Wednesday, August 26, 2015

School Board Election on September 8

A school board election is coming up on September 8th, and I want to remind you to get out and cast your vote. Voting is one of the most important rights we can exercise as citizens and your voice needs to be heard! Tanya Higgins will not seek a second term while Karyn Finn, incumbent and current Board Member will run for reelection. Joining Karyn on the ballot is David Ball. Learn more about your school board candidates below. There is no doubt you will be impressed with the passion they share for education and the enthusiasm they have for board service!

Karyn Finn, Incumbent Board Member, Candidate for School Board

Karyn Finn
Where did you grow up, educational background and current work?
I grew up in New Orleans, LA with all the ethnic, cultural, food and music diversity that the Big Easy has to offer. I met my husband in NOLA followed his developing career and eventually moved to Hudson, Iowa in 1999.  I have a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education-Athletic Training (Tulane University), an Associate of Applied Science in Surgical Technology (Hawkeye CC) and a Master of Arts in Community Health Education (University of Northern Iowa). Currently I am the Director of Pediatric Integrated Health at Lutheran Services and  Adjunct Instructor at University of Northern Iowa.

Tell us about your family?

My husband, Kevin, and I moved to Hudson 16 years ago with three children. Two of our children have graduated from Hudson (Juliann ‘12 & Ryan ‘14) and Carmen is currently a Senior at Hudson. In May 2015, Juliann graduated from Iowa State University (Journalism & International Studies) and Ryan is in his second year (AFROTC and Engineering) at ISU.

What drew you to Board Service?
As a mother of three and current school board member, I know our public schools are essential to building a strong community and educating our children for the future. I am running again because I value the high quality educational opportunities that are available in Hudson. I am a dedicated public servant and community member who has been an advocate  for children and families for many years in Music Boosters, Early Childhood Iowa Diversity Committee, American Heart Association and was appointed in 2015 by Governor Branstad to the Iowa Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee.

What do you believe is the greatest challenge for education in Iowa?
Our biggest constraint right now is the timely commitment by the state to financially support the public education programs in Iowa as stated in the Legislative Code. In order to meet educational needs, staffing, curriculum, etc.  timely support allows efficient and responsible planning by schools to accommodate the mission and vision of school district.

What do you believe is the greatest challenge for education in Hudson?
I believe our greatest challenge is to continue to have competitive educational program preparing students for the 21st century while preserving the values and lifestyle of a rural community like Hudson.  My Grandfather from Mexico always said ‘get an education; it is something that can open doors and can never be taken away.’ It was a true statement then and is especially true now in preparing our children for the future: forward-thinking innovative education will be the key.

What do you hope to accomplish by serving on the Board?
I am proud of participating in our District’s accomplishments over my past four years. The Board has made tough decisions that  resulted in a fiscally sound budget, 99% graduation rate for several years and  lowering property taxes for the property owners in our district. I will to continue to support a strong local community school district in Hudson. I am also the first Latino elected in Hudson and Blackhawk County.

Dave Ball, Candidate for School Board

Where did you grow up, go to school, college (degrees earned), and where to you work? 
David Ball
I Grew up in Dubuque, Iowa where I graduated from Wahlert Catholic High School. I served 3 years as an M.P. in the U.S. Army. Post-secondary education includes: Associate of Arts from Kirkwood Community College, Bachelor of Arts in Sociology/Political Science from Mount Mercy University and Master of Arts in Educational Leadership and Public Policy from Iowa State University. For the past 24 years I have worked in higher education with 11 of those years spent currently at Hawkeye Community College as the Director of Admissions, Student Life and Athletics.    

Tell us about your family. 
My wife Lisa and I moved to Hudson 6 years ago. We have three adult children. Ryan is an administrator for Humana Insurance Corporation, Emily is Regional Director of Junior Achievement and Drew is an attorney in Chicago. 

What drew you to Board service?
I served on a school board for several years in a district much the same size as Hudson. I feel this experience can benefit the District. Hudson has been a great place to live and I feel it is my responsibility to get involved in the community.

