Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Benefit of a Regent University in Your Backyard

From a geographical standpoint, it doesn't get much better than Hudson. Located just minutes from Waterloo and Cedar Falls, our location in the Cedar Valley is ideal. Those looking for small town living with multiple opportunities to shop, eat, or catch a show, Hudson is about as good as it gets. When asked to describe our school district, I am uncertain whether we are considered rural or suburban. I suppose either definition would work, but I am not too concerned about the semantics. But one thing is certain: a lot of people want to live here and send their kids to our schools. Because of this, Hudson is poised to grow. We have residential development currently underway that includes both single family residential and multi-family units; both of which are under construction. Our city is working with a developer right now to add another sub-division for our community. All of this is good news for our city and our school.

As suggested above our closeness to a large urban population center has a lot to do with our appeal. The benefits of this geographic location are enormous for our school district and pay huge dividends. Think of this: there are few schools in Iowa that have a regent university in their backyard. And the opportunities to leverage these resources can't be overstated. Our relationship with the University of Northern Iowa provides us with resources that aren't easily replicated in other parts of the state. While the other two regent universities in Iowa have great reputations and outstanding programs, the University of Northern Iowa is the premiere program for teacher and administrator preparation in Iowa.

Because of our close proximity to UNI, we are regularly invited to participate in research projects with the University whereas our teachers and students are able to study and implement the latest and most promising teaching techniques and strategies into our classrooms. Further, each summer, we have the very unique opportunity to host the University of Northern Iowa's Reading clinic where pre-service teachers work with our struggling readers. We are honored to host these professors and college students on our campus where they are taught reading strategies that are proven effective. Then through their practicum experience, are able to implement these strategies with our own Hudson students. We are entering our fourth year in this mutually beneficial partnership where the true beneficiaries are not only the UNI pre-service teachers, but our own emerging readers.

In addition to this, we are pleased to host a large number of student teachers every year. This spring, we have had the fortune of hosting seven student teachers at the high school. Certainly a great opportunity for these student teachers, but an equally important benefit for our own practitioners who have the ability to supervise and share insights with those who may someday be their colleagues. Further, our own teachers are oftentimes able to learn alongside these teachers new and innovative techniques. Plus the ancillary benefit to this is the fact that it provides us with a direct talent pipeline! It may surprise you to know this, but there are numerous school districts in Iowa that never have student teachers because they are so far away from any college or university that has a teacher preparation program. Believe me, it is tough to recruit teachers in extreme rural areas of the state.

As I shared with you a few weeks back, right now we are trying to figure out how this puzzle will fit together for the 2017-2018 school year. Our relationship with the University of Northern Iowa certainly helps to take the rough edges off some of those pieces!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

This Thing Called Pirate Term

Over the course of the last several years, our Pirate Term has become something that students in grades 7-11 look forward to annually. Indeed, it is a capstone experience to our school year that many school districts are trying to emulate. Modeled after what colleges and universities describe as 'May Term' or J-Term', at its inception we envisioned a learning experience where teachers could work with a group of students for an extended period of time on an in-depth learning experience. Originally scheduled to occur between first and second semester, that plan was scrapped when the teaching staff advocated moving it to the end of the year. Primarily, they argued for more planning time and suggested that if it were moved to the end of the year, it could provide for even greater flexibility with students due to the fact the weather was more favorable. Unforeseen to us were other tertiary benefits of moving Pirate Term to the end of the year. For example, the level of student engagement remained quite high. An extraordinary feat considering that the last thing typically on a youngsters mind in late May is attending school!

Hudson Students Learning to SCUBA dive
We proceeded to give our secondary teachers the task of creating a five day unit of study that was tied to; and connected to the Iowa Core Academic Standards. When planning the unit, they had to keep in mind they would have a group of students all day long for the entire five-day period where they would do a deep dive into one topic or content area, were required to create and demonstrate learning objectives that were tied to the Core, and they had to assess students on those objectives. Financially, our goal was to operate this endeavor on a shoestring. Each teacher was given a $100 budget with which to execute the project. This was partly out of necessity because at the time we started Pirate Term the district wasn't in the best financial condition, but also because we wanted our teachers to work with our local community partners and businesses. The fact that we are located a stone's throw from a regent university, and a hop skip and a jump from our community college needed to be leveraged. Lucky for us, both institutions saw the reciprocal benefits of this endeavor and eagerly agreed to a partnership. In the intervening years, those partnerships have expanded to include many businesses and social service agencies in the Cedar Valley. 

This May we just completed our fifth year of Pirate Term! I can hardly believe it has been that many years since this concept has become a reality! Indeed, something wonderful has happened as these units of study have grown and matured. Strong alliances have been formed with our community partners. Teachers have added new concepts to their curriculum and strengthened alignment and assessment. Some of the early units have since been reformatted or replaced with new ideas. 

Over the course of the week, I make an effort to get out and see the learning that is taking place. Along with Mr. Dieken, we find ourselves all over the Cedar Valley. On one day we might be at the pool at UNI watching our kids learn to SCUBA dive. Another day we might be at the Cedar Valley Sportsplex where our students are getting a lesson on careers in the fitness industry. But the highlight of the week happens on Day Six, which happens to coincide with the final day of the school year. On this day we have the Pirate Term Showcase, where each group of students and teachers give a brief presentation on their week and what they have learned. 

I am not sure if it was the fact that we are really starting to hit our stride with this experience, but there were some quite remarkable projects, learning, and fantastic experiences for our students this year. I could likely go on for several more paragraphs, highlighting countless examples of our students and teachers doing extraordinary things, but I will limit my commentary to just a couple.

Remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice
The first is our Pirate Term that was titled 'Military Exploration'. Designed as a unit to explore military strategy and learn about the armed forces, these students have an opportunity to eat military rations (MREs), participate in an overnight visit to Camp Dodge in Des Moines, and go through a portable obstacle course and climbing wall. Most of the students describe the experience as action packed and exciting. However, the most poignant event of this Pirate Term had to be on the Friday before Memorial Day. On this particular day, I found the students at the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Waterloo placing flags at the grave sites of our Veterans. This service learning experience tied in very nicely to the theme of the military exploration unit that was being studied. It also served as a great reminder that serving in our armed forces sometimes requires our service members to pay the ultimate sacrifice. These students took great care in clearing the markers of Veterans that had become overgrown. One student remarked to me that they wanted to make sure these Veteran's were remembered. On a personal note, as we were leaving the cemetery I noticed a marker of a Veteran that was born in 1947 and died in 1967. It was clear to me this young person had made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in Vietnam. And was not a whole lot older than our students who were there that day.

Sorting food at the Northeast Iowa Food bank
The second point I would like to make has to do with the natural evolution of these Pirate Term experiences. As the years have gone by, it seems that a service component has organically become embedded in the fabric of the week. That has everything to do with the work and commitment of our teaching staff. For starters, we must make no mistake: planning and executing a Pirate Term is a lot of work! Our teaching staff has to make plans and contingencies that ensure students not only have a great learning experience but are kept busy! This isn't something they can pull off in just a few short weeks! In many cases, the planning for Pirate Term consumes months of planning and coordinating. Case in point was our seventh and eighth-grade teachers. They really wanted to focus their efforts and entire week for that matter on service learning. These students spent each day of their Pirate Term working at and learning about the many social service agencies around the Cedar Valley. Agencies like the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, and Salvation Army are but a few of the agencies where our students spent their time.

