Monday, June 20, 2016

Pomp and Circumstance

I hope that you had a wonderful Father's Day and graduation weekend. After graduation I finally had a day to relax a bit. I saw some friends, played some golf, and hung out with my dad. I also had my favorite dinner and watched Game 7 with one of my kids while texting with the other. It was a good day.

Graduation turned out to be a great day. This was my fifteenth graduation as a superintendent. Each graduating class is unique. The class of 2016 are a scrappy bunch. More students than usual lost a parent much too soon, some experienced homelessness, some had to overcome language barriers, a couple helped to pay the bills while attending school, and some were the first in their families to graduate high school.

All the while, this class was respectful, determined, kind, and friendly; and it was hard to say goodbye to them on Saturday. My graduation speech can be found here and if you had the opportunity to attend graduation, the student speeches were the best I have heard in all of my years. The musicians were on point as well. It was a great day! Congratulations and best of luck to our graduates!

This week is the final week of classes for our elementary students, our middle school students are wrapping up exams, and a few high school students have some last minute business to attend to. I am going to write one more blog next week and then take a couple weeks off. Don't worry, I will be at work every day, but without students it takes a little longer to have material to write about.

Thank you so much for a great school year and enjoy the week!

Chris

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Home Stretch

When I woke on Sunday to the news that there had been a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida I sat in silence and thought "again?!?".  As the day progressed we learned that the shooter pledged allegiance to a terrorist group and it was also noted that he had anti-gay beliefs. My second thought was, "This is the world we are graduating our seniors into next weekend?".

It is disappointing to think that as far as we have come as a nation, we still have to be concerned with events like what happened in Orlando. In a nation where freedom of speech, expression, and choice are all protected by our Constitution, we still face hatred, bigotry, and ignorance. Fortunately, we are a nation that gains strength from adversity, and we will from this tragic event.

I know that I certainly stand strong with all of our LGBTQ students, parents, and faculty, as well as all of our Muslim students, parents, and staff who do not believe in the same ideologies as this cowardly terrorist. I truly believe that the collective strength of our wills will someday rid our nation of such events so that future graduating classes do not have to think about events like these. It WILL happen.

Home Stretch: On the home front we are in good shape with the following activities:

  • at the middle and high schools we are working our way through final exams, 
  • at the elementary schools there are field trips and end of the year activities,
  • construction is about to really ramp up for the summer months. 
  • our incoming kindergarten class is now up to 274 registered students, and 
  • most of our hiring is complete for next fall. 

Swimmers are Academic All-Americans: Congratulations to the seven West Genesee High School athletes that qualified for the Academic All-American honor from the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Assoc. (NISCA):  Kaitlin Dunning, Rebecca Kanoza, Jack Barrett, Daniel Pesci, Colin Riley, Victoria Lee, and Emily Green. To receive this honor, there is an application process and to qualify for this award students must: have a minimum GPA of 3.750 on a 4 point scale, or 93.7500% of the grade scale your school uses for 7 semesters (non-weighted); be a graduating senior; and have lettered in school program in swimming, diving, or water polo in their senior year. What a great accomplishment!

Runners Set Records: Over the weekend our outdoor track team members established some new school records at the NYS Division 1 Championships. The girls 4X800 relay team placed 4th setting a new school record; the girls 4X400 relay team placed 15th with a new school record; and Carly Benson placed 7th in the 800M also setting a new school record. David Leff ran his best time of 4:17:35 and placed 6th in the 1600M. Congratulations to our runners for keeping our name out there.

Also, congratulations to all of our spring teams for receiving Team Scholar Awards. This means that each team had a combined academic average of at least 90%.  A few teams inched toward 97%. Impressive!

Thanks and have a great week!

Chris

Monday, June 6, 2016

Everyone Matters

End of Year Receptions: I had a really tough time getting through our retirement reception without showing my sadness for the "brain drain" and overall superior role models that we are about to usher into retirement at the end of the year. Every retirement "class" is special to me, and this "class" in particular included a lot of people who really helped me to get off to a good start at West Genesee; I wish them all well!

