Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Talking About Improvement

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The quote is attributed to philosopher and poet George Santayana, but it seems to apply to the Hudson City School District. In the case of HCSD, the past is not all that long ago.

Last Thursday, the HCSD Board of Education conducted a "facilitated conversation" to talk about ways to "raise the bar, close the gap, and align curriculum and instruction to more rigorous standards." The Register-Star reported on that meeting today: "Officials hope that roundtable discussions lead to real solutions." According to the report: "A few of the more popular solutions were: school uniforms, parental portals that remind of upcoming assignments, community schools, enrichment programs from John L. Edwards and professional development and expanding the power of peace throughout the district."

The press release that announced last Thursday's meeting and the article in today's Register-Star make it sound like this is a brand-new undertaking, but not that long ago, in 2009 and 2010, some earnest and serious-minded people--from the Board of Education, the HCSD facility, and the community--formed what was called the Task Force on Student Academic Performance. Over the course of nine months, this task force conducted sixteen formal meetings; discussed dozens of education topics; reviewed scores of professional articles; interviewed national, state, and local education experts; visited a high-performing school district with a demographic similar to HCSD's; conducted a districtwide survey on communication; and met with HCSD's department heads. In the end, they delivered a report to the Board of Education, which not only analyzed the problems but made specific recommendations to effect improvement. That report, which was presented to the BOE on February 22, 2010, can still be found on the HCSD websiteThe document is identified as a "Draft Report" because the process that produced it was meant to be ongoing. The last three recommendations in the report--there were fifty in all--were:
  • Continue the work of the Task Force.
  • Prioritize the Task Force's recommendations and determine which ones shall be implemented and when.
  • Provide for a means to review progress on implementation of the Task Force recommendations.
One wonders if anything was done with this report beyond putting it on the website, and if nothing was, why not?


  1. Thank you, Carole, for running this. I was privileged to chair the Task Force and am very proud of the work this group of dedicated parents, teachers, and community members put into this effort. The report is a comprehensive blueprint for school improvement and I urge parents and taxpayers to read it and then help Maria Suttmeier and her team continue their efforts to make the Hudson City School District the educational jewel that it can be. --peter meyer

  2. Maria McLaughlin, president of the HCSD Board of Education, submitted this comment:

    I've got to say that I am only commenting as an individual and not representing the Board of Ed. But to answer your question, approximately 11 of the recommendations on the report of the task force have been adopted. I say approximately because many of the suggestions were multi-faceted and, for various reasons, only part of some recommendations have been implemented. In the five years since the report was published, Common Core Learning Standards have drastically changed the way students are taught and the way teachers teach. In addition, new families (including mine!) have moved into the district and expect a platform for voicing their concerns and offering their solutions to the problems facing the schools in Hudson. The community forum was intended to be a part of that platform. We have before us the difficult task of turning around a district that has been struggling for decades. I do not feel that this is insurmountable! However, as a member of the board I have been dismayed at the amount of time I've spent correcting the spread of misinformation on public forums. It would be a more productive use of my time to work to improve the education provided to our students. I would like to emphasize that I am very grateful to everyone who took the time to show up (and stay!) for the conversation. I was impressed with the volume of solutions brought to the table alongside the justified criticism of the district, and I appreciate both. If anyone is interested in the details of what work has been completed from the recommendations of the task force, I would be willing to discuss it in person. I would like to note, that since the draft report came out in 2010, the ENTIRE Board of Education has changed. I am sure that the lack of continuity is due, in part, by the high turn-over on the Board. It is my hope that those dedicating their time to the board will, in the future, see their efforts through to completion so long as personal circumstances reasonably allow.

  3. I appreciate Maria's and other new board members' hard work for Hudson schools and applaud their community forum effort. But the Task Force report not only made recommendations that are perfectly compatible with Common Core (in fact, we anticipated it by recommending that a core curriculum be implemented (exactly what the CC recommends) and Hudson would have been ahead of the game had that been done. The Task Force also recommended an ongoing process by which stakeholders could voice their concerns, so there's nothing new about Ms. McLaughlin calling for a "platform" to do that. And it's ironic that Ms. McLaughlin suggest that because there are new board members and new parents we need to do things differently. Such administrative fickleness, according to the Task Force, was one of the reasons Hudson schools never improve: everyone keeps doing the same old things expecting different results. I've been to plenty of public input sessions and been on lots of panels and task forces during the nearly two decades I've been involved in HCSD and can't help but see that one of the district's major problems (one called out by our 2010 Task Force report) is a failure to pay attention to the past, learn from it, and build on it. --peter meyer

  4. Ms McLaughlin's comment about continuity deserves special mention: "I am sure that the lack of continuity is due, in part, by the high turn-over on the Board." This indeed accounts for lots of HCSD's problems, but such turnover should not be used as an excuse for discontinuity. In fact, it is the responsibility of every board member to carry on the work of "the board." And the board's work, including many reports and studies and reports, is well documented. The minutes of all board meetings are on the district's website. There is simply no excuse for individual board members -- no matter how frequent the turnover -- not to pay attention to that record. Not doing so only guarantees the continuity of failure. --peter meyer