Monday, December 11, 2017

Something New, Something Different

Well, we finally got a little snow and cold. It was the perfect time to try out my new $26 Costco (Kirkland) waterproof and insulated boots. They passed with flying colors, which I was super happy about. I can now take the money that I would have spent on brand name boots and spend it on Glazed and Confused donuts. Win!

New and Different: I did try something new and different this weekend. Being born and raised on the west side, I have really only grocery shopped at the Western Lights and Fairmount Wegmans, Tops, and Price Chopper. My wife and I were on the other side of town, and for the first time in my 46 year history, I stepped foot and shopped at the Dewitt Wegmans. I know, I know, a REALLY big deal. Aside from the burger bar, the aged beef station (I am still on the fence about eating beef that sits out for a month or two, so I passed), and the overall layout; it was a Wegmans. I am sure we made them happy because my son and his friend are coming home for the holidays this week and the bill was about five times what it usually is when my wife and I shop for ourselves!

Last week I had an opportunity to tour the brand new Friendly Ford Store in Geneva, New York. Two of my former students (from my teaching years), Jeff McKee and Mike Wilkenson, are the General and Sales Managers (and I am very proud of them), and they gave me a complete tour of the new facility. It was very impressive. One of the bays, the diagnostic bay, featured a new system that can scan a car for any issues when it is hooked up to a computer system. Instead of getting an "OK" as a printout, you get a grade with comments for each major part of the car, and approximately how much time you have until that particular part needs attention.

Why do I bring this up? That system for cars reminded my very much of the new standards-based report cards that our elementary students are now receiving. Our teachers and principals designed a report card that gives parents a complete picture, with comments, about every part of a child's learning. It is much easier to see growth areas, and it is much easier to celebrate what is going well. I was excited for parents to receive them for the first time a week or so ago. Change is change, but sometimes it isn't too bad!

Update on School Resource Officers: I would like to congratulate our former School Resource Officer, Kelly Grace, on her retirement from the Camillus Police Department. She was our first School Resource Officer and held the job for 16 years before an injury forced her to the sideline about a year ago. She is the definition of class, and she is an outstanding role model for students. She made the position proactive instead of reactive, and she was a large part of the fabric of our District. Congratulations to Kelly and best wishes for a great retirement.

Her replacement, Officer Anthony Gucciardi, picked up where she left off a year ago and has spent his time building positive relationships with all of our students. Last week, he surprised some of our elementary students by busting out his piano skills. I thought he was going to play the theme from "Cops" of course, but he had more of a Billy Joel style. The students were impressed!

Supporting Charity: Many of you attended the Harvest Dinner that we had at the high school to Support the Senior class and a charity of their choice. They raised $2,000 to donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation in the name of former longtime teacher, Marsha Schoff, who recently passed away; Outstanding.

Featuring a Student: Every now and then I feature a student that you should probably get out to see for free, before you have to pay to see them. Right now that student is sophomore hockey player Dan Colabufo. Our hockey program is stacked with talent, and he really rises to the top as a leader, skater, decision-maker, scorer, and passer. He really does have it all.

Hockey is weird in a way. The absolute best players with true college or professional level potential rarely finish high school. They usually are recruited to play in what is called a "prep" school, or on a team at the "junior" level. They usually enter their freshman year of college as 21 or 22 year olds. While I just mentioned that Dan is a sophomore, based on what I have seen from him in the past three games, I can't imagine a prep school or junior league team not reaching out to him. In other words, see him at Shove Park while you can. He was recently athlete of the week. Learn more about Dan from this video about him at: #WildcatPride

Robotics Club: I want to end with a feel good story. Our Robotics Club, called the Vex Club, competed against 24 other schools this weekend and did really well. The robots that the students created has to perform several different tasks. They also combined with Liverpool's club to find success. Great teamwork.

Thanks and enjoy the week!


Monday, December 4, 2017

A Cut Above

Dancing or Skating? The high school Semi-Formal Dance, New York City themed, had an indoor ice rink. Who does that? Our students do, that's who. Every year I think the advisers and students have reached the top of the mountain of decorating; and then they outdo themselves. Add incredibly respectful student attendees and a great DJ to the mix and you have a special night.

Saturday night was special and over 800 students enjoyed a fantastic evening with their friends. A VERY special thanks to our parent and staff volunteers, administrators, and the Camillus Police Department (who all dressed in their semi-formal attire as well) for a terrific evening.

