Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Student Privacy

Good morning and welcome to the world where another virus with a scientific name is sweeping across the country and New York State. Yesterday I sent a letter home indicating that a child in our school community had been diagnosed with said virus. I came to learn shortly after the letter went home that a second confirmed case had been detected.

A virus can be picked up in a variety of ways. The most common include coughing, sneezing, or touching a contaminated surface. People cough, sneeze, and touch contaminated surfaces at the grocery store, church, home, school, the mall, sporting events, etc.

When we first sent our letter home, we were questioned by some as to why we would not identify the buildings the children attended or what grade level they were in. You know me as the person who communicates everything that I can. When I wrote the letter, I made sure to have a conversation with our legal counsel who is much more versed in student privacy than I am. They indicated that it would be best to stay away from any identifying information that might help to personally identify a child because they have a right to privacy.

I agree with this approach considering a virus can be picked up virtually anywhere.  We teach our students and staff about hand washing, proper ways to blow noses, sharing food and drink with others, and so on. We are also fortunate that our Director of Buildings and Grounds came from a hospital environment. He and his staff thoroughly clean and sanitize surfaces whether there is a virus going around or not.

This virus will pass through our school community just as others have, and we will remain vigilant with our cleaning and teaching of healthy habits along the way.

I have heard from many parents that "they" have determined that their child has or doesn't have the virus. I would advise against playing doctor. If your child has symptoms that are similar but more pronounced than the common cold, please get them to a doctor so they can be tested.  A positive test does not mean exile.  It means that your doctor can prescribe a treatment plan that will get your youngster back to health, school, and regular activities as soon as possible.

Thanks for your continued support.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Blasts from the Past

Our Graduates do Well: I recently ran into, or heard from, several of our graduates, and they are keeping themselves pretty busy! One, Ben Mauro, is an international rock star and has most recently finished touring as a guitar player for legend, Lionel Richie. He took an opportunity to give back to our school community by creating an endowment fund for our Fine Arts program. We are very appreciative and look forward to his future visits!
  • Another very recent graduate learned that she will be hitting the stage at Carnegie Hall this winter.
  • Three others were just adopted into the Upstate Chapter of the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame and two of the three were Academic All-Americans as well as Lacrosse All-Americans.  
The list could goes on and on. The people I referenced are just the people I saw, heard from or read about this past week. Our graduates do well. This is not by accident.

High School is Nationally Ranked: Last week West Genesee High School was ranked in the top 3% of all high schools in the United States by a National publication. A blogger commented that I should "step my game up" because we were only in the top 3% (there are over 19,500 public high schools in the United States), and should have THE top High School in the United States.

I am used to, and most certainly accept, the constant pressure and demands from our community to perform. That is why I am the superintendent, and I get paid to provide the highest quality educational program that we can provide and that our taxpayers can support.

The road to the top is bumpy and I am not sure that the view at the top is any better. The top schools spend the most per pupil to keep class sizes the smallest. They do not provide as many diverse college course options as we do (AP courses count in the weighting of schools more that college credits from two and four year colleges and universities), and all of the very top high schools are in much wealthier communities (as an example even the wealthiest Central New York Schools to make the list were still in the top 3% with us).
  • Our graduates get accepted to the same schools as those in higher ranked high schools,
  • our tax rates remain among the lowest, and
  • we perform well, even though we are an average wealth community that is continuing to trend downward in the wealth department.
So as I write this, my reaction to the blogger is that our "game" is stepped up, we have accepted all challenges, and we are working within the framework that our community can accept. We will continue to do so, and I encourage all graduates to reach out to me and let me know what great things you are doing!

This is a blog and not a book, so I am going to write again later this week with some other concepts that we are working on this year.

Thanks and enjoy the week!


Monday, September 8, 2014

Off the Ground and Wheels Up!

 First Week of School: Last week was our first week of school with students. I thought that it went very well considering the heat wave we had and the usual glitches that we face when starting up the organization again after a couple of months off. My hats go off to our transportation department, food service workers, technology department, and buildings and grounds crews for helping us to get back to near full strength in just a few short days. By the end of next week, I expect everything to be up and running as it will for the rest of the school year.

Last Friday night was an example of how a great community looks and acts. At our opening football game we hosted approximately 2,000 community members at our turf stadium. The football players did a great job on the field, our cheerleaders kept everyone pumped up, our Wildcat Nation provided the positive chants, and the Marching Band wowed us as usual with their half-time show. Throw in the Pop Warner football youngsters, and I would call that a pretty great night!

