Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Superintendents Message for the Class of 2016: Persevere!

Good afternoon! I am happy to see all of you here today as we prepare to part ways with the Class of 2016, soon to be graduates of Hudson High School! I have been involved in enough Commencement exercises to know and understand that for our graduates, your primary interest in today is just getting on with it! You are ready to move away from the formality of this ceremony to the celebration. I am with you! Enjoy today and those that follow. It is a very happy occasion indeed!

It has been our great joy to watch your blossom over the years, sharing in your accomplishments and guiding you during this part of your educational journey. We have witnessed your successes in the classroom, beamed with pride at your grit in athletic competition, and were inspired by your performances in music. All of these milestones have led you to this day; this day when you leave here as a proud graduate of Hudson High school, joining the ranks of alumni.

Each year it is my honor to be among the first to congratulate you on your graduation from high school. You deserve it, because it took a lot of hard work and commitment to get to this day. We are quite proud of you because the diploma you will be receiving in a few moments is not a gift; it is what you have earned and is owed to you, and it is one of the key ingredients needed for a good life. Without it, you would not be able to fulfill your destiny. So congratulations! But be warned, you will need more than this simple piece of paper in the days that follow.

I can remember sitting at my own high school graduation, thrilled with the prospect of college and all that comes with it! Here you are, 18 years old eagerly looking to a future yet to be written with diploma in hand. You have big dreams and no doubt are preordained to do great things. However, I can also remember on that day I celebrated so long ago believing that I had all the answers and what awaited me next would come with relative ease. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Undoubtedly, things worked out very well for me. Yet if the 18 year old me were told that one day I would be standing here talking to you I could not have imagined it. Your life will be filled with many unexpected turns, ups and downs, highs and lows. You will face roadblocks and be told ‘no’ from time to time. But if you apply what you have learned here you will find your path. Who knows, one of you may be standing here, one day addressing the Class of 2041.

Nevertheless, we are anxious to see what comes next for you. Will it be college? The work-force? Military? An apprenticeship? Any of these are noble decisions and yours to make. Each comes with its own recipe, their own path, and ingredients for success. But make no mistake: regardless of what road you choose to follow, your educational journey is by no means over. If you are going to work tomorrow, I promise that on the job training awaits you and will be a necessity in order to successfully navigate the work place. If you are joining the military, after basic training you can look forward to ‘A’ school. Those who are planning an apprenticeship should know that you won’t become a journeyman overnight. Many of you are headed off to college, some to a two year program and others four year program. The commonality among each is that all of you face an exciting journey.

But here is the beautiful thing: with diploma in hand you are ready for that next step, the step that begins today!

Believe me, it has not been easy to arrive at this moment in time—we have made sure of that, and have done so by design. Because all the classes, the homework, the tests quizzes and competitions: were part of our plan. Our plan to get you ready for this day and those that follow. Our plan to send you off to whatever awaits you.

We have not made it easy because we know what awaits you will at times be difficult. You will face challenges and life may at times seem unfair. There may come a time when you think that ultimate goal is just out of your grasp—and you may believe that it is impossible. If and when that time comes I ask you to persevere. Do not give up! Remember what you have learned here, within these walls. You are a Pirate; a Problem Solver; an Internal Assets Builder! Candidates for graduation, if you remember these things—you will succeed!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Ones You Remember and the Ones You Should

It has been a lot of years since I last taught music. Every once in a while someone will ask if I miss it. Truthfully I don't all that much, although there are certain times I get the urge to step onto the podium. Last week we talked about the hundreds of students a teacher impacts over the course of a career. Hopefully those moments in time shape who our students are and help them become productive members of society. 

When I decided to pursue a career as a music teacher I did so because I wanted to have the same kind of impact on my students that my high school music teachers had on me. As we discussed last week, teachers often don't have the chance or opportunity to see the end result of that work. That is too bad, because I think teachers would feel a great deal of satisfaction in knowing the impact they had. Fortunately, over the course of the last couple of months I have had the pleasure of reconnecting with several former students. But, unfortunately I don't always remember them.

One interaction happened a little like this: I was at a teacher leadership conference in Des Moines about a month ago when a grown woman approached me. "You are Mr. Voss, aren't you?" she asked. (I'll tell you what, when a 'stranger' approaches you and asks who you are, there is a thought that crosses your mind like, 'Oh great, what's this going to turn into?')

Nevertheless, I responded, "Yes, I am."

"I thought so," she said. "I've seen you on TV a few times and every time I remind my husband that you were my 7th grade music teacher! Do you remember me?"

I frantically began searching the files in my head to try and figure out who this lady was. After all, how many kids in how many different schools had I taught 7th grade music to over the years? Some people will try to bluff their way through a conversation like this, but I just couldn't. So I said, "I am so sorry, I really don't. Could you please refresh my memory?"

