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!


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!


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

If You See Something, Say Something-Important Note

I apologize for the late post, but I wanted to share an important story with you; and on behalf of the Camillus Police Department, ask for your help. Earlier today a parent told one of our building administrators that she saw a suspicious vehicle in the Orchard Village area of our school District. The administrator immediately contacted our School Resource Officer, who is also a Camillus Police officer, and he began an investigation with the help of his fellow officers.

At approximately 7:30 p.m. this evening I was notified that the driver of the suspicious vehicle was apprehended and is being investigated. The investigation is ongoing, so I am not at liberty to give any further details at this time and questions should be directed to the Camillus Police Department.

Please ask your children if they were approached by any strangers recently, and if they were, please contact the Camillus Police immediately to help them with their investigation.

Thank you to the parent who saw something and said something, as well as our administrators and the Camillus Police for quickly working together for the safety of our children.

Thank you for reading.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Respect the Past, Represent the Future

I hope that everyone enjoyed the weekend. The weather is finally starting to turn for the better, and I got to run in shorts for the first time in a LONG time. Girls and Boys Lacrosse are both off to solid starts (keep an eye on both teams this season), and we hope to get baseball (looking forward to throwing batting practice to them), softball (going to try to hit a fast pitch softball), girls golf (going to try to beat them at a practice this spring), and track (going to try to run a 200m with the kids) off the ground shortly.

West Genesee Musicians Invited to Eastern Regional Concert: Last week we learned that two fine arts students, Julia Musengo and Kevin Buff were selected to perform at the 2017 Biennial Eastern Division Concert. That is a "big deal" as they say. It is rare for a school to have one student selected, let alone two. We are proud of these two students and their accomplishments will add to the storied history of our Fine Arts department overall.

Honoring the Past: When I teach courses about leadership, I tell people that it is important to respect the past but represent the future. Someone that deserves to be respected in our history is Bruce Burritt. Fifty years ago, Bruce led the first Wildcat Band into competition. Through his time as Director, the band won multiple NYS and National championships. 
Mr. Burritt also led the West Genesee Wind Ensemble to state and national acclaim. His legacy has endured as his students, Andy Perry (Nationally published and accredited) and Bill Davern (Director of Fine Arts and recent winner of the 2017 Outstanding Educator of the Year Award through SAANYS), have continued to maintain a tradition of excellence with the Wildcat Band and Wind Ensemble. Bruce was recently inducted into the Bands of America Hall of Fame, an incredible honor.

Community Band: Mr. Perry has been working on a special project that I am certain both Julia and Kevin could be a part of once they graduate called the "Community Band". With over seventy members from many graduating classes, they played their first performance last month to over six hundred people. They are awesome, so keep an eye out for word of their next performance which should be some time in May.

Reminder to Make Good Choices: With the weather finally changing to spring, students (and us for that matter) turn from being stir crazy to being a little wild and crazy sometimes. If you are a parent of a teenager, this is the PERFECT time to have a conversation with your kids (and yes, they may think you are nagging them but that is okay; it is worth it) about making good choices, being careful about driving and about being passengers with friends they may be driving with. What I have found with this generation of students, is that threatening them and using negativity does not work; talking about shared responsibility does. We are all in this together, so let's work together to keep them safe!

Thanks and have a great week!

Monday, March 27, 2017

We Can All Be Replaced...or Can We?

A Family Competition: Well, in the Brown family Half Marathon challenge, I was able to take the "trophy" back from my older son Ben (21 years old) by edging him in the Syracuse Half Marathon yesterday by three minutes. Last year he got me by seven minutes. Most rational people would do a best out of three, but I am sure he and I will be going head to head until I can't walk anymore. The MUCH more important thing is spending time with the kids. I wouldn't trade it for anything and if I have to run, play basketball, video games, go to a concert, play golf, or work to keep the annual family vacation happening; count me in!

A Fad that Leaves Scars: I was reminded about an interesting game that middle and high school students in our District started, and luckily ended playing quickly about two years ago, called the "eraser challenge". Students take an eraser and rub it back and forth on their skin until they can't take it anymore and the person with the largest and deepest burn wins.

I am hopeful that the recent articles do not cause our students to try that again. Once was enough. The eraser challenge is not safe. It can cause open wounds that you and I know won't be taken care of well by teenagers. The results can also leave a scar. If your child has these marks on their arms, please tell them to stop and alert your building principal. Again, we have been there and done that, and I would like to not go there again. Thanks for your help on this.

Our Community Loses a Leader and Friend: Tonight we will be recognizing students as they are inducted into the National Honor Society. The pillars of the National Honor Society are leadership, character, scholarship, and service. A person who has exemplified these characteristics since he and his wife Cheryl opened the Town Shop in 1970 in the Village of Camillus, was Dave Vermilya. I say "was" because he passed away last Friday evening from a short illness.

I had been worried for some time about what the community was going to do when he finally decided to retire (his wife retired a few years back and that was challenging enough) and he never got the opportunity to get time to himself.  Dave worked with thousands of youth over his career. His leadership came in the form of running the Town Shop, a "home", if you will, for young men and women looking for a place to hang out, for direction, for some guidance, and in many cases for kindness that was missing at home. His scholarship could be seen in his willingness to be a life long learner, always keeping up with what kids of "today" were interested in. His service needs no words. Lastly, his character appeared in everything he did. He is the ultimate example of someone who did the right thing when people weren't watching.

