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.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

For Pete's Sake, Hire Another Teacher!

I wanted to spend a few minutes today talking about the deployment of our human resources. I have had a few conversations about the size of our classes and inquiries into how we are accommodating these youngsters. First, I would like to thank those parents who have taken time out of their busy schedule to come in and visit with us. I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to meet with you and have an open discussion. That invitation remains open for anyone who would like to chat! Please don't hesitate to call and set up an appointment!

The Principal's phone typically starts ringing from folks like you when class sizes begin to approach the mid to upper twenties. Typically you are curious about what is being done to alleviate these numbers and ends somewhere around wondering why we don't just hire another teacher. Hiring additional personnel would definitely solve the problem, and does seem to be the preferred solution. Everyone I talk to (including the building principals) is frustrated when I tell them we can't hire another teacher. The frustration is understandable and appreciated. To tell you the truth, I share your frustration and agree that another teacher would help.

In fact, we need more than just one teacher. I have a laundry list of positions that could be filled with employees that have been absorbed over the last two years. Another custodian would be a huge help to us. Right now, this staff is pretty thin. They are doing an excellent job of keeping up right now, but I am eager to see how things unfold with their work load as we get deeper into the school year. I could also use another person on the secretarial staff. When Mrs. Hansen left us last spring, that position was absorbed into our current pool. Instead of hiring someone, the current staff was just given more responsibility. The counseling department could also use more help. You may recall the high school counseling position was cut to part time. I feel pretty horrible about this one too, and it is compounded by the fact that our high school counselor is putting in full time hours with part time pay. I guess you could call this my wish list, and it doesn't stop with those few examples.

We are a lot leaner, and the decisions that we make about instruction in the district are being made with much thought and deliberation. Each time a principal or teacher makes a request, my first response is, "How is this going to improve student achievement?" If those questions can't be answered with solid research to back up the request and data to prove the point, the answer is almost unequivocally, "No". Sometimes I will direct the faculty to conduct a pilot with action research and then report results back to me before a final decision is made. (Sidebar: That is how we got Reading Eggs and IXL Math in the district. We found something we thought would work, conducted our own research through a 'clinical study', discovered that our hypothesis had merit, and then purchased the instructional tools and strategy.)

So back to the original question, why not hire more teachers? It all boils down to finances. Iowa School Districts, are bound by a maximum budget which cannot be exceeded by statute. You may have heard me use the term Maximum Spending Authority, which is a formula based on the number of students served multiplied by the cost per pupil. There are a few other variables in the formula, but the essence is simple: it is illegal to exceed that number. You may recall a few years back we had to cut almost $600,000 from the general fund. If we hadn't done that, we would have exceeded our Maximum Spending Authority, and this year we would be several hundred thousand dollars in the red. (I will have more exacting numbers in a few months after we finish the district financial audit, so stay tuned.)

Well now that we have made these cuts, you may be asking isn't it getting better? And if it is, why not hire back some of these positions? It is getting better, but at a much slower rate than we would all like. The problem is that the state has failed to properly fund education. The per pupil variable mentioned above is controlled by the legislature, and the legislature is required by law to set that per pupil amount annually with a number that is commonly referred to as allowable growth. The last several years allowable growth has either been not set, or set too low to even keep up with the costs of inflation. (Set compensation aside for a minute because I know what you are thinking...instead consider other risings costs such as diesel fuel, water, electricity...this list goes on.) Our local situation isn't helped by the fact that enrollment is declining, which obviously makes a smaller number to multiple by the per pupil cost. 

The most immediate result of these decisions is larger class sizes. So what are we going to do about it, you may ask? Well, first go back three paragraphs and read about how instructional decisions are made in the district. Second, I would invite you to read the letter that Mr. Schlatter posted last week. While this letter is addressed to 3rd grade parents, it is applicable across the elementary school. Second, we have asked our teachers to take on more responsibility, and they are doing so willingly. Each time I walk through the elementary school, I see teachers with smiles on their faces working so hard on behalf of your children. We had several teachers that changed job assignments right before the start of the school year, and they willingly did so. Heck, we even had Mr. Harms agree to co-teach a very large physical education class with Mr. Kiewiet, and he volunteered his time to make this happen.

Most people bristle when they consider that educational decisions are often made based on financial indicators. I agree with this, but let's be honest...this isn't utopia. Aren't most decisions that are made in society based on financial indicators? We would love to give our kids the world, but that isn't even realistic, is it? I would have loved it if I could have sent my daughter to Julliard (I know she is good enough, but of course I am biased), but that wasn't realistic because I couldn't afford it. Granted, my example was out there but I am sure you get the picture.

What our children deserve is the very best education that we can afford, not the very best education that money can buy. What our children deserve are committed educators willing to do their best job each and every day. I am very proud because that is exactly what our children are getting at Hudson.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

2012-2013 School Year Begins

This morning I took a quick walking tour of the district and was thrilled to see all the classrooms full of smiling students and teachers. It was quite a change after a summer of quiet and empty hallways. While I enjoy the solitude of the summer, it gets a little lonely around here! You know, during the summertime I can usually sit down at my computer and work solid for two or three hours without interruption. Yesterday I didn't even get to my office until 4:00 p.m. I just love the change of pace!

So when I sat down to write this morning, I spent some time trying to come up with a catchy phrase to describe the opening of the school year. I just couldn't come up with anything that didn't sound too corny! I wanted something that captured the excitement and energy that is associated of the beginning of the school year, but it just wasn't there. So what has it been like this week?

