Monday, September 18, 2017

Fore!

If you came to the football game on Friday night, it was much appreciated. The stands were packed, as it was Pop Warner night, Marching Band half-time show, a big showing by the cheerleaders, and the actual football game; of course!

While the team did not end up in the win column, there was an abundance of school spirit. Also, the Wildcat Nation had a beach theme, which was appropriate because it was a very warm night. I don't want you to think we are sleeping on cross country, soccer, volleyball, or golf. Look for a cool collage for them in the very near future!

The School Year has Taken Off: I often teach new administrators that a school year is like taking an airplane flight. The beginning of the year is like racing down the runway and pulling up off of the tarmac. By end of the first week, it is the equivalent of wheels up and the "big climb" to the clouds. Much like flying in a plane, this time of the year is when turbulence can be hit. For us, that usually comes in the form of getting the school bus routes and school dismissals to be as smooth as possible, and getting all of the students into a routine.

This week begins week three. At this point in a flight, the plane is headed into the clouds before leveling off for the rest of the flight until it is time to think about landing. We are headed to cruising altitude in great shape!

Being Positive: Our elementary and middle school students are beginning a new character education initiative called the Positivity Project. The overall theme of the project is to teach children that other people matter.  In just two short weeks of the program (which is free to schools), I have already seen a difference. We have GREAT kids, believe me; I interact with them every day.

What I am already witnessing are children who are genuinely interested in knowing about their classmates. That is huge. It establishes respect for one another and pays huge dividends now and down the road in being empathetic and caring; which reduces bullying and discipline issues. I have not seen a program that has really reached children like this. I know that parents were told about the program at open houses, etc. but here is a link to more information (https://posproject.org/).

The program does not scale to the high school quite as well as K-8. We are therefore working with the makeup of each grade level 9-12 and targeting assemblies and programs that are specific to each class, and then the opportunities that are being given to ALL students in grades 9-12. This is one of those areas where being here for a while really pays off. I know the students in the high school better than any teacher or administrator, and I do not want to waste time on things they don't need.

We have identified themes such as self-worth, making good choices, how to have appropriate and positive relationships with peers, cyber bullying, suicide prevention, substance abuse, how to use your talents to your benefit, and how to care about others. If you have a freshman student, ask them how their speaker, Cam F Awesome was last week for example. He was FANTASTIC.

Community Support: In my travels over the weekend, I ran into George and Rose Surace? Why would I write about them? They have supported West Genesee academics, athletics, and fine arts for decades. They also celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary over the weekend. There is something to be said about them; they were helping out the school when the Wildcat Nation was just a Wildcat Village!

Golfing to Support our Boosters: Yesterday, our Board of Education President, Bobbie Herron, and Vice President, Shawn Mitchell, as well as our Assistant Superintendent for Management Services, Paul Pelton, and I played in the West Genesee Sports Boosters Tournament that was held at Westvale Golf Course.

All was very normal through most of the round until all you heard was deafening yelling from across the course. It turns out that high school Social Studies teacher Eric Burns got a hole in one on the sixteenth hole! Congratulations to Mr. Burns and congratulations to the boosters, who raised some good money for great athletic causes.

Enjoy this beautiful week!

Chris

Sunday, September 10, 2017

What Wonder Looks Like

A Solid First Week: I want to personally thank all of you for a very solid first week of school. You were very patient while we got bus runs under control, no one passed a stopped school bus with it's red flashers on, many of you attended the open houses that we had last week, and you sent your children to school with positive attitudes. I cannot ask for much more than that.

video

What I can return to you are some great pictures from the first few days of school in the short video above. Contrary to popular belief, most students want to be back at school. It is where their friends are, there are clubs, events, and activities to participate in; and the feeling in the buildings is just so positive that everyone wants to be a part of it.

What about our kindergartners? They have never been to school, don't know anyone, and are leaving home for the first time. By and large, they had a great week. I did see a few tears on opening day (both students and adults) which is completely normal, but by Friday it was as if they had been here a month already!

Each year I go to every classroom to say hello, and to find out if we have any new students and where they are from. The winners of the "came the farthest distance" award are a brother and sister who have relocated here from Puerto Rico! We also had a set of triplets start Kindergarten with us. How cool is that?

I am trying to figure out how to get a "GoPro" or some other camera for a day so you can see what I see when I visit the schools. The sights and sounds are awesome, fun, and powerful.

