Monday, February 8, 2016

Busy is an Understatement

The Musical at the High School is a Success: Congratulations to the cast, crew and everyone involved with the high school musical, Once Upon a Mattress. The sets, coordination, direction, and acting were exceptional. The musical had many funny parts, and it was great to see student actors and actresses able to deliver a punchline. Kudos!

A Busy Week: We were busy last week. Wrestlers, divers, cheerleaders, basketball players, and Stonehedge's Winter Wonderland kept the buildings hopping after hours and over the weekend.

During the day there was a great "Vocabulary Parade" at East Hill Elementary School, and we held our tremendously important District Strategic Planning as well.

Planning Strategically for the Future: The Strategic Planning team consists of students, parents, teachers, assistants, administrators, and Board of Education members. Collectively, and with feedback from the community and expert panelists, they develop the strategic vision for next school year. Once all of the information has been updated, the new plan will be linked to our website and made available to everyone.

Most of the plan from last year (you can find the current plan by clicking here) will remain intact. The group did decide this year to make a conscious effort to revamp how our guidance counseling services are delivered to children. With our changing demographic, increases in abuse and mental illness in our community, and increased diversity, it is time to make a significant change to separate our true guidance counselors from our socio-emotional counseling so that everyone is served in an equitable manner. We will be working this spring to update our K-12 counseling plan to reflect the wishes of the Strategic Planning Committee.

I would like to thank all of the participants, specifically the students and a panel of 2007-2015 graduates who helped us to understand what we have done well, and where we could improve from the perspective of a graduate.

Substance Abuse Coalition Next Steps: This week the Community Coalition on Substance Abuse will be meeting to review the survey data from our recent forum and establish a clear direction as to what next steps will be.

We have heard from many surrounding schools who want to use our forum format in their respective communities. We have been more than willing to share material with the understanding that raising awareness to an issue does not fix the issue. We will be targeting how we can reduce the amount of substance abuse and crime in our community. We will also use our collective strength to pressure lead decision makers on the treatment end. We WILL make a difference.

Thank you and have a great week!

Chris

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Circle of Life

A Math Project: I was a math and computer science teacher before entering administration and eventually the superintendent position. I really enjoyed my time with my seventh graders, especially when it came to teaching real life lessons about math (to answer the question "when are we ever going to use this"). My teaching days were long ago, but the lessons live on and I am very proud of that.

Yesterday while walking the dog I found a bird's nest that looked to be a near perfect circle. I immediately thought about the "old days". I brought it inside and took a picture of it. I then found some string and measured the diameter (distance from side to side as long as you are going through the center). I made three strings of equal length out of the diameter and laid them end to end around the birds nest. BINGO, they wrapped around three "and then some" times, or 3.14 times; pi.

Big deal right? In the education profession, there are no bonuses, no parties for selling the most of something, and no commissions. We teach, lead, and educate for the betterment of children and hopefully the world we live in. Our reward is when we hear from graduates who tell us that we made a difference in their lives.

I posted this little exercise online and heard back from one of my former students who is now a teacher. She remembered the lesson from so long ago and used it with her sixth grade classes. She then moved to second grade but made sure to leave the lesson behind for the new sixth grade teacher because "it is the best way to teach pi". Good stuff!

Events From Last Week: We had some great events last week. First, and unfortunately in the same evening, we had the "Dialogue with the Superintendent" and the Camillus Optimists Oratorical Contest. Both events were fantastic. I had a chance to catch the speeches from the middle school students and they spoke as well and as passionately as anyone you would see on television. The future is in good hands.

In my Dialogue with the Superintendent forum people in attendance were invited to write any question they wanted answered on an index card and pass them forward. I took each card and read them sight unseen and answered them. Many were about our substance abuse forum (which I covered in a previous blog) and several were about mid-term/regents week at the high school as well as the use of Schooltool. We constantly trend to get better so feedback of any kind is much appreciated. Thank you to the West Genesee PTA/PTO District Council for sponsoring this event every year.

