Monday, May 22, 2017

Tickets Please!

All for a Good Cause: I hope that all of you had a great weekend. I feel like I over did it with exercise, the Downtown Living Tour, and just plain old work. As you are reading this, I am playing one hundred golf holes in a row (we started at 6:00 a.m. and I play until the last putt drops on hole one hundred, which should be around 7:00 p.m.) for the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center. As a team of twenty-four, we will end up raising about $100,000 for a great cause. I have to tell you though, that it will feel good to settle down for the rest of the week!

Budget Passes: Thank you for your support on the budget vote last week. It personally means a lot, and I do not take anything for granted. I am humbled with the 85% success rate and will continue to keep our winning formula going. Also, congratulations to Board of Education members Shawn Mitchell, Neil Widrick, and James Soper for being re-elected to the Board.

Olympics that are Special: Last week I also had the pleasure once again to watch about eighty of our students compete in the Special Olympics. This event is simply wonderful and has grown over the years to include nearly twenty school Districts. We also place a lot of value on being one unit, and our athletes were cheered on by all of the students in their buildings as they left for and returned from competition, and about four hundred of our students in grades K-12 went to the games to cheer in person. If you have never been to watch or volunteer, it is definitely worth your time.

Unified Basketball Season Ends this Week: Speaking of being worth your time, this week is full of opportunities. This afternoon beginning at 4:00 p.m. in the lower and upper gyms at the high school are the culminating games in the Unified Sports Basketball season. The games are competitive and fun. If you have time to stop in on the way home from work for even twenty minutes, you will be inspired for the rest of the week. I would estimate that the games and closing ceremonies should all wrap up by 7:30 p.m.

Other Events this Week: Boys and Girls Track, Girls Golf, Tennis, Boys and Girls Lacrosse, Baseball, and Softball all compete this week in sectionals; and we are excited about that. 

We are also very excited for Kaleidoscope that will take place this Thursday at the Civic Center beginning at 7:30 p.m. If you have been to Kaleidoscope in the past, you know what to expect. This year will be all that, plus a couple of talents that we will be paying to see on the larger stage so I hope you have your tickets, and I will see you there! 

There is School on Friday: Lastly, do not let your kids fool you into thinking that we have Friday off. Due to the number of snow days we used this year, we DO have school on Friday. That being said, enjoy your Memorial Day weekend next week and unless it is absolutely necessary, I will post again next Tuesday.

Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris

Monday, May 15, 2017

Classy Students...Classy Events

I have often toyed with the idea of wearing a "GoPro" for a few days so people could really see and hear what I see and hear. If I had been wearing one on Friday through Saturday afternoon, it would have shown high note after high note.

Car Crash Simulation Held at the High School: On Friday, and thanks to over two dozen people from our local emergency services as well as student volunteers (Sarah Channels, Mark Kopp, Grace Craig, Tracy Dowler, Joe Gauzza, and Avery Miller), Teaching Assistant Pam Agricola, school counselors, and our administrators, we held another successful Mock DWI Crash event for our senior class ahead of the Senior Ball. 

This is something I have been doing since before arriving at West Genesee because sometimes students need to see and hear something for it to sink in. For me, the power of the event never wanes. I have been told by a couple of people over the years that the exercise is a "waste of time" and "not impactful". At left is a candid shot of some students from Friday morning. I don't see "waste of time" or "not impactful" on their faces, do you?

This is by no means a negative event. We believe in the Wildcat family, and this event brings the students closer as they prepare to spend the evening dancing and laughing together at the Senior Ball and then the All-Night Party (thanks to those who burned the midnight oil to help keep our students safe). 

Moving on to the Senior Breakfast: From the simulation, students headed to the Annual Senior Breakfast. While I was speaking to senior Kevin Donahue about the simulation, the breakfast, and the Senior Ball, a student entered the cafeteria alone and sat down at an empty table. Before he and I could exchange another round of sentences, a student from three tables away, walked up to the student and asked the student to come and sit with them. The student even grabbed a chair and carried it to the table as the rest of the table made way for their classmate. I turned to Kevin and I said "did you see that?". He said "yes, that is what we do." Very cool.

