Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Squirrel! (Not this Time)

Basement wall, barn wall, and side of the house.
Making Decisions: We canceled afterschool and evening activities last Friday night and around 6:00 p.m. I was questioning my decision because the weather wasn't all that bad. When I was walking out of the Movie Tavern at 9:00 p.m. after seeing The Post (I thought it was fantastic), I realized that we had made the right decision to cancel everything. 
My first house in 1996 the day AFTER the flood. Notice the high water mark on the basement wall.

If you have a flooded basement, I feel for you. In the times I have owned homes, I have had six feet, three feet, a foot, and three inches in basements of the homes I have owned. I am going to tell you that the cleanup is nearly the same for three inches as it is for six feet if you have a finished basement.

No Power: Earlier in the day, my office, Stonehedge Elementary, and West Genesee Middle School spent the day without power. National Grid was super responsive. When we are without power in that area, it usually means that a squirrel BBQ'd itself on the transformer. Not this time. This time it took hours upon hours of trouble shooting to identify the problem and then overnight to fix it.

West Genesee Middle School has a backup generator (we will hopefully place generators at the elementary schools during our next project), it was warm out, everyone had running water, and there was enough light, so we decided to make the day as normal as possible. 

Food service cooked lunches for Stonehedge at West Genesee Middle School and shipped them over; teachers and students carried on; and our custodians and mechanics ran around to provide extra battery operated lights for bathrooms and hallways. HUGE thanks goes out to the staff in each building, the students, our custodians and maintenance workers, and the National Grid crews for going above and beyond for us.

Talk with the Superintendent: On Wednesday of last week, we held the annual "Dialogue with the Superintendent" which was very well attended. I received a lot of great questions written anonymously on index cards, and I had the chance to unveil the Thought Exchange results for the first time, as well as a brief "State of the District". I think that people really appreciated seeing the impact of their feedback. We received a comprehensive report  (http://westgenesee.thoughtexchange.com/card-welcome/welcome/), and reports for each building. Feel free to look at the comprehensive report. 

The building results will be presented at upcoming PTO/PTA/PTSA/PTSO/SEPTSA meetings. At the end of the day, we had a 3000% percent increase in feedback about our District, which is very impressive. We will use the information we collected in our Strategic Planning process at the end of the month. Whatever makes it through that process will be completed as time and resources permit. Again, thank you for taking the time to provide feedback, it is turning out to be very helpful.

Everyone Can Make a Difference: As we come off of Martin Luther King Day, I wanted to put in a quick plug for why we need to continue to teach that "Other People Matter", as we do as a part of our Positivity Project. Why would you trust or value an opinion about rights and value for all from me?  Because we have built a relationship on trust and sharing our different views makes us all grow and makes all of us better.

In an era where we watch videos of brutality and maltreatment of people and then question what was edited, or what led to the mistreatment that we didn't see that would in some way justify what happened, I would ask you to consider two very true stories, as seen and heard through my own eyes and ears. 

I have a very tight inner circle of friends. I have to, due to the nature of my job. One of those inner circle friends is black. We travel together and attend events together. You can call it coincidence, but we are treated differently. At airports, we build in extra time for him to be "randomly selected", while I glide through security. At sporting events that have security, I breeze through the metal detector, while they stop him and wand his whole body. Life changing events? No, but humiliating and unnecessary nonetheless. Not equal also comes to mind.

My son has a close friend who lives with us when he is not at college. He is black. Over the summer we ordered take out to be picked up at a very popular downtown restaurant. We went to pick up the food and it wasn't quite ready. I ran into a parent and was having a conversation so my son and his friend went outside to sit and wait for the food to be finished. It was going to be about ten minutes, so when I finished with the parent, I walked outside and there was a person motioning for "Dre" to not sit at his table, and to get away. As I walked over, I asked the person what the problem was (as politely as I could while my blood pressure was rising). He wouldn't talk to me and kept looking away. I asked Dre and my son what the deal was and they just shrugged their shoulders and said that the person wouldn't let Dre sit at his table (a large picnic table with one person at it). A table opened up so we sat down. About five minutes later, the person came over to me and spoke quietly into my ear and said that he didn't want him sitting at his table so that the person's food wasn't "accidentally" given to Dre, or my son for that matter. I responded with "whatever". I turned to Dre and told him I was sorry. He said, and I will never forget, "It's not your fault, this is how it is" in a very depressed voice.

If I do not continue to use my voice and platform to bring these situations to light, then it certainly is my fault, just like everyone else's who can make a difference, which is EVERYONE. This is not how it has to be or should be. Before we can truly say that we treat everyone equally, we have to get real with ourselves and recognize that while there we have come a long way, there is still plenty of work to be done.

Sad News: Lastly and sadly, our longtime Boys Junior Varsity Basketball and Boys Modified Lacrosse coach Joe Adams passed away after a ferocious fight against cancer. If you never had a chance to meet Coach Adams, you missed out. His players respected him without him having to say a word, they all raised their personal expectations for themselves without Coach Adams telling them that they had to, and he always knew everything about every one of his players. He was a total class act. Even more importantly, he was a tremendous husband and father.  

