Monday, June 29, 2015

Year in Review

Even though the weekend was somewhat of a washout, spirits were still very high as my wife and I made it to several graduation parties. We had a great year and there is much to be celebrated. I have to look at the school year from a 30,000 foot view and capture everything. While it is time to celebrate successes, there is also time this summer to work on growth areas.

Our Successes: In the success department, one just has to look at the trophy cases, media stories, and the many awards that both the Fine Arts and Athletics Departments received. More importantly, all of the successes came from the classroom, which carried over into the auditorium, fields, and stadiums. That is exactly how we want it.

Academically, I think it is important to note that from kindergarten through twelfth grade our students are giving their best efforts for their teachers, their parents, and me. Every time I visit a building or classroom, the students go out of their way to show me what they are up to, and they are proud and happy students. Every day is a great day to be the Superintendent and it is a role that I never take for granted.

Areas for Growth: Along the way this year we picked up on some growth areas we will be working on for next year.

  • A Different Community - Our community continues to change and as the community changes, so do our students. When I arrived in 2008, about 8% of our students were receiving free or reduced lunch and 9 students did not speak English. Today our free and reduced lunch population is over 20% and there are 88 students who do not speak English. We have been working each year to make our schools as "small" as possible in order to help students in need, but there is still work to do.
  • Drug Prevention and Education - Marijuana and alcohol use were the majority of the poor choices that people were making in 2008. Now people are making those choices, as well as dabbling in prescription drugs and heroin. Again, we have been working in a positive direction with many community partners in this area but there is still room to grow.
  • Preparing our Graduates for the Real World - In the academic world we continue to reflect on what colleges, the workplace, and the military are looking for from our graduates. Strength of schedule is beginning to outweigh class rank and GPA, and more employers are looking for graduates with field/work/volunteer experiences. These are also areas that we will work on this summer. 
  • Communication at our Fingertips - Lastly, our Mobile Phone App is heavily used by parents and students as is our grade and assignment platform Schooltool. Continuing to update those offerings will be a focus as we head into next year.
There will be a lot of work on our Capital Project this summer as well, and I will give a complete update when I blog again in mid-July.

Thank you for your support, enjoy the summer, and take care.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Making Memories

An Incredible Weekend: How many people can say they were able to hand their youngest child their diploma (after having him as a student since Kindergarten) at graduation and then spend the next day with their dad at the ballpark? Not many.

We meticulously plan our graduation ceremonies, and I thought that Saturday was one of the smoothest on record. The student speeches were very insightful and well written and the musical selections were out of this world! Thanks to Dr. Copeland, Mrs. Sierotnik and everyone else who makes graduation as special as it is.

Special Days: While I truly believe that every day should be Father's Day and Mother's Day, we do designate days on the calendar so people can make them extra special. Our graduation coincides with Father's Day most years. If you are fortunate to have your father (or mother) still with us as I do, please understand what kind of gift that truly is.

Background Stories: Our graduation is quite streamlined and attendees do not get to see or hear some of the side stories that are sometimes going on in the background. This year two young men who came across the stage abruptly lost their fathers within the past few weeks, one within 48 hours of the ceremony. There they were, coming across the stage to receive their diplomas and shake my hand. My sense was that they were being "tough" because they were helping to hold their families together and to show some normalcy.

Always trying to learn from every experience, seeing them reminded me that there are a lot of little things in life that we let get bigger than they need to be and because there aren't bigger issues at the time to focus on. Don't let the little things get big, appreciate your family and friends while they are still here, and be kind to others because you don't know their story.

Visit to the White House: Last week I had the opportunity to visit the White House to work with a small group of superintendents from around the country on an educational initiative called the "Maker Movement". Essentially the Maker Movement is a project-based learning approach to education and incorporates ALL subject areas, not just science, technology, engineering, and math as many other project-based initiatives do.

West Genesee was selected to attend because we have demonstrated sustained success in a variety of areas. I was more than happy to carry our flag to the White House, and I am looking forward to attending again in the future.

Preparing for the Arrival of the New Executive Principal: This week is the last week of classes. We will be doing the usual wrap-up items that we normally do, but we are also going to be preparing for the arrival of Geoffrey Morton, who was appointed as Executive Principal for the high school.