We have had a spectacular start of the school year throughout the district, beginning Monday with our new teaching faculty orientation. The week that contains the opening of school is a whirlwind, with everyone returning and working hard to make sure that everything is ready to go when the students arrive. This includes making sure we have accurate class lists, classrooms decorated, enough desks in the rooms, and most important, LESSON PLANS! Everyone has performed beautifully and we are off and running!

August 16th had a big red circle around it on the calendar. No matter what, that date doesn't move. Ready or not, we were going to have a school full of kids! These last few days have certainly been busy, and I haven't had any trouble sleeping at night. In fact, you may notice that this post is a day late. I would like to claim it is because I wanted to post my blog on opening day, but the reality is that I was just too exhausted when I got home last night to write it! 

The formula for every opening day of [any] school is virtually identical: A flurry of activity in the days leading up to the students' arrival, and then it all just comes together at the very end (kind of like magic)! Indeed it has. Is it perfect? Not at all.  We are still having some minor issues with the software that runs our hot lunch program, and the student management software is being uncooperative. (A brief sidebar here: I appreciate the patience of everyone as we work hard to solve these problems.) In spite of these very minor glitches, I don't believe the children know the difference.

So here we are, the first day of school! My to do list for today includes the following items:
  • Get all the students to school (Check)
  • Feed everyone (Check)
  • Make sure everyone gets home at the end of the day (Pending) 
Looks like I still have one more item to attend to, I better get after that!

Oh, one final thing: the new parking lot works....

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Finishing Touches!

It really seems like it has been a long time since school was last in session but after looking at the calendar, I realized it has been a long time since school was in session. Think about it: school was out before Memorial Day! One week from tonight you will need to go to bed a little earlier (students), or you will be struggling to get your children to go to bed (parents)! Last week I commented on the excitement that is common with the start of the year, but I must confess that I was feeling anything but excitement when I left the office last Friday afternoon!

There were looming issues for the district that hadn't yet been resolved. It had been my hope that all the heavy lifting would have been done by the close of business, but it wasn't to be. You see, we had pretty significant hurdles to clear, one big one was figuring out how we were going to cover high school music classes, which included our award winning show choir; and the other, what to do with our burgeoning kindergarten classes. Answers seemed to be just out of reach for us!

Luckily we have an awesome administrative team, who after a relaxing weekend were able to quickly resolve all those problems, basically by lunchtime on Monday. If you have been following me on Twitter you no doubt by now know that Mrs. Anderson has graciously agreed to take the reins of this fantastic program. Just when we (I) thought that we had a big problem on our hands, Mrs. Anderson swoops in and saves the day. At the elementary level, we have asked Mr. Edgar East to fill in at this position. Talk about a 'double double'. For those of you that don't know Mr. East, he is a long time substitute teacher for Hudson and is a professional musician on the side. The icing on the cake has to be the fact that Mr. East is trained as a music teacher and brings a ton of ability and practical experience to the position. I have no doubt that you will really enjoy his style! We couldn't have pulled this off without a lot of hard work, multiple discussions with personnel, and collaboration among our administrators. Mr. Schlatter and Mr. Dieken deserve all the credit for working together on this project to make sure all the pieces fell into place.

The other issue was in kindergarten. In an effort to be proactive, late last spring I asked Mr. Schlatter to consider a contingency plan in the event our kindergarten numbers blossomed on us like they did last fall. Unfortunately it is difficult to make decisions such as these until registration is complete. This is compounded by the fact that many registrations continue to be late or unaccounted for (sidebar: if you haven't registered for school yet this year, please do so ASAP). Mr. Schlatter was very proactive in his approach, going so far as to personally call all unaccounted kindergarten students. This gave him a firm number to make an informed decision. He decided yesterday that the numbers were too great to have two sections of kindergarten (59 confirmed and 61 projected), so the decision was made to transfer Mrs. Ingamells to kindergarten for next year. This caused a ripple effect of personnel changes, with Mrs. Owen-Kuhn moving to third grade and Mrs. Kiewiet splitting her time between fourth grade and Title One. These were decision that needed to be made in the best interest of all our students.

So here we are, the finishing touches. As I finish this entry it appears for all practical purposes that the final pieces of the puzzle are falling into place, just like they do every single year. For those of you who are wondering, the parking lot will be opened at 8:00 a.m. on Friday morning.

Better start going to bed early, school is starting soon!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Here We Go!

Happy August everyone! In just a few very short weeks, it will be time for school to start. Our schedule really starts to ramp up beginning today as building administrators return from vacation. Additionally I am starting to see teachers in classrooms as they get their rooms ready for the arrival of students. Just yesterday I saw three elementary teachers working in their classrooms! Teachers are excited to get back into the routine of school, students are eager to see friends and start fresh with a new year, and I believe in many cases, parents are overjoyed to get their youngsters on the bus!

Football and volleyball camps are in full swing this week, and it has been great to see many of our students-athletes. I don't know about you, but I am looking forward to that first volleyball match and Friday night football game!

The year in front of us is a blank slate, one that holds endless possibilities. I think that is what makes the start of the school year so special. From our very youngest students entering kindergarten to those who will be finishing their journey at Hudson this year, there is much anticipation.

So as your summer vacation winds down and you head off to gather school supplies, new shoes, and notebooks, I hope you have a chance to hit the pool one last time. Maybe you can spend a little more time together as a family, perhaps one last quick getaway?

Enjoy these remaining days, we will be here putting the finishing touches on the facilities to make sure everything sparkles when you get here.

I am really looking forward to seeing you all again!