A Partnership for Good Health: We have been working on a large partnership with the American Heart Association to bring a large-scale wellness effort to the District for our employees. We are completing our walk around the world challenge and this new partnership with the American Heart Association will allow us to expand our wellness efforts (to those who want to work on being healthy) into the areas of blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, and body mass index.

The cool thing is that when we launch this initiative after the holidays, we will be able to expand it to include students and/or whole families who want to participate. The benefit of partnering with a large organization for this effort is that we can use their resources, rewards, and tools at no cost. Stay tuned after the holidays for this exciting opportunity.

Trying Something New: This blog gets read by over 5,000 people each time it is posted (some posts get close to ten thousand), but I think we can do even better. While I was watching 60 Minutes a few weeks ago, I noticed that after their main stories, they had Internet links you could visit to get more about the story.

With that in mind, I am going to experiment with a podcast that will help to introduce you to the Wildcat family, and also expand on topics of interest. I am working with Rob Leo, Coordinator of Instructional Technology, to find the right tool to use so that it is familiar to you and easy to use if you are new to podcasts. I always treat the use of new communication technology as an experiment (As examples, Twitter was my first experiment, and it worked out; Instagram was another experiment that did not work out) so be on the lookout for that after the holidays as well.

Technology Article: Speaking of Rob Leo, he is responsible for the professional development for the technology we make available to students and staff.  If you are a school leader or educator reading this, check out the article that he recently had published about the professional development model behind all of the Chromebooks that schools are receiving through the federal Smart Schools Bond Act. It is fantastic and a model to be emulated for sure.

Clearing My Head: Every Saturday or Sunday morning, I go on a "long" run, of somewhere between six and ten miles. When I started running, I could barely breathe, let alone talk. As I have gotten into better shape, those runs have become great conversation time with my running partners, Jim and Mike (pictured). I always chuckle when people see us talking while we run, wondering what they think we are actually talking about.

The past couple of weeks have been about whether the impact of Brexit has been worse for Ireland or London (we think Ireland), and the potential impact of the upcoming tax law changes by income bracket for individuals and businesses (not sure enough to officially comment). Riveting stuff. At any rate, it is a good time for me to clear my head, NOT talk shop, and get some miles in with great people!

Busy week ahead. I am sure I will see you at something. Enjoy the week!


Monday, November 27, 2017

Everyone Takes Their Own Path

Surprisingly, my clothes still fit. I am finding that hard to believe after all of the food I ate over the past three days. The diet plan this week will be vegetables, twigs, and leaves. The next few weeks are all about cookies, fudge, and holiday parties. I could resist all of that stuff, but I will selflessly overeat and take one for the team so you don't have to!

I was reviewing some blog posts from the past few months and I wanted to bring you up to speed on things that I have written about.

Fewer Students: First, we have been spending a LOT of time studying the impact of eventually (the next three years) having fewer students at the high school. Our population decline has leveled off somewhat, but the smaller grade level sizes that we have already planned for at the K-8 are now making their way for the first time to the high school. Having fewer students is like playing a game of musical chairs. When the music stops, there could not be enough students for all of the offerings and sections that we have, and that forces change.

Adjusting Opportunities: Just like we did at the elementary and middle school levels, we are beginning to plan for a high school schedule that includes fewer students while preserving the most number of opportunities as possible.

When today's eighth graders get to the high school, we want them to have the same opportunities that today's seniors have. Making this happen is a multi-year effort. At the same time, I want to continue to be true to my word that every graduate is prepared for WHATEVER they want to do after graduation including college, career, trade, military, or the general workforce (playing X-Box in their parents' basement is not part of that list).

There are thousands of unfilled jobs in the trades and technology because there are not enough qualified candidates for those positions, so we have to be extra careful to include those pathways as well. We are working on all of that as we speak.

Emotional and Mental Health: At the same time, we are really digging into the emotional and mental health of our students, and it is paying off. We have fielded hundreds of student mental health cases this school year alone, and that has really helped in many areas. Since we have added mental health support over the past two years, it has had the "if you build it they will come" impact like in the movie Field of Dreams. We are now first in line to advocate for more outside counseling and mental health treatment facilities for children.

The other day, someone told me that kids just need to toughen up and suck it up. I think for many of the lower level issues that exist in the life of a child (not getting something they want, not being able to go the places they want to go when they want to go, etc.), we can work together to toughen them up; maybe. If, however, I was able to share with you why students have REAL emotional and mental health issues, their REAL stories and REAL life situations, you would have to question whether you would be tough enough to "suck it up".

