Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Way Things Are Going To Be

Legend has it that within five days of the telegraph being invented the Pony Express was out of business. Now I don't know if it took five days or not, but there is no question this invention brought about the demise of the Express. I suppose it is a good thing that famous riders like William Cody (Buffalo Bill) didn't count on delivering mail messages via horseback as a career. Indeed, the telegraph too was quickly cast aside as even greater advances in communication technology made this obsolete. It would be pretty absurd to communicate using a telegraph today (let alone a rider on horseback) when you can fire of an email or text message to anyone around the world in seconds!

How about the electric light bulb? It may not have been so much about the light bulb as it was the infrastructure that ended up becoming the modern electrical grid. After all, thanks to oil tycoon John Rockefeller, it wasn't all that expensive to light a home using kerosene lanterns. As the light bulb became more and more popular, Rockefeller tried awful hard to squash the invention and maintain his dominance on home lighting. He thought that it would most certainly spell doom for a business that relied in large part on supplying kerosene for lamps [which of course it did]. Luckily he soon found a niche refining gasoline for Henry Ford's new invention. Had he not had the entrepreneurial spirit, who knows what may have happened. I wonder what would have happened to John Rockefeller had he not realized the world was changing around him and there was no need for kerosene lamps in homes. What if he lived his life in the past and refused to believe that electricity was going to be such a big deal?

The other day I saw a great tweet that encapsulates this idea and brings us to the point where we are in our school district. It goes like this: "Stop talking about how things USED to be and START talking about how things WILL be." We are just a couple of short weeks away from a major instructional transformation in our school district. When folks ask me about why we are going 1 to 1 my answer is simple. I hold a pencil in my hand and say something like, "Because this is obsolete". The telegraph is to the Pony Express as the pencil is to the computer. That is the simple answer, but of course it is much more than that! In my daily work life, I rely on the use of 21st Century tools to do my job. Rarely do I use something so antiquated as a pencil, a textbook, a dictionary--and I can not even think of the last time that I actually used an encyclopedia. I am convinced that sometime during my career we are going to see the demise of traditional print textbook companies. Why on earth would we ask our students to interface using learning modes that they will never use once they leave our institution?

On January 7th we are going to flip the classroom and make what I believe is the most significant instructional change for this generation of students. The reality is that I do believe we are on the precipice of the greatest transformation in the American education system since the one room school house was the preferred method of delivering 'schooling' out on the prairie. The facts are that there are many things that have changed since you and I attended public school. It just isn't the same as it was when we attended. We can say things like, "Well, when I was in school we did it this way." But if we choose to spend our time talking about how thing used to be, we may end up like the Pony Express.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Don't be Fooled by PISA

Last week results from the 2012 Program for International Student Achievement (PISA) were released, and basically stated students in the United States scored average in the areas of math, science, and reading. Well, we don't 'do average' in the United States, and calls from some education 'advocacy groups' started up again about how our country is slipping. Furthermore (they stated) these tests clearly demonstrate a system of education in the United States in decline. Even the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talked about the "stagnation of student achievement" in the United States. Yep, last week it really was quite the circus when these results came out. 

The real fact is that students in the United States have never done well on international tests. According to Yong Zhao, a leading educational researcher from the University of Oregon, in the 1960s students in the United States scored near the bottom in virtually all categories when the First International Mathematics Study (FIMS) was conducted! So, for the last half century the scores have basically remained less than impressive. 

If students' scores on international measures have remained stagnant for the last fifty or so years (or even dropped as some might suggest), shouldn't we see some sign of that decline in the fabric of American society? The truth is that despite this fact, America continues to be the sole Superpower. Our country has the largest economy in the world and is among the wealthiest. And again according to Zhao, in 2008 the United States ranked first in the number of patents with 14,399, compared to 473 from China.

Perhaps the reality of the tests is that they either really don't matter, or that they are measuring the wrong things. Wonder which countries ranked among the top in creativity? Sweden was number one, and the United States was number 2. Here is another interesting tidbit of information that Diane Ravitch explains in a recent blog post while discussing an article published by education researcher Keith Baker. "The higher a nation's test score 40 years ago, the worse its economic performance on this measure of national wealth....".

So I think we need to consider whether or not we want American students to score better on these tests, and if they really matter. If the answer to that question is yes, then we probably [do] need to seriously rethink how we do schooling in this country. A greater emphasis on math and science is probably in order, and all the other stuff is unnecessary. Are we ready to jettison those programs that encourage creativity, collaboration, and teamwork? That would probably mean no more art, music, or sports (after all, in many of these countries programs like this do not exist within the confines of the normal school day). We are probably also going to need to spend more time having students take tests. You know practice makes perfect. If you want kids to be good at taking tests, then they should practice taking them. Perhaps we need to be more selective about who actually takes the test as well, after all a study done by the National Association of Secondary Schools Principals found that when controlling for poverty, the United States scored among the highest on the PISA. Maybe a better approach would be to present only selected data, as Time magazine pointed out in an article dated December 3rd. According to the report, Chinese students are outperforming the rest of the world. But, the data is not representative of China. It is representative of Shanghai and Hong Kong. This article points out the very interesting fact that in Shanghai 84% of students go on to college, compared to only 24% nationally.

The following day, an article in the Huffington Post had this quote from a leading scholar in Shanghai:
'"This should not be considered a pride for us, because overall it still measures one's test-taking ability. You can have the best answer for a theoretical model, but can you build a factory on a test paper?" asked Xiong Binqu, a Shanghai-based scholar on education.
The fact is that while we are busy trying to emulate countries like Finland and other Asian countries, some of those other countries are trying to figure out what it is about the American system of education that makes us so successful. That's right, while we are busy studying how to be more like Finland, China is trying to figure out how to be more like America.

At the end of the day, the PISA results most certainly provide an opportunity for a discussion of the status of the American education system. But they must be looked at in context of what they really represent and what they really mean. There is no mistaking the fact that there is room for improvement. In spite of the success, patents, accumulation of wealth and global influence in our country, we should continue to look for ways to make our system better. To rest on our laurels would no doubt be a national disaster in the making. However, to use the PISA results as an argument that we are in decline is just dead wrong. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Communication and Involvement in Your Child's Education

Regardless of whether you are a member of the Booster Club, Board of Education, or read to your child every night, one of the critical variables in the academic success of your child is parental involvement. While students are with us from 8:00-3:00 Monday through Friday, the rest of the time they are with you. At Hudson Schools we value your work as parent and view this relationship as an important component in the overall growth of your child. Involvement can take many forms and all should be honored! 