Mr. Morton, our high school executive principal, recently started a blog himself that you should check out if you have a high school student or a child about to enter high school. He addresses in detail some of the questions we receive about the high school. Please take a few moments (after you finish here of course!) to check it out at http://wghsexecprincipal.blogspot.com/2016/01/feedback-on-mid-term-exams-and-use-of.html.

This week we will be holding our strategic planning sessions. Our strategic plan is the main decision making driver for the District. Our strategic planning team includes stakeholders from every group you could imagine (including parents and students). The results will be shared later in February so you know what you can expect to see from the District next year. People always ask why I never look rattled, and I always point to having a solid strategic plan as one of those reasons!

Some great weather coming up. Cannot wait! Thanks for the continued support.

Chris

Monday, January 25, 2016

Personalizing the Face of Addiction

Academic Decathlon Team Wins: It might be cold outside, but our Academic Decathlon Team is HOT! Over the weekend they won team gold for the Section III Academic Decathlon Championship. In two weeks they will head to the state competition with part of their minds set on another national championship experience. Congratulations to our team members and their coaches!

Personalizing the Face of Addiction: At 5:30 p.m. last Thursday night, I held a packet of heroin in my hand. Before you stop reading and call the Camillus police, you should know that I was WITH the Camillus police. They were one of our twenty expo participants who were on hand before our community forum on substance abuse that was attended by close to seven hundred people. 

I have never seen heroin in person let alone held it. In my role as a superintendent I have seen and held alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, synthetic drugs, and THC liquid that people heat and smoke in a device called a “vape”. Never heroin.

The heroin I held would have fit on a postage stamp and was an off-white colored thin layer of powder. It couldn’t talk. The people impacted by that postage stamp sized layer of powder spoke volumes. I have never been a part of a more powerful, grassroots forum. Ever. If you were there, you are now impacted for life. Life. 

Presenters told stories of tragedy, loss, pain, hope, and treatment so eloquently that each main presenter received a well deserved standing ovation. Each story began with how a supportive family and money still led to alcohol, pill, and heroin abuse, and how quickly it can happen. 

On our website are links to the presentations and the program for the evening so you can see how many people came together to make the evening special, just click here to view them. (Videos will be posted later this week.) There are dozens of people to thank and any level of appreciation that I can give is not enough.  

We administered a survey after the event and the coalition will be meeting again soon to review the results and plan more targeted sessions in the future. We also plan to roll out portions of the forum to our students. They need to hear it.

Come Talk with the Superintendent: This week is the rescheduled Dialogue with the Superintendent. It will be held on Tuesday, January 26 at 7:00 p.m. in the West Genesee High School Large Group Instruction room.  Hope to see you there.

Thanks for your support and enjoy the week!

Chris

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

When Someone Makes A Difference

Impact of Martin Luther King, Jr.: I was in a fourth grade classroom on Friday where students were talking about Martin Luther King, Jr.  I asked them to raise their hands and tell me what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had helped to change. Just about every hand was raised and each gave me great examples of things that they felt he helped to change.

The last student I called on summed it up by saying "Martin Luther King, Jr. helped to change the United States." They get it. While unfortunately in my opinion there is still work to do, his influence is felt everywhere. I am glad that our students understand and respect his work, and I hope that they will all carry the desire to treat everyone equally into their adult lives. It will take ALL of us to make that a reality.

Upcoming Community Forum on Substance Abuse: Speaking of taking ALL of us to make a difference, that is how I feel about combating the substance abuse epidemic that all of our communities are facing. The first big step in our community is to hold a large public forum this Thursday at West Genesee High School. I think we have all the bases covered, but here are some answers to some frequent questions I have received:

1.  Will the event be held if there is a snow day? Yes. We have too many moving parts and too many professionals coming from too many places to reschedule. If there is a State of Emergency that evening, the event will be canceled. Plan on the event taking place.

