Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Close Look at Enrollment

The first business day of October is official 'Count Day' in Iowa schools, and this year it fell on Monday, October 2nd. Regardless of who was attending the day before or the day after, official enrollment is based on which students were in attendance on October 2nd. That means if a student had moved into Hudson prior to that date, they became part of our official count. If they moved out of our district on October 3rd, they were still a part of our count. That also means, unfortunately, that if students move into our district on October 3rd, they are not included in our count. And since count day, we have had approximately a dozen students enroll in our school. Good news for our school for sure, but not so good when it comes to count day!

Certified enrollment is important insofar as the number of resident pupils in our district is the number that is used to form the base funding level for the next school year. Our official certified enrollment, taken on October 2nd will be multiplied by the district cost per pupil when we start to build our budget in February for the 2018-2019 school year. Again, students who enroll after that date do not count toward that budgetary number because they were previously counted by the district they just left. I know what you are thinking: how is that fair? Fair or not, it cuts both ways. Consider the student who was in our district on October 2nd and moved on October 3rd. The receiving district, in this case, doesn't get to count them, because we already did--even though they have moved away. Nonetheless, this year we seemed to have a lot more students move into our district than move away, which should always be viewed as a good thing!

A deep dive into our official certified enrollment suggests a lot of good news. Officially our certified enrollment is up by 12 students. That is the number of students that are residents of Hudson both attending our schools and those who are open enrolled to another school district. That may not seem like a lot until one looks a little closer at these figures. The number of resident students who are attending Hudson has increased by 20 students, while at the same time the number of resident students who are open enrolled to another school district has decreased by 8 students. Students from other school districts who have open enrolled to Hudson also increased by 9 students. This works out to a net increase of 29 students who are attending Hudson this year over last year. If we factor in the additional 10-12 students who have subsequently enrolled since Count Day, we are serving approximately 40 students more than last year. Then, of course, we are not considering the addition of preschool, which has added 31 students. It is also worth noting that the number of students we are serving outside the district is down since we have elected to bring those students back to our buildings and serve them here. 

While it's good to know where we are right now, our challenge is trying to figure out where we are going with enrollment. To project future enrollment, the first variable to consider is the incoming kindergarten class. Conventional wisdom would suggest preschool as a good place to start, and while it can yield some useful data, it is not necessarily a reliable indicator of kindergarten class size. Instead, what we have elected to use at Hudson is a five year rolling average as a predictor of kindergarten. Then, using the cohort methodology, we simply advance those students by one grade level for the following year. When employing this method, we come up with a forecast that looks something like this:

Admittedly, ussing an arbitrary methodology can make us wonder about the accuracy of the model, however, it has been relatively predictable, at least in the short term. This model accurately predicted within +/- 2 students the 2016-2017 school year enrollment. Further, this same model in 2013 predicted enrollment of 720 for the 2017-2018 school year, which we are currently in (however, this same model predicted enrollment of 721 in 2018-2019, and the most recent iteration of our enrollment trend indicates enrollment next year in excess of 730). 

But alas, these projections do not consider other important variables that are consequential to our enrollment. Those variables being the development of Upper Ridge Estates, the apartment complex on Springfield Avenue, or the proposed Twin Oaks development. All of these will have a positive influence on our enrollment. In an upcoming article, we will discuss how we are making plans for increased enrollment in our school district.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Take Advantage of Parent Teacher Conferences

On Friday, October 20th we will have completed the 42nd day of school, marking the end of the first quarter. At this point in the school year, teachers are deep into their content. Units of instruction have been completed and assessments have been administered. In the elementary, our teachers have finished the initial FAST screeners and have started progress monitoring. At the high school, the music department performed in their first concert of the year. Our preschool and kindergarten students are through the normal adjustment period and are now beginning the laborious task of learning to read. All around the district, student behavior procedures and plans have been written and are now being implemented. 

These are but a few examples of the plethora of activity that has occurred in this very short timeframe. Indeed we have accomplished a lot since we got the 'plane in the air' this fall. But, what of the accomplishments of your child? How have they adjusted to school? Did their FAST assessment show proficiency? What about that test last week in Physics? Is their behavior something that you can be proud of?

I'm going to guess that many of our parents out there know the answer to those questions. They probably receive regular updates in the form of [an] email from the teacher.  Modern technology also affords parents the ability to observe their child's progress from our Learner Management System, Canvas. In some cases, teachers even use programs like Google Classroom and Seesaw to give parents access to the daily rigors of student learning. Certainly, parents are aware (or should be) if homework isn't being completed. After all, that is an automatic phone call home. 

But for all the advancements in technology that enable parents and teachers to connect ubiquitously from the comfort of their home, place of work, or classroom; nothing can replace the importance and power of the face to face conversation. While modern educational amenities can give a quick update or snapshot of progress, a meeting between parents and teachers can add richness and depth into the successes and challenges a student is encountering in their learning. A face to face conversation enables both parents and teachers to reinforce their commitment to the child that is being served. It provides a venue for a more intimate conversation about student progress. Teachers are able to provide a unique perspective into learning. Parents are able to provide context into a students personality that may unlock a mystery. Both are able to share what has worked, and what hasn't. 