A Classy Event: The Senior Ball was elegant and classy, and the dance floor got full in a hurry. Again, there were a few students who were sitting at their tables and other students went to them to ask them to dance. Those are the kinds of things that make me very proud to be a superintendent and should make you very proud as parents and community members. 

After the Ball: At the end of the ball, the students made their way back to the high school for the All-Night Party. Everyone had a great time. I got the "all clear" from my administrative team and the Camillus Police around 7:00 a.m. at which time I gave a large exhale and immediately relaxed. Thanks to all for a spectacular weekend.

We have large senior classes but because they are such great role models, we would like this class to begin what will hopefully become a tradition of walking through the elementary school they attended while wearing their caps and gowns. This will help to set the stage for our younger students so they get an idea of what they have to look forward to!

Annual Budget Vote: I am looking forward to seeing many of you this Tuesday at our Annual Budget Vote. Polls are open from 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. in our usual spot, the West Genesee High School Auditorium Lobby. Please remember to vote (and remind a neighbor). See you there and thank you!

Special Olympics: In my past few blogs I have written about the offshoot of the Special Olympics called Unified Sports, where our students with disabilities compete in basketball games against students from other schools. The program has been amazingly successful.  

The actual Special Olympics are this Thursday at Cicero-North Syracuse High School. We have dozens of our students participating, and we will have busloads of students there to cheer them on. It is one of my favorite events of the year and the weather is looking good!

Thanks for your continued support and enjoy the week!

Chris



Thursday, May 11, 2017

Special Message

By now you have probably heard or read that we had a fight outside of the high school yesterday at dismissal time. As the situation was unfolding, members of the media were calling me because they were receiving calls from parents and community members about a large police presence at the high school. This is totally understandable considering the twenty-four hour news cycle we live in. I asked all of the media outlets to hold on until I could get the situation sorted out. All but one outlet agreed. That happens; we deal with it and move on.

Anyone who has followed my communications over the years knows that I give as many details as I can, when I can. Yesterday, I sent out a brief overview of what happened. Absent from the communication were details that we did not know until we completed our investigation at approximately 12:30 a.m. this morning.

I will try to make a long story short, but will include all of the facts that I think you need to know as parents, community members, and students, and how we are moving forward.

First, the incident was not random, and the incident involved two students, in total, fighting. There were a few other individuals who were present and who watched the fight, but were not involved in the actual fighting. Some of those individuals are current students, and the others are not.

Second, the actual fight lasted approximately forty seconds, however, the stir it caused, as well as the quick police presence (I will get to that), made it feel like twenty minutes.

Third, one of the students fighting did, for a short time, possess a small pocket knife that he had taken from and returned to a vehicle he had been in. The knife did not make contact with anyone, but it is clear that he was in possession of it for a brief time.

One of the individuals was in possession of a broomstick handle for a brief period. That was taken from the trunk of his vehicle, was in his possession for a brief period, and was returned to his vehicle.

As you might imagine, if you were an administrator or School Resource Officer running to a "possible fight" in the parking lot, and you see the fight, plus a couple hundred students trying to get into their own cars and leave for the day, you would call for backup. The building principal called for backup. This created the large police presence that some of you saw or heard about. The positive take away from this is knowing that should we ever have a large emergency, we can bank on a large police presence quickly. They are to be commended for their professionalism and attention to detail, as are our administrators, who made all of the right decisions quickly and kept the situation from escalating.

So where do we go from here? First, we apply the Code of Conduct to any student participants, and then we work with the Camillus Police on the criminal charges that may apply to those involved.

I was very disappointed with the incident; but for reasons you might not think. We are a very large District but have great connections with students. I was very proud of our students who did all of the right things in terms of telling us about the fight and then getting out of the way. I was also very proud of our administrators and staff for quickly doing the right thing, as well as our School Resource Officer and the Camillus Police.