There are countless ways in which to take an active part in your child's education either formally or informally here at Hudson. I am proud of the good work of all our parents, and encourage you to become more involved in this joint endeavor. Becoming involved can be as simple as calling your child's teacher or principal to ask a question. A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about our new math curriculum. This article was posted in direct response to questions from parents. If there is something that you would like to have more information about, please ask! Earlier in the school year we sent a letter home that indicated proficiency levels of students that had not reached the 'No Child Left Behind' benchmark. This letter prompted phone calls from parents to teachers and principals alike. These are great ways to become involved, and only help your child to do better in school. The other day I had a phone call from someone about our building security procedures and how they had recently changed due to an incident in the elementary school. While one could argue this phone call really didn't have much to do with parental involvement in their child's education, I don't think it is too much of a stretch to see the correlation.

We view communication as a two way street and a way to share valuable information that offers insight and perspective. Our teachers and principals don't always know your point of view. I am quite certain that you know your child better than we do and may have information that could be helpful to the teacher. I would also venture to guess that you don't always understand how a decision was reached in the school district, be it new security protocols or curriculum. That is why it is so important to ask questions and try to understand the perspective of each other. Let me give you a quick example.

Last week I was in Cedar Falls at a stoplight getting ready to make a left hand turn. I got the green arrow and hesitated before making my turn. During my hesitation the car behind me blasted the horn. I am quite certain the driver was angry that I was stalling. Know what happened next? A car coming from the opposite direction ran the light. Had I not waited, there would most certainly have been an accident. Because of my position in the cue, I could see that oncoming traffic was not prepared to stop-so I did the safe thing and waited for the intersection to clear. Obviously the driver behind me did not share my perspective. Had they, I doubt they would have blared their horn. Had our positions been reversed, I probably would have been the one blaring my horn at the driver in front-because again I would not have had that perspective.

So the kind of involvement that I am talking about is transparent communication. The point of this blog is to foster and encourage this communication. Sometimes I do okay, while other times I probably miss the mark. I think it is important that you hear from me weekly about whatever may be happening in the school district. One week I may discuss a topic that has recently made headlines in the local or national news while another week we may be discussing the roll out of our Connected Learning Initiative (formerly known as the 1 to 1 Project-more on this later). Hopefully this provides you with valuable information and perspective about how some of the decisions are made in the school district. If you have a topic that you would like to have me cover in this blog, please let me know. I am always looking for ideas!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


We are rapidly approaching the midway point of the 2013-2014 school year and I can hardly believe that today is the 77th day of instruction! It really does appear that time passes us by in the blink of an eye. Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I am very much looking forward to spending the day giving thanks for the many blessings in my life. Like many of you, we will enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving Day meal and an afternoon of visiting and watching football. I will cherish the time that I have to spend with my loved ones tomorrow and throughout the entire holiday season. We are very lucky to have the opportunity to live during this time--in this great country.

But when we gather for our Thanksgiving meal and enjoy the season that we are now entering, I would like us all to please remember those that are not able to be with their families. Just a few short weeks ago we held our annual Veteran's Day Assembly, and many of our classrooms completed special projects for our soldiers that are currently deployed around the world. I am very happy and proud of the tradition that Hudson has honoring those who have served and are serving.

After these events have begun to fade into our memories and we move on to the next important event on our calendars it is sometimes easy to fall into complacency and well, kind of forget that we have a lot of folks serving in harms way on our behalf. The top stories on the news typically aren't reports out of Afghanistan or some other hot spot in the world where our soldiers are currently serving. We become busy, getting ready  for the holidays with shopping or preparing Thanksgiving meals. 

I was reminded of this fact just last week when the top story on the evening news was a homecoming celebration for a National Guard unit from Boone returning from deployment. It was a very nice ceremony with a lot of emotion. The story reported that the unit was involved in a very dangerous operation while deployed and that luckily they had very few injuries during the deployment. What a wonderful story, and it certainly made me happy that these Veterans were now home in time to enjoy the holidays with their families.

The second story was a send off ceremony for a National Guard unit out of Ottumwa that was leaving for a deployment. Unfortunately they probably will not be around for the holidays. So tomorrow when you sit down for your Thanksgiving meal, or anytime during this holiday season when you have the chance to gather and celebrate with family and friends I invite you to say a word of thanks to all of our service members who are currently serving in harms way around the world. You can keep track of Iowa deployments right here.

And on behalf of the Hudson Community School District, Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Rigors of Math

Conferences are behind us and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Before we know it we will be halfway through the year! Now that we have really gotten deep into the school year, and you have had an opportunity to visit with your child's teacher a few questions have emerged about our new math curriculum. We really appreciate the fact that you are reaching out to your child's teacher with insight and feedback. Rich conversations are continuing with building level administration as this implementation continues. Some of the questions that have surfaced have surrounded the rigor of the curriculum, how curriculum is selected, and why we found it necessary to change curriculum in the first place. 

All are fantastic questions and the answers are somewhat related. First, there is no mistaking the fact that the curriculum is more difficult and rigorous than we have had in the past. Why? Well, the curriculum that we have adopted is aligned to the Iowa Core. All school districts in Iowa are required to adopt the Iowa Core Curriculum so this was a necessary consideration when evaluating curriculum resources. This is also a partial answer to the other question; why we found it necessary to change in the first place. The simple answer is that what we were using wasn't aligned to the Core very well.

Another important consideration was the fact that the District had not done a major curriculum adoption in more than a decade. The teaching resources predated the Core (a primary reason for the misalignment with the Core), were not in very good shape, and did not provide the necessary rigor. One common comment that has been shared by the faculty over the past several years is that there is a need for updated teaching material. Until recently the district was not in a financial position to update those resources. Furthermore, the new curriculum uses proven research based strategies and a methodology that is proven to be effective. For example, you may notice that there is much more reading in this curriculum, which is by design. This helps the students to develop their critical thinking skills and to solve real life mathematical problems that are more indicative of what it means to live in a 21st Century environment.

The next question has to be, how is the curriculum selected? Well, first we do a bit of legwork to see what other districts are using and what the strengths and weaknesses are of the different options. Our administrators spent a lot of time talking with their colleagues and it was narrowed down to two options, of which we selected Envision Math. We contacted vendors of both companies and had the opportunity to examine the curriculum and to test some of the lessons out to see how they worked. At the end of the process, the teachers rated the two programs and they rated Envison the highest. Mr. Schlatter presented his findings to me, and I asked a bunch of questions. Once I was satisfied, I recommended the Board adopt this curriculum. After they asked a bunch of questions they voted to adopt the curriculum that is now in your child's backpack. 

So here we are! Our implementation has not been without hiccups and will continue to present challenges through the remainder of the year. This is very normal and expected during any curriculum adoption. Neighboring districts that have adopted this curriculum (and others) are experiencing the same growing pains as us. The good news is that we have supports with these districts and the AEA, and we have a built in system of support with our PLC initiative. In addition to that, we are visiting with our faculty and gathering data on what types of implementation challenges they are experiencing so we can make adjustments as the adoption unfolds. Some of these adjustments include such things as the pacing of the material and additional professional development on some of the methodology embedded throughout.

Is it harder? You bet it is--but we certainly wouldn't want it to be easier now, would we?