Equally emotional was the Fine Arts Reception. The students have done a tremendous job removing the Fine Arts vs. Athletics stigma that used to exist. There are really positive and strong relationships between students and all of our staff taking place at the high school.

Our Fine Arts program is always very successful. When we get a chance to celebrate success and each of our staff has an opportunity to say a few words about the students, you can really hear the genuine care that exists. Congratulations to all of our Fine Arts awards recipients and especially to Madeline Shuron, who was named the Best Overall Musician for 2016!

Although our community is still getting to know our new Executive Principal, Mr. Morton, those in attendance were treated to a very powerful speech. He talked about his ties to music and his feelings about our District from the perspective of someone coming in from the outside. This is a home run in my book!

Testing for Lead: You might remember us announcing that we were going to test for lead in the water in each of our buildings. We did, and everything came back normal and below the level of concern. These levels will be even lower once the capital project is completed because we are changing out nearly all of the "bubblers", which are the main guts of water fountains, and a source of lead.

Questions from the Community: During the budget vote I had a chance to interact with hundreds of community members. Some community members inquired as to what our bathroom procedures are for transgender students. At the time of the vote, President Obama had just issued a directive which several states in the south are fighting. It stated that transgender students can use the restroom that they gender identify with. The issue was trending on Facebook until a child made his way into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and the gorilla was killed. Now that is trending.

I am a very inclusive person, and our District is very inclusive. We have a very active LGBTQ club in our high school, and we have had openly transgender students for the past three years. As I would expect, the students and staff have been very accepting of one another, and we have been very sensitive to the feelings of everyone.

Three years ago, our buildings and grounds began to establish single restrooms in each building. We call them community restrooms and they are available in conjunction with our standard boys and girls restrooms. Also, in our capital project, our locker rooms are being reconstructed to include more privacy for ANYONE, should they need it or want it. At the end of the day, we have been able to meet the needs of ALL of our students, in any combination of ways. We will happily continue to do so. We are proud of ALL of our students; and we as people are ALL different, and in my opinion, that is what makes life great.

School Year Winds Down: Speaking of being proud, this week we have the senior high Academic Awards and the Athletics Reception.  All good stuff. Time to finish my graduation speech as graduation is just two weeks away!

Enjoy the week-

Chris

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

That's Life

Celebrating Memorial Day: I want to take the opportunity to thank the families of those who died protecting our country. We sometimes lose sight of why we celebrate Memorial Day and that is disrespectful to those who sacrificed their lives so that we can have the freedom we do today. Thank you.

Marching Bands Galore: Speaking of Memorial Day, I hope you had a chance to see our Middle School and High School student Marching Bands in the parade along with the largest alumni Marching Band ever assembled. 


Well over six hundred forty strong, the alumni band played the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" to the thousands of onlookers who enthusiastically cheered them on.  A HUGE thank you to all of the alumni for marching and especially to the volunteers who put it together; Bill Davern, our Director of Fine Arts; and the Camillus Police Department who managed all of the traffic and crowds and made everything flow smoothly.

Kaleidoscope 41: On Thursday night we were all treated to incredible music performances at the forty-first Kaleidoscope Concert at the Civic Center. I have had a chance to watch the performances from the audience as well as from back stage. 

It is quite a feat to make sure that everything runs without a break in the action. The student performers certainly gave us their best efforts; and it showed.

I was also keeping track of the boys and girls lacrosse, softball, and baseball sectional play at the same time as Kaleidoscope. Some of the teams lost, and with that came a few negative text messages, emails and social media messages. This always bothers me as we are talking about student athletes trying their best. Life goes on.  

In fact, as I was reading the texts, I was also listening to Caitlin Barry who was doing a phenomenal job. She was singing "That's Life" by Dean Kay. The words in the second verse could not have been more fitting to this situation- 

"I said that's life (that's life), and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks stompin' on a dream
But I don't let it, let it get me down
'cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin' around".

