Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Freedom of Driving

In many cases I am the final hurdle before a student experiences that first taste of freedom: independent driving. When we issue school permits to students in that twilight between finishing driver education and turning 16 years old, it is a rite of passage. Not only is this a milestone to adulthood for our students, but it enables parents to give their young driver a bit of responsibility on a known route to and from school before turning them loose on the roads at age 16. At the same time, it usually provides a much needed relief valve for parents that may not know if they are coming and going half the time! There is nothing quite as liberating for parents when a child can drive themselves to and from practice at 6:00 a.m.! 

Then, once they turn 16 and get their license, those pesky errands to and from the grocery store will be a thing in the past, since you newly emancipated driver will clamor for the opportunity to run to the store for you (and in all likelihood make several stops both to and from their final destination). All of these are great experiences for our students and children. It helps us out as parents, and it gives the young driver additional time behind the wheel. And if they stop at a friends house on the way home from the grocery store, what is the harm (unless the errand was to pick up a gallon of ice cream)? 

At the same time, we need to be sure to remind our students that with their new found freedom does come a great deal of responsibility. Next week is National Teen Driver Safety Week, and with it an opportunity to remind our students about the importance of being safe behind the wheel. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens between the ages of 15-18 in the United States. The Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau outlines these items that can result in accidents among teen drivers:
Alcohol and Drugs: In 2016, nearly one out of five teen passenger vehicle drivers involved in a fatal crash had been drinking.  Also in 2016, 6.5% of adolescents ages 12 to 17 were current users of marijuana.  Like many other drugs, marijuana effects a driver’s ability to react to their surroundings.  Driving is a complex task, and marijuana slows reaction times, affecting the driver’s ability to drive safely.  Remind your teen that driving under the influence of any impairing substance could have deadly consequences.  
Seat Belts: Wearing a seat belt is one of the simplest ways for teens to stay safe in a vehicle. A total of 569 passengers died in passenger vehicles driven by teen drivers and more than half (54%) of those passengers who died were NOT buckled up at the time of the fatal crash. Even more troubling, in 85% of cases when the teen driver was unbuckled, the passengers were also unbuckled.
Distracted Driving: Distractions while driving are more than just risky—they can be deadly. In 2016, among teen drivers involved in fatal crashes, 10 percent were reported as distracted at the time of the crash.  However, according to results of a AAA Foundation study, there is a significant evidence that distracted driving is a much more serious problem than previously known, especially with young drivers ages 16 to 19.  
Speeding: In 2016, almost one-third (31%) of all teen passenger vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash.
Passengers: Research shows the risk of a fatal crash goes up in direct relation to the number of passengers in a car. The likelihood of teen drivers engaging in risky behavior triples when traveling with multiple passengers.
Drowsy Driving: Teens are busier than ever: studying, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and spending time with friends are among the long list of things they do to fill their time. However, with all of these activities, teens tend to compromise something very important—sleep. This is a dangerous habit that can lead to drowsy driving or falling asleep at the wheel.
Statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 
Please take a few minutes to review these important statistics with your young driver. Independent driving is indeed a liberating feeling for our youngsters. But, they need to be reminded that driving on our roads comes with a great responsibility. Be safe out there!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Framing the Right Numbers

In spite of the continual rain, the school year has gotten off to a pretty good start. Granted, we have dealt with some significant challenges that forced our fourth and fifth grade students to be displaced for a week. Oh, and at the writing of this blog we still have water coming in the agriculture room (did I mention the continual rain?). Luckily the carbon monoxide issue we had to contend with last week was a relatively quick fix and only caused a minor inconvenience. But nonetheless, spirits are high and most folks seem to be full of #piratepride! 

A lot of that can be attributed to the success we are seeing from our fall athletic programs. In many ways, this kind of feels like a repeat of last fall (except for the rain of course). The football team remains undefeated and ranked number one in the state, and both the volleyball and cross country teams are ranked and are having very memorable seasons. If you have been keeping up with these successes, you probably have seen some very impressive statistics being posted in the newspaper. Many of  these numbers are quite startling!

While we are tremendously proud of these accomplishments, it is important that we don't forget about the most important numbers, statistics, and successes of all. Those numbers being the ones that measure the success of our students. I have just recently updated our student achievement data numbers and would encourage you to go check them out on the 'About Us' page of our school website. If you scroll down about halfway through the page, you'll see the Hudson Community School District Report Card for the 2017-2018 Academic year. 

For the most part, I'll leave it to you to examine these data points in more detail, but I'll just point out a few highlights. Take a look at page 3 of the Iowa Core Report. This graph depicts the average score by grade level from grades 3-11 in reading. The green bar is district growth, blue for our AEA, and orange depicts state. At almost every grade level, our district is outperforming peers at both the AEA and statewide level. If that isn't impressive, take a look at page 6 of the same report. In this graph, you can see how our proficiency rates compare to our peers. I would invite you to pay particular attention to how high the proficiency is for grades 9, 10, 11. The science scores that were posted are just as outstanding. If you take a look at page 8 of the same report, you can see how much higher our proficiency scores are compared to our peers. 

At the end of the day though, perhaps the most important metric is how much growth students have made from one year to the next. You see, a student can be proficient while at the same time showing very little growth from their original starting point. This same report offers the growth of each grades cohort. Once again, these numbers something to be proud of!

The 'About Us' page of our website has a lot of information about our school district including the students achievement data described above and much more! I would encourage you to take a look at these numbers. At the end of the day, how our students perform in the classroom is the most important metric of them all! 

Now if it will only stop raining!


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Karyn Finn Offers Reflection of Service; Departs for Move to Missouri

It’s time for me to leave Hudson and move to Missouri to join my husband, but it’s really not about me. The School Board is a team and as we all know there is no “I” in team. As I reflect on my term of service from being elected in the Fall of 2011 until today, I am just amazed at the positive changes in the community that I have come to call my home for the past 19 years. Not all of the changes were easy and some were downright difficult but with collaboration and thoughtful discussion we found common ground.   

Great schools don’t just happen, they are the product of an engaged community that shares responsibility for a positive culture along with financial (property tax) support. Although our financial outlook is stable now, it wasn’t always that way.  In fact, that is just what brought me to the school board meetings of 2010 -2011.  Hudson Schools were facing a financial crisis that had decimated our rainy day funds and neither property taxes or state funding were going to fix it.  I ran for school board because I knew that the local school was not only important to our community’s sustainability but also to the youth and families that rely on a solid education for their future.  We as a community owe it to our kids and their future to get engaged and stay engaged so that we are aware of the utilization of our taxes and can support our teachers and staff to provide positive educational outcomes for all of our youth.

We start each meeting with “We create effective learning environments that result in success for all students”.  These are very powerful words as a school board we act together to create effective policies and practices that allow the staff to fulfill their mission to educate all of our children.  I have been proud to be part of the many positive changes that have taken years of planning like paving the High School parking, paving the Middle school parking, providing handicap access to the competition gym are some of the major visual changes. In addition in the past seven years we added Pirate term, PLC & TLC along with weekly Wednesday early outs for professional development. I have had the great honor and privilege to hand out diplomas to my own children, swelling with pride at their accomplishments due in major part to the commitment and dedication of our wonderful teachers.  

