The Register Star recently reported the most recent graduation data for the Hudson City School District, and it was a wonderful way to end the year. The graduation rate has gone from 59% in 2012 to an estimated 77% in 2015. I hope you all share our feeling of accomplishment for the highest graduation rate in a decade. While we are proud to have achieved the goal we set three years ago, we know every year brings its own set of challenges and potential pitfalls. These figures, however, provide validation that our teachers, administrators and support staff are putting in the time to ensure the success of our students and continued realization of our Destination Graduation goals.

Another indicator that we are heading in the right direction academically is HCSD’s 2015 New York State School Report Card. For the first time in a long time, our high school report card has green checks instead of red X’s signifying that we made Adequate Yearly Progress across the board. We still clearly have several areas in need of improvement, but the data confirms that significant progress was made at the high school.

We are building upon our Destination Graduation goals with our Vision 2020 initiative. It is a declaration of where we need to be five years from now and will guide our efforts to support the learning and success of our students. Vision 2020 goes beyond curriculum and instruction to other factors of academic success, specifically the learning environment, extra-curricular opportunities and the social-emotional development of our students.

The proposed capital project that taxpayers are encouraged to vote for on February 9th goes hand in hand with this initiative. We want our students to not only pass exams and receive diplomas, but to leave Hudson High School with a well-rounded education that prepares them for college, careers and the challenges of the real world.

Several research studies spanning the last two decades have found that learning environments directly impact student performance. Currently, the research of most interest to HCSD is related to the grade reorganization component of the proposed capital project, highlighting the relationships between school building grade-spans (e.g., PK-2, 3-6, 7-8, 9-12), the number of school-to-school transitions and student achievement—something we are continuously working to improve.

School-to-school transitions can be stressful and disruptive to the curriculum and learning process. One goal of the capital project is to broaden the grade-spans and reduce the number of school-to-school transitions to strengthen the consistency of academic programs and instructional practices, as well as foster social-emotional development. Furthermore, broader grade-spans and fewer transitions were shown to positively influence graduation rates and decrease dropout rates.

It is these past studies about learning environments that provide the foundation for the capital project’s plan to reorganize grade levels. This includes moving Grade 6 to the Junior High School in the 2016-17 school year, Grade 2 to the Intermediate School in the 2017-18 school year and eventually relocating Grades PK-1 to the Intermediate School as well. With more consistency in curriculum and instruction across grades, coupled with fewer transition disruptions, we anticipate improvements in student achievement. While it will take time before any impacts on student performance are noticeable, we nevertheless need to keep thinking pro-actively toward the future.

The recommendations from a recent Building Conditions Survey total just over $10 million, but the district and the Board of Education do not want to be shortsighted and address only the basic essentials. Thinking long-term, we must recognize the need to attend to issues such as declining enrollment, student performance, an unusable athletic track as well as sports fields and facilities in need of modernization.

Vision 2020 is not designed to maintain the status quo. It calls for us to boldly restructure ourselves in a way that will give our students better opportunities to be successful academically, to have a safe learning environment and a functional track/athletic facility to support our strong athletic programs and the development of character and self-worth that are a product of them.

We have an opportunity this year to borrow money with minimal impact to our taxpayers. However, the return on this investment will yield large benefits. In addition, having a state-of-the-art athletic facility behind the high school will provide athletes and taxpayers alike with a safe and scenic arena to exercise with Bluehawk pride.

More information about the scope of the capital project—from grade reorganization to safety and athletic facility improvements—as well as tax impact information can be found on our Capital Project web page. A district newsletter will also be mailed to residents in mid-January. The vote is scheduled for Tuesday, February 9, 2016 from noon to 9 p.m. in several voting locations.