HUDSON — When school report cards came out this month, Hudson Elementary saw some needed improvement.
Larger percentages of students than the year before were reading and doing science at grade level or above, meeting state writing standards and making a year's worth of progress in math.
The improvement wasn't enough, though, to meet federal progress standards under the No Child Left Behind Act. So the school now must implement the restructuring plan that staff members spent the past year preparing.
Principal Linda McCarthy looks at the situation with optimism. "Because of the situation, we have an opportunity to try different things that maybe we wouldn't have had the opportunity to do," McCarthy said.
The school's primary effort will center on training the existing teaching staff in better ways to reach the students in their areas of greatest need, such as math.
"I would argue that when you look at any organization and you want to change that organization, the No. 1 way to do that is to invest in the people," said David Scanga, the school district's executive director for elementary education, who oversaw Hudson's planning effort.
To that end, all teachers must attend five extra days of staff development. They will look at instructional strategies, use of testing data and discipline methods. "We'll be focusing everybody on where we need to go," McCarthy said.
Teachers also will have to spend an extra hour every Tuesday after school in training.
Because of the mandatory extra work, the district offered all teachers the chance to take jobs elsewhere. Between these transfers and other decisions to leave, Hudson will see about one-third of its teaching staff turn over.
If that had to happen, McCarthy said, it did so at an opportune moment for Hudson. Teaching jobs are not as plentiful as they were even one year ago, she noted, so the applicant pool this year proved "exceptional."
"It was much easier to find people this year," she said.
The restructuring effort provides additional resources to mentor and support new and struggling teachers, too. Hudson will get teaching coaches to model lessons and instructional strategies as needed. Much education research suggests that on-site coaching has a more immediate and lasting effect.
Hudson also plans to make discipline more consistent. Students will receive the same message, using the same vocabulary, regardless of which adult at the school is talking to them.
Behavior is so important to students' understanding and respecting their education, McCarthy said, that Hudson will have a 20-minute character lesson at the end of each day, too.
"You have to have the kids on the same page with what our expectations are for their behavior," she said.
McCarthy stressed that Hudson is not a failing school. It earned a C in the state grading system, and it met 82 percent of the criteria toward making "adequate yearly progress."
Rather, Hudson is taking the time now to retrench to better help students.
Should this have happened earlier? Perhaps, Scanga said.
But now, with the impetus of federal law, the district is energized to get things done for Hudson as well as for Cox Elementary in Dade City, which also faces restructuring, he said.
"We want to see if we can change what is happening in the schools," Scanga said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614.