Meeting the New Kindergartners: Last week I also had a chance to meet all of our new kindergarten students. What a blast! All were very polite, some wondered if I was a medical doctor, and they all were wide-eyed and anxious to learn. Visiting all of them for the first time is one of the highlights of my job. When I visit them again this week, they will be in mid-year form; they adjust better than we do!

Summer School Wrap-Up: We also had a great ending to our summer school session. People think that summer school is just for students who did not do well during the school year. False. We have students who take classes to catch up in order to graduate, and we also had students who use summer school to get ahead so they could take even more classes this school year.

All in all we learned that our final completion rate is just under 92%. The completion rate should not be confused with the Regents graduation rate (which is 99% for our District). The completion rate includes EVERY child who walks through the doors of West Genesee. The latest New York State completion rate is 74%.

Why are we not at 100%? Good question, as that is obviously the goal. That 8%, or roughly 31 students are students who have dropped out, attended even one day at West Genesee and then transferred to another school and not completed, fallen behind their class due to family issues, health issues, or have obtained an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, completion certificate (I lobby New York State every year for IEP diplomas to count by the way).

We are working with our students who have dropped out to see if there is anything we can do or offer to entice them to return to school to complete their high school experience. We are making strides. Our completion rate when I arrived in 2008 was 86%.

Enjoy the week!


Monday, September 1, 2014

Here we go!

A Great Labor Day Weekend: I hope that each of you enjoyed your Labor Day weekend. I had a great time (minus the traffic jam) being a part of the largest single day crowd of the New York State Fair in history! 

We almost had a brush with greatness right in Camillus as well. The popular country band, Florida Georgia Line, and CBS Sports were working with us to use our turf field to create a promotional commercial for the network before their state fair concert on Saturday. The band wasn't quite ready with the lyrics for the promotional song, so they had to cancel. Judging from the sound of the crowd at their concert, all of their other songs came across just fine!

Baldwinsville Superintendent will be Missed: On Friday night while sitting at the edge of my seat at the Syracuse football game, I received a text message that recently retired Baldwinsville superintendent, Jeanne Dangle, had passed away after a long battle with cancer. She was a colleague and friend. 

She worked tirelessly to provide students in her community with opportunities. Equally unfortunate was the timing. She had just retired, and she had plans to do some things in retirement. The lesson is to live every day to the fullest, no regrets, and to make a lasting impression as she did. She will be missed.

New School Year with a Changing Community: We are ready for business and could not be more excited to begin school tomorrow. Please remember that Tuesday is a half-day for students. Then we ramp right up to full-days for students for the rest of the week. 

On opening day I spoke about our changing community, and how we as a District need to adjust to our changing population. We have gotten more diverse (for over eighty of our children, English is their second language, if they speak English at all), more families are struggling financially, and there are more cases of drug use in our community. 

At the same time, there are families who have lived here for generations and they expect the same out of West Genesee academically as they did twenty years ago. We have to do a better job of accommodating ALL needs and are working to do so this year. We are excited to continue to remain at the top no matter what challenges and opportunities present themselves.

Our event schedule is heating up, and I hope to see you around.

Enjoy this first week of school-


Monday, August 25, 2014

…And the Winner Is...

Supply Drive: Generosity can come from anywhere. When it presents itself, the power it delivers can lift mountains. Sponsored by the West Genesee PTA/PTO District Council, Committee Chair Deb Troiano and her cast of volunteers funneled the generosity of our community members (including a $500 donation from Kohls) into another very successful School Supply Drive. Over 185 families were served this year, and I am very proud and thankful for this group, led by Deb and backed by all of the PTA/PTO's in the District.

The stress on parents to make sure that their children have the correct school supplies when times are tight can be daunting, but thanks to the community that stress can be eased. The group is already looking forward to next year.

Back-to-School Activities: We have been through the Marching Band Preview and the intra-squad football family day, with freshman orientation and Kindergarten orientations are right around the corner. So that must mean that the school year is about to start! I am extremely excited to get this school year rolling. I meet with all of our employees this Thursday, and then it will be a long weekend. Before you know it, we will see all of the students back here.

Initiatives: We are looking to bolster many of the initiatives that we began last year, and we are also looking forward to trying a few things a little differently. Within the first half of this school year we will begin construction on our long awaited Capital Project. I will certainly keep you up-to-date as that schedule progresses.

The Great New York State Fair: If you like to go to the New York State Fair and haven't had a chance to attend yet, it feels a little cleaner than in past years. There are more flowers, more places to sit, and some interesting new rides to try. Lucky for me, they still have my favorite Gianelli Sausage stand, so I give the whole experience an "A".

