Monday, March 12, 2018

How Sweet It Is!

The year was 1994 and "How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You)" by James Taylor was playing at my wedding, The Lion King and Forrest Gump were released, and Justin Bieber was born. In Camillus, New York, the Girls Varsity Basketball team was in the New York State Final Four, and the Camillus Mall was still around.

The Final Four: It is very sweet to be celebrating the Varsity Girls Basketball team as they advanced to the New York State Final Four with a win over Colonie on Saturday morning. None of the players were alive the last time this happened, but they are determined to make their mark in the history of West Genesee Central School District; and why not? The team is solid, top to bottom and has Coach of the Year Stafford Spreter at the helm, and a great supporting cast of assistants.

They play their semi-final championship game this Saturday at 9:00 a.m. at Hudson Valley Community College, and the championship game is next Sunday at 10:00 a.m. To wish them well on their quest to make West Genesee history, I would ask everyone to wear their West Genesee gear on Friday (if your boss needs a special note, let me know)!

Music in our Schools: March is Music in our Schools month and it hasn't disappointed. Our musicians and teachers hosted the 50th Festival of Bands, as well as the 7-12 Choral Festival over the past two weeks. Those two concerts alone featured nearly 800 of our students with more concerts and recitals on the way!

One West Genesee senior, Joanna Maressa, was featured recently on Carrie Lazarus's special titled Extraordinary Talent. She plays the violin and fiddle and will be attending Johns Hopkins University on a full scholarship to study engineering. She is passionate about her craft. How passionate? When we were going through the recession years ago, third grade Joanna came to my office and played her violin to try and change my mind about having to reduce the third-grade strings program. I was not able to accommodate her request, unfortunately, but even at a young age she was determined, and I certainly appreciate that!  Congratulations to Joanna! Click here to view a video or her appearance on Extraordinary Talent:

School Safety Task Force: District Attorney William Fitzpatrick tapped me to lead a countywide subcommittee for teachers, students, and parents as a part of the larger countywide School Safety Task Force. The goal of the task force, in general, is to create some guidelines for schools around the county for teacher and student training with regards to safety, better-securing schools, and figuring out how to get funding for schools to accomplish all of these tasks. We have held our own forum about safety, but I will likely try to offer one for parents, staff, and students around the county to attend if I can find a big enough venue. The committee hopes to be wrapped up by the end of the school year.

Students Stand Strong: This Wednesday is the "National Student Walkout Day". Students from around the country are scheduled to walk out of school at 10:00 a.m. to hopefully encourage Congress to help not to have another school shooting. The walkout is scheduled to last 17 minutes.

I met with elected members of our student body to ask them their thoughts and they wanted to organize something non-political by holding a remembrance for the 17 people killed in Parkland, Florida on February 14.

The Supreme Court Case Tinker vs. Des Moines case in the 1960's established that while students have a right to organize around a cause, school districts have a right to establish a time and place. The students were mature beyond their years and I am satisfied with their plan; so we are giving them a time and place.

I am most concerned about student safety, so we sent a letter home to high school parents only, have asked the media to stay away from school grounds until 10:30 a.m., and have worked with the Camillus Police to provide assistance. Students can voluntarily participate or not, and our staff are volunteering to be with the students who choose to participate while other will be with the students who choose not to. I think it will go well and I will write about it next week. There will be no additional information shared publicly at this time.

Thanks and have a wonderful week!


Monday, March 5, 2018

Repeat Champions!

Athletics Updates: I rarely say this, but I think we all needed a snow day on Friday. I am not sure that the Girls Basketball team agreed with me that day, as they were supposed to play Cicero-North Syracuse for the Section III title Friday night. Their game got shuffled to 9:00 a.m. yesterday morning at the Carrier Dome and it was an instant classic. Down the stretch, our Wildcats were able to pull away and win the section title for the second time in a row. For any team or Marching Band to repeat a championship these days is not easy, and for a team sport like basketball with so few players, it is on the edge of being remarkable.

