Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Great Year Comes to a Close

Well folks, this is going to be my last post of 2016. I plan to take the next couple of weeks off to enjoy the holidays. Although I plan on being in the district next week during this break in the action, most of my time will be relegated to beginning the initial planning for the 2017-2018 school year. Foremost on the agenda will be creating several draft calendars. It is usually during this work where I have an opportunity to reflect on the year that has just ended. I suppose building a new calendar makes one a bit nostalgic!

What a wonderful year we have had! There is just so much to make us both proud and thankful! Our athletic program has continued to perform at very high levels with several of our teams competing in the state tournament. Many of those accomplishments have been discussed recent posts, but thinking back on the calendar year as a whole: we don't want to forget the excitement of our boys soccer team who also had a very successful run at the state tournament. Remember how hot it was those days?

A big change this year was the retirement of our longtime music teachers, Mrs. Anderson and Mr. Jensen. These high profile positions were ones that we had to make sure that we got right, because there are some high expectations for our music department. As I say to my colleagues, we take our music program pretty seriously at Hudson! Well, the proof is in the pudding because our music program continues to amaze us at performance after performance!

Speaking of retirement, the makeup of our faculty and staff is very different than it was one year ago! In fact, this time last year we really had no idea the number of employees we would have retire. By my count we have nine new faculty members on staff! They are doing an amazing job by the way!

The last couple of weeks I have shared with you some of the outstanding work of our teaching faculty. You now know that not only can we state this based on our observations, but we have been able to begin to quantify these results. A little teaser here: the Iowa School Report Card will be released sometime in early January. I have had an opportunity to have a sneak peak and can't wait to show you the results for our schools!

You have probably also noticed in the last couple of years that I haven't spent much time visiting with you about the status of our budget. That is because we have a healthy budget and are financially stable. I will always advocate for greater funding for our schools, and based on the rhetoric that we are hearing as legislators are gearing up for the legislative session it sounds like we are going to be in for a rough session. The good news is that we currently have reserves that should enable us to weather low state aid. (State aid has been inadequate for years now, but we'll save that for another column after the new year! 😊)

Parents join their first graders to build gingerbread houses
prior to break. An annual tradition at #hudsonschools!

Obviously the biggest driver of our school budget is enrollment, and I reported in October that enrollment was down this year, but it is not something that should be all that concerning. If you read the enrollment report, I shared that based on our projections we should have reached the 'low water mark' in terms of student enrollment. With our smallest class in the district graduating in May, that is good news moving forward. Using what we call the 'cohort methodology' based on a five year rolling average, it appears that our enrollment is set to begin to rise.

Part of that enrollment increase should be attributed to some wise decisions by our city council that will bring more families into our community. As you are already aware, construction in the second addition of Upper Ridges is well underway and the Meadowbrook Condominium project is slated to break ground shortly after the new year.

In all, a pretty good year if you ask me! Fact is, I am pretty excited and stoked to see what comes next! I would like to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I'll see you when school resumes on January 4th. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Teacher Leadership: Proof That it Works!

I have used a lot of ink over the past three years extolling the virtues of our teacher leadership system and sharing with you all the good work that we have been able to do under this system. By distributing and flattening our leadership structure, those closest to instruction have been given the authority to make decisions about what works in classrooms. Operating within a defined set of parameters that have been outlined by the Board of Directors, we are able to stay true to our district priorities that include a focus and emphasis on literacy, mathematics, and technology integration.

From a data collection standpoint, it has been (and will continue to be) difficult to draw a straight line from the work of our teacher leaders to performance on the statewide standardized tests known as the Iowa Assessments. I have carried on relentlessly about the fact that the Iowa Assessment does little to measure the effectiveness of instruction in the classroom. I say this because we know that the Iowa Assessment doesn't align well with the Iowa Core Academic Standards. And unfortunately both the Iowa Assessment and Iowa Core Academic Standards are legal requirements that, frankly are the antithesis of one another. So instead, to measure the effectiveness of our teacher leadership system we have relied on a lot of qualitative measures.

The qualitative measures we collect suggest to us that instruction is being strengthened in our schools and we have in fact tightened alignment to the Iowa Core Academic Standards. We have done this by ensuring foremost that what is being taught is what is being assessed. Beyond that, once we administer our assessment; those students who have not yet mastered the content receive supplemental instruction. Now, both the instructional strategies that are being used to deliver the core content and the supplemental strategies that are being deployed for remediation have been researched, developed, designed, field tested, and ultimately delivered by our teacher leadership team. The million dollar question(s) then become, do they work; and how do we know? The short answer is yes, and this where we have hard quantitative data to back up our claim. I am going to get a bit technical, but please bear with me because this is not only fascinating, it is AWESOME!

For this we turn to a statistical measure known as effect size. Effect size compares the difference in scores in a pre-test and a post test analysis. Obviously post-test scores are going to be higher just by virtue of regular classroom instruction. But what we are trying to determine with effect size is quite simply, to what degree is the measure due to normal growth or the introduction of a new strategy or technique? And more importantly, is the growth normal, or statistically significant?

As stated above, one of our district priorities is math instruction and as such we have invested a lot of teacher leadership resources into ensuring that our instructors have access to high quality math instructional strategies that are tested and researched as part of our professional development plan. What we are able to do with effect size then, is measure the success of these instructional strategies. By evaluating our math classroom assessment data in the fall and spring (2015-2016) for K-2 on basic number knowledge and on fraction assessments in grades 3-6, we have been able to measure the effect size. Basically, answering the question, does it work or not?

But before we get to that, let's take a look at what constitutes 'working'. According to the educational researcher John Hattie, an effect size of 0.40 over the span of one entire academic year could be attributed to the normal effect of a classroom teacher. So by virtue of regular classroom instruction we should expect to see an effect size above 0.40. Everything we do is going to have some sore of effect, right? But what we are trying to measure here is the degree to what effect. In the chart to the right, an effect size of 0.20 is considered small. Once the effect size surpasses 0.40, it is considered statistically significant, and that we can begin to notice 'real world differences' and can claim the innovation is effective.

Here is where it gets pretty interesting folks, because as the data table to the left suggests, the innovations are working. But not only are they working, they are working really well! Bear in mind we are looking specifically at the effectiveness of math instruction (number knowledge K-2, fractions 3-6). In every grade level cohort, this data seems to indicate that the effect of instruction is statistically significant. In other words, it goes well beyond merely showing up for class and doing the same things that we have done over and over again.

Now, for the sake of full disclosure I do have to offer some cautionary words of wisdom. For starters, our sample size is relatively small, which makes the data subject to more variation. Obviously we can't overcome that because the size of class is the size of the class. Additionally it is also important to note that this is only one data point and has not been calibrated against other data sources.

