Wednesday, December 23, 2015

All is Calm

I have been blessed to witness and participate in 'Day Before Christmas Break' activities for decades now. In fact, I can't think of a time in my life when I didn't either participate in or have a front row seat to this annual ritual. There is an excitement in the air that is unmatched during any other time of the school year. Even the last day of school isn't as exciting--and I mean that for students and teachers alike!

4th grade students hard at work the day before break
Yesterday was no different. I visited multiple classrooms in both the elementary and high school buildings and the atmosphere was, well delightful. That is not to say that a great deal of attention was being paid to the learning atmosphere, because there was certainly a lot of that going on as well. Students were finishing up letters to Santa, reading letters aloud from a favorite elf, or finishing up a project that would serve as a gift for a parent or grandparent. In one room, I took noticed students were reciting a popular seasonal poem in Readers Theatre format. These students were working to build fluency in advance of the FAST assessment that will be administered soon after they return to school in January. Many were eager to share with me their holiday plans and look forward to seeing grandparents and extended family over the break. Others longed for a little snow to really set the stage for some holiday spirit--although I would testify there was plenty of that to go around! 

Today however, our hallways are empty. Everyone has gone home and is enjoying that which they so looked forward to yesterday. I like these quiet days in the office, they provide an atmosphere where quiet reflection can occur and some of the projects that really need to be completed during a long uninterrupted block of time can be finished. That will be my afternoon!

Mrs. Schulz assists a student with her project
This will be my final post of the year. Next week, while I plan to be in the office during normal work hours, I have decided to take a very brief respite before starting fresh in 2016. Don't fret, we have much to discuss with the new year! The legislative session begins shortly after we return, and that always provides ample writing material! As a bit of a preview, I look forward to sharing with you the nationwide status of school funding since we have recovered from the 2008 recession. Also, you might be aware that the No Child Left Behind law has finally been left behind, replaced by the new Every Student Succeed Act. In the new year we will dive into that and discuss what it means for Hudson schools.

For now though, lets take a break. It's quiet in our school now. All is Calm, and you know what? 2016 looks very bright!

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Iowa Report Card-Hudson Schools

Iowa House File 215, which was passed during the 2013 legislative session is the bill that most have come to associate with the teacher leadership and compensation system. Yet there are many other segments of that bill that are now beginning to mature and become part of our educational landscape and conversation. For example, the component that requires third grade students to be proficient readers by 2017 or face retention was also included in HF 215, along with a study of the evaluation standards that are used for principals and teachers. It is interesting that each component of this landmark legislation evokes different emotions. When considering the teacher leadership and compensation system, we applaud these efforts and believe systems like these are great for student outcomes. On the other hand, when the discussion of retaining non-proficient third grade students is brought up, most universally oppose such an extreme measure. Then again, changing the assessment that Iowa uses to measure student accountability is such a polarizing issue that it remains to be seen if this will even be addressed or simply be cast aside as too costly to implement. Today the Iowa Department of Education rolls out another of these reform components that was included as part of House File 215: The Attendance Center Ranking. 

Titled the Iowa School Report Card, this system is designed to show how each public school in Iowa is performing on certain educational measures. Schools receive a score on each measure, and then the scores are combined into one single score. Each school building is then assigned a rating based on a statistical normal curve. Those ratings are: Exceptional, High-Performing, Commendable, Acceptable, Needs Improvement, and Priority. 

At this time, eight measures are used to calculate the rating. Two additional educational measures, parent involvement and community activities/involvement, will be added in the future. It is important to note that 80% of the data used to calculate the school rating on the Iowa Report Card is based on the results from the Iowa Assessments. The measures that are currently used to calculate the rating are:
  1. Proficiency: The percentage of students scoring proficient or better on reading and mathematics assessments.
  2. Closing Achievement Gap: A measure that reflects a statewide goal of narrowing the gap in achievement for students with disabilities, students who are eligible for free and reduced price lunch, and English Language Learners.
  3. College and Career-Ready Growth: The percentage of students who are making the year to year growth necessary to be ready for college and career training by the end of high school.
  4. Annual Expected Growth: The percentage of students making a year of academic growth in a year's time on reading or mathematics assessments.
  5. College and Career Readiness: The percentage of students who score at or above a level of performance in reading and mathematics that predicts a higher probability of post-secondary success. (Middle/high school only.)
  6. Graduation Rate: The percentage of ninth-grade students who finished high school within five years. (High school only.)
  7. Attendance: The average daily attendance of students, which is the total number of days students were enrolled and present divided by the total number of possible days.
  8. Staff Retention: The percentage of teachers, school administrators and other licensed staff members who remained employed in a school over consecutive school years.

Knowing where you are and where you want to go is a key part of growth and improvement. Our school regularly uses education data to tell us how our students are progressing and to adjust instruction for better results.

Each of the attendance centers for the Hudson Community School District has received a ranking under this new system. They are as follows:
  1. Hudson High School: High Performing
  2. Hudson Middle School: Commendable
  3. Hudson Elementary School: Acceptable

While we believe this information can add to conversations in our community about how we’re preparing our students for success, these measures are based on limited data. And, as we know from other accountability initiatives such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools are so much more than labels. Labels and ratings do not tell the whole story. While I encourage you to explore the information provided in the Iowa School Report Card, you are also urged to get to know the school behind the label. Ask questions about our improvement efforts, and ask what you can do to support our teachers and students.

You can locate our school’s results, as well as more information about the Iowa School Report Card, on the following website: For additional information about the Iowa School Report card, please see the enclosed guide.

It will be interesting to see what emotions the Iowa Report Card will evoke in all corners of the state. There is not doubt we often have trouble looking in the mirror! When looking at our data, I encourage you to drill deeply into these measures. In those areas where we shine, celebrate with us! In those areas where we can do better, I encourage you to ask us about our improvement efforts! I promise you, our teachers and administrators are working hard every single day to ensure that we create effective learning environments that enable all our students to be successful. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

We Don't Live in a Vacuum, So Let's Try Not to Lead From One Either

I was recently asked what the most important leadership lesson was that I have learned. Usually questions like that are very difficult for me because there are so many answers! If we are paying attention there are lessons that can be learned every day, and all are important! Hopefully we can learn from our work and use those experiences to shape how we approach the next day, week, month or year. However, in an effort to appease my interrogator I came up with one important leadership lesson, and while it may not be the most important it certainly ranks high on my list! That lesson: we don't live in a vacuum and as such shouldn't lead from one either.  

Here's the deal folks: school are incredibly complex organizations. The fact is they are far too complex to be left to the leadership whims of any one individual. Want to know a secret? I don't have all the answers! Because of this, I try to empower employees to make decisions at the level of greatest impact. For example, teachers are far closer to instruction than any administrator and have the daily interactions with students to prove it. Because of this, it stands to reason those are the individuals best equipped to make instructional decisions for students. By no means does this suggest leaders take a hands off approach to instructional decision making in the classroom. Quite the contrary! Leaders are highly engaged in these decisions by observing instruction, asking questions, and being otherwise attentive in the the study of strategies employed by schools. Distributing or sharing leadership should never be mistaken for a lack of accountability!

