Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year!

Well, Mother Nature has been pretty tame so far this winter; but I am sure we will pay for it. If you are keeping track at home we have used one emergency closing day, and I would certainly like to keep it that way. I am not keeping my hopes up though!

District Office Building: I would like to give a quick but huge "shout out" to our custodians, buildings and grounds crew, and our technology department staff. They totally dismantled the District Office over the first part of break so we could get some work done to it, and they worked long hours and over the weekend to get us back in business a full week early. Because of their efforts, we are now open for business again and not working with laptops in buildings all over the District!

A Busy Time in Athletics: Even though we have been on break, the high school has been especially busy with practices, games, meets, and matches. I have had a chance to see some great games so far, and I am really looking forward to the rest of the winter season, sectionals, and state competitions! 

I was also happy to see the Syracuse University Orange football team win their bowl game and their basketball team start to turn the corner before conference play. We can argue about the value of sports on a community, but when the local college teams and pro teams are winning, people are buzzing and spending money locally and that helps all of us!

Starting A New Year: January represents my 18th anniversary as a superintendent; and the first half of this school year has been one of the smoothest I have been a part of. No complaints about that! As we start the new year, we are in very good shape, and I will outline some key dates and events of interest for you in my next blog post. We just need to continue to work hard, smart, and stay the course.

Happy New Year! Enjoy, be safe, and I will write again in the new year.

Thanks for your continued support.


Friday, December 21, 2018

Happy Holidays!

I wanted to take a quick moment to thank all of you for your support, and for choosing West Genesee as the school community to raise your children in. Merry Christmas to those like me who celebrate Christmas, and Happy Holidays to all. I will be around all break if you need me, and I will write again in the new year.

Thank you and take care!


Monday, December 17, 2018

Lessons Can Come from Anywhere

We continue to be going full speed ahead into the long holiday break. Believe me, two full weeks off was something that I was not a fan of. Due to the number of required days of staff and student attendance contractually required, and where in the week Christmas and New Year's Days fell, it called for a two-week break. It will go quickly I am sure, but when you see it on a calendar it looks like an eternity!

Art Comes in Many Forms: I had a pretty cool experience on Saturday night. I attended an art installation located at the Gear Factory on South Geddes Street. If you have been following along in this blog, I had mentioned that our Design and Manufacturing students made skateboard decks that were then given to art and photography students to be creatively decorated. The art installation on Saturday night was to show them off (there were other boards made by adult artists as well). They will be on display at West Genesee in the early spring and then auctioned off, with the proceeds benefiting the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center
(stay tuned for info on that).

As I stood in the building and observed the art, it hit me. I had been in that building almost 48 years ago, as a child in foster care through the Department of Social Services. It is where my mom and dad picked me out, adopted me, and took me home all those years ago. How full circle is that? At any rate, suffice it to say that I will be bidding on a many of these boards when the time comes!

Positivity in Practice: I have struggled to get into the holiday spirit this year, but I ran across a situation during a building visit last week that changed that. Each of our buildings participates in a character program called the Positivity Project and the students learn traits for each along the way. A recent trait was "humility" and second grader Connor Hussong exemplified that.

During lunch last week, he saw a friend choking on his lunch. Connor did not hesitate to get up from his lunch, pat his classmate on the back until the food dislodged, and got him some help. He didn't attract attention to himself or the situation. He saw a situation, helped, and went back to what he was doing. I am very proud of Connor, as was our School Resource Officer, Anthony Gucciardi, who made a special trip to Connor's building to thank him as well. Good things do happen and great lessons can
come from anywhere. Nice job, Connor!

School Bus Safety Pilot: We are going to pilot a program that is so new, it doesn't have a name yet. In an effort to help keep students safe, the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office, Camillus Police Department, and the school are working together to help stop people from passing stopped school buses.

Officers will ride on select bus routes.When a car passes the bus while its red lights are flashing, they will radio to a patrol car(s) that will pull the offending cars over and issue tickets. We hope that this will spread the word that passing stopped school buses and putting children in danger is not cool. It will start shortly, and I will report back when I can as to how many cars were stopped.