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing education in Iowa?
Equitable and sustainable funding continues to be a challenge and one that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Integrating technology into the curriculum continues to be a topic schools districts need to stay on top of as well. 

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing education in Hudson?
In the short term, how to preserve classrooms with the most efficient students to teacher ratio in the face of overall declining enrollment numbers.

What do you hope to accomplish by serving on the Board?
I hope to offer an objective and unique point of view. I work closely with 27 schools within our geographic region and have been exposed to best practices from around the area as well as the state. I hope to lend that knowledge and experience to the School Board team.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Welcome Back Address to the Faculty and Staff

It is so good to see you all! It has been a long time since we were all together! My hope is that this extended summer has afforded you the opportunity to get some much deserved rest, the good fortune to vacation, and the freedom to spend time with your families! Now here we are, preparing once again for the start of a new school year.

Aren’t you excited to begin the anew? There sure seems to be something appealing about a new school year! No matter your age, position, or grade level everyone seems to be ready with nervous excitement over the prospects of starting school. We get to see all of our friends and colleagues that we have been away from during the summer. Perhaps this is an opportunity to show off our new outfit or shoes? Maybe share a few pictures from our family vacation? To be sure, I know you are anxious to get started! Many of you have taken classes over the summer and are eager to try out that cutting-edge instructional strategy, or have some new tools in your kit that will assist with classroom management. Others have new assignments and may be looking forward to seeing how your new classroom furniture arrangement will work. Wherever your excitement lies, I am confident you are patiently waiting for me to finish so you can get on with your day of learning and working! Perhaps the best news I have for you this morning is that we are not starting anything new this year! Our plan is to continue to nurture, grow and build on the already strong foundation of initiatives that are currently in place.

Last year we were among the pioneers in Iowa as one of the first 39 schools to bring teacher leadership to our state. This year, 76 districts around the state will join in this exciting work and they will be looking to districts like Hudson for leadership and guidance. We are happy to oblige them! As our teacher leadership system continues to develop and mature, I would encourage you to take advantage of everything this has to offer! If you need assistance in your classroom, help with a problem of practice, or wish to share something new and exciting that you are doing with your students, take advantage and leverage your teacher leadership team! They are here to serve your needs by being a teacher centered resource. Our mission for this organizational structure remains constant: strengthened instruction through embedded professional development. I have no doubt we will be better this year than we were last!

Two years into the implementation of our new math curriculum we are beginning to see results. District wide, we have seen the proficiency of our students increase from 80.97% in 2013-2014 to 84.27% in 2014-2015 when considering all students across all subgroups. In addition to this, growth across the grade level cohort exceeded expected growth at every grade level when considering all student groups. I have no doubt that as we move into year 3 of this implementation these scores will continue to compound, particularly in light of the power and promise of teacher leadership!

However, these resources are only partially responsible for the gains we are beginning to see in student achievement. The real magic is in your hard work and diligence; one that ensures an effective learning environment resulting in success for all students.
  • I see this hard work in your classrooms with clearly articulated learning objectives or ‘I Can’ statements. The fact is these statements connect learning directly to the Iowa Core Academic Standards, thus providing a powerful linkage for student outcomes.
  • I see this in the collaboration that is occurring in your PLC meetings each week—and I am excited as you begin this year to take an even greater risk by diving into formative assessment data, ensuring that you are intervening early when a student struggles in the classroom.
  • I see it in the way many of you have welcomed teacher leaders into your classroom to model instruction or help solve a problem of practice.
  • I see it in the way some of you have boldly accepted the mantle of teacher leadership.
  • I see it in dynamic, energetic, and engaging instruction in your classrooms.
  • I see it in the long hours and extra time that you put in to plan for instruction, the times that you stay late to help that student finish a project, benefit from some extra direction, or to be present for that student who simply doesn’t want to go home because you might be the only one that truly cares for them.
It is undeniable that we are on the right track—because of your dedication and commitment to the students you serve. But yet, much work remains to be done. Our immediate challenge is meeting the requirements of being designated a SINA school in the area of reading in our elementary school. While the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act (No Child Left Behind) continues to languish in Congress, I am confident that we will finally see a bill reconciliation that will be signed by the President that removes the arbitrary and capricious sanctions that have been the mainstay of the federal accountability framework. Nevertheless, the good news is we have laid the groundwork and know what we need to do. We have the resources and the personnel to take the students in Hudson Schools to the next level. I am confident and grateful that you are the ones to do this very important work!

