Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Flexibility Needed for Our Preschool

In case you hadn't heard, the Iowa Legislature is now in session. So I think it is a good idea to remind myself what we talked about in my New Year's post: Be Patient! The first couple of weeks have been consumed with a de-appropriation bill of $118 Million (de-appropriation is a fancy way of saying budget cut), so we haven't seen a lot of new legislation...that is until this week. We'll spend some time in the coming weeks discussing various pieces of legislation and how they impact our school district. However, today I want to discuss flexibility within the context of our proposal to implement the statewide voluntary preschool program (SWVPP) in Hudson for the 2017-2018 school year.

On Tuesday, January 24, President Finn and
I attended an advocacy day a the Capitol.
Flexibility was a main topic of conversation
with Representative Rogers.
(Pictured, L-R: Rep. Timi Brown Powers,
President Finn, Dr. Voss, Rep. Walt Rogers)
Just to clarify, when talking about flexibility I am specifically discussing categorical funds in a school district budget. This is not a new phenomenon, and in fact is one that I have spoken of regularly. The last time was September 17, 2015 with the article 'Categorical Funding Revisited'. Simply stated, not all revenue received by a school district is treated equally. Sections of revenue are partitioned off and only allowable for certain types of expenditures. As one example of many, there are funds dedicated to be used only for professional learning in a school district. If a school district doesn't utilize all the revenue in that category for a particular year, it becomes what is known as a reserve fund balance and carries forward to the next year. The net effect of this is year after year these reserve fund balances grow and compound. And there is very little the school district can do about it because it is reserved for specific purposes. The only way these funds can be spent is on that specific purpose or 'category', and to make these type of expenditures when it is not warranted is not only reckless but irresponsible. These rules handcuff school districts and force us to keep reserve fund balances on our books year after year. What we would like the legislature to do is give school boards the flexibility to utilize these funds for other purposes, particularly if they can demonstrate they have satisfied the requirements for which the category was designed. At minimum, the ability to capture a percentage of these categorical funds for other school related purposes would be helpful. It is our opinion now, and has been for years that local school districts have a better sense of how best to utilize our funding sources, to be strategic in resource allocation, and operate in a responsible manner.

So about that preschool? We are preparing to move forward with the statewide voluntary preschool program for the 2017-2018 school year. In fact, I intend to seek authorization to submit our application at the February school board meeting. Since the board has been talking about this for some time, I am confident they will approve this action. We have a good application, and have worked with multiple community groups and private preschool providers including early childhood consultants from the AEA. So, we are going to proceed accordingly. The only hangup? Funding.

When the SWVPP was enacted by the legislature a decade ago, the state provided funding to start the program up during the implementation year. This revenue came in the form of a grant. During the second and subsequent years, revenue to operate the program was, and is, generated via normal school foundation formula. (Ironically, preschool funding is also considered a categorical funding stream.) In the intervening decade, that start up funding has been eliminated and school districts are left on their own to figure out how to fund the program during the initial start up year. Here is where it gets a little more complicated: we can't charge tuition, and we can't use any of our existing funds. Instead, what we have to do is go out and do some fundraising. At a minimum, we anticipate start-up costs to be in the vicinity of $102,010. That's an awful lot of bake sales! If anyone out there is interested in writing us a check....

Needless to say a bake sale isn't going to cut it. We have spoken with multiple funding entities to no avail: McElroy Trust, Cedar Valley Promise, First Children's Finance, and Head Start. None of these organizations have been able to help. But do you want to know the really weird thing? We already have ample revenue to implement the program. We just don't have the legal authority to access it! Heck, forget about the categorical funds for a second, we just have regular program dollars and enough in our reserves to fund the program during the first year. My proposal is a common sense approach: permit us to utilize part of our reserve fund balance to fund the SWVPP during the implementation year. Once the regular funding picks up during the second year, utilize the reserve fund balance from the preschool categorical (remember, I said this was categorical as well) to pay back the other reserve fund balance.

