Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Redhawk Reflections…A Look Back at 2016

Merry Christmas from North Tama! As our students and staff enjoy Christmas break and take in the final few days of the calendar year, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the milestones and major events that have taken place in the previous year.  While it is impossible for this column to comprehensively cover all of the important events of the previous year, I think once you’ve reviewed these highlights of you’ll agree that 2016 has been a year of tremendous change, growth, and accomplishment for our students, staff, and school district.

When I reflect on the year 2016, one of the things I’m most proud of is the way that the community came together to support the improvements at Dennis Field.  This community can be proud of the new restrooms, concession stand, fences and landscaping, scoreboard, press box improvements, sidewalks and other improvements which provide better access to those with disabilities. What a great way to show our support for the young athletes involved with our ever-improving football program, both now and in the future!

The improvements at Dennis Field are a reflection of the community's strong support of our school. Community volunteers, alumni, school staff members, students, parents, and area businesses came together to make this happen. Your financial support, along with the in-kind support received from numerous volunteers, has provided a first-rate facility that will be a source of pride for us all for generations to come. 

I’m also proud of our district’s accomplishments in the area of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). During 2016, one elementary classroom was transformed into a learning space that is custom-tailored for integrated STEM and Literacy instruction, and all elementary classrooms are placing more of an emphasis on an integrated approach to Literacy and STEM. The results are obvious, as our elementary students are exhibiting more growth on literacy assessments than their peers in other school districts as a result of this approach.

North Tama has truly become a recognized leader in STEM education in recent years. Evidence of this can be seen in our partnerships with the University of Northern Iowa, as well as the number of other districts that have come to visit North Tama so that they can learn from our teachers as they work to emulate our success in their schools. 
To put the “icing on the cake,” our own Lisa Chizek was recognized recently by Governor Branstad as an Iowa Finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. This award is among the nation's highest honors for teachers of math and science.

Financially, the district made great strides during 2016.  In August, your school board refinanced the district’s bonds that had been issued in 2010 as part of the building project which included the high school locker rooms, gym lobby, Junior High addition, and administrative offices.  The board was able to lock in one of the lowest interest rates we have seen in many years, which will save the district more than $225,000 over the remainder of the loan.
The district also initiated numerous staff sharing agreements with neighboring school districts during 2016. Our Family & Consumer Sciences teacher is now shared with Hudson, while our Agriculture teacher spends part of his day at Gladbrook-Reinbeck. Splitting the cost of these teachers will have a big financial impact for the long term.  Also during 2016, we started sharing our superintendent with Gladbrook-Reinbeck and our Transportation Director with Hudson. These shared positions allow us to benefit from sharing the costs of these employees AND provide additional revenue for the district in the form of sharing incentives from the state of Iowa.  While it is never fun to talk about reducing, sharing, or cutting staff, these measures will help us to maintain financial stability so that North Tama can continue to provide a quality education for many years in the future. 

One big change that occurred across Iowa in 2016 was the implementation Iowa’s new system of Teacher Leadership.  North Tama’s innovative system is one of the few in the state that provides full-time teacher leaders to work directly with STUDENTS who are struggling with barriers to success while also providing coaches and model teachers to assist TEACHERS in improving their instructional practices.  We’re very pleased with this new system and look forward to following the program’s success during the year 2017 and beyond.

The new school year brought a number of changes to our staff. With two teachers retiring, two teachers leaving their classrooms to move into full-time teacher leadership positions, and several other teachers moving on to other opportunities during 2016, North Tama started the year with NINE new teachers in the classrooms. These new teachers include Brady Swenson (JH Science & Social Studies), Austin Pink (HS PE), Mike Runge (JH & HS Math), Matt Walston (HS Social Studies), Tyson Roberts (JH & HS Social Studies), Mark Reeves (JH Special Ed), Alex Tagtow (HS Science), Alivia McClain (5th Grade Language Arts), and Katie Wedeking (JH & HS Language Arts). Our new teachers have already made great contributions to the learning community, and I look forward to them becoming seasoned leaders among our staff in the coming years.

Finally, I want to recognize our STUDENTS for their tremendous accomplishments in 2016. North Tama’s students continue to score among the top in the state and nation on their standardized tests and other measures, indicating their dedication to school and their commitment to success. 
Thirty-five students graduated in May as part of the class of 2016. These students earned well over $50,000 in local scholarships and I know that they will continue their accomplishments in college, the workforce, and in their communities in the years to come.  Our students have achieved so much success in the classroom, athletically, and in their other activities during 2016 that if I started to mention specific honors we’d need to add more pages to the Star Clipper. We look forward to following these students as they reach even greater levels of accomplishment in the coming year.  
Yes, 2016 has been a great year at North Tama. I’m so pleased to be part of a school system and community that truly values and supports its school, its students, and its educators.  I’m looking forward to the coming year with great anticipation -- May 2017 be North Tama’s best year yet!  HAPPY NEW YEAR!
I encourage your feedback on this column, along with any questions you may have. You are welcome to visit my blog at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/ where you can read all of my Star Clipper columns and leave comments if you wish. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter, where my handle is @DavidRobertHill

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Are You Prepared for Winter Weather?