Decrease in Drug Use: Student drug use District-wide has been much less than we have seen in the past (this has been a four-year downward trend). I think a lot of this can be attributed to the high morale that exists in our buildings, and the effort and programming behind that increased student morale. Students just do NOT want to risk being suspended or worse from school because they don't want to miss anything.

Also, more students have been coming forward with information that has really helped us to be proactive. We continue to work in these two areas, but I am really pleased right now and hope it continues. If you know of something that you think I should know in this area, either contact me confidentially or use our "Bully" tipline button to leave us a tip!

The Community: Our community interaction and involvement continues to be full tilt. MANY students are working with clubs to help the less fortunate, we still have an active substance abuse coalition, and our employees are also working to help others. This continues to be a point of pride for us.

Results of Feedback: Last, but certainly not least in this update, Thought Exchange is almost ready to release the results of our feedback initiative. We had a huge response, and I really appreciate it. I haven't seen the results yet either, and I am looking forward to reading them and creating an action plan after the holidays.

Speaking of the holidays, please try to enjoy them. Anyone reading this blog right now is carrying their own burdens and stress. That transfers to our kids really quickly. If you can find a way to compartmentalize those feelings so kids can have a special next few weeks, that would be awesome. You get bonus points if you can enjoy the holiday season yourself!

Thanks for reading and enjoy the week!


Monday, November 20, 2017

Being Thankful

I put studded snow tires on my car for the first time, and I have regretted that decision for the most part UNTIL it started snowing last night. On dry pavement my car sounds like a truck coming down the road and it takes about twice as long to stop; and I get white knuckles when going around a tight corner. In the heavy rain on the Thruway (Saturday night) or snow though? Bring it on!

Making Decisions: The West Genesee Middle School rendition of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (fantastic, by the way) set the stage (no pun intended) for a little sloppy weather. As we head into real winter weather with the possibility of a delay or closing, I wanted to give a quick reminder of where you should go and what you should do to get information from the school as quickly as possible.

First, please know that I do not make a closing or delay decision in a vacuum, nor do I take it lightly. We know that over 10,000 people are IMMEDIATELY impacted when we delay, close, or stay open for that matter when conditions are sketchy.

Thanks to technology, and a LOT of people who work well together to keep staff and students safe, by the time I make the final call about school, we have heard from town and county plows, our transportation department, our plow crew, the police, local meteorologists, neighboring superintendents, and people from different areas of the District. Believe me, the decision can still be "wrong", but I try to do the best job that I can to keep people safe.

Once the decision is made, the first place I announce it is on Twitter (@cbrownwgcsd). Why, you ask? I have been using Twitter to announce school delays and closings since 2007 and it has NEVER failed. I am sticking to what works.

After Twitter, and within one minute of the Twitter post, I have sent an email to all of our employees, and the information is then posted on our website, our Facebook and West Genesee Twitter pages, email and text blasts are sent, and a notification is pushed out on our mobile phone app.

After that, we reach out to local media outlets (within three minutes of the initial Twitter post), and from there, it takes anywhere from one to fifteen minutes for our message to get on television, the radio, or, depending on their mechanism for reporting information that they receive. Where you elect to receive your information really depends on your personal preferences and how quickly you would like to know!

Being Thankful: There are lots of things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season. My family, our employees, our students, and our community members top the list. Also right up there are our volunteers in our schools who work with our students, and those in the community in our emergency services who keep us safe. We should ALL be thankful to be a part of the Wildcat family.

Enjoy this short week and hopefully time with your families. Safe travels as well!


Monday, November 13, 2017

Mutual Respect is the Key to Success

Social media can be the best thing ever, and the worst. Last week, social media came in very handy for me as I tried to keep up with everything that was happening here while I was at a conference out of town.

Celebrating Veterans: I was very impressed with all of the Veterans Day celebration videos that several of our elementary buildings put out. Click here to view the Split Rock Veterans Day Celebration video.

Athletics Update: I also got to watch from a distance while cross country runners Carly Benson and Matt Bartolotta performed really well at states. Carly will now represent us at the NY Cross-Country Federation Championship meet next weekend.

Congratulations also to Maddie Zapisek for winning the Section III Swimming title in the 200 yd Freestyle. She goes on to compete at the state championships.

Only the Best Spellers: Earlier this week WGMS students Joseph Paoli came in first place and Cooper Corcoran in second place as they faced-off spelling such words as "tenacious" and hostilities"in the West Genesee Spelling Bee. For a list of the top 12 spellers click on this link.

Students Build Bridges: Congratulations to all of our students who participated on five teams at the annual CNY Bridges Build’Em & Bust'Em Competition held this past Saturday.