Nevertheless we are moving forward in our planning process and pending board authorization will
President Finn and I also had an opportunity to share our
concerns regarding flexibility with Senator Danielson.
The good news for us is this particular piece of legislation
appears to have bi-partisan support.
(Pictured L-R: IASB District Rep Kevin Powell, Dr. Voss,
Senator Danielson, President Finn)
submit our application to begin the SWVPP in time for the 2017-2018 school year. The caveat of course being the funding. At the same time, I will recommend that if the funding problem isn't rectified we will need to pull back. The good news is that we have communicated our intentions with the 'Little Pirates Preschool' and they are willing to fill the gap in the event we need to postpone our implementation. At this time we are planning a community night in conjunction with Little Pirates and other community providers to answer questions and provide a status update. (Stay tuned, this hasn't been scheduled yet.) It is likely that we will encourage parents to dual enroll in our public preschool program and one of the community providers in an effort to make sure your 4 year old children have a place to go in the event our funding doesn't come through.

The other good news? My proposal seems to resonate with the legislators and is gaining some traction. The idea of flexibility isn't new and has been part of our platform and many other school districts for the last several years. But I need your help. Please, contact your legislator and let them know how important this is for our community! You can find your legislator here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Home Sweet Hudson!

For those of you who have been wondering, Ann and I moved into our new home last weekend. I wasn't sure how or if I would ever write a blog about this experience since it doesn't really have much to do with school, but since there seems to be some public interest I thought, what the heck! And upon reflection, it has much more to do with school than you might imagine. But please bear with me a few minutes until I get there!

Our journey to build a home began on April 18th with the purchase of a lot. Many people have told me the fact we are already in our house after only starting in April is pretty amazing. To us it sure seemed like a long time! We relied on a lot of friends here in town who have built before to help give advice and offer reassurance. One thing that we heard often is that there are a lot of decisions to make, and boy were they right! Down to deciding what the door plates for the door handles were going to look like, we had to make a decision on everything. Certainly at times it seemed overwhelming, but it was important to our builder that we had the home that we wanted at the end of the project. 

One of the early decisions we made was to do as much business as possible right here in Hudson. This is something that I have preached for years and will continue to emphasize: support local businesses by buying and shopping locally! While it would have been impossible to do everything right here in town, we made a conscious effort to do so as much as we could. And we were happy that we did. Probably the first and most important decision we had to make was to choose a builder, and for that we chose Klunder Homes. This turned out to be a great decision because Brook did an awesome job for us. He was patient, helpful, kind, extremely knowledgeable; and his crew was absolutely amazing! His attention to detail was second to none, and he came in under budget!

All of the plumbing and HVAC work was done by Hudson Hardware Plumbing and Heating. Not only that, but the construction arm of the company took care of all the excavating and dug the hole for our basement. HHPH did outstanding work for us and we couldn't have asked for better service. Anytime I had a question, all I had to do was pick up the phone. They made everything so easy, gave great advice on equipment, and explained how best to make our home comfortable and energy efficient. When it came to floor covering, we had to look no further that D & W Flooring Covering just down the road from my office. Our hardwood floor turned out beautiful and the carpet selection was fantastic. Our contractor and subcontractor were so patient with us as we made all these decisions, we couldn't be more grateful for everyones work on our behalf.

However, one of the most enjoyable components of building this home was seeing Hudson alumni working on the project. Young people who, just a few short years ago were roaming the halls of Hudson High School. It was great to see how they had learned a trade and were applying what they learned to such a complex undertaking. One afternoon I tried my hand at the excavator and believe me, it is not as easy as you might think! The skill and finesse it takes to operate this heavy machinery takes some seriously fine tuned motor skills! Seeing these young alumni work on the house; the plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and other craftsmen reminded me once again how important it is for schools to be sure that we prepare our graduates for a variety of career opportunities. I'll continue to emphasize that a four year college or university is not necessary for everyone, and there are a lot of good paying jobs that require a very high level of skill where you don't need to attend a university to learn these skills or find success. The craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes into home building is very impressive. I might remind you to please read my October 28, 2015 article "What Does Your Future Look Like?"