We’ve been blessed with reasonably good weather conditions since the school year started in August. Yes, there have been some foggy mornings where I’ve been up at 4:00 or 4:30 a.m. to make a safety assessment, but fortunately these instances didn’t require a change of schedule and the safest decision was to proceed with a regular day of school.
As I write this column, North Tama students haven’t missed a single hour of their learning time due to weather-related delays, early dismissals, or cancellations. Did you notice that I started that last sentence with the words, “As I write this column…”? As we all know, Iowa weather can be unpredictable so I thought it would be best to include that clause in my statement. 
While we do make it a priority to protect instructional time whenever possible, safety simply must come first.  There are times when changing our schedule at the last minute is simply the right thing to do for the safety of all.  Our school district is responsible for transporting hundreds of young people every day. We need to consider the safety of everyone concerned when making the decisions about school cancellations, delays, or early dismissals. 
As a child, I remember the anticipation and excitement when there was an approaching winter storm – hoping and wishing that maybe school would be canceled.  Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely loved school – but what child doesn’t enjoy an occasional surprise day off along with a chance to play in the snow? I recall sitting in front of the TV in the early morning on those wintery days, hoping my school’s name would appear among the list of schools having a delay or cancellation.
With modern technologies, we no longer need to sit by the TV or radio to know if school has been canceled or delayed. In previous years, many district patrons have subscribed to text alerts from KWWL Channel 7 or KCRG Channel 9 for this purpose.  In case you missed the announcements from these stations, KWWL & KCRG NO LONGER OFFER THIS SERVICE.  So, you will no longer receive texts from these TV stations and will need to find a new way to receive notifications. 
We will still submit this information to area media outlets to be broadcast on-screen and in radio announcements; however, the school has no control over how long it takes for our information to be posted on TV or announced on the radio. For those of you who prefer real-time notifications that are sent directly to you, North Tama utilizes a system called Powerschool Alert Solutions to send an instant text message or email when a decision needs to be announced. This system is available to anyone who may be interested, whether or not they have children in school. 
The link to subscribe is http://www.n-tama.k12.ia.us/textalerts and it only takes a minute to sign up. Parents of current North Tama Students DO NOT need to sign up via this weblink, as you are already part of our alert system. If you need to update your contact information or preferences, please don’t use the form on the website; instead, call 319-478-2265 and we will be glad to assist you.
While I’m not very accurate at predicting the weather, one thing we can all be sure of is that winter is approaching!  Be sure to get signed up for our text alerts today so you don’t miss out on an important announcement.
I continue to receive positive feedback on my SUPERINTENDENT NEWS & VIEWS columns in the Star Clipper. THANK YOU for your interest in North Tama schools! These newspaper columns, along with my blog and Twitter postings, are part of my plan for open communication with the community. As a shared superintendent who has duties in two different school districts, I believe that open communication is absolutely essential. If you’ve missed any of my columns or would like to re-read or share them with your friends and family, you are welcome to visit my blog at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/ where they are all posted. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter (@DavidRobertHill) where I will occasionally post updates or other information not found on the blog.
This blog post has been submitted for publication in the Traer Star Clipper.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Let’s Demand Equal Opportunity for ALL Iowa Students!!!

Election day is just around the corner in Iowa and across the nation. While the this year’s highly-publicized presidential race seems to get most of the media attention, don’t forget that there are other candidates on the ballot who seek your vote and the opportunity to represent and serve you on a more local level.

On November 8, Iowans will have the opportunity to cast a vote for one of the candidates hoping to serve as their state representative. Many state senate seats are also up for election. Many people don’t realize the importance of these Iowa House and Senate seats. In many ways, the decisions made by the IOWA legislature have a greater effect on our daily lives than do the votes of our U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators. 

Speaking as a school superintendent, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to make an endorsement or suggest that district patrons cast their votes in a certain way. However, I will say this:

If education is important to you –
If your local schools are important to you –
If the young people in our communities are important to you –
And if the future of Iowa is important to you –

…then I encourage you to visit with the candidates about educational issues and make sure you know where they stand (and that THEY know where YOU stand) in terms of support for our students and our schools.

Legislators often hear from school superintendents, administrators, teachers, and school board members. After a while, they likely get tired of hearing from those of us in the educational community. The legislature and the legislative candidates need to hear from parents, community members, and local business owners that our schools are valued and a vital part of our communities!

We hear a lot about equity and equal educational opportunity these days. I think it is generally agreed upon that regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, etc., our students deserve equal opportunities in our schools. Yet, there are inequities in the ways that Iowa’s schools are funded which have led to our students having unequal educational opportunities. In the following paragraphs, I’ll explain two such inequities: The inequity in per-student funding and the differences in funding available to spend on student learning due to district population density. 

