Monday, July 16, 2018

Mid-July Check In

A Busy Summer at Home: I usually travel to Hilton Head, South Carolina for a week each summer but was unable to go this year. Not a huge deal because the weather here has been a mirror image of the weather down there. The only thing missing here in Syracuse is, well, you know, the ocean; but the Fingerlakes are no second banana!

You know it is mid-summer when you are able to buy $3 advance New York State Fair tickets, and the enrollment at many summer camps is down a little due to family vacations! My wife and I have significantly lucked out with the weather as we attend the concerts at the Lakeview Amphitheater. So far this year it has been Dave Matthews, Foreigner, and Weezer (I know, I am dating myself) which was last night.

Mid-July is also my wedding anniversary, so Happy Anniversary to the person who has stuck by me from my student teaching days until now; 24 years! Being the spouse of a superintendent is not for the thin-skinned. She has been the most special piece of the puzzle all these years. More importantly, she has been a great mom and partner!

A Busy Summer at Work: People ask me what I do over the summer. Well, besides hiring, firing, negotiating contracts with vendors, planning, designing the vision and path of the next school year, accommodating new Federal and state directives, rolling the budget over, starting Capital projects; not that much. We also hosted BOCES summer school, work camp, and Parks and Recreation programs.

Advanced Placement Exams: I want to give some kudos to the students who were able to academically achieve this past school year. Exams aren't everything, but Advanced Placement exams are taken nationwide, are very rigorous, and the higher the score can mean a greater chance that it will transfer to many colleges and universities. The students found by following this link scored a "5" on those exams (the highest score possible). They and their families should be very proud of their achievements; I know I am!

I hope you continue to enjoy this great stretch of weather, and I will write again soon!

Chris

Monday, July 2, 2018

Early Summer Check-In

I hope you are beating the heat! I am trying and am in NO way complaining about it; that's for sure. I am again thankful that we have air conditioning in all of our buildings. With summer recreation underway and Summer School about ready to launch, it is certainly nice to have.

I am writing just to give you a quick update on three things that will get buried if I wait two or three more weeks.

WorkCamp Update: The first is that we were very thankful to have the WorkCamp workers and in our community last week. I had a chance to spend time with the adult volunteers and student workers last Wednesday and it didn't take long to see why they are such a benefit to any community. They were upbeat, enjoyed the work they were doing for those in our community, and were very thankful for the support they have received from everyone. They shipped out of the high school on Saturday, and I certainly wish all of them well.

Will Supreme Court Ruling Impact Us? The second thing is that the Supreme Court ruled in a case called Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31.The bottom line of the over 80-page decision is that employees will no longer be forced to pay a union as a condition of employment. We have excellent relationships with our unions, also called associations. For us, this decision doesn't have a positive or negative impact; it will be business as usual. The complete "Janus" decision can be found at https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-1466_2b3j.pdf.

Mental Wellness Education: The third thing is that the New York State Education Department approved regulations to mandate mental wellness education in schools for the next school year. In essence, schools MUST offer mental health education in physical education and health classes to include detection of mental illness warning signs, coping strategies, and how to get help.

This will be nothing new for us to add at West Genesee. Our mental health education is already delivered in health and physical education classes; and in every other class as well. We have counselors, psychologists, and social workers who help support the education that is given both in assemblies, regular classes, and in small class settings.

To me, it just does not matter what type of mental wellness education is offered, it is all about developing relationships with students. Every employee in the District MUST want to get to know the students they work with so they can best detect when something isn't quite right. Relationship building is also important when it comes to helping students to find coping strategies or to find ways to get further help. I think we do an outstanding job with that and it is one of the big reasons why we are considered one of the smallest large schools around. A podcast that we helped NPR with regarding this mandate can be found at http://wrvo.org/post/first-nation-new-york-requires-mental-health-information-curriculum.

That gets you caught up as of now! I hope you are able to enjoy July 4th with family and friends.  Thanks to all of our servicemen and women past and present for giving us a reason to celebrate our independence.

#Wildcatpride!

Chris

Monday, June 25, 2018

Enjoy the Summer!

As I walked to each of the elementary schools on Thursday I was greeted by chalk drawings and well wishes for a great summer.

We had a very good school year. Rolling backwards from a fantastic graduation ceremony, we gained ground academically once again; got ahead of mental wellness, safety, and substance use action; and most importantly, we watched your children grow!