"Sure thing," she says. "My name is Jessica. You were my 7th grade music teacher at St. Columbkille in Dubuque. Remember? I was your student director for the musical!"

Then it all started to come rushing back. Boy, not only was it a long time ago, but it was a REALLY long time ago. Now, I don't necessarily remember all the finer details, but I do remember some of the events and activities of that school year. I can remember the musical on the stage in that little gym, and the joy of seeing the students perform for their families and friends. I was very proud of them for sure! I asked Jessica to tell me what she remembered about that year, what she currently does, and about her family.

She recalled the musical we produced in vivid detail. It was called 'Hansel and Gretel'. She also remembered that I took the choir on a field trip to Chicago at the end of the school year, and that we had visited Navy Pier. Jessica went on to tell me after that school year her family moved away. Yet she explained her experience in my music class sparked an interest in music and theater that carried on throughout her high school career. Well, since I saw Jessica at a teacher leadership conference, you can imagine what she now does! She's a teacher leader of course!

That little conversation got me thinking about the students I had in school, and wondering whatever became of them? One former student succeeded me as choir director in a position that I once held. I left when she was in high school, but I can remember her as a student, and from time to time having her accompany one of our choirs--as a freshman and sophomore! Another former student is an English teacher in Cedar Rapids. And on and on....

Some students are easier to remember than others for a variety of reasons. One such student for me was Bobby. I think I remember Bobby because of his love for music, and he expressed an interest in becoming a music teacher pretty early on in high school. Every free moment he had was spent in the choir room where I would often find plunking away at the piano, figuring out parts to the music we were studying, or writing his own original melody. Sometimes I would even find him holding court with a group of students leading a rehearsal! As a sophomore, he played Marius for me in Les Miserables. Truthfully he could have played Jean Valjean, but we were stacked with talent that year (which is why we were able to pull of Les Miserables). Sometime I'll have to share my experience with that musical and my unbelievably talented  cast. I can certainly remember those outstanding musicians and students. They were very good!

Anyway, I reconnected with Bobby a few weeks ago. After exchanging emails I decided that I was going to take a vacation day and visit Bobby in his school. I wanted to see him in action. To see him direct his choirs. And to see the interaction he had with his students. So I made the trek. I met his colleagues and his students, who clearly love and respect him dearly. When his choirs sang and he directed them, I believe in some small way I may have nurtured him in his quest to be a choir director.

At the end of my visit he presented me with a gift. It was a song that he had arranged and his select Men's Chorus was scheduled to perform it at state contest. What was so special about this gift was the dedication. I won't share that with you, but it is now hanging in my office.

The point I'm trying to make is that in education, sometimes you know you are having an impact, and sometimes you are having an impact and don't even know it. I knew that Bobby was going to go on to be a successful music teacher. He had that natural ability, drive, and determination. What I didn't know was the impact that I would have and the memories that I would create for Jessica, or countless other students that I had the great honor of teaching.

Many people I had the privilege of teaching so long ago have gone on to have successful lives, families, and careers. Jessica and Bobby each had a different experience with me as a teacher and brought different gifts and talents to my classroom, as all of our students do. And both....well they are both very special to me and the reason why I went into education. Recalling memories like that is when I miss the classroom.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Your 875

If a teacher's career spans 35 years, and those teachers on average are assigned 25 students per year it comes out to about 875 pupils. Considering the different roles some have in schools, from high school teachers in specialized content areas like music or art, to counselors, bus drivers, food service employees, administrators, content area specialists; it is not at all a stretch to state that any individual educator will directly impact hundreds of young people over the course of a career.

During that short window of time, which is usually only a year or so, teachers come to know these students quite well. We get to know them, their families, and in many cases siblings when they come along and enter our sphere of influence. Then inevitably those youngsters move on to the next phase of life and a new batch of students come in to take their place. The speed of operation in schools is fast paced and at times hectic. Because of that educators don't get to spend a lot of time pondering whatever became of 'that particular student', or group of students. Yet in that fleeting moment the goal for the educator is to prepare students for the next thing in life; be it preparing kindergartners to be first graders, or seniors in high school entering the job force or going off to college. And in that microcosm of time our teachers are wholly and completely dedicated and committed to fulfilling that goal. Sadly, teachers oftentimes don't get to see the end result of their good work. In that brief window, they only know how a student performed on a test. If they mastered their content. If they can write an effective research paper or defend a theory. They are not privy to a view of the future for that child and are unaware of how that investment in time so long ago has paid off. Yet in the final analysis what really matters is what has become of them.