Iowa’s school funding formula has built-in inequities that impact school districts and the students they serve. Since, the 1970’s when the current school funding formula was established, North Tama has received the LOWEST amount of per-student funding possible. This isn’t something that our school board can control – the value is set by the state. While we do receive the exact same funding per-student as many districts in the state, just look at what some area districts have received, year after year, since the 1970’s:

Union:              $82 more per student than North Tama
Hudson:           $175 more per student than North Tama
BCL-UW:        $81 more per student than North Tama
Cedar Falls:     $7 more per student than North Tama
South Tama:    $20 more per student than North Tama

Across the state, there is a $175 range in basic per-student funding that exists just because “it has always been that way.” This means North Tama and many other districts have less to invest in each student from day one. Please ask the candidates to explain their feelings on this issue; and ask them to end this inequity immediately if they are elected.  Remind them that ALL of Iowa’s students are important assets for our future!

Districts serving a large rural area must spend more on transportation; therefore, they have less to spend on classroom instruction. There are districts in Iowa such as West Burlington (Total Land Area: 2 Square Miles) and Marion (Total Land Area: 3.6 Square Miles) that have very few students that even qualify daily for bussing because they live so close to the school. These districts spend virtually nothing on transportation compared to larger rural districts like North Tama (Total Land Area: 155 Square Miles).

In some urban and suburban districts, a bus can have enough stops in three or four miles to be filled to capacity, while in some rural districts a bus can travel three or four miles and only stop for the occasional stop sign. Yet, many rural districts are unable to reduce their number of bus routes due to state laws limiting the amount of time students can spend on the bus.

North Tama’s students deserve equal educational opportunities, yet districts like ours are forced to spend a higher percentage of our available funds on transportation leaving less money to provide these opportunities. Consider asking your legislative candidates their feelings about this transportation equity issue. I believe the Iowa legislature should be asked to provide an additional funding stream for transportation or use a formula based on population density when determining Supplemental State Aid.

Our rural students represent the future of Iowa. No matter where they live, they deserve equal access to a top-notch education! Each and every one of them deserves a quality education regardless of whether they live in one of Iowa’s large metro areas, a growing suburb, or in a rural area that may be losing population. Your advocacy is more important now than ever before. An election is a great opportunity to talk face to face with those who seek to represent you, to find out where they stand on the issues, and to express your feelings to the candidates.

I’m sure there are other issues – many of them unrelated to education – that are also important to you. I encourage you to exercise your rights as a citizen by visiting with the candidates and finding out where they truly stand on the issues that matter most to you. And then…by all means…go out on November 8 and VOTE! 

You are welcome to visit my blog at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/ where this column and all of the columns I have written for the Star Clipper are posted. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter, where my handle is @DavidRobertHill

This blog post has been submitted for publication in the Traer Star Clipper.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Getting Our Kids to School Safely is EVERYONE’S Business

This blog post has been submitted for publication in the Friday, October 14 edition of the Traer Star Clipper.

Getting children to and from school safely each day is serious business, and EVERYONE in our communities can play a role in keeping our children safe.  The week of October 17 is National School Bus Safety Week. While the national observation of the week focuses specifically on bus safety, I think it also gives us a good opportunity to review some things that EVERYONE in our communities can do to help keep our students safe as they travel to and from school, regardless of their mode of travel. 

According to research by the National Safety Council, most of the children who lose their lives in accidents on the way to school are 4 to 7 years old, and they're walking. Remember, children this young don’t always follow the rules and they don’t always understand who has the “right of way” in various situations. Here are a few precautions motorists take to keep kids safe:
WATCH YOUR SPEED.  When you are in a hurry, posted speed limits can seem like an unnecessary annoyance; however, they are designed for the safety and protection of pedestrians and motorists alike. The number one thing motorists can do to avoid an accident is to keep their speed down. 
KEEP THE PATH CLEAR. Don't block crosswalks when stopped at an intersection, forcing pedestrians to go around you; this could put them in the path of moving traffic.
WAIT TO PASS. Never pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians or stopped to drop off/pick up students.
THINK BEFORE YOU HONK. Don't honk or rev your engine to scare a pedestrian or “make a point” with a student, even if they aren’t following the rules of the road. You may cause a distraction that actually causes an accident.
YIELD THE WAY. Take extra care to look out for children in school zones, near playgrounds and parks, and in all residential areas. Even in cases where you may have the right of way, stop and yield to pedestrians crossing at crosswalks, intersections, or even those who may be inappropriately crossing in the middle of the street.