I may have mentioned this before, but both Ann and I grew up in small town Iowa, towns a lot like Hudson, and that tranquility has been missing from where we lived before. There is something so nice and peaceful about small town living. Everyone has been so gracious and kind to use during our transition and for that we are extremely grateful. Hudson is indeed a great community and a wonderful place to work, live, and raise a family. Its great to be home!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hudson Shows Improvement on Iowa Report Card

Late last week the Iowa Department of Education released the results of the 2016 Iowa School Report Card. This web-based tool is designed to give Iowans a snapshot of how each attendance center is performing based on a number of required measures. Because this report card is attendance center dependent, Hudson Schools receives a rating for both the K-6 and 7-12 attendance center (elementary and secondary). Schools are ranked in one of six categories ranging from: Priority, Needs Improvement, Acceptable, Commendable, High Performing, or Exceptional. 

I am proud to share with you that our K-6 (elementary) scored in the Commendable level. Not only that they improved 4.4 points, moving from 64.7-69.1! (*Note: points in these rankings should not be confused with percentages. This is merely the scale used.) All the metrics and variables in this category were an improvement over last year. Yet perhaps most significant is the improvement in our free and reduced lunch population. (See graphic to the right.) Further, overall proficiency in both math and reading grew significantly helping the overall score. This is no fluke mind you, this is a result of hard work, attention to detail, and a committed effort on the part of our teachers, parents, and students alike. You may recall just a few short weeks ago the discussion we had in this very blog about effect size. These results further validate the work of our teacher leadership system and the robust professional development plan that we have in place.

Our secondary attendance center also showed improvement over last year, growing from 72.4 points to 74 points (*again please note this is not a percentage). In this case, the building is ranked in the High Performing level, which ranks it in the top 9% of schools in the state to reach this category. Obviously one of our most impressive metrics here has to be the 100% graduation rate, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the 97.8% math proficiency of the 10th grade class! Once again, this can be attributed to the hard work of everyone involved in ensuring that our students have access to high quality instruction that is tightly aligned to the Iowa Core Academic Standards. Teachers are working in collaboration to review, offer suggestions, and insights into units of instruction that are shared in a system of peer review know as Authentic Intellectual Work or AIW. This year we have elevated the level of expectation from our teachers by asking them to record themselves delivering instruction and then sharing that instruction with colleagues for critique. There must be no mistake this level of feedback has strengthened instruction which, as evidenced above has had a positive  impact on student outcomes!

If you have questions about the Iowa School Report card or about the progress of your child in school please feel free to contact us. You can view the Iowa School Report card by clicking right here. Simply type 'Hudson' into the search box to view our results. I would also invite you to take a look at the category at the bottom of the ranking titled 'Parent Involvement Teacher Survey Results'. In the future this category will be used to help rank each school.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Yeah, Tuesday Actually Happened Like That

Well, as far as days of instruction go, Tuesday didn't go as planned. For those of you that don't know what happened, we managed to have a late start and dismiss classes early that day. Believe me, that is certainly not the way I wanted the day to unfold. I know how inconvenient that was for parents and deeply apologize for the problems this may have caused you. To add insult to injury we had technical difficulties with our messaging systems. Let me give you a briefing into how the day went, not as an excuse mind you, but rather a glimpse into how the day unfolded.

For starters, many of you know that I have been commuting from South of Cedar Rapids the last several months while my house was finished (luckily that is now done and we are in the process of moving). In Cedar Rapids on Tuesday morning it was 37 degrees and overcast. When I got my first briefing at 5:30 a.m., the roads in Hudson were merely wet. I wasn't at all concerned until our transportation director called about 6:15 a.m. and told me that North Tama and Gladbrook-Reinbeck had decided to delay the start of classes by two hours. Mr. Dieken called shortly thereafter and shared that roads in Cedar Falls were beginning to get slick, but Cedar Falls schools were going to be on time.

Around that time I decided to make my way to Hudson, from Cedar Rapids mind you. Around 6:30 I found myself on the side of the road on Highway 30 having a phone conversation with Chief Marsh who told me that roads in town were pretty slick. It was at that time I decided to delay school. Mind you, we already had students at school for early morning practices, but the timing didn't work to get everyone home. So I asked the coaches to hold with the students, and luckily Miss Cuvelier and several other teachers handled things from their end. Thank you Miss Cuvelier, Mrs. Dietz, and Mrs. Dekutoski! By the time I got to Hudson about an hour later, I was beginning to think that we probably would have been okay to go, but of course by then it was too late. 