Take a look above at this tweet I posted on November 13th. I know that conferencing is a proven strategy--not because I said so, but because our teachers say so. Plus, they have the data to back up that claim. One of our district goals is to improve reading proficiency in our schools. The decision to use conferencing as a strategy to improve reading was developed through a collaborative approach with instructors and teacher leaders. We embrace this collaborative approach because multiple individuals working together on common problems are much more powerful than individuals working alone in isolation. It is only through a culture that fosters this collaboration and teamwork that we are able to impact positive change in student learning outcomes in our schools. 

The realization of teacher leadership in our school district has enabled this collaborative relationship to grow organically and in so many positive ways that were unseen at inception. For example, the teamwork approach that now exists between teacher leadership and building principals has become much more robust as a vehicle to strengthen instruction in the classroom. This system of collaboration and shared leadership has enabled building principals to re-frame and refocus their work as instructional leaders in new and exciting ways. The mere fact they now have content experts available to collaborate with has enhanced their leadership skills. 

It may surprise many to know that the majority of the work I do and decisions that I make are through collaboration or shared leadership. Truthfully, I have a hard time thinking of a decision that was made in complete isolation without the input or advice of others. Even the dreaded weather calls are made in consultation with others, be those colleagues who are wrestling with the same decision or people who are on the road and can report conditions. All that information and input is used when making those decisions.

Yet people sometimes scoff at the idea of shared leadership and wonder, is it really? This is particularly true when the decision made is contrary to the wishes of those who were involved in the decision. I can understand why this may be, and it is no wonder people don't want to be involved the next time they are asked to help with a decision.

However, as leaders we should be transparent about the role of those involved in the decision making in advance of beginning the process. For example, will the ultimate decision be based on consensus? How about majority rule, where everyone has an equal vote. Or will the decision making be based on an input model where those involved with the decision will offer an opinion and the decision maker will take that input into consideration but ultimately will make the decision.

So my advice, or lesson if you will, is to never go it alone. No one person can have all the answers and it is unrealistic to assume they should. We have good, professional people that we are fortunate to work with daily. They have good ideas, and we would be wise to seek their advice and counsel.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What Was it That Einstein Once Said?

Several years ago I read the book 'Catching Up or Leading the Way' by Yong Zhao, who currently serves as the Director of Global and Online Education at the University of Oregon. Dr. Zhao was born in China and went through the Chinese educational system before coming to the United States in the 90s. Because of his unique experience in both the Chinese and American systems of education, it puts him in the rare position of being able to accurately compare the two. He argues in this book that while the United States is busy trying to reform our educational system to make it more like China, China is trying to reform their education and make it more like America. Huh? Yep, you heard me right! Now, I am certainly no expert on the Chinese educational system, but I have read a bit and talked to some folks who describe a system that is more regimented with a high focus on math and science. This compared to schools in our country where we take a much more holistic and comprehensive approach to education.

A net outcome of our American educational system continues to be a top patent registering country. In 2014 according to the U.S Patent Office, the United States registered 158,713 patents, compared to the next country in line (Japan) which registered 56,006. By contrast, China registered 7,921. If one were to look at creativity as it relates to student outcomes there is a possible correlation between these metrics. As in the fact that one might be able to suggest there is more value to a holistic and comprehensive educational system that focuses on critical thinking skills and creativity than a singular focus on math and science. 

Last spring we were approached by an individual who is a dual citizen of both China and the United States. He was representing citizens in China who were interested in attending an American high school and earning a diploma, in this case from Hudson High School. These families are eager for their children to have this type of education and are willing to pay top dollar. This shouldn't come as too big of a shock, after all many Chinese students are clamoring for spots in U.S. colleges and universities. His comments echoed those that Dr. Zhao describes in his book. It is their desire to have a more comprehensive approach to education. The argument Zhao makes is that a test-oriented education leads to less creativity (p. 91). Further, my visitor suggested that the American public school does a much better job of preparing students for the university than they do in China. So what then, does that 'American High School' experience exactly look like? Well, I think we can point to many activities and subjects that serve as a cultural reflection of our school that are very appealing which extend beyond the Core. And, numerous studies have shown that when students have a strong connection to their school, they perform better academically. Therefore, in many ways, we strengthen that connection through a comprehensive co and extra-curricular program. 

Furthermore, one of the indicators of whether or not a student is At-Risk of failing or dropping out in school is 'connection to school'. Because of this we work hard at ensuring students at Hudson have multiple opportunities to be involved in activities outside the walls of the traditional classroom. Be that in the numerous clubs in our high school, student government, arts, music, or athletics. The trouble here of course is that the ultimate impact these activities have on math and science tests is hard to quantify. That is too bad, because there has been a lot of talk this next legislative session is going to be more difficult than the last. This of course translates into fewer dollars invested in education, which means that many school districts will be forced to make difficult decisions, yet again. In some places these valuable programs that encapsulate the very culture of schools and communities may be jeopardized. In some places, the very programs that kept some students in school may be at risk. And yes, in some places, the very programs that ignited a creative idea that ultimately turns into a registered patent may be squashed.

Albert Einstein once said, "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted". It seems that other countries, like China for example have figured that out. It would serve us well if we didn't forget it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Multiple Opportunities to Participate at Hudson

I have been very excited about the success of our students so far this year, and we are only in the second quarter! We are so proud of our students and there is no doubt they have left an imprint on the 2015-2016 school year that will not easily be matched. As I said, we are not halfway through the school year and we have so much to celebrate already. I can't wait to see what these youngsters are able to accomplish next!

Winkies on the march in the lair of the
Wicked Witch of the West
For starters, how about that musical? In my opinion, there is no activity in a high school that brings so many people and departments together for what is undoubtedly the ultimate project based authentic learning experience! If you didn't get a chance to see this amazing show then you sure missed out! I took my grand daughter Allie Louise on opening night and she was absolutely enthralled! Her highlight was the special effects, and of course she thought the Wicked Witch of the West was awesome. A big 'Wizard of Oz' fan, Allie dressed up as Dorothy for Halloween last year so, as an expert in this show she was blown away! I couldn't agree more! I was also very happy to see the large number of students participating that have never participated before. From athletes to musicians and everyone in between; it was great! Please remember that no matter what your role, the show would not have been the same without you. Bravo to the cast and crew of 'The Wizard of Oz'!

The talent on display during our musical was very apparent! These musicians have been very busy with numerous other activities, including putting on a fall concert, and finishing preparations for the show choir competition season that will begin soon. Let's not forget that jazz band is also right around the corner! But, on top off all these music events, many of our students took on the additional challenge of auditioning for the prestigious All-State choir and band. Being selected as an all-state musician is one of the most challenging endeavors a high school musician can accomplish. All-State selection is not based on class, in other words there are not quotas for a certain number of students from each size of school. This means that our students were competing against all schools in our geographic location. This year, we had four students who were selected for the Iowa All-State Chorus, I couldn't even tell you the last time that happened!

Football team in action in Sigourney on October 28,
 winning first playoff victory since 1994.
In spite of this enormous time demand, these students found time to participate in the musical. Of course, these weren't the only students who found time to squeeze in rehearsals while participating in other activities this fall. And at the same time reaching milestones in their own right! How about that football team? I'm not sure about you, but I had a lot of fun watching these student athletes compete this season! They kept right on winning week after week, ultimately leading Hudson to an 8-3 season overall. There were a lot of what I would call 'nail-biters'. One moment that I think was probably most thrilling was the decision to go for 2 at the end of the game against Sumner-Fredricksburg. Instead of kicking the extra-point to tie the game and send it into overtime, we just decided to win it right there! Yet, I am sure the highlight of the year was our teams first playoff win since the state championship season in 1994.

