Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Iowa Department of Education Comes to Town

Every five years, school districts in Iowa participate in a comprehensive site visit with the Iowa Department of Education. The visit serves two important functions. First, it is to ensure compliance with the laws that govern all public schools in Iowa. Commonly referred to as Chapter 12 Code of Iowa, these rules and regulations govern many things; such as the courses that are taught in the district and making certain all teachers are properly certified to teach in their respective content area or grade level. 

In addition to the compliance portion of the visit, the DE (Department of Education) will verify that we have policies in place to address a multitude of issues ranging from the legal authority granted to school boards all the way to how we go about cancelling school in the case of inclement weather! Once the DE has determined that all the laws and regulations are being followed, we maintain our accreditation and are in compliance for the next five years. If a regulation isn't in place, an issue of 'non compliance' is noted and the district has 45 days to respond. In the majority of cases it is a relatively minor issue that can be easily corrected. Luckily, the Department provides technical assistance to ensure seamless resolution. At the writing of this column we are right in the middle of the review, so it is uncertain whether or not we will need to make any corrections.

While an important function of the site visit is compliance, we are most interested in the second function of the visit-which is to assess continuous improvement in the district. During the next couple of days our visitors will meet with a whole host of stakeholder groups-from administrators to students and gain their perspective of the school district. They will ask many questions about our school programs. To give just a few examples, they will inquire about the rigor of the classes we offer, district communication, and how our students are doing on standardized tests. 

When they issue the report, not only will they share areas of non compliance, but the will also highlight the strengths of our district programs and offer suggestions in areas we may wish to improve. We started the preparation for this visit back in August, and have worked diligently since then. Many of you have given up time to serve on one of our various interview committees, while others have had to sit through meetings with me as I took notes and asked even more questions. It has been well worth the effort! What I have learned through this process is that we  have an awesome school district with a variety of programs designed to meet the needs of all learners. There is no doubt in my mind that our Core Purpose is alive and well in the Hudson Community School District. 

The presentation above is the overview that was given to begin the visit. There are so many wonderful things going on in our district! I hope you are as proud of the Hudson Community School District as I am!


Last week we spent a great deal of time discussing how we go about providing our students with a guaranteed and viable curriculum. We are going to continue along this thematic path for a few weeks to hopefully give you a better picture of how curriculum is developed in our district.

In review,  a guaranteed and viable curriculum means that no matter what teacher is assigned to your child, they can expect to receive the same curricular content at the same depth. The mastery of that content is an article for another day, but you can be assured this critical component will be revisited at a later time.

You will recall the discussion focused on ensuring our curriculum aligns to what we have identified as the essential learning outcomes (which are then aligned to the Iowa Common Core). Once our 3rd grade teachers [for example] have agreed to the essential learning outcomes, we can probably state that they will provide a guaranteed and viable curriculum to all the 3rd grade students. This is often times referred to as horizontal alignment.

Vertical alignment is a process where we work to ensure that our students learn what is necessary to prepare them for 4th grade (for example). During these discussions, teachers from across grade levels meet to see that they are not duplicating content, and identifying and eliminating gaps in the curriculum. Take our butterfly example from last week. What if your child learns about butterflies in 3rd grade only to go on to 4th grade...and butterflies again! Unless the units build on one another (for example in 3rd grade the concept is introduced and in 4th grade it is mastered), we would have a problem.

An even bigger problem is if something else is missed as a result! Using our same examples, let's say we covered butterflies in 3rd grade, duplicated them again in 4th grade, and as a result missed our essential learning about turtles. Then, when our students are administered the Iowa Assessments in 4th grade, they get all the questions on turtles wrong! 

Our staff is working hard to make certain that all of our curriculum is aligned both horizontally (all sections of 3rd grade are the same), and vertically (between grade levels). This process strengthens instruction and helps us to eliminate gaps in our curriculum! The end result is higher student achievement!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Guaranteed and Viable

During my days as a principal I remember preparing class lists for the next school year. Inevitably some parents would request their child be placed in a particular class. The request was always followed by an explanation or rationale. The point of today's column isn't to discuss why [or why not] honoring parent requests is or isn't a good idea, nor is it to offer any insight into how I handled such a request. Those are questions best left to your child's principal!

What I would like to do is discuss one of the reasons the request is made in the first place, and how it connects to what we are doing with curriculum alignment and professional development at Hudson! The request sometimes goes like this:
"Hi Mr. Voss! When you are assigning students next year for Mrs. Smith's class, could you please make sure that my little David is in her room? Mrs. Smith does a really neat unit on butterflies and I would love it if David had that opportunity! I know Mrs. Adams is a good teacher and all, but she doesn't teach that unit on butterflies. She does something on turtles instead and, well....butterflies are just so much more interesting."
The first question that should be asked of our fictitious teachers above is, "Where do butterflies (or turtles for that matter) fit in the curriculum? Which essential learning outcome does this meet? How does this unit align to the Iowa Core Curriculum?" Unfortunately, if it doesn't align to the Core or have some sort of connective value it probably should be ejected.

That has been at the center of our teacher's work during the last couple of years. The implementation of the PLC model has caused this task to pick up steam. With a weekly early dismissal scheduled for next year you can expect the pace to quicken even more. Our teachers are working relentlessly identifying the essential learning outcomes that all students should know and be able to do by the time they complete that particular grade level. They collaborate together to design units, assessments, and instruction to execute that curriculum.