Mr. Morton is currently a Middle School Principal in Baldwinsville. He also has high school administrative experience as well as having worked with at-risk, urban, and suburban students. For a period of time he was also a policy writer for the New York State School Boards Association. Before entering administration, he was a high school social studies teacher. He will begin his work at the high school with Dr. Copeland, Mr. Caraccio, and Mr. Blake on July 6.

Enjoy the week and believe it or not, my next blog will be a year end wrap up!


Monday, June 15, 2015

Artifact Collection

Celebrating our Students: Last week and weekend were one of the most enjoyable I have had in a long time. During the week we were able to celebrate our senior Fine Arts performers as well as our athletes.

The number of awards and championships these students provided us are staggering, and an overwhelming number of both fine art students and athletes will be taking their talents in some way, shape, or form to the college and professional levels. Congratulations to all!

The Corporate Challenge: We also put a healthy team of employees together for the Corporate Challenge. This is a great team bonding night for us. The food and company were great, and a math teacher and transportation department worker set blistering paces for the rest of us who took the time to enjoy the scenery!

BOCES Graduations: I had the opportunity to attend two BOCES graduations. The first was for West Genesee students involved in BOCES Special Education programs, and the second was for West Genesee Students involved in career, trade, and technical education programs. Many of these graduates will head to college or good paying jobs in a few weeks.

I really enjoyed hearing some of their speeches about rallying over adversity and never giving up. Very inspirational and I am looking forward to shaking many of their hands again at our graduation ceremony this Saturday.

Classes Come to an End at the High School: You would have also been proud of how our high school students acted on the last day of classes. Yes we should "expect" them to act well, but there is pressure on them from the outside to conduct "pranks" and generally disrupt the school so people have something to talk about. Our students did not succumb to the pressure, conducted themselves with the utmost class and respect, and are now in the ready line for graduation.

Everyone in our school community knows Andrew Bowman and our custodian "Jimbo"(pictured above), and I got to be with him on his official last day as a high school student as Andrew and his life lessons move on to the next level.

Celebrating Flag Day: This past Friday our elementary students celebrated Flag Day with parades and ceremonies.It is always fun to watch our students honor our flag. Hooray for the red, white and blue! 

Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR): Teachers and administrators are struggling through the new evaluation system that has been put in place for them. Much of the struggle has to do with trying to measure the success of a teacher or administrator based on a student "score", as well as evidence collection that what is being taught is of a high caliber. A teacher or administrator cannot be effectively evaluated on these measures because students and families change from year to year, as do their teaching and administering situations.

To me the following picture would be the entirety of my "artifact collection", and I would want my performance evaluated on this photo to the right. Every person in this picture (except for the young boy) were either students I taught or was their superintendent. Now in their thirties, they are grown up and getting married.

I was asked to be in this wedding by the person to the right of me because he felt that I changed the path of his life and was there when he needed support the most. Many teachers and administrators have these stories and artifacts. I had a blast catching up with all of them and although some of them knew the direct path to my office back in the day, they have all become contributing members of their communities. Evaluate that!

Enjoy the week. Graduation on Saturday!


Monday, June 8, 2015

Out and About!

Spring Athletics Season is Close to Coming to a Close: Another week and weekend are in the books as we draw closer to graduation and the end of the school year. Over the weekend our athletic year drew closer to coming to a close and with it a lot of great memories, awards, and titles. Thank you to all of our athletes and coaches who represented us very well once again.

A special thanks also goes out to our Athletic Director Mike Burns. The job of the modern day Athletic Director is not easy. Beyond scheduling, today's Athletic Director must navigate new rules, be in tune with the athletic, operational and academic needs of students, and must always be available for parents and coaches. I believe that Mr. Burns was able to enjoy one complete day off with his newborn son due to demands of the job, and I am thankful that he will get to spend more quality time with the little guy now.

Honoring our Boys Lacrosse Coach: At our Board of Education meeting last week, the Board voted unanimously to name our turf field after retired teacher and current Boys Lacrosse coaching legend Mike Messere. This has been approximately ten years in the making and is a result of Policy 1540 which was developed to guide the Board through a process.

The process includes a community group submitting an application on Mr. Messere's behalf, submission of a petition containing at least 1,000 signatures (the petition has well over 1,000 signatures) of qualified voters in the District, passing through an anonymous review committee, and a full background check of the applicant before being approved by the Board of Education.

