Monday, November 20, 2017

Being Thankful

I put studded snow tires on my car for the first time, and I have regretted that decision for the most part UNTIL it started snowing last night. On dry pavement my car sounds like a truck coming down the road and it takes about twice as long to stop; and I get white knuckles when going around a tight corner. In the heavy rain on the Thruway (Saturday night) or snow though? Bring it on!

Making Decisions: The West Genesee Middle School rendition of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (fantastic, by the way) set the stage (no pun intended) for a little sloppy weather. As we head into real winter weather with the possibility of a delay or closing, I wanted to give a quick reminder of where you should go and what you should do to get information from the school as quickly as possible.

First, please know that I do not make a closing or delay decision in a vacuum, nor do I take it lightly. We know that over 10,000 people are IMMEDIATELY impacted when we delay, close, or stay open for that matter when conditions are sketchy.

Thanks to technology, and a LOT of people who work well together to keep staff and students safe, by the time I make the final call about school, we have heard from town and county plows, our transportation department, our plow crew, the police, local meteorologists, neighboring superintendents, and people from different areas of the District. Believe me, the decision can still be "wrong", but I try to do the best job that I can to keep people safe.

Once the decision is made, the first place I announce it is on Twitter (@cbrownwgcsd). Why, you ask? I have been using Twitter to announce school delays and closings since 2007 and it has NEVER failed. I am sticking to what works.

After Twitter, and within one minute of the Twitter post, I have sent an email to all of our employees, and the information is then posted on our website, our Facebook and West Genesee Twitter pages, email and text blasts are sent, and a notification is pushed out on our mobile phone app.

After that, we reach out to local media outlets (within three minutes of the initial Twitter post), and from there, it takes anywhere from one to fifteen minutes for our message to get on television, the radio, or, depending on their mechanism for reporting information that they receive. Where you elect to receive your information really depends on your personal preferences and how quickly you would like to know!

Being Thankful: There are lots of things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season. My family, our employees, our students, and our community members top the list. Also right up there are our volunteers in our schools who work with our students, and those in the community in our emergency services who keep us safe. We should ALL be thankful to be a part of the Wildcat family.

Enjoy this short week and hopefully time with your families. Safe travels as well!


Monday, November 13, 2017

Mutual Respect is the Key to Success

Social media can be the best thing ever, and the worst. Last week, social media came in very handy for me as I tried to keep up with everything that was happening here while I was at a conference out of town.

Celebrating Veterans: I was very impressed with all of the Veterans Day celebration videos that several of our elementary buildings put out. Click here to view the Split Rock Veterans Day Celebration video.

Athletics Update: I also got to watch from a distance while cross country runners Carly Benson and Matt Bartolotta performed really well at states. Carly will now represent us at the NY Cross-Country Federation Championship meet next weekend.

Congratulations also to Maddie Zapisek for winning the Section III Swimming title in the 200 yd Freestyle. She goes on to compete at the state championships.

Only the Best Spellers: Earlier this week WGMS students Joseph Paoli came in first place and Cooper Corcoran in second place as they faced-off spelling such words as "tenacious" and hostilities"in the West Genesee Spelling Bee. For a list of the top 12 spellers click on this link.

Students Build Bridges: Congratulations to all of our students who participated on five teams at the annual CNY Bridges Build’Em & Bust'Em Competition held this past Saturday.

Conference is Enlightening: If you have been reading this blog for a long time, you know how passionate I am about trying to reach every student, and help every student to become well-rounded and ready for the world. The conference I went to confirmed my feelings that every student deserves equal treatment, but I also learned something about my profession.

The conference is invite only, and it is capped at 50 superintendents from across the country (there are approximately 13,500 school districts and 68,000 public schools in the U.S.).  In this small setting, I get to interact with colleagues from some of the largest school districts (this particular visit, the largest school represented had 73,000 students), and some of the smallest (a superintendent was present from an island school of 100. Students take a ferry to and from the school). Our District size was about average for the group.