Nevertheless, it's pretty cool, isn't it? I would like to thank Joe Kramer from AEA 267 for helping with the statistics of this project and sharing these data points.  He was incredibly helpful in the analysis of this data and answering my multitude of questions.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Miracles Happen Every Day

As discussed in a previous post, we have had a lot to celebrate in our school system recently. Successful athletic teams and great musical performances do a lot to boost morale and strengthen a culture that exudes school pride. Indeed, when the sports teams are winning it seems like everything else in the school tends to operate much more smoothly! Although I readily admit there is a lack of empirical evidence available to suggest a lower rate of absenteeism or fewer disciplinary referrals. Yet there is no mistake that everyone seems to feel a lot better about their school when the volleyball and cross country team(s) end the season as the state tournament runner up! These are the kind of successes that we can easily point to that make us feel good. We can see them, touch them, and celebrate when our team wins.  However, I would suggest that there is so much more below the surface to be proud of-successes on a much grander scale that you are in all likelihood blissfully unaware. 

I submit that miracles happen in our classrooms each and every day of the school year. Unfortunately those miracles are often known only to a handful of people. Miracles in that small space of time when a teacher connects with a student in a way that unlocks a great mystery of learning that had; until that very moment seemed insurmountable. Moments when the teacher reaches into their toolbox of strategies and grasps for their very last idea, and it works. It is then; almost as if you can see the barriers to learning fall away with an expression of wonder on both the face of the teacher and the pupil. For some of our learners this may not only be an instance of jubilant satisfaction and revelation, it can bring both the teacher and student to tears. Success!

Freshman English students learning about lyric poetry recently.
Fortunately for me, I oftentimes have a front row seat to bear witness when these moments of success occur. I have observed the high school student who makes a profound statement about the danger of global overpopulation, where they previously may not have grasped the enormity of life outside our community. And I have seen a second grade classroom perform a 'Readers Theatre' where each and every student, regardless of ability has an opportunity to shine. Some of those students, just weeks prior may have read in halting phrases, painstakingly sounding out words that made it all but impossible to understand and follow a main idea. Or how about the student we were so unsure of, who walks across the stage and receives their high school diploma?

We know the miracle that was witnessed is a result of the hard work that is happening between the teacher and the student. The result of painstaking application of time and field tested strategies. Intense remediation, and the practice that happens during classroom instruction. The extra time and effort that the teacher spends with a student before school, after school, or in what we refer to as 'Pirate Time'.

So while we celebrate with great pride all the success that our school district has had this fall, let's not forget where the real magic is happening! At the end of the day, the score that really counts will be the one in the classroom, and I can tell you those scores indicate that we are winning!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Supporting Residential Development in Hudson

The Hudson City Council voted on Monday night to move forward with a developers proposal to build a series of apartment buildings in the vicinity of Springfield Avenue. Conceptually, the project includes five apartment building consisting of twelve units each. The school district is supportive of this endeavor and encourages the city to move forward with this and other projects like it. Housing inventory that meets a multitude of income ranges is critical to the future of Hudson, and the Hudson Community School District. Since my arrival in Hudson almost seven years ago, the Board and I have lamented the fact that Hudson needs more housing inventory that is affordable for young families. This project is a good first step. 

As Superintendent of Schools I field numerous inquires year round from families who wish to enroll in our outstanding school system. One of the first questions I ask is, "Where do you live?" Often times and unfortunately we are unable to enroll many of these children because they are not residents. When I encourage them to move to Hudson they are unable; either because they can't afford to--or there is a lack of affordable housing inventory. While open enrollment is sometimes an option, families are often devastated to learn their application has been denied because of enrollment policies in place in their own respective resident district.

A lack of affordable housing isn't a phenomenon exclusive to Hudson or the Cedar Valley, as was recently discussed in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on November 20th. The editorial that day did an outstanding job of separating fact from fiction. For starters, the idea that affordable housing will negatively impact educational quality and drive down test scores is nonsensical. In fact, according to the Gazette, "Safe, affordable, and stable housing is a critical key to family stability that enables students to take root and thrive". We need to look no further than some of our own families in the school district who move frequently. It puts undo stress on them and leads to educational gaps, especially when a youngster may be moving from one school district to another. 

We fully understand the unique role the Hudson Community School District plays in our community. Furthermore, we are proud of the symbiotic relationship that exists between the school and the city, and want what's best for Hudson. At the same time all must certainly recognize that our success is interdependent on one another. In order for our city to thrive, so to must our school. And as the council pointed out at this meeting, the economic benefits of this decision are good for the entire community and will grow our tax base. Further, according to the National Association of Realtors, most studies indicate that affordable housing has no long term negative impact on surrounding property values, and some research indicates an increase in value (Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 20). 

Let's also be sure we understand what it is we are talking about here. This is affordable housing, which is a distinctly different paradigm from low income or subsidized housing. Affordable housing is just that: designed for young families that are working and simply don't have an income at this point in their lives that will enable them to make an investment in a home mortgage. When I graduated from college so long ago, I spent the first five years of my career living in an apartment complex that was affordable, in a small town not much unlike Hudson! 

Schools exist where there are children to educate. Obviously without children, there is no school and we have seen the devastating impact this has had on small Iowa communities all around the state. In fact, we don't need to look too far from Hudson to see how this played out. This project is certain to bring children to our community, which will have the benefit of growing our student enrollment as well as the population of our town. We are very lucky in Hudson, people want to move here! This development will provide a solution to a problem I have a front row of observing on a regular basis. When families want to move to town and have their children enroll in school, we will have a place for them to live. 

Hudson is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. People throughout the Cedar Valley recognize that. Our community must continue to move forward and I applaud the City Council on their progressive agenda of growth. I am incredibly proud of the progress that has been made over the last year and support this bold vision. Just look around: development is occurring on the Northern Tier and the second addition of Upper Ridges is open for residential construction. In fact, I eagerly anticipate moving to my new home in just a few short weeks. This apartment project is the next piece needed to move us forward. Again, I offer my strongest endorsement of this project. The school district stands ready to work with the city in any capacity that is requested. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

An Autumn to Remember

I am confident that we will remember this fall not for the brutal political campaign that we just endured, but for the outstanding success of our students. They excelled in everything they did this fall, and we were lucky enough to be along for the ride as we cheered them on to victory or watched with awe as they transformed us to another time and place during the musical. Hopefully these students will serve as inspiration to the next generation of Hudson Pirates who are eager to make their mark when the time comes. Our fall season came to conclusion this past weekend and now we turn the page and begin preparation for our winter season. We can now look forward to basketball, wrestling, and show choir. I am sure that we are going to have a lot more to cheer about in the coming months! Congratulations to all our students on their success so far this year. Here is a recap of 'An Autumn to Remember'!