We work very hard to avoid incidents like the one that occurred yesterday. In fact, the last even remotely similar case we had to this one was eight years ago, and I am disappointed that the clock has to start ticking again.

As far as your children being safe? Absolutely. I do appreciate your trust and also appreciate your patience while we got everything sorted out. I will certainly keep you posted should we learn anything else.

On another note, tomorrow night is the Senior Ball. Tomorrow morning is the simulated DWI crash that we hold for the seniors at 7:30 a.m. in the front circle. You will see police cars again, but in a positive way; to help our students to make good decisions on one of the most important nights of their high school careers.

Thank you and enjoy the rest of the week.

Chris



Monday, May 8, 2017

Where has the Time Gone?

On the Run! I am very happy to have made it through the Mountain Goat yesterday and to have seen and run with so many Wildcats! The other runners must have been startled with so many shout-outs of "Go West Genny!" from seemingly everywhere. Those races are not easy undertakings, and I want to be sure to thank all of the volunteers, ambulance workers, and police officers who coordinated the event and kept us safe. Next up for me is the Corporate Challenge in June.


Celebrating Students and Staff: Last week we had the pleasure of celebrating the successes of students and staff. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, we hosted the High Honor Roll Breakfast for the freshmen (156 students), sophomores (123 students), and juniors (143 students). I enjoy these events because I get to catch up with parents I might not have seen in a while and the events are for very positive things. Our seniors have an evening honor reception coming up in a few weeks. Congratulations to all!

We were also the hosts of Senator DeFrancisco's "Teachers of Excellence" award program. Special Education teacher Mary Philippone and Art teacher Kelly Moser-Vogler were selected from West Genesee. The senator did a great job in making all of the teachers in attendance feel welcomed, appreciated, and comfortable. We would be more than happy to host the event every year (hint, hint).


Athletes Compete: Rain has really messed with the sports schedule, but last week our Boys and Girls Track teams continued to dominate and our Girls Lacrosse team got a great come from behind win over rival CBA. It is hard to believe, but the end of the regular season is already in sight!


A Big Announcement: On the Boys Lacrosse side, coach Messere announced to the media that he will be retiring at the completion of next season. It will also signify the end of his fiftieth year of coaching. When I ask people to describe coach Messere, I often hear the words visionary, pioneer, and champion to describe his influence on the game. 

As always, when someone of his stature and prowess announces that they will be leaving, the first question is "who will replace him?" Right now coach Messere is still on our sidelines until the end of next year, and we want to keep the coaching staff and players free from distraction. Mr. Burns, our Athletic Director, and I will make sure that his replacement will continue our tradition of high standards and excellence in boys lacrosse. As that replacement process takes place, we will be sure to keep you posted.

Senior Ball, Already? This Friday is the Senior Ball, followed by the All-Night Party at the high school. At 7:30 a.m. on Friday in the circle at the high school, seniors will be experiencing a simulated DWI crash. This is something that we began in conjunction with local fire departments, police, ambulance, county coroner, and District Attorney's office, in 2009. Even though the students "know what is coming" because of what they have heard from older classmates, the impact is great. 

You can help us in two ways next Friday. The first is to make a donation to the all night party. Almost all of our senior class attends the Senior Ball and just about everyone attends the All-Night Party. In fact, there are seniors who do not attend the ball but go to the All-Night Party after. They will take any donation you have in order to make sure that every attendee gets something, is fed, and that the entertainment is top notch. If you would like to donate, you can contact my administrative assistant, Eileen Conboy at 315-487-4562 or econboy@westgenesee.org. She will make sure that your donation is passed along to the correct people.

The second thing you can do is just enjoy and appreciate that this is a "big night" for our seniors. Anything positive you can say or do for them goes a long way. This includes smiling when your neighborhood is full of cars for pictures!