Summer 20 years ago meant I wouldn't see students again until varsity sports started in late August. With Parks and Recreation, camps, summer school, driver's education, and sports, I am sure to see many of your kids this summer at one of the schools. This is not a bad thing as long as they are also getting a chance to regroup and recharge!

You may see some unusual traffic at the high school this week. Workcamp is in town from last night through Saturday. and we are hosting about 400 multi-denominational teenagers as they go out each day into the community to repair homes for the elderly and less fortunate. Most, if not all, local businesses are also pitching in to help feed and entertain them while they are here. This is a really positive and great thing for our community, so be sure to welcome them if you see them.

I will be working all summer but will slow this blog down to about once every two weeks throughout the summer. Please accept my best wishes for a wonderful summer, and I will see you soon.

Thanks again for your continued support!

Chris

Monday, June 18, 2018

Congratulations!

I hope that everyone had a great Father's Day. Like many dads, mine taught me some things that helped get me through to adulthood; and other things that will last a lifetime. One pro tip was not to put my fingers near snapping turtles, like the one pictured that I saw yesterday while running on the Onondaga Creekwalk. In all seriousness, thanks for everything, Dad.

We held our graduation on Saturday and it was as beautiful as ever. I have known the seniors for a really long time, so it was really tough to let them go. I thought that the student speeches were excellent (mine is below), and the musical selections were really inspiring.

It was also really cool to watch Kimberly Sacco cross the stage and receive her diploma, 30 years after her classmates did. She was in the Class of 1988 but could not graduate due to a bone cancer diagnosis. Shaking her hand on the stage was a very emotional moment.

It was also really heartwarming to watch our Executive Principal, Shannon Coholan, preside over her very first high school graduation. This was number 18 for me overall so there are things that I take for granted. Ms. Coholan got to breathe it all in for the first time and it was really nice to see her very proud parents up in the stands. Congratulations to all, and a special thanks to Andy Perry for directing the music, and to Becky DeCesare, Eliza Spaulding, and Leandra Kovalchik for working with the seniors all year.

Today is going to be really warm, and we are very lucky to have air conditioning. We will make sure that the students stay cool and safe. Luckily the rest of the week looks to be a little cooler.

Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris

GRADUATION SPEECH – Saturday, June 16, 2018

Good Afternoon, and Congratulations to all of our seniors and thank you to all of our parents for sharing your greatest gift with us. If you are here for your first graduation, I want to ease your concerns and reassure you that my speeches are always four minutes or less, or your next one is free.

Graduates, having known you for so long I have been able to watch you grow, learn, and develop your personalities and character. To say that I am proud of you is an understatement. You were tremendous role models, ambassadors, and examples for our younger students, as well as our community.

When I think of all of the experiences and time we have shared together, I want to leave you with two thoughts that are unique to you and your class as a whole.

First, I am always asked to “describe the senior class.” At Senior Ball, we enjoyed a really cool fireworks show. There was one in particular that launched up and had a pulsating light as it rose. It went higher than the others, and I could feel the suspense building in all of us. When it exploded, it was bright and vibrant, more so than the other fireworks we had seen. Then, little rockets shot out of the glowing light. In a nutshell, that firework best describes you as a class; bright, vibrant, explosive, and memorable.

Second comes a cautionary tale. When I started running years ago, I used to see the finish line and would actually slow down a little because, why not? I was almost there. Other runners would pass me before the finish, and I did not give it much thought.

At one race, after a particularly tough training season, I saw the finish line and my brain started to tell me to slow down a little. My heart and body took over from there and I sprinted through the finish, passing people along the way. I worked just as hard as every other runner if not harder, why should I let them win?

The moral of the story is that while you have excelled, this is NOT the finish line. Consider it a water stop. Life only has one true finish line - so my advice is to enjoy the ride and every milestone that you will cross, but also to keep the hammer down and have no regrets! You have too much to offer to the world to not give your best throughout your life’s journey!

Congratulations to the Class of 2018, thank you, and good luck!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Taking the High Road

Athletics Updates: I hope that all of you had a wonderful weekend. The weather could not have been better! You know you have had a successful spring sports season when we are still competing in June. Our track and field state runners did very well for themselves over the weekend. Carly Benson earned 1500m medals at the state competition: 4th place in the D1 Public School category and 8th place in the Federation Championships. Emily Young finished in 12th place in the 800m at the state competition and the 4x100 relay team placed 14th. We could not be more proud of them!

