Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Voluntary or Required: What's Best for Hudson

With this extended closure, the district has some pretty important decisions to make; and we don’t have a lot of time in which to make them. First is to determine how best to proceed with the continuity of our educational program. The Iowa Department of Education has outlined three options for school districts in an effort to provide us with maximum flexibility.

Under the first option, we can simply choose to do nothing. The trouble with this is that any missed instruction beyond April 13th would need to be made up. Since we have already been providing voluntary educational opportunities for our students, this would seem to be an unwarranted step backward. The other two options are to either (1) continue to provide voluntary educational opportunities or (2) provide required educational opportunities. Districts that choose one of these two routes would not be required to make up the additional days of lost instruction. Again, since making up these lost days of instruction are neither feasible nor practical, we need to consider how we will continue to deliver a continuous learning program under one of the two aforementioned options. 

So, the question we must answer is whether or not to seek approval to move our continuous learning model from voluntary to require[d]. Frankly, the approval process outlined by the Department of Education to make the switch to a required program couldn’t be easier; and for that I am thankful. Essentially, all we would need to do is answer in the affirmative a series of assurances and it appears that we would be approved. However, being able to answer these questions with a positive affirmation is quite a stretch. Even some that appear on the surface to be easily attainable would come with some significant barriers for us to overcome. Primarily, the challenges for us include having the ability to provide required educational services to our most vulnerable and At-Risk populations. If we think we can do that equitably we are not being honest with ourselves. Even though we have resources currently on hand to deploy devices to our student body; reliable, consistent, and safe access is a real concern. Think about this: I have been working from home with a high speed Mediacom connection and it is still frustrating and prone to bad connectivity and dropped signals! I am unconvinced if we acquire a stockpile of hotspots and deploy them around the district we are going to all of a sudden have our connectivity problem solved, nor under this scenario are we going to have the capacity to filter those devices in a safe way. 

I also worry about our teaching staff, because they are not prepared to do this. We haven’t had the training, and many of them have families as well (young families at that). For us to all of a sudden expect them to begin executing required online instruction I think is asking too much. Plus, I don’t believe our families are ready with the responsibility that would come on their end with this type of learning environment. As I stated at the Black Hawk County press conference on Monday, parents aren't trained as educators and are doing the very best they can (for that we are grateful). This poignant opinion piece provides an outstanding perspective on the pressure that has now been placed on parents during this unusual time in our nation's history. Not to sound flippant, but I think most families have other things that are on their minds right now that take precedence over how to multiply fractions. 

Certainly as this emergency evolves we will continue to keep our options open and there may come a day when we have to move to required educational outcomes. I don’t believe that day is today. Therefore, it is our intention the continuous learning program for the district remains voluntary at this time. That stated, it is our strong recommendation that students participate in these opportunities as they are provided. Parents, your help and support is very much appreciated.

However, this doesn’t mean we rest on our laurels. Regardless of our model (voluntary or required), an expectation exists at the local (and state) level that student feedback and engagement exist if we do not intend to make up these lost days of instruction. While we can’t grade student work right now, it is wholly appropriate to provide student feedback for submitted work. To that end, our model will evolve in the coming week that creates additional ‘rigor’ in the options provided to students.

Finally, it is our intent that no matter what happens, we take the approach that our primary goal is to do what we can to support our families and our students. Students will be held academically harmless for the duration of this closure. Those who were in good academic standing at the time of the closure can expect to remain in good academic standing once our schools reopen. For those who need extra academic support, we will make certain to get them where they need to be! If you have specific plans about our continuous learning program during this closure, please contact your child's principal. 



Friday, April 3, 2020

Schools to Remain Closed

We are living in trying times, Pirate Nation. Settling in to this new normal is proving to be challenging on multiple fronts. Like you, I yearn for the time when we can again gather as a community for a regular day of school, to see our students perform, and to watch them compete. Unfortunately we are going to have to remain patient.

Based on the news from the Governor of Iowa’s press conference yesterday afternoon, the Hudson Community School District will remain closed through April 30th.

This includes all buildings and facilities at the Hudson Community School District.

All activities remain cancelled throughout the duration of this closure including any open gym, athletic practice, rehearsal, or any other activity otherwise sanctioned or not by the school district. Classes will resume and our schools will reopen only when it is deemed safe to do so working in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Black Hawk County Health Department, the administrative leadership team, and the Hudson Board of Directors. Facilities remain accessible only to those personnel essential for continuity of operations including administrators, clerical staff,  custodians, maintenance staff, and contractors. 