Poster Contest: Lastly, sophomore Tori Rech  is competing to have her poster design to be selected as THE poster for the annual Taste of Syracuse. This is what it looks like; and you can help her to achieve her goal by clicking here to go to Facebook (Taste of Syracuse page) and "like" to vote for her poster!

Thanks for the support and have a great week!

Chris

Monday, May 1, 2017

In the Books...

A Great Night to be a Wildcat: Another successful Junior Prom is in the books! My wife and I had a blast watching the students exit limos and fancy cars and head into the event. We have attended twenty-four junior proms together, and we agreed that over the years the only real changes for the boys have been shoes, ties, and vests and color and length of dresses for the girls. At the end of the day, they have been and still are, excited young adults on prom night. You should be proud as community members and parents at all of the compliments I received from limo services, restaurant managers and owners, about how polite and friendly our students were.

At the prom itself, prom goers had a great time taking pictures with their phones in front of back drops that were created by students and staff. The photo booth was also a hit! Around 10:45 p.m., and just after the prom king and queen were announced, graduate and successful singer Nick Sgroi (Sig Roy) surprised the kids with a two-song set. They loved it. After, he was gracious with his time and stayed for pictures and handed out free shirts.

Not sure how many other junior proms have had a top music act perform at their prom! By midnight, the crowd had thinned out and my phone stayed very quiet overnight; which was a good thing. All in all, another great day (and night) to be a Wildcat!

Showing Appreciation: Earlier in the week we celebrated Staff Appreciation Day. While there are individual days throughout the year to celebrate individual job titles, we feel that everyone in our organization has equal value so we should all be celebrated at the same time. Our Board of Education members take time out of their schedules (many take personal time and vacation days) to visit with all of our employees (even second shift) and thank them for their service. I think they enjoy doing this as much as our employees enjoy hearing from them!

We were all surprised by a Staff Appreciation Day video put together by senior Eden Strachan where several students from all grade levels were interviewed and asked questions about their time at West Genesee. I rarely show emotion, so I just tell people that I was chopping onions while watching it. When I thanked Eden for creating the video she said that she, "was really happy to do it because West Genesee is truly a great district". In my line of work, there is no greater compliment than one that comes from a student!


Time Goes Quickly: Advanced Placement exams began today and NYS Grades 3-8 Mathematics Assessments start tomorrow; which means that May is upon us. Next thing you know I will be writing about graduation. Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris


Monday, April 24, 2017

Race to the Finish!

Vacation Update - At Home and Away: Welcome back! I hope you had a chance to rest and recharge last week. I had an opportunity to go to Puerto Rico for a few days at the very beginning of break. It is an interesting place. A United States territory, Puerto Rico has great culture, and the people are very friendly.

Their economy is very poor, so poor in fact, that the state colleges and universities are closed right now, and we saw college students protesting in the streets to be able to go BACK to school. I found that to be a sharp contrast to New York State, where free tuition for state colleges and universities was just legislated!

Back at work, it was awesome to read how well our sports teams have been doing, and I can't wait to get to some games this week. The mud is finally starting to subside in the back of the high school and work crews were able to get a great jump on a new roadway from our parking areas to our baseball and softball fields, as well as the tennis courts. Our crews were also able to get the first mow in of all of our properties and everything looks great for students and staff as they return for what will be a race to the finish.

Upcoming Dances: We are heading into the Junior Prom (this Saturday) and Senior Ball season (May 12), so now is a great time to remind all of you that is DOES take all of us to help our children to be safe. Anything you can do from words of encouragement and making good choices to helping with the after the Senior Ball All-Night Party can save a life. Thank you.

13 Reasons Why: If you are a parent of a middle or high school student and you have a Netflix subscription, chances are your child is watching, has watched, or has been told by you that they cannot watch the series 13 Reasons Why. The book was written in 2007 by Jay Asher (who we have had speak at school in the past), and depicts a high school student who commits suicide and leaves behind thirteen cassette tapes for the people who caused her to make that ultimate choice.

