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.