Message for Community:
Get engaged, find out what’s going on in your school and community.  Stay engaged by attending meetings and events, read the board minutes in the Hudson Herald, run for School Board, but most importantly - Share your voice. You are as important a part of the school as the children, teachers and staff. Bring your ideas, collaborate, look forward to what will be expected from graduates in future jobs. Volunteer your time, before school, during or after school, at events and activities. Remember Great Schools don’t just happen!! They need a community of engaged citizens collaborating together. I am proud to have been part of the #piratepride family.

Thank you Hudson for your support and wonderful memories.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

It's Not as Easy as it Looks

Junior high teachers collaborating on a personalized
professional development project during a recent
student early dismissal.
Yesterday I had an opportunity to sit in on a grade level meeting in second grade. These weekly meetings between the building principal, teacher leaders, and teachers serve multiple purposes. Most importantly they open a dialogue among instructional experts to discuss what is going on in the classroom and how best to meet the needs of learners. It was during this meeting I was once again reminded how incredibly complex, difficult, and challenging the work is of our educators. While observing this meeting teachers were discussing their upcoming unit plans and how they aligned to the Iowa Core. They provided a detailed timeline of instruction, including the identification of specific instructional strategies that were going to be used during this instruction. Strategies by the way, that had recently been presented in professional development.

When pressed by the principal about what 'proof' there would be to demonstrate successful mastery of the content, the teachers shared the formative assessments that would be used to measure student growth. For those not demonstrating adequate growth, their plan and timeline provides remediation-for groups of students exceeding expectations and those needing additional instruction. Then, these teachers were able to tie the instruction they are delivering back to the specific content standard that is being addressed; be it instruction designed to introduce a concept, develop a concept, or attain grade level mastery.

Now I am used to seeing this kind of stuff everyday from our teachers here at Hudson. But I have to tell you: this was impressive. It was another awesome reminder of the complex work that is going on in our schools, and the high level of skill and training it takes for our teachers to do it successfully. I know what many of you are thinking: this is the second grade team and they are rock stars anyway. I'll concede that point, but the fact is this isn't an anomaly. Keeping in mind that I wasn't invited to this meeting and just 'popped in' randomly, I asked Mr. Schlatter; are all the grade level meetings like this? His answer: Yes. 

The picture you may have in your mind of what teaching looks like, or even what is sometimes portrayed on television is woefully simplistic. The truth is, teachers are very highly skilled professionals that put in a ton of work that is largely unseen. What we see in our classrooms when our instructors deliver polished instruction on a daily basis is but a fraction of what it looks like to be a teacher. We are lucky in Hudson to have very good ones.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Building Momentum

Admittedly we are still in the prologue of the 2018-2019 school year. With just over seven days complete, I think we have finished just the right number of days to establish a routine. Bus routes are beginning to run on time and we are starting to get the hang of the lunch line. Boy, I'll tell you what! There is nothing quite like watching kindergartners go to lunch on the first day of school! Give them a salad bar with numerous options and then stand back and watch the show!

The nostalgia of the start of the school year recently had me recalling an experience from my youth. It was science class; we were two or three days into the year and had just turned in our homework assignment. Astonishingly enough, all of us turned in our assignment. And then the teacher said, "It's the first week of school. Everyone turns in homework during the first week. I'm sure this will be the last time." 

Yikes?! Well, as it turns out he was right. I have few fading memories of that teacher and class, but certainly I was late turning in classwork on more than one occasion. Now, what he said was not necessarily out of bounds or even inappropriate. After all, he would probably argue that he was right. But what I would say is that comment was cynical and a bit sad. Instead of celebrating the goodness of the moment, it was ruined by the foreboding of what was to come. By lifting us up and making a big deal out of the fact everyone met the goal, it very well could have built momentum. Would it have worked? Well, we'll never know because once the toothpaste is out of the tube you'll never be able to put it back. But here is what I do know: it certainly wouldn't have hurt (and I wouldn't be talking about it right now).

First week or not I have seen some things! During a recent visit to the high school, I observed quiet halls. Students are not roaming around, stalling to get to class. They are in class. Learning. When I walked into the classroom(s), students are engaged in learning. Why? Because our teachers have designed lessons that are interesting and compelling. One of the things I do worry about a bit during the first week is new teachers in the high school. You see, students of that age traditionally like to push the boundaries to find out exactly where the lines are. As it turns out, I had no reason at all to be concerned. Instead I saw teachers that are setting high expectations for their students. I have no doubt our students will exceed those expectations.

In the junior high, I visited a social studies class where the students were preparing to apply the democratic principles they were studying to an upcoming project where they would be required to create a lego animation. By filming, editing, and using green screen technology. While that was going on, across the hallway in science class students were learning the differences between quantitative and qualitative data sets. And developing hypotheses about the trajectory and speed of a balloon rocket. First week or not, talk about jumping in with both feet!

First week or not: We have great things happening in our school district! We are off to an awesome start to the school year. The momentum we have behind us right now is an accelerant that will propel our students and staff forward to achieve amazing things this year. I have no doubt that it will only get better from here!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

And We're Off!

I am always amazed at the flurry of activity that happens in schools the last week to ten days before the start of classes. Admittedly, I sometimes have a brief moment of panic wondering if we are in fact going to meet our deadline. Of course each year we do because of the hard work and commitment of our staff to seeing the job through to the end. Our maintenance and custodial staff deserves a tip of the hat for what they were able to accomplish this summer, and in particular during the final push to the start. The weekend before school started staff were in the buildings waxing floors in the elementary school and working on a ceiling in the high school. Then on Wednesday evening (the eve of the first day), our crew stayed late to finish up some ceiling work in the junior high. Most notably they did all this short staffed, so if you see them around town please take a moment to thank them for their efforts. 

Because of this extra effort and the incredible work of our faculty to get their rooms and lesson plans prepared we have had an outstanding start to the school year. Our teachers were so helpful and flexible as we started it has been truly phenomenal! Today it is only the fifth day of school, and already we are beginning to establish a routine. Indeed it seems like eons ago we were all gathered for the opening kick-off in the high school auditorium. During my visits to classrooms I am observing students who are engaged with their teachers in creative and very well designed lessons. 

If your child hasn't had an opportunity to try our new hot lunch program yet, I would highly encourage it. So far the feedback has been very positive and the students are enjoying a quality lunch that is prepared fresh daily. If you have been following me on Twitter then you are aware our participation rate for hot lunch is up. Last year on the first day of school we served 281 meals. The first day this year we served 438. We do expect that number to continue climbing as the word gets out on how great our lunch program is! While we can attribute high quality and delicious meals to the increased participation rate, we also have to take special note that our enrollment has increased. 

Our first day enrollment is up 26 over last year, and is the highest first day count we have had since I started tracking it in 2012. Now while not an apples to apples comparison, our first day enrollment number of 748 is the largest number of students served in the district since 2008 when we posted a BEDS number of 749. Keep in mind the first day enrollment number is unofficial and will continue to fluctuate over the coming weeks. We officially count students on October 1st, so stay tuned!

