Monday, April 20, 2015

An Academic National Champion!

Academic Competition: Last week our Academic Decathlon team went to California to compete in the Academic Decathlon National Championship. Coming off of a convincing New York State Championship, the group was excited to travel and compete against the other top teams in the Nation.

Academic Decathlon ( started as an idea by Dr. Robert Peters while he was a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. He was a downed B-17 pilot and wrote in his journal that "students ought to have a decathlon of studies". When he returned from the war and became a school Superintendent, he started the first Academic Decathlon competition in 1968 in Bolsa Grande, California. The competition takes students from three academic flights (based on grade point averages) through scholastic competitions that cover academics, speeches, and interviews.

Some schools offer a separate curriculum called "Academic Decathlon" right during the school day in order to be as competitive as possible. West Genesee banks on a solid well-rounded curriculum that ALL students receive. The team uses that knowledge plus expert coaching by Scott Duda, our advisor and science teacher, to be as competitive as possible.

I am very proud to announce that while the whole team did not win the National championship, senior Domtilla Magunga won a Gold medal for the "Interview" portion of the competition, making her a National class academic achiever! Congratulations to Domtilla and please congratulate her when you see her!

Athletic Competitions: It was a great weekend to be a Wildcat. Both lacrosse teams won very difficult competitions, and our baseball team secured a convincing win in front of many college scouts. If the weather cooperates, they will all be in play along with softball, girls golf, and track which are also having strong seasons so far.

Up Next, Math Assessments: We wrap up the 3-8 New York State Assessments this week with the Math portion. About 18% of our students did not take the English portion of the assessments, and many have asked what kind of penalty that might bring to the District. If fewer than 95% of the students are tested there can be state or federal penalties levied.

I have some people that I trust in the business, and at this point I do not believe there will be any state financial penalties given to our school for not meeting the 95% tested. On the state side, I believe that the tests taken will be scored, and the results will be used in teacher, principal, and building overall scores.

On the Federal side, I think that Split Rock Elementary School is at risk of losing their federal "Reward School" distinction for having sustained academic success. The "95% rule" is a part of this distinction, so my fear is that federally the school will lose the distinction and the $50,000 grant that comes with the distinction. I am going to write some letters and call people in hopes that Split Rock Elementary School will not suffer while New York State is going through an educational revolution. Keep your fingers crossed.

Thank you for your continued support and enjoy the week!


Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Ink Is Dry...and so are the Fields!

I hope that all of you enjoyed your spring break. I spent mine getting all of the diplomas signed and ready for final signature by the Board of Education president. 

I also watched our playing fields dry out, become level, and become ready to be played on. Surprisingly, we have been able to hold almost every one of our games on schedule and our turf field is back in service. Who would have thought that a month ago?

Other than desk work and visiting buildings to make sure all winter damage has been taken care of, I had a pretty quiet week which is in direct contrast to the week our paid and volunteer emergency management service people had. Many of our emergency service workers are also parents of children in our schools and they had to respond to three ugly car accidents and a fire. I want to thank all of our community emergency responders for handling each situation with compassion, professionalism, and expertise.

Here I go jinxing ourselves, but if we do not have any additional emergency closing days, students and staff will have the Friday before Memorial Day (May 22) off.

Enjoy what is supposed to be a beautiful weather week and thank you for your continued support!


Thursday, April 2, 2015

When a Turf Field is in the News...

Greetings. With spring break coming up I wanted to give you a final update about what is going on around the District before we are apart for a week. Don't worry, I'll be right here working over break, but I hope that you all get a little time to rest and recharge.

Turf Field Update: You might have seen our turf field make the news recently. Due to the incredibly cold winter, the ground underneath sections of the turf field froze deeper and more solidly that in previous years. This caused areas of the turf to "heave", as well as sidewalk pavers near the turf field. Without exaggeration I can share with you that a few spots raised or lowered over a foot. Because of this heaving, our field is currently unplayable.

Our lacrosse teams are using the portions of the field that were not affected for their practices. We hope that as the weather warms up the turf will return back to its original, flat position. In the meantime, our lacrosse teams will play away games, at neutral sites, or on our grass field when that is available. I do not expect repairs to be costly. Competitive advantage? As I shared with a reporter today, our boys and girls lacrosse teams will play any team, anywhere, and under any set of conditions without hesitation. They just want to play and compete.