So, what’s in store for this year?

First, consider all that we have going on right now: PLC, AIW, new reading curriculum, new math curriculum, connected learning, pirate term, MTSS, FAST Assessments, teacher leadership—it may seem like we have many spinning plates right now! Yet if you examine this under the umbrella of teacher leadership, a system designed to flatten the leadership structure of our district by sharing leadership functions; you should be able to visualize how all of these different initiatives scaffold together and create a robust professional development program. This will enable us to reinforce our PLC work—now in our fourth year of implementation by creating an interdependent system of continuous improvement designed to strengthen instruction through embedded professional development.

Looking around, you will notice that our facilities look great! A lot of credit needs to go not only to our contractors for maintaining an aggressive timeline but to our own maintenance crew. They have worked very hard to ensure that classroom spaces and offices were prepared for your return here today. They had a very challenging summer in their own right! I especially want to thank our maintenance staff and elementary teachers for their quick scramble the last two days to make way for an added section of 6th grade. 

We also have a number of new employees this year—and they are joining us for the first time this morning. Please join me in welcoming them to our district. Introduce yourself to them and offer them a hand!

The beginning of the school year is always an exciting time as we catch up with our friends and colleagues—and look forward with anticipation to seeing all of our students in a few days. Enjoy these days and have a great start to the school year! I look forward to your contributions and am eager to join you as we work to Create Effective Learning Environments That Result in Success for All Students.

It’s Good to be a Pirate!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What Should A Grade Measure?

Standards based grading is becoming more and more popular around the state and even the country particularly in this era of increased accountability. I have written about it on several occasions with such posts as Does Class Rank Still Matter?, I Can!, and A Smarter Way to Assess the Iowa Core. While these are just a few examples, this theme of measuring student learning has been prevalent throughout many of my columns. The concept, by in large is relatively easy to grasp: A student either meets the standard or they don't. On a report card, standards based reporting uses a simple, easy to understand and rudimentary system: meets expectations, progressing toward expectations, or doesn't met expectations at this time. One would think this would be incredibly useful information not only for the teacher and student, but for the parent. Don't we want to know if our students have mastered the content that we have taught in school? Undoubtedly this concept is becoming more popular but it is a long way from becoming mainstream in Iowa. The primary reason against could be that our standard exemplar of grading in American schools is a system where we utilize a traditional A-F scale and then rank and order our students. It's what everyone understands because it is what we all grew up with. If, for example we tell a student or parent that they meet expectations, what do you think the first question they ask will be?

I think it would be something like, OK, they meet expectations--but what does that equate to? Is it an 'A', or a 'B'? Maybe a 'C' or 'D'? After all, under all those scenarios the student is meeting expectations aren't they? That really depends on the question that you ask! You either know your basic math facts or you don't. But if the question is framed differently and broken down into standards, it might tell a different story. Perhaps the students does know all their addition and subtraction facts, but they are still progressing on multiplying by '9s'. Which is more useful for you as a parent? To know that your students got a 'B' in math, or to know that they have mastered all their basic facts except that one facet of the multiplication table? What does the 'B' really tell you?  

Additionally in education, we tend to add a whole bunch of other criteria to grades that really have nothing to do with whether or not the student has mastered the skill. For example, if a student has worked really hard, put forth a lot of effort, and isn't trouble in class (in other words a good kid), we might give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps we raise that grade a half a notch because of all that hard work.  

So this begs the question, would you rather have the mechanic that fixes the brakes on your car be a hard worker, or someone that really knows what they are doing? Don't get me wrong, we like hard workers! This is an important attribute and something that I am interested in having knowledge of when hiring employees. But I am not sure that is more important than knowing if someone can actually do the job! The fact is, we want to understand qualifications first and foremost! You may be the hardest worker in the world, but if you don't know how to fix my brakes it doesn't matter--I don't want you working on my car!