I wonder if those who work in schools can truly comprehend the impact they can (and do) have on students. Of your 875 students, how many do you remember? If you are like me, you may not remember them all. But I can tell you this: they probably remember you. 

This afternoon we honor all our teachers for the work they have done in Hudson schools, and in particular what they have done for the students they currently work with, and for those they served long ago. For those reaching career milestones we say thank you and continue to look forward to your future contributions. For her work of 25 years in Hudson:
  • Jennifer Owen-Kuhn, elementary educator and instructional coach
Today also marks and ending of sorts for those who are retiring. This year, we honor seven who represent a total combined 211 years of service to the Hudson Community School District. The institutional knowledge you take with you will never be replaced!
  • Julie Anderson, vocal music--11 years
  • Jody Bauer, elementary educator--24 years
  • Brad Jensen, instrumental music--30 years
  • Diane Schulz, elementary educator--35 years
  • Julie Douglas, elementary educator--36 years
  • Larry Griffith, transportation--37 years
  • Melinda Huting, elementary educator--38 years

We congratulate you and wish you the very best in retirement. You have certainly earned it! And on behalf of the 875 or so students you touched during your career, thank you. There is no mistake that during that all too brief encounter many years ago you made an impact on them. I promise you they wouldn't have gotten to where they are today without your guidance.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Preparing for the Summer

May is finally here! If you were as tired of the rainy and cloudy weather from last week as I was, the sunshine we have enjoyed this week is a welcome relief! We needed the rain, but I don't think I am alone in saying enough is enough! Hopefully farmers will be able to get their crops in the field! 

I am not a 'count down to the last day of school' kind of guy, but wise enough to know that time is drawing near. It is really hard to believe we are in the final weeks of school! May is traditionally busy with track meets, concerts, and many other events that honor our teachers and students, so it really makes the days fly by! As we are bringing this year to a close, our work is quickly shifting to preparation for the start of the 2016-2017 school year. The board recently moved to expand our connected learning initiative to include grades 3-12, which is exciting for our young learners (and teachers)! We are also hoping to adopt a new math curriculum at the middle school. If all goes as expected I anticipate bringing that up for a vote at the May meeting. We have a few items of clarification that need to be ironed out, but are very hopeful we will be able to close that gap. 

We are also wrapping up our hiring season. A decision will need to be made about the number of kindergarten sections we will offer next year, and if the numbers hold the way they are trending I will likely recommend three sections. This is always a very difficult decision because of the fluidity of our kindergarten enrollment! That is why it is so imperative to get your registration material submitted as soon as possible. So please, if you have a kindergartner that will be attending Hudson schools for the 2016-2017 school year, fill out the paperwork and submit it as soon as you possibly can. The quicker we know what our enrollment looks like the quicker we can make our final determination on section sizes! 

By the time we get to the May board meeting I imagine all of our teacher leadership positions will be filled. That is great news because it looks like our teacher leadership system will be fully staffed up by the start of the next school year!  This is due in no small part to the work of our current teacher leaders and their collaboration with Mr. Schlatter to clearly define, articulate, and lay forth a plan of implementation for our model teachers. This is really a huge step forward for our system!

This summer we have some exciting upgrades and improvements, the majority of our focus being on the elementary school attendance center. For starters we are planning to replace the remainder of the carpet throughout the building. The carpet in many of our elementary classrooms is wrinkled and in some places fraying. This will be a huge improvement in and of itself! We will also be finishing the renovation and remodeling of the restrooms on the first floor. This includes the restrooms in the kindergarten wing and in the first through fourth grade wing. These restrooms will mirror those in the fifth and sixth grade, so a much needed improvement!

At the high school we are planning on some updates for the commons. The biggest difference will be in new furniture for the space and a new paint job. We are moving toward a more modern look and think we have something in mind the students will really enjoy. The carpet replacement theme will continue into the high school auditorium where we are planning on replacing all that as well. Mr. Dieken has been working with Mr. Lewis to design an 'Inquiry Space' room off the library in the high school that will host a myriad of experiential learning projects for our students. Although housed in the high school, the room is designed to be used for all grade levels. 

There are a few projects scheduled for athletic facility upgrades as well. For starters, we will be replacing all the weight room equipment sometime around the first part of June. A big thank you for the work of the booster club and Mr. Wurzer on this project! The good news is that 75% of the funding for this project is coming from outside sources! The booster club wrote a Blackhawk gaming grant that paid for half the project, while the other half was split between the booster club and the school district. Everyone should be aware that we are evaluating new access, privileges, and accountability measures for the weight room. We are also looking forward to refinishing the competition gym floor, and hopefully very soon we will have grass growing and a fence around the hotel property!

As is always the case, it will be a very busy summer as we make our plans to start the 2016-2017 school year!