As I traveled around to visit our students in the community during the last week of school I couldn't help but feel a great sense of pride. Pride in the planning and coordination our teachers embarked on to ensure a smooth and highly educational Pirate Term. Pride in the conduct, empathy, and genuine care our students showed in service to others. Pride in the Hudson Community School District. It's great to be a Pirate! 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

School Board Message to the Class of 2017--President Karyn Finn

Good Afternoon to our Hudson Community Family.

Welcome parents, guardians, grandparents, faculty, staff & guests.

I would like to express sincere gratitude for all those involved who have worked hard through the years to make this day special for our graduates.

Seniors Annie Klenk and Sam Strayer process into the gym
for the graduation ceremony on May 21.
(Photo by Retrospect)
I am proud and honored to be here today as President of your Hudson School Board to share a message of encouragement in the celebration of our students as they move forward into their next journey.          
It truly does take a community with unwavering commitment in their dedication to the success of our small town school.  A community of  businesses, the Parent Teacher Organization, the Hudson Education Fund, city leaders, churches, individual parents and coaches who give of their time, talents and financial resources to provide a solid foundation in preparing our youth for the future. 

The guiding vision at every Board meeting is that “we create effective learning environments that result in the success for ALL students”.  Because of this ongoing commitment to our school district, Hudson has the highest graduation rate in the Cedar Valley!  This IS a very important investment made by our collective community toward YOUR future.  THANK YOU Hudson Community!

You may have heard the saying that “The world is bigger than your won backyard”.  Well it is very true and those of you who have participated in the many co-curricular and extra curricular activities offered at Hudson have experienced this first hand.  Many of you have had experiences in local and State level events like National History Day, Music events, Athletics, Journalism and more.  In addition, some of you have had experiences at National competitions like our FFA participants who represent Iowa and the importance of agriculture in our community.  There have even been Global connections like that which Mr. Paulson’s Biology class had this year with the Tanzanian members of the Maasai tribe.

Because of these many diverse opportunities you ARE PREPARED for your next great adventure in
President Finn congratulates a student on receiving
her diploma.
(Photo by Retrospect)
life whether that is 2 or 4 year college, Technical School, the Military or directly into the workforce, the world awaits your talents, skills, caring and compassion.

You ARE PREPARED to continue Personal Development to understand the diverse world we live in and the complexities of a global society in local communities.

You ARE PREPARED with a strong foundation to continue to build on your academic and social knowledge as a Critical Thinker. 

You ARE PREPARED to Work Hard with that great Iowa work ethic that is sought out for by employers and should not be underestimated.

You ARE PREPARED to inspire others by continued community engagement as a Contributing Citizen.  Connections matter where ever you go.

Today you are High School Graduates PREPARED with an excellent foundation to grow where you are planted.  I challenge you to continue grow to the next level by making new connections in the communities that you encounter along the way. Engage in our ever growing global society. 
Congratulations Class of 2017

YOU are the precious Treasure and Pride of HUDSON–GO PIRATES!! 

Superintendent's Message to the Class of 2017

Good afternoon! I would like to welcome all of our parents, grandparents, and other distinguished guests to Hudson. Today we celebrate an important milestone in the lives of these students sitting in front of me who make up the Hudson High School Class of 2017. Our time with these young people draws to a close today; and the finality of today’s ceremony brings with it a range of emotions.

Seniors listen with anticipation at receiving diplomas.
(Photo by Retrospect)
We have watched you very closely over the course of your journey as students at Hudson. In fact, you may be among the most observed of our classes. Because of this, those assembled here today know you all quite well. Each step of your educational journey in this school has been carefully planned and orchestrated. When you were in 6th grade we began preparing for your arrival in the high school. We pondered such questions as what classes were we going to offer and who would teach them? How many sections of English and Math would we need? Everything was considered in an effort to answer the simple question: how could we make sure this class received our very best efforts? Our continual attention to this task obligated us to adjust our strategy in an effort to make sure you each got the very best education. So it is within that context, that today, it is my honor of delivering to you, your final lesson as a student at Hudson High School.

Yes, this Class of 2017 is not one of our larger classes. But certainly the size of your class doesn't in any way diminish the magnitude of your accomplishments! For starters, we reiterate the obvious. Although small in numbers, the impact you have made on our school has been mighty. The benchmarks you have set and the accomplishments you have achieved have created memories and aspirations that your contemporaries will reach for in years to come. Now as you go out into the world and those experiences fade into cherished memories, my hope is that what you are most remembered for during your time as a student here is your strength of character. Because at the end of the day, we may not remember if you won the game, but we will remember how you made us feel, and that might be the most important lesson you learn as you leave here today.

I recently read a New York Times column by Rebecca Sabky who is an admissions counselor for Dartmouth College. In this column, she describes how in her visits to high schools she is inundated with students who are seeking admission into this prestigious institution and how students fight for her attention while trying to get her to take their resume. She describes how students will sometimes follow her to her car in an effort to just get a little more exposure. Indeed, competition into this Ivy League school is fierce and admission is coveted. Each year, Rebecca reads some 2,000 applications from all around the world seeking to gain admission to the prominent institution. Many of them are indistinguishable from one another. They all contain the same gratuitous letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors, and principals. All at the top of their class. All model students with unblemished records of discipline. All involved in sports, music, drama, and art. All.....the same.

Except, there was one very distinguishable letter of recommendation for a particular student. This letter was authored by one of the school custodians. In this recommendation, the custodian described a student who went out of his way to thank the janitors for their work. Who went out of his way to make sure that lights were turned off, and who 'tidied up' after classmates when no one was watching. This letter described the student as the only person who knew the name of every janitor in the school. The student was ultimately admitted to the school by a unanimous vote of the admissions committee. Indeed the lessons here are many. The power of the pen? The voice of the unheard? The strength of character? The ability to make yourself stand out from a crowd?

Celebrating a milestone.
(Photo by Retrospect)
There is no doubt that there are some wickedly smart people sitting in front of me right now. I am even quite sure some of you have tremendous technical skills that will land you a great paying job or internship just a few weeks from now. But here is the deal: although you may be the smartest, most intellectual, or skilled person in your chosen field, if you aren't kind, compassionate, and pleasant to be around, this success will be short lived. We have taught you the skills needed to enter the workforce or be a successful college student. But the rest of it? It comes from the heart. 

The fact is that today one chapter of your lives closes and another opens. From this day forward you will be asked to stand on your own two feet and take responsibility for your actions. 

