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 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!