Over the course of three days, we were put through our professional paces, being asked our thoughts about curriculum, instruction, finances, current student issues, current employee issues, opportunities, and the future. As the conversations continued, it became clear that I was the longest sitting active superintendent at the conference. It is rare that I play the experience card, because I think that can come across as stuffy, arrogant, and condescending. I couldn’t help myself though during a round-table discussion about raising expectations for student achievement and rigor.

As I sat at a table with very intelligent people discussing this topic, it dawned on me that the pressure cooker of having to increase test scores, being wed to data, and having to meet constant state and federal benchmarks was taking its toll on my colleagues. Each of them pointed to professional development, purchasing the right curriculum, giving teachers time to learn, and technology as the main keys to raising expectations for students.

I sat quietly until someone at the table asked what my thoughts were. I told them that after being through three state education reforms, and three presidents with their reform agendas, the bottom line to raising expectations was making connections with students. Once a connection is made, they will rise to the level that WE set as the adults, because good connections establish mutual respect. Mutual respect drives expectation; and if the adults expect more, students will rise to the occasion. Once that connection is made, then all of the operational pieces like curriculum, planning time, and professional development come into focus.

They looked at me in an almost startled way, and they had that “A-ha” moment that we sometimes hear about. I may have actually taught some new dogs some old tricks!

The weather was nice where I was, but I can say that I truly missed my hometown. Following the Syracuse basketball and football games on Twitter is NOTHING like being in the “Loudhouse” to see them in person.

A Busy Week: We are really busy this week as we head into winter sports competition, the West Genesee Middle School musical, and holiday concert season prep!

Thanks and enjoy the week-


Monday, November 6, 2017

Back to the Future

Not a bad weekend at all. If you just pretend that it isn't raining and cold, you can pretty much carry out anything that you would have had it not been raining; except raking leaves, mowing the lawn, hanging lights...okay, the rain did put a damper on some plans. I hit the auto show, ran a few times, and taught the final class of a Superintendent Development course. I know, I am "Mr. Excitement".

Board of Education Update: Last week, the Board of Education accepted the resignation of James Soper from the Board of Education. The Board had three options to fill the Board seat and option one was to do nothing and keep the seat vacant until the budget and Board of Education vote in May, interview people and appoint a Board member to fill the spot the budget and Board of Education vote, or select someone, ask them to serve, and appoint them until the budget and Board of Education vote.

The Board of Education chose to dig into the past and ask former Board member Kim Coyne to rejoin the Board. Mrs. Coyne is a very experienced, reliable, proven, and trained re-addition to the Board of Education.  She has children in the district and is a former teacher and current administrator in the Syracuse City School District. She will allow us to continue our mission without a hiccup and we are looking forward to her beginning her service on November 15, when she will be officially approved. Congratulations to us for finding such a great replacement, and thank you to Mrs. Coyne and her family for adjusting their lives to help us out!

Cross Country Runners to State Competition: We have other good news to share. As the fall sports season comes to a close, we are happy to mention that cross country runners Carly Benson and Matt Bartolotta performed well enough at Sectionals that they will be representing us in state competition. Way to go!

CMS Musical: Our Camillus Middle School performers also put on a heck of a show over the weekend as they performed their version of Damn Yankees. This photo gallery is courtesy of Charlie Miller. I am looking forward to seeing them perform at the high school before we know it!

Sports Hall of Fame Inductee: Also, congratulations to special education teacher and hockey coach Frank Colobufo for being inducted into the Town of Camillus/West Genesee Sports Hall of Fame. In my opinion, Frank has given as much to children with special needs as he has to his hockey players over the years. I know that we are proud of his efforts and service over the years, and I am sure his family is as well!

Transportation Staff Gives Back to the Community: I would like to focus on our transportation department for a moment. Last week, our bus drivers, led by bus driver Mike Renshaw, assisted an organization that works with the visually impaired called Guiding Eyes to help service dogs to get used to public transportation as well as how to be comfortable in tight spaces. These pups will help many people over their lifetimes, and I am very thankful for our volunteer drivers for helping with this key piece of training.