Increasing enrollment is a great thing for our school district! But it does come with its own unique set of challenges. As our enrollment rises, we will need to adjust staffing accordingly. The next couple of weeks will be important as classes begin to stabilize and we determine if additional staff may be necessary. Indeed, it is beginning to look as if we may need to add some additional courses at the high school. 

Transportation is another area that we are closely monitoring. For our afternoon routes we have added a half route to Country Terrace after discovering route 19 had 42 students riding to Butterfield and 34 to Country Terrace. While in theory the bus for route 19 has a rated capacity of 77 students, that assumes those students are five years old and fit three to a seat! Luckily we were able to find a driver for this route, and at some point we may be looking to add the morning leg of that route as well. 

It has been a fantastic start to the school year! It is great having everyone back and seeing our hallways filled with students once more! 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Marigolds or Walnut Trees: Message to the Faculty and Staff to Start the 2018-2019 School Year

Portions of this blog have been used with permission from the Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzalez. Please download a copy of the original post: Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers right here.

We all have the ability to change the outlook and attitude of those around us. This ‘superpower’ can’t be understated. I have learned in my career the approach I use can significantly impact the outcome of any interaction I have with you—and you with your students. A smile or playful and positive attitude can soften even the hardest of hearts. And at the same time, each morning when we climb out of bed we get to decide whether or not it is going to be a good day—or bad day. That decision when we walk out the door and head toward this school will impact everyone we come into contact with.

No matter what job you do in this district, it is mission critical and we couldn’t do it without you! Across all classifications of employment in our school, we have felt what it’s like when we are short staffed: in the ranks of our teaching staff, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, or custodians. Granted there are plenty of people around to lend a hand, but the fact is we need you and your expertise. You matter! The people around you matter. Not only do these people matter, they are the people who will help push you forward to greatness this school year.

I encourage you to be that light, that inspiration, and that steady hand that will guide [first year teachers] during this year of ‘firsts’. Take a moment to think about your first year in this profession; consider your original discernment to this noble work when you help push one another forward.

Each of us chose this work because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. Many of us had an experience in our own formative years that led us to our place in this auditorium today. For me, it was my high school music teachers. Without them seeing a talent in me, or hearing the proverbial ‘he has so much potential’; I wouldn’t be here. No joke. I was destined for something far different than what I am blessed to be doing right now. I am sure you all have a story or experience that led you down this path. Remember the spark that lit the fire and started your career. Then, think of the child [in your classroom this year] that was you. While they may not all be destined to careers as educators, they most certainly are counting on you to help them in their quest of self-discovery. What will they be, and how will you help unleash that potential? I encourage you to consider this when you climb out of bed in the morning and are preparing for another great day at Hudson Schools. Contemplate all the good you are going to do and the positive impact you will have on each student that comes into your classroom. Meets you in the hallway. Gets on your bus in the morning. Drops off lunch money in your office.

Positive impact and positive attitude. Last week we attended the SAI conference in Des Moines. One of our keynote presentations was by Michelle Geilan who studies happiness, those who have a positive outlook, and the impact they have on those around them. We can in fact change our behavior, and we can change the behavior of those we come into contact with by the words we choose and the smile on our face. Think about this: research shows that a positive outlook leads to 31% more productivity, 25% better performance ratings, and 23% less stress.

According to Geilan, the three greatest predictors of success are: work optimism (believing good things will happen); positive engagement (believing that you can succeed); and support provision (the more you invest in the success of others, the more likely you are to succeed). What perfect positions we are in as educators to invest in the success of others!

So I ask you AND ME not to give in to the narrative of negativity and instead be the shining light for your students, and for the person that lives across the hallway from you. Because remember: You matter and will make a difference! I challenge us all to be the people who push one another forward! 

So then. Last spring I had the good fortune of being exposed to the work of Jennifer Gonzalez. Jennifer is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher and the Editor in Chief of the Cult of Pedagogy. 

She is also the author of ‘Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers’. For those of you who are gardeners, you know why marigolds are generally planted. They are a companion plant that keeps pests away and allows other plants and vegetables to flourish. But as Gonzalez describes in her essay, there are marigolds in our schools as well. Here is what she says about them:
“Marigolds exist in our schools—encouraging supporting and nurturing growing teachers on their way to maturity. If you can find at least one marigold in your school and stay close to them you will grow. Find more than one and you will positively thrive.” (Jennifer Gonzalez, Find Your Marigold)
Albeit sage advice for the newest to our profession, perhaps there is a lesson in here for each of us? Consider those with whom you work on a daily basis. Your teammates, confidants, administrators, custodians, paraprofessionals, school secretary, hot lunch staff, or bus drivers: do they lift you up, encourage you, and help you to grow? Do they push you forward? If they don’t; if we don’t—then now is the time to do so. The work we do—the work you do is extremely difficult. If we don’t seek out, or be marigolds for one another we are doomed to complacency. Or worse yet, if left unchecked we can become walnut trees. Here is what Jennifer says about walnut trees:
“Successful gardeners avoid planting vegetables anywhere near walnut trees because they give off a toxic substance that can inhibit growth, wilt, and ultimately kill nearby vegetable plants. And sadly, if your school is like most, walnut trees will be abundant. They may not seem dangerous at first. In fact, some may appear to be good teachers—happy, social, well organized. But here are some signs you should keep your distance: Their take on kids is negative. Their take on administration is negative. Being around them makes you feel insecure, discouraged, overwhelmed, or embarrassed. Walnut trees are poison.” (Jennifer Gonzalez, Find Your Marigold)
Again, we look to the newest of our faculty and staff. They are excited and full of energy to begin working with our young people. The whole world is out in front of them!  What they—what you need most in this sea of unfamiliarity and stress is someone to smile at you and welcome you to the school. To remind you what a great career you had chosen and how amazing the kids are in our school. Someone to give you a pep talk before open house and to let you know your room looks great. That critical friend and colleague who, at the sunset of that first day can give you a pat on the back and proclaim, ‘You did it’!

To successfully do this important work that is in front of us, we must resist the lure of the walnut tree. I know that sometimes this is difficult. It is difficult for me! I have been a walnut tree! For many of us, we have seen some things. We have lived through challenges. Yet I submit that what we all need most in this abundance of challenge and uncertainty is someone to smile at you and let you know that everything is going to be okay. You need a marigold; to pick you up, dust you off, and remind you of all the good work you have done, all the good work you have yet to do, and someone to help push you forward.

Again, I’ll ask you to look around this auditorium. There are marigolds among us. But watch out for the walnut trees because they are out there as well. The fact is there may be a little bit of marigold and walnut in many of us. It may be tricky at times, but we need to do our best to grow marigolds in our school and weed out the walnuts. My promise and commitment is to work hard to be your marigold this year.

These next three days are among the most important in our school year. Professional learning and setting up your classroom aside, the interactions you have with colleagues on the eve of the return of students will set a tone that will determine the fate of the year.