Our Girls Basketball program has talented players for sure, but more importantly, they have a vision and dedication for success as a program. Hats off to all and congratulations! They will begin their quest for the New York State Championship (I wouldn't count them out) next Saturday in Troy, New York. Congratulations to the coaches and players; you continue to make us very proud!

Our winter Cheerleaders ended their season at the New York State Championship on Saturday after a great campaign. They finished with a strong performance overall and their future looks bright as well.

In Track, Esaias Brumfield took home a medal in the Indoor Track State Championship as a member of the the Section III Intersectional Relay team placing 5th, with Wildcat relay member Esaias really helping out. The 4X400 relay team of Meg Delia, Kelsey Fox, Abby Kuppinger, and Caitlin Mills also placed 13th overall in New York State Competition. Again this is in ALL of New York State. Congratulations!

Culture Fair 2018: The weekend was also busy with the Culture Fair at the high school. I really enjoy that event. In its tenth year, I always have a great time watching community members celebrate their culture. I was one of the first people there this year so I got first choice at all of the great food! Thanks to our volunteers, committee members, students, and attendees for another wonderful event. Click here to view a photo array of some pictures from the event.

Discussing Safety: Earlier in the week we held a public forum/Board of Education meeting to discuss school safety.  The meeting was very well attended at close to 90 people, including community members, parents, students, and employees. For about two and a half hours we listened to each other, shared concerns, potential solutions, and realized that we are in this together. I found the meeting to be powerful, emotional at times, and completely valuable.

I think everyone who attended walked away feeling heard and comfortable that we have a plan moving forward. What is the plan? This isn't the place for me to share it with you. All parents in grades K-12 are going to get a physical letter from me that contains everything you need to know to get you up to speed. Also included will be a "one pager" to help parents work with their children if they have anxiety about school safety, what they see on the news, and just life in general. Aside from that resource, ALL of our counselors and social workers are available to provide additional resources.

Students Share their Views: I would like to end with a student story. Last week, several high school students and I had a meeting with Congressman Katko. These students, unbeknownst to me, had expressed themselves outside his office during February break. Senior Anna Kate Waters had initiated a paper backpack initiative where students had written ways to feel safe at school. An assistant for the Congressman came out and took their names down and also collected about 200 of the backpacks from them. Fast forward to last week, and I received a call to meet with the Congressman after school, and with the students, at his office.

The meeting lasted about an hour and the dialogue that the Congressman and the students had was open and frank, both ways. The Congressman was truly impressed with the knowledge and research the students had done about him, and the issues. Several times he openly commented that he had to remind himself that he was talking to high school students. The students truly felt heard, and I was able to get a head start on some grant money for some additional resource officers. You would have been as proud as I was to watch democracy in action and how well our students represented themselves and our community.

Budget Presentation: I will be presenting the budget this week on Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. in the high school library. On Thursday I will be attending my first meeting of the "School Safety Task Force" that was created by District Attorney William Fitzpatrick. I am happy to be one of three superintendents selected to work with all elected officials, emergency management personnel, and law enforcement to see what we can collectively do as county and region to keep students safe.

Thanks and enjoy the week!


Monday, February 26, 2018

Welcome Back!

I hope that all of you had a great break. I am excited to have students and staff back at school because it gets pretty lonely and heavy with desk work for me during breaks when no one else is here!

The end of the week was a bit of an emotional roller coaster. In 24 hours we buried my favorite uncle and then turned around and celebrated a wedding for a relative. I did meet a "Most Interesting Man in the World" candidate at the wedding, however. In attendance was a guy named Richard Bird. He is in his 70's now but "back in the day" he was in the Guinness Book of World Records for running the most marathons in a year, 71 to be exact. Of course, I had to "Google" him and learned that aside from the world record, he led a very interesting life. Cool!