Friday, November 8, 2013

What An Exciting Couple of Weeks!

There is no doubt that events of the last couple of weeks are likely to be some that our students will look back on with fond memories twenty years from now. It has been a ton of fun watching these young people flourish and show leadership in multiple ways!

Just this week we had the opportunity to witness the leadership of our students in the National Honor Society when they hosted the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, Dr. Brad Buck for an Anti-Bullying assembly on Thursday. The NHS has chosen to take this issue and make it the centerpiece of their work this year. I am incredibly thankful for their commitment to this important component of our school culture!

I also want to recognize all of our athletes who participated in fall sports. All three of our sports teams had successful seasons and enjoyed the opportunity to extend their play with post season competition. Congratulations are in order to the boys cross country team for their qualification to the State Cross Country Meet, and also to Amanda Cartney and Lexi Kolterman for qualifying as individuals on the girls side. You all represented our school with great pride and we are thrilled for your success! Both the volleyball and football teams enjoyed a great deal of success this season with a run in the playoffs. Congratulations to the volleyball team on your season, it was a great deal of fun to watch. Likewise, congratulations to our football team-you played so hard in the first round of the playoffs, you too represented Hudson well!

Our fine arts ensembles have also enjoyed a great deal of success this fall with a fantastic concert back on October 17th. We have such amazingly talented musicians participating in both band and choir. We are proud of Luke Huber and Laura Baridon for being selected to the Iowa All State Choir and Band on October 26th. Being selected for these ensembles is a very difficult and prestigious accomplishment. Way to go!

This fall is beginning to wind down and very soon we will begin to get ready for basketball and wrestling; and all that comes with the winter season. But before that happens I want to remind you of one other opportunity to see our students shine. This weekend you have the chance to see our fall musical 'Cinderella'. It will be showing on both Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 PM in the high school auditorium. I had the chance to see it on Thursday evening and it was amazing! This really is a must see show, and if you don't see it you will really have missed out on something special!

According to the notes in the back of the program, the production of this show required the talents of over 66 students, staff, and faculty members. While I would love to mention each and everyone by name, I don't think I could possibly do it justice. However, there are just a few folks that deserve special recognition. First to Olivia Griffith who played the role of Cinderella, awesome job! You were amazing and have such a rich singing voice! The Fairy God Mother was played by Peyton Higgins, and she is outstanding of course! Peyton has such great poise and natural ability-and appears so comfortable on stage! Christopher (AKA Prince Charming is played by the very talented and capable Luke Huber who is one of the most versatile young people I know! Thank you for sharing your talents with us!

I could go on and on, mentioning of course the outstanding performances of Maddie Hartleip, Lauren McCullough, and Alli Weaver. Your show stopping portrayal of the Step Mother and Cinderella's sisters were great! I was very impressed with your complex harmonies in Act II! The humor and wit of our Royal Family and Steward was well done, thank you Matt Bullerman, Quinton Griffith, and Bridget McCulley! Playing roles of the mice and cat can be a bit tricky and difficult to accomplish, but Tori Goodale, Kelsey Noel, Emily Kaus, and Abby Tjepkes made us all believers and you added the perfect touch of magic to the show!

Everyone was just perfect, and I loved it. I am looking forward to seeing it again tonight and would encourage you to attend. Believe me, you will not want to miss this performance! And as a final note, I want to mention and thank Mrs. Anderson for her hard work at putting this show together. As you know, I have first hand experience and know full well the complexities involved in producing a show on this level. Oh, and how about those costumes, were they unreal or what! Wow! I think we owe Mrs. Griffith a debt of gratitude for her hard work and what had to be hundreds of hours of work building these costumes! Were you as impressed as I was with the transformation of Cinderella!

Superintendent's Remarks From Bullying Assembly

Good morning and welcome to our Anti-Bullying assembly designed to promote positive behaviors through the promotion of student advocacy and empowering our young people to be ‘Up Standers’ rather than ‘By Standers’. We are thankful that friends from our conference schools have taken time from their busy schedule to be with us today.

Much appreciation goes to Iowa Department of Education Director, Dr. Brad Buck for agreeing to join us for this event. We are honored to welcome you back to Hudson and look forward to your leadership. Congratulations on your recent appointment to Department Director! Please know that you are always welcomed to come home to Hudson!

I would also like to acknowledge the fine work and leadership exhibited by the National Honor Society in planning today’s event, in particular Alyssa Klahsen, Emma Widner, Peyton Higgins and Jason Hawkins. On Monday I had the privilege of accompanying this outstanding group of student leaders to the Governor’s Second Annual Conference on Bullying titled “Mission Possible”. Our event here this morning epitomizes the theme we heard on Monday, that schools cannot do this work alone and that our student body must serve as the catalyst for a change in culture that allows all students to attend school in a safe environment.

After our screening of the movie “Bully” these student leaders took initiative and approached their teachers and counselors, wanting to make this a priority issue for the National Honor Society. While this gathering today is no doubt a culminating event, I encourage you to view it not as a capstone whereas we all go back to our daily routines at its conclusion—but rather as a call to action. This is your school. Own it!

Now, we do believe that we have some of the most comprehensive bullying and harassment policies in the entire state. Our policy includes education, remediation, investigation, and consequences. I am thankful for the fortitude our Board of Directors exhibits in the application of these policies, and am grateful for the work of our administrators and teachers resolving cases of bullying. The fact is I am quite certain that any one of you in the audience today can probably recite our bullying policies chapter and verse. Furthermore, I am confident that you all are aware of our expectations, and fully understand those ramifications. You are probably aware of instances where the full force of these policies has been brought to bear. From this, one could possibly surmise that Hudson is indeed a Bully Free Zone. But yet, in spite of those policies we know that not to be the case. If it were, the finality of Board Policy Code No. 104 would never be invoked.

The fact is that no policy, threat, consequence, or anything that the adults in our district do can stop bullying. There will always be that one time when we are looking in the wrong direction, or when the target doesn’t report it.  

Indeed our policies are important tools in our arsenal of defense and we will continue to vigorously apply them. But yet the most powerful weapon we have isn’t these policies—it’s you. Because when I am not looking, you probably are.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Schools Alone Cannot Solve This Problem

I am very proud of the fact that next Monday I will have the opportunity to attend the Governor's second annual summit on Bullying Prevention with a group of our high school students. This year we seem to have a grassroots movement in our district to combat bullying. It started last year when I happened to stumble across a Twitter Account titled @LoveHudsonIA, a feed managed by what appears to be an anonymous high school student or group of students. The premise behind the anonymous handle is to spread compliments about fellow students.