Have a great start to the school year and thank you for being here. Please come up to the front of the stage and find your marigold.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Public Schools Exist for All Children

The Hudson School Board believes that expanded educational opportunities should be made available in order to meet the learning needs of all our students. Indeed, our core purpose states as much: We create effective learning environments that result in success for ALL students. However, this idea of expanded educational opportunities come with one very important caveat: any legislation that seeks to expand school choice programs needs to remain under the authority of the local school board. Your local school board, and all public school boards around the state represent the taxpayer when it comes to the education of youth in Iowa. This governance structure ensures your public school provides a free and appropriate education to all students, regardless of socio-economic status, disability, or any other protected class of citizenry. For these primary reasons, we resist any attempts to expand choice programs through the introduction of voucher programs.  

School voucher programs that were proposed during the last legislative session were the antithesis of the ideals enshrined in our public school system. Not only do these programs take the 'public' out of public school accountability; they also create a caste system of education, allowing schools who would be the recipient of such a voucher the choice to deny enrollment to a student that may subscribe to a different value system, religion, or even more sinister: they may choose to deny students with disabilities under the pretense they can't meet the needs of a particular group of students.

First consider this idea of accountability. Every school district in Iowa is required by law to have an annual audit of their financial records. This gives transparency to the general public in order to ensure the public dollar is wisely invested. Furthermore, we publish an accounting of the checks we write each month. The public is able to see with their own eyes to whom bills are being paid. And I know my readers out there look at the bills! From time to time I'll get a phone call or see someone at a game that will wonder why we spent $1,012.50 with A-Line Striping and Sweeping (by the way that was annual parking lot maintenance that included painting new lines in the high school parking lot). The meetings of our public school are in fact public meetings. That means anyone who wants to attend a school board meeting can do so. If the school board wants to go into closed session there is a very narrow range of topics that permit the board to do so, and that can only happen by giving advance notice and the reason the board is taking such action. Those schools who would benefit from vouchers have no such requirements because they are not subject to the Open Meetings Law. Perhaps to some this is a minor nuisance. But consider a world where decisions made with the public dollar are done so behind closed doors without public accountability. What if you didn't know, or if we wouldn't tell you why we spent $26 with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation? (employee background check)

Now envision a scenario where your child is denied enrollment at a school because they have a learning disability or exhibit behaviors that don't fit within the mold of the average child. What if you subscribe to a different religion than the one aligned with the school that accepts the voucher? In the examples described here, the school choice legislation previously proposed would give those institutions the authority to do exactly that, and exclude even more students than those examples given here. In fact, page 6 of HSB 651, which was a real bill from last year that actually passed out of a subcommittee stated the following beginning on line 9:
This section shall not be construed to authorize the state or any political subdivision of the state to exercise any authority over any nonpublic school or construed to require a nonpublic school to modify its academic standards for admission or educational program in order to receive payment from a parent or guardian using the funds from a pupil's account in the educational savings fund. 
And here is the real kicker, beginning on line 18 of the same section:
Rules adopted by the department to implement this section that impose an undue burden on the nonpublic school are invalid.
Public schools exist to educate all students regardless of where they come from, whatever learning challenges they may or may not have, whoever their parents are, and no matter what they believe. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

All Day Preschool?

When I began my career as an educator, kindergarten that was all day long, five days a week was a bit of an anomaly. In fact, my first teaching position was in a school where kindergarten students attended on alternating days, with the exception of Friday when they all came together (in one room mind you). If you are ever interested, sometime ask me about my experience teaching music to thirty-five five year old[s] on Friday afternoons! Nonetheless, what was once a rarity is now commonplace across the state. But here is another interesting fact: were you aware that students are not even required to attend kindergarten? By law, kindergarten remains the one 'grade level' that is exempt according to Iowa's compulsory attendance law. But in spite of that, almost all students who are five years old by September 15th attend kindergarten in Iowa.

The statewide voluntary preschool program that began in the fall of 2007 was set up as a competitive grant program. With a limited number of dollars available, school districts wishing to start preschool programs had to compete for the funds, and as such preschool in Iowa began in what I like to refer to as a 'slow roll'. But in the intervening decade, preschool is now about as common as every other day kindergarten was when I began my career. During those early years, just over 5,000 children were served statewide. Now, the statewide voluntary preschool program has grown exponentially and is expected to serve more than 25,000 students in 2018-2019. Beginning this school year, of the 330 school districts in Iowa, there are only seven remaining who do not have a statewide voluntary preschool program.

From a sheer numbers standpoint, the statewide voluntary preschool program has been a huge success. Coupled with what scholarly research tells us about the impact of early intervention, schools can leverage these benefits in a way that pays dividends later in the child's academic development. Because of the fact a child's brain is 90% developed by the age of five (Iowa Department of Education Fact Sheet), it makes clear that early intervention makes tremendous difference. Prior to preschool programming, struggling students were typically identified in need of special education services and planned educational interventions toward the end of kindergarten. This was done only after following a rigorous process of problem solving, intervention, and finally implementation. On the other hand, what happens if we are able to identify and intervene before the student enters kindergarten? The intervention could then act as a preventative measure, minimizing or mitigating services needed. The fact is that at Hudson, students who are identified early in their academic careers are more likely to be 'aged out' of special education programming. Quite simply stated, that means a student who is in a special education program during their primary years may very well not be in a special education program by the time they get to junior high.

But the benefits of preschool programming aren't limited to just those students who may be eligible for special education. According to a 2017 study by the Brooking Institute and the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, (Phillips, D. A., Lipsey, M. W., Dodge, K. A., Haskins, R., Bassok, D., Burchinal, M. R., Duncan, G. J., Dynarski, M., Magnuson, K. A., & Weiland, C.) for every dollar invested in early learning programs, there is a return on investment between $7-$10.

So the decisions the Iowa Legislature have made since 2007 are wise investments. Further, the decisions made by this body that streamlined the process for schools to begin programs were very well done. Yet work remains. Currently, the law requires schools implementing the program to provide ten hours of developmentally appropriate instruction. That works out to a half day program, four days a week. Our school board would advocate all day everyday preschool. Of course this would require a greater infusion of capital since currently preschool students are weighted at .5. We believe a full day program would require a weighting of 1.0. A heavy lift indeed! Yet if we remember the research: for every dollar spent....

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Adequate and Timely School Funding Remains High on the List of Priorities

If extending the one cent sales tax beyond 2029 is the highest priority for the school board, then ensuring timely and adequate supplemental state aid is a close second. Supplemental state aid is the percentage by which the state cost per pupil increases from one year to the next. For the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2018 the state cost per pupil rose by 1% or $67. Base funding for school districts is calculated by multiplying the number of students by the cost per pupil. Considering Hudson Schools is currently experiencing enrollment growth, a 1% increase in basic funding makes it very challenging to adequately staff our facilities. Even after giving our largest employee group a meager raise, our expenses for this new fiscal year are expected to rise in excess of 3.5%. This, primarily due to the fact that in a period of growth we need to add staff in order to keep class sizes comfortable. 

Setting the growth in the per pupil rate used to be among the easiest, least controversial, and first orders of business when the legislature would convene each January. That has changed dramatically over the course of the last [approximate] decade. State law actually dictates that this growth rate must be set within 30 days of the governor releasing budget targets during the Condition of the State address. Interestingly enough, prior to just a few short years ago, that 30 day target applied to the fiscal year set to begin 18 months in advance. This way school districts would have time for planning if budget adjustments needed to be made. For example, a school district would have 18 months advance warning to contemplate a budget cut if the growth rate was too low. In a scenario such as this, the school would have ample time to mitigate the budget reduction, perhaps through a retirement incentive designed to spur natural attrition.