At Hudson Schools, we value the role that parents play in the education of their children and recognized the importance of open lines of communication. The partnership and link between home and school cannot be overstated, and the recognition of parents as primary educators of their own children is an awesome responsibility. 

Parent-teacher conferences are scheduled for October 23 and 24. Please take advantage of this opportunity.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

At the Table or on the Menu

I would like to begin by thanking the city council and staff for their bold and progressive vision of growth and development. Over the past two years, I have been impressed and encouraged by the thoughtful study, deliberation, and action with regard to many of these positive steps forward for our community. Further, I can appreciate and empathize with the stress our council must be under as they make decisions that will be met with mixed reviews. However, I believe the scales of popularity will be tipped in their favor if they proceed with this proposed development. For the record, I am in support of the Echo Development residential subdivision that will be located in the vicinity of Ranchero and Butterfield Roads. Regarding the schematics and plat configuration of this development, I will not pretend to know or understand where roads or entrances should be located. Yet I would recommend we trust the opinions and counsel of the engineers that have been hired to do this work. They are certainly more qualified than anyone else to make these determinations in consultation with the developer who is making this significant investment of capital in our community.

My opinion on residential development in Hudson is well known and documented. It has not changed from my November 29th, 2016 statement. However, at this time I would like to re-affirm this position and offer additional context through my personal experience.

When school districts hire superintendents, one of the statements school boards like to hear during the interview is that the superintendent is planning to move to the community. This makes a lot of sense for a multitude of reasons. So, when I was appointed Superintendent in 2010 my wife and I made the decision to move to Hudson. The trouble was, it was late in May and we didn't have a lot of time. Very quickly we found out this was not going to be an easy task. At that time, there were literally seven houses on the market in Hudson. None of them suited our needs, and building a home wasn't a realistic option at that point in our lives. Some of these homes were 'fixer uppers', which, within my role as Superintendent of Schools, I really don't have time for, while others were simply out of reach (not to mention Ann gets nervous if I pick up a hammer or a saw), so our search continued for a home in Hudson. Then it got cold. And then the weather got weird. Commuting from Marion wasn't going to work anymore, so we reluctantly decided to purchase a home in Cedar Falls. It literally took us one day to find a home, and we were as close to the district line as we could get at that time. 

In the intervening years, we continued to monitor real estate in Hudson but the inventory remained relatively stagnant. You all know the rest of our story. During the summer of 2016 we built a home in the second addition of Upper Ridge Estates and couldn't be happier. We are thrilled with our home, and at all the homes that are being built in our neighborhood. And I will eagerly support an expansion to the North of me when the time comes.

As I opined on November 29, 2016, housing inventory in Hudson is critically important not only to our school district but to our business community. Families who want to move to Hudson and send their children to our schools are often dismayed to learn they can't. New homes and new families to our community will create tertiary benefits that are difficult to quantify, yet scholarly research indicates job creation, and an increased tax base that will allow our community to improve amenities that will result in an overall improved quality of life for our citizens. With our geographic location to a major population center and a regent university, I have often wondered why Hudson hasn't reaped the benefits that other similarly situated locations in Iowa have. Hudson to Cedar Falls should be likened to Tiffin or North Liberty to Iowa City. Or Gilbert to Ames.

I'll remind you again that schools are located where there are children to educate. As we saw play out over the last couple of years, a decision to close a school in a town not too far away from Hudson tore a school district apart and pitted neighbors and longtime friends against one another. No one wants to see a school close, but the fact of the matter in this case quite simply was that there weren't enough children left to justify that attendance center. Stories like that are all too common in our state as we have seen school after school shutter its doors.

Granted, Hudson is not faced with that situation; we have geography and top-notch schools to thank for that (which is one of the reasons we must embrace this development), but we do have other challenges. Primary among them has been a pattern of minimal state supplemental aid over the last several years. Because of this, the only way our budget will grow is by increasing our student count. Without housing, the students will not come. And evidence suggests with this development, they will indeed come!

A few years ago the citizens of Hudson voted overwhelmingly to retain the tract of land known as the 'Northern Tier'. This decision was made with the intention development would occur, and that it would occur under the terms of our choosing. This proposed development calls for 67 single family homes, 20 Western Home Community duplexes, and the possibility of commercial development. In my opinion, this project is ideal for Hudson and will bring tremendous economic benefits to our community, protect and create jobs, increase the enrollment for our school district, and improve the quality of life for our entire citizenry.

The Cedar Valley is booming right now. You can't drive through Cedar Falls without noticing a plethora of development ranging from residential to commercial. That school district is building new schools and homes can't be built fast enough. I believe it is important for us to move forward now and do so without haste. A delay in making a decision could come with negative consequences. We can either take advantage of this boom and use the leverage and timing we have or miss out entirely. We must ask ourselves: Do we wish to be at the table, or do we wish to be on the menu?