2.  What if I only want to attend the forum and not the expo? No problem. The expo takes place from 5:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. The forum begins promptly at 6:30 p.m.

3.  What if I cannot find parking? In the event that all of our school lots are full (there is nothing else happening at the high school on Thursday except the expo and forum), please park behind Lowes and we will have a shuttle bus (wheel chair accessible) that will take you to the auditorium and return you the lot at the end of the night).

4.  Will there be an interpreter for the deaf available for the forum and panel discussion? Yes.

5.  Will the event be recorded? Only the actual forum will be recorded. The expo and the panel discussion could feature personal questions/information whereas the forum is based on set presentations so we felt that recording ONLY the forum was the best decision.

6.  Will the event be live broadcasted?  No

7.  If the auditorium is full, will the spill over rooms be sufficient? Yes. We will have the forum closed circuit broadcast to Cafeteria III and the Large Group Instruction Room.  During the panel discussion we will have helpers in both locations to relay questions audience members may have for the panelists.

8.  What if I have a question for the panelists that I do not want to ask in front of everyone?  No problem. All panelists have agreed to stay beyond the end of the forum to answer individual/private questions.

9.  How many students are available to help watch my school-age child?  We have twenty students (many are seniors) who will be helping to watch your children while you attend the forum.

10.  What if I or a family member finds some of the material presented to strike a particular emotional nerve and we need help on site? There will be over a dozen counselors on site (they will be wearing a special lanyard to quickly identify themselves) to help anyone who might need it as well as private counseling rooms.

11.  Why do I want to attend this forum?  The purpose of the forum is to arm you with information about exactly how large the drug issue is in our community, what it feels like to be an addict or someone who has lost a loved one due to addiction, what to look for in children or community members who you think may have a problem, and where to get help. We hope that you will take the information you learn and spread it to others so as a WHOLE community we can be informed and help where and when we can.

12.  I hear that Congressman Katko is going to be in attendance.  Does that mean that this is some kind of political/publicity event? Absolutely not; this is not a "shaking hands/kissing babies" event. The Congressman is attending (schedule permitting) because he truly is concerned with the drug issues (especially heroin) that continue to grow in our communities.

13.  I regularly watch Channel 9 news and Dan Cummings is my favorite person to watch. Is it okay to say hello to him? Absolutely. Dan Cummings is volunteering his own time on Thursday to help us because he also sees the problems that our communities are having with drug use/abuse. He would be more than happy to spend a few minutes with you.

14.  What if I have a question that was not addressed above? Call me directly at 315-487-4562 or send me an e-mail cbrown@westgenesee.org.

Thanks, hope to see all of you on Thursday, and enjoy the week!

Chris

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Magic of the Secret Handshake

Loving My Job: Like many of you, I played the Powerball; and lost. People think I am kidding, but if I win I still plan to work. I love my job, I will just be able to get to it more quickly from...my helicopter.

Back when I was a math teacher I tried an experiment with the regular New York State Lottery. I created a spreadsheet and kept track of the lottery numbers for a month. I then tracked all of the numbers that had been picked and played the ones that had yet to be selected. For several days I won $4, the prize at the time if none of your numbers are selected. It was a neat use of math and statistics, and passed the time like a hobby would.

I then watched a video about how the ping pong balls are made for the lottery. They make sure that the weight and shape of each ball is exactly the same even if the number in the ball is a single digit versus a double digit. The bottom line? There is definitely a greater chance of being struck by lightning than winning the Powerball. Don't quit your day jobs, and please remember your favorite superintendent if you happen to win. Thank you.

Connecting with Children: As parents we always try to find different ways to connect with our children. It is certainly easier to do this when our children are younger, but it can be a challenge as they become teenagers. In a perfect world, when they grow up they will come back to us and are friends forever.