But instead of following the law as originally intended, the legislature just decided to change it. Now instead of 18 months of lead time, schools are left to make major budget decisions with less than 6 months notice. And that is only if they meet the new deadline, which is to set the rate of growth within 30 days of the governor's budget targets being released during the annual Condition of the State address.

Now, you can imagine with split party control over state government it would be difficult to come together with an agreement in 30 days. Yet interestingly enough, the legislature has proven it can't even meet the deadline when only one party is in power. The last time the legislature met that deadline was in 2011 (split control). Further, the last time it could be classified as adequate was 2015 when it grew by 4%. Now, we have been lucky in Hudson because our reserves are healthy enough right now that we can add staff without too much difficulty. (This is due largely to strict budgeting discipline and philosophy on the part of the board.) Nevertheless, at some point low per pupil budget growth will catch up to us. The only way to combat this is to go through a budget reduction, which inevitably would mean larger class sizes.  

Arguably K-12 schools are in better shape than other sectors of [government] that rely on the state general fund for resources. Indeed, K-12 was one of the only areas that didn't see a cut during the last legislative session. However, a strong argument might be made that the number and quantity of tax credits in the budget have exacerbated the problem to a point where revenue is simply being choked off. Yet I digress. That is a topic for another day.

The solution would seem to rather simple, and in many ways would force bipartisan cooperation that not only sets the growth rate adequately, but in a manner that makes it untenable to ignore the 30 day deadline. Consider a mechanism that automatically sets the growth rate if the deadline isn't met. It would seem this is an idea with merit. Further, I would suggest the automatic rate be set at a level that simply can't be ignored. It would certainly ensure and honest and open dialogue about the cost per pupil rate that holds people accountable, while at the same time ensures we don't just put the growth rate on autopilot. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Extending SAVE is High Priority for Hudson Board

While the first session of the 88th General Assembly isn't scheduled to begin until January of 2019, the school board has been busy discussing legislative issues that are important to our school district. These topics will form and focus our conversation with candidates and elected officials now and when the legislature convenes in January. Our priorities will help articulate the basis of our advocacy efforts with legislators, and have been presented to the Iowa Association of School boards for consideration on the official platform of legislative issues for that organization. January may seem like a time in the distant future, but now is the time to engage with and understand these issues. After all, we have an election coming up in November! Every seat in the Iowa House of Representatives is up for election, along with half the Senate and the Governor's seat. We need your help in not only understanding these issues, but helping in our advocacy efforts. There are only five members of the school board. But there are hundreds of parents in our school district. Imagine the power of our collective voice! Now then, it wouldn't be proper to endorse any specific candidate, but it would be entirely appropriate for you to consider these issues and ask the candidates where they stand before casting your ballot. Over the course of the next several weeks, I'll be sharing the priorities identified by the board and explaining the importance of them to our school district. 

New windows in the 4th/5th grade wing are part of the scope
of work included in Phase II of the elementary renovation project.
I imagine it won't come as any great surprise to anyone that the number one legislative priority for our school board is the extension of the statewide sales tax for school infrastructure, or SAVE. We have discussed this topic in depth and many times before in this blog so I don't feel it necessary to pile on or give any more examples of the projects we have been able to complete as a result of this fund. Or the jobs it has created right here in our own community. You need only to drive by our school to see the improvements. We are on the downhill side of Phase II of the elementary renovation project, and in the final analysis the cost of this renovation will be somewhere close to $400,000. That follows Phase I which was completed last summer, with a final cost close to $600,000. Easy math right? In the last year we have spent close to $1,000,000 in renovations to the elementary school, and we are just getting started. If all goes according to plan, Phase III work will start as early as the frost is out of the ground next spring and will complete the elementary attendance center. The budget for this project is still under development, but we believe it will be in the range of $4-5 Million. It is our intention to complete all this work using our sales tax revenue. 

For the budget year that began on July 1, 2018 we anticipate sales tax revenue for the district to be $649,240. Assuming a very conservative growth model over the remaining life of the sales tax this would result in millions of dollars in revenue for our school district. That's great, because we are going to need it. The bad news is that based on current law, after 2029 that revenue stream will dry up. I am pretty sure that after 2029 we won't have everything fixed or replaced. And assuming by some force of nature we did, even the most talented of maintenance crews can't prevent systems from just plain wearing out. Just like any homeowner, things need to be fixed, repaired, and in some instances replaced. It is a never ending cycle. 

Some argue that 2029 is still quite a bit into the future and that it's premature to begin discussions about extending a revenue source that is still 11 years away from expiring. But many school districts (Hudson being one of them) count on future revenue projections when prioritizing needs and developing projects. Take for example our Phase III project discussed above. We don't have $4 or $5 Million on hand to finance the remaining renovations that are necessary. But since we know what our revenue projections look like, we can bond against that future revenue without impacting property taxes. Considering twenty years is the maximum number of years in which a school district can issue debt, the fact the current law expires in just eleven years significantly handicaps school districts. Absent sales tax revenue, schools would have to continue to defer projects or ask the voters to issue general obligation debt, which does impact your property taxes.

Look, there isn't any guarantee that we won't be discussing general obligation debt at some point in the future. You all have seen our master facility plan. In order to execute on some of the long term proposals in that vision we are going to need to have a serious conversation about financing. Nevertheless, there must be no mistake that what we have been able to accomplish in the last decade would not have been possible without the revenue generated by the sales tax. I can even list them again for you if it will help. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Future of Washington Street

A few weeks back, we had a conversation in this blog about the work we have been doing in the district with regard to master planning. There was certainly a lot of information included in that post, and I am very thankful that many of you took the time to read and consider the future plans and ideas that are being discussed in our school district. It does seem that one idea included in that plan raised quite a few eyebrows and generated some commentary in our community. This is okay, because dialogue is exactly what we need when discussing some of the bigger issues that impact the greater community. The idea that has created the most buzz of course is a proposal to close Washington Street between Wood Street and School Street.

Before we unpack the rationale behind this idea, it is important to consider a couple of points. As a start, this isn't a new scheme or plan that was dreamed up by the superintendent or the school board. None of us have been around that long! The truth of the matter is, this isn't the first time this has been discussed. When it came up during our first brainstorming meeting by a community member, I was curious and interested in learning more. I know many of you haven't been around long enough to know the backstory here either, but in the 90s when discussion was occurring about the construction of the high school; closing Washington Street was a consideration. While the closure of the street didn't occur then, that didn't mean the idea was gone forever. Certainly we can all concede there would be challenges with such a bold move; particularly with regard to the traffic patterns in town to which we are all accustomed. But insurmountable? I'm not quite so certain about that. 

Thinking about this a bit deeper and from a practicality standpoint, closing Washington Street (between Wood and School) makes sense for the school district. One of the highest priorities of the community stakeholder group was to improve student safety in the district. A lot has changed since the mid-1990s, particularly with regard to the challenges schools face with regard to student safety. Hardly a week goes by these days where an incident of school violence doesn't lead the evening news. Indeed, this is why a centerpiece of Phase III of the elementary renovation project will include a new office with a controlled entrance for our visitors. But we can discuss that more later.