If you're following a bus, allow a greater following distance than if you were driving behind a car. It will give you more time to stop once the yellow lights start flashing. Passing a school bus that is stopped to load or unload students is illegal, and the fines assessed for this infraction are VERY hefty. Here are a few other suggestions for motorists that can help to avoid a tragedy:
WATCH FOR LIGHTS. If the yellow or red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended, traffic must stop. Never pass a bus if it is stopped to load or unload children.
GIVE THEM SPACE. The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children; stop far enough back to allow them space to safely enter and exit the bus.
BE AWARE OF DELAYS & CHANGES. Even if you don’t have kids in school, it’s a great idea to watch one of the local TV stations to know when school is delayed or releasing early due to fog, snow, or ice. Perhaps you aren’t accustomed to seeing buses and walkers on the road at 9:30 a.m., but when there is a two-hour delay, you’ll want to be extra cautious at this time.
REMEMBER, THEY’RE KIDS. Children boarding or exiting the bus are often unpredictable, and they tend to ignore hazards and take risks.

Even though statistics show that riding the bus is the safest way to get to school, every year thousands of students are injured in bus-related accidents.  Many of these accidents can be prevented if children know and follow some basic rules for bus safety. It only takes a few minutes to review these bus safety tips with your children:
BE ON TIME.  When students are in a hurry because they are running late for the bus, they aren’t concentrating on safety.  Too often, accidents result.  Set your morning routine so that your child arrives at the bus stop or at the end of the driveway at least a couple of minutes before the bus is due. 
STAY IN THE “SAFE ZONE.”  Buses have blind spots and many children have been injured because the driver simply didn’t see them.  Tell your children to always stay in the “safe zone” – at least 10 feet in front of the bus. 
AVOID HORSEPLAY.  Bus pick-up points, whether a designated stop in town or at the end of a rural driveway, are not playgrounds.  Goofing around while waiting for the bus, especially if play extends into the road, can be deadly.  Make sure your children understand this danger. 
STAY PUT.  Students are often so eager to leave the bus that they often start for the front before the bus has stopped.  Let them know that they should wait until the bus comes to a complete stop before leaving their seats. 
HEADS UP.  A dropped book can turn into a serious accident if the bus driver doesn’t see it.  Tell your children to let the driver know immediately if they drop something while getting on or off the bus. 
NO DISTRACTIONS.  Kids may think that bus rules – no shouting, no throwing things, etc. – are just to keep them in line, but there are serious safety issues involved.  They should understand the importance of never distracting the driver.
Yes, we do take time at school to review bus rules and safety guidelines with all of our students. So why are we asking parents to review this information with their children? Students can always use a review of this important and potentially life-saving information. If they know that their parents are in agreement with the school on these tips and guidelines, it will help them to better understand the importance. It only takes a few minutes to review these bus safety tips with your children. Please, take the time.  
Our North Tama students represent the future of our communities and our world. Each one of them is priceless. THANK YOU for taking time to consider what you can do to help keep all of our students safe as they travel to and from school.
I encourage your feedback on this column, along with any questions you may have. You are welcome to visit my blog at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/ where you can read all of my Star Clipper columns and leave comments if you wish. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter, where my handle is @DavidRobertHill

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Importance of Parental Involvement

This blog post has been submitted for publication in the Friday, September 23 edition of the Traer Star Clipper.

The first five weeks of the school year have flown by, and our teachers are now getting prepared for the annual fall parent/teacher conferences.  At North Tama, parent/teacher conferences are scheduled quite early on our calendar in order to allow parents and teachers an opportunity to establish a good working relationship early in the year.  This year, fall conferences will take place on Monday, September 26 and Thursday, September 29.

Experienced educators and parents understand that when there are concerns about a child’s academic progress, work completion, or behavior in school, these concerns usually don’t just get better “on their own.” Early conferences give parents and teachers a chance to address any concerns early on in order to develop plans to alleviate them. Parents shouldn’t hesitate to contact any one of their child’s teachers when concerns arise – it isn’t necessary to wait until a scheduled parent/teacher conference.

Parent/teacher conferences are an important opportunity for parental involvement – but conferences are just one way that parents can be involved. Research has proven that parent involvement is a key factor in student success for students of all ages.  Study after study have shown how important it is for parents to be actively involved in their child's education. Here are some of the major findings of the research on parental involvement:

  • When parents are involved in their children's education, they do better in school.
  • A home environment that encourages learning is more important to student achievement than income, parental education level or cultural background.
  • Reading aloud to children is the most important activity that parents can do to increase their child's chance of reading success. Talking to children about books and stories read to them also supports reading achievement.
  • When children and parents talk regularly about school, children perform better academically.
  • The earlier parent involvement begins in a child's educational process, the more powerful the effects.

Parental involvement can mean reading to your child, checking homework every night, enforcing a regular bed time on school nights, emailing/conferencing with your child’s teacher, limiting TV viewing and video/computer gaming on school nights, or teaching your child the importance of good attendance at school. Other examples of parent involvement include joining the booster club, volunteering at school, voting in school board elections, or attending school events to show your support.