Our philosophy of bullying prevention in our school district has been blend of prevention and very stiff consequences for bullies. The education we provide is a comprehensive component of our guidance program. This program is supported with multiple meetings with students throughout the school year, which also include Key Assemblies in the elementary, and small group counseling where appropriate. When students report bullying, our staff investigates the incident and takes action to ensure the behavior is stopped and addressed. This may include counseling for the victim, consequences for the perpetrator, and often times an additional educational component for the victim titled "The Second Step Program". If you have been around Hudson for awhile, hopefully you are aware of the protocols we have in place to prevent bullying. If there are ways we can shore up the program, I encourage you to please contact the school. Additionally, if you are aware of any bullying going on in the school and have information that would be useful for school officials, you are encourage to report it here.

The data we collect suggests that our district does a pretty decent job of combating bullying, and it would appear that what we do works. But yet, we know that bullying still happens. Perhaps it is when the teacher turns their back to write something on the board, or when they are working one on one with a student. Maybe it is in the hallway when a sea of students prevent an adult from seeing the egregious behavior unfold. Or, maybe it is completely out of sight of adults altogether, and that one student that doesn't want to cause trouble just looks the other way. Yes, sadly these things sometimes happen.

This is why schools can't do it alone. The school cannot be there, and cannot see everything that unfolds in
the hallway, when the teacher turns around, in the parking lot before or after school, at the football game on Friday  night, and on the computer during a late night Twitter conversation. We need help from our families, and we need help from our students. After we screened the movie "Bully", our counseling staff encouraged students to be 'Up-standers' to stop bullying. Students have been encouraged to confront bullies en masse when they see them causing havoc in the hallways of our school. If we create a culture of intolerance against bullying, and students lead the charge--then we truly will be a school that is a Bully Free Zone. 

But will it work? That brings me full circle with the pride that I feel for this student body and the stand they are taking. After we screened the movie, a group of students approached one of our counselors to report behavior that they didn't think was part of a culture that they wanted in their school. Along with the counselor, they met with the instigators of this behavior and confronted them. That confrontation set in motion a change in behavior. The fact is, the building principal remarked to me just the other day how powerful that exchange had been. Yes we can punish, but the greatest weapon in our arsenal is the student body.

So now, the group of students who started that ball in motion at the beginning of the school year are planning a Bullying Summit of their own. On November 7th, we will be honored to host Dr. Brad Buck, the Director of the Iowa Department of Education to our school where he will give a keynote address to the student body on bully prevention. 

Our anti-bullying efforts at education, remediation and punishment will continue, but we need your help. Be an Up-stander. And for the author of @LoveHudsonIA, we don't know who you are--but thank you for all you do to create a safe and uplifting environment for the students of your school.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Investing in Education Pays Dividends Decades Later

An article in the Des Moines Register last week pointed out that the cost of prison in Iowa has dropped to $30,546 per inmate annually. Albeit a drop, it is still a significant investment to keep our communities safe. The announcement came merely as statement of fact and provided a few additional details indicating that the reason behind the decrease in expenditures could be the fact that the number of inmates currently incarcerated in Iowa has dropped from 8,765 to 8,204 in the last five years. I suppose there is good news in that.

By comparison, when we look at total expenditures in our school district for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2013, the cost of education per student is roughly $13,176 annually when considering all funds and all expenditures. That number has stayed relatively flat over the last five years, fluctuating ever so slightly in the prevailing years in spite of a drop in enrollment and little change in the per pupil cost provided in the foundation formula which is a blend of state aid and property tax.

If you look at these numbers independently I think we would all agree that both are expensive but very necessary enterprises to operate. This is no doubt true when you consider the cost of human resources, capital projects, energy consumption, and a whole host of other expenses that one probably doesn't think too much about. There is great value in both, one one hand we have the responsibility to educate the citizenry while on the other it is necessary to protect the population from those who are unable to conform to the norms of a civilized society.

If one looks deeper, I think further discussion is warranted. For one, I am struck by the contrast in the two numbers. By comparison, we spend 43% more per per person on incarceration than we do on education. It would seem to make sense that a large investment is necessary to ensure the safety of the populace, wouldn't it?

Yet consider this: according to the U.S. Department of Justice 68% of state prison inmates did not receive a high school diploma. There certainly seems to be a correlation between high school dropouts and incarceration. So it could be argued (and has been by many) that we could decrease the number of inmates in our prison system by ensuring that they graduate from high school.

Think about the benefits we could receive as a society if the scales were turned the other way, if for example we spent less on prisons and more on education! As a high school graduate, it provides a ticket to a higher rung on the economic ladder. Which in turn would create "Contributing Citizens", those who have jobs and contribute to society.

There is no mistaking that graduating from high school has enormous benefits not only to the individual but to society as a whole.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Common Core = Common Ground

When No Child Left Behind became law in 2001, it required states to adopt a common set of standards in which to teach children, and an assessment to measure student progress against those standards. Iowa was the only state in the country that did not adopt a statewide set of standards. In the spirit of local control they left this to local school districts. As districts set out about this task, they quickly discovered that the work they were doing was being duplicated in the district adjacent to them or the next county over. The trouble was, one district may place a particular skill or concept in one grade level while another district may place it in another. This may seem like a minor problem, but if students move from one district to another it can become problematic. What may be an expectation in 4th grade in one school district may not be an expectation until the 5th grade in a district down the road. Or, may not be an expectation at all. This can ultimately lead to gaps in knowledge that are never addressed. In addition, the assessment that Iowa chose to measure student progress wasn't aligned very well with what students are actually learning in schools (The Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, which are now called the Iowa Assessments). How could it be, with each individual school district developing its own set of standards?

The Common Core standards are a set of standards that identify what a student is expected to know and be able to do by the time they complete a grade level at a particular school. They are based on what young people need in order to be successful in college and in careers. 

In Iowa, we pride ourselves on local control and the adoption of the Core may be viewed as a move toward a centralized educational system controlled by the Federal Government. First, we should clear up some confusion. The Common Core Standards are not an initiative of the Federal Government. While 45 states (including Iowa) have adopted the Core it is an initiative sponsored by the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief States Schools Officers.

Second I wouldn't label the Common Core as a deterioration in local control, but rather a collaboration among education stakeholders around the country. It make a lot of sense to create a common framework of standards. We work hard to ensure that our students in 4th grade (for example) are exposed to a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Shouldn't we ensure that guaranteed and viable curriculum exists between school districts?

Now I am not suggesting that on day 15 all schools in the country should be teaching 4th grade students how to multiply fractions, but I do think it makes sense that all 4th graders should be able to meet the following standard sometime during the fourth grade:

How this standard is met during the 4th grade is up to the teacher and the district in which the student resides. The strategy, curriculum material, and methodology are not what make up the Common Core.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Teacher Leadership Planning to Begin at Hudson

Last week we learned that our application for a Teacher Leadership Planning Grant was approved by the Iowa Department of Education. Our appropriation of approximately $7,000 will be used for activities directly related to the planning of a teacher leadership model unique to Hudson. The guiding principle for this work will be grounded in an objective of strengthening instruction in the classroom. At this time we are in the process of recruiting and identifying people to serve on our planning committee. A well rounded committee will include a variety of stakeholders ranging from teachers and administrators to parents and community members. If you are interested in participating in this very important work, please contact my office immediately. We will be working under an aggressive timeline, as it will be our intention to submit a proposal to the Iowa Department of Education for consideration by the end of January. October 25th has been designated as a beginning date for this work.