Recognition for School Safety: The beginning of break was pretty rewarding when we learned that we received Titanium with Honors level recognition for the annual Utica National School Safety Excellence Award program. The checklist is about sixty pages when completed and includes every facet of school safety including plans, training, inventories, committee work, emergency communication, and low "risk" exposure. We will receive the award officially at a ceremony later this spring. Congratulations to all involved in helping us reach this goal.

Updates on Competitions: Congratulations to the Academic Decathlon Team. They finished third overall in the New York State Championship and had an enjoyable season overall.

Our Lady Wildcats Basketball Team is capitalizing on hard work, dedication, and momentum. They defeated Baldwinsville last night at SRC arena and are now headed to the Section 3 Championship on Friday, March 2, at 8:00 p.m. at the Carrier Dome. Good luck to them!

Next weekend is busy with the Culture Fair from 12:00-3:00 p.m. at the high school on Saturday, March 3. Girls Cheerleading and track athletes are competing for a New York State Championship.

Listening Sessions: This week is busy for me as well with lots of listening. I am meeting with class officers and student council representatives on Tuesday; the Board of Education and community members Wednesday night at our special Board meeting/forum; employees during my building visits; and our District Safety Team. I expect good conversations.

I am also going to be circling the wagons around my Wildcat family this week. You may be used to me giving a sound byte or interview and I do so to control our message. I have already done that and now it is time for me to work with our people, and do the things I have said we are going to do.

Thanks for your continued support and have a great week!


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Getting Ready for Next Week

I hope that you are enjoying the final leg of winter break. We got a couple of really warm days, some cold days, some snow, and some rain; typical Syracuse! It was nice to run in shorts and a tee shirt a couple of mornings though.

Winter Athletes are Busy: Even though we have been on break, our winter athletes have been pretty busy. Our Girls Basketball team advanced to the semi-final sectional game that will take place this Sunday at SRC Arena; two of our wrestlers put themselves in position to compete for a New York State Championship; several of our track stars won, and are now preparing for the New York State Championship next weekend; as are our cheerleaders. Our Boys Hockey team lost a heartbreaker to Baldwinsville last night in four overtimes and two shootouts! The consolation for me, and I am sure for the parents, was watching the sportsmanship as our players and coaches congratulated and wished their opponent the best of luck moving forward.

Safety Update: The last time I wrote, it was just following the most recent school shooting in Florida. I want to take this opportunity to let you know where we are at as a District seven days later, and where we will be moving forward.

First and foremost, I own my words. I always have. I have always tried to make the most out of every day as a Superintendent. My job description has a lot of duties as you might imagine, and one of them is to be an advocate and voice for students. My comments about thoughts and prayers meaning nothing, my views on mental health resources and some kind of gun control sparked reactions both positive and negative. To clear the air and make sure that my consistent readers and supporters have a clear understanding of my position, I offer the following. 

I am faith-based. I feel that there is a time for thoughts and prayers, but there is also a time for action, and I just feel that we missed the boat on that. On gun control, I own guns. When I had time before I was a Superintendent, I hunted. I would be a hypocrite to be anti-Second Amendment. I just feel that there needs to be a conversation to keep firearms out of the hands of people that are identified as being mentally ill or unstable. A National radio host referred to me as anti-religious and uber liberal. I would respectfully disagree. I am a Superintendent who does not want another school shooting, and I think there needs to be action, whatever that looks like, to get us to that point.

At the end of the day you trust me to keep your children safe, educated, and happy. After any tragedy involving a school, we debrief with experts on how we at West Genesee can do a better job to prevent something similar from happening here. We are very fortunate to have such a great resource in the Camillus Police Department. They are invested in our schools, and many of the officers have children who attend our schools.  

I spent Tuesday with Sergeant Nightingale. Sergeant Nightingale is a New York State certified active shooter trainer.  He is recognized for his leadership in this area statewide and by all police agencies. We walked each building in the District looking at points of entry, building safety plans, and anything else that should be considered to keep students and staff safe.