Our volleyball team was very entertaining to watch as well. I don't know about you, but the speed and power some of these athletes have is utterly astounding. I for one would not like to be on the receiving end of some of these serves, or worse yet, trying to defend one of the powerful spikes that was delivered by one of these ladies! The team had a great season, earning a bye in the first round of the tournament before being matched up with perennial power Dike-New Hartford. DNH always proves to be a tough opponent for us, but our team played with a lot of spirit. I thought for sure they would be able to steal one from this match up. An exciting game, we came up a little short. But they made us so proud!

Volleyball team in tournament action at
Dike-New Hartford, October 27
How about that cross country team? They sure were inspiring in competition this season! Our boys team did awesome, qualifying for the state meet in Fort Dodge and ultimately finishing in sixth place overall! I'll tell you what, those guys are fast! I am quite confident that I would not be able to keep up with them! But let's not forget about that girls team. While they didn't qualify as a team, we had three girls who qualified as individuals for the meet. It just happened to work well into my schedule to attend the regional final meet up in Cedar Falls, and as we were watching the runners from the distance, we realized that we had a runner in the lead. When they made the second loop, we could see that our runner had extended her lead. I was so excited to see Grace win that race, finishing a full 26 seconds in front of her nearest competitor!

Boys Cross Country Team following a 6th place
finish at the State Cross Country Meet.
Hopefully you can all agree that we had a great fall season of student activities at Hudson. From music to athletics, our students shined in everything they did. One of the best parts for me is that I was able to see many of these students participating in multiple activities. While they may have been a member of the volleyball team, they also participated in the musical. Students who played in the band also found time to participate on the football team. The athletes who are in chorus also ran cross country. And the best of all--these students were there to support one another in whatever it was they chose to do. Yes, one of the best parts of a small school, of Hudson High School, is the ability for our students to participate, and I mean REALLY participate! They don't have to choose one activity--they can choose many. And they will find success in a vast array of options.

So here's to the fall! We now can look forward with eager anticipation to the winter season and the multitude of student activities that will now take center stage. I wonder, how many all conference basketball players will we have that are in the band? How many members of the chorus might qualify for the state wrestling tournament? I can't wait to find out!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Constitutional Rights in Public Schools

The first ten amendments of the Constitution are referred to as the Bill of Rights. First proposed in 1789, they  ultimately became ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures in 1791. Constitutional rights are a big deal in the United States, as they should be! Sometimes events in our country force us to re-examine these rights and wonder if everyone has the same protection. We wonder, can they be taken away? Under what circumstances? Lately there have been questions about the first amendment and what that means. The first amendment tells us that:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of their grievances.
In many countries around the world, people do not have the right to Freedom of Speech. Citizens are subjected to censorship, told half-truths about what their government is doing, or are not permitted to practice the religion of their choosing. In the United States, we have fought wars defending this right. Our service members have sacrificed their lives standing up for those who are oppressed. The United States stands for those who cannot stand for themselves.

This is undoubtedly a double edged sword. After all, this freedom that we all enjoy as citizens can make us uncomfortable, and we are appalled at the way some choose to express themselves. The examples are countless of citizens exercising their Freedom of Speech in ways that many find repulsive and offensive on multiple levels. Consider the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church at funerals of soldiers who have died protecting these very freedoms. Distasteful, offensive, and appalling? Many agree they are. But yet, these protests continue! Why? Freedom of Speech.

So what about students in a public school? Do they have the same constitutional rights as adults? Can they be censored? While students and minors don't enjoy the same freedoms and privileges as adults, they 'don't shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate'.

This was put to the test in the 1969 Tinker v. Board of Education case. This landmark Supreme Court ruling became the test for student freedom of expression in public schools. The case originated in Des Moines, Iowa when a group of students, wishing to protest America's involvement in the Vietnam War began wearing black armbands as a form of protest. The school suspended the students for violating school policy. The students sued, arguing for their Freedom of Speech at the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the end, the students won. Now, we can argue the presence of a black arm band seems plain enough as to not be offensive, but remember the context of the time period those students lived. This was at the height of our engagement in Vietnam. Nevertheless, that wasn't the point.

The Court ruled that in order for the school to take disciplinary action, they must show the action causes a 'substantial disruption of the school'. The ruling went further to state that schools cannot act or censor speech out of a desire to avoid the discomfort that accompanies an unpopular viewpoint. That last sentence in the Tinker ruling is a key point in the application of this law. Yes, I certainly don't agree with how some students choose to express themselves. That fact is, the administration finds some recent displays inappropriate and not at all representative of the Hudson Community School District, however we walk a fine line when balancing constitutional rights with censorship.

So what is a school to do? Well, for starters we have to follow the law as uncomfortable as it might make us.  Then we have to do our diligence in the education of our youth. That could very well start with a conversation about the Constitution. Indeed we are lucky to live in a country that affords us the Freedom of Speech. It is a wonderful thing--but what if we choose to do so in a way that offends, and is not operating within the norms of a civilized society? Well, it would be wise for them to look around the corner into the future; there just might be unknown consequences for proclaiming such things.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What I Have Learned From Todd Whitaker

Earlier in the week I read Todd Whitaker's book: What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things That Matter Most. Dr. Whitaker is a professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University and a sought after guest speaker at school districts around the country. Back in the middle of October, I had the privilege of joining a group of our model teachers to hear Todd speak at Dunkerton High School. Normally I am not a big fan of the 'shotgun' approach to professional development (you know, the day long 'sit and get' model), but the opportunity to hear his message coupled with a deeper implementation of these ideas in Hudson was one that was well worth the time investment. When we returned to Hudson, one of our Model Teachers (I'll go ahead and give a shout out to Mrs. Puls here) shared some of her key takeaways from that day at an inservice for the 7-12 faculty. Thankfully, the grassroots leadership provided by Mrs. Puls made me realize that this particular workshop had some staying power. I'll credit both Dr. Whitaker and Mrs. Puls for these efforts. Clearly, Todd's message resonated enough for Mrs. Puls to see value in bringing it back to her colleagues at Hudson. As I sat and listened to Mrs. Puls recall her experience, I thought, 'Boy, I wish everyone in our district heard this message'. Perhaps that is why I picked up the book and read it.

While the intended audience of Dr. Whitaker's work is teacher and staff development, I would argue that it has a much broader appeal. The subtitle of the book suggests ''17 Things That Matter Most'. Oh, they are so applicable beyond the classroom! For example, an important concept that Todd reminds us of is that 'teachers establish clear expectations at the start of the year and follow them consistently as the year progresses'. Please allow me to explain!