As I was watching our Boys Varsity Lacrosse team play Ward-Melville, I was wondering to myself which college lacrosse teams they could beat. We have some exceptional, all-American talent on our team. They gave it their all; it was just not enough. I congratulate them on a great ride! Also, I appreciate the support they received along the way, especially everyone who made the trip to St. John Fisher, considering many of you could have watched it at home.

As Coach Mike Messere's legendary tenure comes to a close, I did want to comment about this season. First, we wish Coach Messere and Coach Deegan well in their retirement, and the process to secure replacements will begin right after graduation. As the Superintendent, you never know where your next challenge will come from, and one of those challenges came from the lacrosse season this year.

When you have a legendary multi-generational coach, public opinion about "how things should be," really varies, and it can make for divisive conversations. It also puts kids in the middle. I have known our senior players since they were in second grade, and the underclassmen even longer. I know their character because I have watched them develop it. I have watched them succeed, fail, and learn for a long time. I was not there for the interview after the game because I did not have a field pass, but somewhere in that interview, the players were characterized as being quitters. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I strongly disagree.

I think there was a disconnect for sure between the players and coaches, but the fact that the kids had every opportunity to say something negative when they had their time with the media and didn't, says a lot. It speaks to their character. They took the high road. They also had to endure the intense pressure of trying to win with the watchful eyes of prior generations on them constantly. No other group of kids will be asked to do that. They were given a challenge, accepted it, and showed their heart all season. I wish them the very best, and they have plenty to be proud of.

Seniors Visit their Elementary Alma Mater: Last week was the last week of classes for high school students. The seniors carried on the tradition of visiting their elementary schools on the actual last day and it was a heartwarming time for the students and their elementary teachers. They were also great role models for the younger students!

Graduation is Almost Here: Graduation is Saturday, June 16, and we are looking forward to another great ceremony. There will be someone graduating on Saturday from the class of 1988. Yes, you read that right. Let me explain.

Kimberly Sacco was a member of the class of 1988. She was very involved in school, participated in just about everything, and was a great student. Just prior to graduation, she was diagnosed with bone cancer and she had to immediately undergo treatments. Because of this, she never officially crossed the stage to receive her diploma.

Fortunately, she was able to beat cancer and for the past nine years has been an important member of our Board of Education. She will be retiring from the Board of Education at the end of June. We thought it would be fitting for her to attend graduation and receive her diploma on the 30th anniversary of her diagnosis, and as her career on the Board of Education comes to an end.


Graduation is about the whole class, so if you are attending you will recognize her by the asterisk next to her name. She will process with the students and receive her diploma exactly as every other student will. Congratulations and thank you to Kimberly for her service and perseverance!

A Busy Week Ahead: This week is super busy. There are final exams at the high school, field trips at the middle and elementary schools, the Athletic Awards Reception on Tuesday night, and the Onondaga County Safety committee meeting on Thursday! Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris

Monday, June 4, 2018

So Extra

I recently learned a term from the students that I can't seem to stop saying. The word is "extra". Yes, I have heard of the word extra, but students are using the term in a unique way. If you are driving a bunch of kids somewhere and you hear one of the kids say "my mom is so extra" it means that the mom was over the top about something. Because of this, if I walk into a cafeteria and it is a little louder than normal, I will say, "the cafeteria was a little extra today."  I am actually starting to annoy myself (and probably others) by using the term so much, so I need to pass it along to you to keep it alive.

A Busy Weekend: Anyway, I hope you had a great week last week. The Wildcat Nation sure did!

  • The Boys Lacrosse team defeated Ithaca in the New York State Regional competition after winning the Section 3 title earlier in the week; 
  • Track and field stars Carly Benson, Emily Young, and the Girls 4X100 Relay team earned spots in state competition; and 
  • Golfer Nick Bove made a name for himself on the course in state competition and advanced to the final round.

I played in my first competitive golf tournament in a long time and held my own, visited the Taste of Syracuse, and had a chance to attend the grand opening of the new Red House Theater on Salina Street (in the old Sibley's building). If you are a fan of theater at all, the new Red House location is very much worth the trip to check out. We took in La Cage aux Folles and were not disappointed.

A lot of our employees participated in Paige's Butterfly run over the weekend for many different reasons. In addition to supporting pediatric cancer research, 20 of our football players, many of their family members, coaches, and the parents of Joe Adams (teacher and West Genesee coach who passed away from cancer) ran the race in Joe's memory. It was just another reminder of just how influential educators are.