A Busy Week: If you are looking for something to do, we have several home athletic contests this week (schedules are available from the District, Athletics, and school home webpages). The big "sleigh ride" concert is this Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the high school. It is going to be a very busy but great week!

District Office Building Update: Lastly, we are having some minor work done to the District Office over the break, but it will cause us to close the building and for us to work in other areas of the District. The building will be closed from December 22 through January 6. If you email or call the office, however, we will respond, and it will be business as usual for us through the break.

Thanks and enjoy the week!


Monday, December 10, 2018

A Little Bit of Everything

Last week felt like a whirlwind. On Monday, I had an opportunity to visit with people at the Camillus Senior Center. Meeting with them is a highlight of the school year for me because I get a chance to soak in more history of our community from the experts and I get an opportunity to talk to them about what is happening in our schools. I always like to answer questions as well. Probably the most prominent question I received was about the Marching Band and the direction we are headed. I assured them that they will want to pay attention to this upcoming campaign because it will not disappoint. In retirement, my dad has been working a few days a week there during tax season to help people with their tax return filings and it was funny to watch the reaction when I connected him to me. It was a "small world" moment. Good stuff!

West Side Support Network Update: We held a very good West Side Support Network meeting during the week as well. We have a really diverse group of people who have joined our core group and we are in the planning stages of offering a night called "Lived Experiences" on January 14 at West Genesee High School. It will center around substance use disorder, mental wellness, juuling and vaping, and NARCAN training. As the official agenda comes into focus I will be sure to share it. Our previous forums and get-togethers have been well attended and informative, and I hope to see you there.

School Resource Officers: Chief Tom Winn and I have been working since the spring to find a pathway to increase the number of School Resource Officers in our schools. It sounds easy, just hire some officers, right? Not quite. Inter-municipal agreements (between the Town of Camillus and the District) take buy-in from both governing boards (done); all the legalese you would expect in a sharing and employment agreement (done); and then an understanding of what we are trying to accomplish (done). Oh yeah, you also need to have the resources in place (done).

The shared vision is to add retired police officers (called School Patrol Officers by Civil Service title) to West Genesee Middle School and Camillus Middle School. They will also serve the elementary schools that feed the middle schools. We would like them to build relationships with students, staff, and parents, provide another layer of safety, as well as help when the need for their expertise arises. We currently have two officers at the high school (one is a regular patrol officer and one is a School Resource Officer). These additional officers will help to bolster a secure presence in our school buildings.

You will begin to see advertisements for these officers, so if you are a retired police officer or know of a retired officer looking to return to work, please contact the Camillus Police Department. We will fill the positions once we have the people who will be the right fit for the Camillus Police Department and the District.

A Busy Time at the High School: I spent a lot of time last week at the high school, just meeting with students and staff. I learned that the popular online game Fortnite is losing some of its shine, and kids are looking for the next thing (they think Call of Duty will go back to being really popular again). I learned that the Apple Airpod headphones are a worthy opponent to the Beats brand that I see most kids using. I also reaffirmed that this time of the year before break is stressful for a lot of students. All noted, and you should too, as we dig into the holidays and then the darker part of winter. I really do enjoy my time with the students and I always learn a lot. I hope they learn a little from me every now and then too!

Saturday night was the High School Semi-Formal Dance and the theme was the "Enchanted Forest". The students did an awesome job of getting it all set up, and it was a wonderful night for about 850 of our students. Unfortunately, more than 850 students wanted to attend, so the dance was officially a "sell out". If you are a musician or athletic team, you celebrate playing in a venue that is sold out.  For us, there was no celebration. You never want to turn kids away from anything but in this case, there was no other option. 

The high school advisers and administrative team have worked tremendously hard to build a positive school culture and it showed during ticket sales and again on Saturday night, and there was no time to make a venue change. Even though it was a high school event, everything with West Genesee on it is my responsibility and I will work with the team to make sure that they can continue to ride the wave of positivity and student participation with the right tools to do so.

