Monday, March 2, 2015

Being Ahead of the Curve

Re-Connecting with Colleagues: I hope that you all had a great week. I rarely get a chance to travel for this job, so when I had the opportunity to attend a national conference on education I jumped on it. Not only did I get to re-connect with colleagues from across the country, but I was also able to listen in on what issues they are facing in their home districts.

It was expected, yet still interesting to hear that schools in other states are facing many of the same issues as we are. Every superintendent I spoke to is struggling with receiving money from their state governments, trying to keep their food service departments in the black due to the federal Healthy Choices initiative, and the usual struggles that are associated with sports and fine arts programs.

One thing that was interesting was that we are certainly ahead of the curve when it comes to implementing the Common Core Learning Standards. Many superintendents I spoke with are about two full years behind where we are today. I was able to shed some insight on how to make the implementation a little less painless. Interestingly, I discovered that we were the only state forced to test to the new standards in the first year of implementation. Figures.

Academic Decathlon Team to Compete at National Championship: On a SUPER exciting note, our high school Academic Decathlon team advised by teacher Scott Duda WON the New York State Academic Decathlon Championship. This is the second time in four years for West Genesee, and I am very proud to be talking about winning another academic competition!  

They take the show on the road to California from April 16-18 in a quest to win the Academic Decathlon National Championship. We will be able to find resources for flights, hotels, and competition fees. However, they will need some help with other expenses, so you can expect to see some fundraising efforts from this fantastic squad in the near future. Congratulations!

A Big Week for Students:  
  • We were very proud to announce our academic top ten for the Class of 2015 and by absolute random coincidence, a student named Chris Brown (no relation) is our Valedictorian! You will hear the names of these acclaimed students very often from now throughout the remainder of the year as they receive awards for their hard work. Congratulations to the families of these students as well. Click here to read an article about this.
  • Last week several of our middle school students participated in the Camillus Optimists Speech contest. Click here to read an article about.
  • Students in the high school participated in the “Mr. West Genesee” contest. 
We have a lot to be proud of in this District. 

First Draft of Budget is Unveiled this Week: If you are looking for something to do this week, I will be presenting the first run of the budget this Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. in the high school library. The spending plan has been created to keep our tax levy below the state imposed tax cap while preserving existing programs. This may be slightly subject to change if the governor and the legislature cannot reach an agreement for a state budget, but we will not know any impact of that until at least April 1, which is the deadline to have an on time state budget. 

In planning for the worst, I can tell you that I do not plan to suggest reductions to educational programs if an accord cannot be reached. Reductions, if any, would come from non-classroom programs and opportunities, as well as operations. I have faith that the governor and legislators will reach an agreement at some point however.

Enjoy the week. We might even hit forty degrees. It will feel like a heat wave!

Take care-

Chris

Monday, February 23, 2015

Welcome Back!

I hope that all of you had a chance to do something relaxing over break. While I worked through break week, I did get to be a part of the Carrier Dome crowd when Syracuse took on Duke in men's basketball. I am looking forward to the day when a Syracuse football crowd is that loud and happy to be there. It will happen, just hopefully before I lose ALL of my hair!


Acceptance Week at the High School: With so much going on with the Governor's budget that you needed to be aware of, I did not get a chance to share with you quite possibly the best thing that I have ever seen happen in a high school. A little while back our high school Respect and Responsibility Club, under the direction of Assistant Principal Peter Blake, thought it would be a great idea to create individualized large "post-it" notes and stick them on the door or locker of EVERY student AND Employee in the school. They spent an entire Sunday afternoon working on this task (our high school has 1,500 students and close to 300 employees) and kept their plan completely secret. You can imagine the absolute joy and enthusiasm everyone felt when they came to school and saw an individualized note waiting for them.


What made this even more amazing was that two days after this was completed not a single note was on the floor. Talk about being able to measure respect and value. I was so proud of their accomplishments that I wanted to share it with all of you. If you are an educational leader, please feel free to "borrow" this idea and use it in your school. Incredibly positive and powerful!


