Tuesday, January 17, 2017

S..W..A..N S..O..N..G

Swan Songs throughout Senior Year: There are only a few times in our lives when we get to do something for the last time. For some, like senior student and singer Caitlin Barry, those last experiences, or swan songs as we call them, will be on the biggest of stages. No pressure.

She began her farewell tour on Saturday at the Carrier Dome in front of over 20,000 people singing a perfect National Anthem. Boom. She commanded the challenging song with ease and punch and was rewarded by a loud ovation from the crowd. Crouse Hospital featured her life story in a touching article that can be found here and there is another story about her on syracuse.com here.

She is destined to do great things with her gift, but more importantly she is someone who younger students can look up to and learn something from. Kaleidoscope isn't until May, but it should be on your calendar as something not to miss if you want to see a talented person "before she made it big".

Spellers Advance to Next Level: The title of the blog this week also speaks to how well students involved in the The Post-Standard/WCNY Spelling Bee handle themselves. I would guess that most of you reading this have been involved in a spelling bee at some point in your life so you know what it looks and feels like. Now imagine advancing to the next level with more and more on the line, and fewer and fewer competitors to outlast.

Ava Propper and Emily Pattermann from West Genesee Middle School, along with Laura Alvaro from Camillus Middle School, have done just that, and we wish them well as they advance into public competition on February 11 starting at 2:00 p.m. live on WCNY. If you are fortunate to be one of their parents and you are reading this, RELAX and enjoy the moment; trust me, and good luck to them!

Great Question on Class Rank: Thanks to all who attended our "Dialogue with the Superintendent" sponsored by the West Genesee PTA/PTO District Council. It was very well attended, and I got some great questions. One of particular interest because it is a hot topic around the country had to do with class rank and whether we would consider moving away from class rank as other equally successful schools have done. National research shows that more colleges are considering the total body of work for students rather than where they rank in their class.

For students, studies have shown that moving away from class rank creates a more collaborative environment for students and more students will challenge higher level courses because the result will not impact their rank. In schools like ours, the separation between the tenth student in the class and the fifteenth can be one hundredth of a point.

I do not make decisions in a vacuum, but I am very interested in this topic. If there is interest in our strategic planning sessions to advance the topic, I will certainly keep you posted.

Boys Basketball Team Still Undefeated: On Saturday, our boys basketball team continued their undefeated streak. Whenever a team is undefeated this deep into a season you have to look back to the root cause. People can argue that coaching and talent are the key factors, and there is truth to that. I always look at two other things: the depth of the score sheets to see how many players are contributing, and how the students put in front of the microphone at the end of the game handle themselves.

Right now, the boys are as tight as I have seen a team in a long time. They share the ball and the spotlight, and each young man who gets interviewed never talks about themselves. They spend the time talking about coaches and teammates who are working together to make things happen. Best of luck to them!

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.: We had yesterday off to recognize the impact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had on our lives. I am most respectful of what he did because he was able to completely change the path of the nation regarding acceptance of all people, without violence.

During my building visits last week I was really proud to see the work of Dr. King being celebrated and understood from kindergarten on up.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the week!


Monday, January 9, 2017

Courage is On Display When You Least Expect It

I finally had a chance to catch a movie at the new Movie Tavern in Township 5. What a great place! I have never been to a theater where you can recline AND order food to your seat. Pretty cool. The movie, Hidden Figures, was even better and I highly recommend it!

Sports and Art Come Together: On Friday, our girls basketball team played against Baldwinsville at home for first place in the section. Halftime was set to be girls Camillus Youth Basketball Association (CYBA) games. There was a large crowd on hand for both. As the JV game ended (with a convincing win by our girls), I spent some time talking to parents, giving the pep band a pep talk, speaking to the cheerleaders, and preparing to find my seat for the varsity game.