Thanks for reading and enjoy the week!


Monday, January 8, 2018

Success Behind the Scenes

Finally, a "warm" spell. Last week, the roads were simply awful. For only the third time in 18 years (if my memory serves me right) I closed school the night before. It was simply that bad; with no hope of it getting any better until yesterday. That night I drove to Keuka, NY (in the fingerlakes) to watch my son "start" in his college basketball game. It was certainly worth it, but a ride that usually takes about an hour and twenty minutes took two and a half hours. Here is a picture of what I saw on the Thruway heading home around 11:00 p.m. Thursday night.

On Saturday, my wife and I went up to the Dome for the basketball game (what a heartbreaker, and SU better get some rebounds or it is going to be a long season), and we were able to walk up the hill from downtown to the game (bundled up of course) MUCH faster than anyone was able to drive. I am glad we went though because we did get to see recent graduate, Caitlyn Barry sing the National Anthem. She still knocks it out of the park!

Computers are great things, but they do not understand warm from cold. We program them to lower temperatures in the winter during breaks and weekends when the buildings aren't occupied to save a few bucks. We turned the program off for the weekend, and I am glad we did because I am certain we would have had frozen pipes had we not!

We have just over 100 school buses and vehicles. Yesterday, James Dark, our Director of Transportation, several bus drivers and attendants, and our plow crew, spent most of the day getting the snow off of the buses, starting them, and getting the bus lot cleared of snow. There was a lot of snow and without their help and behind the scenes dedication, we would absolutely not have been able to open school today. Wildcat pride was in full effect!

I also listened intently to the Governor's State of the State address, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh's induction speech (it was the first Syracuse mayoral induction ceremony that I have attended), and Oprah Winfrey's speech at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony. All spoke about challenges and opportunities through their own personal experiences, as well as the lessons that history has taught us. I was really pleased that they all focused on creating opportunities for EVERYONE; which you know is something that is really important to me. I am hoping that their words become actions and that their actions write the history books for our children and our grandchildren. We can only grow as a community through fostering and cultivating our collective diversity and valuing one another as EQUAL; period.

Unfortunately last week, we also had to deal with an employee who chose to participate in some inappropriate activity on the Internet involving children (please see my last post if you are unfamiliar). While the situation had nothing to do with West Genesee, the fact remains that he was a West Genesee employee. I was infuriated as you might imagine, since it seems like we have had an abnormal number of these cases over the past four years and I wrestle with what I could be doing differently or better, to keep these people out of our schools. The maddening answer is that I cannot.  All of our employees are background checked and reference checked. Bus drivers have the added check of random drug testing. In all cases throughout my career, these criminals have hidden in plain sight; with clear employment records. Many were leaders in other areas of the community, and the reaction to each case has been "shock".

I will say that we live in a time when these people seem to be everywhere. I choose to be very transparent with you and the media when one is from our school, and I choose to act very quickly and swiftly. This is not a universal action plan in our society. I also have great working relationships with the Abused Persons Unit, District Attorney's Office, State Police, Sheriff, and Camillus Police, so when a situation comes up we work together to bring justice quickly. We have also worked closely together to ensure the tightest cases possible, and I have lobbied for the longest jail terms possible. In cases involving our own students past and present, they have come forward because in their own words "they know I will do something about it" and I will not disappoint them.

What we can do together, and as our children get older and out of our grasp, is remind them to let us know if something they are hearing or reading from someone doesn't feel right, or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way. Until there is a way for all of us to pinpoint these sick individuals before they try to take action, we need to work together in every aspect of a child's life. I will certainly continue to do my part.

Busy week ahead. If you have some time on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., the West Genesee PTA/PTO District Council will be hosting our annual "Dialogue with the Superintendent" at the high school.

Thanks and enjoy the week!


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Message from Dr. Brown

Dear Parents and Community Members-

I regret to inform you that I was notified that school bus driver (since 2016), Jeffrey T. Wright, was arrested by the New York State Police today on charges of possession of a sexual performance by a child, a class E felony, and promoting the sexual performance of a child, a class D felony, stemming from an investigation that took place outside of school. He was placed on administrative leave as soon as I received the information. We have no reason to believe that any West Genesee students were involved, and we are fully cooperating with authorities as they complete their investigation. If you have any information related to this case please call Investigator Thomas Gallery at 315-677-9971.

Thank you.

New Beginning?

Happy New Year! I hope all of you were able to celebrate, spend some time with family and friends, and relax over the holidays. My breaks are kind of weird and my schedule gets thrown off. There are no classrooms to visit (well, I could visit them, but they would be empty), and much of my time is spent getting my desk cleared off, planning for the late winter and spring, and following all of the holiday tournaments that have become a staple in High School USA.