Our drivers like to give back in other ways as well, and they have decided as a group to help collect resources for the less fortunate as well as for children at Golisano Children's Hospital. Their schedule is still being finalized so check our Facebook page for updates, but I can say without hesitation that we have the most generous group of bus drivers this side of the Mississippi!

Honoring our Veterans: I am very proud of how well our students know what a Veteran is and what they did for them and our country. They do a terrific job of representing, respecting, and honoring our Veterans each year. Our Marching Band kicked-off recognition for our Veterans by marching in the Veterans Parade on Saturday. Throughout the week, our elementary schools will be having assemblies for our Veterans, and I can tell you personally from watching them prepare, that they are as sincere in their appreciation as can be. If you are a Veteran, thank you for your sacrifices.

Short but busy week ahead. I may be a little light on the Twitter posts later in the week because I have to attend some training, but I will do what I can. Thank you for your support and enjoy the week!


Monday, October 30, 2017

Plenty to Write Home About!

Marching Band NYS Field Band Conference Championship: Well, it is very safe to say that we had a REALLY busy week that culminated with a fantastic second place finish at the Carrier Dome about twelve hours ago. I have often written about "the blur" that happens once the school year really gets going, and the past seven days have been a perfect example of that. There is a lot to cover so I appreciate you taking the five minutes to read this post.

Cheerleaders are Section III Champions: Congratulations to the cheerleaders for winning Sectionals over the weekend.This was a fantastic accomplishment for them and something that they had been laser focused on all season.

Great Instruction: I saw a LOT of great instruction taking place during my building visits. As most of you know, I try to get to every elementary classroom in each building every week, as well as visits to the middle schools and the high school.

Great Events: Pushing rewind for a moment, we had HUGE turnouts for both the Harvest Dinner at the high school (sponsored by the Senior Class with help from their adviser Becky DeCesare), and the elementary Halloween Carnival (sponsored by the high school Respect and Responsibility Club, also known as R Squared, with help from their adviser, principal Shannon Coholan).

If you attended the Harvest Dinner, you got to eat well, catch up with family and friends, and also hear great music piped evenly through the cafeteria through a MUCH needed sound system upgrade.

The Halloween Carnival volunteers watched costumed students (and their parents) enjoy over 30 pizzas from The Wildcat, 15 gallons of cider, 700 mini-donuts, and 3,000 pieces of candy provided by Costco, along with the games, face painting, and bouncy house staffed by student volunteers. It was such a great afternoon and evening that I think we outgrew the lower gym at the high school and it will need to be moved to the upper gym for next year!

Thanks to all of our volunteers for both events and thanks to all who came to have fun. A portion of the proceeds from the Harvest Dinner was donated to the senior class charity of choice (Make-A Wish-Foundation), and probably 500 pounds of food that people brought were donated to various food pantries.

Students of the Year: I am very proud to announce the recipients of the Camillus Optimists Student of the Year Awards. They are: Anita Edgar and Liam O'Connor from CMS; Julia Biggs and Connor Dunham from WGMS;  and Victoria DeSantis and Michael McGuigan from the high school. To be selected, the students must be extremely well rounded. They are, and then some. Their parents and families should be equally proud, as their success is a reflection of their efforts as well. We will celebrate them at a dinner in their honor on November 6.

Community Events have Meaning: My wife and I had the opportunity to see the Syracuse Stage production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time". It was remarkable and I highly recommend it. It was a drama, which are usually not my favorite shows to attend; but this was different. In a nutshell (there is a book that the play is based on), an autistic child (played by an actor with autism) is blamed for the death of a dog. Due to his disability, he is not able to verbalize that he did not do it. At the same time, he faces challenges in a split home, and his mother and father face their own challenges with him.

At intermission, I did not know how they would be able to make it have a happy ending, but they did. The show is absolutely not child-friendly (profanity, adult situations, intense scenes of anger), but the show left me with a range of emotions. I laughed during the show, was sad, was tense, and "got" the message so well, that I was still talking about the show two days later. It is a must see in my opinion.

