Thursday, January 16, 2020

Looking Back at 2019

It is always interesting when we start the new calendar year to take a look back at the year that was. This type of reflection on some of the bigger milestones or news stories of the past year gives us not only the opportunity to remember fondly those big news stories, or even to provide perspective into where we currently find ourselves; but to gain insight and experience when faced with a similar set of circumstances. The few events I have selected are very localized and from my perspective, so if you would like to share something different I would love to hear from you! What do you think were the biggest events in the Hudson Community School District in 2019? With that said, today seems like a great day to offer my take on 2019, particularly considering what happened one year ago today on January 15, 2019! So here we go! 

From time to time people have questions about how decisions are made when it comes to cancelling or delaying the start of the school day. I'll be happy to share with you that process here in a couple of weeks. But before we go there, remember last winter? That was really one for the books! If you recall, I wrote about it in a post titled 'Unprecedented' on February 20. 

Last winter started out much the same as this year, but admittedly a bit milder in the run up to present day. Numerous people have mentioned to me how nice it has been that we haven't had any snow days or other weather related disruptions to our school calendar. I agree, it has been nice. But it may surprise you to know that we had our very first weather event last year (a late start) on January 15, 2019. We went on that winter to have a total of 19 school days that were impacted by weather, including a week long stretch where the snow and cold were so bad we weren't able to hold classes. In fact, it was the one time in my career that I had to take the extraordinary step of not only cancelling classes but closing the buildings to all employees. You may remember Hudson Road was closed between Cedar Falls and Hudson and numerous cars ended up stranded on the highway. After we resumed operations, it took several days for the tow companies to move all the cars in from the highway. I remember Freedom Park looked like a used car lot! Many of those days were easy calls to make; unlike today when we had a very difficult needle to thread indeed! While the winter of 2019 may not have been the biggest story of our year it probably is the most timely for this reflection!

So what was the biggest news story of the year, you may ask? I would argue that Phase III of the elementary renovation project was the biggest project we embarked on for the year. The first major construction project since the high school was built, this $5.1 million project was approved by the board last winter. After more than a year of planning and soliciting community feedback, the centerpiece of this project will include a newly remodeled and expanded commons and media center. It will encompass a secure entrance and relocate the elementary offices to this new addition. Obviously these are the biggest and most visual components of the remodel, but when completed by the time school starts this fall, our elementary school will have been completely remodeled and renovated. You have to remember, with this being Phase III, Phases I and II came before them. I wrote about the benefits of this in my January 8, 2019 blog post titled, ‘Phase III Checks a Lot of Boxes’. I look forward to sharing more updates on the progress of this project as we continue the march toward our grand opening!

A very big deal every year of course is our graduation ceremonies. Held on May 19, this annual right of passage is the point of each and every school year. The Class of 2019 was a great class with numerous achievements and accolades. Earning over $600,000 in scholarships at their Senior Awards Assembly earlier in the lead up to their graduation, this class lived up to their potential and set the stage for the Class of 2020 to leave their mark. In my final words of advice to the Class, I reminded them to make certain they got everything the could out of each day.

While the end of the school year is an important milestone in the cycle of a school year, the beginning of the school year is equally important. Part of this cycle of newness is welcoming the new members of our faculty, who hit the ground running on August 23. A blend of positions that were replacements for faculty that have moved on to other positions, faculty that have been added due to growing enrollment, or temporary teachers that were hired to fill in for a short time; all have been doing a fantastic job in their role and we are happy to have them on our team.

So that leads us to today! What will be the big stories of our district in 2020? It sure will be exciting to find out!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

My Word is Connect

One week ago today the calendar page turned not just on a new year, but a new decade. It is during these times that we all reflect on the year that has been and set goals for the year that is now in front of us. We are treated to magazines, newspaper articles, and television programs touting the 'biggest news stories of the year'; and commercials that advertise exercise machines and other products promising to improve our lives and help us meet our resolutions. You all know me well enough now to know that I'm not a big resolution guy, but instead like to focus on the 'One Word', so I'll get to that in a few minutes. To remind you, my word last year was 'Disconnect'. It was my desire to move away from electronic devices when not at work. Once I got home in the evening, I would put my stuff in my office and leave my phone on my desk. That is not to say I completely abandoned my gear when I got home, because that probably wouldn't be wise. A couple of times an evening I would  (and will) check my phone to see if there were any texts or email messages that needed to be addressed, but for the large part I left what I could to the next day. As the year wore on, I began physically shutting off my email for the weekend and when on vacation. While I couldn't say that I was completely disconnected, I believe it was a huge improvement compared to my previous practice and and for the most part it was quite liberating! Especially when on vacation somewhere and not feeling like I needed to sneak a look at my phone (while somewhere not here). I do intend to continue this practice.

This year though, I choose the work 'Connect'. Obviously I don't mean connecting to the devices I have tried so hard to disconnect from; because that would be, well a little silly and counterproductive. Instead, I believe I will try harder to connect with the people in my life. You see, what I have come to realize as this calendar page has turned to a new year, a new decade, is that time goes by very fast. If we aren't careful, before we know it another decade will have flown by and we will all be ten years older. I feel like I'm always in a hurry to get to the next place: a meeting in the high school, an appointment at the AEA, on my way to meet with colleagues about a new initiative. Because of this hurried pace, there is no doubt I miss out on quite a bit of what is going on around me. Have you ever felt like you were the last person to know something? Yeah, me too. 

Here's the thing that I hope all of us can think about, particularly those of us in education. Our jobs as educators rely on our ability to connect with our students. It is particularly important to understand that, at the end of the day not all our students go home to the same environments that we do; and that leads to a disconnect. Sure, it's frustrating when that young person doesn't turn in their homework on time, or just flat out doesn't do it. Sometimes though, it may help to connect with that student and build a relationship. We just may find out the reason they didn't get that homework done was because they had to spend the night taking care of younger siblings, feeding them, making them feel safe, and wondering when their parent might be home (if at all). While that understanding and relationship building may not erase the fact that something is amiss, at a minimum it can provide us with context. 

The same holds true for those of us in leadership. Part of my role as superintendent is not only overseeing the educational program, but leading the adults in our organization. There are approximately 135 folks who collect a paycheck from this school district. I'm sad to say that I don't know some of them all that well. What I do know is they all come to us with a different perspective and challenges in their lives. It would be naive to assume those experiences and challenges are the same as mine. Unfortunately we have some members of our team here who are going through some pretty rough times right now. Further, the employees in this organization are all in very different places in their lives, and some of the changes they are experiencing right now are of the stuff we experienced in our early 20s! Think about this: I have employees who one or two years ago were college students. Now they are married and expecting children, with a full time job and all the responsibilities that go along with that!

So this year I want to connect. When I meet people in the hallway on my hurried pace to where ever it is, when we greet each other with a 'How is it going?': to really mean it.