Mr. Tecklenburg directs the choir in a rousing crescendo
during the fall concert.
Concert band takes the stage, while Mrs. Davis
approaches the podium stage right.
Perhaps there was some nervousness last year when our long time music teachers decided to retire from Hudson. This no doubt because the music department had a reputation, and all wanted to ensure that reputation and tradition remained intact. I can assure you that both Mrs. Davis and Mr. Tecklenburg knew there would be some pretty big shoes to fill. Excellent musicians in their own right, they were bolstered by a deep pool of very talented student musicians. And those students were certainly up to the challenge! Most recently we were treated to the fall musical, "How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying". I don't know about you, but the singing in this production was awesome! Out of fear of forgetting to mention someone by name I will refrain at this time, but to all the students that took part in this show, you set a new bar for excellence in our school! I might also point out that giving our singers the opportunity to perform with a live pit band was a great touch and super experience for our students.

Cast of 'How to Succeed in Business Without Even
Trying performing in the First Act.
But by the time the musical rolled along we weren't all that surprised that our music department was going to continue to function at a very high level. We had already enjoyed a taste of the level of musicianship that was on display during halftime of football games. Our pep band has done an outstanding job, and there is talk of taking a major step in the future. I don't want to spoil it, but I think it is going to be pretty neat for our kids! We can now look forward to hearing the pep band at basketball games this winter.

Hudson Volleyball captures runner up trophy in first
ever state tournament appearance.
Nevertheless, we don't want to forget about the amazing concert our music department had on October 25th! Both our high school concert band and choir performed that evening. It is not uncommon for the first concert of the year to sound like a first concert of the year. That wasn't the case this evening however, as our musicians sounded like they were in mid year form! Fact is, I think they were contest ready!

Football team hosting North Tama during homecoming.
Girls cross country posing with state qualifying banner.
The team will go on to finish as state runner up.
Now, we can't talk about how memorable this fall has been without mentioning the success of our athletic teams! For starters, how about that football season? If what I heard was correct, our team finished the best season they had in twenty-two years, ending up with an 8-2 record overall! We once again made the playoffs, and although our playoff run ended earlier than we would have liked, I think it is important to note that we entered the playoffs with a higher seeding than we had in the past. Finishing second in our district is quite an accomplishment, and I for one am very proud of these young men. Congratulations to Coach Brekke and his staff on an outstanding season.

Boys cross country posing with state qualifying banner.
The team will go on to finish in 8th at the state meet.
I think one of the toughest sports in which to compete has to be cross country. Think about it for a minute. You are out there all alone, competing against yourself. Sure, it is a team sport where points are awarded according to how each athlete finishes, but you are basically out there by yourself, with no one to blame if things go array. It's not like you can blame someone for a missed block, right? Both our boys and girls team had an awesome season and qualified for the state cross country meet. Our girls team finished as runner up while our boys finished in 8th place. Way to go student-athletes and congratulations to Coach Selenke and staff!

That brings us to volleyball. Did anyone catch that season we just had? Wow, they were amazing! This team made school history by being the first Hudson volleyball team ever to qualify for the state tournament. Not only did they qualify, but our girls dispatched two quality opponents to find themselves in the final match! The Pirates ended the season as runner up, which is pretty astounding considering their first trip to the state tournament yielded such a successful run. A lot of credit goes to these athletes and congratulations are in order to Coach Baird and staff.

Congratulations once again to all the student athletes, musicians, and coaches on a successful fall. We are looking forward to many more great experiences!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Wishing Success to All Newly Elected Officials

I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to all our newly elected officials up and down the ballot. In addition to that, how about a huge thank you to everyone who ran for office? I honestly don't know why anyone would volunteer for this! Political campaigns tend to make even the nicest people look like villains. In fact, the things we have seen in political advertisements this cycle are enough to ensure that my aspirations for elected office remain in check (not that I ever had any). I found myself changing the channel whenever my grandchildren were around, and not even watching campaign coverage a lot of the time. I spoke with one candidate who told me that if he were to believe the ads, he wouldn't even vote for himself! Thankfully the ads and the election are now over and we can begin putting the pieces back together-and that we must do!

I choose to believe that everyone who ran for office did so for love of country, community, or state. I choose to believe they have a pure heart and the best intentions. I choose to believe those who have been elected are going to do their best to improve the lives of all citizens. I also reserve the right as do you, to disagree with 'what constitutes improvement'. Truthfully, I disagree regularly with all sorts of policy positions and proposals supported by republicans and democrats alike. Luckily we live in a country where I can feel free to advocate a contrary and opposing position without fear of reprisal. And I do.

A lot of people are upset right now and there have been some protests around the country. That's okay I suppose, it is an exercise of free speech. But what is not okay is threats of violence or riots in the street. We had an election and must respect the outcome. Now, we have to give all our newly elected officials an opportunity to lead and serve. We have to root for their success, because their success is directly tied to our success. I heard a great comment on the radio this morning and it went a little like this, 'Hoping an elected official fails is a little like hoping the driver of your car has an accident.' Profound.

So then let's consider what happens next. One could focus on the negatives. Both a congress and a legislature controlled by one party could be cause for alarm. Especially when you consider the executive branch in both cases is controlled by that same party. After all, split party control of government is one way to put a check on keeping bad things from happening. Now, I am all for keeping bad things from happening, but guess what? Bad laws are sometimes enacted in spite of split party control. But yet also remember that split party control can also keep good things from happening! This leads to the gridlock that has become a mainstay of the American political system, and frankly what many of us find so frustrating. This election could be a direct result of continued gridlock.

Of one thing I am relatively certain. We are not going to experience the typical gridlock for at least the next two years. Laws are going to be passed. For sure we will disagree with some and will categorize them as 'bad things happening'. You can count on me to resist when bad policies are proposed, especially when they are in direct opposition to, harm either directly or indirectly, and are in direct conflict with the mission and vision of the Hudson Community School District.

At the same time, I am confident some 'good things are going to happen' that probably wouldn't with a split control government. When the next election comes up, we'll have an opportunity once again to measure whether or not the good has outweighed the bad.

As for me, at least when it comes to education issues I'll be sure to put them into their proper perspectives here so you will at least be able to understand how the varying policy proposals will impact the Hudson Community School District.

Oh, and that election that just happened? Of the 231,556,622 eligible voters in the United States 46.9% of them didn't even bother to vote.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Parent and Community Help Needed in Wellness Policy Development

Hudson Community Schools wants to invite parents and the general public to take an active role in the health of their children by participating in the local school wellness policy process. A local school wellness policy is a written document that guides a school district’s efforts to establish a school environment that promotes students’ health, well-being, and ability to learn.

On July 29, 2016, USDA finalized regulations to create guidelines for school wellness policies. The final rule requires districts to begin revising local wellness policies during the 2016-2017 school year and fully comply with the final rule by June 30, 2017.

The expanded local wellness policy requirements include specific goals for nutrition promotion and education, standards and nutrition guidelines for all foods and beverages sold to students, standards for all foods and beverages provided but not sold to students, policies for food and beverage marketing, description of public involvement, public updates, policy leadership, and triennial assessments.

USDA requires schools to engage parents, students, and representatives of the school food authority, Physical Education teachers, school health professionals, the school board, school administrators, and community members in the annual development and assessment of local school wellness policies. Local communities will have flexibility in developing a policy that works best for them.