Golfers Continue to Compete: Good luck to golfers Sean Stanistreet and Dylan Plis as they play for the New York State Golf Championship next weekend at Cornell University!

Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris

Monday, May 23, 2016

Yearly Rituals

Budget Vote Pressure: As the polls closed last Tuesday night and I began the yearly ritual of getting a stomach ache while the votes were tabulated, I took a moment to reflect. I thought to myself, "Why do I get a stomach ache every year?". We are doing tremendous things at all levels, we are always below the tax cap, we are always transparent about our business, and our District has local, state, and national credibility.

The reality is that even with sustained success, one should never take anything for granted. Trust, support, and votes are earned every day, even when people aren't watching. The level of pressure to keep improving upon our success from year to year AND to keep your trust and support is always on my mind.

The results? Outstanding once again and in that moment of exhale, I am so thankful for all that you do to help support me, our staff, our students, and our community. We are humbled once again and will keep making you proud.

High School Hero: Someone else made me proud last week. After leaving the Senior Ball, senior Nicole Corrente was headed back to school on Route 690 with a friend to enjoy the All-Night After Party. She noticed a person in the median of the highway. It was approaching midnight and the person looked out of place. She and her companion could have kept driving. The music was playing in the car, and they were anxious to hang out with their other friends back at school. Nicole then did the right thing. She decided that the after party could wait a little while. She called 911 and reported what she saw. Turns out the person was suffering from dementia and had been missing. The police came and brought her back to her family.

Nicole probably saved a life. She went about her business from there, back to the after party and did not think much of it until she was contacted by the family of the missing person. Good stuff! There needs to be more Nicole's in the world. Thanks for doing the right thing. (Click here to view CNYCentral coverage of this story.)

Special Olympics: Last Thursday I had an incredible time watching about two hundred of our students cheer on fifty of our athletes at the Special Olympics.

I was filled with pride as students gave it their all while their fans held up signs, cheered, and congratulated their exceptional classmates. This made me very proud to be a Wildcat!

This week is BUSY! There are all kinds of athletic sectional competitions this week as well as Kaleidoscope on Thursday night at the Civic Center. We are looking forward to seeing the Alumni Marching Band and our current Marching Band at the Memorial Day Parade on Monday. We have so many people participating, that they are hoping to break the Guinness Book of World Records! With that many alumni, we have had to reach out as far as Pennsylvania to get enough instruments for people to play! Luckily, it looks like the long-term weather forecast is very good. I cannot wait!

Please remember that there is no school this Friday. Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Busy Time of Year

Another Great Senior Ball: Just when you thought the Senior Ball was going to be a washout, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and over 400 students had a wonderful time at the "Phantom of the Opera" themed dinner and dance held at the OnCenter. The students were mature beyond their years and were just awesome to be with for the evening.

Earlier in the day they attended a modified presentation of a Mock DWI exercise that although abbreviated due to the weather, was still very powerful. Afterwards they enjoyed a delicious breakfast.

All told, I would say that nearly 100 staff, community members, and parents helped to make sure that the students had a safe and enjoyable 24 hours. Thanks to all!

50th Anniversary of Alumni Marching Band: What has 1,276 legs and is over a quarter of a mile long? The West Genesee Alumni Marching Band. On their 50th anniversary they will try to make the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest alumni band. How cool is that?!? I hope to see you there.

Reward School Honor: Last week we received some great news. For the second year in a row, West Genesee High School was recognized as a "Reward School" by the New York State Education Department. This is the highest academic award given by New York State, and we are proud to be a recipient. The main criteria that has helped us to achieve this goal is our overall completion rate, which is very high compared to other schools in New York State.

Congratulations goes to all of our teachers, support staff, administrators, Board of Education, parents, and especially our students! Other schools in our area to also receive this award are Jamesville-Dewitt, Skaneateles, and Westhill High Schools. I want to congratulate those schools for also receiving this honor.