Now, as your superintendent, I am typically not as involved in your daily affairs as others. In most cases, our paths don't cross as frequently as they do with your teachers or principal. In the traditional paradigm, if our paths were to cross it was not for something very pleasant. But lucky for me, that standard does not exist within these halls. Because I do know you, and I know that, while incredibly bright, you also have heart. I know what you are capable of, and we will be quite proud in a few moments to call you alumni of Hudson Schools. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be generous.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Personalizing Our Professional Development

Our teacher leadership system has become quite successful. Based on a system designed to strengthen instruction through embedded professional development, we are seeing results. Relentless in our effort to ensure professional development is connected to district initiatives that improve student outcomes in the areas of math, reading, and technology; the vast majority of our faculty have been exposed to and implemented research based instructional strategies into practice that we know work. The formula used for our model of delivery is quite simple and elegant. Without much elaboration, once a problem of practice has been identified and researched, professional development is delivered using a common workshop model on Wednesday afternoons during early dismissal. Those delivering professional development content may include consultants from the AEA, or our own instructional coaches and model teachers. Following the delivery of content, our teacher leadership team works with teachers on the implementation phase of the professional development to embed it into practice. 

So when Mr. Schlatter came to me several months ago and said the teacher leadership team wanted to explore personalized professional development I was opposed. The concerns I had were many, but perhaps highest on the list was accountability and connection to district initiatives. In my mind, as soon as we completely turned the reigns over to individual teachers to figure out what they wanted their professional development to look like anarchy would reign! That's right, anarchy I say! But, he convinced me to keep an open mind, which I begrudgingly did. They could do their exploration, and I would *cough* keep an open mind. Anarchy!

As the months went by I received regular updates from Mr. Schlatter about their study. While still not convinced, I gave him a list of non-negotiables. Among them were those mentioned above: we had to ensure accountability and a connection to district initiatives. He promised those guardrails would be part of the proposed model and shared that at some point the team would want to present their plan to me. Now, I wouldn't say that I was softening on my stance, but I could see they were very serious about this and, frankly as happy as I was with how professional development was going, wasn't naive enough to believe all was Utopia in the land of professional learning in our school district. So, where are those problems?

If you read the opening paragraph again hopefully you will catch one of the most glaring; because I was very deliberate in my narrative: "The vast majority of our faculty....". You see it, right? Indeed, not all our teachers are exposed to the same professional development. For example, if you aren't a math teacher, the professional development we provided on number talks was likely irrelevant to your daily practice. In fact, there are swaths of faculty on a regular basis that not impacted by our professional development. Think about our specialists! Then there are the aspects of professional development that just are 'the way it is'. Oftentimes, and even justifiably so it is difficult to maintain a high attention and energy level during professional development. Why? Because teachers are pre-occupied with numerous other tasks that need to be completed. Lesson plans. Grades. Providing feedback to students. The list goes on. Indeed, I can remember as a teacher thinking that my time would be best spent one of the other numerous things that needed to be accomplished before I went home that night. 

Nonetheless, I resisted a change. The model we used worked as well as any, and in my humble opinion better than most. It provided the framework to avoid.....anarchy.

My perception changed about two weeks ago when the teacher leadership team pitched me their idea. Months in the planning, I could tell they were a bit nervous about how this would unfold. They had a tough task ahead of them and knew that I would ask difficult questions. They spoke eloquently about the positive attributes of the current professional development system, while arguing that we could, and should, do even better. They politely pointed out the flaws in our system and reminded me that teacher leadership was designed not only to strengthen instruction through embedded professional development, but to empower our teachers to be better and to strive for improvement. They contended that while a top down approach to professional development might garner compliance, a bottom up approach would meet the needs of all our teachers and truly take us to the next level. 

The plan they put together that ultimately gained my approval not only put the fail-safes in place that I had insisted on, it takes the concept of our teacher leadership system to a much higher state of professional enlightenment. Further, it takes an existing model that had been exclusively used for personalized professional development in technology and adapts it across disciplines. This allows us here at Hudson to maintain our spirit of innovation and be on the cutting edge of practice! In addition, it assigns each teacher or group of teachers a coach that will guide them through the professional development of their choosing, ensuring they align to district priorities and the Iowa Professional Development Model. Finally, and perhaps the best part is the concluding activity: They will share what they have learned with their colleagues, creating a library of wealth and knowledge for all our practitioners. 

The work these teacher leaders have done was impressive and exactly the kind of bold leadership that we embrace in our school district. They have put together an impressive plan. I can't wait to see how this unfolds next year. I am sold!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What They Become

Hudson's Gold Star Teacher of the Year Nancy Uden
celebrates her selection with students.
A job, career, or vocation? While these words all describe the tasks with which we fill our days and the connotation similar, I would opine the vernacular used to be of great significance. Consider the word 'job': A post of employment. Anything a person is expected or obliged to do. Notice this definition from www.dictionary.com doesn't mention anything about self-fulfillment or sense of purpose. Certainly I am not naive enough to think that there aren't days when each of us, in any of our chosen fields are merely doing our job--with the promise of the weekend just around the corner! But if we think about about the word 'career', does the definition of that term change how you feel about your work a little bit? A career is defined as 'an occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one's lifework'. I certainly think that each of us have careers, right? But how about if we shift the context of how we describe work one more time and instead use the word 'vocation'? Again, same 'type of activity' but the meaning changes just a bit. Often times when considering the term vocation it comes with a theological undertone yet I would suggest that is not a pre-requisite. Nevertheless, vocations are by in large professional occupations requiring specialized training, but now the particular field of work is viewed as a calling, usually in service to others.

Agriculture teacher Dennis Deppe working with the next
generation of farmers.
I have spent a lot of time in the last week reflecting on the differences in this terminology and indeed have come to believe that whether or not you have a job, career, or vocation is in the eye of the beholder. That's right. You get to decide. What do you think about this thing called work? Yes, we all have jobs. We come to work daily and are obligated and bound by certain tasks and actions. We most certainly have careers, if for nothing else the specialized training that it took for each of us to get here. But how about education as a vocation? While not ordained in the ecclesiastical sense, an educator certainly is called into service for others. Service to the students, families, and communities that you serve.

Our teachers toil and labor day after day, week after week, and month after month in service to their pupils. Always preparing them for the future, and in many cases not seeing or realizing the impact of their labor. Then as the years go by sometimes, conceivably wondering, what has become of them? And every once in awhile learning the surprising, or perhaps not so surprising answer to that question.

A happenstance meeting at the grocery store twenty years from now, or the random email from that child who drove you crazy because they couldn't sit still or keep their hands to themselves. They are getting married now and would love to see you at their wedding. The child who is in your classroom right now that looks just like their father, who when a student in your classroom couldn't stop talking about excavators. He now owns a construction company. What about that little girl who was in your kindergarten classroom? She now teaches across the hall from you.

Hopefully you all have had those experiences. If you haven't yet I believe that one day you will. The biggest thrill I have as an educator and former teacher is hearing from my students from so long ago and finding out what they have become. Recently I heard from a former student who, after finishing a successful career as a C-130 navigator in the Air Force is now in major seminary studying to become a Catholic priest. Frankly, with Nick I am not all that surprised he has been called to serve in this way, and my wife Ann and I are looking forward to his ordination. I have shared many stories of former students like Nick with you because of the pride I have in the milestones they reach in their lives. Indeed, I believe in some small way that I may have nurtured them along, recognized a passion, or sparked an interest.