After I had a chance to get my coat off and sit down at my desk, a colleague called and told me that he was thinking of going ahead and canceling school for the day. I thought, 'no way', we are going to get the day in. Heck, it's still 37 degrees outside! Needless to say, he ended up cancelling and causing far less of a disruption that I was going to a mere two hours later. 

All through that morning I was convinced that we were going to get the day in while everyone else around my cancelled. In fact, I went so far as to call the National Weather Service and have them report to me that if I could just hold on until 3:00, the weather would break and the sun would start shining. Unfortunately right after I hung up the phone, our two neighbors to the North decided to dismiss classes and our phones began to blow up. Once that happens we are in a pretty tough spot. 

Well, sure enough by 3:00 the weather broke and it was relatively pleasant outside. The moral of the story here is that weather related decisions are almost always judgment calls based on the best information we have available at the time, and the collective wisdom of those making those decisions. When I finally arrived back in Cedar Rapids that evening my wife Ann asked if I got a lot grief for the weather calls that day. I told that I didn't and that people were very understanding. So, I wanted to say thank you for understanding! The fact is, I only received a minimal amount of feedback. 

Moving forward, we do believe we have our technical difficulties addressed. To remind you, our weather cancellation system changed at the beginning of the school year and if you haven't signed up yet, you will need to do that again. If you want to receive text alerts or email alerts, please go to our website and check out the announcement box in the upper right hand corner of the site. You will need to sign up separately for both email alerts and text messages. 

Oh, and in case you are wondering (I know the students probably are), Tuesday will not need to be made up.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Happy New Year: The Phrase This Year is Be Patient!

Welcome to 2017! The holidays are over, so I guess now we can really buckle down and start to focus on those resolutions. We also get to spend the next couple of months writing the wrong date on documents anytime we have to sign something! I usually do okay with this since I sign my name so much, but I will probably get some of these dates wrong! Nevertheless, when one year ends and another begins, we tend to get nostalgic for the year that just 'was' and look forward with eager anticipation to the year that will 'be'. My last blog of 2016 focused on many of the great things that happened in 2016, so now let's look forward with eager anticipation to 2017! Good things are scheduled to happen!

For starters, we continue to make plans to introduce the statewide voluntary preschool to Hudson in time for the 2017-2018 school year. As I shared in October, Hudson is one of only a handful of districts in Iowa that currently does not offer the statewide voluntary preschool and it appears that our window of opportunity may be closing. We have been meeting regularly with representatives from the AEA who are offering technical assistance and guidance during planning. Official planning and application material was made available right before the holidays, so we will really begin to see this develop and take shape in the coming months. For those of you with youngsters who will be four years old for the next school year, please stay tuned for an upcoming family meeting where we will be able to share some of the details of what we are planning.

Another exciting item to look forward to this year is in direct relation to our strategic plan titled, 'Hudson 2020'. Adopted by the Board of Directors on July 22, 2013 with input from our parents, community members, and other stakeholders, this plan laid out in broad terms items and issues the district set to address by 2020. Item number four of the plan spoke specifically of building projects and pointed to the elementary school as an area of priority for the district. Over the course of the last several months, we have been working with an architectural firm on an elementary renovation project. Scheduled to be completed in several phases spanning multiple years, we are very close to having the first phase of this project ready for bid. If all goes as expected, it will be our intention to have the first phase of this project completed in time for the 2017-2018 school year.

Students hard at work in Geometry class right before break.
Pretty exciting projects if you ask me! While there will certainly be other projects and issues that come up, these will probably be the ones that make our mark on 2017. Which brings me finally to my 'one word'. Or in this case, words: 'Be Patient'. As we have been planning and developing these projects, there have been challenges. Generating and finding the necessary revenue to start up the preschool for example. Or budget estimations being a little higher than I would have liked as another. Some of these roadblocks still exist, but the good news is that by exercising patience we can begin to see a way forward. Perhaps we may have to think about things a little bit differently, or travel an alternate path. But in the end it will all be worth it!

I have to continually remind myself that these things take time! I am sure there will be setbacks and obstacles along the way as these projects and others like them develop, mature, and ultimately come to fruition. But to expect immediate results just isn't the way life works. So Happy New Year, and Be Patient!