To remind you, this is an opportunity to strengthen and elevate the teaching profession in Iowa. Legislation and models have been proposed in the past, but never before have we had a mechanism to fund such a bold initiative. When fully implemented, this will be an investment in Iowa schools of $150 Million annually. At roughly $310 per pupil, that equates to an increase in funding of approximately $224,750 for the Hudson Community School District. 

The work of the committee will focus specifically on developing a plan for teacher leadership in the district. While the plan will be unique to Hudson, the Department offers 3 options to begin the conversation. However, there are five 'must haves' for each Iowa model:
  1. Minimum starting salary for new teachers of $33,500 (our district starting salary is currently $34,372)
  2. Improved entry into the profession (designed to strengthen mentoring and induction into the profession by ensuring new teachers have adequate supports in the classroom)
  3. Differentiated and meaningful teacher leadership roles
  4. A rigorous selection process for teacher leadership roles
  5. Professional development for teacher leaders that enables them to be successful in their roles

Options for Teacher Leadership-Baseline Model
The baseline model that formed the basis of the legislation is known as the Teacher Career Paths, Leadership Roles and Compensation Framework. It was derived from the work done by the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Task Force. It creates model, mentor, and lead teacher roles. All assignments for the teacher leaders are considered one year in length. The model teacher is described as one who models teaching full time and serves as a model of exemplary service, typically a teacher that could be observed delivering instruction for novice and career level teachers. The model teacher would receive extra compensation and an extended contract of five days. The second role in this framework is a Mentor Teacher. These teachers receive a larger salary supplement and an additional ten days of contract time. The caveat to this assignment is that mentor teachers should not have a teaching load exceeding seventy-five percent to allow them time to mentor other teachers. The third role are Lead teachers--those who teach fifty percent of the time, devoting the other half of their time to the planning and delivery of professional development, instructional coaching, the mentoring of other teachers, or the evaluation of student teachers. This instructor also would receive a larger salary supplement that the other teachers, while at the same time assuming an extended contract of fifteen days. It is important to note that the other ‘must haves’ (e.g. rigorous selection process) are necessary to implement this model of teacher leadership.

Options for Teacher Leadership-Instructional Coach Model
The instructional coach model was incorporated into the legislation to provide greater flexibility to school districts. Under the same premise that the system include the five ‘must have’s’, the instructional coach model was born. In addition to the model teacher (those who teach full time but serve as models of exemplary teaching practice with five additional contract days), this model features an instructional coach and a curriculum and professional development leader. While receiving a salary supplement, the instructional coach engages full time in instructional coaching and has a contract that is ten days longer than that of the career teacher. The model also provides for a curriculum and professional development leader, which does not require a specified teaching role. Additionally this teacher leader receives a salary supplement along with an extended contract of fifteen days. Primary responsibilities include planning and implementing professional development and curriculum that strengthens instruction in the classroom. 

Options for Teacher Leadership-Comparable Model
In an effort to provide even greater flexibility to school districts, the option of a comparable plan is available. The only guidelines in developing this plan are to include the five ‘must haves’ that honor the intent of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation legislation. Those five items are an increase in the minimum starting salary to $33,500, improved entry into the profession, differentiated multiple, meaningful teacher leadership roles, rigorous selection process, and aligned professional development.

The role of our planning committee will be to determine which model best fits the Hudson Community School District and ensure that we have incorporated the five 'must have's' into our plan. Again, if you are interested in serving on this very important committee please contact my office. Our committee will meet for the first time on October 25.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hudson 1:1 Project Gains Momentum with PPEL Vote

Guest Post by Mr. Dieken

As many are aware the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) vote passed on Sept 10, allowing the Hudson Community School District to use PPEL funds for many future projects including the Hudson 1:1 Project. The Hudson 1:1 Project gives students the tools to have instant access to a world of information and also to become producers rather than just consumers of information that is available through the use of technology. The goal of the initiative is to provide each 9th-12th grader in the district access to a computer daily while providing more technology opportunities to all students k-12. Having technology available enriches the learning that takes place in and out of classrooms. In particular, technology offers opportunities for exploration and analysis of academic subjects in ways traditional instruction cannot replicate.
Apple describes it in this way, “Students become pilots of their learning not just passengers along for the ride.” Research shows that the 1:1 initiative “levels the playing field” for all students, regardless of any families’ economic situation.
On Sept 27th, Hudson's tech team participated in a phone conference with their Apple project manager and project engineer to continue the roll out process which is scheduled for Monday, January 6th. Presently the student computers are en route to Dubuque, Iowa where Apple's computer imaging contractors (TC Networks) will set up the computers with Hudson specs and 
asset tags. Several computers will be shipped to our tech team to go through testing prior to shipping all 235 student machines to Hudson for the student roll out. As we get closer to the January 6th roll out, more information will be provided about expectations for students and parents/guardians as well as the commitment Hudson teachers have made to this project. Keep checking for updates!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Federal Accountability and AYP

Early this week we sent out a letter to the parents of each student in the school district that has not met Adequate Yearly Progress as defined by the 2001 'No Child Left Behind Law'. If you happened to read the Courier on Wednesday you probably saw that this coincided with the release of the State Report card. This also was followed up with a statement from Dr. Brad Buck, the Director of the Iowa Department of Education outlining the fact that these results show a need for a new federal accountability framework. We have fielded a few questions ranging from concern of parents to questions about whether or not this is something new we are doing in the district. It is something new, and it was designed in an effort to do several things.

First, it was meant to provide you with valuable information regarding the academic progress of your child. While we send the results of the Iowa Assessments home every year, they are not the easiest to interpret. When evaluating the results of the test, unless one has an understanding of statistical modeling and standard deviation the results can be difficult to understand and interpret.

Second, it is important to note that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires that all students be proficient by 2014. This law does not differentiate between general education students, special education students, or any other subgroup of students. And, 2014 is almost here so this becomes even more timely.

This brings me to the next point, which is the flawed nature of NCLB. Aside from the fact that it is mathematically impossible to use a norm referenced test (when students are ranked, someone will be at the bottom) to achieve 100% proficiency, we agree with Dr. Buck's assessment that a 'one size fits all' federal accountability model is unfair and fails to recognize the growth that our students make. Consider this: 869 of 1,361 schools in Iowa missed federal guidelines for the 2012-2013 school year. 

All that being said, we still take student achievement very seriously and want to do everything we can to ensure the success of all children in the district--regardless of any mitigating factors (that get in the way). In order to do this, we truly value your input and partnership.