Congratulations to all who were recognized at the Fine Arts Reception on Friday night. You know how competitive our fine arts program is so to be recognized for anything in the program is a "big deal!"

The Week Ahead: We have a very busy week ahead. On Monday, we have the Senior Awards Night and that is a wonderful chance to sit back and watch students receive recognition for all of their hard work. Congratulations to them and their parents. Also, Nick Bove plays in the final round of the NYS Golf Championships.

On Wednesday, about 170 of our employees will be participating in the Chase Corporate Challenge. Our group is the fifth largest and helped the District to win the Chase Scholarship that is worth $1,500 for our students! Wednesday is also the New York State Boys Lacrosse semi-final game against Lancaster, so we are going to be spread out and busy.

Friday is the last day of classes for students at the high school. It is also "Senior Walk" day; when our seniors hop on buses and visit their elementary schools as role models for our younger students. They also get to visit the people who helped them start their school careers. It is a great morning! During the day, our track and field athletes will begin their competition in the NYS Championships at CNS!

Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Appreciating Memorial Day

The older I get, the more I appreciate Memorial Day. Over the years I have had a chance to meet families of those killed in combat, and have heard many stories from veterans about their comrades who did not make it out of Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. It is easy for us to say that others made sacrifices for our freedom, but it is another thing to feel the loss, emptiness, pride, and sadness of families who have had to go without so that we can go with.


I will say that I am very proud that our students recognize both those who we have lost for our freedom and those who are still with us. A great example is the annual Memorial Day Parade in the Village of Camillus. Our students don't march "just because" they march with a purpose. My sincerest thank you to those reading this who lost a loved one in defense of America.

Another Kaleidoscope in the Books: Thursday was our annual Kaleidoscope concert at the Civic Center, and it did not disappoint. We had a great crowd on hand as well. My first few years I used to sit in the audience and watch everything, but these days I like to be backstage or side stage helping the kids get on and off the stages for their performances. The coolest feelings are closing the side door of the stage and then listening to the kids when the curtain opens for the first time and then listening to the audience gasp in joy and awe when the curtain opens for the finale, and every performer is on stage. Very, very cool stuff and congratulations to all who participated!


Athletics Update: I would like to congratulate the Boys Baseball and Girls Softball teams. These baseball and softball Wildcats are role models. They know their importance to the younger students, they are polite, regimented, and do things the right way. They actually have FUN while they are playing, and the teams are tight. Both teams came up just short, but they did not hang their heads. They congratulated the winners, appreciated the fans, were a little bummed out, but carried themselves very well, just as you would like your own kids to do. Congratulations to the boys and girls, their coaches, and their families for doing things the right way.

Since the last time I wrote, we did have some great performances from Nick Bove on the golf course, who placed 3rd at the NYS Qualifiers and scored well enough to move onto the NYS Championships this weekend at Robert Trent Jones Golf Course at Cornell University. Also, the tennis duo of Matthew Mannara/James Plunkett placed 3rd in their NYS Qualifiers and will be moving on to the NYS Championships as well at the National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY. In track and field, senior runner Carly Benson broke a couple school records over the course of the week in the 1500m and 3000m and became a Sectional Champion in the 3000m. Good luck to those athletes in the NYS Competitions as well as the Girls and Boys Lacrosse teams that are still competing for Sectional Championships. Congratulations to all!

Impact of a TV Show: I do want to make you aware that season two of "13 Reasons Why" is on Netflix. The series is about a realistic school community and in season one, a student committed suicide and there was also a sexual assault.


During season one, our counselors saw an increase in the number of students who wanted to talk about their feelings. Season two (spoiler alert) features student suicide, sexual assault/rape, and a student who brings guns to school. Yes, you read that correctly. I might suggest that you check in with your middle or high schooler to see if they are watching season two and just keep an eye on them or listen if they want to talk. There is national outrage at Netflix about the series, but I do not see that changing anything.

There is also a video game about to be released where players can be school shooters or SWAT Team members. Again, I wish I was making this up. There are a lot of resources out there to help you speak to your children about these types of programs and games and our counselors are always available.

Happening this Week: This week we will be recognizing our retirees. Our District has been successful due in large part to the lack of turnover, so many of our employees are retiring with 25 years of experience or more. Congratulations on much deserved retirements!

Thanks and enjoy the week-

Chris