Clear expectations certainly shouldn't be limited to how we go about managing a classroom! It is critically important to have clear expectations for our children at home, our employees at work, and even those we call friends. If our children are aware of our expectations and we are unwavering in those expectations, it is much easier for them to understand and meet those expectations. Likewise, it is important for our children to know that fair and consistent consequences are a critical variable in the equation. It does little good to not follow through on a consequence. Have you ever heard of a parent or a teacher saying 'if you do that one more time, then you will miss your entire recess for a week/or miss the neighbors birthday party'? The point is: say what you mean and mean what you say. Another critical point to remember about consequences is that they should never be about punishment! Whitaker uses the analogy of penalties in competitive sports. 'Rules just don't point out rule violations; they assign penalties' (p. 15). Hopefully they also teach the appropriate and correct behavior. We don't want to punish kids to hurt them, we want to administer consequences in a way that they learn from their mistake. Our real goal is to avoid a repeat of the behavior, not to 'exact revenge', as Whitaker so eloquently reminds us. 

Hopefully you notice that I italicized the word aware in the paragraph above. This week I learned a valuable lesson myself about expectations and what happens when people aren't aware of expectations. Yes, I have certain expectations about how employees go about their work here in the district! I erroneously assumed that everyone knew the expectations. What I originally thought was a failure to meet expectations in actuality was an unfortunate set of circumstances, and a set of very unclear expectations. Luckily the problem was resolved without any lasting impact, and we uncovered a weakness in communicating those expectations. Thankfully this is a problem we can solve!

Well, I could go on and provide examples and affirmation of everything Todd mentions in his book. But to do so would cover more paragraphs in this blog than you are probably interested in reading right now. Yet I will leave you with this, and I do believe this is a key theme throughout the course of this book (I'll forward this on to Dr. Whitaker and if he disagrees hopefully he will let me know). 

Respect. Great teachers, great leaders, and great parents treat everyone with respect. If we all can do this one little thing, have a little empathy for one another then surely we will have something very special. I can't remember who said this, but people may not remember what you say, but they will certainly remember what you do. All it takes is one cutting remark, one blow up to annihilate a respectful relationship. Often times the damage is irreversible and can never be undone. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Most Thankless Job in Education

I was appreciative of Dianna Darold's comments in her column last week. You probably also noticed the letter to the editor from the Executive Director of the School Administrators of Iowa, Dr. Roark Horn. His and Dianna's comments reminded our community the value of the principalship and thanked them for their service. October was National Principal Recognition Month. Sadly, I didn't do a very good job of giving a shout out to our building principals this past month. My lame excuse is that I think they know I appreciate them and the work they are doing. Indeed my failure further emphasizes the point that our principals often go unnoticed. An often thankless job in education, principals are usually remembered for managerial skill rather than the profound impact they have on student achievement. Most principals will tell you they are hired to be instructional leaders, but they are fired for missteps when it comes to the management of the organization.  

There are no easy jobs in education and the role of building principal is no different. The fact is, I am not certain there is a job more difficult in the field. It is not uncommon for these jobs to be fraught with conflict from the time they walk through the door of their office in the morning until they go home at night. These conflicts often bleed over into home life and may be the last thing a principal thinks of before they go to sleep at night, and the first thing they think of when they wake up in the morning. Sometimes the conflict causes interruption to to normal sleep patterns leading to exhaustion and other health problems. You see, doing the right thing is almost never easy. Plus there are plenty of folks who believe the right thing is something different than the call the principal has made. Sorting out fact from fiction in one student or employee discipline issue can consume hours of a building principals time, detracting from the primary work of the building principal: ensuring quality instruction is occurring in their classrooms so that student achievement rises.

Although dealing with conflict is a large part of the role of building leadership, it is not the reason they became principals. Principals become school leaders because they want to have an impact beyond the walls of their classroom. They have been successful teachers and want to have the same impact on a much broader scale than the classroom they previously served. Once assuming that mantle of leadership, they have a more expansive view of education and the ability to impact student learning on a much grander scale. 

We know the classroom teacher is the most influential factor on student learning. This makes sense because of the direct contact that teachers have on students in the classroom. So where does the principal fit in the influence of student learning? In a 2008 study by Kenneth Leithwood, he found the vital role principals play is second only to classroom teaching as an impact on student learning. Indeed, their is much more to the principalship than management of the building and handling student discipline.

The fact is, the principalship has become more complex in this arena of high stakes accountability, advances in technology, implementation and measurement of core academic standards, rigorous and relevant professional development, and now teacher leadership. These positions have become more collaborative and distributive in nature, forcing principals to manage multiple projects at once, while keeping the building running smoothly and ensuring students are achieving at high levels.

Next week I will return to the concept of teacher leadership and the impact that is having on learning at Hudson. Before we go there, I think it is appropriate to share one of the key findings of my research into the implementation of teacher leadership systems: as teacher leaderships systems have begun to proliferate Iowa schools, the role of the principal has become even more complex. Indeed a misconception exists that these systems will somehow make the job of principals easier. Not so!

I would argue that our teacher leadership system is functioning at a very high level. Not to diminish the impact of those serving in those vital roles, we can attribute part of this success to the role the building principal plays. This success is not limited to teacher leadership! We can point to connected learning, implementation of new curriculum(s) and teaching strategies, robust professional development, and ensuring a positive learning environment.

A lot of great stuff is happening in Hudson, and there are many people who are responsible for the success that we are having. Many folks can share, celebrate, and take credit for that success. It would be a mistake to forget the valuable contributions of Mr. Schlatter and Mr. Dieken!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What Does Your Future Look Like?

Our seniors, and to some extent our juniors, are carefully considering their options when they get out of high school. Certainly time is much more critical for our seniors, but if those of you that are in the 11th grade haven't started this process yet, I would encourage you to start giving your future some serious consideration. 

Regardless of the path you choose, in order for you to find success in life you are going to need some post-secondary training. For many of you this will mean a four year college degree. Others will pursue a two year degree, a special certification, or may even go into the military. No matter what, you will need to choose one of those options because the chances of graduating high school and landing a high paying job that will satisfy your quest for a lifetime of happiness is slim. However, to automatically assume that your dream job is going to require a four year college degree is also patently false. Unfortunately, we have not done a good job of properly articulating this point and as a result, many young people have gone on to earn Bachelor degrees they simply don't need. Compound that with the fact that some young adults then take a lower paying job with a large debt load, it becomes clear that we may have done a disservice to not only our youth, but to society as a whole. I'll get to that in a moment. 

When I went to college I majored in music. Many young people don't have a realistic grasp on the world, particularly when it comes to understanding what the job market is going to look like for them. As a young person I  was no different and tended to look at life through rose colored glasses. So as a 'performance major', I assumed that I would get my Bachelor Degree, move to the big city and become a recording artist. I actually said that. To people. With a straight face.

This is really no different than the young high school football player who thinks they are going to end up playing in the NFL. According to the NCAA, approximately $1.1 Million boys play high school football. Of that, only 6.5% end up playing at the collegiate level. And of that 6,5%? Only 1.6% are drafted by the NFL. Pretty long odds if you ask me, but we can all dream, right?

It was clear to everyone except me that I didn't have the chops to be the next Garth Brooks. But I was lucky to have adults in my life that cared enough about me and my future. They helped me to realize that I had a passion for education and that when I talked about the impact that my teachers had on me, it became clear that education was a much better and more realistic fit for my future. Truth be told, I believe now that had I moved to Nashville or Manhattan after college I might be living under a bridge right now!

