Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Iowa Report Card Gives Hudson High Marks

Last week the Iowa Department of Education released results from the Iowa School Report Card, and our schools once again received high marks. For starters, I am proud to announce to you that Hudson Elementary School (K-6) received a 'Commendable' rating, improving their overall score for the third year in a row. This is clearly an indication that our goal of continuous improvement in our school is paying off. 

This rating further demonstrates that what we have been doing in our schools is working! The professional development plans that have been implemented in the elementary that target early reading intervention are effective, and the work that we are doing to ensure alignment of our instruction to the Iowa Core Academic Standards is paying huge dividends. Consider this: In the spring of 2017, 70% of early readers in Iowa met benchmark, posting a 2.90% average gain when analyzing FAST data. In our comparability group of 16 schools, 73.29% of readers met benchmark with an average gain of .98%. And Hudson Schools? 77.20% at benchmark with an average gain of 7.8%! Folks, these kind of results don't happen by accident. They are due to the hard work and commitment of our faculty, staff, students, and families. Now make no mistake, we still have work to do, but it is apparent that we are headed in the right direction!

Not to be outdone, our secondary school (7-12) continues it's trend as one of the highest performing high school's in the state, rated in the top 9% of high school's statewide. One of the most impressive, yet often taken for granted metrics in our data is the high school graduation rate, which hovers between 99-100% consistently. You are probably also aware, as recently reported by the Des Moines Register, that Iowa leads the nation in graduation rate at 91.3%, which makes our results even more spectacular! But, ensuring our students cross the finish line only tells part of the story. In our district, 81.1% of all graduates are enrolled in a post-secondary institution within one year of graduation, compared to 70.5% of graduates in the Central Rivers Area Education Agency and 70.8% of graduates statewide. Of course if that isn't impressive, how about this: only 11.5% of Hudson graduates take a remediation course upon post-secondary enrollment; this compared to 29.1% of graduates agency wide and 21.7% statewide. Again, we have work to do--but these are incredibly impressive statistics!

The Iowa Department of Education states in their release that the Iowa School Report Card was launched in 2015 as part of the education reform legislation known as House File 215 which was signed into law in 2013. The Iowa School Report card assigns Iowa public schools a rating based on one of six categories: Exceptional, High Performing, Commendable, Acceptable, Needs  Improvement, and Priority. Several measures used in determining the rating are bases on statewide assessment results. You can read the full press release here. You can access the Iowa School Report card by following this link to see the ratings of other schools around the state.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Teaching Students Empathy #ChooseKind

I have never been a real big fan of watching movies during the school day. Yet, the management of classroom cinema is not in my wheelhouse. The responsibility of ensuring educational value is usually delegated to the building principal. Thankfully, Mr. Schlatter requires teachers to identify the educational purpose behind each proposal and articulate a connection to the curriculum. So, when the intermediate teachers proposed taking the entire 4-6 grade student body to Grundy Center to see 'Wonders', they checked all the boxes. Not only did they have a good plan, they had a great plan! 

The primary plot centers around the character 'Auggie', who is born with Treacher Collins syndrome and his foray into school. But many of the sub-plot[s] of those who come into Auggies's orbit create some of the most valuable lessons and understanding of the interactions children have with one another. Certainly they shine a light on the oftentimes unknown challenges some students face. While not offering an excuse for adolescent behavior, we do hopefully come away with a better understanding of what it is like to long for peer acceptance, and how lonely some children can be in a sea of students. 

As an example, our first interaction with 'Miranda' leaves us feeling badly for 'Via', Auggies older (and typically left-out) sister. As the one true friend and really only person that seems to understand Via, I was sad that she was so dismissive of Via and didn't want to be around her following summer break. It isn't until later on in the movie we learn that over the summer, Miranda's parents divorced. She is living at home with a parent who is coping with the breakup of her marriage in an unhealthy way. Miranda is lost, and the world around her has crumbled. While no excuse for the way she shunned her friend, we do at least have an understanding of the added stress this youngster, and many like her carry with them. 