Or, parental involvement can be as simple as asking your son or daughter, "How was school today?" But ASK EVERY DAY. That will send a clear message that school work is important to you and that you expect them to learn.  Then, LISTEN to your child as he or she describes the activities of their school day, and engage in a conversation to help them consider how they might apply what they have learned in the home or other settings.

Some parents and families are able to be involved in their child's education in many of the ways listed above. Others may only have time for one or two activities. Whatever your level of involvement, my advice to do it consistently and stick with it, because the research shows that you will make an important difference in your child's life.

Because parental involvement is so important, I’m planning to provide useful information and resources related to parent involvement in several of my Superintendent News & Views columns this year. I encourage your feedback, questions, and other interactions. You are welcome to visit my blog at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/ where you can read all of my Star Clipper columns and leave comments if you wish. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter, where my handle is @DavidRobertHill.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

North Tama Welcomes New Staff Members to the Redhawk Family

This blog post has been submitted for publication in the Friday, September 9 edition of the Traer Star Clipper.

The 2016-2017 school year started on August 24, and the first couple of weeks of school have been GREAT!  On our first day, we were joined by the members of American Legion Kubik-Finch Post 142 for our annual K-12 flag raising ceremony. I want to thank these veterans for their service to our nation and for their role in our annual flag raising. Thanks also to senior class president Carlee Feisel and Retired U.S. Navy Captain Maurice McWhirter who were our speakers for the event.  Our speakers both had a great message for us, giving us suggestions and ideas on how to make the most of every day this school year.
One of the best things about being part of North Tama is the tremendous amount of support we enjoy from the community. Throughout the year, I am continually amazed by all of the ways that our North Tama alumni, parents, area businesses, individuals, and community organizations show their support of our school. We’ve had a great start, and we’re looking forward to a great new school year in the days, weeks, and months ahead!    
We are pleased to welcome ten new certified staff members and a few other support staff members to the North Tama Redhawk family for the 2016—2017 school year: 
Brady Swenson will teach Junior High science and social studies, replacing Judy Boerm who has become the district’s Student Success Coach as part of North Tama's new Teacher Leadership System. Mr. Swenson previously taught Junior High science and social studies as well as High School Industrial Technology at Gladbrook-Reinbeck.
Austin Pink will teach secondary Physical Education and is our new varsity football coach. He replaces Brandon Clubb who will be teaching and coaching at Clear Creek Amana.  Mr. Pink previously taught and coached at Forest City and was a coach at Independence. 
Mike Runge will teach secondary math, replacing Judy Morrison who retired last year after forty years of service to the district.  Mr. Runge previously taught secondary math at Valley Lutheran Schools in Cedar Falls. 
Matt Walston is a familiar face at North Tama, as he completed his student teaching here last year in the classroom of Phil Moss. Mr. Walston, a recent graduate of UNI, will be teaching secondary social studies classes as Dan Oltman moves to a classroom in Cedar Falls.
Tyson Roberts will also teach secondary social studies, replacing Phil Moss who is moving to Cedar Falls to teach and coach.  Mr. Roberts is an experienced social studies teacher, having taught and coached at Waterloo Christian School which is in the same athletic conference as North Tama.
Mark Reeves is a first-year teacher who completed his student teaching in the Des Moines area and has substituted in various districts.  Mr. Reeves is replacing Shane Wetzel, who has moved to Virginia to pursue other opportunities. He will teach Junior High special education. 
Alex Tagtow replaces Logan Mork as a secondary science teacher at North Tama.  Mr. Tagtow is a first-year teacher with recent basketball and baseball coaching experience in the Wapsie Valley school district. 
Alivia McClain is the new 5th grade teacher at North Tama Elementary. Mrs. McClain is also a familiar face at North Tama, having served as a daily substitute and long-term substitute here last year after completing her student teaching in 4th grade with Jana Monat.  This position was created as a result of Patti Lorenzen’s retirement at the end of last school year. 
Katie Wedeking will teach Junior High and High School English/Language arts, replacing Susan Johnson who has become the district’s K-12 Instructional Coach as part of Iowa’s new Teacher Leadership system.  Ms. Wedeking’s previous experience includes serving as a long-term substitute teacher and a daily substitute in several districts, primarily at Clarksville where she has also coached. 
Maegan Meister is North Tama’s new part-time curriculum director, replacing Matt Switzer who has moved to the Cedar Falls district. Mrs. Meister, who holds a master’s degree and has completed training to be a principal, previously taught and held multiple leadership roles it Kingsley Elementary School in Waterloo. Mrs. Meister’s position is shared with the Gladbrook-Reinbeck school district.
In addition to our new certified teachers, we also welcome North Tama Alumnus Amy Monat to our nurse’s office as our new part-time nurse, and Roxann Lazenby to our kitchen staff.
While North Tama has outstanding facilities and great technology, I’ve always felt that it is the PEOPLE that truly make our school great. This new group of Redhawks has been carefully selected for the skills, abilities, and aptitudes that they will bring to our educational community. We’re excited to have these new team members on board, and I encourage everyone in our educational community to help them to feel welcome and supported in the important work that they do.
Once again this school year, I intend to publish a newspaper column about once each month as a tool for communication as a shared superintendent. My blog and Twitter feed are other strategies that I will use for increased communication and interaction. I encourage your feedback, questions, and other interactions. You are welcome to visit my blog at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/ where you can read all of my Star Clipper columns and leave comments if you wish. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter, where my handle is @DavidRobertHill.  Let’s have a great school year!  