The series is very realistic from my perspective and the scene where the main character actually kills herself is very drawn out and very graphic. It has caused mental health professionals from all over the country to release coping guides, suicide hotline numbers, and opinions that the series may cause more harm than good to students who may be struggling with their own mental health issues, bullying, shaming, and just plain old being a teenager in today's world.

Please take a moment at dinner to ask your kids if they are watching the series and if they want to talk about it further. All of our counselors and social workers are very aware of the series and can help. I am bringing this to your attention now because the series is getting a lot of attention on social media and national news programs, and I want you to be as up to speed as possible.

Budget Information: If you aren't busy on Tuesday night, I will be presenting the budget at 7:00 p.m. in the West Genesee High School Large Group Instruction Room. Nothing has changed from what was originally presented to our Board of Education over a month ago, but I will be available to answer any questions you might have about the spending plan for next year.

Thanks and have a great week!

Chris

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sign of the Times

It is amazing what a little sunshine will do for our spirits. I got a couple of good runs in over the weekend, and my wife and I got to enjoy the Syracuse Chiefs game yesterday and really enjoyed the warmth (finally). We need more sun and some wind to try the paths leading up to our baseball and softball fields; but beggars can't be choosers!

Robots Roar to Life: I felt pretty old last week. No, it wasn't because of my eye exam that produced a "blended lens" prescription. It was watching students from East Hill Elementary School program an iPad with computer code to make a robot roar to life and navigate across the cafeteria floor and to me. 

It reminded me of 8th grade at St. Ann's Elementary School when I helped to set up a computer lab full of Apple IIe computers and then taught my fellow students a programming language called "Turtle Basic". At the end of that programming class, a small turtle moved four or five inches on a computer screen. We all thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Times sure have changed!

State Budget Passes: With the passage of the state budget, many things have become much more clear. First, and in terms of the school budget, we hit the mark in terms of what we thought we were going to receive from the state, so we do not need to make any changes to the budget before the voters consider it in May.


What was an interesting add to the budget was the inclusion of free college tuition to state schools for families making $125,000 or less per year. This will make things interesting. I have a graduating senior from a state school and that total bill was approximately $69,000, and another at a private school (more than a state school); so you can see how big of a deal this legislation will be for some families.


Many of our students attend Onondaga Community College (OCC) for two reasons: first because OCC is a very good school, and second, the cost fits into more family budgets. The majority of students who attend OCC from West Genesee are also accepted to other colleges but finances make the decision for them. By my estimations, about sixty percent of our families and students will now be able to choose between OCC and a state school for a free college education. This will certainly change the conversation at the dinner table for these families and will probably cause conversations to happen at the community college and state college level. If I was the president of a private school, I would be pretty nervous!

What if you are like me and have children who won't qualify for free tuition and who will be paying in some way for other students to go to college for free through my taxes? I am always an optimist and look for the best in everything. Think about what happens when we are given the choice of multiple free things. We look for what else those free things might offer. That instills competition to offer the best "free" things, and everyone benefits. Should be fun watching all of this develop over the coming months, and I will make sure that our school counselors are up-to-date as they guide students toward college, career, and military goals.


One of the Best Music Communities, Again: Congratulations to our Fine Arts staff and out students for helping us to achieve the Best Communities for Music Education in America for the ninth consecutive year; and thirteenth time overall. If you have ever attended a fine arts performance, you know what it sounds and looks like to continue receiving this very high honor. (Click here to read more about this honor.)

Go Blue 4 Kids: Today you will see pinwheels in front of all of our buildings in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention month. We have partnered with the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Centers "Go Blue 4 Kids" campaign. Students raised money for the pinwheels and the money they have donated to the advocacy center will be used right here in central New York for victims of child sexual and physical abuse. I applaud and appreciate the efforts of our Parent Teacher Associations/Organizations, as well as our students and staff.

I am going to take a week off from writing until the Monday we return from spring break; unless there is a reason to write before that. Enjoy the week and have a wonderful spring break!

Chris