Conference is Enlightening: If you have been reading this blog for a long time, you know how passionate I am about trying to reach every student, and help every student to become well-rounded and ready for the world. The conference I went to confirmed my feelings that every student deserves equal treatment, but I also learned something about my profession.

The conference is invite only, and it is capped at 50 superintendents from across the country (there are approximately 13,500 school districts and 68,000 public schools in the U.S.).  In this small setting, I get to interact with colleagues from some of the largest school districts (this particular visit, the largest school represented had 73,000 students), and some of the smallest (a superintendent was present from an island school of 100. Students take a ferry to and from the school). Our District size was about average for the group.

Over the course of three days, we were put through our professional paces, being asked our thoughts about curriculum, instruction, finances, current student issues, current employee issues, opportunities, and the future. As the conversations continued, it became clear that I was the longest sitting active superintendent at the conference. It is rare that I play the experience card, because I think that can come across as stuffy, arrogant, and condescending. I couldn’t help myself though during a round-table discussion about raising expectations for student achievement and rigor.

As I sat at a table with very intelligent people discussing this topic, it dawned on me that the pressure cooker of having to increase test scores, being wed to data, and having to meet constant state and federal benchmarks was taking its toll on my colleagues. Each of them pointed to professional development, purchasing the right curriculum, giving teachers time to learn, and technology as the main keys to raising expectations for students.

I sat quietly until someone at the table asked what my thoughts were. I told them that after being through three state education reforms, and three presidents with their reform agendas, the bottom line to raising expectations was making connections with students. Once a connection is made, they will rise to the level that WE set as the adults, because good connections establish mutual respect. Mutual respect drives expectation; and if the adults expect more, students will rise to the occasion. Once that connection is made, then all of the operational pieces like curriculum, planning time, and professional development come into focus.

They looked at me in an almost startled way, and they had that “A-ha” moment that we sometimes hear about. I may have actually taught some new dogs some old tricks!

The weather was nice where I was, but I can say that I truly missed my hometown. Following the Syracuse basketball and football games on Twitter is NOTHING like being in the “Loudhouse” to see them in person.

A Busy Week: We are really busy this week as we head into winter sports competition, the West Genesee Middle School musical, and holiday concert season prep!

Thanks and enjoy the week-


Monday, November 6, 2017

Back to the Future

Not a bad weekend at all. If you just pretend that it isn't raining and cold, you can pretty much carry out anything that you would have had it not been raining; except raking leaves, mowing the lawn, hanging lights...okay, the rain did put a damper on some plans. I hit the auto show, ran a few times, and taught the final class of a Superintendent Development course. I know, I am "Mr. Excitement".

Board of Education Update: Last week, the Board of Education accepted the resignation of James Soper from the Board of Education. The Board had three options to fill the Board seat and option one was to do nothing and keep the seat vacant until the budget and Board of Education vote in May, interview people and appoint a Board member to fill the spot the budget and Board of Education vote, or select someone, ask them to serve, and appoint them until the budget and Board of Education vote.

The Board of Education chose to dig into the past and ask former Board member Kim Coyne to rejoin the Board. Mrs. Coyne is a very experienced, reliable, proven, and trained re-addition to the Board of Education.  She has children in the district and is a former teacher and current administrator in the Syracuse City School District. She will allow us to continue our mission without a hiccup and we are looking forward to her beginning her service on November 15, when she will be officially approved. Congratulations to us for finding such a great replacement, and thank you to Mrs. Coyne and her family for adjusting their lives to help us out!

Cross Country Runners to State Competition: We have other good news to share. As the fall sports season comes to a close, we are happy to mention that cross country runners Carly Benson and Matt Bartolotta performed well enough at Sectionals that they will be representing us in state competition. Way to go!

CMS Musical: Our Camillus Middle School performers also put on a heck of a show over the weekend as they performed their version of Damn Yankees. This photo gallery is courtesy of Charlie Miller. I am looking forward to seeing them perform at the high school before we know it!

Sports Hall of Fame Inductee: Also, congratulations to special education teacher and hockey coach Frank Colobufo for being inducted into the Town of Camillus/West Genesee Sports Hall of Fame. In my opinion, Frank has given as much to children with special needs as he has to his hockey players over the years. I know that we are proud of his efforts and service over the years, and I am sure his family is as well!

Transportation Staff Gives Back to the Community: I would like to focus on our transportation department for a moment. Last week, our bus drivers, led by bus driver Mike Renshaw, assisted an organization that works with the visually impaired called Guiding Eyes to help service dogs to get used to public transportation as well as how to be comfortable in tight spaces. These pups will help many people over their lifetimes, and I am very thankful for our volunteer drivers for helping with this key piece of training.