It is not cliche or an overstatement that the future of our American way of life is dependent on the teachers that serve in our public schools. We have doctors, lawyers, construction workers, farmers, teachers, secretaries, politicians, and electricians because of teachers. Could it be the preservation and enlightenment of the Union is counting on the strength of our public school teachers? I think yes. Certainly the payoff isn't now. But it will be a generation or two from now when we learn 'What They Become' in the jobs, careers, and vocations of their choosing. Those students who are now being served by our teachers.

Thank you, teachers, for all your hard work, dedication, and effort this year. I promise, you have made a difference.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

I'd Like to Solve the Puzzle Please!

Anyone out there a Wheel of Fortune fan? I'm not, but it seemed like a great title for this article! Last week I mentioned that we are in hiring season, and I think the metaphor of solving a puzzle is a great way to think about how our principals go about assembling a staff and creating a master instructional schedule. When it comes to hiring staff, some teaching positions yield a huge number of applicants while others, unfortunately, require us to go on the offense and court teachers in other school districts that may not be otherwise looking for a job. Undoubtedly, in those hard to fill positions the challenge is exacerbated by the fact that in Hudson, like the majority of schools our size, there aren't enough students enrolled in some courses and content area to warrant a full-time teaching position.

So why not simply make the position full time and fill the teacher's schedule with other courses? Well, that is usually easier said than done. Just because someone has a teaching license doesn't mean we can have them teach anything we want. Teachers are credentialed in a certain subject matter and often times don't have the right license or credential to teach other courses that may be needed in the schedule. Just because someone has a license to teacher World History doesn't necessarily mean they are licensed to teach American History. To find out what courses your child's teacher is licensed to teach, you can search for a teacher's license on the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners licensing site. For your convenience, you can check out this link here.

Nevertheless, an already difficult to hire position is made all the more so because it isn't full time. Of course, teachers are going to be more attracted to a full-time position that includes benefits as opposed to one that doesn't. To combat this, if we can create a full-time position by sharing that teacher with another school district it helps quite a bit. But the challenge then becomes: When is the teacher going to be in district 'A' and in district 'B'? Once that has been ironed out, it locks down the remainder of the master schedule for the school district, which can create other challenges.

We have a couple of teachers in Hudson this year that are shared with other school districts. It works pretty well for us, but it does create scheduling challenges. In the high school, we have to be careful that some of the more popular or advanced classes that may only have one section aren't scheduled at the same time as another popular or advanced class. Think for example the problem it would cause if we scheduled band and chorus for the same hour? How about AP Chemistry and AP Physics during the same hour? It is usually impossible to create a schedule where conflicts like this don't exist, but we do our very best to mitigate scheduling conflicts. Having students make choices about which courses they want to take is healthy, but we try our best to make sure they have the maximum opportunity to achieve their academic goals.

It may also surprise you to know that there is quite a bit of internal lobbying that happens when it comes to creating the master schedule! Teachers are fully aware of what are considered 'premium' instructional time slots and want to ensure they are able to teach during those times. Think about it for a second: would you rather have your class first thing in the morning or right after lunch, or at the end of the day. There is definitely a difference! Understandably, someone has to fill these slots.

Staffing and scheduling are a puzzle that requires abstract thinking and the ability to consider a holistic approach to our schedule and staff. As I mentioned last week, this is but another Cycle of the School Year and a puzzle that will take several months to solve!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Cycle of the School Year

The rhythm of the school year ebbs and flows with the seasons and months of the calendar. Whenever feelings of anxiousness begin to set in, it almost always helps to remind people that we experience this exact same 'evolution' every year at this time (no matter what time of the year it is). For example, the beginning of the school year finds us busily enrolling students, updating our directory of information, and completing a number of mandatory reports for the Iowa Department of Education. Indeed the volume and pace of the work may at times seem a bit overwhelming. However, the cycle of schooling gives us the opportunity to pace ourselves and anticipate what will happen next. While there really is no idle time when it comes to the educational calendar, the peaks and valleys within that cycle really make the work quite anticipatory and yes, rewarding!

Where the beginning of the school year finds us establishing routines with our students and faculty, collecting baseline data for educational objectives, and learning new names; the end of the school year is another very busy time of year for us. We are closing in on the end of April, and like it or not the end of the school year isn't too far off! During this time of the year, we begin to see the pace in activity pick up quite a bit. Our teachers are working extra hard to make sure they get in all the lessons they have planned so when students are promoted to the next grade level in the fall, they are ready for a new set of learning objectives. Calendars are packed with a plethora of activities from final music concerts of the year to award presentations honoring our students for their accomplishments. 

But yet, on the surface as we are closing out one school year, we are simultaneously 'ramping up' for 2017-2018. Much of this work occurs in the background, but the pace and race is on! That's because it's hiring season at Hudson Schools. As is the case every year, we have employees who retire and others that move on to other schools or other careers. At this time, we have three certified teaching positions posted that include a 6th grade teaching position, a Family and Consumer Science teaching position, and a special education instructional strategist I. If you are interested in these positions or know of anyone who might be interested in a teaching position at Hudson schools, please check out the Employment Page of our website.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Third Grade Reading Proficiency

It is going to take several weeks and perhaps even months to really understand the impact of this legislative session. As we speak, the General Assembly is in the final stages of debate and it appears they will gavel out in the next couple of days. There is no mistake that some very substantial changes have been enacted into law this session. The long term impact of some of these policies may not be felt for several years. This session was also fraught with budget cuts, two of which occurring this fiscal year following updated revenue estimates, and another that adjusted the anticipated revenue downward for the next fiscal year. Indeed, budget shortfalls and slow revenue growth have been a recurring theme this session. The policies and laws put forth have certainly echoed this theme and trend. We'll spend some time in the following weeks examining a variety of policy which impact schools, but I do want to talk a little bit about a good news/bad news decision that was made this week.

The good news first I guess. The requirement that students who are not proficient readers by the time they complete third grade has been abandoned. This, after the legislature delayed the implementation by a year due to a lack of funding. You'll recall this was part of the landmark education reform legislation passed in 2013 known as House File 215 that also brought us the teacher leadership and compensation system. In spite of the fact that the vast majority of scholarly research suggests that retention in most cases is not an effective way to stem the tide of non-proficient readers Iowa chose to forge ahead, citing the flawed results of other states that had implemented similar measures. The fact this has been shelved is a good move, whatever the reason.

But the other side of that coin (this is the bad news folks) was the abandonment of a plan that would require non-proficient readers to attend a high impact, research driven summer school program. At an estimated price tag of $9 Million for statewide implementation, there just wasn't the funding to see this through. Now to the legislature's credit, they also cited the results of Iowa's pilot study from last summer where selected school districts implemented a summer reading program. The results of this study showed the program did not statistically alter proficiency trends. Yet at the same time we learned much from this study, uncovering problems that most certainly could have been solved.

So what does work? Well, we know that strong instruction using research based strategies has an impact. In other words, effective teaching. In Hudson, I believe that we can check that box due in large part to the effectiveness of our teacher leadership system and the work of our instructional coaches. The fact is, we have an instructional coach whose entire job is to focus her work on literacy. The identification and monitoring of student progress also has an impact. This enables us to target instruction to students based on what type of difficulty has been uncovered. Our FAST system has been able to fit this bill, and our results suggest marked improvement.