Kneeling (left to right): Brady Swenson (JH Science and Social Studies), Austin Pink (HS PE)

Standing (left to right): Mike Runge (JH and HS Math), Matt Walston (HS Social Studies), Tyson Roberts (JH and HS Social Studies), Mark Reeves (JH Special Ed), Alex Tagtow (HS Science), Alivia McClain (5th grade language arts), Katie Wedeking (JH and HS Language Arts), Maegan Meister (Curriculum Director, shared with GR).

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

New Teacher Leadership System to Begin at North Tama

This blog post has been submitted for publication in the Friday, July 29 edition of the Traer Star Clipper.

In 2013 the Iowa legislature passed a law establishing the Teacher Leadership and Compensation system. The goals of this legislation were to: 1) Attract promising new teachers by offering competitive starting salaries and offering short-term and long-term professional development and leadership opportunities; 2) Retain effective teachers by providing enhanced career opportunities; 3) Promote collaboration; 4) Reward professional growth and effective teaching by providing pathways for career opportunities that come with increased leadership responsibilities and involve increased compensation; and 5) Improve student achievement by strengthening instruction.
According to the Iowa Department of Education, “the overriding philosophy of the system is multi-pronged, but boils down to this: Improving student learning requires improving the instruction they receive each day. There is no better way to do this than to empower our best teachers to lead the effort.”
A team of teachers, administrators, and representatives from the North Tama community and school board spent nearly a year contemplating and making plans for how a system of teacher leadership could be used to improve student learning in the district. The North Tama team submitted an application last fall, and we learned this spring that the district has been selected to participate in this initiative for the coming year and beyond. In the first year, grant funds will be provided to fund the program; in future years, North Tama’s Teacher Leadership System will be funded through an additional annual per-student allocation from the state.
The additional funding we will receive from this program will primarily be spent on salary and training for teachers who assume new and/or additional roles, designed to help foster collaboration between colleagues as a means of improving student outcomes. Our plan called for the creation of a full-time Student Success Coach position, a full-time Instructional Coach position, several lead teachers, and as many mentors as might be needed to serve new teachers. We have also set aside a portion of these funds for professional development related to the TLC program. It was a requirement of the program (and the TLC law) that those hired for these positions had to have previously been teachers in the district.
Judy Boerm and Susan Johnson have been hired for the two full-time roles in our Teacher Leadership System. Judy will be our Student Success Coach and Susan will be our Instructional Coach. These two teachers will no longer have their own classrooms, as their Teacher Leadership positions are full-time. Their role, in part, is to support teachers throughout the district through collaborative inquiry, analysis of student data, supporting teachers’ professional development, implementation of research-based strategies, and leading district-wide professional development efforts. Judy’s role also will include working with individual students and families as well as teachers to help students who may be at risk of failing or not graduating with their class to find pathways to success. 
Our Lead Teachers for the coming year will be Amy Lidgett, Becky Adams, Connie Courbat, Levi LaRue, Lisa Chizek, Kristi Martin, and Vonna Watson. These teachers will assume their Lead Teacher duties while remaining in the classroom full time. They will serve as a point of contact for specific professional development initiatives, and working with the full-time teacher leaders they will provide leadership for district-wide professional development efforts. Their classrooms will be open for teachers to observe the implementation of new strategies or instructional methods, and they will lead teachers in reflective discussions to aid them in their own implementation of new strategies. In addition, they provide an extra layer of support between the teachers and the full-time coaches, to ensure that professional development needs are identified and supported.
Finally, we will have a number of mentors as part of the Teacher Leadership System. The mentors are veteran teachers who agree to support teachers who are new to the profession. They work with the new teachers on many facets of the job, with the intention that they help the new teacher acclimate to the position, allowing them to be successful and, therefore, increasing the likelihood that they will stay in the field long term. New teachers will be assigned mentors for their first two years in the profession.
We have received several questions about having certain teachers being “pulled” from the classroom to assume a teacher leadership role. While no one wants to see an outstanding teacher removed from their classroom, it’s important for us to realize that as Teacher Leaders, these teachers will be able to use their skills and expertise to benefit ALL North Tama students. Remember, these teachers applied to be a Teacher Leader because they felt that moving into a new position would be an advancement for them professionally and an opportunity to have a larger impact.
While the state funding for our Teacher Leadership System will be ongoing, the law requires for all of the Teacher Leadership positions to be one-year appointments. Those in a leadership position can apply to continue in their present role. If they decide to return to the classroom after spending time in a leadership role, we certainly support that and have a policy in place that allows them to do so.
Teacher Leadership represents a significant change in our school system and one that has the potential to significantly impact student learning at North Tama. 
Do you have a comment or question about our new Teacher Leadership System? You are welcome to visit my blog at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/ where you can read all of my Star Clipper columns and leave comments if you wish. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter, where my handle is @DavidRobertHill.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Our Most Limited Resource...Time

This blog post was submitted for publication in the Friday, July 8 edition of the Traer Star Clipper.