Then we have Auggie's tormentor and primary antagonist in the movie. Toward the end of the film, Julian is finally held accountable when he is called into the Principal's office with his parents in tow. Faced with irrefutable evidence of bullying, Julian's mother comes to the defense of her son, and in a twisted way justifies his behavior toward Auggie. As Julian departs the Principal's office he turns back to the principal and says, 'I'm sorry'. Again at that moment we come to understand Julian just a little more. His bullying behavior is intolerable and he certainly deserves the consequences that are meted out. But at the same time, we come to realize his behavior is learned. From his mother.

As I was preparing to write this blog, as is my custom I did a little research. And in doing so read some of the reviews of the movie. Now, hopefully this column doesn't come off as a review as well, because if it does then I will have sorely missed the mark this week. But a comment from one reviewer stuck with me. While complementary in review, he noted that at times, "...it sometimes overplays it's hand". 

I couldn't disagree more. The fact is, these stories and subplots are all too real. You see, we have had instances in our own school, and schools all around this state and nation, where bullies and parents of bullies believe they are the real victim. We have borne witness to the wreckage that finds its way into the hallways of schools because of events and circumstances that are far beyond the control of the students who are forced to live in a manner not of their choosing. Hopefully what this movie can teach us is that we all need to look beyond physical appearance. Beyond what we see on the outside. Maybe then we can have a little more clarity, or understanding of what the children who walk the halls of our schools are going through. And then, perhaps as Miss Cuvelier tweeted out after the movie, we can all #ChooseKind

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wow, That Was Fun!

Last Friday evening our girls basketball team delivered an exciting win for our program, defeating Applington-Parkersburg in overtime. It was a lot of fun to watch the drama unfold as these girls competed for this hard fought victory! Even more exciting was the atmosphere that was created in our gym that night. We had a big crowd on hand for sure! Our student section was larger than it has been in some time, and our bleachers were packed. Besides the parents that had children playing in the game, in the band, or on the cheerleading squad; there were numerous other fans in attendance. I saw community members who haven't had a child in school for years and retired fans who were just looking for an evening of good entertainment. That Friday evening our competition gym was the place to be in Hudson. It makes sense then, that we do everything we can to encourage participation in our school events and activities. It doesn't matter to us if you are a participant or a spectator; if this is your first event, or if you have been to every single one. Please come out and enjoy the excitement!

I believe everyone would agree that we have had a lot of cause for celebration this fall. We can start with the amazing season our girls cross country team had, capturing the state championship for the first time ever! Or how about our football team? Their outstanding run took them all the way to the UNI Dome where they ended up playing for the state title, ultimately finishing as runner up. All along the way, we had a lot of people cheering our teams to victory. Yes, it has been a very special fall. A 'theory of schooling' in education suggests that this kind of success seems to make everything else in school go a bit smoother. Now, whether or not there is any truth to that is perhaps debatable, but in our case I have a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest this is in fact true. At the same time there is research that indicates students who have a strong connection to their school do better in their classes. Students who have a lot of school pride are less likely to cause disruptions to the school day or become behavior concerns. Students who attend a school where the expectations are high are, for the most part able to rise to the occasion when it comes to their own standards of personal conduct. And there is a direct correlation between participation in co/extra curricular activities and academic achievement. 

That is one of the reasons why it is so important for us to make sure as many of our students as possible are able to participate in these activities. Either as a member of the team, or as a spectator in the stands; we want them to be involved because everyone gets to share in the excitement that comes with winning a close game. Or the disappointment that comes when we lose that close game. It all builds up the character of our students, increases school spirit and pride in oneself. Further, the teamwork that comes with this camaraderie builds lifelong skills that transfer to the workplace. Everyone has a part to play and we don't want to let our teammates down (so you better make sure you get your homework done on time, study for the test, or make certain you don't get into any trouble). 

At the same time, we don't want to forget the whole point of why we are even here. The most important reason we are here is for the academics. Whether we are teaching youngsters to read or do advanced trigonometry, ultimately we are preparing them for the next challenge they will face. Maybe that is high school, college, or the workforce, whatever that might look like for them. All this other stuff that goes along with it: the athletics, the drama club, the band, choir, or student council are secondary, or even tertiary characteristics of our school. But this is all part of the recipe that goes into the American public education experience, and is why we have one of the best educational systems in the world.

Indeed, many of the athletes that are on our teams or are musicians in the band won't play beyond high school. But the lessons they learn and the memories they will create along the way will last them a lifetime.