage will go dark.  Cherish this memory.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

FY 2013 Budget Adopted and other Board News

The Hudson Board of Directors met in a regular meeting on Monday evening.  The meeting began with a hearing for the Fiscal Year 2012-2013 budget.  We are very pleased that the tax rate for next year has been set at $16.48, which is a decrease from $16.89.  There was some time for reflection in regard to our current financial position compared to where we were one year ago.  Last year we were faced with significant budget cuts and the very real possibility that we were going to overspend our Maximum Authorized Budget.  Fortunately we lived through the budget cuts and were able to stave off a negative unspent balance.  Indeed this is good news, but we must ensure that we don't take this reprieve as a license to begin the cycle anew.  We need look no further than to our older sibling to the North (UNI) to be reminded of these painful, uncomfortable, and heart wrenching decisions.  It makes me squirm in my seat just thinking about it! 

While our financial position is improving, we would be wise to continue our practice of fiduciary restraint.  As President Griffith remarked on Monday evening, this is a big ship, one that doesn't turn on a dime.  We are slowing turning the boat around, but it takes time and can't be done immediately.  We have a lot of work to do.  (As a Navy veteran, I truly appreciated the metaphor!)  There are no looming cuts this year, our unspent balance is no longer in free fall, and the tax rate is down.  Great news, but let's not forget what had to happen to get us to this point.

As a matter of fact, let's consider briefly where we are going.  Our graduating class is over 70, and our incoming kindergarten class of roughly 50.  Simple math tells us that we will have a declining enrollment next year, which means a shrinking budget.  Our unspent balance is increasing, but is still well below acceptable levels.  Case in point: budget cuts were made when our unspent balance was $210,000.  For the year ending June 30, it dropped to $90,000.  We expect this year to end at approximately $147,000. 

I am optimistic we will get where we need to be.  Critical conversations and fiscal restraint will continue.  A big ship indeed!

Progress continue on the concession stand expansion and
renovation last week during spring break.  Thanks to
Hudson Hardware Plumbing and Heating and numerous
volunteers who are working hard to ensure completion
for our first track meet on April 5!
In other news, the Board took action on some capital improvement projects that we intend to have completed this summer.  Please remember, that these projected are funded through our building improvement funds, which are categorical monies illegal to use for regular operating expenses.  Sometimes folks will wonder why we can spend $300,000 for a building improvement project while talking about cuts at the same time.  The answer is because we are using different funds that have different legal requirements for usage.

Phase two of the elementary electrical upgrade will be completed this summer by Champan Electric.  Chapman received the contract with a low bid of $51,995.  After this project is finished, our district classrooms will be equipped as a 21st Century rooms, with the ability to handle the electrical requirements of additional computers and electronic devices.

The biggest project set for completion this summer is the construction of the high school parking lot.  A long time coming, the original concept was to do this with the completion of the high school project.  PCI had the lowest bid of $244,894.75. 

Both projects are slated for completion before school resumes in the fall. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Board of Directors-March Agenda


March 19, 2012                       6:00 p.m.

We create effective learning environments that result in success for all students.

PUBLIC HEARING ON FISCAL YEAR 2013 SCHOOL BUDGET                                                                              

1.       Call to Order—Pledge of Allegiance
2.       Roll Call
3.       2012-2013 Budget Presentation
4.       Public Comments
5.       Adjourn Hearing


1.       Call to Order
2.       Roll Call—Acknowledge Previous
3.       Approval of the Agenda
4.       Welcome Visitors and Comments from Visitors

4.1.    Hudson Education Fund Update—Deb Klingaman
4.2.    Open Gym—Kevin Wurzer
4.3.    Scheduling Update—Jeff Dieken
4.4.    Elementary Update/Kindergarten achievement data—Mark Schlatter

  1. Consent Agenda-Monthly Matters                                                                                                     
5.1.    Approve Minutes of Previous Meeting
5.2.    Approve Consent Personnel
5.3.    Approval of Cooperative Sharing Agreement
5.4.    Open enrollment requests
5.5.    School Nurse Report

  1. Financial                                                                                                                                                             
6.1.    Approve Monthly Bills
6.2.    Review Monthly Financial Reports

  1. Reports                                                                                                                                                                               
7.1.    Board of Education               
School Visit on May 9th, 2012
Board Development Activity:  Open Meetings Law

7.2.   Superintendent                                                                                                                                     
Update on Facilities Work and Review 5 year Facility Plan
                          Faculty and Staff Professional Development Update
Special Education Pool Transition and Hiring Recommendation
Graduation rates
Delinquent Registration Fees
Legislative update/Education Reform Plan