The reason we do this is to ensure to you, the parents, that no matter who your child is assigned as a classroom teacher, be it Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Adams--they are going to be exposed to the same curricular material. We are able to provide a guaranteed and viable curriculum. In other words the district guarantees that in kindergarten (for example) your child is going to learn about butterflies. Then in first grade (again for example) your child is going to learn about turtles.

What is viability then? Well, viability is exposure. Let's say for example both Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Adams have to cover butterflies in kindergarten. Check off box number one: we now have a guaranteed curriculum because that butterfly concept is an essential outcome. But what if Mrs. Smith spends a week on butterflies and Mrs. Adams only spends a day on them? Sorry, we can't check off box number two: viability. One of our teachers is either not covering it well enough, or the opposite is true: the other teacher is going into too much depth. The curriculum is not viable in this case. 

Again, this is where the power of the PLC becomes our tool to ensure viability! The conversation between the teachers may go a little bit like this:
"Okay, Mrs. Adams. We have to teach our students about butterflies. I think that should take us about a week because to understand butterflies we need to make sure our students can....."
And so the conversation goes between our professional educators. At the end of their conversation they are able to say that learning about butterflies is an essential learning concept that should take about a week of study. We have just created a guaranteed and viable curriculum because both teachers are on 'the same page' when it comes to the finer points of butterfly instruction!

Here is where it has begun to get exciting in Hudson! This year we have had a strong focus on math and our teachers have been examining the Iowa Core. We have used the Core to develop our essential learning outcomes in math. Why did we select math? Well that is a discussion for another day, but the easiest and cleanest answer is that our student achievement data suggest this would be a good content area in which to begin this very important work. In any event, our teachers have been working hard this year developing their essential leaning outcomes to prepare for a major math curriculum adoption. Last week we had an opportunity to evaluate a math curriculum, and the teachers are beginning to test some of these lessons now. As we were listening to the presentation, I could see our teachers intently taking notes and discussing with their colleagues about whether or not this curriculum would meet the essential learning outcomes as they are aligned to the Iowa Core.

Pretty exciting stuff, isn't it? Stay tuned, Reading is on deck!

Authors Note: I am not a butterfly or turtle expert and have no opinion as to whether or where they should fit in the curriculum!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Pirate 1-1 Project

The Hudson Community School District has decided the time is right to begin a transition to a 1-1 laptop environment for our high school students. Significant facility improvements over the past three years have paved the way. Improvements including upgraded electrical systems, a robust wireless network, and continued advances in hardware and software. Technologies such as these also include the ability to leverage cloud computing. 

That's all nice but with all that being said then, why should we do it?

“Students become pilots of their learning not just passengers along for the ride.” The Hudson 1:1 Project gives students the tools to have instant access to the world of information and also to become producers rather than just consumers of information that is available through the use of technology. The 'set and get' model of instruction is becoming obsolete. Days of classroom teachers being the arbiter and sole proprietor of knowledge no longer exist. Want to learn about the biology of skin cells? Look it up on the computer. How about Regression to the Mean and other complex statistics? Khan Academy has just what you are looking for. 

Our vision to amplify and enhance deep, rich learning will benefit student-centered classrooms in which critical thinking is the cornerstone of success. Through collaboration and cooperation with others, students will engage in experiential learning that is authentic, holistic, and challenging. Students are empowered to use prior knowledge to construct new learning. This is the flipped classroom of the 21st Century. Imagine a learning environment where the teacher invites students to learn what they can about a topic outside the classroom--and when they are in the classroom, the goal isn't to have the teacher lecture, but rather to coach those students into applying their new found knowledge.

The goal of the project is to provide each 9th-12th grade student in the district access to a computer daily, and more technology opportunities for all students. Our reach is no longer local, but global and by providing this opportunity to Hudson students it will have a real-world impact/value. Research suggests the 1:1 initiative “levels the playing field” for all students, regardless of any families’ economic situation. The use of technology in schools increases engagement in the learning process and allows teachers the opportunity to personalize instruction, especially in “technology-transformed” classes. 

Today's students are growing up in a world where the right answer simply won't be found on a multiple choice test. These young people will be expected to solve problems that we don't know are problems yet, collaborate and compete for work in a global marketplace, and attend college where the mere idea of taking notes with a pencil and notebook are as foreign to them as one room schoolhouses were to most of us. 

A critical component to ensuring the success of this project rests on the willingness of our faculty to engage in a new and exciting instructional mode, and to become willing participants in a fast pace and rigorous professional development program. Our roll out and professional development plan will consist of four days of training through the Apple Corporation. Two of these days will be held at the end of the school year, and the other two will be held at the beginning of next school year. In addition, we have scheduled a robust training program that is already underway, consisting of teachers visiting many districts in the area who have already moved to this type of learning environment. Our academic calendar for the 2013-2014 school year has been partially designed with this professional development model in mind. Teachers will learn the art of the flipped classroom and receive in depth training on a Learner Management System. The student roll out is scheduled for January of 2014.

Implementation Timeline

Sources include  Recommended Action to the Hudson Board of Education  on 
January 21, 2013 as prepared by Principal Jeff Dieken and information from Apple Computers.