In my columns this school year, I’ve shared a lot of information about how the North Tama district is making the most of our limited financial resources and taking steps to keep North Tama financially stable in times of declining enrollment and inadequate state funding. Today, we’ll focus on another limited resource: TIME.  

I’ve always felt that TIME, not money, is our most limited resource. There are only 24 hours in a day, and there’s nothing that any of us can do to change that. While a school district may be able to make small adjustments to lengthen their school day or add to the number of days in a school year, there are limits to what can be added due to funding issues, employee contracts, and the fact that students and school employees have other obligations in their lives besides school.

A couple of years ago, the state of Iowa changed the way instructional time is counted in our schools. Schools are no longer required to offer 180 days of instruction; now, Iowa schools must offer a minimum of 1080 hours of instruction over the course of a school year. While most schools can (and do) schedule many more hours than this over the course of the year, there are still limits to the amount of instructional time that can be scheduled due to limited funding, employee contracts, and the fact that some employee time must be spent on state-required tasks such as professional development. Because of these limits, many districts have experimented with different approaches to using the limited time that they do have, rather than just adding time to their calendars.

The “Plus One” calendar which has been implemented at North Tama over the past two years is an example of how the school has worked to use the limited resource of time in a different way. When the school first decided to implement the Plus One calendar, it was decided that the impact of this change would be evaluated after two years to help determine whether Plus One would become a long-term addition to the North Tama calendar. An evaluation of Plus One data recently took place as part of the planning process for the coming school year. Data sources used in the evaluation included parent surveys, student surveys, faculty surveys, a listing of Plus One class offerings, and Plus One attendance/participation data.

Fourteen days this school year were dedicated to Plus One, with a variety of enrichment classes being offered to all students during the morning hours and teacher learning (professional development) taking place in the afternoon. While Plus One days have provided amazing opportunities for enrichment and hands-on learning, a relatively small number of students were taking advantage of these opportunities. Especially at the secondary level, the small number of students showing up for Plus One has led us to the conclusion that Plus One has not been the best investment our time. It was a GOOD investment, but not the BEST way to invest our time. As a result of this data analysis and the input from all parties involved, the North Tama board recently voted to end the Plus One calendar for the 2016-2017 school year.  

With the additional instructional days that will be added back to the calendar due to the elimination of Plus One, next year’s calendar will provide more periods of instruction and additional learning opportunities for ALL STUDENTS.  At the elementary level, a new program called “Above & Beyond” will take place at various times throughout the year as part of the regular instruction for all K-6 students. “Above & Beyond” will provide enrichment experiences similar to Plus One, but for ALL K-6 students as part of the regularly-scheduled school day.

As part of next year’s calendar, we will also see a small change in our starting and ending times each school day. Classes will begin at 8:15 a.m. for all students in grades K-12.  The school day will end at 3:20 p.m. for elementary students and 3:25 p.m. for secondary students.  

I applaud the board and staff for their willingness to explore various approaches to the use of time -- our most limited resource -- in order to best meet the needs of North Tama students.  

The 2016-2017 school calendar has been posted on my blog at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/. I encourage you to view this calendar and use it as you plan your family trips, appointments, and other dates for the coming year. While Plus One days won’t be taking place, we will still have occasional days off for holidays and professional development, and these would be great days to schedule your child’s doctor appointments and other obligations.  This will help you to make the best use of your limited resource of time.

View the 2016-2017 School Calendar by clicking the image above.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Thank You, School Board Members!!!

This blog post was submitted for publication in the Friday, May 6 edition of the Traer Star Clipper.

May is School Board Recognition Month in Iowa, honoring the men and women who serve on the of Boards of Education in school districts across the state. These dedicated public servants become school board members because they are committed to improving public education and their communities.

Our board members devote many hours to making sure North Tama is a safe and efficient place to work and learn. Their actions ensure that the dedicated educators are North Tama have the resources and instructional programs needed to educate children to their fullest potential.

School board members face complex and demanding challenges. Yet few people fully understand the scope and far-reaching implications of board members’ responsibilities. I hope that all North Tama citizens appreciate the vital contributions of our board members for the crucial role they play in the education of our children. Their job entails an endless string of meetings and school functions to attend; reams of reports, agendas, proposals and other information to read and study; and a host of difficult decisions to make.