Coach Messere will be officially recognized on August 1 or August 2 during the John Pepper Boys Lacrosse Tournament (details are still being worked out). His recognition will be a sign that will hang above the score board on the turf field that will read "Mike Messere Field". Congratulations to Coach Messere.

Student Sings at the Taste of Syracuse: Our musicians pop up where you least expect them. Saturday night was no exception. West Genesee Middle School eighth grader, Payton Bird, sang the national anthem at the Taste of Syracuse just before the rock and reality star Brett Michaels took the stage! How cool is that?

The Science of Rockets: We also had some West Genesee Middle School students, under the direction of Mr. Ramsden, build and launch some large rockets as a larger part of their research into math, science, and technology. These rockets were probably large enough to make it into orbit!

Upcoming Events: This week we have the Fine Arts and Athletic Receptions as well as the Corporate Challenge to look forward to, and the last day of classes for high school students is this Thursday.

Have a great week and I hope to see you at one of our many events.


Monday, June 1, 2015


What an incredible time to be a Wildcat. Hundreds of our students have been out and about in our community, the area, and the state representing us incredibly well. I want to take a moment to gush about them and then let you know about a few changes that we are making at the high school for next year.

Kaleidoscope 40 was 'Off the Hook'! For those who are unfamiliar, Kaleidoscope is a yearly event where we are able to show off all of our Fine Arts performing groups, as well as soloists. I have been here since Kaleidoscope 32 and often wonder how each year can be as good as or better than the last. Hats off to the student performers and their teachers, as well as all of the parents and families who come out each year to show their support!

This year I was able to use a new smart phone application called Periscope to actually live broadcast a couple of the songs. It went well and we will look for ways to expand the use of that (or a similar) program in the future.

Local Theater Students are Recognized: Also over the weekend was the first Syracuse High School Theatre Awards held at the Landmark Theater. Students were greeted by a red carpet and were treated like true acting professionals for the evening.  John Buttner from West Genesee received The Rising Star Award. Great job!

Sectional to State Play: On the athletic side, I feel like a ping pong ball more than a superintendent lately, trying to get to all of the events! Our boys and girls Lacrosse teams are convincingly into state competition.

Our Baseball team is moving right along in the sectional process. Track and Field and Tennis also had participants make deep runs into post season play.

So many teams and individuals are still playing that I had special West Genesee shirts made so I can be an equal fan to every sport. A good problem to have and special thanks to West Genesee graduate Paul Schoeneck and his Kicks Clothing company for helping me out so quickly.

Changes at the High School for Next Year: As we wrap up the school year and prepare for next year and beyond, I want to make you aware of changes that we are going to make at the high school.

Currently, we have four administrative positions at the high school: a Building Principal, an Academic Dean, and two Assistant Principals. We pride ourselves in being the smallest large high school in the area and this is due to how our administrators work with teachers and students to make them feel welcome and supported.

This structure has worked well for many years. Changes to the dynamics of our community as well as state mandates related to teacher evaluations have really stressed this administrative structure. Our administrators are not able to be as available as they have been. To rectify this and to put us in a position where we can best plan for the future, we are making a change to our administrative structure.

We will still have four administrators in the high school, but their titles will be different. We will now have a position titled Executive Principal/Director of Secondary Education and three Building Principals. This change will allow each administrator to have all of the authorities granted to a school administrator in New York State. The Executive Principal role will allow us to have a better transition from eighth grade to ninth grade for students and will also allow the operational leader of the building to ALSO be the instructional leader. Good stuff.

We have very capable administrators at our high school. So once we have completed all of our interviewing and hiring, I will be able to let you know who will fill those roles.

Another busy but exciting week ahead. Enjoy!


Monday, May 25, 2015

The Power of Positive Support

I hope that all of you had an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. I also hope that you took a few minutes to reflect on why we truly have Memorial Day. There are plenty of very brave people who sacrificed and fought for the freedoms we have today and it is important to never forget that. Through several of our courses and programs we teach our students about the significance of Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, and Flag Day. This was evidenced by our whole community at the Memorial Day parade when many of our students marched for the school and for those who were to be remembered.