Growing up, I was raised to understand that no matter how good you were at doing something, you are always replaceable, so it is important to stay humble. David's passing challenges that ideal. I just do not know how he will ever be replaced, but he absolutely needs to be; because he would want it that way. The challenge will be finding the right person. Hopefully he is watching from somewhere and will help to guide that process. Rest in peace Dave Vermilya, our community lost a pioneer, leader, and friend. I will relay memorial information via our social media platforms as soon as I hear something.

Thank you for reading and take care.


Monday, March 20, 2017

March Comes in Like a Lion

Snow Days: Well, last week was like a mini-vacation for the students with all of the snow days plus the staff development day on Friday. March is a long month and in February I spoke to the principals about making sure that they were creating a couple of opportunities for the students to have a little fun (spirit weeks, etc.) and each building did do some fun things. Add in the snow days and April is right around the corner now! For the record, we do have one snow day left in the calendar before we have to start getting creative.

Fine Arts Director Receives Outstanding Educator Award: We are in-between student events so I wanted to take this opportunity to write about a few adult things. First, if you see our Director of Fine Arts, Bill Davern, please congratulate him. He was selected by SAANYS (School Administrators Association of New York State) to receive their Outstanding Educator Award. This award is certainly well deserved, and we have been very fortunate to have had him steering our Fine Arts program for many years. Congratulations to Bill and his family.

Federal Funding: I am keeping an eye on the Federal budget. As I mentioned in last week's blog, our local budget is in good shape, but we do rely on Federal monies in part for students who have disabilities, or who are living in poverty; as well as for a small portion of our professional development budget and for a small portion of salaries for at-risk counselors.

If the government were to cut all of our Federal funding (which they won't), we budget conservatively enough where we would survive it with less pain than we felt during the last recession; but one area that would be really challenging to make up is in the area of reimbursement for free and reduced lunches. One of the magical things about West Genesee is that even as our poverty has increased, so too have our academic results. A part of this, of course, is making sure that our students are fed and happy. With over twenty-five percent of our students (and climbing) qualifying for free and reduced lunch, losing that funding would not be good. I will continue to keep a close eye on what is happening outside of West Genesee and will help us to navigate anything we need to as we have done in the past.

Tips Make a Difference: We have a great relationship with the District Attorney's office as well as the Camillus Police. We were together last week to catch up on a few partnership opportunities and as we got to talking, we thought it would be a good time to remind everyone of our tip button (for bullying, crimes, etc.) which can be found by clicking here as well as the Camillus Police Tip line by clicking here.

We discussed how the number of drug-related issues in our schools have dropped drastically over the past three years due to our partnerships, communication, and visibility of our administrators; but that some people may not feel that way because we haven't written about it in a while.

If you have tips or things you think we should know about, please use the links above. It may look at times like there is no outcome, but every tip we get creates a report and file that all parties build upon. You should also be very proud of the students who have no problems coming to us to let us know if they hear of anything that they think we should know about!

Diplomas on Order: We have ordered diplomas and I plan to start signing them shortly. This means that if you are the parent of a senior, you are now in the channel to graduation. Hard to believe, but it is true!

Hoping for some sun and snow melt this week. We need to get ALL of our sports teams outside for some fresh air! Thanks for your support and enjoy the week!


Monday, March 13, 2017

Ready for Spring

A Successful Season for the Girls Basketball Team: Well, the Girls Varsity Basketball team did not have the outcome they wanted, but they sure had a successful season. One of the exciting things in my job is watching the rebirth and resurgence of a program. We quickly forget that the team made it to the section championship last year and came up short, because they went right back there this year and won it. It stinks that in society we are excited when a lot of people show up to watch a women's sporting event. I hope that changes; it needs to.  

The level of sportsmanship, grit, and talent from this group is fantastic and each player, as a person, is a role model. Their Section III Championship picture will hang proudly in the entrance to the District Office. They will be losing some very valuable seniors, but they are also able to restock with experience right down to the eighth grade. Their future continues to be bright. Congratulations on a great season and thanks to the Wildcat Nation and our community for all of the support!

Festival of Bands Golden Anniversary: Fifty years is a long time for anything. Last week, the Fine Arts Department celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Festival of Bands. Each of those fifty years has been excellent, and our records show how many former performers went on to do great things in music and life. We have tremendous participation in our program, and their dedication to detail and to practice, as well as their instruction, is what separates our program from the others. The CD from the performance will be playing in my car for the next few weeks! A special thank you to Dr. Damon Talley from Louisiana State University for being a guest conductor.

Budget Time Already: We have completed and presented the 2017-2018 budget to the Board of Education. The package falls within the tax cap, preserves any incentives that might be available to homeowners, preserves programs, and adds mental health support for our middle school students and families. You can access the presentation and other budget information from our website by clicking here, Also, I will be giving the presentation again on the following dates:

  • April 25 - 7:00 p.m. at the High School Large Group Instruction (LGI) Room

  • May 3 - Budget Public Hearing - 7:00 p.m. at the High School Library

  • Thank you for your continued support.

    We will have to see what the weather decides to do this week. Hopefully nothing, but stay tuned!

    Enjoy the week-