  1. Items for Consideration and Possible Action                                                                                     
8.1.    Approval of bid and awarding of contracts for the elementary electrical upgrade
8.2.    Approval of bid and awarding of contracts for the high school parking lot paving project
8.3.    Post Issuance Compliance Regulations for Tax-Exempt Obligations (Board Policy Code No. 704.2R1)                                                                                                                                   Final Reading
8.4.    Board Policy Review (Board Policy Code No. 216-217)

  1. Items for Consideration                                                                                                                                              
9.1.    Debrief Meeting/Items for April Business Meeting
9.2.    Commendation

  1. Closed Session per Iowa Code Section 21.5 (1)(i) to Conduct Superintendent Evaluation                                                                                                                                                                                                             
Adjourn to an Exempt Closed Session to Discuss Negotiations Strategy

Monday, March 12, 2012

Happy Spring Break!

I hope everyone is enjoying a relaxing and warm spring break.  We have really lucked out this year with our weather!  I can't remember it ever being this warm.  It is pretty quiet around the district this week, the custodial staff is using this time to catch up on some cleaning projects and maintenance items that can't easily be completed when students are in session.  Tomorrow and Wednesday I will be out of the district participating as a team member in a Department of Education site accreditation visit at a neighboring school district.  This will provide valuable information for us as we plan for our own accreditation visit a year from now.  District offices will open at 2:00 on Tuesday afternoon in anticipation of the bid letting for our construction projects which is scheduled for 3:00.  If you are interested in learning more about these projects, I encourage you to attend.  On Wednesday at noon I will be the guest speaker at the Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon.  Looking forward to a great conversation with Hudson's business leaders.  I will be taking a couple of vacation days on Thursday and Friday this week, so the office will not be open at all.  If you need to contact me, you are encouraged to send an email at or a direct message via twitter @AnthonyDVoss.  Have an awesome spring break and I look forward to seeing you all next week!

Mr. Deppe tells me that there are over 7,000 plant in various stages in the greenhouse.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Budget Hearing Set

The Board of Director's have set March 19, 2012 as the date of the budget hearing for the fiscal year beginning on July 1st.  This hearing will begin at 6:00 in the Board room located in the Central Office.  During this hearing I will be sharing with the community how the budget is prepared and how property taxes are figured. The proposed budget was included in the March 8 edition of the Hudson Herald.

In my November 2 blog post, I spent some time discussing how the residential rollback works and how it impacts your property tax.  If you look at the chart that is included below, you will notice that the average property value of a citizen in Hudson is $157,684.  For the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2012 the proposed tax rate is $16.48982, which is a tax rate decrease of .40794.  If you property value remained the same, you would see an annual property tax increase $26.56.

You may be wondering why this is considering the rate is decreasing by almost forty-one cents.  The answer is because of the rollback.  On that $157,684 home your taxable valuation is 48.5299%, or $76,523.89.  Next year on that same home, your taxable valuation is 50.7518%, or $80,027.47.

As I mentioned in my earlier post,  the Governor and legislature are working on property tax reform.  There is a very specific desire on the part of the Governor to decrease commercial property tax under the theory that this will increase economic development.  While this is being debated, it is important to remember and understand that this could impact residential property taxes.  Lowering one property tax classification could have the unintended consequence of shifting that tax burden to another property tax classification.

During the development of the school budget, the Board carefully considers tax rates and works hard to minimize the tax burden on the citizens of the Hudson Community School District.  On behalf of the Board of Director's and the students of our school district, I sincerely thank you for your financial support of the schools.  Our schools remain strong because of the support you show.

I just want to point out a few things about the proposed budget that you see on the left-hand side of the screen. You will notice that line number 23 shows an increase of 6.2%.  We have increased this line in the budget to accommodate for unknown expenses that we anticipate in our special education program for next year.  You may recall a recent article in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that talked about the dissolution of the special education pool in the AEA.  Beginning July 1, all special education costs will be borne by the district as opposed to being spread out across all pool schools.

You may also notice an increase of 5.4% on line number 31A.  This is attributed to a greater emphasis on several buildings and grounds projects that we will have in various stages of completion over the next year.  Our high school parking lot and elementary electrical upgrade are scheduled for this summer, both projects will spill over into the next fiscal year.

Take note of line number 35A, where you notice a 20.4% decrease.  The reason for this decrease is attributed to the fact that our bonds were refinanced a year ago to take advantage of historically low interest rates.  During this refinancing, the original bonds were paid off and re-issued.  The best news of all is that after we complete our bond payment this year, we will only have two remaining payments!

Those are the highlights.  Again, the budget hearing will be conducted at 6:00 on March 19 in the Board Room.