The State Budget: Lawmakers are working on the finishing touches of the state budget. West Genesee will realize an increase of projected money of approximately $1M. Unfortunately, that money is going to be tied to changes to teacher evaluation and other policies and practices currently in place for schools. I have no further details at this point. We do tend to budget very conservatively, so I am comfortable with the budget that has been presented and adopted as we move closer to budget vote day on May 19.

Students Like Changes in Food Choices: I had mentioned in a previous blog about some changes we are making in the food service department. Those changes have had a tremendously positive impact on the amount of food served. So if you have a teenager like I do, do not be surprised if you find yourself adding money to their lunch account sooner than usual!

Thanks for reading and for your support.  See you soon.


Monday, March 30, 2015

The Truth About Testing

Electrify Your Strings: West Genesee strings students participated in a spectacular two-day event including workshops, rehearsals, and performances with professional electric violinist, Bridgid Bibbens. Parents, students, and community members were then treated to a pretty cool musical encounter on Saturday night when she put on a spectacular performance. I have received a lot of feedback about an encore performance so I will absolutely speak to our Director of Fine Arts to see if that can happen at some point. Thanks to all who attended. 

Healthy Can Taste Good! If your children are coming home and are excited about school lunch there is a reason for that. We recently applied for and received what is called a "Whole Grain-Rich Exemption" which allows us to substitute fifty percent of our menu from whole grains to enriched grain.

This waiver was necessary to get some relief from the Federal Healthy Choices initiative. The waiver might sound minimal, but it allows us to use a whole variety of crusts and breads that students will actually eat. Ask your children about the pizza last week and they will tell you how big of a deal the waiver is! It is the little things that count.

Truth About Testing: Going back to the title of this blog, who knows what the truth is right now about testing. What I do know is that there are a lot of parents, teachers, administrators, and Board of Education members angry at the New York State Education Department as well as the office of the Governor. As we get closer to the dates for grades 3-8 New York State Assessments, you will hear from people, probably see signs telling parents to have their children refuse the tests, and you might even see a picket sign or two depending where you are in the community.

For people who are not involved in this topic on a daily basis I would like to let you know where I stand on this issue as your Superintendent. For starters, I think we all need to agree that there is a difference between the new standards, called the Common Core Learning Standards, and the assessments that are given related to those standards. I am in classrooms every day and I have seen the new standards rolled out well by expert teachers. I am also seeing more and more students find a comfort level in learning them. So my opinion of the new standards is that I cautiously support them and will become more comfortable in the coming years.

New York State asks that we test students being taught by these standards, and those tests are called the New York State Assessments for grades 3-8. They are scheduled to be administered April 14-16 (English Language Arts) and April 22-24 (Mathematics). Some people feel that the testing cycle for the new standards was poorly rolled out, that the tests in their current state are not valid, and the results in no way let a teacher, parent, or student know how the student is actually progressing. That is where the questioning and anger come from. I totally understand where these people are getting their views and feelings from.

Here is what I can say about the New York State Grades 3-8 Assessments. 
  • School Districts in New York State are required to administer them.  
  • None of my employees (this includes me) are permitted to tell parents to refuse the assessments for their children, nor will they encourage parents to have their children take them.  
  • If parents do decide to have their children refuse the New York State Grades 3-8 Assessments via letter or e-mail, their child will sit in the testing room and be allowed to read quietly.  We do not have the space to allow students who refuse to be moved to an alternate location. It is as simple as that.  
When I feel differently or can act differently about the Assessments, I will write about them again.

National Honor Society: The induction ceremony is tonight and then we are on the heels of spring break.

Enjoy the week and hopefully some warmer temperatures!


Monday, March 23, 2015

Sustained Success Is No Accident

Well, I was excited when I learned that the Syracuse Half Marathon was being moved to March from its previous earlier date. I was planning on running in shorts! Nope. Unfortunately, with an AccuWeather "Real Feel" of 5 degrees and a 28 mile an hour wind, I was bundled up like it was late December! Still felt good to be out on the roads, but so did the warm shower when it was over.