The funding for an intensive summer reading program may have fallen by the wayside as well, but here at Hudson we have an answer for that as well. For the last several years we have had the fortunate opportunity to partner with the University of Northern Iowa's Reading center. This partnership has enabled UNI to bring their clinic to Hudson over the summer and work with our students. This intensive instruction is provided by pre-service teachers under the supervision of university professors who are seeking a reading endorsement.

Finally we know that early intervention makes a difference. That is one of the reasons why Hudson has worked so hard this year preparing to launch our statewide voluntary preschool program in time for the 2017-2018 school year!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

My Visit With Richard

One of the more enjoyable parts of my job is visiting with our alumni. Most of the time my interactions are with those who have graduated recently. If in college, they have come to expect me to ask about their grades! I am very interested in knowing how well we did preparing them for post-secondary education.  In addition to that group of young alumni, I've been here long enough now that students who graduated early in my tenure are beginning to settle into careers and starting to get married! Those are also really fun conversations to have! It is very exciting to see our alumni thriving, enjoying life, and contributing to society. Soon, some of these alumni will begin to have families and we'll be (hopefully) seeing those children in our schools!

But not all my interactions with alumni are from recent graduates. From time to time, I'll have a conversation with someone who wants to share a story about a beloved teacher from a long time ago. Or, I'll hear stories of the move from the old building to the 'new high school'. That new high school by the way is 20 years old, so those alumni are probably in their mid to late 30's at this point. Many of which have children in our schools right now. Then there are the alum who are retired and now enjoy watching their grandchildren in our concerts, musicals, and athletic events. I am lucky to visit with these folks on a somewhat regular basis as well. Be it at the Neighborhood Grill for an early morning breakfast, or at one of our events here at school. I thoroughly enjoy hearing the stories they have to share of their time as a student at Hudson, and the impact our school had on them so long ago. 

Yet my interactions with alumni have stretched even further back than many of you might imagine. A couple of weeks ago, I received a random email from Richard Mohler who lives in the greater Dallas, Texas metropolitan area. In his message, he stated that at 101 years of age, he is likely our oldest known living alum. Well, I checked the records and sure enough, Dick Mohler graduated from Hudson High School in 1933! I'm not sure if it was divine intervention or fate, but as luck would have it my wife Ann and I were planning a trip to Dallas the very next week! It's not everyday that you get to meet in person the oldest known alumnus of your school district! So, we made plans to meet Dick at his home in Dallas during our vacation. 

It was a delightful visit! I don't know about you, but if I am in half as good of shape as Mr. Mohler in my senior years, I'll be a pretty happy camper! He credits his good health to eating right, enjoying life, and a very strong faith. We really enjoyed hearing what life was like growing up in Hudson in the 1930s and about his daily work doing chores on the farm, not too far from the school. He told us about how he would literally run to and from school everyday to keep in shape. Dick was very active in school as an athlete, participating in both basketball and track. Academically, he graduated at the top of his class as valedictorian. He shared that he beat his girlfriend for the top spot by one point--but he also wanted me to know that she wasn't really his girlfriend, just a friend that happened to be a girl! 

Dick went on to have a successful career as a seventh and eighth grade teacher in Dayton, Ohio where he and his family settled. When I inquired about how he arrived in Dayton, he shared that at that time in Iowa, his wife could not be a teacher if she was married! So they moved to where they could both enjoy a teaching career. We promised to stay in touch, and after about an hour or so headed on our way. Dick is planning a trip to Cedar Falls in July, and I am hopeful that we will be able to connect. I told him that I would really enjoy giving him a tour of our school buildings and facilities, although the buildings that were here when he was a student have long since been replaced. 

In any event, this whole experience really got me thinking about the history and tradition of our school district. I don't know if you have ever really paid attention to the sign in front of the elementary school, but the emblem on the top states the district was established in 1855. Now, I've walked by that sign hundreds of times and from time to time have taken note of that establishment imprimatur. And I found myself wondering a little bit about the history of the school district, and frankly whether or not that was even true. As it turns out, it is true--or so close to that year that it really is quite insignificant. 

You see, when I started looking through the archives for records on Mr. Mohler, I was pretty deep in the vault. I decided that while I was in there to have an even deeper look around. Now, I am not sure you are aware of this, but school districts keep records forever. So, in the very back of the vault in a dusty file cabinet rarely opened I found minutes from a school board meeting dated March 7, 1864. The pages were old and brittle. The handwritten notes were so faded that it is becoming difficult to read them. But a prime topic of discussion at the meeting that evening included the proposal to 'levy a tax on the taxable property of the District Township sufficient to raise the sum of (illegible) in addition to what has already been raised for the erection of a schoolhouse in this Sub-District.'

Truth be told, I probably could have gone even deeper and further back into our history, but as it was I felt like I probably shouldn't be handling these documents without a pair of white cotton gloves. Nevertheless, meeting Richard and having that opportunity to examine our history was an awesome experience. It reminded me the importance of the American public school system and the impact that it has on generation upon generation of citizens. And, it caused me to pause and reflect on the rich heritage and tradition of public schooling that is part of the fabric of our community. Indeed, that tradition runs deep in Hudson. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Always Present

Congratulations are in order for Mr. Wurzer who was selected as the state middle school athletic director of the year at the Iowa high school athletic directors convention this past weekend! I can think of no one more deserving. As a person who works largely in the background, a lot of what he does for the students in our school district may go unnoticed. But I can assure you of this: without his commitment and dedication we most certainly wouldn't be as successful as we are. He has been the constant variable in our school, always present and working hard on behalf of the students and school. If you have ever had a chance to interact with Kevin, you know why he does this: he loves Hudson, and he loves seeing our kids succeed. And that is not all: he is not one to complain and rarely takes a night off (even when ordered to). He has made it his mission to do whatever he can to make sure the students in our school district have access to great coaches and facilities that complement their academic program. Indeed, watching our kids compete is fun, but seeing how Mr. Wurzer reacts when they crush a milestone is something else. 

Mr. Wurzer was named activities director at Hudson in 1999. And since 2003, Hudson has had three state championship teams, seven teams finish as state runner up, and thirty-four teams qualifying for a variety of state tournaments. When this record of accomplishment was announced during his introduction, you could hear the murmurs of amazement and audible gasps from the audience at this impressive statistic. He will be the first one to tell you that he had little to do with it, but in my observations of him over the years I'm just not buying it. 

Believe me: What he does day in and day out, doesn't just happen! As athletic director, Mr. Wurzer is responsible for hiring and supervising all the coaches and moderators for our school district extra and co-curricular programs. He has direct oversight for roughly 65 coaches and moderators for every activity program ranging from varsity football to the high school musical. He organizes the concession stand, makes sure we have officials, and sets up for the events. The vast majority of the time, he is the first to arrive and the last to leave. It's tough work being an activities director. The hours are long, and the program runs year around. In the summer when most teachers are on summer break, you can usually find Mr. Wurzer at the baseball/softball complex getting the field and concession stand ready for another game. In the plethora of events we host throughout the year he is the 'go to' person when there is an unruly fan or when the popcorn popper quits working. 