With the amount of student pedestrian traffic traveling between our attendance centers for classes, closing off the street would do a lot to improve the safety of our student body. Coupled with a plan to 'flip' the elementary attendance center and move the youngest of our students to the north end of campus, this would also have a secondary benefit of significantly reducing travel and lost instructional time.

Of course our long term goal would be to build a new junior high building in that space, connecting the elementary and high school. In addition to the instructional space this would provide, it would also give our students an enclosed safe corridor between the two attendance centers. But that is in the future and certainly would require a lot more community engagement and discussion. As a start to this conversation, the enrollment has to do what our models suggest it will do in the next several years. Indeed, when the houses start coming we know for certain children will come with them. We are confident they will. Our community and our school district are very appealing and families want to move here to raise their families.

In the interim, our plan would be to close and excavate the street, creating green space between the attendance centers and leaving the bike trail in its current location. It would seem to make sense to begin these strategic moves now, so when, and if the time comes to have a greater conversation about major construction we have considered with some foresight what makes the most sense.

I won't pretend to have all the answers to the questions about how we can deal with and mitigate the details of a move like this. I won't even assume I know all the underlying issues. But, at the end of the day there will be plenty of opportunities for our community to provide input. Ultimately this decision will rest not with the Hudson school board, but with the city council. At this point, I am grateful they are willing to have a conversation. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Update on the Summer

I hope everyone has been enjoying their summer and finding time to relax, heat up the grill, and spend quality time with family and friends. Our projects in the district are moving along nicely, and in some cases we are a bit ahead of schedule. The only sour note is that the air conditioning is still out in the middle school (which includes the central office). We are very optimistic this will soon be remedied! Next week it is supposed to be in the 90s again, so the sooner the better! Now, I don't know about you, but it is kind of hard to believe we are past the 4th of July! To me, once we pass that date on the calendar it begins the mad rush to the start of the school year. 

The renovations in the elementary school include the replacement of windows in the 4th and 5th grade wing, along with the lighting and ceiling grid. These classrooms will also be outfitted with the mini-split air conditioning units like were installed last year in the early childhood wing. The two computer labs in the library are also having doors installed that open into the hallway because we believe at some point in the near future those spaces will be needed for classrooms. We have also approved work to replace the north entrance to the middle school. You may recall all the trouble we have had with that entrance over the last year. It really began to deteriorate by the end of the school year. 

We are ahead of schedule with regard to hiring teaching positions as well. At this time, all our faculty positions are filled. This is great news, and somewhat rare for us. Usually we are waiting until a bit later to make a decision as to whether or not to open an additional section of kindergarten. Enrollment projections came in early and large enough to warrant that third section early so it was nice to be able to make those decisions early on. Likewise, we are not trying to fill a teaching position in a hard to fill area, which has also been commonplace for us the last couple of years. 

In the coming weeks we will really start to ramp up our operations in anticipation for the start of the school year. Supply orders are beginning to be placed, curriculum is on the way, and very soon the registration material will be mailed out. Our custodians are very hard at work getting the buildings ready for the return of students, and before we know it they will be putting the final coat of wax on the floors in the hallways. 

Now, if we could just get that air running! 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Master Facility Planning Identifies and Prioritizes Needs

In 2012, the Board of Directors adopted a comprehensive and multi-faceted strategic plan titled Hudson 2020. We are now on the eve of a date and time that seemed so far into the future! For certain a lot has changed in those intervening years. Our financial position is markedly improved, enrollment is on the rise with new housing developments driving growth, and most importantly, many of the recommendations from Hudson 2020 have been implemented. With these changes, new challenges have emerged that require our attention. Over the last several months, a group of community members, parents, teachers, administrators, and board members have been meeting with architects and engineers to consider what our next steps forward might be as we consider and contemplate these new and exciting challenges that are now emerging. At the upcoming June board meeting, the Board of Directors is expected to approve this plan as a 'flexible framework for handling varying levels of future community growth' (p. 2). It is very important to note this master plan is not meant as a definitive project or series of projects to be completed in the near term, but rather to inform a long term vision for the school district. 

At a community stakeholder group meeting held at the end of February, the committee developed and determined a list of priorities. While those priorities are listed on page 30 of the report, the top three included completing deferred maintenance and a refreshed image of district facilities, locker room improvements, and improved security. At the same time, we asked the master plan be developed with an expectation that enrollment will grow to a point where a four section elementary school will, at some point be in our future.

Phase 3 work could include some of what is
described in the schematic above.
In the short term, much of our work will be a continuation of what we started last summer which is the renovation of the elementary attendance center. This summer we are completing what has been commonly referred to as 'Phase 2' and includes the HVAC, windows, lighting and ceiling work. But in addition to this deferred maintenance, we are seriously looking at how improved security, a refreshed image of district facilities and locker room improvements will fit into our next project, which we have termed 'Phase 3'. This project would include a new elementary office with a controlled entrance located on the north end of what is now the 4-5 grade wing of the elementary building, an expansion and remodeling of the middle school commons, renovations of the media center, remodeling of the locker rooms directly across from the competition gym, and replacing all the entrances at each attendance center with key fob access for improved security.

A long term plan may include the construction of a junior high
building that connects the elementary and
high school buildings together.
But to complete this next phase of work and consider future projects will require a change to our financing strategy. In the past, the board has operated under a philosophy of 'pay as you go', meaning that design, size, and execution of a project was completely dependent on having cash on hand in order to complete the project. That strategy has served us well, but we have reached a point where it no longer makes financial or practical sense to continue in this manner. As a simple example, the project we are currently contemplating (Phase 3) is between $4-$5 Million. It would take between 8-10 years to accumulate the cash needed to execute on this project. Furthermore, this doesn't consider the rising cost of construction, which historically increases between 4-5% annually.

Instead, a financing structure that utilizes revenue bonds seems to make a lot mores sense, particularly since it has a historic interest rate of 2-3% for schools. In this case, it would seem to make much more economic sense to utilize a revenue bond instead of the pay as you go strategy. That is what the board is currently contemplating and will take up at their June 18th board meeting. It is also very important to remember, a revenue bond is not a property tax increase. A revenue bond for the school district is simply a financing mechanism where we leverage our future sales tax revenue. This is commonly referred to as a TARB (Tax Anticipated Revenue Bond). Aside from the fact there are no property tax implications, the other upside is this enables our district to  meet an immediate need while at the same time preparing for growth. We'll talk more about our plans for future growth and what that means for our district in a future post. For a preview, I would encourage you to take a look at our master plan.

In the interim, if you have questions, comments, concerns, or even other ideas: please reach out to your board members or myself. While the ideas discussed in this master plan are conceptual and would require a lot of community engagement and input, at a minimum they provide us with a framework from which to begin a conversation. This is a very exciting time to be a Pirate.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Superintendent's Message to the Class of 2018: Band-Aids and Gold Stars

Good afternoon Class of 2018! Along with the Board of Directors; I would like to congratulate you. Parents, grandparents and other distinguished guests, welcome to the Hudson Community School District. This is a very exciting day for our seniors. This annual rite of passage known as commencement is one that we are honored to celebrate with these students as they look back with finality on these formative years; and look forward to a future that is yet to be written.

