Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Ten

With the turning of the calendar page, July 1 marks the beginning of a new fiscal year. It is also a turning point for many school leaders who begin their tenure as superintendents. The last several days I have enjoyed seeing social media posts as these rookies have taken the helm in numerous districts around the state. They all have a sense of wonder, excitement, adventure, and unknown. In many cases, they have moved to a new community and likely don't know anyone yet. What these young leaders are about to learn is that the job of a school superintendent is an amazing line of work, a huge responsibility, and an honor to serve a community. My hope for them is they lean on their colleagues for advice and counsel. 

Now as for me, I didn't begin my tenure this past Monday. However, it was the mark of an important personal milestone, and not just the beginning of a new fiscal year. While we didn't celebrate 'New Year's Fiscal Eve' on July 1, I did begin my 10th year at Hudson. I can't believe how quickly the time has passed, although those memories are beginning to fading a bit. I remember coming to work on that first day, and then everyone promptly leaving for the long holiday weekend! I checked the calendar, it was a Thursday and we were operating under summer business hours so with the long holiday weekend it really wasn't anything personal! I was able to spend those first several days getting my bearings around the district and figuring out where everything was. Admittedly, I spent some time really trying to get my arms around the question, 'What exactly am I supposed to be doing anyway?' Thankfully I eventually figured it out, although I am certain there are many who still think I don't know what I am doing!

As I was approaching this milestone it did provide some time for reflection. In the intervening decade, what has changed in our school district? The changes, both good and perhaps not so good are too numerous to list, and I certainly don't want today's post to seem as though it is some sort of laundry list of accomplishments where I could pat myself on the back. Indeed I think it is safe to say much of the good that has happened is not because of any one person, and most certainly not because of me (one could probably argue in spite of me). At the same time, there is no doubt I have made mistakes along the way that I own. Luckily they weren't that horrendous--yet again depending on the perspective you take you may view that differently. 

Of all things, one project that sticks out to me the most is the high school parking lot. One of the top priorities the board had for me when coming to Hudson was paving the high school parking lot. When looking back at the facility projects that have been completed in the interim; that high school parking lot project seems pretty insignificant. However, at the time it was a very big deal. My joke for the first several years was that one day when I was no longer at Hudson I hoped that people didn't remember me as the guy who build the parking lots (the middle school parking lot followed closely on the heels of the high school lot). I still have that hope! Aside from the parking lot and the numerous projects that have been completed or are currently under construction, I believe there are three pretty important watershed events in the last decade that are worthy of mention. 

One of the first I think we would point to is the launch of our connected learning initiative back in 2013. At the time we phrased this as the 'biggest shift in student learning in over a generation'. Starting with grades 9-12 that winter, we quickly added devices all the way to 3rd grade. Now our connected learning environment is so ubiquitous to our school district and daily operations it is hard to imagine school without it. I was very surprised just a few weeks ago to learn that one of the larger school district in Iowa is just now planning to launch their program with the start of the 2019-2020 school year. There is no arguing the point we were not out in front on this initiative, but clearly we were not one of the last. 

Speaking of a program where we were one of the last was the launch of the statewide voluntary preschool program. When the statewide voluntary preschool program was enacted, Hudson thoughtfully considered participation but for many very sound reasons decided it was not the right time or right program for our district. As the years passed by the demographics of our community began to change and the needs of some of our youngest learners became more pronounced. Our quest to launch the statewide voluntary preschool was not easy and included numerous roadblocks but in the end we prevailed. We finished our second year of preschool at the end of the 2018-2019 school year and gained full accreditation. 

An area where Hudson showed real leadership was in the implementation of a comprehensive teacher leadership system in 2014. Hudson was selected as one of the first 39 school districts in Iowa (and nation) to develop a program that harnessed the skills and leadership of our own faculty and use those leadership attributes to raise the level and quality of instruction for all our students. Our longstanding vision or core purpose, if you will, is to 'Create Effective Learning Environments That Result in Success for All Students. We thought, what better way to do that than to design a leadership system that strengthens instruction and student performance by providing career opportunities for teachers to assume leadership roles as instructional coaches, model and mentor teacher. In the 2019-2020 school  year, 29% of our teachers will be in formalized teacher leadership roles. Furthermore, we have proof this system is working and getting real results in the classroom.

Ten years. I think it is safe to say a lot has changed. I can remember those early board meetings where the board would lament the lack of housing inventory. With multiple housing developments under construction and on the horizon, this seems to be a fading memory. The makeup of our faculty has shifted dramatically as well. 36 of the 65 faculty members now on staff weren't here a decade ago. Well, I take part of that back. Some of them were here: they were just students then. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

What If?

The concept of school safety has changed quite a bit over the last five to six years, not only around the country but around the state. I can remember early in my tenure when the doors to the facilities were left unlocked, and in the warm autumn months at the start of the school year it was standard practice to prop doors open so we could take advantage of a nice cross breeze. Times have certainly changed! From a physical standpoint, during normal business hours our facilities are completely locked down. Main entrances are locked and visitors have to be buzzed in to get into the school. Security cameras adorn our hallways, both seen and unseen; monitoring the activity of our school buildings 24/7.

But that is not all! Much of the work that is being completed with Phase III of our renovation project has been conceptualized with a goal of improved student safety! In fact the new elementary entrance and commons expansion, (the centerpiece of the project) was borne from a vision where we wanted to eliminate the blind entrance into the facility. We wanted to create an environment where patrons not only have to be buzzed into the facility, but are required to pass through the office to gain admittance to the instructional space. Further, all the exterior doors at both attendance centers are being replaced and will be embedded with electronic key fob access. 

It is my hope these physical and visible safety features will help all our constituents rest easy in knowing that we are doing all we can to ensure a safe and secure learning environment for all our young people. Yet at the same time we are doing much more. 

At the end of the school year, all of our faculty participated in a day long professional development opportunity in collaboration with Central Rivers AEA on mental health first aid. This training was designed to help our faculty understand and recognize when students may need help, and to properly position ourselves in a manner that enables us to connect families with appropriate services. In addition, at our school board meeting on Monday evening, the Board of Directors met in closed session to review and discuss our Emergency Operations Plan, which outlines management's response if an event were ever to occur in the school district. 

It is our sincere hope none of these safety features or plans every have to be implemented. Nevertheless, we remain vigilant in our efforts to enhance our facilities, refine our plans, and be prepared for that 'What If' moment.