If you are interested in participating in this process, please contact Dr. Anthony Voss at 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Exploring Preschool

This year, 322 of 333 school districts in Iowa participate in the statewide voluntary preschool program. What began as a grant initiative in 2007 has now expanded to include the vast majority of schools in the state. The purpose of the statewide voluntary preschool program is to ensure that all 4 year old children in Iowa are ready to start kindergarten by providing access to high quality, research based preschool curriculum. While the Hudson Community School District was (and is) committed to ensuring our youngest citizens enter school ready to learn, we have felt that this was best served through our community providers. Indeed, our community providers have done an outstanding job of preparing our youngest students for kindergarten. Because our community providers have done such an outstanding job, the idea of implementing the statewide voluntary preschool program has been previously discussed in the district, but not with much vigor.

Now, almost a decade later, those discussions are beginning to occur with greater frequency and intensity. Not because there has been any erosion of service from our community partners; quite the contrary! They do, and hopefully will continue to serve a vital role in the education of our youth! The difference now is that our needs as a school district are changing.

For starters, we are now serving a greater number of children with special needs prior to kindergarten. Unfortunately, because we don't offer the statewide voluntary preschool, those students have to be served elsewhere. This is because preschool students with an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) are required to be served by a licensed teacher. We now have multiple students with special needs who are being transported to another school district each day for preschool. A preschool program in Hudson would eliminate that need. Our intention would be to employ someone with an early childhood and special education endorsement for this program.

Additionally it appears the wishes of our community are beginning to shift. When new families move to the area and ask about our programming, they are often very surprised to hear that we don't provide the statewide voluntary preschool. Have families opted to move elsewhere because of this? I'm not sure I could make that claim yet, but a school district that operates a comprehensive PK-12 program might be more appealing than one operating a comprehensive K-12 program.

Finally, our window of opportunity may be beginning to close. In 2007, what began with a $15 Million grant serving 5,126 students has grown to an annual allocation of $73 Million serving almost 23,141 students. Again, 322/333 or 97% of school districts in Iowa offer statewide voluntary preschool programs.

So our planning begins. Indeed we have our work cut out for us! At this point we have more questions about the process than answers. I am sure you do as well, and I encourage you to share them with us right here. Rest assured, we remain committed to working with our community partners ensuring all our children are prepared for success in school. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bullying and Harassment Defined

Our school district has one of the most comprehensive and strictest Anti Bullying/Anti Harassment polices that I have ever seen. In fact, the consequences of a student being found in violation of this policy can be quite severe. Our policy states that any student found in violation three times throughout their tenure at an attendance center of the Hudson Community School District will automatically be referred for expulsion. Think about that for a moment. If a student is found in violation once in the 4th grade, then again in the 5th grade; and finally again in the 6th grade they are referred for expulsion. This 'three strikes' policy predates my administration, and unfortunately we have had to enforce this provision several times during my tenure. Further, every time a bullying and harassment case has been brought before the board, they have followed through and indeed expelled students. There should be no mistake that the school district takes bullying and harassment very seriously at Hudson. Yet in spite of these incredibly stiff and final consequences, we are not naive enough to think that bullying and harassment doesn't occur. Our data would suggest otherwise.

If you would like to report bullying, please visit and click on this
button on the right hand side of the screen.
On the other hand, it is important to point out that not every report is a founded case of bullying or harassment. Additionally, if a complaint isn't filed with the school district, we can't very well investigate. So then, it is somewhat troubling that from time to time someone will state that their child has been a victim of bullying and the school district hasn't done anything about it. Upon investigation we often learn that the alleged bullying was never reported. 

Or, perhaps the case was investigated and wasn't founded. On occasion a bullying allegation is made in response to an unrelated issue that has come up in the school. These are also investigated, but just because someone alleges something doesn't necessarily make it true according to the criteria we use in our investigative process. In other words, it didn't rise to the level of bullying or harassment by the investigator. When investigating these claims, there are several criteria that must be met. For starters, the student is being targeted because they belong to a protected class as outlined in Board Policy Regulation 102.E4 and the Iowa Civil Rights Code. Those classes include: Age, Disability, Familial Status, Gender Identity, Marital Status, National Origin/Ethnic Background/Ancestry, Physical Attribute, Physical/Mental Ability, Political Belief, Political Party Preference, Race/Color, Religion/Creed, Sex, Sexual Orientation, or Socio-Economic Background.

There must also be a power differential between the bully and the target. Third, the bullying must cause a substantial disruption to the educational process as described or observed by a reasonable and prudent person. Finally, the behavior is usually (though not always) a repeated behavior. 

When we visit with our student body about bullying and harassment we emphasize these points while at the same time reminding everyone that conflict and insults on their own do not rise to the level of or constitute bullying behavior. We also remind our students that the most powerful deterrent to combat bullying is the bystander who reports the bullying, and the upstander who intervenes when they see someone being targeted. After all, bullying and harassment rarely occurs when a teacher or administrator is watching. 

We believe at Hudson we do a good job of investigating and properly combating bullying and harassment in our schools. However, like most school districts in Iowa we are cognizant of infrequent reporting. I will remind you that we have a reporting tool available on our website and would invite you to please use it to report alleged bullying cases. Or if it is more convenient I would encourage you visit with an administrator. As always, if you feel that an investigation has not been properly executed or the findings are in question, please contact my office.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Counting the Kids

If you are reading this you are probably wondering, 'What is Hudson's enrollment for this school year?' The short answer is that we don't know yet. I know what you are thinking because I used to think the same thing. How hard can it be? You just count the kids, right? Go into the classrooms and count the kids. Well, it is a little bit more complicated than that! Now, you may recall on the first day of the school  year I published what is referred to as our unofficial count. This is a snapshot in time that merely measures how many students we have in our buildings on the first day of school. It is unofficial because none of the students have been verified or classified. And enrollment tends to fluctuate and vary throughout the school year. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the number of students we enroll on the first day is different than the number of students we enroll right now, and will likely be different than the number of students we enroll next week. 

The first day of business in October is designated as official 'Count Day' in Iowa schools. It is on this day that we officially lock in our enrollment numbers. Whoever we have in our buildings on that day become our students and those for which we will receive enrollment funding. A student that moves away on September 30th for example will not appear on a school district enrollment (we had some of those). This year Count Day was on October 3, so if a student moves out of the school on October 4th, they will be counted on the school district official enrollment. This is a very important accounting process because the official count becomes the nexus of a school district budget for the following fiscal year. 

Counting students may seem like a rather elementary procedure, yet it is anything but! And perhaps a little bit misleading!  While Count Day occurs on the first business day of October, the count doesn't become officially certified until October 15th. When we certify our count, we are affirming that our numbers are accurate and true to the very best of our knowledge. Because the certified official count is directly tied to the budget, the stakes couldn't be higher. 