Enjoy this beautiful weather week, and I will see all of you right after Labor Day weekend!


Monday, August 11, 2014

College Sports and the Trickle Down Effect

This past week really felt like summer! I did everything that I possibly could to stay outside as much as possible. I conducted all of our exterior building inspections, checked in on camps, visited the Marching Band, observed school bus safety training, and met on site with some of the area project managers. This week I have to spend some quality inside time preparing for our new staff orientation, opening day, and meetings with our building administrators. All good stuff!

Last week an interesting ruling came from the high courts regarding the NCAA and how athletes can be treated, compensated, and taken care of in the future to read the ruling click here.  In a nutshell, colleges might be able to pay student athletes (in Division I basketball or FBS football), allow student athletes to collect royalties when their image, likeness, jerseys, or autographs are given, used, or sold. So what, right? The NCAA makes millions of dollars off student athletes and some feel their scholarships alone are not enough compensation for what additional revenue they bring to their college, university, or the NCAA.

No matter what your opinion is on this topic, please step back for a moment and put yourself into the shoes of a high school junior. A three-sport athlete high school junior. A junior who plays football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and lacrosse in the spring.  If you are that junior athlete and you now know that you might be able to be compensated beyond your athletic or academic scholarship for your services, are you still going to play those three sports or are you going to shut two of them down and really concentrate on the one that might give you a Division I opportunity?

Our students are not back from summer vacation yet, but I would love to get their take on this question. If I was that talented, I really am not sure what I would elect to do with my high school athletic choices. I think I would still play the sports as long as I enjoyed them. It is an interesting question to ponder.

What would you do? Would you change to an easier major so you can spend more time on the sport that you might be getting paid to play? If you are interested, keep an eye out for developments as the NCAA works through the process of making changes.

Keep enjoying your summer and know that we are here getting everything ready for when the students return.  Hopefully, in my next post I will be able to give you an update regarding our Capital Project.

Have a great week!


Monday, July 28, 2014

Strategy and Eating Healthy

Eating Healthy: This summer new healthy choice rules were instituted by the Federal government to add to the healthy choice rules that were put in place last year. To give a quick history lesson, the Federal government forced schools to serve healthier foods. Those foods had to have a certain nutritional mix. In the beginning many students, especially those who had commitments right after school, found the food did not sustain them until dinner.

Schools across the country, including West Genesee, lost money because students were not buying the healthier choices. So last year we brought in a diabetic nutritionist and a group of student taste testers to help revamp menus. Our Assistant Superintendent for Management Services also stepped in to maximize every piece of our food service program. The result?  Our food service program nearly broke even.

The next step in the healthy choices initiative will be another large challenge for schools. Newer restrictions on sodium, sugar, and fat will severely limit what is able to be served, and many more whole grains based foods will need to be served as well.

A decent article about the challenges related to this new healthy choice initiative can be found by clicking here, and a quick Google search for "Federal Healthy Choice 2014" will give you a broader picture. (For information directly from the USDA about the program, click here.)

Some schools are not going to implement these new choices at the expense of the money they receive for students eligible for free and reduced lunch. This is quite a gamble in my view, but I will be watching schools who try this route very closely.

Our own analysis for West Genesee indicates that if we were to refuse to implement the healthy choices initiative, we would have to raise our lunch prices to approximately $4.10 to make up for the government funds we currently receive for free and reduced lunch eligible students. I am watching to see if schools that are refusing the initiative have an increase in students purchasing lunch.  If so, then we might be able to modify the plan and take a look at it.  Right now though, we are going to work within the rules and see if we can make the new initiative work!

West Genesee Street Project Update from the Department of Transportation: We expect for the project to be substantially complete (only a punchlist to remain) after August 8. Over the next week, you will see:

  • minor curb and drainage work, 
  • topsoil being placed, and 
  • the enclosed drainage system being cleaned. 
In addition, weather depending, the final top course of pavement will be placed on West Genesee Street between Dunning Drive and NYS 173 beginning this Friday and Saturday, and finishing early next week.

One unknown that may affect the schedule, is the condition of the enclosed drainage system on West Genesee Street near NYS 173. The condition of the pipes are currently being evaluated to see if replacement is required (the pipes have not been cleaned yet), and we may either replace them or insert a cured in-place liner in them. If this affects the schedule or requires additional lane closures beyond August 8, we will be sure to let you know.

So much for summer being quiet and relaxing around the office!  Some wonderful weather in store for this week. Enjoy, and I will post again soon.

Take care.