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!