Currently we are in the window of verification that occurs prior to certification. We are verifying that students are in fact, residents of the Hudson Community School District. In most cases this is relatively easy, but from time to time we run across an address that doesn't quite match up, or a situation where a post office box is provided in lieu of a physical address. In order to be considered a legal resident, a physical address is necessary. It is also pretty common during this window to have students be counted by multiple school districts. Obviously only one school district can count a student, so during this verification window we determine where in fact the student resides and should be counted. 

We also must classify which students in our school district are attending Hudson under Iowa's open enrollment law, and which resident students of Hudson are attending other school districts in Iowa under the open enrollment law. Then there are some of our resident students who are being served in special education programs in other school districts and are counted in a separate classification, as well as those who are residents of other school districts attending special education programs in our school district. Student who are being served as English Language Learners are counted in a certain way, as well as students who are home schooled and attending Hudson for part of the day. Indeed, there are multiple ways in which students are counted or classified and we have barely scratched the surface here. 

So what is our enrollment? The jury is still out and I won't certify our count until next Saturday, October 15th. You will be able to access our enrollment report on the school district website next week on the 'About Us' page. But here is a little preview of what we know right now. Although our unofficial results suggest an increase of 1 student, officially we appear to be down a little bit. This follows an expected decline in enrollment over the past several years. However, the good news is that this decline is expected to reverse next year and continue to climb the next several years. On top of this, the new addition in Upper Ridges is expected to bring even more students! 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Finding Strategies That Work to Improve Learning

Approximately 36% of Hudson's certified teaching staff holds a formalized teacher leadership role in the district. While those leadership roles come with extra compensation, they also come with added responsibility and a seat at the table when it comes to instructional leadership in the district. The goals for teacher leadership are multi-faceted yet interwoven.  But for starters, our goal is to attract and retain highly qualified teachers by offering competitive starting salaries, short and long term professional development, and opportunities for career enhancement/advancement. 

Of our teacher leaders, three are considered 'anchor roles', whose work is closely tied to district and statewide initiatives: literacy, mathematics, and technology. Considered full release, these leaders do not have any direct teaching responsibility. Instead their primary mission is to support and develop teachers in the classroom. Developing teachers in the classroom leads to stronger instruction, which equates to better student outcomes.

All of our teacher leaders are also on the front line of developing and delivering professional development designed to strengthen instruction during Wednesday afternoon early dismissals. It is during these afternoon sessions where teachers learn about promising new practices, discover and articulate the interconnections of the content that is being delivered in the classroom with the standards that are outlined in the Iowa Core, or master a tool or protocol that will streamline data collection. These Wednesday afternoon early dismissals enable us to 'set the table' for what will become the catalyst of improving instruction in our classrooms. The learning lab and coaching cycle.

Working in collaboration with instructional coaches, our twelve model teachers field test and further explore those ideas and strategies discussed during the early dismissal for effectiveness, and prepare to scale them into practice throughout the district. Unlike instructional coaches who are full release, model teachers are those with primary responsibilities in the classroom as practitioners. Their leadership comes from the interdependent relationship they have with instructional coaches and a willingness to try new things in the classroom to discover what really works. This is commonly played out in what we describe as a coaching cycle.

During a coaching cycle, the instructional coach works closely with the model teacher (or in some cases even regular classroom practitioner) to uncover what is working well in the classroom and troubleshoot areas where improvement to practice can be made. This symbiotic relationship may include modeling or demonstrating instruction, sharing student performance data, or conferencing between the instructional coach and model teacher. 

Model teacher Toni Haskovec delivers instruction during
a recent coaching lab held at Hudson schools.
Once a strategy has been proven effective, the model teacher and instructional coach host a learning lab where the strategy can be shared with faculty in a live setting. A group of educators is invited to gather to discuss and observe the strategy in practice. This protocol includes a pre-conference where the model teacher briefs the observers on the strategy and what they should be looking for during instruction. Following the pre-conference, the observers enter the classroom and watch the model teacher use the strategy with students. At the conclusion of the lesson, teachers gather for a post observation briefing where they can not only discuss what they saw, but form a plan of implementation in their own classrooms with support from these teacher leaders. The end result is that we have a research based strategy that we know works with our students!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Monitoring Student Learning

Teaching and learning looks quite a bit different than it did when you and I went to school. We have spoken of this before here, and the most common illustration of this change in learning is the infusion of technology into instruction. Here in Hudson we refer to this as Connected Learning. While a great example, it only scratches the surface of how education has changed in our school district since the time we used chalkboards and overhead projectors. I would like to take the next couple of weeks and give you an idea of how much education has changed on the inside, and what you don't see from your vantage point, or even what you might hear from your youngsters at home. And one of the biggest changes you probably don't know about: the collaborative nature of teaching.

Third Grade team discussing an upcoming assessment,
Principal Schlatter asking about alignment.
The art of teaching used to be a very isolating and sometimes lonely occupation. You wouldn't think that would you; in fact it seems preposterous doesn't it? But think about it. The bell would ring at 8:05 and teachers would retreat to their classrooms, close the door and proceed to teach group after group of students for the next several hours without having any outside interference or adult interaction. Left to their own resources, teachers could pretty much cover they content they wanted, how they wanted, when they wanted, and assess it how they wanted. They could count on not being bothered by the principal (who was isolated in his or her own office as well) for the duration of the school year. They had responsibility for 'their' students and 'their' students alone. The trouble with this model of education is that when a teacher would run into a snag with instruction, they had to figure it out on their own. Sure, there might be an opportunity to grab some informal advice during a lunch break, but deep and meaningful conversations about instructional practice and solving 'problems of practice' were, for the most part left to research and study at the local university.

My how the times have changed! For starters, I cringe when I hear teachers (from other school districts mind you) say the principal has never been in their classroom, or they can't remember the last time they saw the principal. For the record, supervising the teaching staff is a primary responsibility of the building principal, and done well, this supervisory role puts the principal squarely in the middle of knowing about instructional practice in their school. In Hudson you should (and will) see building principals roaming the halls and visiting classrooms on a pretty regular and consistent basis.

The isolating nature of the work has changed dramatically as well. No longer do teachers refer to 'their' students; but rather 'our' students. A problem of practice is formally shared within a teaching group where they can collaborate to form a solution. At the elementary, our teachers meet weekly with the building principal in grade level meetings to discuss matters of instruction. In those meeting, student achievement data is shared across sections. If one teacher's scores are higher than their colleagues, the discussion isn't about how great that teacher did, but rather what they did, and how it can be replicated across the sections. On the other hand, if scores in a teacher's classroom aren't at the level they should be, it is an opportunity to lift one another up and work collectively for a solution.

Third Grade team discussing assessment questions while
Principal Schlatter looks on.
About two week ago I had an opportunity to sit in for a brief time with one of our grade level team meetings. In addition to the grade level teachers, was an instructional coach and the principal. The conversation around the table was about the assessment instrument that was going to be administered the next day. The principal was asking which content standards would be covered by the questions. The teachers were wondering which questions might trip the students up. The instructional coach was discussing what would happen after they collected the data.