Students Have Fun Field Trip Over Break: A special thanks as well to about twenty bus drivers, six custodians, and several food service workers who volunteered their time to chaperone and entertain about eighty elementary students during winter break. They took the students to a movie and then provided food and entertainment for them when they returned. The varsity boys basketball team, Camillus Police Department, Camillus Fire Department, WAVES Ambulance, Westar Federal Credit Union, and the SEIU Labor Association also provided assistance and contributed to the great day. Thanks to all!

Supporting Public Education: There are a lot of educational forums happening to help combat the current attack on education that is being lodged by the Governor.  He is holding money from schools in return for his reforms, many of which are believed to be hurtful to students by education professionals. We are going to be front and center while we fight for resources for children, but I want you to know that we will NOT use children as a part of this process. I do not feel that it is right to have children write letters or miss school to ride to Albany, etc. I want students in classrooms learning from their teachers.

Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris

Monday, February 9, 2015

B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L

Spelling Bee Update: Everyone in my fourth grade class knows that I spelled it correctly, except for the teacher, who thought that I spelled it without the "A". I was a spelling bee champion and that hurt to not advance. Good thing I am over it now. 

Congratulations to our three students who were able to advance farther than I ever was in the Post Standard Spelling Bee: Abigail Ray, sixth grader from CMS made it through the 5th round; Ava Propper sixth grader from WGMS made it through the 4th round; and Carter Leonard seventh grader from CMS made it through the 3rd round. Thanks for representing us so well and congratulations to Stephen Ponzer from Cazenovia, who ended up winning the whole thing.

Mathematics is Important: A couple of little known facts about me. 

  • I was president of the math club at Buffalo State College and created a competition called the Math Club Problem of the Month. 
  • I scoured journals to find the most complex math problems and even threw in some previously unsolved problems for students and professors to work on. When solutions were found I helped to submit them for professional publication. 
  • Along the way I actually created my own math theorem known as "Brown's Theorem". Not to geek out too much, but I was able to prove how you can inscribe an equilateral triangle into a regular hexagon. True rock star material. I was not asked to sign any autographs, but it was exciting to contribute to the field of mathematics, and I have never forgotten that feeling.

On Saturday, several of our students competed in Math League at C-NS High School. Under the direction co-advisors Gabriela Babcock and Martha Hennessey, students worked to solve math problems quickly and accurately. I hope that competitions like these inspire some of them to pursue math in college and who knows, maybe they will create something new for the field as well!

What a Great Production!:We were also spoiled once again by our high school performers who put on a spectacular rendition of Nice Work if You Can Get It. This musical was on Broadway for a short period of time, and I did not know much about it before seeing the show. It did not take long to get hooked into the story and anyone who had a chance to see it saw something special. We are so fortunate to not have to drive far to see something of the highest quality. Congratulations and thank you to all who made the performances possible!


#AllKidsNeed: A Discussion on Public Education in CNY: The fight continues to try to get the Governor to have more respect for our teachers and my profession. This Wednesday, February 11, at Lyncourt School from 7:00-8:00 p.m. I will be part of a panel discussion with local elected officials to brainstorm ways to crack the code to secure more funding and less governmental control over our schools. This is a grassroots night, so I am looking forward to meeting some new people and talking about education.

Take it easy shoveling and enjoy your week!

Chris

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Beat Goes On

Welcome to February: Punxsutawney Phil, the Groundhog has decided that we will have six more weeks of winter. I appreciate his findings, but it still feels cold and snowy to me right now and six weeks feels like a long way away!

The School Year is Flying By: Today marks the beginning of the second semester at the high school, which means we are officially halfway through the school year! College acceptance letters are rolling in, spring sports and activities are right around the corner, and the high school musical is this week. The first-half of the school year was great, and I am really looking forward to what the second half has to bring.

On My Plate for the Week is: 
  • finishing the school budget for a first review, 
  • working with a very powerful committee through our Strategic Planning process, 
  • visiting classrooms, and 
  • attending a few evening meetings.  
I am also finishing up all of my phone calls and meetings with people connected to the Governor and his budget. I plan to use my blog next week to discuss anything related to education that is still in the Governor's plan.