Understandably this is not the news that you wanted to hear and my heart breaks for the students who are missing their teachers and the teachers who are missing their students. I am saddened for all of our students, but particularly for the Class of 2020 who will be left with a hole in their high school experience and an ending that we could not have foreseen. 

There are many questions that you have; questions that we all have. However, the reality of the situation is that we simply don’t have all the answers. All we can do each day is the very best we can, and to expect nothing but that from everyone else: our family, our friends, our colleagues, our neighbors, and even those we look to for answers. That’s what I ask of you: do the best you can. And if we can do that Pirate Nation, then I promise you: everything will be alright! 

Now then, here are a few things that we have been working on that we hope can provide some clarity:

Academics

First of all, I want to give a huge shout out to our teachers for all they are doing. They are working hard to create engaging opportunities for students at all grade levels. Recognize this is very tough work and they have made a transformational shift in the way teaching and learning happens. This has all been done on the fly without an ounce of preparation or training. Please help them out by encouraging your child’s participation. 

My administration continues to evaluate the current delivery model of instruction to determine our next steps. This consists of exploring the option of shifting to limited required student participation that would include assessment of student work and awarding of credit. At the same time, we recognize this shift would come with a very steep and challenging set of requirements that will have to be addressed. Part of our deliberative conversations right now are to consider how feasible it would be to launch a rigorous, comprehensive, and accessible academic program in such a short time frame without overloading our teachers, students, and parents. We understand that as parents, you are not trained teachers and didn’t sign up for this. You are doing the best you can, and for that we are thankful. At the same time, we recognize that while we have a highly trained and capable teaching force, they too are parents; and many of them have young children of their own that exacerbates and adds to our collective challenge.

Nevertheless, please know that it is our full intent to hold students harmless during this time we have been offering voluntary educational opportunities. If/when we determine it is beneficial to move to a compulsory and required model of remote educational delivery we will commit to ensuring an accessible method of instruction that at the very least meets basic core academic requirements. Our approach right now is to consider what triage is necessary for the loss of instruction during this closure.

Food Service

I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the heroic work of our food service staff. Perhaps the most quintessential of essential workers right now, they are working incredibly hard with a fraction of their regular staff to ensure all our students are provided with the nutrition they need to stay healthy. Not only that, they truly are doing yeoman’s work by not only providing nutritious meals, but doing all they can to add variety to the menu. Please let them know you appreciate their efforts!

As a reminder, meals are available for all students age 18 and under. Additionally, a recent rule change by the USDA makes it easier to maintain social distancing by no longer requiring students to be present for the distribution of meals. If you are interested in receiving meals, please sign up by visiting our Coronavirus webpage. This simply helps us determine how much food to prepare.

Activities

Our activity program may be as equally important to some, and perhaps the most difficult of subjects we need to come to terms with. For some, the very essence of what it means to be a Pirate derives from our robust and successful offering of student activities. Many of you are longing for answers regarding some big events that are on the horizon. Here is what I can tell you.

Musical: The cast and crew of the musical was at the apex of their preparation when this closure began. It is still our intention to have the musical and we have been working closely with the directors to find an appropriate date. One idea that we have been deliberating is having the musical coincide with Hudson Days.

Athletics: We continue to follow the guidance of both the IHSAA and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union. Both organizations have provided clear guidance that we are following with strict adherence. Mr. Wurzer is in regular contact with these organizations as needed. All our athletes should prepare themselves for the distinct possibility that there will be no spring sports seasons. 

Prom: Postponed from April 18th, we still have May 9th scheduled for the prom. However, at this time, the likelihood we host prom for our students is diminishing. Yet we remain hopeful. The fact of the matter is, we may not be able to find another date which would unfortunately force us to cancel the event. Believe me, we do not want to do this.

Graduation: This is the biggest question of them all. Currently graduation is scheduled for May 17th. Fact of the matter is, Mr. Dieken and I went ahead and ordered the printing of the diplomas. While it is entirely in the realm of possibility that we have to postpone graduation, we will find a way to honor our graduates. To the Class of 2020: One way or another, I am shaking your hand and presenting you with a diploma.

Board Action

The emergency resolutions adopted by the board on March 23 remain in full force and effect for the duration of this emergency. That stated, it is likely the Board of Directors will hold an electronic meeting in the coming days in accordance with IAC 21.8 to consider continuing resolutions. Normal posting requirements in alignment with IAC 21 will be followed.

In closing, I know this is not the news you had hoped to hear today. It is difficult for me not to see you right now. I want you to know that I care about you very much, and we make these decisions because we want to keep you safe from harm. 

Continue to do the best you can. Engage with your teachers and learn something new. Stay strong and keep the faith. I am looking forward to seeing you again soon.