Then last week, after the data was collected the conversation shifted to, 'now what do we do about it?' Were the teachers right about the questions that tripped up the students? Did the students meet the standards for maturation they had anticipated? And then most important: What do we do about the students that haven't mastered the content? How about those that are ready to move on?

For those of you that have been following our conversation the last couple of years this should sound somewhat familiar because this is known as the PLC (Professional Learning Community) process where our instructors answer four key questions about instruction:
  1. What is is we want our students to know and be able to do?
  2. How will we know if we are successful?
  3. What will we do if students met our target?
  4. What will we do for those who haven't?
In our PLC work we have continued to focus on three key ideas that have been discussed by Richard DuFour in his book, "Learning by Doing". Our purpose is to ensure that all students learn at high levels; success requires a collaborative effort; and we must focus on the results of our students. This means that teachers have to work outside their comfort zone!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Extra-Curricular: More Than Just Good Entertainment!

Each Sunday evening Iowa educators have an opportunity to participate in a live discussion about an educational topic on Twitter called #IAEdChat. I usually check in a few times to see what the topic of the evening is but don't consider myself an avid participant. I'm more of a casual observer from the corner, and will occasionally opine with a comment or two. This past week was no different, and honestly I was more interested in seeing the Vikings beat the Packers than participate. However the topic was the value of extra-curricular programs so I thought I might share a few thoughts here today.

Usually when we talk about extra-curricular activities we immediately think about our athletic programs. There is no doubt they get the most attention and tend to draw the largest groups of students. This year it is especially true in light of the success our athletic teams are having! But to draw a line directly (and only) to athletic programs would mean missing a whole host of other programming options we have for our young people.

Middle school students participating in Lego League, an
extra-curricular activity designed to introduce students to
robotics and engineering. 
Extra curricular programs are those not connected to a content area or have a connection to classroom activities. Participation in these activities is dependent on academic eligibility and being a student in good standing. Co-curricular programs on the other hand are directly tied to a classroom activity and participation in these activities is usually tied in some way to an academic grade. Because of the fact participation is grade dependent, academic eligibility is generally not a factor. The commonality between both is that they typically occur outside the confines of the regular school day. Mechanically the difference is important, but for the purpose of this discussion we will pay it little attention, because what I would like to focus on is student engagement in school.

The idea of programming extra curricular activities for students outside the school day has long been woven into the fabric of the American school system. The fact is this is a uniquely American educational experience. European and Asian countries don't typically have extra curricular activities in schools. If students want to learn to play a musical instrument or play a sport, those events are reserved for time outside of school. It is interesting and somewhat ironic then, as American schools try to conform to other schools around the world (i.e. Finland or China), some of these same systems are trying to emulate what we are doing in our schools. Don't take my word for it, this has been well documented by the educational researcher Dr. Young Zhao @YongZhaoEd (who went through the Chinese education system) who suggests in his book, 'Catching Up or Leading the Way' that we may, quite frankly, have had this right all along.

But, why? Although the entertainment value at a concert on Thursday night or volleyball match on Tuesday night would make a great argument, this is more of a secondary or even tertiary benefit. The same can be said about community pride: great secondary or tertiary benefits but not the primary benefits for school sponsored extra-curricular activities.

We do know that there is a great deal that we can teach our students through our extra-curricular programs that cannot be replicated in a classroom. We can run simulations or experiments in a classroom, but the observations gained here are far inferior to the wisdom and understanding that can be gained from actually doing it. Sure, one can talk about problem solving and teamwork. But it is not the same as actually being on the team!

Perhaps the primary reason for extra-curricular activities in school is about forming a connection and bond between the student and school. There are reams of scholarly research that suggest students who feel a connection to their school do better academically, have a larger social network, and are less likely to drop out. So therein lies at least part of the solution to a vexing problem in schools. The more we can encourage youngsters to participate in activities, the more likely they are to have school success. They learn about being on a team, a member of an organization, or an integral part of the band. They begin to develop pride in themselves, the team, and the school. A connection is developed and a bond is formed.

As our students are all different and have different interests, so must our extra and co-curricular program. After all, we can only have one quarterback on the football team, and we can only have one lead in the musical. For these reasons we try to diversify our programming and provide enough unique experiences, or menu of options to meet the needs and interests of our entire student body. So yes, we have a football team, a band, and basketball. But we also have a student council, a show choir, robotics, and model UN! This is part of the American educational experience and what forms a comprehensive and rich school experience. It is also part of what makes it 'Great to be a Pirate!'

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Calibrating and Focusing Our LPG's for 2016

While deliberating the possibility of providing computers to our high school students a few years ago it was important for everyone to understand and provide input into this decision. Not only our parents; but teachers, students, and the greater community. The fact is, administrators even discussed this at great length. We hashed out our reasons and understood that what we believed may not be the same as other schools. Further, the point was emphasized that we were not at all interested in deploying devices just so we could keep up with one (or more) of our neighbors down the road. Over and over again, we focused on the idea that our infusion of technology was never about the device. It was about what we could do with the device. 

At the onset of our roll out, teachers began to use computers as a substitution for many of the things that we have done in the past. For example, instead of having students fill out a worksheet and turn it in to the teacher, they began to fill out a PDF file and submit homework via email. But then, very quickly our faculty became adept at utilizing a Learner Management System (LMS) that helped both them and students organize their work and create substantive changes in the way schooling is conducted. Student engagement in classes increased, which of course correlates to higher student achievement.

Soon thereafter teachers began to augment and modify lessons in ways that, prior to the implementation of a #ConnectedLearning environment would have been cumbersome, time consuming, and in many ways just simply not possible. For example, a classroom discussion that may have lasted a mere 43 minutes and included only those 'in that moment' could now be extended well beyond the scope of that class period with a range of participants that include authors, illustrators, eye-witnesses, and even experts in the content area or subject. Students in industrial arts classes now design parts for projects and print them on 3D printers. Teachers and students that engage in complex mathematics are able to work with high tech modeling software to test theories, manipulate data, and engage with one another in ways that once were only imagined. Just this last week, our 7th and 8th grade students had the unique opportunity to learn about drone technology, see a drone in action, and create and edit a video file of the footage. Who would have thought we would be able to do that even 3 years ago?

From time to time, I have heard the claim made that Google is perhaps the most significant change to education that....well I don't know what. While you can literally look anything up using Google, and the catch phrase "Let Me Google That For You" (lmgtfy) has become almost comical, that is not where the real power of Google lies in classroom application. With the use of the Google platform, students, teachers, and even administrators are able to collaborate on projects simultaneously while geographically being anywhere. There should be no mistake: the implementation of #ConnectedLearning has not only magnified the importance of our Leaner Performance Goals, but focused and fine tuned them for the 21st Century!