Enjoy the week!

Chris

Monday, January 26, 2015

Only Speak if You Can Improve the Silence

Another great weekend in the books. I finally feel like myself again, and it was great to get downtown to ice skate, get back to running, and renew my Syracuse Chiefs baseball tickets for this year! I also had the opportunity to give back to my profession and work with a group of people who would like to be superintendents someday.

Weekend Competitions Go Well: The weekend was great for some other reasons as well. Our cheerleaders held a GIGANTIC cheerleading event at our high school on Saturday, drawing in well over a dozen cheer teams from around the area and beyond.

While they were cheering, our Academic Decathlon Team was in competition and they did VERY well, placing second, receiving many medals, and qualifying for state competition. Great job! To me this group should receive as many accolades as our sports teams and Marching Band. They practice in the classroom and their uniforms are the hair that cover up their superior brains! Maybe they could shave in a WG somehow?

The Governor Connects State Aid to Education Reforms: By now you have heard that the Governor has withheld an increase in state funding to schools unless the legislature agrees to some significant reforms for education. On the surface, and as a result of the great job the governor has done vilifying my profession, one might think that we DESERVE to be reformed and that our teachers and administrators NEED to be watched more closely and corrected for not increasing student achievement more quickly. These assertions can be proved FALSE.

Here is the news. I feel that the governor should get his own house in order before throwing stones. The Speaker of the House, Sheldon Silver, a top legislator, was recently arrested for abuse of power, and there are numerous investigations happening in Albany related to corruption and campaign financing abuse. These are FACTS.

I have read just about everything out there about the governor's plans for education reform, including all of the well-worded responses from people in my field. Has any of this "back and forth" done anything to improve the situation? I do not think so. It is going to take action.

The first step is to give our parents, community members, and elected officials an idea of what schools would look like if the governor's reforms, especially the reform related to evaluations, are agreed to as written. I want them to see it from the schedule building process right through after-school experiences. 

The second step is to show our parents, community members, and elected officials what schools will look like IF an agreement between the governor and the legislature cannot be reached. For West Genesee that will mean a $1.3M reduction in opportunities for students, a budget that has already CONSISTENTLY been BELOW the GOVERNOR imposed tax cap.

As parents and educators, the one thing you can do is contact an elected official and let them know that you would like them to do their jobs and reach a middle ground. The Central New York School Boards Association is holding two Community Forums, one on February 3 in Auburn at West Middle School and February 5 at North Syracuse Junior High School. The time of each forum is 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. These events are not being held for people to rally, they are being held to get information about how to advocate for education.

Events in the District: This week is Regents week for our High School students. We are also preparing for Strategic Planning and the high school musical, Nice Work If You Can Get It, is right around the corner.

Thanks for reading and see you around the community-

Chris


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Purpose, Movement, Color

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated three years before I was born. As I was growing up and had to research influential people, the life and work of Dr. King was always a choice. I certainly learned about the civil rights movement, and how influential his work was to the lives of wrongfully oppressed people. However, as I got older, I began to realize even more how his leadership style allowed his movement to be so powerful.

For starters he was a man with a purpose. His purpose was to allow people of color to have the same freedoms that everyone else had. All too often in modern politics we see pulpit pounding blowhards who use their voices to threaten, intimidate, and influence to try to move their agendas forward. Dr. King used his voice to communicate his purpose. People heard the purpose and helped to turn the purpose into a movement (probably one of the earliest forms of crowd-sourcing I can think of).

This movement was powerful and has benefited ALL people today, not just African-Americans. In my humble opinion, a day off of school is the LEAST that should be done to recognize one of the most influential people in history.

An Eventful Week: Last week was had another great week.
  • A well attended career fair at West Genesee Middle School, 
  • MANY of our students won awards at the 2015 Scholastic Art competition held at Onondaga Community College,  
  • we confirmed our date and time for graduation this spring (June 20 at 1:00 p.m. in case you were wondering), and 
  • we also had a very successful community forum where people were able to ask me questions about topics that they were interested in. A special thank you to the West Genesee PTA/PTO District Council for hosting the event.
A Busy Time with Academics: Right now we are headed into mid-term and Regents week at the high school as well as creating the master schedules for all of our buildings. These tasks and events signify that we are already at the half way point of the school year already!