Students: In a little less than an hour from now you will exit this gymnasium as graduates of Hudson High School, thus earning the title of alumni. Take a moment to look around at those assembled here this afternoon. A lot of people; friends and family alike have taken time out of their lives to be here with you today and to celebrate this awesome achievement. 

The Class of 2018 lines up for their 'This is It' Moment
There certainly has been a lot to celebrate. You have had a remarkable year. The fact is, you have had a distinguished tenure as students at Hudson High School. Without a doubt you have left an indelible mark on this school system that has secured a legacy others will inspire to live up to generations from now. Along the way we have cheered you on. For those who love you most, it has been the thrill of a lifetime to watch you grow, become stronger, self-assured, and confident. Then finally, seeing you reach this day—and hopefully not recognizing this moment in time as the apex of your journey; but the beginning—a benchmark if you will. Nevertheless, I expect there will be tears from many in this room when you cross this stage in a few minutes because albeit the beginning of a new and exciting chapter of your lives it also marks an ending.

At the beginning of this school year I asked our faculty and staff to consider their legacy. I posed this question not as a self-check of personalized vanity but as a reflection on the lasting impressions they have on each of you. My hope is that these impressions and lessons will stick with you for years to come and that you remember fondly these experiences at Hudson High School. 

While the time you have spent here with us will be warmly remembered, what of your legacy beyond Hudson High School? It may be thought provoking to consider the answer to that question from the vantage point of your future. It is both fair and expected that you consider the ‘where you go from here’ question as a short term problem to solve. For example, many of you are thinking about the graduation party you will attend this afternoon. Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe that most of you are relatively certain where and how you will spend the next several years. Furthermore, I’ll admittedly concede that you even have thought about your plans following this next brief interlude in your lives. Of this I am convinced, since I enjoyed reading your reflections in the Hudson Herald. What intrigues me most about these ‘words of wisdom’ if you will, is this question posed in these personal narratives: Where do you see yourself in 20 years? Your answers have been both normal and customary: career, family, and a house with a white picket fence enjoying life. However, as my last request to you, I would encourage a more deliberate and reflective response to this question. Don’t worry; this won’t be on the test, because your time for taking tests is over! 

Certainly your answer to this question is both conciliatory and with merit. You have checked all the boxes that will set you on a path of reaching that what we have come to describe as the American Dream. I can promise you: all of us gathered here today have those same hopes and aspirations for you. But what else? Now that you have metaphorically checked all the boxes is there anything further to yearn for? Allow me to pose this to you: Where do you see yourself in 50 years? 

From that perspective those hopes and dreams that you previously worked so hard to achieve would now be 30 years in the rear view mirror. Hopefully with that realization you would come to understand there is much more to life than checking those boxes. Allow me to paint a picture. Consider, for example a scenario where you are sitting in this very gymnasium 50 years from now and your grandson or granddaughter is preparing to cross this stage. Approaching 68 years old, you will be at, or very close to retirement. So perhaps to properly frame the question, it may relevant to think about that future child, that grandson or daughter that is now sitting right here, where you once sat so very long ago. 

To wrap your minds around such a long time span, think about those who are gathered here today for you. Parents. Grandparents. Teachers. Consider anyone really who has nurtured you, put a band aid on your knee when you fell off your bicycle, or stuck the gold star on the refrigerator when you finished cleaning your room. 

Granted, we now have the benefit of hindsight and certainly didn’t have the fortitude or vision to realize so long ago that our future, our 30, 40, or even 50 years ago: Was you. You see, Class of 2018 you are the best version of us. You are our legacy. Our wish was and is that you succeed where we didn’t. That you live in a world that is a little bit kinder, cleaner, and peaceful. 

So when you are sitting out here, in the audience 50 years from now I promise you too will be looking at your own legacy. Those tears that will flow in a few moments are a testament to that.


President Finn's Message to the Class of 2018

Welcome to our Faculty, Administrators, staff, Parents, Families and of course to the Graduating Students.  Thank you for supporting our students at this year's commencement ceremony.   I am proud and honored today to represent the Hudson School Board of Education in celebrating our Graduates and offering some encouraging words as you look to your future.  

Over the years with great community support these graduates have provided countless hours of volunteer service, provided leadership to our younger students, earned district, state and national recognition awards not only in a variety of sports but also in vocal performances, instrumental music, journalism, FFA, model UN, National History Day and LEGO League to name a few.  As a result these young people have become emerging Leaders, Collaborators, Problem Solvers, Creators & Innovators.

The significance of graduation rates cannot be underestimated. One of the fist questions on any application is do you have a High School Diploma or GED?  A High School Diploma is a key milestone for future success, regardless of your next pathway.  It is easy to become complacent when Hudson has had so many years of 98% or greater graduation rates.  But it is more than just graduation rates. It takes effort in many areas of college and career readiness especially in areas of math and reading. A result of consistent efforts by our educators, the recently released US News and World Report on Education ranked Hudson 21st in the State of Iowa! In addition,  Hudson was recognized Nationally at the Bronze level placing Hudson in the top 30% of schools in the Nation.  Not bad for a small town in IOWA!! 

I am reminded of quote from one of our great American Leaders, Teddy Roosevelt,...“there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” 

Graduates, where will you go?  What will you do? How will you make a difference?

I challenge you to DARE GREATLY as the precious Treasure and Pride of Hudson.

DARE GREATLY Class of 2018!! 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Music Department Shows Tremendous Growth

As this year is beginning to draw down, my biggest regret is that I missed too many music performances. Most of you are aware that in my former life I was a music teacher, so to see our students perform gives me a lot of enjoyment. Unfortunately a series of family emergencies and out of town commitments kept me away more than I would have liked. Luckily I had the opportunity to attend both the instrumental music concert last week and the vocal music concert this week. To say I was impressed would be an understatement.

While there are numerous components the define what makes a school successful, a lot of stock is placed in student growth and achievement in core academic areas. Largely, student growth and achievement of this nature happens outside public view. This is because when we talk about student achievement, we consider what is occurring within the confines of the regular classroom setting. Please forgive me for boiling this down to such a rudimentary cycle, but teachers teach, give a test, and record the results. At the end of the year they can look back to see how much that student has grown and make a scientific judgment as to how successful their instruction was. Outside the parents, the student, the building principal, and a handful of other people no one really knows all that much about the growth of those students in the classroom. Now, this is certainly not meant to diminish the tremendous amount of growth our students have made in the classroom, because we have plenty of metrics that point to successful classroom instruction. None is probably more public that the Iowa Report Card.

On the other hand, when considering music, we can see very clearly how much improvement our student musicians have or have not made. That is because the amount of growth our student musicians make is demonstrated in a public event know as a concert. Even to the untrained ear, it is self-evident if something sounds good--or sounds bad. Now, although I did unfortunately miss some of what happened in the middle of the year, I do have two pretty good bookends. The beginning of the year concert, and the end of the year concert. What I heard and witnessed over the last week is, well--astounding. Don't just take my word for it, both our large group ensembles received across the board Division I ratings. That means in contest, all three judges agreed the ensemble (both band and choir) were superior in quality. Earning a Division I rating doesn't occur by mere happenstance. It takes very hard work, attention to detail, and incredible concentration. After listening to these groups perform, that being the concert band last week and the concert choir last night, it was really no wonder. It is one thing to be able to successfully execute on the notes, rhythms, and harmonies. It is an entirely different game when the ensemble is able to flawlessly execute on the mechanics and turn the selection into music, rich with dynamics, tone, and emotion. It was very impressive for me to hear these groups not play notes on a page, but to perform music as an art. 