Update on the STAR Program: In keeping an eye on what is happening around the state, I wanted to draw your attention to some changes that are being made to the STAR program. STAR is a property and school tax reduction program that primary homeowners qualify for. If you have not bought a new house this year, you have nothing to worry about as STAR will work as it always has. If you have bought a home this year, check out this brief article from syracuse.com to see how to register and receive the STAR reduction.

Special Olympics is this Week: If you have time on Thursday, May 19, please join me as I cheer on hundreds of children (including many of our own students) at the Special Olympics being held at Cicero-North Syracuse High School starts at 9:30 a.m. with the parade beginning at 10:15 a.m.. This is always one of my favorite things to do each year and every competitor is an inspiration to us all!

Time to Vote on the School Budget: Lastly, please remember to vote on the school budget and for Board of Education members this Tuesday. It is very important to us to hear from as many community members as possible.Voting will take place from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the high school auditorium lobby.

Please remember that due to the state no longer providing waivers to use the old style of voting machines, we will be using the new voting system with the Board of Elections workers working the polls.

A special thank you to all of the volunteers who have worked the school budget vote over the years. We are planning a small celebration for them on vote day, including community member Hugh Stannard who is one hundred years young!

Thank you for your support and have a great week!

Chris

Monday, May 9, 2016

Appreciate What You Have

Appreciating our Mothers: It can be easy to just type "Happy Mother's Day" as a Facebook status, as a quick Tweet, or a post on Instagram. With a little extra elbow grease most can even paste a picture of their mom to go along with that Tweet. One thing I have learned over time, and was especially reminded of last week, was how fortunate a person actually is to still have their mom around to celebrate Mother's Day.

Forty-eight hours before Mother’s Day, I was handing a high school diploma to a senior in front of her mom who was expected to pass away at any moment. She unfortunately did not make it to Mother's Day. To read an article about this on syracuse.com, just click here.

What was amazing was that even in dire sickness, this mother still kept everything together for her family. That is what moms do, and that is why they are such amazing people.

If you are fortunate to still have your mother with you and TRULY didn't get a chance to thank your mom yesterday, you have some homework to do today.

If your mom has passed on, I hope that you, your family, and your friends took a moment out to remember all of the things that made her the most important part of your lives. If you didn't, you have homework as well! When I write about Mother's Day next year, I will be checking your work!

Ceramics Team Wins: Last week our high school Ceramics Team made school history by winning the "Feats of Clay" event at Onondaga Community College. They have worked hard and are extremely creative and it all paid off. Congratulations to all of the participants and to our Ceramics teacher Mrs. Schrader!

Teamwork: Also congratulations to our ninth grade team who worked together to offer a "Renaissance Festival" to third graders from Stonehedge Elementary School. This is the second year of the full festival and the event has helped to promote teamwork, responsibility, and true authentic learning!

Honors Breakfasts: Congratulations to the hundreds of students in ninth through eleventh grade who were recognized for being on the high honor roll for nearly every semester of their high school careers. It was great to enjoy the moment with their parents, and I am looking forward to celebrating academic success with the seniors later this month.

Wrapping up the Mini-Forums: Last week we also hosted the last two mini-forums about substance abuse for the school year. The first was about Treatment and the second provided NARCAN training.

They were both very informative and close to 200 people received the NARCAN (antidote to a heroin overdose) training convincing me that our community coalition is really doing some positive and much needed work right now. I am proud to be a part of something so important. To view news coverage on this event by News Channel 9, click here.

Simulated Car Crash: Believe it or not, this coming Friday is the Senior Ball! On Friday morning we will be holding a simulated DWI crash in the circle at the high school. We have community partners from area emergency agencies as well as the district attorney's office, Buranich Funeral Home, Meyers Towing, clergy, the county medical examiner, and for the first time since 2009 and weather permitting, a helicopter.

The event takes place from 7:20 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. so please do NOT be alarmed if you are driving on West Genesee Street during that time and see an "accident" unfolding. We want to thank all of these agencies and the community for volunteering their time because it does make a difference!

Thank you for the continued support and enjoy the week!

Chris