This  year we finish our scale up of #ConnectedLearning. Now we are in a position where we provide devices not only for students in grades 9-12, but for students in grades 3-12. Sure, the device may be different, and the device is not used all day every day--but it is a tool that enhances and expands the learning environment. Certainly our younger students aren't going to be operating drones anytime soon or using Calculus software to solve complex equations; but under the tutelage of their classroom teachers, they are able to have instruction delivered that is uniquely personalized to meet their needs. As we continue to focus our efforts on improving the early literacy skills of our struggling readers, teachers now have an arsenal of research based high tech tools at their disposal to meet these challenging needs. We have also created an Inquiry Space for our students, where they can work side by side with teachers to solve problems in a collaborative manner through trial and error and experimentation. Indeed, it takes a lot of courage for a teacher to work with students on a complex problem where they may not know where the answer lies or in which direction the students will go in the quest for knowledge!
We are quite proud of the progress we have made in our #ConnectedLearning environment while acknowledging that much work remains to be done. Our goal this year is to help our teachers find more ways to completely redefine learning. To do things with technology that are beyond a modification or augmentation of a lesson. Things that two years from now we couldn't have even imagined right now. And...its still not about the device.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

About That Gold Medal...

How many of you had a chance to watch the Olympics in Rio last month? I watched some of the events, mostly what was on during prime time. What I was most interested in was the medal count, and  I made sure to check that daily! For those of you who were wondering, the US Olympic team consisted of 558 athletes competing in 30 events. And that medal count: the US team came away with 121 total medals: 46 gold, 37 silver, and 38 bronze. This means that just a little over 21% of our US Olympic team athletes earned a medal. (Well, not exactly; some athletes won multiple medals, so that is a bit skewed.) Nevertheless, that is pretty darn impressive if you ask me! The next closes country was China where they had a total of 70: 26 gold, 18 silver, and 26 bronze. If this were a competition, the USA clearly would have won! Wait, it was a competition.

An interesting phenomenon occurs during the Olympics. Little girls get excited about gymnastics and membership at local gyms picks up. Young dreamers with aspirations of Olympic gold start hitting the track. We even had a group of high school students approach Mr. Dieken about joining the swim team in Cedar Falls (we do allow that here in case you were wondering). About halfway through the games, the Des Moines Register published a listing of all the events in the Olympics and where young athletes could go to train locally for those respective sports. There is even a place where you can learn to fence! Gyms and venues all over the Metro saw an increase in membership. It would seem these Olympic athletes became quite the role models for youngsters all around the country.

As it turns out, all athletes are role models for young people. These youngsters that dream of Olympic gold are also the same students who are in our stands during a volleyball game on Thursday night, or cheering the football team on Friday night. They look forward with eager anticipation to the day they will be able to wear that blue jersey in competition and represent Pirate Nation on the varsity squad.

While winning is important and fun for our athletes, their conduct on and off the field is equally important. Because we understand our student-athletes are role models for our younger students, we hold them to very high standards. That is one of the reasons we have a Good Conduct Policy and remind our students that when they wear that jersey, they not only represent themselves as an individual, but they represent our team, school, and the Hudson community:
"Students who participate in extracurricular activities serve as ambassadors of the school district throughout the calendar year, whether away from school or at school. Students who wish to have the privilege of participating in extracurricular activities must conduct themselves in accordance with board policy and must refrain from activities which are illegal, immoral or unhealthy." Board Policy 503.1
There is nothing that makes me prouder than getting a phone call from a community where an outstanding display of sportsmanship is witnessed, or when someone takes the time to comment on the polite and gracious conduct of our students. And it happens more often than you think. I remember one example during the state soccer tournament in Des Moines this past spring where one of the Forwards from the opposing team got hurt by our goal box. While play continued on the opposite end of the field, our Goalie rendered aide to his fallen opponent. He checked on him, then ran to his post, not to defend the goal, but to get his water bottle for the hurt athlete. Unfortunately we lost that game. I don't remember the score, but I do remember that display of incredible courage and sportsmanship.

So my question: How many of you knew what our medal count was in the Olympics before I told you at the beginning of the article? Honestly, I had to look it up myself. But do you know what I didn't have to look up? The fact that Ryan Lochte embarrassed our country by making up a tale about being robbed at a Rio gas station. Or the fact that Hope Solo called her opponents 'cowards' because they got beat.

Our athletes, all of our athletes are role models. People look up to them and aspire to be like them. Certainly some of these Olympic athletes could learn a thing or two from our own Pirate Nation.

And here is the thing about that gold medal: it doesn't shine quite so bright when you win on the court but can't conduct yourself with the dignity that goes with representing those who chose you. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Finding the Right Fit During a Teacher Shortage

If you had a chance to read the Hudson Herald last week you probably noticed our school district has been the beneficiary of many new teachers. You can read all about our new teaching staff in the Herald or on the school website. Teacher turnover in Hudson is generally pretty low: between one to three teachers annually. So imagine having this many new teachers join our ranks, it is quite an anomaly! The primary reason for the high turnover was that a large number of faculty took advantage of an early retirement incentive that was offered by the school district last spring. Additionally, we had a couple of faculty members move to Colorado over the summer, and another was offered a position in her hometown.

New teachers meet with teacher leaders during
new teacher luncheon prior to school starting.
When all those teachers retired, resigned, or moved to Colorado, they took a great deal of institutional knowledge with them, especially those who retired. There is no doubt they left a void in the school where their experience will be sorely missed. I expect for the next several months these new teachers will become accustomed to hearing things from their students like, "Mr. (or Mrs.) fill in the blank didn't do it that way!". 

This past spring, building principals began the task of finding replacements for each of these teachers. Along with the numerous qualifications, credentials, and endorsements that we were searching for, we were also looking for teachers that were the right fit in our system. Teachers that parents would trust, and that we wanted in our school system for a very long time. Our hiring plan was to get into the market early so we would be able to maximize the number of applicants and candidates for our open positions. Fortunately we were blessed with an incredibly deep pool of applicants and had numerous choices. Indeed if you have had the chance to meet some of our new faculty or are lucky enough to find one of your children in their classrooms, you hopefully would agree. 

By the time school was dismissed for the summer we had all our hires in place and were looking forward to getting on with all the projects that would consume the heat of the long summer days. But we all know the story doesn't end there, right? At the end of June, our Chemistry teacher was hired to replace her longtime mentor and high school Chemistry teacher. Right on the heals of that, our 7-12 school counselor moved to Colorado.

It was time to ramp up the hiring machinery once again, right in the midst of summer when most 'candidates' are no longer candidates, but employed teachers. 