By the end of the week, I hope to have all of our systems running as they will for the rest of the school year. We are then "off to the races" as I like to say.

Feedback is Important: This is my tenth year as your superintendent, and while I can point to statistic after statistic to measure our success, I think it is equally important to get your feedback. I have always felt that it is quite arrogant for long-term leaders to just assume that because they are "still there" after a bunch of years, that there is no room for improvement.

I want to know from you what we are doing well, and maybe some areas where you think we can improve. I also want you to feel free to comment without thinking that I am going to know what you wrote.

To that end, we have contracted with an organization called Thought Exchange, and they are going to help us through a feedback cycle a little later this fall. I will be sure to give you all of the directions when the time comes, but I would appreciate your honest and complete feedback. It's the only way we (and I) get better, and I want to be assured that my next ten years are as good as the first ten. Thank you in advance.

A Time of Reflection: Today is September 11. Most of our students were not alive in 2001, but we certainly were; and many of us were old enough to experience a wide range of emotions that day. Some of us know people who died.

Take a moment today to reflect and appreciate life. On that awful day, 2,977 people had no idea they would be waking up for the last time. The victims, their families, and the heroes who tried to save them deserve a moment of our undivided attention.

Thanks again and have a great week.

Chris

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

It's Finally GO Time!

Well, I certainly made the most of Labor Day weekend, and I hope you did as well. The post New York State Fair diet starts today!

A Great Day at the Dome: I had a great Saturday morning and early afternoon watching our football team come from behind to win their first game in quite a while. What made it extra special was that the game was at the Carrier Dome, and our cheerleaders did a great job supporting the fans and the team. Icing on the cake was watching the marching band at half-time.

It made me very excited to get students back to school and back to a regular routine. I am not a fan of how much the Carrier Dome charges for high school sports, so I am extra appreciative of the large crowd that was on hand. Thank you.

School Starts this Week: Students will be arriving tomorrow so it is that time of the year for me to remind you to be careful on the streets. Please be on the lookout for school buses, student drivers, and student walkers; as well as yourselves. Give yourself an extra minute or two to get yourselves back into a routine this week. There was construction in many areas of the District over the summer, and I am sure with that construction came changes to traffic light patterns and traffic flow in general. By next week we will have everything figured out, and we will be off to the races.

Thanks for your support, I am looking forward to the upcoming school year; see you around!

Chris

Monday, August 28, 2017

Freebird

Yesterday was the first time that I have yelled "Freebird!" at a concert and the band actually played "Freebird". That's because I was watching the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at the New York State Fair. That is usually my go to joke when I am at a concert like Symphoria or a band of that nature. It really wasn't funny yesterday because the band actually played it. I may have to tuck that joke away for a while.

Wildcat Marching Band is Loud and Proud: A band that did not play "Freebird", although given enough time they probably could, was our Marching Band. They did, however, confidently and competently, reveal the Marching Band show for the season on Friday night at our annual Marching Band Preview.

I have had a chance to visit several Marching Band practices this year and there is a positive energy with this group. The way the students are marching looked different to me, and that is because they are marching differently; especially their footwork. The sound is "loud and proud" as I like to say, and the color guard is going to provide some nice flare to the show. I am looking forward to their first show!

Fall Sports Have Kicked-Off: Sports are in full swing! Our football team gets an opportunity to open the season on a positive note at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. I also like the energy and determination of that group this year. Cross country, golf, tennis, volleyball, soccer, and swim are all poised to represent us well so check out our schedules and come out to support the Wildcats!

New School Year, Already? To me, today marks the beginning of the school year, and I am in school year mode. We have freshman orientation followed by locker night, kindergarten orientations (they will be the class of 2030 believe it or not), and later this week I welcome all of our employees back for their opening day, followed by professional development. I am looking very forward to a successful school year.

Support All People: On a serious note, I did want to address where I stand personally, and as your superintendent, on the recent movement to disqualify transgender people from entering the military.

I was raised with the understanding that as a human, I have no right to judge another human against my own color, background, upbringing, preferences, or beliefs. People are people, and we are all on our own journey of life, hopefully working together to leave behind a world that is better than we had it, for our children, and our children's children.

At the same time, I have spent my entire adult life working with children and helping ALL children to do whatever they want to do when they graduate from high school. That includes college, the workforce, AND the military.