It was then that we were asked to rise for the National Anthem and THIRD GRADER, Taylor MacCaull, grabbed the microphone and stepped out toward mid-court. In front of her classmates, students, parents, and community members she NAILED it. What courage and poise! Everyone was so happy for her. A few moments later, parent Mr. Mercer snapped this picture, which completely sums up why I do my job; and why, after seventeen years this month, being a superintendent is still the best job on earth.

Checking Your Sources: Fake news seems to be the topic of conversation around the country of late, and we have been talking about ways to help students separate fact from fiction when they read something either in print, watch it on television, or see it on the Internet. Our assistant superintendent found a cool link that reveals a one page checklist for fake news detection. If you are looking for some dinnertime conversation, click here for that good resource.

Update from Community Coalition on Substance Abuse: On behalf of our substance abuse coalition, I would like to thank ACR Health and the Camillus Police Department for their help in operating our recent NARCAN training. About 120 people received the training.

We will offer another one at some point in the future. At this point, please place February 27 on your calendar as a night to come to school for a targeted resource night. Channel 9's Christie Casciano is going to be our keynote speaker, and we have some of the top physicians and speakers in the area to spend the night with us. Stay tuned for the full agenda.

Questions for the Superintendent?: This Wednesday from 7:00-9:00 p.m. is our annual Dialogue with the Superintendent, sponsored by the West Genesee PTA/PTO District Council. The event is held at West Genesee High School in the Large Group Instruction Room. The format is fantastic. I give a quick "State of the District" and then attendees can write questions anonymously on index cards. The index cards are shuffled, and then I read and respond to them sight unseen. Looking forward to seeing you this week.

Thanks and enjoy the week!


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Buckle Up!

Happy New Year and Welcome to 2017! If you are the parent of a senior, this means that we are only five months away from the "big day"; and time will fly by; believe me. I was fortunate to be able to ring in the New Year with friends at the newly refurbished Hotel Syracuse, and what a spectacle it was. We ran into three of our graduates who work there in upper level roles and it was great to catch up with them too.

For many, the start of the new year means resolutions, or a time to do things differently. Not for me. I have been trying to lose ten pounds since October and the start of the new year isn't going to help that along. Really tightening my diet and getting in even more exercise will make the difference.

On Target: On the school front, we plan to stay the course through the rest of the school year. We are looking good to exceed our academic goals for the year, and we are riding a wave of great morale all around. Our biggest challenges for January and February will be to mentally weather (no pun intended) the darkest part of the winter, and to build the 2017-2018 budget. We will.

Sports Update: The weather prevented some games from happening over break, BUT the girls basketball team got a monkey off my back by beating CNS right before the holiday, and then went on to win the More Than a Game Basketball Tournament. Thanks to the girls, there are only two sports monkeys left in my nine years and counting at West Genesee. The first is for girls volleyball to beat Baldwinsville, and the second is for our boys basketball team to beat Bishop Ludden. That will happen!

Free NARCAN Training: Please remember that the Camillus Community Coalition on Substance Abuse, in conjunction with the Camillus Police Department and ACR Health, is offering FREE NARCAN training this Thursday from 4:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.(in one hour sessions) at West Genesee High School in the Large Group Instruction area at the rear of the high school. There is no pre-registration. Just show up for the hour that works for your schedule, get trained, and receive your voucher for a free NARCAN kit.

Buckle up and here we go!


Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Holidays!

We have had a great week. I have really enjoyed watching our students make things to take home to parents and family members. If you are fortunate to receive something, please know it was made with love.

In my family we celebrate Christmas, so Merry Christmas to all of you. If you do not celebrate Christmas, please have a very happy holiday season. I will post to all of you again in 2017!

Take care-

Monday, December 19, 2016

There are Always Opportunities to Learn

Mother Nature: Last week was a whirlwind of situations, decisions, and events, including an epic battle with Mother Nature. On Monday, I called what I thought was a no-brainer two-hour delay and then the temperature rose a few degrees more than predicted and the roads ended up being much better than anticipated. Not the end of the world, and it is always good to err on the side of caution, but I also am very aware of the impact that school delay and closing decisions have on work and childcare schedules. Mother Nature 1, me 0.