In the grand scheme we got lucky. We were able to find outstanding educators. As it turns out, our new Chemistry teacher is trained in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. A great find for us; but not so great scenario for Waterloo. They decided they just weren't going to let him go quite so easily. After a few weeks of negotiations, Waterloo agreed to share his services for the year. We would be able to employ him in the morning to teach our Chemistry courses, in the afternoon he will teach in Waterloo's IB program. This left the other half of this position vacant: 8th grade science. Our Chemistry teacher was to teach high school courses in the morning and, you guessed it: 8th grade science in the afternoon! We could have passed on this teacher and tried to hold out for someone who could fill this position full time, but to find an educator of this quality was just not something we could let pass us by. We decided to look at the big picture and the overall future of the district's science program. That leaves us in the very unpleasant situation of filling our half-time science position with a substitute teacher until a suitable replacement can be found.

Yet here is the rub: not only is it difficult to find quality teachers in some disciplines, it is just difficult to find teachers in general this time of year! Unlike some elementary teaching positions where there can literally be hundreds of applicants for one position, many specialized content areas may yield only a handful of applicants. It is made even worse when the position you are searching for is only half-time! After all, who is really looking to be employed half-time? Further, who is looking to be employed half-time in a position that is only going to be available this year

Unfortunately this phenomenon isn't new to Hudson or many schools around the state just like us. Size of student body dictates the number of full time equivalency (FTE) that can be devoted to a particular discipline. We can't very well employ a full time teacher if we only have students to fill up three or four classes. And young people going into the hard sciences, math, music, or a whole plethora of other content area just aren't becoming teachers. Indeed in most cases they can earn more working in industry then they can in education. 

Our search for an 8th grade science teacher will continue. We have sent out hundreds of email messages to candidates. We have also interviewed candidates, candidates who are qualified and endorsed for the position. Yet at the end of the day they either turn us down, or it just isn't the right fit for our school.  Within my administrative team we have discussed extensively our options: should we just hire someone that has the right endorsement in order to 'check the box' or do we continue to seek out the right person? For now, we keep looking. We owe that to our students.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Be Exceptional: Words of Encouragement to Faculty and Staff on the Eve of 2016-2017

We have had one crazy summer around here! We have been delayed by rain, asbestos removal, leaking roofs...had I mentioned the rain yet? All of these roadblocks caused delays, but never once did the team get discouraged. We were behind, and although a few items remain on our punch list, I have every confidence that come Monday night’s open house our facilities are going to look great! I also want to thank each teacher who has shown patience and grace the last several days while waiting to get into classrooms so Sandy could finish waxing the floors. They look great by the way, don’t they? So please, take a few minutes when you see the custodians to thank them for all their efforts!

This summer we have replaced almost all the carpet in the elementary and finished remodeling the restrooms on the first floor. We are currently in the planning stages of an elementary renovation project that, when completed will consist of an investment in excess of $1 Million. It is our intention to have the first phase of this project ready for bidding in January.

Sandy working hard to get the building ready for students.
Additionally we have improved our performance venues, by sanding and refinishing the competition gym floor, and replacing the carpet and painting in the high school auditorium. We now have a great opportunity to redefine instruction with the addition of our new inquiry space, an experiential based room where students and teachers can collaborate and learn together using the latest and most cutting edge technologies available in K-12 learning.

I recently shared with our new faculty that they represent the future of the educational landscape at Hudson. At the same time, we honor the skill, experience, and commitment our veteran staff bring to our schools. Indeed, each of our employees; no matter if in the first year of their career or thirtieth, bring a special talent and skill to our district. We wouldn’t be who we are without them. They all, are exceptional!

Nevertheless as we look around our schools today it is abundantly clear that we are facing change. And it is an exciting kind of change for sure! As we embrace this rapid pace of change, not only in our school district but all throughout Iowa, take comfort in the work that we have accomplished, and the path that we have blazed serves as a guidepost for many around the state.

High School faculty exploring the Inquiry Space.
We continue to lead the way in the development of a comprehensive teacher leadership system in Iowa. While this year the remainder of Iowa schools will embrace teacher leadership, one fact will always remain true: Hudson was among the first. Those schools will continue to look to us for guidance and leadership. We begin this third year of teacher leadership light years ahead of where we were at the beginning of this journey. Teachers took the time, while encouraging me to be patient as the system developed. They were thoughtful in approach and worked hard to ensure our leadership roles were well defined and meaningful. I am happy to announce that this year all our teacher leadership roles are filled. Our challenge now is to put these teacher leaders to work! They are here to serve by being a teacher centered resource designed to strengthen the instruction delivered in classrooms through embedded professional development. Our faculty is poised to take advantage of what they have to offer—from learning labs in classrooms to Wednesday afternoon ‘tech labs’—they are only here to help improve instruction! All of this is done for the benefit of the students served daily; and the proof is in the results.

Consider this: In mathematics, where we have been intently focused the last three years, our results are quite telling! When considering ALL student cohort groups, 7 out of 8 met targeted growth. And the one that didn’t? It missed meeting targeted growth by one half point! If that didn’t impress you, perhaps this will: In 5 out of the 8 cohort groups, the average students’ percentile ranking is at the 75th percentile, which is one standard deviation higher than the average pupil! Not impressed yet? How about this: students from 5th grade to 6th grade were expected to show growth of 14 points. They gained 24! Students from 9th grade to 10th grade were expected to grow 10.5. They grew 17! As I stated in this column last week, Hudson students in these cohort groups are anything but average—in fact these students on average—are above average! Our students are exceptional because our faculty and staff are exceptional!

First Grade students arrive for the first day of school.
Yet much work remains. While scores in reading and science can stand on their own, we are committed to our efforts of ensuring all our students are reading at grade level by the time they finish 3rd grade. Indeed we are on our way: In reading, students from grade 3 to grade 4 were expected to grow 16 points, and instead showed 27 points of growth. In science our attention is beginning to shift to the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards. I am pleased with the path that has been charted by our teacher leaders to ensure this implementation is carried out with fidelity—and there is much to be proud of there as well. For example students from grade 7 to grade 8 were expected to show 13 points of growth, but instead grew 20 points.

While it would be inappropriate to measure the success of our efforts with the rise and fall of our test scores, it is undeniable that we are on the right track. We are on the right track because of our faculty and staff's commitment to exceptionalism. We know and understand the challenges that face us, and with our teacher leaders have laid the groundwork and know what we need to do.

So then, this year marks a new beginning! No longer will schools shoulder the burden of the failed federal accountability law, ‘No Child Left Behind’. Instead we look forward with eager anticipation as we transition to the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’. Yes, this will come with new challenges, but we have the resources and personnel to meet these opportunities head on and take our students to the next level. I continue to be humbled that you are the ones to do this very important work.

The beginning of a school year is always an exciting time. New teachers nervous with the excitement that will come the first time they stand in front of a group of students alone—and without a net. Veteran teachers looking forward to a fresh start with a new group of students eager to learn and take the next step on their educational journey. Students looking forward to returning to the routine of school—seeing friends they may not have seen since May. And for some of these students, returning to the only ‘normal’ and safe thing in their lives.

Have a great start to the school year and continue to be exceptional. And always remember, It’s great to be a Pirate!