We also got to attend a charity event for the Chadwick House, which is an excellent organization that helps homeless and battered women to get help, become independent, and get back on their feet. A very worthy cause for sure, and I was really impressed with how many people were there to help them continue their mission. Good stuff!

This week is equally busy, but in very positive ways. I keep wondering if it is going to slow down at all but from the looks of my calendar, that will be July!

Thanks for your reading and continued support-


Monday, October 23, 2017

News YOU Can Use

Another awesome weekend in the books! I have a LOT of information to share, so I am going to get right to it. For starters, we have many people to congratulate for a variety of things.

Students Inducted: First, I would like to congratulate the 19 West Genesee High School students who were inducted into the Business and Marketing Honor Society in coordination with the Business Teachers Association of NYS (BTANYS) on October 16. The inductees Ryan Segar, Devryn Rikhoff, Dan LaVine, Karsyn Plis, Haley Elsey, Kyle Petersen, Maggie Cunningham, Phoebe Nelson, John Bergan, Jack McManus, Liam Barry, Jack Corcoran, Ryan Gentilcore, James LaValle, John Galimi, James Dussing, and Alexandra Ciarla. Not pictured are inductees Brendan Bresnahan and Ryan Allen.

NYS Master Teachers are Announced: Next, we are very proud to announce that Katherine Clift (CMS Science), Gabriela Babcock (WGHS Math), and Maria Leonardo (WGHS Technology) have been named New York State Master Teachers. This article from explains what it means to be a Master Teacher, but the long and short if it is that these individuals are recognized as being the TOP math, science, and technology teachers in New York State. Kudos to them and their families, but kudos to you as well, because they are teaching OUR children! This is one of those rare cases where everyone is a winner!

Teachers of the Year: Also, Ann Davis-Allen (Split Rock Special Education), Toni Abdo (WGMS Math), and Cheryl Miedaner (WGHS Social Studies) were selected by their peers to be honored as Teachers of the Year by the Camillus Optimists Club. This is a prestigious recognition because recipients are nominated and selected by their peers. They will be formally recognized at a ceremony in early November.

Board Recognition: Last week we also recognized our Board of Education for all they do for us as employees and for the community as well.  Students brought them cards and tokens of their appreciation. It was a special night for sure.

A New Partnership: Mr. Pelton, our Assistant Superintendent for Management Services, and I have been working for about a year to secure a partnership with an organization called "Work Camp".

Work Camp is a multi-denominational helping hands group consisting of approximately 400 young adults, between the ages of 14 and 20, and adult leaders. The young adults go out into the community in groups and perform home repair and modification for the disabled, people in poverty, and the elderly. They do very good work and usually set up shop in larger cities.

We were able to partner with them from June 24 through June 30 and they will be using our facilities to sleep, eat, and launch out to the jobs. This partnership means that they WANT to conduct jobs in OUR AREA. The work, including materials, is ABSOLUTELY FREE for the homeowner. They would like to have about one hundred jobs scheduled for the week. Jobs include but are not limited to roofs, handicap ramps, weatherization, step repair, and interior/exterior painting.

If you or maybe a family member or aging parent need some help, this is NOT to be missed. The application process is competitive so click here for the application and fill it out very soon so that you can to apply and be considered. Good luck and we are very proud to be hosting such a great community outreach group!

Harvest Dinner: If you are available on Wednesday and would like to eat a fantastic dinner at school, please consider attending the annual senior class Harvest Dinner which starts at 4:30 p.m.  and runs until 7:30 p.m. The cost is $9 for adults and $7 for students/senior citizens; takeout is also available.

Halloween Carnival: The Annual District Halloween Carnival sponsored by the R2 Program  is this Thursday, October 26,  from 4:00-7:00 p.m. in the West Genesee High School LOWER Gymnasium. For more information about the event, click here. A “spooktacular” night is sure to had by all!

Thought Exchange: Last, if you were able to participate in the Thought Exchange feedback process that we started a couple of weeks ago, thank you. Anyone who provided initial feedback (over seven hundred of you) will be receiving an email from Thought Exchange soon (if you haven't already) to move on to the next part of the process. Thank you for your continued support.