Winter National Honor Society Induction: We had an excellent winter induction ceremony to the National Honor Society. There were ten students inducted: Faris Amer, Jack Birchler, Jay Considine, Priscilla Grooms, Alexandra Guglielmi, Margaret Guinto, Emma Miller, Secidean Scott, Michael Serbun, and Andrea Wierbinski. What I like about the winter ceremony is that many of the students, for one reason or another, did not participate in the ceremony with the bulk of their classmates; but they hung on and worked even harder to receive their recognition.

To be selected for the National Honor Society, a student must exhibit leadership, scholarship, service, and character. In my speech I was able to remind students of these characteristics, and I think this applies to us as adults also. If you have to tell people that you are a leader, have character, are smart, or help out; then you are doing something wrong. If someone truly exhibits those characteristics; other people will be sure to recognize them. Congratulations to our honorees!

Difficult Situations: I believe that every situation in life provides learning opportunities. As many of you have seen or read already, we had to work through a difficult employee situation last week. This January will be my 17th anniversary as a superintendent. During that time I have worked through four such cases, and those four have come in the past five years. One situation is too many in my book, but can there be a positive out of what happened last week? I think so.

First, I think in our District at least, we have gotten the students to a point where they trust our counselors, principals, and me to follow through on situations that are brought to our attention. I also think that in our District at least, we have put a lot of value in truly knowing our students and what to do if we interact with a student and something doesn't seem quite right.

I am criticized by some superintendent colleagues for being on the news too much, being too transparent, communicating too much, and spending too much time in classrooms and buildings. I couldn't disagree with them more.

I have no greater job than to keep our kids safe, the public informed, and to know each student no matter how large our District is so they know they can come to me for help or guidance if needed. If certain colleagues don't like it, too bad. Making friends isn't in my job description. Keeping us safe and at the top of our game in every area is.

Early Dismissal: On Thursday, the battle with Mother Nature continued. We were able to get our students in safely, and we were cruising through our day when some heavy snow that was predicted to stay north began to creep slightly south. We contacted an area meteorologist, as well as SUNY Oswego forecasters, and they told me that it would be a really good idea to get our kids and staff home no later than 3:15 p.m., or face some dangerous situations.

Heeding that warning, we started an early dismissal. I can count on one hand how many early dismissals I have called in my career; it turned out to be a good decision. The snow began to fall at 3:15 p.m. and did not let up until about 7:00 p.m., and the conditions were very dangerous. Mother Nature 1, me 1 for the week. I am hoping that this week is a little more calm!

Substance Abuse Coalition Update: While all of this has been happening, our substance abuse coalition has been working to offer two great events during the winter. The first is going to be NARCAN training, which will be held on January 5, 2017 at our high school. Sessions are free, one-hour in length, and begin at 4:00 p.m. and will go through 9:00 p.m. Once trained, the Camillus Police will offer vouchers for participants to receive a free NARCAN kit once they are off of back order. We had tremendous response the first time we offered this. It is open to anyone you can think of who would like to be trained.

Our second event will be held on Monday, February 27, 2017 and it is setting up to be very informative. I will have much more information to share after the holidays.

Thank You: Lastly, I want to give a big thank you to all of our custodians, cleaners, bus drivers, mechanics, and transportation staff for their work last week. They all worked MANY grueling hours and kept our students and staff safe. Our crew has no equal!

Thanks and enjoy the week.


Monday, December 12, 2016

A Taste of Syracuse

Remembrance from Childhood: Did you ever smell, listen, or taste something that brought you back to your childhood? It happened to me on Friday night while on the way to a winter solstice fundraiser. 

We stopped at the Liehs and Steigerwald's downtown location on our way to the event, and I grabbed an hors d'oeuvre size piece of their bologna. As soon as I bit into it I was immediately taken back to my childhood when my dad would take me "all the way" from Onondaga Hill to the Liehs and Steigerwald's store on the north side. I was probably six or seven. The butcher would give me a small piece of bologna and it made my day. If life was only still that simple.