I have complete trust and respect for Mr. Wurzer. With his guidance we have been able to accomplish many great upgrades and renovations to our facilities. He is a strong advocate not only for extra/co-curricular programs, but an advocate for the student. Yes, our athletic teams continue to flourish and our activity programs are the envy of many schools our size, but Kevin understands this is but one part of the educational experience of our youth. It is difficult to think about Hudson schools and not immediately think of that guy who is always present, and known quite simply to all of us as 'Wurz'.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

All Systems Go: Preschool Moves forward

Over spring break, Mr. Schlatter, Mr. Wagner and I made a case before the School Budget Review Committee (SBRC) to be permitted to utilize a portion of our reserve funds for start up costs associated with the statewide voluntary preschool program (SWVPP). It was a very interesting process to be sure, and at one point all agreed that we were in a 'Catch 22'. The fact is, both the state department of education and legislature have lauded the value of preschool programming, particularly with regard to the benefits for emerging readers. However, the only way Hudson would have been be able to implement the program would be to use existing funds; which is a prohibited practice. Fortunately the SBRC approved our request so that we can move forward without committing an illegal act. Another bit of good 'spring break' news from last week was the House passing two flexibility bills unanimously, which will grant school districts greater flexibility in categorical funds. Specifically included in this legislation is permission to use funds for preschool programming. The bills now move to the Senate where we expect them to gain approval and ultimately move to the governor for his signature. 

That  means planning for implementation this fall is now moving quickly. On Monday morning, Mr. Schlatter and I met with our AEA consultant and participated in a conference call with the Iowa Department of Education. The purpose of that meeting was to clarify some items in our preschool plan and receive guidance for moving forward. In that phone call, the Department gave us informal approval to proceed with planning and implementation. There is a lot of work that needs to be done prior to the start of the new school year! Then on Monday night, the Board of Directors gave instructions to begin the search for a preschool teacher. That position has subsequently been posted and can be found here

Our journey to begin a statewide voluntary preschool has been simmering on the back burner for a couple of years now. Conversations within my administration over the last several years have always included the need and desire for a preschool program, but the mechanisms for implementation just didn't exist (because of that Catch-22). That simmer became a slow boil over the course of the last 12 months, particularly over the summer and early fall when the number of parent requests began to spike. New families moving into town just didn't understand why Hudson schools was one of the few districts in the state that didn't have the program--of 333 school districts in Iowa, 322 operate preschool programs. Further, Hudson was/is the only district in Blackhawk county without the statewide voluntary preschool program.

You all knew that, and you know the reasons why. But again, to re-emphasize our arguments for this program: the needs of our school district have changed in the intervening decade. For starters, we are currently in a position where we are sending a van load of preschool students to Evansdale every day. These young residents of Hudson must attend a preschool with a licensed teacher because of the IEP that administers their learning program. The fact that we have to send these students outside their home school district because we didn't have a program was not only a thorn in my side, but not a very efficient way to allocate resources.

Yet the reasons for implementing a statewide voluntary preschool program extend beyond those already mentioned. A big focus in elementary school is teaching kids to read. In fact, when analyzing instructional time, we find that instruction related to literacy is the largest continuous block of time in the schedule. Our state legislature has further reinforced the importance of reading with legislation in 2013 that requires all third graders to be proficient by 2017 (now on hold because of funding), or face retention.

So it would stand to reason that early intervention in the form of a preschool would provide the proper vehicle to help meet these needs. Here's why: A study of the Arkansas preschool program found that students who attended the preschool program were less likely to be retained in third grade as opposed to those who didn't attend preschool. And an Iowa study found similar results:
"The number of students proficient in early literacy skills upon kindergarten entry is increasing. In the fall of 2014, 53% of kindergarteners were proficient on the FAST assessment. In the fall of 2015, the percentage increased to 64%. This is indicative of quality literacy instruction in preschool being intentionally embedded into classroom curricula, routines and activities." (From Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program Fact Sheet produced by the Iowa Department of Education)
There are roughly 2,000 days from the time a child is born to the time they enter kindergarten.  In that period of time, the brain develops more rapidly than any other time, and as such during that time the brain is forming the neural pathways that enable it to learn and grow (See early childhood Iowa for more information and for sourcing of this information.)

The benefits to starting a statewide voluntary preschool program are numerous and we have highlighted a few of them here. We are grateful of the support and advocacy from our parents and community members who assisted in this endeavor. If you, or any of your neighbors or relatives are interested in enrolling your child for the Hudson preschool program please contact the elementary office at 988.3239 as soon as possible. Space is filling up fast!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Understanding Collective Bargaining

Perhaps the most controversial piece of legislation yet to emerge from this General Assembly is collective bargaining reform, known as House File 291. You may recall hearing or reading of the large crowds at legislative forums several weeks back, and the protests that occurred at the Capitol in advance of the floor debate in the House and Senate. This legislation dramatically scales back the number of items that unions can negotiate [for] under public sector bargaining in Iowa. To understand these changes, it first might be helpful to discuss how collective bargaining used to work. 

In Iowa many teachers are represented by an association, or what you may commonly refer to as a labor union. The Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) is the statewide branch of the National Education Association (NEA), and the Hudson Education Association (HEA) is the local branch that represents our teachers. A function of these local associations is to negotiate wages and benefits with management. In Hudson, this negotiation is done annually around this time of year. In my role as superintendent, I negotiate with the HEA on behalf of the Board of Directors, representing management. The Board of Directors and I collaborate to develop strategy, positions, and targets for salaries and benefits. Across the table from us are representatives from the HEA. They too work with the members of their organization to develop strategy, positions and targets for salary and benefits. When we sit down to negotiate there is rarely agreement, which is natural and expected.

Issues related to the collective bargaining agreement were categorized in one of three ways: mandatory, permissive, or illegal. Mandatory subjects of bargaining are those that we had to discuss if the other party to the negotiation wanted to discuss them. A few examples of mandatory items included wages, insurance, seniority, transfer procedures, evaluation procedures, and leave. Permissive subjects of bargaining are those which could be discussed only if both parties agreed. An example of a permissive subject of bargaining included what is known in education circles as 'prep' time. Finally, there are items of bargaining that are considered illegal, meaning they can't be discussed regardless of whether or not a party wants to discuss them. In our world, IPERS has always been considered an illegal subject of bargaining.

As contract negotiations would commence, each side presents a proposal and the other side responds with a counter proposal. The goal is to reach a voluntary agreement. In cases where voluntary settlement can't be reached on a mandatory subject of bargaining, it is remedied through binding arbitration. Binding arbitration is essentially a legal proceeding where an arbitrator considers the final offers of both parties and then selects whichever one is most 'reasonable'. The 'stick' in negotiations was arbitration because the arbitrator's ruling picks one side over the other. Because of this, most contracts in Iowa had been settled voluntarily to avoid the gamble of arbitration. Further, the rules of arbitration, including what could be entered into evidence and the variables that must be considered made arbitration very unappealing.

The change that was enacted with House File 291 makes base wages the only mandatory subject of bargaining. Many of the other subjects that were previously mandatory are now classified as either illegal or permissive. Further, the rules of arbitration have changed. Now the arbitrator is bound to select one of two positions for the final settlement: either 3% or the current CPI rate, whichever is lower at the time.