So when choosing that path to the future whatever it might be, it is worth doing extensive research. Because even with what may have at one time have been considered the 'Gold Standard' of credentialing, the Bachelor Degree, you may not be on the path to prosperity that you think. Unfortunately there are a number of college graduates who are underemployed and working in what are known as 'gray collar jobs' (in other words their chosen career doesn't match their training or the debt load they now carry). I had plenty of friends in college who were living in their own version of fantasy land. I remember one guy who was majoring in philosophy. When asked what he was going to do with a philosophy major, he told me, "Well I am going to be a Philosopher of course". What does that pay again?

The point is that it really pays to do your homework before making some pretty substantial decisions that are going to impact your life in a very significant and long term way. That is where I would strongly encourage you to spend some time with Mrs. Baltz if you haven't already done so. Part of her job is steering you in the right direction with regard to possible careers and the training that you will need. Also, if you haven't checked out the video above, please do so. One of the most striking claims made in this post is that of the 60% of high school students who enroll in a four year institution, only one quarter actually graduate!

You should also take notice of what is described as the 1:2:7 ratio. For every position that requires a MA or PhD, there are two jobs for someone with a BA, and of those, each is backed by an additional seven jobs that require a one year certificate or a two year degree--and these jobs are considered high skilled and high pay jobs! What is more interesting is that while as a society we have been beating the drum of 'college for all', the statistics don't bear this out. This 1:2:7 ratio is the same today as it was in 1950 and as it is expected to be in 2030! A study by Harvard University suggests that in 2018, 33% of jobs will require a four year degree while 57% will be known as 'high skill jobs'. 

I mentioned above this not only impacts our youth, but society in general. Consider the decrease in the buying power of our economy if students are underemployed and burdened with debt. What if instead of becoming a homeowner, you become a student loan owner? 

How about the fact that many high skilled jobs in our own community are going unfilled? Many of these jobs, right here in Hudson are good paying jobs. Further, there is the false belief that in order to land that high paying job the only way to do so is to move away to a big city. While this may be true in many cases particularly when looking at averages, it doesn't tell the whole story. 

Think about that for a  minute. The average salary for someone in business management is $105,000 and the average salary for an electrician is $51,000. A business manager credential requires a Bachelor Degree while an electrician is a highly skilled job requiring a certificate and an apprenticeship. When examining the averages, it clearly suggests the person that is a business manager will make a lot more money. But what if the electrician is above average and the business manager is below average? Have you looked at the video above yet? If you  haven't I think it is time--you will be amazed at the results. Oh, and you need to consider the training that is required for both positions. If you are a below average person in business, you certainly aren't going to make that large salary--but you will have the cost and debt to pay for that credential.

You might be surprised to know that you probably don't have to look too far away from our own community to see some pretty lucrative opportunities. Have an interest in being an automotive technician? A position like this starts in the range of $17/hour, which equates to roughly $35,000 annually. On top of that you can expect to receive benefits. And the more certifications you get under your belt the more you can earn. In case you are wondering, those wages are comparable to a starting teacher. Since we already covered electricians in our example above, how about a plumber, HVAC technician, or a heavy equipment operator? These jobs also start in the range of $18-$25/hour with benefits. By mid career, if you are a hard worker that is good at your craft, it is not out of reach to earn between $60,000-$80,000 annually in any of these above mentioned vocations! Now to be fair, you aren't going to graduate from high school and roll up to Mr. Colwell or Mr. Petersen and get a job. You are going to need some additional training and a certification. But want to know another little secret about that? In some of these cases firms will pay for your training and apprenticeship--if you have the aptitude of course. 

Now, if you are convinced that you are going to be the next winner of American Idol, starting quarterback for the Vikings, or if you want to be a philosopher, then that is your choice. I will cheer for you and support you. But please, know exactly what you are signing up for.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Balance of Power

Back on October 9th I received an email from a colleague that the Department of Revenue was proposing a change to one of the rules regarding the application of sales tax in Iowa. After sorting through some of the misinformation that we had received, it was discovered that some items that had previously been subject to sales tax would become exempt under this rule change. As consumers, we all know that some of the goods that we purchase are sales tax exempt. For example, most items that we buy at the grocery store are not taxed. What this rule would do is expand the number of items that are sales tax exempt. Hold on though--the rule is not intended to grow the list of items for the consumer, it is designed to broaden the list for manufacturers. In practice, it will increase the list to include items used in the manufacture of goods. I would give you an example, but I am not exactly sure what those might be. 

Stadium lighting funded through
Capital Project fund.
Summer, 2015.
To remind everyone, sales tax revenue for school districts is used exclusively for capital improvement projects and the purchase of equipment and hardware for schools. In conjunction with our Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL), we use our sales tax revenue to purchase such items as computers for students, school buses, and desks for classrooms. These funds are also used for the improvement of our facilities. Specifically such projects as the construction of parking lots at Hudson, the installation of football field lights, the purchase of real estate, and the construction of the greenhouse have all been funded with sales tax or PPEL. Expanding the list of exemptions will have a negative impact on school funding. 

The current school sales tax is scheduled to sunset in 2029, and economists estimate a loss of $98 Million to $196 Million over the life of the sales tax statewide if this rule change goes into effect. If we put that in our local perspective, that suggests a loss in revenue for Hudson schools somewhere between $135,957 and $256,065. This means that some future project probably won't get done.

This change comes about in response to a petition from the Iowa Taxpayers Association. In that petition, they ask for this rule change. Many people believe that issues of taxation and this type of policy making is reserved for the legislature and that this rule making shifts the balance of power. The fact is, this bill has been proposed several times and has not garnered the support necessary for legislative approval. The balance of power issue is raised because the Department of Revenue is under the authority of the executive branch. 

Elementary restroom renovation funded through Capital
Project fund. Summer, 2015.
Unfortunately this isn't the first time the question of balance of power has been raised--again to the detriment of local school districts. A similar petition was presented to the Department of Education and State Board of Education (again, under the authority of the executive branch) a few years ago from the Iowa Tourism Industry asking for a change to the school start date. The State Board, rightly so in this case, ruled that they were unable to circumvent the legislative process. Regrettably that was a victory short lived, because the governor issued a statement in December of last year that set in motion the calendars that all school districts in Iowa now live by. True, this was resolved through legislative process; however there was no real alternative. 

The Administrative Rules Committee, which is made up of 10 legislators (five from each chamber and five from each party) met to consider the rule change last week. The committee voted to reject the rule change, but the motion failed on a 5:5 vote. This means the rule will go into effect on July 1, 2016 unless the legislature and governor change it with legislation. The chances of this happening are slim. 

Real estate acquisition (hotel property) funded through
Capital Project fund. Summer, 2015.
This couldn't come at a worse time for Iowa schools! Coupled with six years of the lowest levels of state supplemental aid since the inception of the school foundation formula, this only adds to the challenges of meeting the needs of local school districts. In addition to this rule change, when we consider the fact it comes on the heels of a $55.6 Million veto of school funding it really makes people wonder.

Are schools and education in Iowa considered an investment in our future or a burden on society?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Expanding Connected Learning

Earlier in the calendar year the Board of Directors asked the administration to re-examine our connected learning initiative. There was interest in advancing our timeline for expansion. Specifically, enthusiasm was evident to include the seventh and eighth grade in the one to one project. In addition, questions were posed about the next step for technology infusion in the elementary school. What might that look like?

Originally, our vision suggested adding these two grade levels during a reboot of computers in the high school. At that point, the 'old' machines that the high school students were using would be redeployed to the elementary school, and the new inventory would be expanded to include 7-12 grade. Roughly, this timeline would have been in another year and a half. But then the Board asked, "How about January of 2016?" Bold!