Budget Season is Here: As we enter the budget season, I want to familiarize you with a few things that you will be hearing about in the media regarding both state and local politics. If you would like any additional information about these topics please feel free to contact me.
  • Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) - Schools are fighting to have their state funding restored to pre-recession levels. The amount of money that was deducted from the state to schools was called the "GEA" so that the amount could be easily seen and accounted for. Fast forward to today and the state is sitting on a large surplus of monies. School proponents feel that the "GEA" should go away, restoring money to schools. We will see.
  • Veteran's Exemption -West Genesee Central School District recently passed a special tax exemption for veterans. If you are or know a veteran make sure that they register to receive the benefit BEFORE March 1, 2015.
  • Tax Cap and Tax Rebates - The governor has established a maximum amount, by formula, that schools can raise their tax levy's. West Genesee has remained and will create a budget that will remain below this tax cap. Because of this, our residents will be eligible for any tax cap related tax rebates that the governor may make available.
Thanks for reading, continue to stay warm, and have a great week!

Chris

Monday, January 12, 2015

Enjoy Your Surroundings

On the Mend: I am almost fully recovered from my surgery which is great because my wife was patient enough to jog the Creekwalk with me at a snail's pace. The most positive sign was when we got to the head of the lake and saw two white swans swimming in the water. That is the first time we had seen swans on Onondaga Lake. A sign of great things to come.

The Hotel Syracuse: Those who read this blog every week know how much I love our city. This week we were very fortunate to get a tour of the old Hotel Syracuse. There wasn't any heat and electricity was limited, but as soon as I walked into the lobby, I remembered being there as a kid. I was allowed to snap a quick picture of the grand ballroom where many of you might have gotten married or attended a wedding back in the day. I can't wait to see the whole thing completely restored!

Back to School: Delays Already? We had a very positive first week back from break. First, please know that I appreciate your patience during the delay day this week. I fully understand that every decision I make when it comes to closing or delaying school impacts about 10,000 of our residents in one way or the other.  The delays, while a pain sometimes, allow students to be able to get to school and learn something and most of our parents can get to work and earn something. Compared to last year, this has been a cakewalk so far (knocking on wood of course).

Students at WGMS are Scientific: West Genesee Middle School held a great Science Fair. What made it great? No volcanoes and all projects looked like they were actually completed by students with no parent help! Those are the best! This picture features two girls that extracted DNA from fruit and let me know (in a very matter of fact way) that if they had some additional materials they could probably clone something.  Alrighty then! Check out the website later this week for more details.

Musicians in the Spotlight: We were able to host the All County Music Festival, and talk about a full house!  Many of these students are nearly experts at playing their instruments, so it isn't tough to sit and listen to near professional quality music on a Saturday afternoon.

WiFi is Here! Our wireless Internet access has been working at the high school since last Monday and it was interesting to see just a few users (staff and students) taking advantage of it that first day. Then the usage jumped to two hundred on Tuesday, and now as I write this it is over five hundred and climbing. We definitely needed it! Be on the lookout for the Wireless Internet to make its way to the other buildings very soon!

Technology is Now in Our Students Hands: Our technology staff have been working hard to get all our new devices into the hands of students and staff.  As a part of our capital project we are rolling out laptops, Chromebooks, netbook carts, and other handheld devices. Notice I did not mention desktop computers. They are on the way out; as they should be, except for our advanced CAD and design/marketing courses. I am really happy with the progress so far.

Answering Your Questions: Lastly, this Tuesday, January 13 is the date for our annual "Talk with the Superintendent". The event will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the high school large group instruction (LGI) room. Community members are given a chance to ask me questions and engage in a dialogue. Special thanks to the West Genesee PTA/PTO District Council for sponsoring the event and hope to see you there.

Enjoy the week-

Chris