Taking away the choice of ANYONE to serve our country completely goes against everything that I believe in and work for. I am passionately supportive and protective of the rights and opportunities for ALL students, regardless of gender, orientation, culture, color, or beliefs. 

I will be using my voice to reverse the decision to disallow transgender people from entering the military. At the same time, I will be meeting with ALL of our student groups personally so they know that I have their backs, because I always have and always will. Period.

I still hope to get to the State Fair a few more times. Feel free to stop and chat! Thanks and enjoy the week.

Chris

Monday, August 21, 2017

Almost Ready to Go!

Everyone has their ideal weather; and the weekend we just had is perfect for me! Temperatures in the mid-70's, light winds, and sun. Even the quick burst of rain on Friday night wasn't too bad because it broke the humidity. I had a hard time getting any work done because all I wanted to do was enjoy the outdoors! I wonder how productive I would be if I lived in southern California where it is this kind of weather EVERY day.

Bacon vs Blog Posts: I know that you are probably wondering two things: did I go to the Bacon Festival and does anyone else besides you read my blog over the summer. Excellent questions. 

First, if there is bacon, I am there. In the past I wanted bacon to be its own food group. Now that I am eating healthier I have backed off that wish, but it is hard to get me away from any place that has bacon ice cream. I think some of you are like minded because most of the vendors sold out of their goods by mid-way through the afternoon. Hopefully they will repeat the event next year and will bring more bacon!

The blog does get read in the summer months. I have been checking the statistics because I don't want to post information that no one is reading, and there are about 2,000 people reading the blog during the summer versus the 3,000 or more who read during the school year (the most we have has is 6,000 readers). Thank you for taking the time!

Technology in our Schools: Our technology crew has been working very hard to unbox, inventory, program, and set up the 3,641 Google Chromebooks that we received as Phase I of the federal Smart Schools Bond Act. I had given them a hard date of October 1 to have all of the equipment into the hands of students, and judging by the work they put in last week, it isn't going to surprise me if the computers are ready to go by the start of school.

You might be wondering if we are purposely headed towards a "1:1" computer environment. The answer is NO. We will get to a "1:1" environment by the end of Phase II of the Smart Schools Bond Act later this year, but the real reason why we are implementing so much technology is to engage students. It is no secret that modern-day students live in a Snap Chat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter world. We need to bring their education into that environment to further make connections, prepare them for life after high school, and engage their creative sides.

Our teachers are receiving professional development on how best to strike a balance between using technology in the classroom in conjunction with regular excellent teaching. 

  • Our grades two through five are closest to this balance so they will be the first recipients of the Chromebooks. 
  • Our K through one students will be using technology (as they already have been), in center time. 
  • Our students in grades six through twelve will have many "Chromebook carts" to use. 
  • Teachers who really want to extend student learning can apply for additional equipment to use on a more frequent basis. 
I am excited for this new initiative, but at the same time I will still be looking for solid teaching and learning when I visit classrooms. I think you will be impressed at open houses.

As you have heard a billion times by now, don't look directly into the eclipse today. Also, do not eat more than two Gianelli sausages in one sitting at the Fair. Trust me!

Have a great week!

Chris

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Summer of Giving

It has been nice to finally get a stretch of decent weather. My wife and I went to the Goo Goo Dolls concert on Friday, and then we spent Saturday on Keuka Lake. Surprisingly, my golf game is finally back to where I can actually call myself a golfer again, instead of a "hitter of golf balls", although that will be short lived as school events begin to get mixed back into my evening work schedule.

I have to tell you that we have a LOT of very generous people and organizations in this community. During the summer, I spend a lot of time working through contracts, ordering, planning, hiring, scheduling, and preparing. I also take the time to check in with many of the people, companies, and organizations who help support our students. 

The Wildcat Golf Tournament Helps Fund Programs: This year, we have a few more very generous people to thank beginning with the locally owned and operated "The Wildcat".  Thanks to a golf tournament sponsored by owners Dan and Heather Thome, our student activities funds will receive a shot in the arm of $3,200. 

This money will go to the After-the Ball All-Night Party held after the Senior Ball, the Respect and Responsibility Club (which puts on community favorite events like the Culture Fair and the Halloween Festival among other things), and a fund to help families who struggle with the cost of renting musical instruments for our Fine Arts program. Many thanks!