Thanks and enjoy the week!


Monday, October 16, 2017

Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite!

What a weekend! If you were at the Syracuse football game on Friday night, you hopefully witnessed the turning point of their program. I mention this because it was a very energizing thing to witness; especially the fan reactions after the game. Secondly, and whether we want to admit it or not, the success or failure of major college and/or professional sports programs have a direct impact on the local economy. We can certainly continue to use that, so go Orange!

Jamming with Our Graduates: Saturday night was very cool, and generational in many ways. Our assistant superintendent, Brian Kesel, and I (along with our better halves) went to an "album release" party for a local band called The Action. This band consists of five very talented musicians, four of whom are West Genesee graduates (before I got here), and they all married West Genesee graduates!

It was really neat because throughout the night Mr. Kesel caught up with the band members, who were his former students when he was a teacher and then assistant principal at the high school. I got to catch up with Max, one of the band members' children, who is now a student at Stonehedge Elementary School. Max kept looking at me, but I wasn't wearing a suit so he was a little confused. I walked over to him and gave him a fist bump and asked him if he liked the music. He said, "yes, and MY dad is in the band!". Too fun.

Rumors: Something that wasn't too fun was chasing down the rumors that we had bed bugs in the District. We DO NOT.  A couple of students saw the news about some area schools dealing with the issue (which I have had to do once in my career as well) and thought it would be a good idea to "Snapchat" that we had bed bugs. Thanks to our administrators for quickly finding the source of the rumors.

We did call our pest control company though to ask them if there was anything they could spray or do proactively to create an environment that bed bugs would simply not like. They told us that the only real way to create a hostile place for bed bugs is to thoroughly disinfect all areas. We authorized overtime for this to occur and work began last Friday night. The side benefit is a deeper antibacterial cleaning will also help us with the impending cold and flu season!

Thought Exchange Update: Thanks to those who took and are taking the time to respond to our Thought Exchange feedback survey. I have no idea who is posting what, but the Thought Exchange organization told us that input has been "healthy". If you would still like to participate, just click here.

Fall Competitions Coming to a Close: As we get a little deeper into the fall, it is time for sectional play to begin for athletics, and it is also time for final Marching Band preparations for their Carrier Dome show. (Congratulations to our Boys Golf Team who already became Section 3 Champions!)

We will post schedules on our Facebook page and our Twitter feeds very shortly. If you can get out to support our students, that would be great!

Substance Abuse Coalition: Lastly this week, the hard work of our Substance Abuse Coalition appears to be paying off in a way that we did not anticipate. At a recent meeting with my colleague superintendents, the idea was pitched and unanimously approved to begin a countywide, school-centered substance abuse team. I think this is a great advancement in the mission because so few students are addicted to opiates in high school, but the number really increases after they graduate.

That being said, if we can collectively provide more proactive education to our students while they are in school, maybe we will keep them from making a sometimes fatal decision after they graduate. Shannon Coholan, high school principal, and I will continue to lead our community coalition. I will be a team member, but not the team leader (for now) of the new group being formed.

Thanks for your continued support and have a great week!


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Short Week

Well, the rain that we "enjoyed" yesterday was the same rain that I "enjoyed" on Sunday while watching my favorite football team, the Buffalo Bills, as they lost in Cincinnati. Standing outside in the rain for about seven hours in a $1 poncho reminded me that I really do not want to do that again, ever. At least I was there with about 20 family members and friends; and it was also a warm rain. I also didn't melt!

While I was gone, it was great to have Twitter and be able to follow almost all of our sports as well as the Marching Band's big trip to Delaware to compete in the Bands of America Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship. They did very well and it made me even more excited for the show at the Carrier Dome, which is October 29 (The Wildcats will compete at 8:05 p.m.)

In my last blog, I shared the link for you to be able to provide feedback. If you followed the link and signed up (here is the link here) you will be receiving an email message tomorrow from Thought Exchange, the organization we are using to help us. Thanks again for participating and giving us your feedback!

I am looking forward to a great short week! Thank you for your continued support.