At first we thought there would be no possible way. After all, we hadn't done all the legwork and research that would be necessary to expand this project. On the surface, this seemed to be a massive undertaking with multiple moving parts in a very short time frame. How would we do the roll out? Would the students be able to take the machines home? Probably most important from my standpoint, could we support this financially?

Then this fall, we began to take very serious stock of where we were. The fact is, all of our seventh and eighth grade faculty have the same training as the high school faculty. Further, the majority of that staff also teach classes in the high school.  When you consider this from a training point of view, it wasn't really that much of a stretch. Teachers in the high school began to intimate that when they taught their classes in the middle school, there seemed to be a disconnect. The extra inventory that we had was being requested by these teachers for use in the middle school. 

An important consideration was the inventory and financial implications of making this leap. We crunched the numbers and quickly realized that we weren't too far off from where we needed to be. It is beginning to look very much like we will be able to make this happen. On Friday this week, the technology team and I will meet to finalize a recommendation for the Board's consideration at the regular meeting scheduled on October 19th. This recommendation could suggest that we begin the deployment in January of 2016 to include grades 7-12, hopefully in alignment with the start of the second semester.

That only answers part of the question because if you recall, further questions were posed about what our plans might be for the elementary school. Those plans are still under development, but it is apparent that whatever that might look like will be part of a grander scheme for the start of the 2016-2017 school year. Here is what we agree on right now: we do not see a 1-1 option for the elementary. There are too many tasks that are done in the elementary that don't necessarily lend themselves to this type of environment. However, we are having serious discussion about adding multiple iPad mobile carts to grades K-4. Right now we are contemplating testing the ubiquitous deployment of iPads in the elementary by having a group of teachers test the system this spring and act as a resource for teachers in advance of a much larger roll out in the fall. Again, this doesn't mean a direct 1-1 deployment of these devices, and they certainly will not be going home with our young learners!

You may have took note that there was no mention of 5th and 6th grade. We are still working on that, but there appears to be support for moving those grade levels to laptops as well. This would likely be part of the final roll out scheduled for the 2016-2017 school year.

In our final analysis one of the most important variables to consider is the faculty. We have to move forward, but we have to do so in a deliberate manner that ensures our teachers are ready. In my discussions, I have reminded them that a move like this will not be easy. In many cases it will be harder and will require some risk taking. They will not have all the answers and, while we can provide a rigorous training regimen, they will still be left with additional questions.

In the coming months we are eager to continue this dialogue with our faculty and develop a plan that makes sense for our young learners. We need to make sure all learners are ready for the world they are entering!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Cars and Tractors are not People

The goal is admirable but the application is a bit misguided. I think everyone can agree that knowing how to read is one of the most fundamental skills necessary to participate in society.

Beginning in 2017, any third grade student that is not a proficient reader (or is substantially deficient as defined by the Iowa Code) will either repeat the third grade or attend a summer school program that focuses on intensive reading instruction. This is a state law that was part of the education reform legislation passed in 2012. The first group of students that will be impacted by this law are currently in 2nd grade. If your child is struggling with reading you will want to pay close attention and ask a lot of questions!

Elementary schools have always included a strong emphasis on reading instruction. The fact is, I believe that teaching kids to read is the most important subject we cover in elementary school. If you take a look at the typical instructional schedule of an elementary classroom, you will clearly see that priority in the amount of time that is devoted to reading. Naturally however, as students progress through their formative years, the amount of time devoted to reading instruction begins to diminish as other content areas are introduced to the schedule. A shift begins to happen around the fourth grade where instead of learning how to read, we use reading as a tool to learn. For example, students begin to use textbooks as a source of content. An assignment for instance might include reading a chapter in a science book and drawing conclusions based on that content. Students who have not developed strong reading skills in advance of that shift to 'reading to learn' are going to begin to struggle more, not only in reading but in other content areas as well.   

There are some concerns about this arbitrary approach to retention. For starters, there is an assumption that schools can somehow get all students to reach this benchmark at a predetermined point in time. To accept this premise would, I believe remove the individuality and humanness of the students we work with daily in our schools. Consider this: in a factory or manufacturing industry we can set quotas for production. Certainly General Motors has a certain number of cars that are expected to come off the assembly line in a given day. John Deere most likely utilizes a quota system to produce a certain amount of tractors. This system works well for manufacturing industries because cars and tractors are not people. Those industries are dealing with a raw material that is fixed, stable, uniform, rigid, and orderly. This enables those assembly lines to operate in a systematic and efficient manner. What happens when that raw material isn't uniform? It's imperfection makes it unusable and therefore it is discarded (hence the quality control department).

Students on the other hand are human. Unique. Individual. Interesting. Even your doppelganger or twin is different!

The Iowa law is based on similar legislation that was enacted in Florida many years ago. The results of that law were mixed and certainly not definitive. For example, the Florida results suggested that reading results of fourth grade students increased as a result of this law. Think about that for a moment. Why wouldn't they? If you have retained the struggling readers and they are still in the third grade, it stands to reason the scores of fourth grade students are going to be higher!

Further, the retention law seems contrary to decades of research into holding kids back. The 'benefits' of retention are only temporary and usually wear off within five years. In fact, after five years students who were retained are more likely to be behind their peers and have a much greater statistical likelihood of dropping out of school. 

There are instances where retention may be necessary and the right choice. However, I believe those decisions are best left to those who have the most intimate knowledge of the situation: the parents, classroom teacher, and principal. To legislate retention based on an arbitrary measure does not seem like the right approach. Our task and goal in Hudson will be to focus on the intervention and remediation aspects of the law, hopefully minimizing the likelihood that children will be held back. 

Teaching students to read isn't going to work with a one size fits all model of instruction or an assembly line approach to education. These are kids, not widgets in a widget factory.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Special Education Programming

Two weeks ago I wrote an article revisiting the concept of categorical funding. Within that article, I shared that our special education expenses for the year that just ended were in excess of $1.5 Million. Considering that total general fund expenditures for this year were $7.4 Million, that is a significant percentage of our total (20%). However, students served in special education programs are not tied to the same per pupil limitations ($6,541 in Hudson this year), and therefore the normal cap of spending authority for Iowa public schools does not apply. Depending on the student served in the program and their specific needs, students are weighted from 1-3. For example, a student with minimal needs may be weighted at 1.72. A student with moderate learning needs may be weighted at 2.21, and a student with significant educational needs is weighted at the maximum of 3.74. This means that a student with a 3.74 weighting wouldn't generate $6,541, but would instead generate $24,463.34. That is a lot for one student, but believe it or not that often isn't enough for the neediest of our students! We'll discuss why that is in a minute.

But first, why aren't special education programs limited by normal spending authority limitations? Because special education law is governed by the federal statute known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In this law, a students education is guided by what is known as an individualized educational plan (IEP). This educational plan is designed and developed by a team of people that include the teachers working with the student, consultants from the AEA, the building principal, and the parents. From time to time additional team members may be added as the need arises. When appropriate, the student also participates in the discussion. The IEP outlines what educational services will be provided, by whom, and any other factors that are of pertinent value. The plan also specifies what the learning difficulty is and how instruction will be designed to meet the specific and individual needs of that student.