There is no doubt these changes dramatically alter the process and procedures of collective bargaining. Indeed this legislation gives local school board another tool with which to control costs. With very low supplemental state aid (1.11%), controlling costs is extraordinarily difficult. Further, the announcement from the REC yesterday (for the third time in a row) reduced the economic outlook for FY2017, throwing a wet blanket on the remainder of this fiscal year, and setting up the next fiscal year with a $191 million decrease in projected revenue.

We are now preparing to negotiate the contract with our local HEA under this new set of rules. In spite of these changes, we have a difficult needle to thread. Just because we can do something doesn't necessarily mean that we should. It would be wise for all school districts to proceed cautiously. Good schools are so because of the teachers that work in them. Hudson is a great school district because we have great teachers, and we have the results that prove it. The data points that illustrate this are vast, but look no further than the Iowa School Report Card as one example.

It should come as no surprise that our single greatest asset is our teachers. Without good teachers, we will not have good schools. Unsurprisingly, this commodity will be driven by the market. Great teachers will work in schools and in districts where they are fairly compensated, treated with respect, and have a sense of belonging where their voices are heard. I'll say this again: a difficult needle to thread in this new era of collective bargaining where management is charged with the fiduciary responsibility of balancing a budget within the context of little supplemental state aid.

As we begin this new process I am certain there will be disagreements. But nevertheless, our commitment to the teaching staff is to continue providing a competitive compensation structure where the Hudson Community School District is the employer of choice for educators in the Cedar Valley. We will continue to be a great school.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Memorable Winter

I can hardly believe that we are only a few short days from spring break! This winter has flown by, and before we know it the school year will begin winding down. As we approach the middle of March, I am optimistic the cold dark days of winter are in our rear view mirror and we hopefully won't have to endure any more snow days or late starts (knock on wood). Luckily we have had a large number of students activities and events to help pass along those long winter nights. As spring slowly emerges, lets take a moment to celebrate the successes of our students these past couple of months.

Girls receiving final instructions
right before their final game of
the season.
For starters, I think we need to give a shout out to the girls basketball team. The one thing that I will remember about this team is their attitude. They came out and competed hard each and every night. The perseverance of these ladies is a testament to the Keys of Excellence with which we want our young people to ascribe. For example: Live in Integrity, Keep Your Balance, Stay Flexible, Live in the Now: This is It!, Take Ownership, Acknowledge Failure Leads to Success, and finally Affirm Your Commitment. While this season may not have transpired in the way it was envisioned, it is worth noting they made a deep run in district play, knocking off the top rated team in their bracket and following it with another win a few days later. Think about it! Who would have envisioned our team would have ended the season in this fashion! I kept hearing our fans saying, 'strength of schedule'. Indeed strength of schedule! The future is bright for this team, especially knowing they will return all their starters next season.

Of course we can't talk about our athletic program without mentioning the success of our wrestling program! Certainly I think what is probably most memorable about this wrestling season is the individual performances of both Wes Geisler and Taylan Entriken at the state tournament. Both of which made the podium: Wes with an 8th place finish and Taylan with a state championship! But what about the team success? As a team, they were able to break the school record for the most combined wins in a single season with 367. The previous record of 353 wins had stood since the 2002-2003 season!

Our success wasn't confined to our athletic teams either! The show choir had a very successful season, winning first place at the Marion Masquerade in their division and qualifying for the finals that night. The show choir also found success by placing in many of their other competitions as well. The FFA competed at the sub-district competition and qualified all entries to the district competition that will be held in Monticello on Saturday. And finally, our jazz band won the NEIBA district competition, qualifying for the stat jazz finals in April. Congratulations to all our students, coaches, and moderators on their success this winter! We are looking forward to much more success this spring! 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Why We Advocate

If possible, I like to get out into our schools and see what is going on in classrooms. Unfortunately it is not as often as I like, and lately there have been many other projects and tasks that have prevented me from interacting with our students and teachers with the frequency that I would prefer. But when I have the chance to visit classrooms, what I often see is quite extraordinary! I try my best to document these encounters and share the 'Miracles that Happen Every Day', but to capture this magic in the context of 140 characters and a photo is quite challenging. Yet, through my informal observation of instruction, those opportunities to see learning come to life in they eyes of our students is what makes everything else about this work so rewarding. Furthermore, the dedication, planning, and attention to detail our teachers must exhibit in order to execute some of these lessons is of a complexity that is very hard to understand or grasp.

Yes, I am fortunate to be able to witness some pretty remarkable learning experiences and projects that have been planned by an outstanding teaching staff. For example, a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the 4th grade 'wax museum' where our students had the task of exploring and researching a famous figure from history, either living or dead and then creating a slide show presentation of their work using their iPad's. As a capstone to that activity, each student created a likeness of their subject and presented it in the form of a wax museum, where visitors to the exhibit could see these 'wax sculptures' come to life and share the story of who they were. This project gave our students the chance to expand their learning well beyond a history lesson on a famous person! They were able to engage audience members in eye contact, fluent speaking, and expressive thought. As I was leaving the presentation that afternoon, I had the chance to have a brief conversation with one of the teachers who had planned the activity with her teaching team. I thought this was an excellent project and after sharing my observation with her, she explained to me how they were planning to improve the experience the next time. I thought it was great, and of course it was. She wanted to make it even better!

Then there is the deep thinking and hands on learning that is happening in the agriculture department. Our students are experimenting with both a hydroponics and aquaponics lab, and enjoying quite a bit of success growing lettuce and other garden vegetables. A great example of scientific inquiry, students who are working in the greenhouse have to constantly monitoring a number of variables in order to ensure their crop is getting just the right mix of water, fertilizer, and sunlight in order to provide sustainability. One of the best parts about this observation and conversation with the teacher was that this success didn't just occur by mere happenstance. There were many trials and errors the students had to overcome before finding just the right balance. What a wonderful example of a Key to Success: Acknowledging that failure does indeed lead to success.

The hands on activity of this lab and others like it around our school provide our students with a rich and varied educational experience that is designed not only to engage our students, but to challenge their thinking. These are only but a few examples of the outstanding experiences our students are exposed to on a daily basis. There is the deep learning and problem solving occurring in the Inquiry Space. Or the work that is just gaining steam with the National History Day project. How about the implementation of our connected learning initiative that has now expanded to include grades 3-12? What is also interesting and should be lost on no one, particularly with regard to the two projects described above is where we interacted with the learning. What I witnessed and shared with you was the finished product. Unfortunately neither you or I were present when a light bulb came on for a particular student or class. What we saw was impressive for sure, but what was most impressive is what happened in that moment of time when a student found success, where a barrier was overcome!