These volunteer leaders also are responsible for formulating school policy, approving curricular changes, maintaining school facilities and adhering to ever-changing state and federal education laws. Legal concerns and the complexities of school finance, including budgeting and taxation, require them to spend many hours in board meetings and personal study to enhance their understanding of these issues.

As elected leaders, school board members are accountable to the voters who elected them. This isn’t always easy, but our board members show again and again that they are up to the task. They each work tirelessly to do what’s best for all of our students. Although they may individually disagree on certain issues, their role as a board is to keep the district moving forward in achieving our goals.

North Tama’s current school board members are Trisha Kennedy, Tiffany Feisel, Gretchen Pargeon, Robert Young, Cheryl Popelka, Rod Zobel, and Doug Dvorak. When you see these leaders, please thank them for their dedication and their service to our school. They deserve our recognition for a job well done! 

To our school board: we appreciate your dedication and hard work on behalf of our students, staff, and community. Thank you.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Benefits of Sharing, part 2

This blog post was submitted for publication in the Friday, April 8 edition of the Traer Star Clipper.

In last week’s column, I listed the three basic types of sharing arrangements available to schools: 1) Whole-grade sharing; 2) Program & Staff Sharing; and 3) Operational Sharing. In my column, I emphasized that North Tama is NOT headed toward a whole-grade sharing agreement or merger with any other school district. However, the district is currently benefitting from other types of sharing, and we are investigating more possibilities for sharing for the benefit of our students.

Last week’s column focused on two types of sharing -- Whole Grade Sharing and Program/Staff Sharing -- and described the current staff & program sharing agreements that we have in place with some of our neighboring districts as well as the sharing arrangements that are being considered for next year.

This week, we’ll continue with a description of the third type of sharing arrangement, called operational sharing. If you happened to miss last week’s column and would like to read these two columns together, you can find the article on my blog at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/.

As a way of encouraging school districts to share certain operational positions, the state of Iowa offers a major financial incentive. The state allows districts sharing certain types of positions to count “extra” students in the district’s enrollment, resulting in additional spending authority (funded partially through local property taxes and partially through state aid). Districts involved in operational sharing receive two financial benefits: 1) The SAVINGS that come with sharing the cost of the individual’s contract; and, 2) Additional REVENUE in the form of the ability to count more students in their enrollment.

The law lists certain positions that qualify for the incentive and the number of students that can be counted as an incentive. The following table lists the positions and the number of students allowed as an incentive:

Superintendent (8 students)
Business Manager (5 students)
Buildings & Grounds Director (5 students)
Transportation Director (5 students)
Human Resources Director (5 students)
Guidance Counselor (3 students)
Curriculum Director (3 students)

Districts are allowed to count up to 21 additional students as an incentive for operational sharing agreements. Some of our surrounding districts have been “maxed out” on operational sharing for years, counting 21 additional students year after year and receiving the associated funding. This additional funding has been a large part of the financial solution for many smaller Iowa districts over the years.

While many other districts are making the most of operational sharing, these incentives have largely been an untapped resource at North Tama.  North Tama currently counts just three additional students through operational sharing, as a result of our sharing a curriculum director with GMG, BCL-UW, and Gladbrook-Reinbeck. While our superintendent is also shared, our arrangement doesn’t qualify for the operational sharing incentives because I’m a principal at Union and the superintendent here -- the law requires that the person hold the same job function in both districts.  

We are currently having discussions with two other districts that could allow us to count an additional 13 students by sharing our superintendent and transportation director. The North Tama board recently approved a sharing agreement with the Gladbrook-Reinbeck district to share me as the superintendent of both districts. If this agreement is approved by the G-R board at their next meeting, I will officially become the superintendent of both districts starting on July 1.  We are also having discussions with another area district about sharing North Tama’s transportation director in the coming year.

If these two operational sharing agreements become a reality, North Tama will count 13 additional students in next year’s enrollment, resulting in nearly $86,000 in additional income annually for our district.  We’ll still have a superintendent in the district about half of the time, so the students, staff, and school community really won’t see much of a change in that respect. As for our transportation director, we will all need to get used to the idea of sharing his time with another district. While this will be an adjustment, these types of opportunities are exactly what we need to be looking for! They will save our district money AND bring in additional revenues, while not limiting any opportunities for our students. I see it as a “win-win” for North Tama.

We will continue to look for further opportunities for program/staff sharing and operational sharing, as both of these types of arrangements have the potential to help us achieve our overall goal of financial stability and viability for the long term. I would like to thank those who took time to contact me with your questions and concerns about sharing, and I encourage others to do the same. Perhaps you have a question, a concern, or even an idea to help the North Tama district as we move forward. You are welcome to visit my blog at http://redhawksupt.blogspot.com/ where you can leave comments or suggestions if you wish. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter, where my handle is @DavidRobertHill, or of course I can be contacted at the school. I appreciate your interest in the future of North Tama Schools!