So as parents, what are you to do? First, we are happy to know that this letter serves as a catalyst for discussion among families and we welcome the conversations this will generate. If you have questions about instructional strategies or your child's individual achievement, please contact your child's teacher! If you have questions about interpreting the child's achievement data, please contact your child's principal. Finally, I would encourage you to contact members of Congress and tell them that the time for action to re-authorize the NCLB Act is now! It is time to stop with these punitive and arbitrary accountability measures and instead begin to focus on a research based student growth model. You can find out how to contact members of Congress right here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Teacher Leadership and Compensation

I have take quite a bit of interest lately in the new education reform legislation that was signed into law by the Governor at the end of this last session. Of particular note is the Teacher Leadership and Compensation portion of House File 215 included in Division VII. This particular section has the potential to have a profound impact on student learning in Iowa. In addition, there is the possibility that it could serve as a model to be emulated nationwide.

Some key features of the legislation include an increase to the base pay of teachers to $33,500 (the current minimum salary is $28,000) and to create pathways for teachers to assume leadership roles in their buildings. This is notable because the primary way teachers are promoted in schools now is to become a building principal or other administrator. Obviously, not all teachers have aspirations to become administrators!

The Teacher Leadership and Compensation Model provides avenues to promote teachers into leadership roles without relinquishing their primary vocation: teaching. I am sure you are probably wondering, what on earth will these so called 'teacher leaders' be responsible for? And this: 'isn't that the job of the principal?' I think first if you look at the overall context and goal of the legislation it will help. It is all grounded in strengthening instruction in the classroom. We all know that the key to increasing student achievement in classrooms is ensuring that students are exposed to a quality instructor in every classroom. We also know that like all other professions, teachers need continual training in the newest techniques and strategies that are research based (proven to work) in order to continue to meet the demands of an every changing student demographic (see Developing Strong Teaching).

Over the last decade or so, the role of the building principal has evolved. A position that was grounded primarily in the work of management and organization of the school building looks a lot different that it did when you and I were students. While the day to day operation remain an important and paramount task of the principal, we now have added the responsibility of 'Instructional Leader' to the job description. That means a lot of things, and depending who you ask, the answer may be different. But what you won't find argument about, is that the building principal is responsible in ensuring that quality instruction grounded in sound research is occurring in the classroom, and that students' academic achievement is on the rise. If that isn't happening, the principal is responsible for leveraging resources and strategies to 'move the ball down the field' so to speak.

The disconnect that sometimes occurs is a failure to realize that building principals are not experts in all content areas. While administrators were all teachers at some point in their career, they are very likely not 'masters of all' when it comes to instructional strategies. For example, once upon a time I was a music teacher. It wouldn't make a lot of sense for me to proclaim and model expertise in the most up to date strategies for teaching reading. It is much more likely (and practical) for a teacher to ask a trusted colleague or expert in the content (e.g. the reading teacher) for suggestions and strategies when they might be stuck with a particular group of students or skill. Heck, if you need help with vocal technique or choral conducting strategies, I am your guy. If you need help with reading strategies--not so much. BUT, I can give you ten other people in the district that can be your go to person. The role of the building principal as instructional leader in this regard is to leverage these resources and connect the dots (generally speaking).

That is what makes the prospect of Teacher Leadership and Compensation so promising! It provides us with a model and vehicle in which to make this happen. Such things have been proposed before, but as a state we have never been able to get them off the ground. Why? Because there has never been a mechanism to fund such a model. That funding was put into place with HF 215. Over the next three years, $50 Million has been appropriated to ramp up these systems. When fully implemented, this will create an investment of $150 Million annually. 

Here at Hudson, I believe we need to take full advantage of this. Providing opportunities to increase student achievement by strengthening instruction is critical to fulfilling our vision of 'Creating Effective Learning Environments That Result in Success For All Students'. We have taken the first step by completing an application to the Department of Education for a planning grant. This grant will fund our efforts to create a model that best suits the Hudson Community School District. If you are interested in helping with the planning process, please contact my office.

Next week I will share with you more details about the three options for Teacher Leadership and Compensation that the state has endorsed. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Reflections from the Retiring Board

When Board Directors Julie Marsch and Jeff Cory decided not to seek a new term, I spoke with them about their time on the board and asked them to reflect on the service they provided to the Hudson Community School District and to share some of the things they are most proud of. I also would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their service to the school district. A few accomplishments that stand out in my mind are the improved financial condition of the school district, the adoption of a rigorous research based math curriculum aligned to the Common Core, facilities improvements including the high school parking lot, elementary electrical upgrades, and purchase of the hotel property; and finally the decision to implement the Hudson 1 to 1 Project which we believe to be the biggest educational decision for this generation of Hudson Students! If you see these Emeritus board members around town, please thank them for all they have done!

Retiring Board Members Jeff Cory and Julie Marsch

Jeff Cory

How long have you served?  

I was on the board for 9 years.

What did you expect board service to look like, and how did it differ in your time on the board? 

I thought it would be about more day to day operations. After the first couple of board meeting I realized that we have a great staff to handle day to day operations.

What was your greatest achievement, or what were you most proud of during your time on the board? 

Improving the working relationship with the union to get the best for all with limited funds. We didn't always have the kind of relationship that we now do. The first year I was on the board we had to cut staff because of lack of funds, and the head of the local union said let those people go so the rest of us would get more money. This was a real gut check.

What is the most surprising aspect of serving on the board? 

The students coming in front of the board to show us what and how they are learning, and going into classrooms to see what and how things work.

What advice would you offer the next board? 

Don't come in with a axe to grind, listen to what goes on! You might have a personal agenda but it changes when you see the big picture. Don't be afraid to ask questions, that is the best way to learn how the board works.

What will you miss? 

The people that I was able to work with, and getting phone calls from individuals that had questions. Sometimes people didn't understand why a decision was made, so explaining the real reasons behind that decision, or the other side of the story was really helpful to them. The staff and all the kids that make this school the best one that it can be.

How will you stay involved or what are your plans now that you are no longer serving on the board? 

I will continue to show up at board meeting and ask questions when needed, spend more time with my wife, kids and grand kids. Also I would like to thank everyone that supported me during the years I spent as a Hudson School Board Member.

Julie Marsch

How long have you served?  
I have been on the board 11 years.

What did you expect board service to look like, and how did it differ in your time on the board?  
I really don’t remember what I thought being on the board would be like. I knew it would be a job that would need my true dedication. I know I never imagined there would be as much learning involved. The policies, laws, and especially the budget and financial issues. There are still times when I have to have items explained to me. This is definitely a never ending “learning” position!

