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!