Our drivers like to give back in other ways as well, and they have decided as a group to help collect resources for the less fortunate as well as for children at Golisano Children's Hospital. Their schedule is still being finalized so check our Facebook page for updates, but I can say without hesitation that we have the most generous group of bus drivers this side of the Mississippi!

Honoring our Veterans: I am very proud of how well our students know what a Veteran is and what they did for them and our country. They do a terrific job of representing, respecting, and honoring our Veterans each year. Our Marching Band kicked-off recognition for our Veterans by marching in the Veterans Parade on Saturday. Throughout the week, our elementary schools will be having assemblies for our Veterans, and I can tell you personally from watching them prepare, that they are as sincere in their appreciation as can be. If you are a Veteran, thank you for your sacrifices.

Short but busy week ahead. I may be a little light on the Twitter posts later in the week because I have to attend some training, but I will do what I can. Thank you for your support and enjoy the week!


Monday, October 30, 2017

Plenty to Write Home About!

Marching Band NYS Field Band Conference Championship: Well, it is very safe to say that we had a REALLY busy week that culminated with a fantastic second place finish at the Carrier Dome about twelve hours ago. I have often written about "the blur" that happens once the school year really gets going, and the past seven days have been a perfect example of that. There is a lot to cover so I appreciate you taking the five minutes to read this post.

Cheerleaders are Section III Champions: Congratulations to the cheerleaders for winning Sectionals over the weekend.This was a fantastic accomplishment for them and something that they had been laser focused on all season.

Great Instruction: I saw a LOT of great instruction taking place during my building visits. As most of you know, I try to get to every elementary classroom in each building every week, as well as visits to the middle schools and the high school.

Great Events: Pushing rewind for a moment, we had HUGE turnouts for both the Harvest Dinner at the high school (sponsored by the Senior Class with help from their adviser Becky DeCesare), and the elementary Halloween Carnival (sponsored by the high school Respect and Responsibility Club, also known as R Squared, with help from their adviser, principal Shannon Coholan).

If you attended the Harvest Dinner, you got to eat well, catch up with family and friends, and also hear great music piped evenly through the cafeteria through a MUCH needed sound system upgrade.

The Halloween Carnival volunteers watched costumed students (and their parents) enjoy over 30 pizzas from The Wildcat, 15 gallons of cider, 700 mini-donuts, and 3,000 pieces of candy provided by Costco, along with the games, face painting, and bouncy house staffed by student volunteers. It was such a great afternoon and evening that I think we outgrew the lower gym at the high school and it will need to be moved to the upper gym for next year!

Thanks to all of our volunteers for both events and thanks to all who came to have fun. A portion of the proceeds from the Harvest Dinner was donated to the senior class charity of choice (Make-A Wish-Foundation), and probably 500 pounds of food that people brought were donated to various food pantries.

Students of the Year: I am very proud to announce the recipients of the Camillus Optimists Student of the Year Awards. They are: Anita Edgar and Liam O'Connor from CMS; Julia Biggs and Connor Dunham from WGMS;  and Victoria DeSantis and Michael McGuigan from the high school. To be selected, the students must be extremely well rounded. They are, and then some. Their parents and families should be equally proud, as their success is a reflection of their efforts as well. We will celebrate them at a dinner in their honor on November 6.

Community Events have Meaning: My wife and I had the opportunity to see the Syracuse Stage production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time". It was remarkable and I highly recommend it. It was a drama, which are usually not my favorite shows to attend; but this was different. In a nutshell (there is a book that the play is based on), an autistic child (played by an actor with autism) is blamed for the death of a dog. Due to his disability, he is not able to verbalize that he did not do it. At the same time, he faces challenges in a split home, and his mother and father face their own challenges with him.

At intermission, I did not know how they would be able to make it have a happy ending, but they did. The show is absolutely not child-friendly (profanity, adult situations, intense scenes of anger), but the show left me with a range of emotions. I laughed during the show, was sad, was tense, and "got" the message so well, that I was still talking about the show two days later. It is a must see in my opinion.

We also got to attend a charity event for the Chadwick House, which is an excellent organization that helps homeless and battered women to get help, become independent, and get back on their feet. A very worthy cause for sure, and I was really impressed with how many people were there to help them continue their mission. Good stuff!

This week is equally busy, but in very positive ways. I keep wondering if it is going to slow down at all but from the looks of my calendar, that will be July!

Thanks for your reading and continued support-