We then debriefed with Chief Winn to develop a partnership plan. Chief Winn gave us an increased Police presence immediately following the last shooting, and we are very appreciative of that. Starting Monday we will continue to have an increased police presence in all buildings; with a twist.  He has initiated an "Adopt a School" program with his officers. Basically, several officers have adopted each of our buildings. They will be meeting with building administrators, students, and teachers over the coming weeks. While on patrol they will be visiting the buildings frequently and will be working with administrators on any situations that arise.Your children may come home and say that they see the Police "a lot". That is by design.

We also identified areas in the District (tactically I am not going to mention those areas in a public blog), that would benefit from some type of increased door barrier. We will be working with vendors and our School Safety Committee to determine the best devices for the different spaces we have identified. This work and subsequent purchase(s) will happen very quickly.

We will also be working with our clerical staff about door and entry protocol, and we will be asking the Board of Education at a special meeting on February 28 to authorize us to add a proposition not to exceed $2M to our school budget vote in May to provide entryway enhancements to include more updated ways to allow or disallow visitors. We had intended to ask for this in the fall as a part of our larger project, but we want to get this rolling within a tighter timeframe.

We will also be increasing our lockdown and active shooter drills. While all of us feel very confident that the plan we have is solid, I think we would all feel more comfortable if we did additional practice.

We should also remember to say something if we see something. This can be ANYWHERE in the community. Every bit of information helps. Unfortunate situations don't just happen in schools; so we all want to be and stay connected.

There is a student component to all of this, especially at the high school. They want to be heard, just like thousands of other students across the country. This is a long blog as it is so I will give you more details in my next writing, but essentially it is my job as a Superintendent to give students a time and place to assemble and speak their minds, as well as a safe environment to do so. At the same time, not all students will share the same views, just as some of you do not share my views. It is my job to make sure all of that is managed in a safe and respectful way. I have every confidence that this will happen. You should also know that as certified professionals, we will NOT tell children WHAT to say. You have my word on that. Our job is to provide students a safe venue and time for them to express themselves. I am meeting with Student Council leaders next Tuesday to see what their thoughts are. Once we know what they would like to do, we will develop a support plan around that and will make sure that it is communicated. Stay tuned.

Thanks again for reading and for your support. I am going to be going over all of this in person at a special board meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the Large Group Instruction Roon next, Wednesday, February 28. If you have further questions you can always call me at 315-487-4562, email me at, or attend the meeting and ask in person.

Thanks and enjoy the rest of break!


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Another School Shooting

By now you have heard that there has been another school shooting here in the United States, the 18th, in fact, since January 1, 2018. This was the exact email that I sent to my employees last night in reaction to the news:

"Good Evening-

By now you have heard that another school shooting has occurred and that there were fatalities. Over the next hours and days, you are going to see tweets, news articles, and broadcasts. The words "thoughts and prayers" will be thrown around like they mean something. They don't. Elected officials will argue gun control and mental wellness, as they always do, and nothing will happen. Again.

My email box and phone will light up in the coming days by salespeople from "school safety" companies, trying to capitalize on this tragedy by attempting to scare parents into making us spend money on bulletproof glass and backpacks. There may even be a few calls to put school resource officers in every building. All of those things combined will not stop another school shooting from happening.

Does this sound negative? It shouldn't. It should sound realistic. Our relationships with students, our knowledge of school safety plans, our promotion of "if you see something, say something", and our access to mental health care are the best things we can do to keep us all safe. Additionally, our drills need to be taken seriously, and we ALL need to understand that we are equally responsible for our own safety and the safety of the students. We are in this together every day.

If there was something I could do or say to make these shootings never happen again, I would be all over it. My voice is not important enough. Collectively we can have in impact. One fish cannot survive against predators, but a school of fish can thrive in any waters We need to continue to swim together.