We also have this habit of docking student grades if they are late. Now, to be fair I am all for consequences if a student misses a deadline, but I am not certain impacting a student grade is the best practice here. If a student gets all the correct responses on a task but is late in completing it, does this mean that they don't know the concept, or does it mean they lack the ability to act responsibly?

The truth is that when we use superfluous criteria to evaluate student learning we are not getting an accurate depiction of what that student can or cannot do. Furthermore, letter grades in absence of context and meaningful feedback do little to provide the data that is needed in order to move the needle on student achievement.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Parents, Please Advocate for Hudson Schools!

Although the 2015 legislative session only recently ended, its time to begin planning for the next General Assembly which is set to convene on January 11, 2016. The last legislative session was not good for education in Iowa, so our advocacy is as important now as it has ever been before. Legislators are used to hearing from school superintendents, administrators, teachers, and board members. After awhile it seems like our advocacy falls on deaf ears and legislators just get tired of hearing from us. Recently you may have heard the story about a teacher in Waterloo who was told by a legislator to 'stop whining' when he advocated for a special session to overturn the Governor's recent veto. I read the text of this email exchange and was very surprised at the tone of the legislators response. Because of this and the fact that our efforts were not very successful it is evident that we need your help. There are a lot more of you than there are of me, and if we can get parents involved in our advocacy efforts I think you can help make a difference. Here is what we believe are the highest priorities for the next legislative session.

Adequate and Timely Supplemental State Aid: You should not be surprised to see this item at the top of the list. Supplemental state aid is the primary driver of how much our budget will grow year over year. To put this into context, we expect our general fund budget expenditures for the fiscal year that just began to be somewhere in the vicinity of $7,800,000. On the revenue side, total state aid for Hudson Schools this year is $4,115,969 and grew by a total of $25,895 (supplemental state aid). The remainder of our revenue is comprised of property taxes, miscellaneous income, and reserve funds (what is commonly referred to as unspent balance). As we make final preparations for the 2015-2016 school year, we are carefully evaluating enrollments at each grade level. If it became necessary to hire a teacher the expected expenditures will grow from the expected $7,800,000--and I can promise you that the $25,895 in revenue growth will not cover this increase. That increase will be paid from our reserves. Reserves can only be spent once.

Management Fund Flexibility: School budgets are comprised of multiple funds. In the example above, I was talking about the general fund which is the largest component of a school budget. However, in addition to the general fund there are six other funds that make up our total budget. The sum of all these funds projects total spending of around $10.07 Million. If you have been following this blog for long, you are aware of the concept of categorical funding. Basically, you can have one fund that has no money in it, while the other fund may be flush with cash. You can only spend this money only on specified purposes. Once such fund is the management fund. Flexibility in the number of allowable expenditures in the management fund would relieve pressure to the general fund. We made some progress this last legislative session with this fund but much work remains!

Continued Funding of Early Literacy Initiative: Thankfully this has been funded the last three years. For Hudson, we are looking at approximately $17,329. This money is used to purchase curriculum, target strategies that are proven to be effective in remeidating reading deficiencies, and screening tools. Very soon, a portion of this will be used to help pay for intensive summer reading programs for struggling readers. Keep in mind that Iowa law requires students to be proficient in reading by the end of 3rd grade beginning in 2017. If they are not, they must be retained and/or participate in a mandatory summer reading program.

School Governance: School districts in Iowa are governed by what is know as Dillon's Rule. This means that local school boards only have the authority that is explicitly granted to them in the Code of Iowa. Bottom line: if there is a question about the authority of the local governmental entity, then the governmental entity does not receive the benefit of the doubt. By contrast, local municipalities (such as city governments) operate under what is known as Home Rule. This allows the local municipality to make decisions for itself without receiving specific approval from the state. The extent of this power, is subjective to the laws of the state and constitution. Indeed Home Rule epitomizes the concept of local control, whereas Dillon's Rule creates barriers and is a cumbersome and outdated statute.

If you would like to learn more about these or any other advocacy issues that are important to Iowa schools, please feel free to contact me! Your help and advocacy will be critical as we move into the next legislative session.