When my kids were very young, probably around first or second grade, we created a secret handshake that we used when they were in little league. I cannot tell you or show you what it is because it is a secret (actually if you went to graduation last year you were able to see it when I gave my son his diploma).  It was, and is to this day, "our thing".  It is how we connect. Over all of these years it has created a special bond that has survived through good times and bad.

A few years ago I noticed that when one of my boys and I would give each other the secret handshake, others would watch and want a secret handshake as well! I have a kid who is almost 21 years old and if we do not do the secret handshake or if we rush it when we are together before he leaves for school, he is irritated.

We often think about ways to keep our children connected to us, and we often think about what we can buy them or get them to keep them coming back. Creating a secret handshake (or even a special fist bump) is free, unique to you and your kids, and will work for a lifetime. Try it out!

Talk With the Superintendent: If you have time, this Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. join us at the annual "Dialogue with the Superintendent". It is held in the West Genesee High School Large Group Instruction Room.

I give a quick State of the District and then open the rest of our time up to the audience (it usually ends by 8:30 or 9:00 p.m.). Audience members anonymously write questions on an index card which we collect. I then read every card sight unseen and answer those questions.

It has been a great way to interact with people who prefer not to use phone calls, personal visits, e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter to reach me.  I want to thank the West Genesee PTA/PTO District Council for sponsoring the evening, and I hope to see you there!

Enjoy the week!

Chris


Monday, January 4, 2016

Happy New Year!

2015 is in the Books: When I reflected on the year as a whole it felt like a mixed bag of good and bad.

In the negative column, we lost a wonderful teacher in Mrs. Macaluso, more students and staff had issues with sick or hurt parents and family members than I can remember happening in quite some time, and the state of education in New York State was in as much turmoil as I have seen it in my fifteen years as a superintendent.

In the positive column and through it all, our students performed, our community was supportive, and our employees rose to every challenge.

Looking Forward to 2016: We begin 2016 with a community forum on January 21 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. to help all of us come to terms with a growing substance abuse issue in our community, followed later in the month by our annual and powerful district strategic planning process.

Thanks to a new Commissioner of Education and state leaders who appear to finally be listening, the turmoil that existed last year seems to be heading in a much better direction. It is likely that the amount of testing students will be exposed to will be less and the results of that testing will not have the impact on teacher evaluations that it has for the past couple of years.

Our Capital Project will be in full swing this spring and Onondaga Road Elementary School and East Hill Elementary School will finally have cafeterias by fall, which is great news for students; this also will allow for future discussions about programming.

Will this year be better than last year? That is always the goal. As a leader I can never dwell on the past; I can only learn from it, make what was good even better, and not repeat anything bad that was in my control. Sound easy? Easy or not, here we go! Have a great start to the new year and thank you for your continued support.

Chris

Monday, December 21, 2015

We are a VERY Fortunate Community

This past week we had plenty to be thankful for. We came together as a community and helped a family devastated by a house fire, the cheerleaders volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House, and we had a great turnout for our annual high school holiday concert that included a special appearance by Santa!

For those of you who had a chance to make it to the recent Symphoria concert downtown, you heard our students as well. We take that for granted, but playing at that concert is a BIG deal! Congratulations to them.

If I tried to list out all of the awesome things happening in athletics right now, I am sure I would miss something. My short list would include the many West Genesee athletes that made all CNY teams for the fall; and for our winter teams and athletes, how well they are doing right now.

There was definitely a positive buzz in the air when I attended events and games last week and over the weekend, and that feeling isn't going anywhere anytime soon. We are a VERY fortunate community.

As we head into the next two weeks, I may be quiet on my blog and twitter, but I will be working and enjoying time with my family. Having my boys home from college will also make me very happy.

As my family celebrates Christmas, I want to personally wish you a Merry Christmas and happy holidays if you celebrate something else. I feel very fortunate to have your support and will write again right after the new year.

Thank you.

Chris