Thank you."

The NUMBER ONE thing that I have thought about for the past 18 years, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is keeping everyone "on my watch" safe. I have studied, in the greatest detail possible, every school shooting. How did they enter the school, how did they get their weapon of choice, was the person known, what were their walking path(s) in the school, etc. It is clear that when someone wants to enter a school building, church, mall, etc. to cause harm, they will find a way; so we need to be vigilant and always ready.

We have created safety plans, have practiced them thoroughly and frequently, have conducted "active shooter drills" with staff and students (our staff have even heard "live" rounds in their school buildings so they know what one sounds like), are making sure that our employees have Crisis Prevention Institute Training (I am a trainer), and are working with Upstate on trauma wound control (Stop the Bleed). All of those things make us feel prepared, and I am confident that we will execute those things to perfection should we ever need to. I hope we never need to.

The bigger picture though is since we cannot rely on lawmakers and policymakers to help us, we need to rely on each other.

Chief Winn of the Camillus Police Department and I rely on tips. When you see something, you need to say something. It can be in the neighborhood, at school, at the mall, at the store, at church, while you are on your run, wherever. We both need to know what is out there so that we can assess the threat level and put plans in place. It may seem like we take the information and "it goes nowhere", but I can assure you that it does. Our tabletop drills are based on things that could realistically happen in our community, and many of those exercises are based on tips that we receive. Any amount of information we can have about people, situations, or events can pay dividends in prevention of and preparedness for future acts. It costs nothing to relay a tip, but can save us in areas that you cannot put a price tag on; our safety.

Thank you for reading and for being an active part of the solution.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Act Like You Have Been There Before

Well, I have avoided the flu but that hasn't stopped me from being on an antibiotic twice and just feeling generally awful for about a week now. I woke up this morning and finally feel like I am turning the corner. You can't call a substitute for my position; and the show must go on!

Athletics Update: Speaking of putting on a show, congratulations to our cheerleaders for placing second at sectionals and qualifying for state competition. Also congratulations to Nate Wade and Devin Earl, who can now call themselves Section III Wrestling Champions and our Boys Hockey team finished the regular season at a perfect 19-0!

Math Competitors at State Level: We are very proud of students Philip Martin and Kate Graziano. They competed in the New York State Math League with 650 other students and finished in the top thirty, which now qualifies them for the state meet at SUNY Geneseo on March 17. Philip and Kate are the first (and hopefully not the last) West Genesee students in over ten years to advance to this level of math competition. Congratulations and good luck!

Musical at the High School: Last Thursday I was very entertained by the high school's performance of the musical Anything Goes. If you haven't been to one of our productions, you are really missing out. The pit provided professional level music, the tech and stage crews made set changes effortlessly, and the actors and actresses took me away from real life for a couple of hours. I can't ask for much more than that. Great work by all!

Graduation Rates: You may have read last week that New York State graduation rates rose slightly, but gaps continue to grow in certain student groups (students with disabilities, students in poverty, and minority students). I am proud to say that our graduation rates did rise as well, but we did NOT find gaps in any certain student groups, in fact, we made gains. This makes me very happy. I never gloat about our success like others do. I expect it, and when it is achieved, we briefly celebrate then get to work improving from that spot. As I often say, we (and you) are a part of something really special, and West Genesee is where I would want my kids going to school, as mine did.

Vaping: Student health is something that is important to us as well. By now you have probably heard of what a "vape" is, or what an e-cigarette is. If not, a vape is a device that is used to heat scented oils that people inhale. When modified, a vape can also be a means for smoking marijuana.

In a recent survey, we found that students find plain old cigarettes to be taboo. They don't want to touch them due to the health hazards they cause. It is clear that our society has not done enough to explain the same (and worse) health concerns exist from e-cigarettes and vapes. In fact, I have spoken to parents who openly allow their children to smoke vapes at home because "it is just scented oil".