I turned to the server, who turned out to be one of the owners and told him my story. He said that their bologna recipe is eighty years old, and has never been changed.

His statement got me thinking about how I always tell people that at the end of the day "kids are kids"; I stand by that. The realization I am having, however, is that while that piece of bologna has been handed over the same butcher counter for the past eighty years, the things that kids are exposed to, and especially how they choose to communicate (think texting and social media) makes us as adults have a different perception of them sometimes. Please do not have that perception of kids. Instead think about what you would have posted if you had cell phones, Snap Chat, Twitter, and Facebook "back in the day".

We did not, luckily for most of us, but what we CAN do as adults, instead of passing judgment, is help children to understand the impact of decisions. That is a much more worthwhile use of time in my opinion, and probably a little more helpful! All of those thoughts from a piece of bologna.

We Never Stop Learning: Last week, fifteen of our employees, including yours truly, completed the four-day Nonviolent Crisis Intervention Instructor training. It was weird being a student again and it renewed my appreciation for what students have to deal with every day in their own classes. 

While taking the course, I got interrupted several times for small and large blocks of time due to "job stuff" and was in absolute panic mode on Thursday night knowing that I had to take and pass a seven-page final exam the next day. My wife even commented that she had never seen me study as much as I did, and we have been together since undergraduate school!

Luckily it all came together. All of us passed, and now we can begin to train our employees and once I have a little time to collect my thoughts, I will share some of the things we learned with you. Good stuff!

Winter Sports are in Full Swing: Get to a hoops game, hockey game, swim meet, track meet, or wrestling match if you can. Our winter sports campaign has taken off like a rocket and our teams look GREAT!

Thanks and enjoy the week-


Monday, December 5, 2016

Pretty Darned Cool

A Great Semi-Formal Dance: On Saturday night I was talking with the DJ at the high school semi-formal. He has twenty-two years in his business, and I have twenty-two years in mine. We were swapping stories about dances and how songs have changed over the years; but how kids have largely remained the same. 

I showed him a song that Nick Sgroi, a graduate from three years ago, produced and performed with some of his friends. Through my ears, and then his, the song, "Her" was radio quality, and fit in the Justin Bieber/Coldplay/Rhianna space.  

We decided to experiment and see how the crowd would react to the song. We fit it in at the right time, and as the first three words of the song boomed through the gym, the kids went NUTS and began dancing and singing every word. How cool is that? Watching current students get that into something that a graduate created is just another one of those reasons why my job is like no other! Needless to say, all had a great night and best of luck to Nick! 

Wildcat Branch of Westar Opens: Earlier in the week, we made school history by opening the first credit union within one of our buildings. Westar Credit Union partnered with the district to bring real life financial experience to our students. I was honored to be the first customer. Students in our finance courses are the tellers and the credit union staff help to make everything run smoothly. We will be holding an official grand opening in early January.

Chorale Plays at All-State Concert: Our Chorale was tapped to perform at the New York State School Music Association conference in Rochester, New York earlier in the week. To be asked is a "big deal" and they did not disappoint!

Winter Athletics Season Begins: Winter sports opened this weekend and our teams did very well for themselves. Trying to follow all of the action reminded me to remind you to download the West Genesee app so you can follow along. 

Our community partners, syracuse.com, do a great job of updating the scores, statistics, and schedule. I am looking forward to seeing you at a game or wrestling match this season! 

De-Escalation Training: This week I am going back to school to become a certified trainer for the Crisis Prevention Institute. We have been looking for a consistent way to educate our employees and parents about ways to work with children who have escalating behaviors, including physical behaviors, talking back, etc.

The training includes how to arrange spaces, how to read body language in the classroom and home environment, and how to de-escalate a potentially violent student situation before it becomes violent. All of us have received a variety of training over the years, but it is important to standardize our vocabulary and processes. I want to roll up my sleeves and get the training myself so I can share information with you that may help at home.

Thanks for your support and enjoy the week!