What was your greatest achievement, or what were you most proud of during your time on the board?  
I don’t think I can say I am most proud of something I did. What I can say is that I am proud of what the board did as a team. There has been a couple of times when the board and the district had to make some very difficult decisions in regard to cutting staff. As hard as the decisions were, I am very proud of our entire district for accepting these decisions and working through them. I am very proud of the decisions that we made as a team in order to increase our unspent balance. The hardest part of this position as a school board member is having to make the decisions that you know will upset many people. I am also very proud of our board for being able to continually work as a team. In all my years on the board and with the many board members I have had the privilege to work with, we were always able to work together with respect and we always had the same goal... What is best for our district.

What is the most surprising aspect of serving on the board?  
I think the most surprising thing for me was how complicated it is to run a district! The financial aspects are a never ending learning experience!

What advice would offer the next board?  
First and foremost, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more information to have the easier it is to make decisions.  Also, there will be times you will get down and frustrated.  This can be a very “thankless” job. Just remember that decisions you make are very important, and that you do make a difference. Lastly I would say, always be there to listen. Listen to your board, the district staff and most importantly, listen to your community! You are there for them.

What will you miss?  
Oh so many things!!! You do develop a special relationship with the board, I will definitely miss working a truly dedicated team. I will miss getting first hand information on what is going on in the classroom. I always enjoyed when students would come in and share what they were doing in class.  I will truly miss being an important part of a school district that, I can honestly say, really cares about it’s school. It has been a privilege to serve on the board! The administration, staff, students and the community, in general, has been amazing!

How will I stay involved or what are your plans now that you are no longer serving on the board?  
I will continue my position on the HEF board along with my involvement with the SIAC committee. I am hoping to get back to volunteering more in the school. Volunteers are always needed. I hope that if help is ever needed in the district, they will not hesitate to call!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Never, Ever Give Up

I don't know about you, but I was inspired on Labor Day when Diana Nyad became the first person to ever swim from Cuba to Florida. A journey that was 110 miles through the water is impressive, even more so for someone who is 64 years old! There was a documentary about Diana's quest on CNN where we learned that this has been a goal of hers for 35 years, and that she had previously made the attempt four times.Who would have thought that the fifth time would be the charm? If it were me I don't know if, after punishing my body the first time I would have the courage to go back and try it four more times! Just imagine being stung by jellyfish, being exhausted beyond belief, and hunted by sharks! Would you show the perseverance that Diana showed?

I do believe there is a message in Diana's endurance and 'no quit' attitude that we can all admire, and hopefully strive for. Now, I am by no means suggesting we all embark on a swim across the Florida Strait, or any type of endurance run-but Dianna does show us the power of goal setting and commitment to those goals.

The last couple of weeks we have been carefully looking at our student achievement data. While there is a lot of great news in the achievements of our students, there are areas that we need to refocus, recommit, and never, ever give up! We have made a concerted effort to ensure that those students who are not making the academic gains that we would like to see are provided with additional resources. There is no doubt that our student achievement is good, but there is always room for improvement!

Here at Hudson, that statement comes to life with our Core Purpose: 'We Create Effective Learning Environments That Result in Success For All Students'. The most important word in that sentence is 'All'.

It is an exciting time at Hudson as our curriculum becomes stronger and more in line with the Common Core. This enables us to measure the progress of our students against the Core and to create strategies that ensure they meet those standards. Naturally not all students meet those standards at the same time, so we must provide additional instruction for those youngsters. This is through a process know as RTI (Response to Intervention). When a student doesn't meet the standard, they are provided an intervention, often in the form of additional instruction with a different strategy. After this intervention, their progress is measured again. If they met the standard then they move to the next essential outcome. If they haven't, they are provided another intervention.

I can see the passion our teachers bring to their craft daily! They are committed to the children entrusted to their care and will never, ever give up!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Observations from the Bridge

What image come to your mind when you think about school? If you are like most, you probably consider classrooms full of children, teachers, and buildings. I think sometimes we take for granted those other aspects of our school system that are vital to the overall operation and the success that we have in raising student achievement. Everyone involved in the operation of the school is vital to ensuring that we are successful in 'Creating Learning Environments That Result in Success for All Students'. As we have settled into the routine of school, I spent some time looking around our district to see how exactly this team works together to accomplish this vital mission, no matter their role.

At the beginning of each school year, I like to ride the school buses. It is a good idea for me to check the routes so that on those cold dark January mornings when checking roads for drifts and ice, I know where the buses are going to be. I also like to see firsthand the size of the route, the number of passengers, and of course to chat up the drivers. It was through this observation that we quickly realized that Bus #7 was not large enough to handle the load and we changed the route to Bus #9. (Indeed a good sign of increasing enrollment!) But during this last week, I had the chance to see just how hard the job of bus driver is, and how their vocation is critical to the overall mission of our school district. You remember last week, don't you? It was HOT! While our school buildings are air conditioned, the school buses are not. Our drivers took the time to make sure that all the windows were down in the buses and that they delivered their passengers as quickly and safely as possible. I also saw great care and compassion for their precious cargo, I was very impressed that the drivers know the names of each of their charge-young people who are only on the bus for an average of 20 minutes a day. 

"School buildings are air conditioned?", you say. Not so fast. One area of the school that is not air conditioned is the kitchen. Guess what? It was HOT in there too! During my walk-through of the buildings on those days, a pass by or through the kitchen was greeted with a blast of hot air. How many complaints do you think I got about how hot the kitchen was? None. That's right. The kitchen staff had smiles on their faces and mostly a spring in their step. They recognized the importance and the vital role that they play in ensuring that our young students have a nutritious meal to keep them going. Learning, after all is hard work and burns up calories.

Yep, our buildings are air conditioned-except when they are not. Ironically the building you would expect to give the least amount of trouble was actually the worst. It was a real struggle to keep the high school cooled due to a heat exchange plate that was on the fritz, and it mostly felt like we were fighting a losing battle. (Some would probably argue that we did lose that battle.) But nonetheless we hung in there and had help from Hudson Hardware Plumbing and Heating (who manually cooled the plates), and our maintenance staff pulling out all the stops to make sure that the lines of communication were always open and that we were truly doing everything that we could.

Speaking of maintenance and custodial staff-its a wonder they don't turn and walk the other way when they see me coming. I almost always have something else that I want to have cleaned or fixed (either right now or yesterday). But without fail, they are always up to the task at hand. Last week I asked for an air conditioner to be installed in one of the elementary classrooms, and almost before I had a chance to tell the teacher it was on the way it was already installed. This staff has a very tough job because everybody wants them to do something for them RIGHT NOW, and unfortunately that is just impossible. But they are efficient, effective, and extremely hard working. If it weren't for those efforts we would be in a world of hurt in a lot of areas!

Then there is the group of folks that keep the whole thing running smooth. This group makes sure that students are in class, that teachers have what they need, and are able to calm down an angry parent or sooth a frightened kindergartner on that first day of school. I am talking of course about the secretarial staff. Everyone in the district knows that if you want to get something done you take it to the building secretary.

