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

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!