TJ Vaughan, our eleventh grade principal, made it a project to get all of the current research about vapes and e-cigarettes. He shared his information with the students at the high school over the past two weeks and it started a lot of conversations. He is going to share his presentations with parents on Thursday, February 15, at 7:00 p.m. in the high school auditorium. If you are a parent of a middle or high school student (please feel free to attend if you are a parent of a child in another district) I would encourage you to attend.

Thanks, don't forget about Valentine's Day, and enjoy the week. Also, enjoy mid-winter break. I will write again when we return.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Best Laid Plans

Winter in CNY: Well, Friday morning was interesting. I woke up at 4:45 a.m. like normal to check on the snow band that was supposed to blow through quickly, and at that time it was right on schedule to be through Camillus well before the morning commute. We checked in with local plows and our own plows and everything was good to go.

Next thing you know it is 6:35 a.m. and the snow band decided to set up shop and start dumping fluffy snow on frozen roads; awesome. Unfortunately, it was too late to delay. Buses were already out with kids on them. Everyone pulled together, including our parents and students, and we made it happen. There is only one person to blame on those kinds of mornings and it is me; plain and simple. The weather unexpectedly changed, and we got caught.

I can vividly remember the last time this happened and it was eight years ago. The high school was in and buses were out getting elementary students. I was driving from Onondaga Hill to the District Office down Onondaga Road and up ahead cars suddenly started sliding off the road. I can remember stopping at Onondaga Road Elementary to check things out. The roads had been wet but the temperature was not supposed to drop like it suddenly had. That created instant black ice. Again, too late to make a different decision. The kids all made it in, but that morning was no fun either. Ahh, Syracuse.

Planning Strategically: Besides the Friday morning commute, we had a banner week. On Wednesday and Thursday we held our annual Strategic Planning meeting. It went very well and I want to thank the staff, parent and student volunteers, and Board of Education members, and all of you who participated in our recent "Thought Exchange" for your time and effort. Once we compile all of the information, we will share it with you.

Athletics Updates: Congratulations to wrestling coach Brian McAvan for being recognized as the SCAC Metro Division Wrestling Coach of the Year.  Coach McAvan has really worked to revitalize our Wrestling program and the results are beginning to show. Not only did he receive that top honor, several of our wrestlers won Class AA Sectionals in their weight classes: Cole Wade at 182lbs; Victor Elias at 160lbs; Devin Earl at 145lbs; and Nate Wade at 99lbs. The entire wrestling team was also featured as the "Athletes of the Week" which you can view by clicking here. Great job boys!

Cheerleading has also had quite a revitalization. Not only was the fall squad recognized as Section champions, they (both varsity and junior varsity) took first at the very competitive CNS Cheer Competition this past weekend. The sky is the limit for them!

While all of this was happening, the Girls Basketball team quietly became the team to beat again in Section III, and the undefeated Boys Hockey team dropped everything to help a teammate find a lost dog (you have to take a minute to watch this story by clicking here!)

The Skaneateles Girls Ice Hockey team (with West Genesee girls on the team) won another Section III title on Sunday and is headed back to the state tournament. Congratulations!

Future Business Leaders: It wasn't just sports that crushed it last week. On Friday, the Future Business Leaders of America students participated in the regional competition at Bryant & Stratton College. Pictured with their awards are Stacy Pertuz, Machilla Johnson, Kyle Peterson, and Brendan Bresnahan as they won competitions in Job Interview, Global Business, Business Law, Impromptu Speaking, Word Processing, and Electronic Career Portfolio. Fantastic work!
Musical at the High School: Lastly, the cast and crew of the West Genesee High School Musical Anything Goes is ready for their performances on Thursday, February 8 and Friday, February 9 at 7:00 p.m., and Saturday, February 10 at 2:00 p.m. I have seen some of the rehearsals; it is going to be a great show!

Thanks for reading and enjoy the week!