If you are looking for a good, fun, holiday thing to do, I would recommend Elf the Musical at Syracuse Stage through January 6 I believe. I went on Friday night and it was light and a lot of fun.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the week!


Monday, December 3, 2018

Different Ideas

I hope that you had a great week last week. I am so used to writing a blog every week that I really missed not posting one after Thanksgiving, but I really didn't have much to say besides how much turkey I ate; and I didn't want to bore you what that.

As I spend more years as a superintendent (18 years this January!), I get more and more opportunities to present at and be a part of national conversations surrounding education. I choose wisely and only a couple a year that I think I can learn the most from. Late last week I presented about distributed leadership and communication to superintendents from around the country. I also learned about the national conversation around getting more diversity in my role, school safety, national school budget strategies, making telemedicine for underprivileged students available in schools, and updates to the survey tool "Thought Exchange" that you may remember us using for Strategic Planning.

I thought the presentation went well on my end, and I took a lot away and actually created two key partnerships with companies in the school safety and communications spaces that will really help us. As those partnerships develop, I will keep you up to speed. I just don't want to jinx anything by describing them before agreements are made in writing.

One thing that I found quite frustrating as a superintendent from New York was how schools, particularly in the south, are able to work with commercial partners to help pay for things and programs in schools. New York State prohibits any commercialism in schools.

I am certainly not saying that I want our children, buses, or fields to look like NASCAR drivers, but when every budget conversation in New York revolves around costs, taxes, and impact on you and me, why can we not begin to at least talk about how a commercial partner(s) could help us grow programs and defray costs? Schools in the south have sponsors for their athletics, fine arts, career, and technical education programs, etc. and that helps to drive down their cost per pupil. That lower cost per pupil lowers the tax impact. I just think there is a way, and I would love to see the law change from "NO" to "maybe". I am going to carry that flag for a while and see where that goes.

We are in full-fledged "concert season" so if music is your thing, be sure to keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for upcoming concert dates. Also, high school athletics works in cycles, and we are really in an "up" cycle in our basketball programs at the moment. You can expect very large crowds for our girls and boys games this season, so if you are coming to see them play and want a good seat, be sure to get there early!

Thank you and enjoy the week.


Monday, November 19, 2018

Giving Thanks

I am still upset that we had to use a snow day on Friday, and it was no one's fault but Mother Nature. Our own plow people were out at 11:30 p.m. Thursday night trying to keep up, as were town and county crews. They all worked tirelessly to help us to get school open on Friday, but too much heavy snow came too close to the start of the school day for us to be able to open school safely. Obviously, we can't have a four-hour delay, but it probably would have worked. My hope is that Friday will be the last snow day until at least Christmas break. This is Syracuse though; so who knows.

Students Perform in Musicals: We now have two very successful middle school musicals in the books. West Genesee Middle School delighted attendees with their rendition of The Addams Family, and Camillus Middle School sang and danced their way through The Music Man. Many of these performers will choose to continue in high school, so I would say that the performing arts continue to be alive and well at West Genesee!

Athletic Letter of Intent Signing: Last week we celebrated National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Mike Burns, our Athletic Director, does a really nice job of reminding everyone in attendance that while the students athletes are receiving scholarships to play sports at the Division I or II levels, they also excel in the classroom. If they weren't going to college to play a sport, they would (and some are also) receive money to attend college for their successes in the classroom. The students in this photo have a combined grade point average of 90.4. Thank you for representing West Genesee so well and good luck at the next level! Click here to read a full article about the ceremony with a list of the students and colleges they plan to attend. 

Back in the Day: Last week when I was visiting elementary classrooms, I got to thinking that the elementary classroom today is nothing like the Norman Rockwell type of classroom that I was a part of "back in the day". When you attend open houses, or parent-teacher conferences, you only get to see a quick glimpse of what life looks like inside your child's classroom. In one round of visits last week I saw direct instruction (like you and I used to get); center time where students used iPads, Chromebooks, shaving cream, sand, paper, glue, glitter (my least favorite), pens, pencils; and robots. None of this happens without the dedication, thought, and master execution of our teachers and support staff. I wish my kids were young again so they could experience how kids today get to learn.