In all, we have had an awesome start to the 2013-2014 school year, despite the very hot end to the month of August. We can attribute that start to the hard work of countless professionals-from those that work in the classrooms with the students to those that keep our buildings clean. Thank you all so much for your commitment and dedication to the Hudson Community School District!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hudson 2020 and the PPEL: Make Your Voice Heard on September 10th

This is the last opportunity I will have to encourage you to vote on September 10th. Polls will be open from noon to 8:00 PM on Tuesday, September 10th. On that date, we will be asking voters of the Hudson Community School District to renew the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy. Please remember that this is not a property tax increase and that renewing this revenue stream will continue to be a valuable resource for the school district that enables us to provide top notch resources for our students. The last three weeks have really been a historical view of the PPEL. We first started out with an explanation of this funding source for our budget and then spent some time discussing some of the projects that have been funded through PPEL dollars. As the final article in a four-part series, I thought it prudent to take a look at the future. What do we plan to do going forward?

I would encourage you to take a look at the vision, which can be found on our website at Approximately a year ago, the Board of Directors commissioned the School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC) to conduct a study that culminated with the release of Hudson 2020, which was adopted by the Board on  July 22, 2013. The study included feedback and data collection from all stakeholders in the district. Included were parents, students, community members, and staff. The analysis of the data resulted in the SIAC making six separate recommendations to the Board of Directors. Among those recommendations were statements of support in relationship to the size of classes in the elementary school, the importance of rigorous courses at the high school including concurrent enrollment and AP courses, and a significant investment in capital projects such as investments in 21st Century Technologies and upgrades to facilities.

However, the first recommendation recognizes the importance of the PPEL election on September 10th with the statement, "Before making any significant expenditure in capital outlay, it will be important to consider the outcome of the PPEL issue that will be on the ballot in September of 2013." Without a successful renewal of the PPEL, it will undoubtedly result in the delay or elimination of some of the projects that are in the planning stages. Some of those projects include the following:

  • Upgrades and renovation of the high school auditorium
  • 1:1 Computer initiative
  • Elementary school upgrades
  • Renovations to athletic facilities
  • Replacement of fleet vehicles
There is no doubt that this is an exciting time for the Hudson Community School District! After two years of enrollment growth and an improved financial position the time is right to make significant investments in our school district. Please remember to vote on September 10th. The polls will be open from noon to 8:00 PM a the Hudson Community Center.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Local Impact of Renewing the PPEL

Over the last couple of weeks, the efforts of this column have been to draw your attention to the upcoming election on September 10th. While we will be electing new members to the Board of Directors, we will also be asking voters to consider renewing the PPEL. As a reminder, the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy is not an increase in property tax. Renewing this revenue stream will continue to be a valuable resource for the school district that enables us to provide top notch learning resources for our students.

However, it does more than just provide for the school district. There is undoubtedly a local connection and it is significant. It is true that our new school buses are built out of state and the computers that our students use everyday are not homegrown, but to look only at those examples of PPEL expenditures is to see only a fraction of the picture. There are a number of ways that PPEL dollars have a local connection.

When a capital project is conceptualized, the first consideration is typically an estimation of overall cost. Iowa law requires competitive bidding for any project in excess of $100,000. It is kind of tricky to estimate the cost of some of these projects so we rely on the expertise of local firms to help us out. For example, Kapaun Consulting has been a critical partner for the district as we work through some of these complicated electrical estimations.

We have been fortunate the last couple of years to utilize local contractors for a number of our projects. For example, the entire electrical system in the elementary school was recently upgraded. During this renovation, all of the wiring was replaced and new circuits were installed. This project was completed over the course of two summers by Chapman Electric, a firm located right here in Hudson.

You have probably also noticed that we have done quite a bit of work to our parking lots over the last three years. The first phase of the high school parking lot required a lot of sub-grade work to lay new pipe and tiling to ensure proper drainage, and that we are moving water off the property without flooding our neighbors. This phase of the project was completed with the help of Hudson Hardware Plumbing and Heating, right here in Hudson. Next summer we will be paving the north parking lot, which is adjacent to the middle school. This summer we started that work with another sub-grade project with piping and tiling. The work on this project was completed by Whole Excavation, a firm located here in Hudson.

I showed you a picture of our new school bus last week; now obviously we don't buy our buses here in Hudson, but was about our smaller vehicles like vans and cars? If you take a look at the parking lot where they are kept you should notice that they are all Fords, bought right here at Colwell Ford.

The items mentioned above quite literally account for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of business, and that is just in the last couple of years. But that relationship doesn't stop with just those projects! We continue to call on these businesses long after the original project has been completed. From servicing our fleet vehicles, installing a new electrical outlet, or fixing a broken water main-the relationships that we have with our local businesses in one that we take great pride in!

You can vote on September 10th from noon to 8:00 PM at the Hudson Community Center.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What Has the PPEL Funded in the Past?

Replacing computer hardware and adding new equipment is
an ongoing expense. Without the PPEL Fund, maintaining
this equipment would not be possible. 
Last week I reminded you about the upcoming PPEL renewal on September 10th and encouraged you to make sure your voice is heard when it comes to  renewing this important district resource. As a brief recap, the PPEL is a revenue stream that is part of a larger fund commonly referred to as the Capital Projects Funds. But what specifically are PPEL funds used for?

These funds are primarily used for building repairs or upgrades, technological equipment such as computers and servers, and replacement of our fleet vehicles. These projects and equipment go a long way toward making improvements to our facilities and without this revenue stream most of these expenditures would not be possible. If you are like me, you are probably wondering, "Okay, projects and what?" Fair question.

This afternoon I asked our accounting specialist for a report detailing what types of things we have purchased with PPEL dollars over the last five years. I probably could have gone back even further, but ended up with a ten page report! However, I thought it might be interesting to share some of the items with you. This is not an exhaustive list and only includes some of the highlights. If you are interested in seeing more, please let me know!

As I stated above this is not an exhaustive list. My intention was to merely give you an example of what some of those projects and expenditures are. You can see that our investment in technology is heavy, and will continue to be as we move to an environment that relies more and more on the infusion of technology and 21st Century Skills. Hopefully you recognized that this list is very diverse. Everything from facilities upgrades to transportation requests-these are all items that are purchased through the PPEL. 

In addition, we use PPEL funds to replace carpet, remodel bathrooms, and purchase musical instruments. PPEL funds become critical during emergency situations as well. In the event a boiler goes down in the middle of the winter, or the air handling units crash the week before graduation, PPEL funds are used to handle these type of emergency repairs. Copy equipment? Classroom furniture? Athletic facility upgrades? You bet.

It is important to remember that renewing this revenue stream will not result in increased taxes. As you can hopefully see from my examples above, this will continue a valuable resource for the district. These funds allow us to keep Hudson facilities in excellent condition and provide top notch learning resources for our students.

Please remember to vote on  September 10th.

This new 78 passenger school bus joined the fleet in
July of 2013. It was purchased using PPEL funds
at a cost of approximately $97,000.