As you have probably already surmised, special education programming is more expensive than general education programming. There are multiple reasons for this, but for starters it is important to note that special education classes are much smaller than general education classes. The specific size of the class is determined by the teachers case load and they never reach the capacity of a typical general education classroom. The higher the weighting of the student, the smaller the class size. Further, some of our students may require the assistance of an adult one on one during the day, and as a result have a paraprofessional that is assigned to them. In the majority of cases, our students are served right here in Hudson. However, for some of our students we either don't have the capacity to meet their specific needs or we don't offer the very specialized programming that will best meet the needs of that individual. We are very lucky to have some excellent options in our area to serve these students!

The process to identify students for specialized education is quite lengthy and very involved. It includes the collection of a vast data set over an extended period of time, many meetings with a team of educators and the principal, and having the classroom teacher try and test multiple teaching strategies to see if there are other factors that might be impacting the child's education that fall outside the realm of special education. While this is oftentimes frustrating for the parents, student, and even classroom teacher it is important the process is followed. At the end of the process, we must ensure that we are serving those who truly qualify for services. Because we are so committed to getting this right, we have to take our time. Also, since this is governed by IDEA and funded in part with federal money, we have to ensure that we are not over identifying students. As a general guideline, special education populations in schools should not exceed 10%. In Hudson, we are oftentimes above that, most recently we were hovering right around 12%, The good news here is that as we identify our students in the elementary, by the time they reach the higher grades they begin to 'age out' of the programming. That is a testament to the hard work of our educators and the effectiveness of our programming. The goal is always to get students to a point where they don't need special education.

Finally, if you believe your child is experiencing difficulty in learning, please contact your child's teacher or principal.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Fair Winds and Following Seas

As far as students are concerned our school year did get off to a good start. For an explanation of why and how that can be true in spite of all the friction, I might refer you to my September 2nd post. Nevertheless, we had to contend with quite a distraction the last several weeks. The school board meeting on September 16th provided much needed closure and I am confident that we will now move on as a school district. Instead of continuing to belabor the issue, I instead will let the content and context of the press releases speak for themselves. Both are available on our website. As a bookend, we would be remiss if we didn't acknowledge the deeply held opinions on both sides and reaffirm the idea that all voices are important, provided that they are respectful and accurate in their dissent or concurrence. Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank the faculty and staff for their professional conduct throughout, their ability to always stay above the line, and for their complete voluntary and unrequested show of support.

Now we get to hit the reset button. Each September, the school board has the opportunity to hold it's annual organizational meeting and start over. And every other year we hold a school board election. It is by mere happenstance that we now have this chance to refocus our work and clearly state once again that our Core Purpose is to 'Create Learning Environments That Result in Success for All Students'. As you are all aware, Director Tanya Higgins decided early on that she would not seek re-election to the board, and Director David Ball successfully sought and was elected to her seat. Incumbent Karyn Finn is now beginning her second term. 

Following the election and in advance of the organizational meeting we hold the 'Final Meeting of the Retiring Board'. Part ceremonial and part statutory, we largely view this as a time to honor and recognize those who's service is coming to an end. 

President Griffith presents Emeritus Director Higgins
with a plaque honoring her service to the school board.
So as we begin this new term, I would like to first start out by thanking Director Higgins for her work on behalf of the Hudson Community School District these last four years. Tanya was a fantastic member of the board that always understood the vital role she played in governance of the school district. As a leader, she understood full well the firewall that exists between governance and administration and always respected that line. Not comfortable with the status quo, she challenged me as the superintendent and wasn't afraid to disagree. Further, anyone who is currently serving or has served in the past knows full well that the work of a school board member is usually a thankless job, and as all have been reminded the last couple of weeks it can be a stressful job! The amount of knowledge and information that a board member must digest on a regular basis to prepare for the board meeting often includes board packets that are in excess of 100 pages, and to assume the work of a board member only requires one business meeting a month is naive. 

There has been a lot to celebrate during Tanya's time on the board. We can point to many facility upgrades, new and research based curricular material, an improved financial position, and the implementation of our connected learning project. You can see Director Emeritus Higgins' leadership along with that of her colleagues in many of these successes that we can celebrate in our district. 

In the Navy, during a change of command, the retirement of a sailor, or commissioning of a ship, the phrase 'Fair Winds and Following Seas' is used to wish good luck and fortune on our next voyage in life. It seems fitting here to use that same quote here as we thank Tanya for her service and seat our new board.

I am excited for the future of the Hudson Community School District and look forward to working with this new board! We have a lot of exciting decisions to make in the coming months and years.

Board of Directors for the Hudson Community School
District. Pictured from left to right: President Jerry Griffith,
Vice President Karyn Finn, Directors Liz Folladori,
David Ball, and Traci Trunck.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Categorical Funding Revisited

Early in the summer, I wrote an article that discussed what are known as categorical funds in Iowa school budgets. If you recall, school budgets are comprised of multiple funds that make up the overall budget. Our budget for the school year that just began assumes a spending plan of $10,077,172. However, those funds need to be spent in a very specific way and cannot be cross pollinated between different funds. For example, we cannot pay for wages and benefits of employees using funds from the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL). 

The largest fund that makes up our school budget is referred to as the general fund. The general fund spending plan for the current fiscal year anticipates expenditures of $7,839,172. This includes salaries, benefits, transportation, instructional materials, some maintenance, and other related items. But nestled within the general fund is another subset of categorical funds that can only be used for even more specific purposes. The largest subset of categorical funds in the general fund is in the area of special education. As it's name implies, those funds can only be used for special education purposes and programming. In other words, these funds cannot be used to hire a teacher that works exclusively in third grade, or to hire a family and consumer science teacher in the high school. In case you are wondering, last year our special education program expenses were $1,503,910.08.

It doesn't just end at special education either. We have categorical funds in approximatley 8 different areas: At-Risk, Dropout Prevention (yes, this is different from At-Risk), Mentoring, Iowa Core Curriculum Implementation Funds, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership, Talented and Gifted, and Early Literacy. This is in addition to another subset of federal categorical funds that we refer to as the Title Programs (Title I, IIA, VI, and Part B) As I stated in my June 17th article, there is a problem with this and it becomes quite complicated.

Let's say we would like to hire a teacher in kindergarten because the class size is too large. Well, upon examination of fund balances, we may notice that all the Iowa Core Curriculum Implementation money from the prior fiscal year has not been spent. Take it a step further and assume that you have a plan for implementation and have fully funded your plan, leaving this reserve balance. Many would think that it makes sense to use this reserve fund to help cover the cost of hiring the new teacher. I agree! Unfortunately, there is no flexibility in the use of these categorical funds. No matter what, they need to stay with that category. As another example, you can't take excess funds from one category and apply them for employee raises in another category.

So then, how do we get to the total of $10,077,172? Well, aside from the general fund, we have an activity fund budget this year of $466,000. This fund is used to pay for all the athletic equipment and student activities. It cannot be used to pay for the salaries of coaches and activity advisors. Those still must be paid out of the general fund.

We anticipate expenditures in our management fund to be around $257,000. Some may believe this fund implies expenditures related to the management of the organization. That is a good guess, but not true. The primary expenditure that comes out of this fund is the cost of our property and casualty insurance for the school district. We also use this fund to pay deductibles against insurance claims. The only other expense in the management fund is early retirement benefits.