Best Music Community Again!: I am very proud to be able to write about our Fine Arts Program. We received word last week that the program is being recognized as the 2015 Best Music Communities for Music Education Award for the seventh time in a row and the tenth time overall. Sustained success is no accident. The dedication of our Fine Arts staff, students, and supportive parents help us to achieve this award. Kudos also to our Director of Fine Arts, Bill Davern, for leading the charge!

Our Athletes Do Well Academically: I am also very proud of our Athletics Department. Few people know this, but we are one of the few area schools that has an academic eligibility policy. This policy has helped our athletic teams to produce in the classroom as well as in competition. As a measure of this commitment to academics, I am pleased to report that from our spring sports campaign last year through the recent completion of our winter program twenty five of our twenty six varsity teams received Scholastic Team Awards from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA). To receive the award the team must have a combined academic average of ninety or greater. Several of our teams have had averages of ninety five percent. Good stuff!

Students are Inducted into the National Honor Society: Next week, on March 30, we celebrate dozens of students who will be inducted into the National Honor Society. To become members, students must display scholarship, leadership, service, and character. If the students being inducted can continue to exhibit the National Honor Society traits into adulthood, their success will be no accident.

Thank you for your support and enjoy the week-


Monday, March 16, 2015

Why You NEVER Give Up on a Kid

I am sure you are expecting me to write about how I was able to be outside on St. Patrick's parade day in just jeans and a shirt but then had to use the snow blower the next day. However, I wouldn't bore you with those details....

Never Give Up: The best part of parade day for me was running into six of our graduates, who let's say got more familiar with my office than most of the other students. The first thing they did was reach out to shake my hand and then proceeded to talk over each other about how well they are doing now. They apologized for being "knuckleheads" when they were in school and thanked me for never giving up on them. I told them that I was so happy to have run into them and that they should be proud of themselves for where they are today.

Those students received consequences for their actions while they were in school but at the same time no one gave up on these kids and they were not allowed to give up on themselves. Seeing them on Saturday and knowing that they "made it" and are going to be successful, just continues to validate for me why you should NEVER give up on a student, no matter what!

West Genny Freshman is a National Champion: Congratulations to freshman runner, Carly Benson. She is the Indoor Track National Freshman Mile Champion! I have said it once, and I will say it again, we could all be following a future Olympian. By no means do I mention this to add any pressure to her. Carly works hard, still finds time to enjoy life, and is very grounded. Those are some of the ingredients needed to become an elite, high level athlete. Congratulations!

Talking to Government Students: This week I will be speaking with seniors in their Participation in Government courses, which is time that is well spent. I really enjoy having adult conversations with students who are only a few months from graduation.

Thank you for your continued support and enjoy the week!


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Everyone Needs a Little Culture!

Culture Fair is Diverse: We had a great turnout on Saturday for our 7th Annual District Culture Fair. If you have never been, it is a chance for our community members, students, and staff to show off their talents and share delicacies from their cultures.

It is also an opportunity for our whole community to see just how diverse our school community actually is. I want to give a great big thank you to our organizers, volunteers, and to all who attended. Click here to view a short video of the event.

Auditorium Becomes a Concert Hall: Last Thursday night our high school auditorium was transformed into a true concert hall. Our audience was treated by guest conductors/composers Rossano Galante and Dr. Scott Boerma, who helped to take our musicians through some very challenging pieces. I am fortunate to get copies of all our performances, and I have to tell you that the music that was played on Thursday night was professional quality. We are very spoiled to be among such musical talent.

Updates to Our Schools: The Capital Project is still on schedule and on budget.
  • Crews are continuing to install technology upgrades in the buildings. 
  • At the same time some of the new door security measures are up and running as well. 
  • We have sent the final plans for the new additions (cafeterias) for East Hill Elementary and Onondaga Road Elementary Schools. They are past their preliminary approvals so getting some shovels in the ground is going to begin to happen sooner than later. 
We are excited for the needed progress that is to come.

Spring Sports Already? Believe it or not, spring sports start today. Yes, you read that correctly. I am hoping for a slow and consistent thaw that hopefully starts today so we can be playing non-turf sports outdoors by April! Keep you fingers crossed.

Thanks and enjoy the week!