I did get to do some cool things though. We welcomed a new niece (and I get to see and hold her at the end of the month), saw Star Wars (I really liked it) and Jumanji (surprisingly fun) with friends and one of my kids, and celebrated the new year with my wife, close friends, and my other son. The older I get the more I realize that holidays are much less about getting things and much more about the time spent with the people you care about most. Also, congratulations to the Buffalo Bills for making the playoffs. The last time the Bills won a playoff game, I was there and my kids were not born yet. Ugh.

Mid-Year Review: It is challenging for me to do a "year in review" because my work "year" starts July 1 and ends June 30. As I read the many posts about new beginnings, weight loss, staying in shape, and all of the other resolutions (mine is to shut my personal Facebook page down for a month), it creates conflict in my head. We are almost exactly halfway through the school year and January through March are really grinding kind of months. 

Historically, adults are a little crankier this time of the year because of the cold, holiday bills, and overcast skies. Students are a little scratchy because they cannot get outside for recess as often, seniors are applying for colleges, internships and are making decisions about their futures (which is more stressful for them than one might think), and their courses are either going well or need improvement, and the "don't worry mom and dad, it will be fine" time is getting tight, especially for half-year courses. All in all, not a real "new beginning".

We are going to work hard this winter to change that, by challenging the norm. We are going to hold some upbeat assemblies with great speakers, organize some pep rallies and spirit weeks, and keep the mood positive. The sun and warmer weather will be here before too long, and it never hurts to remember and recognize how good things are.

Planning for the Future: In planning for the rest of the winter and school year, we prepped for "Strategic Planning", did some preliminary budget work, and began to sort through the feedback results from Thought Exchange (which I hope to get out to you this week). 

School budgets should be interesting this year. The stock market is doing really well and the tax reform plan is scheduled to provide some income tax relief (but check with your accountant on that), so you would think that building school budgets should be a snap. Nope.

Interestingly, most of the large ticket, fixed-cost pieces of a school budget (retirement system payments, worker's compensation premiums, and health insurance premiums) are scheduled to have larger than normal increases that schools will have to wrestle with. On top of that, the Governor has stated that New York State is over $4Billion short in their revenue, and have told schools not to be planning for increases in state aid. Fun!

We will be within the "tax cap" as always and will make sure that taxpayers qualify for any rebates that they have been receiving, but the road to get there will be a little more challenging than one would think in an "up" economy. It is what it is. Bring it on!

Sad News: Lastly, we were saddened to learn over the break about the tragic and brutal murders of two adults and two children in Troy, NY. One of the victims was a former West Genesee High School student named Brandi Mells. She attended from ninth through eleventh grade and I remember her very well. She had an outgoing, large personality and always had people's attention when she spoke. I am hoping that a thorough investigation can bring some sense to what seems like a senseless act of violence. Simply awful, and another life taken much too early.

Thank you for reading and for your unwavering support, and let's have a great January!


Monday, December 18, 2017

Thoughts About the Holidays

I hope everyone had a great weekend. My wife and I spent Saturday and Sunday watching Syracuse University basketball and the Buffalo Bills both win. We also took the downtown holiday tour where we enjoyed reindeer, ice sculptures, gingerbread houses, and fantastically decorated windows. Very enjoyable for sure!

As we enter the last week before break, I wanted to take a few moments to give my thoughts about the holidays. Because I interact with thousands of people each day, I get a birds-eye view of life at its best and worst. The holidays really magnify events, feelings, and emotions, especially for children, and it is really important for all of us to recognize that.

It is not rare for children to act differently both at school and at home leading up to the holidays. Some of the reasons can be that routines are about to change, stress about the holidays at home, and student stress about not wanting to be at home for an extended period of time. These are all completely natural occurrences; but should not be overlooked.

At the extreme, the holidays can really magnify mental illness, so it is important to recognize that as well. If family members are struggling, try to get them to help. If we see it at school with the students, we will do the same.

It is also important to consider perspective. I spent a couple of hours last week at Golisano Children's Hospital visiting three of our sick students. Two are in kindergarten and one is in the high school. As I visited, each were fighting for their lives, let alone wondering what they were going to open on Christmas morning. My tiniest student has been in the same room for a long time, and his "gift" may be to see the outside of those four walls in the next 12 days. Surprisingly, they were all in decent spirits. Something for us to reflect on.

I do want to thank our employees and students for their continued generosity. During the school year they collectively buy clothes, provide resources, and visit people who are sick and/or in financial need. Their efforts increase around the holidays. I do not want to miss any effort, so I am not going to list all of the causes that they have been participating in over the past month, but their collective efforts are in the $10,000 range and will help many local families and people.

Our famous high school holiday concert takes place this Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium. It is fun to watch the students perform while the "snow" falls. The "big guy" also usually makes an appearance. Good stuff!

I am not going to post the next two weeks. My family celebrates Christmas, so Merry Christmas to you and your families.

Thank you for your continued support, and I will write again in the new year!


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: http://www.localsyr.com/sports/athlete-of-the-week/athlete-of-the-week-daniel-colabufo_20171206234343/876458434 #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!