Two separate funds comprise the capital projects component of our budget and can be used for a broad array of capital improvement projects. These are the funds that are used to purchase computers for our students, fund the restroom renovations, the stadium lights, or the hotel property. First is the Sales Tax, where our spending plan calls for $790,000 of improvements this school year. The PPEL fund is the other arm of capital projects and with an anticipated budget of $387,000 we use this to replace vehicles in our fleet. The fact is that at our next board meeting, we hope to approve the purchase of a new school bus that we believe will cost somewhere around $90,000.

The final fund that makes up the school budget is known as the nutrition fund. This is the fund that is used to operate the hot lunch program where we have budgeted $338,000 this year.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Authentic Intellectual Work

Iowa law requires that teachers participate in at least 36 hours of peer collaboration annually. This is the primary reason that several years ago in Hudson we began utilizing an early dismissal each Wednesday. So, when  school dismisses at 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon, teachers go to work on improving practice in their classrooms. The first hour of this early dismissal is set aside for collaboration while the second hour is designed for building level professional development. 

AIW practice scoring during Wednesday
professional development
The preferred model of collaboration in the elementary continues to be the PLC, which has served us well for the last four plus years and will continue to be a staple in this building. The trouble is that the same model is not as easily replicated in secondary grades because the majority of those teachers do not share the same content. What makes PLC so powerful is the collaboration that occurs among teachers who share content. For example, all the third grade teachers are responsible for teaching reading. This means they can discuss strategies specific to the instruction of this content and share the results of their instruction with their colleagues. At the secondary level, there is only one physics teachers. It is kind of difficult to collaborate by yourself. There is no other physics teacher to share ideas with.

So a new approach to this collaboration is being undertaken in the secondary school, one that is unique, fits extremely well within the framework of PLC, and certainly will improve practice in the classrooms. The process is referred to as authentic intellectual work (AIW).

Final practice scoring session of AIW. 
With this model of collaboration, each week an assigned teacher brings a lesson or unit for discussion to their collaborative team. That lesson is then presented for review to the team, who follow a predetermined protocol of analysis. The idea behind this type of collaboration is to take that lesson and improve upon it. Teachers may be asked to specify which Iowa Core learning standards are being presented and then to explain how they are measuring student success. They may be asked to share what value the lesson has beyond high school. Again, the whole point of this collaboration is to take a lesson, have peers review it, and then to make it better. 

This type of collaboration requires our educators to take a risk. They have to be willing to share a work product and invite their colleagues to closely scrutinize it in an effort that will ultimately improve student outcomes. Faculty participating in the teacher leadership system began piloting this process late last spring with a goal of full implementation this school year. At the beginning of this year, our faculty participated in an intense two day training process to learn the philosophy behind AIW. During this time, they had the chance to practice scoring sample lessons and enjoying rich conversations about what powerful and engaging instruction should look like. For the first two weeks of school, Mr. Dieken challenged them with unique practice samples and had them share out what they had learned. The conversations this faculty have been engaged in are outstanding! I am excited for them as they begin the next phase of their learning as teachers begin to bring their own work and lessons that will be part of practice.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Starting Strong With Teacher Leaders

School started much earlier than August 24th for our employees. While August 1st is a date that is circled on the calendar for the building principals, we also begin to see many other faculty and staff around the first part of the month. Most teachers are excited for the beginning of year and are eager to get a jump start on setting up their classroom. Others might be moving into new assignments, so they want to get in early and start planning for curriculum they haven't taught before. I have to tell you, I was impressed and amazed at the number of teachers that were in the district well in advance of being required! Some of our veterans were here providing leadership and collaborating with new colleagues, while others were building relationships with newly assigned instructional colleagues. Yet, for another group of educators (our teacher leaders) they had different purpose for arriving early: plan for the return of the rest of the faculty.

The beginning of the school year always begins with an overload of teacher meetings and in service 'opportunities' for our faculty. Some of this includes annual training on bullying and harassment to bloodborne pathogens. I say 'opportunities' tongue and cheek because in the past I think it is safe to say that our opening in services for our teachers were viewed as anything but opportunities. When I was a teacher (let's not talk about how long ago that was, shall we?), professional development was viewed as something that was done to us rather than for us. That is really beginning to change with teacher leadership.

After a year under our belt with a teacher leadership system we are really beginning to hit our stride with how we deploy and use these very valuable teacher leaders! One of their primary roles is ensuring that our professional development plan is relevant and able to provide that strong linkage to practice that we know will become embedded in instruction. My take is that our teacher leaders are truly crushing it!

Teacher leaders meet for collaboration with building
principals early in the school year.
To start the school year, our instructional math coach, Mrs. Owen-Kuhn, selected and organized two fantastic professional development opportunities for our faculty. For starters, all of our K-3 faculty is engaged in developing and implementing numeracy strategies that will be useful for the continued support of our  math program, which we are now in the 3rd year of implementation. Then, because grade levels have different needs, grades 4-6 will be focusing on instructional strategies useful in teaching fractions. This professional development theme will be prevalent throughout the school year and alter back and forth between math and literacy.

This year Mrs. Kiewiet begins as our new instructional coach in literacy. Working in collaboration with Mrs. Engels who served in that role last year, they identified a need to provide teachers with tools that will enable them to better utilize their new literacy resources. Moving into year two of the Wonders program, our teachers are engaged in a study of Super Core, which is designed to provide strategies and ideas for getting the maximum benefit out of our curriculum. Each Wednesday during early out, the teachers will alternate between math one week and literacy the next.

Mr. Lewis continues to knock it out of the park in his role as instructional coach for technology. As we have moved to the Google platform this year, there is quite a learning curve as it comes to sharing documents and collaborating with this type of platform. That is not to mention his continued work with our LMS. When teachers have trouble with Canvas, they can count on Mr. Lewis to help them out and give them the pointers they need!

So about that start to the school year?

The weather to start the school year was about as perfect as you could ask for--I guess up until Friday when we almost floated away because of the relentless pounding rain. Going into the second week of school we are expecting (and experiencing) a late August and early September heat wave. But then, lets talk about that start of the school year, shall we? Starting school on a Monday is uncommon, and most teachers will testify to the fact that if they had their wish, we most certainly would not have done it in this way. Truthfully, I can't remember a time in my career when we actually started school on a Monday with students and had a full week of school. However, extenuating circumstances with the new law dictating that school couldn't start prior to August 23rd really set into motion the school calendar we are living with. Certainly there are a few outliers that are starting school this week, but for the most part schools in Iowa have a week under their belts at this time.

While reading with a purpose, Mrs Douglas conferences
with  a student during a  lesson early last week.
By the end of that first week of instruction, there were many very tired people! As you might expect, the youngest of our students may have been the most worn out. Consider the fact that kindergartners, never having experienced school before are suddenly thrust into a week long schedule that was regimented in a manner they have never before experienced! We might also consider the rest of our student body--after all they have been on a much different schedule during summer. Certainly they have had later bedtimes and a schedule where they haven't been required to get up quite as early in the morning! This sudden change in schedule can leave even the most seasoned of educators exhausted after readjusting to a school schedule.

Nevertheless, the start to the school year we just experienced was one of the strongest that I can remember. I think that might be because of all the hard work that started in the weeks before students even entered the school buildings.