Annual School Supply Drive: The West Genesee PTA/PTO District Council is once again sponsoring a School Supply Drive. The purpose is to provide free school supplies for students in need of assistance who attend any school in the West Genesee School District. Our students collected school supply donations from the community at the Walmart in Camillus and for those in need of assistance, requests are still being accepted up until Saturday, August 19, by clicking here.

Township 5 Partnership: At the same time, managing partners of Township 5 have invited our students to sell raffle tickets at their Wednesday Concert Series with the proceeds going to the After-the Ball All-Night Party. They were so pleased with how our students behaved and presented themselves at their last event, that they are exclusively working with West Genesee. Talk about Wildcat Pride!



State Fair Update: We also worked with a local business owner who has a large presence at the New York State Fair, and he hired 120 of our students to work at his restaurant stand, lemonade stands, and water stands throughout the State Fair. Again, due to how our students behave and present themselves, they were given first access to those jobs. Good stuff!

Also, while on the topic of the New York State Fair, our Marching Band was asked again by Governor Cuomo to welcome him at the ribbon cutting of the Fair, which will be at approximately 9:30 a.m. on August 23. Very cool!

Providing Meals: Lastly, we have developed a new and wonderful working relationship with New Life Ministries. They have started a "Power Pack" program to help supply our younger students who do not get consistent meals at home with ready to eat lunches and dinners, as well as food for the weekend. We did a trial run in the spring and quickly serviced sixty families. We met and are now going to work together to provide 100 children with meals for home and weekends. We are truly fortunate to have such great community partners.


Other Great Things are Happening: Other than that, not much is happening (insert sarcasm here). The Marching Band is working hard, some fall sports officially begin today, and there have been some great engineering camps, science camps, CMS students in the NYS Honor Choir, and orientations taking place; so we are busy!

As we get closer to the beginning of school, I will use future posts to let you know our goals for the school year and how we can continue to work together for our students.

Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris

Monday, July 24, 2017

Mid-Summer Check In

That Time of Year for Lacrosse Tournaments: In Wildcat country you know you are nearing the mid-point of summer when the boys and girls lacrosse programs hold their Annual John Pepper Tournaments. The girls tournament was held yesterday and Saturday and was once again a huge success. I can never pin down exactly how many people attend these tournaments each year, but it has to be in the neighborhood of 2,000-3,000 people over the two days.

On top of that, our players, as well as the players from the teams around the area, state, and east coast, get a chance to interact and be seen by many high level college coaches. It is a great event to see the school, boosters, and the community working together for the benefit of kids. The boys tournament is July 29-30.

Music is in the Air: I often tell the story about how tough Marching Band members were when I was walking behind the school about six or seven years ago and it was raining.  I did not expect to see anyone, and I was actually just walking outside in the rain because I had been cooped up all day in meetings and I had evening meetings about to begin. I heard the sounds of the drumline and through the moderate rain, and light fog, I saw the Marching Band practicing.  As I walked closer, there was Nick Baratta, Creative Director/Music Arranger/Instructor, who was soaked with his glasses completely fogged up. He just looked at me calmly and said, "how's it going?".

The Marching Band is as determined as ever to notch another Field Band Championship, and even though it has rained a lot this summer, you can hear the band out back...every night. The beat rolls on and if you listen closely, you can hear the dedication.

It has also been fun to poke my head into the various summer camps that are held through the Town of Camillus. We are very fortunate to have such a great partnership with the town, and I really enjoy getting to interact with the students outside of the school year and participate in some of their activities with them (with the exception of water balloons however!).

Money for Technology Comes Through:  I have been working on getting ready for my tenth opening day at West Genesee, as well as helping some of our new employees transition into their roles at West Genesee. We also received word that the state government FINALLY released our Smart Schools Bond Act grant allocation, meaning we can now purchase the 3,641 pieces of equipment that we have been wanting to get into the hands of students for some time.

I am also working on some of the support pieces that our students are going to need as we head into the fall. We had the most successful school year that I have had as a superintendent; under some challenging conditions. Continuing that success takes time and planning, but that is what the summer is for!

Board of Education Plans Ahead: Today is our Board of Education retreat. The cohesiveness and dedication of our Board of Education should not be taken for granted. None of the members have hidden agendas or egos; they serve to make things better for ALL students, and that makes my job easier.

I will check in again next week. Until then, enjoy the sunshine when you can and I will see you around!

Chris