The band concert last week was a real treat. For starters, the growth is pretty obvious. Being able to see how the students progress from fifth grade through high school is as big a contrast as day is to night. These young musicians are able to witness and hear firsthand that practicing your instrument does pay off, and if you stick with it long enough the opportunity to play in a high caliber band is an experience like none other. Yet, not to diminish the growth of any band, I was very impressed by the amount of growth made by our sixth grade band! I was very surprised to hear them playing multiple parts! Then last night, out of nowhere the junior high choir opened up with an a cappella piece. You don't normally do that with junior high students! 

How about considering the noteworthy (pun intended) accomplishments of our music department this year? Aside from the Division I ratings, our jazz band finished 4th at the state jazz championships. Three students were selected to the prestigious Iowa State Jazz Band. One of our vocal soloists not only earned a Division I rating, but also earned outstanding vocalist of the center. 

These are but a few of the accomplishments of our students in music this year. As I summed it up last night, our music department is very good.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

What is Your Story?

Spring is such a wonderful time of the year! We begin to see the grass turn green, leaves budding on trees, and flowers in bloom. The smells in the air this time of year makes it refreshing to be outdoors. For me, there is nothing quite like the aroma that comes from the first time I smell fresh cut grass in the spring! Of the four seasons, spring is my favorite. After what we have experienced over the course of the last month, I think we are all looking forward to the promise of new life and fresh beginnings that come with this season. Indeed it seemed like we were experiencing the winter that would never end. And lets face it: after a long winter of being cooped up indoors we are all eager to head for the exit at the first possible moment! 

At the same time we are witnessing the new life that is blooming in the great outdoors, there is irony in the fact that for us, spring is also a signal that our time together is drawing to a close. In just a few short weeks, we will be ending the story that was the 2017-2018 school year. I remember how exciting this time was for me as a teacher, especially as I began to reflect on how far my students had come and the growth they had made. Perhaps as you enter this final stretch of the year you too will have the opportunity to reflect with pride in the progress the students under your tutelage have made. Indeed for many, there will be sadness as you say goodbye to the students you have shepherded through the trials and tribulations of this school year. And also, for many, there will be joy, as you say goodbye to the trials and tribulations of the school year!

This school year has given us cause for great celebrations. We have seen our student soar: in the classroom, on the stage, and at athletic competition. These accolades; these accomplishments haven't occurred by mere happenstance. When that goal was met, you were standing there quietly in the background beaming with pride. In the humbleness and grace with which you conduct the business of 'educating our youth' the credit was placed where it most certainly was due: with the student. The nobility with which you will fade into the memories of that achievement are most certainly laudable. But make no mistake: that feat would not have come to fruition without the guidance of our educators. Granted, not all our students' accomplishments have played out on the front page of the Hudson Herald. The fact is most of them occurred in the quiet [or at times chaotic] refuge of your classroom. They materialized in an environment devoid of public view. So who knew? You did. Your students did. And there parents did. Thank you for your commitment and dedication to the students you serve.

With just three weeks remaining, I invite you to consider your story for the 2017-2018 school year. Think back on this journey we began together in August. When we began, I shared with you many positive and visible examples of those things we can hang our hats on. But what about those moments that are not so easily seen? What about those brief flashes of wonder that will hang with your students decades from now? What then, of your legacy? Indeed many of these moments are subtle and happen so quickly within the space of recess and lunch; that if we are not careful, we will miss them. So I'll ask you once again: what of your legacy? A month from now when you are packing up your classroom for the summer, what memories will you take with you from this school year? I promise, those memories will be the reminder and the motivation that first inspired you to choose a career in education.

So then on behalf of the students you serve, the parents who ask what at times may seem like endless questions, the community who has entrusted you with this most precious of resources, and the board and administrators that you don't always see eye to eye with: thank you. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Not Quite That Easy

The Hudson school board holds its regular meeting on the third Monday of each month. Our meetings follow a rather structured and predictable formula. For starters, a consent agenda is used that is designed to streamline routine matters of business which include the hiring and resignation of personnel, and the adoption of noncontroversial resolutions. Paying the bills and reviewing monthly financial statements is another matter for the board to deliberate at the meeting. They also receives reports from administrators on the status of their area of supervision, and special topics that are of interest and importance to the board. This includes hearing about the progress of various updates and upgrades to our facilities. Then our predicable meeting format ends with discussion and action on items that generally do require a greater amount of discussion, debate, and deliberation. 

When you read the minutes in the newspaper after each meeting, the results and actions of those meetings is usually boiled down even further. One may even begin to wonder why the vote on issues before the board are so predictable. In fact, you may be thinking: he just boiled down the work of the school board to two short paragraphs. 

Perhaps to a casual observer this is all there is to it. However, this oversimplification of the work and commitment necessary to be an effective board member does not do justice to the responsibilities inherent in board service. For certain, it is not as easy as it looks. As a start, the material each board member is required to study and understand in preparation for a board meeting is staggering. A typical 'board packet' will run several hundred pages and include detail which requires a high level of concentration to comprehend. In addition to this, board members must have a working knowledge of complex financial metrics that are unique to Iowa public schools. Preparation for a meeting will take hours, if not days of study. Not only will it include the material in the board packet, but follow up questions and discussion are almost always necessary to fully understand and appreciate the multiple perspectives of varying issues. In fact, before a final vote is ever taken, an agenda item is likely to have been debated, discussed, and sent back for revision over the course of multiple meetings. It may also surprise you to know that some of the final votes taken by the board have been discussed and debated for over a year. And in at least one case spanning multiple boards. The school board works hard toward consensus, and while the majority of the time it is reached, accepts and appreciates that fact that sometimes dissent occurs.

The lion's share of the time issues before the board are noncontroversial. With study and an understanding of the perspectives at play, the decision to be made is oftentimes clear. But at the same time, clarity does not always make for the noncontroversial adjudication of an issue. During those rare occasions, boards have the opportunity to hear from their constituents. Sometimes that commentary is driven by a misunderstanding of the issue before the board, while at other times it may be a situation where only one perspective is being argued. Or in even some cases, there is just simple disagreement in positions. Thankfully, those are rare occurrences in our school district.

But when they do happen, it can be stressful and taxing on school board members. Now, while its true board members 'signed up for this', at the same time it is important to understand and respect the work they do on behalf of our community. School board service is perhaps one of the purest examples of how our democratic republic is supposed to work. Steeped in the tradition of local control and the idea of no taxation without representation, your local elected officials on the school board are truly volunteering their time. They do this work without any pay for the betterment of our school district. They are representing your voice in the governance of this important and most noble  of institutions. May is school board appreciation month. When you see your school board members out in public, please thank them for their service.