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School board hears strategic plan reports

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The Hudson Board of Education heard reports from two groups working on the district's strategic plan priorities adopted earlier this year.

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Fiscal Operations Director Arnie Fett updated board members on the work of the Facilities Task Force charged with evaluating and, if necessary, coming up with a plan to provide facilities that accommodate desired class size and create a sound educational environment.

Fett, along with board and task force members Annette Cook and Dick Muenich, said the group had determined there is a need for additional space for students based on the architectural analysis of existing facilities and on enrollment projections solicited by the task force.

Muenich said the 23-member task force would begin discussing options to address the space needs at its next meeting on Oct. 26. He said the group is working hard to meet the December deadline set for the final report but indicated he would ask the board for more time if it seemed necessary. He did have a word of caution for the board.

"As the task force profile rises in the community, it is likely that we will be second-guessed and there will be questions about how the group was formed. Is it representative of the community? I believe it is. We really tried to reach across the community to have equity - with age, gender and profession. I'm very impressed with the quality and dedication of members, and I expect we will come back to you with a good package."

Fett agreed. "People speak their piece and no one is afraid to say what's on their mind. And so far there have been no real battles. I expect there will be lots of different solutions that will come up but that's what we're there to discuss."

Cook said members were originally told to expect a commitment of two two-hour meetings a month. "But it's more like three hours or more every meeting. Everyone is very committed. They are not afraid to speak up and they are coming up with great feedback. They are to be commended for their work."

The second report of the evening focused on "a rigorous, comprehensive, differentiated K-12 curriculum that meets the needs of all students," another of the priorities of the strategic plan. Pupil Services Director Nancy Sweet and Instructional Services Director Chuck Sambs made the report. Sweet said the work began with an overview of Hudson student demographics including those with special needs. Sambs said the group, which includes representatives from the district curriculum and pupil services advisory councils, working on the curriculum priority began by defining the language of the goal and what events, conditions and actions had to exist to accomplish it.

Their objectives include:

  • Clarifying how the district measures student success;

  • What incentives and recognition there are for achievement by both students and staff; and

  • Investigating ways of promoting "learning for the sake of learning."

    Said Sambs, "You don't pursue rigorous learning just through practice. But we want students to develop and experience the joy of learning."

    With regard to a comprehensive, differentiated K-12 curriculum, a districtwide study group will look for ways to provide greater collaboration among staff and use of the "best research-based practices" for the benefit of all students.

    A steering committee will also investigate different forms of assessment, groupings within and between classrooms, and how to address student strengths and unique learning styles.

    Board member Cindy Crimmins said the objectives broken down and defined by Sambs' and Sweet's group will be a "good tool to communicate to the public what our schools are about and why we offer the classes we do." Their next report is due in February.

    Sweet also reported to the board on the recent No Child Left Behind test results and how special-services teachers and staff have reacted to results that show special education students at Hudson Middle School fell below the state's "annual yearly progress" goal.

    The assessment tests will be given again in November to every student in grades four, eight and 10 districtwide. Sweet said special-needs teachers and staff throughout the district did a comprehensive analysis of last year's test results to be sure that all allowable accommodations for students with special needs were made. They were. In preparation for the upcoming tests, teachers will use the practice questions provided to help prepare students but Sweet said teachers will not "teach to the test."

    "We have encouraged teachers to conduct business as usual, do the good job they have always done, and the test will take care of itself."

    Sweet said the outcome of the test among students with cognitive disabilities was predictable. "That's why they receive special services. They have a learning impairment that prevents them from performing the way students in regular education do." Sweet said an orientation for all special education teachers and staff will be held in anticipation of this year's tests. Parents are also being advised that these tests are not necessarily a measure of their students' progress and that the goals and measures in a student's individualized educational plan, or IEP, is more important than these test results.

    But Sweet warned the board that all special-needs students might not meet this year's AYP goals. "I cannot promise that students with disabilities will meet this year's AYP standards, especially when that standard will be even higher than last year." Sweet said to hold special education students to the same standard as regular education students is unreasonable and a fundamental flaw in the No Child Left Behind law.

    Board member Mark Kaisersatt asked if the law allowed for parents to "opt out" of NCLB testing for their child, but Sweet said no, all children are required by the law to be tested and to achieve the same proficiency.

    Board member Dan Tjornehoj asked if all special-needs students were getting what curriculum they needed to succeed on the test. Sweet said all special-needs students are covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Act that holds the district by law responsible for the goals and progress of these students, with potentially serious consequences if they don't.

    "I feel bad that students with disabilities are being seen as responsible for why districts and schools like ours are not meeting the AYP goals and determined to be schools that need improvement. I feel bad for the students and for their parents. But the emphasis here will continue to be on the students' IEP goals and not on this test."

    Board member Nancy Donovan said there is a lot of emotion surrounding NCLB and that as the standards of the test rise with every year, students won't be able to meet them. "The size of our district hurt us. If we had two middle schools, there wouldn't have been enough special education students in each to identify, and if we'd had three more students in special education at the high school, they would have been singled out. We need to advocate for a common sense approach for all students."

    Cook said the results for the small group of special education students overshadowed the fact that the majority of Hudson students tested passed the test and exceeded the AYP goals in both reading and math.

    In other business the board approved expenditures of $4,168,782.86. The final approval of the 2004-05 tax levy and budget needed to be postponed because final figures were not available from the state. A special meeting was set for Oct. 28 for that vote.

    Superintendent Ron Bernth commended both students and parents for the success of this year's Homecoming. "It just has gotten better and better, and my thanks to the students and parents that have worked hard over the past years to make it what it has become. Other districts continue to struggle with Homecoming but we've turned a corner."

    Bernth also announced that the district's AODA program (alcohol and other drug addictions) applied for and was awarded a $42,000 grant. The grant was written by AODA coordinator Dana Krahenbuhl. Bernth said staff and advisers from the True Blue Times and the yearbook have received several awards and will be recognized at next month's meeting.

    He also acknowledged the accomplishments of the girls cross-country team, which ranked seventh in the state, and or tennis players Sharyn Dahl and Megan Anderson.

    Meg Heaton can be reached at mheaton@rivertowns.net.

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    Meg Heaton
    Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
    (715) 808-8604
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