My point today is that since the real work of the General Assembly began in January, the bulk of my discussion here has focused on varying policy proposals and how they might impact our school district. There is no doubt this session has provided me with plenty of material to write about, and there is more to come. At a minimum, I seek to provided our community with perspective on how these policy proposals will impact our school district. Indeed part of my job requires advocacy on behalf of our students, but every once in a while if we (I) don't pause and take a breath we tend to forget what all this advocacy is about! Our kids, right? So while the flurry of activity continues in Des Moines, today I wanted to shine a light on all the neat learning experiences that have been and will continue to happen inside our school. Hopefully this pause has given us an opportunity to remember what all that advocacy is about.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Penny Still Buys a Lot

On March 10th the school district will receive bids for phase one of our elementary school renovation project. Located in what we refer to as the 'East Wing', we will be doing work in the kindergarten classrooms and fine arts area. The project will also include the auxiliary gymnasium and kitchen, and there are plans in this phase to make our competition gym handicap accessible by installing a ramp and ADA restroom in the vicinity of our elementary art and music room. Specifically speaking, we will be installing new windows, air conditioning, ceilings and LED lighting fixtures. We will also be replacing all the temperature controls for our heating system. All told, our estimation for this phase of the project is between $550,000 and $600,000. 

You should take note that this is phase one, which obviously indicates future phases. Indeed, the board has earmarked roughly $500,000 a year for the next several years to completely renovate and modernize our elementary attendance center. At the same time we are doing this, we'll be replacing school buses, putting new roofs on our buildings, purchasing appliances for our kitchen, and acquiring new desks and furniture for our classrooms. Speaking of which, we have identified roughly $30,000 in furniture expenses for the 2017-2018 school year; a big portion of which will be used to replace lockers in the middle school. 

I haven't even mentioned the unknown expenses yet, those that typically rear their head at the worst possible time. So far this year, those emergencies that pop up have encumbered an expense of just over $20,000. Luckily, all of these things are budgeted for, even that unplanned emergency. In case you are wondering, through the month of February we have invested $720,093.94 in capital expenditures during this fiscal year, with the majority of them falling over the previous summer.

There are two revenue sources that make up our capital projects fund; the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) and Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE). For the sake of clarity, the SAVE fund is the one cent sales tax. Between these two revenue streams we receive between $800,000 and $850,000 annually, with the SAVE fund providing the lions share of these resources. As you can see from the table above, since 2009, Hudson has received $4,946,078 in sales tax revenue.

Without the SAVE fund we wouldn't be able to do many of the facility upgrades and renovations that we have planned. With our PPEL fund only, we would likely be able to manage the upkeep of our transportation fleet and cover the costs associated with computer hardware replacement. Anything beyond that would be quite a stretch. That is why we advocate for the extension of the SAVE statewide penny which is scheduled to sunset in 2029.

Arguably some may suggest that there should be no rush in the renewal since there is currently still 12 years remaining. Yet the fact is, many school districts bond against future revenue in the form of 'anticipated revenue bonds'. Currently, school districts have limited bonding capacity since this window is so short and beginning to close. Now, in our case the board has been committed to a 'pay as we go' philosophy, one that quite frankly has served us well. But for our planning purposes it is important to always be forward thinking. Once we finish our elementary renovation project, our sites will turn to the high school. After all, that building is now approaching 20 years old! Our current facility plan, by the way, projects out to the 2020-2021 school year. I can promise you that in 2021 and beyond (2029 for example), we are not magically going to have all of our building needs addressed. 

Luckily House File 230 has been introduced, which extends SAVE to January 1, 2050, giving schools a 20 year extension on this valuable resource. Absent the SAVE fund, school districts would be forced to either delay facility upgrades or rely on General Obligation bonds, which require a 60% super majority to pass and usually come along with a property tax increase. The Board of Directors has identified the preservation and extension of the statewide penny as one of it's legislative priorities. 

I often hear positive comments from our citizens about the numerous projects or improvements we have made to our facilities. Indeed it fills us all with pride to have great facilities for our students and visitors to our district. To keep our facilities up to date and modern we need your help. Please contact your legislators and tell them to support House File 230! You can find your legislator here

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How the Budget Guarantee Impacts Property Tax

Reader's note: This article originally appeared on April 1st, 2015 as a way to explain the relationship between low supplemental state aid and a mechanism known as the budget guarantee. It has been updated here as a companion to last week's article, 'Supplemental State Aid: The Die Has Been Cast' to illustrate the correlation between low supplemental state aid and how it negatively effects property tax. I share this updated version because as was the case in 2015, Hudson Schools will be impacted by the budget guarantee. As was my invitation in 2015, if you are reading a hard copy edition of this article in the Hudson Herald, I would invite you to please access it online at www.superintendentvoss.blogspot.com. This will enable you to view the animated slides and deepen your understanding of the budget guarantee.

The budget guarantee is a mechanism in the Iowa school finance foundation formula that is designed to soften the blow of declining enrollment in schools. In school parlance, we refer to this as the 101% guarantee. As a practical matter, this means when supplemental state aid doesn't keep up with a decrease in enrollment, the school district is guaranteed an increase of at least 1% over the prior year's Regular Program District Cost without that guarantee. Let me explain further.

Regular Program District Cost is calculated by multiplying the number of certified students by the District Cost Per Pupil. In fiscal year 2017, we had 679 students on our certified enrollment count. Multiplying 679 X $6,766 tells us that the Regular Program District Cost for our current fiscal year is $4,595,467.

Because the legislature set supplemental state aid last week, we know the cost per pupil is set to rise by 1.11%. Therefore the cost per pupil next fiscal year in Hudson increases $73 to $6,839. But now, we have a certified enrollment number of 666. Multiplying 666 X $6,839 tells us that our Regular Program District Cost for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2017 (Fiscal Year 2018) is now $4,554,774.

Because our Regular Program District Cost for the new fiscal year is less than it was the prior fiscal year, we are on the budget guarantee. (click right arrow above)

The reason we call this the 101% guarantee is because of the math that is used to calculate the new figure. To get to this new number, we multiple the Regular Program District Cost from the previous fiscal year by 1.01: $4,595,467 X 1.01. This provides us with a new number that is know as the Regular Program District Cost with budget Guarantee or $4,641,423 (click right arrow above)

Now then, the question becomes how does this number impact property taxes? Well, if you look at the row above [where the arrow is pointed] titled 'Budget Guarantee', you will notice the number $86,648. (click right arrow above). The budget guarantee is funded solely through property taxes. We arrive at this number by subtracting the Regular Program District Cost without budget guarantee from the Regular Program District Cost with the budget guarantee: $4,641,423-$4,554,774=$86,648.

Last week you probably recall me stating that our actual budget growth for next year is expected to be around $45,390.73, or a .57% increase. We arrive at this number by simply subtracting last year's Regular Program District Cost with budget guarantee from this year's Regular Program District Cost with budget guarantee: $4,641,423-$4,595,467=$45,955.(click the right arrow above) Notice that we are currently not on the budget guarantee. Each year that a school district is on the budget guarantee, it is always calculated from the Regular Program District Cost without the budget guarantee from the prior fiscal year. As a result over time, school districts experience an erosion of funding as enrollment decreases.

You may also recall last week I shared that as supplemental state aid increases, tax rates decrease. This is because as supplemental state aid is added to the mix, the amount of property tax reliance falls. As you click the right arrow above, notice on the next slide that as the amount of state supplemental aid is increased, the budget guarantee amount decreases. As a result of that, the property tax decreases. It is not until the Supplemental State Aid is 4% the district is no longer on the budget guarantee, and thus citizens are subject to a greater property tax burden.