Giving Thanks: Many of you will be welcoming family into your homes, and others will be traveling. As we give thanks for what we have and who we have, please keep your eyes open for elderly neighbors, less fortunate people, or members of your own family who just need an extra hug or piece of turkey and conversation. People sometimes don't show it, but they appreciate the time and help.

Thanks, enjoy your Thanksgiving, and I will see you soon.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

We are ALL Ambassadors

A Great Long Weekend: I hope that all of you had a good and reflective Veterans weekend. I spent the weekend in Iceland. Yes, you read that correctly. We had heard from friends that Iceland was definitely a place to travel to, and it did not disappoint. Once you realize that Iceland is a four and a half hour flight from Boston and that the only thing that is pricey there is the food (so pack snacks in a checked bag, but the food is excellent there if you don’t; we did a combo) you realize that Europe is closer and cheaper than you think.

Now I can start stories with things like, "While I was (insert cool topics here such as  in a geothermal hot pool, underground in a lava tunnel, in an ice cave, on a boat in the North Atlantic watching the Northern Lights, and speaking to people all over the world.)” So, yes, place Iceland on your trip list and shoot me an email if you want suggestions of things to do while you are there.

Something really powerful happened while I was there as well. It was Veterans weekend in the United States, but it was also the remembrance of 100 years since Armistice Day, the conclusion of World War I. So some of the talk in the eateries and venues was politics, not “who am I going to un-friend next on Facebook” political talk; but real, global political conversations.

It was the second evening we were there when we really realized how closely people were listening to us talk as Americans, and about  American politics in general. It made me realize that we do not need pundits, elected officials, or the media, to be true ambassadors of our country. I take great pride in where I live and feel very fortunate, so it was easy for me to gush about our country, the great things in it, and how we as a people use conversation, debate, and legislation to rule. Not every person we spoke to had those abilities, so my take away was that we all really need to realize that while we may be at odds from time to time about our politics here at home, there are probably millions of people out there who would like to be in our shoes. We are the ambassadors who deliver the message of how good we have it.

Back home, we wrapped up winter sports tryouts, and tried to get our custodians, who work harder than anyone realizes, a couple of days off.

Events Update: On November 5 we celebrated the Camillus Optimists Teachers and Students of the Year honorees at the Tuscarora Golf Club. The student honored were: Lindsay Chamberlain and James Clark from WGHS; Emma Evanchak and Tyler Anastasio from CMS; and Emilie Shoults and Eli Owens from WGMS were honored by the Camillus Optimists with the David Kenna Outstanding Student Award. The teachers honored were: Erin Hogan (WGHS social studies teacher), Nancy Muldoon (CMS health teacher), and Rebecca Gesser (Stonehedge fourth-grade teacher). Click here to read the full article about the event.

Another annual event showcasing the academic talents of our students, the District Spelling Bee, took place on November 8 at CMS. Congratulations to WGMS students Cooper Corcoran and James (Jamie) O'Donnell for coming in first and second, respectively. To read the full article that lists the top twelve students moving on to the next level of competition, click here.

Critical Time of the Year: The time from now until late February is really critical. For full-year courses at the high school, or classes at the middle and elementary schools, the students and teachers are in rhythm. Students and teachers know where they stand with each other, have a pretty good idea of how the course or class will complete based on how much effort is exerted, and what we need to do to help children close learning gaps. It is just an absolutely critical time of the school year academically.

Our seniors are getting into the thick of deciding about life after high school, and half-year courses are getting just beyond the middle point. As the parent of two graduates, it can be a stressful time. Don’t forget to smell the roses or to take a break and stay glued together as a family.

This time of the year is also the time of giving. I wrote in an earlier blog that we are trying to put something bigger together as a District with other community partners. That continues to be a work-in-progress because we want to get it right; and be able to repeat it.

All of our buildings and many of our organizations led by students will be ramping up their giving efforts, so please stay tuned to individual building blogs and our social media presence for ways to help or to receive help if needed.

I am looking forward to the coming weeks. Thanks for reading and have a great week!