Budget Passes: Last week was very humbling. I have been a Superintendent for fourteen years and a Business Administrator before that and have been a part of building and presenting sixteen school budgets.  Our recent school budget vote had an 85% passing rate, which is the highest passing percentage that I have ever been a part of. We sincerely appreciate your support and never take it for granted. From our Board of Education and throughout our organization we will continue to provide our students with the best opportunities possible and with the least financial impact on our community as possible. Thank you.

Olympics are Special: Dozens of our students went to Cicero North Syracuse High School for the Special Olympics last week and competed to their fullest and brought home a bus full of medals.  If you have never attended the Special Olympics you really need to carve out a couple of hours to watch these students perform and compete. It will make you a better person, I guarantee it. Congratulations to our awesome competitors and cannot wait for next year!

Athletes Compete: Many of our teams were also competing in sectional play.

  • Congratulations to West Genesee Boys Lacrosse coach Mike Messere on his 800th victory as a WILDCAT!! The Boys Lacrosse won over CNS and will play Auburn at the Dome on Wednesday for the Section 3 Championship.'
  • The Girls Lacrosse team won over the Baldwinsville Bees to play at the Dome on Tuesday for the Section 3 Championship.
  • The Boys Baseball team won and will be the #2 seed in the Section 3 tournament and will play home Thursday at 4:30 p.m. vs Baldwinsville, the #7 seed.
  • Boys and girls Track and Field compete in the Section 3 Championships this week at CNS.
  • In Boys Tennis, congratulations to the Boleslov brothers who just became Regional Champs in the Doubles.
  • The Girls Softball team made it to the 2nd round of Section 3 play and will travel to face Liverpool on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
  • Congratulations to West Genny Boys golfer Dylan Plis who made it to the 2nd round of the NYS qualifiers on Saturday.

  • This week should be really busy and our last day of classes at the high school is only 13 school days away from today! Thanks for the continued support.


    Monday, May 18, 2015

    A Weekend to Remember

    Car Crash Simulation Stresses Good Decisions: I had one of my most enjoyable weekends as a superintendent this past weekend. It started on Friday by watching an outpouring of willing volunteers (well over 40) conduct a mock DWI crash for our seniors who were heading to their Senior Ball that evening.

    Our gratitude goes to the Camillus Police Department, WAVES Ambulance, Fairmount and Taunton Fire Departments, Buranich Funeral Home, Onondaga County Medical Examiner and District Attorney's offices, Myers Towing, several students dressed up as the "victims", and Mrs. Agricola who played the role of a distressed parent. Perfection.

    It was also nice to see how many graduates that I know (after being here for a while now) came back to volunteer. Most even stayed and mingled with our seniors during the senior breakfast, and I was very proud of our students who showed them the respect they deserved.

    The Senior Ball: How was the dance itself? Special. I have been to over 20 senior balls and this group, mature beyond their years, was just a pleasure to spend the evening with. The food was great, the music kept everyone dancing, and most importantly, everyone made it to the After the Ball Party safely.

    What an After Party! By far the biggest attractions at the After the Ball Party were the hypnotist (always a crowd favorite) and a new feature which was an inflatable obstacle course about the width of our large gym. I watched as students poured into the inflatable and raced each other through the obstacles again and again. I can see that becoming a permanent part of the festivities in the future.

    I would like to give a heartfelt thanks to Joanne Pooler who always helps to organize this critical event, and also a huge thank you to all the parent volunteers. There were dozens. They took the time to spend the night with our students to keep them entertained and safe. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Olympics are Special: This Thursday, weather permitting, is one of my most favorite events, the Special Olympics. If you have never attended, it is worth the couple of hours to watch students perform their absolute best as they beam with pride. Every time I go it makes me a better person. Good luck to all contestants!

    Mark Your Calendars for the Budget Vote: Please remember that tomorrow (Tuesday) is our annual school budget vote day. As a quick reminder, our budget plan falls below the Governor's tax cap, covers all efficiencies in order for community members to receive state rebate checks, and funds all of our existing programs, as long as the vote is successful.  The vote is from 6:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. in the West Genesee High School auditorium lobby. Thank you for taking time out of your day to exercise your right to vote.

    Days Off: Lastly, please remember that there is no school this Friday or next Monday as an observance of Memorial Day weekend.

    Thanks and have a great week!