Monday, December 15, 2014

Hope Appears When We Least Expect It

Hope is in the Air: Turning on the television or clicking on a news website these days can be a complete downer. Violence, abuse, crime, pain, and suffering are all common themes in the news. We watch or read about these things and sometimes wonder if there is anything GOOD actually happening out there in the world. It is easy to lose hope.

Hope appeared in Camillus last week. Right in front of the high school, to be exact. Early last week around 3:45 p.m., an elderly gentleman was using a walker to walk up our sidewalk toward our front circle.  He grabbed a light pole for a few moments and then collapsed onto the sidewalk. Within about eight seconds, two students, freshman Connor Macko and sophomore Mikayla Bittel, were standing over the man trying to assess the situation.

While one of them immediately called 911, the other worked to calm him. Both students waited with the man until WAVES ambulance arrived. The ambulance staff came to his aid and they were thankful for the help of the students.

Where was the hope in this story? In two places. The first is that two students did not hesitate to aid someone who needed it. The second was that these two students did not really know each other prior to this incident. They were both just standing in the circle and worked together to help someone in need. I am very proud of their efforts, and I am reminded that hope can appear when we least expect it. 

Changes in Albany: On the lighter side and with a little sense of humor, hope also appeared in Albany last week when the current Commissioner of Education announced his resignation to take the position as the second in command of the U.S. Education Department. I wish him the best, but I now have hope that a replacement will be found with public school experience, someone who has been in the trenches as a teacher and administrator.

Leaders are not leaders if they make decisions that everyone likes all the time. However, in this case I think that most public educators will find it challenging to agree with most of the decisions that have been made from that office over the past few years. I will be actively watching to see who the next Commissioner will be.

Making Gingerbread Houses is Fun! I was invited to Onondaga Road Elementary last Friday to watch all the kindergarten students work with a family member to build gingerbread houses. I had a blast. It is one of the few times that I get to see moms, dads, grandparents, and teachers all working together with children. It was a great networking opportunity for all, and I hope to attend again next year!

The week before a long break is always exciting. I am looking forward to getting around to all the buildings to see all of the students before they head home to you for two weeks.

Thank you for your continued support and enjoy the week!


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How We Determine a Snow Day or Delay

Well, we might finally get some significant snowfall over the next forty-eight hours, so I want to remind you of how we determine if we are going to have a snow day or delay. I most certainly do not make the call after getting out of bed and looking out the window. 

Around 4:00 a.m. I communicate with our Assistant Superintendent for Management Services, Paul Pelton, along with: members of our transportation department (who are already on the roads by 4:30 a.m.); our own plow crew leader to make sure we can keep up with what is coming down; county and town plow personnel; the police when necessary; sometimes a local weather person; and nearly always neighboring school superintendents (although we do not regularly "make the call together" because our geography differs). All of this takes between thirty and forty-five minutes. 

When possible, if the decision to close or delay is made, I try to make that announcement by 5:30 a.m. or earlier. Sometimes I need to wait a little longer, depending on the type of weather and timing of the weather pattern. That is when  I hit the roads myself.

The first place I post the decision is on my Twitter account (@cbrownwgcsd), followed by our app, Facebook/@West GeneseeCSD Twitter account, our website, parentlink email and text, and then by an "all-staff" e-mail to our employees. The reason why I choose to post to Twitter first is two-fold. First, I have never seen a delay in transmitting on Twitter, and secondly, many students follow my Twitter feed and they always help get the word out quickly. As a last measure, I contact the local media. 

I did some analysis last year and from the time I post to my Twitter it takes about two more minutes to get it to Facebook/District Twitter, and the website.  It can take another three to four additional minutes to get the information to e-mail, text, and our app, and it can take as long as fifteen additional minutes for the media to display our decision. These are all of the media options that are available. I am not comfortable with the speed and accuracy of our new phone calling service yet, so I am not going to use that for at least these first couple of snow events. We are planning another test of the phone system over the holiday break.

As a parent, the decision is always yours if you choose to send your child to school.  If I DO NOT call a snow day or delay, it means that I would feel comfortable placing my own child on a school bus. If you have children who drive, you have to make the decision to let them drive, take the bus, or drive them in yourself. I always place safety over money and always will, but I respect your choice if you ever disagree with my decision to keep school open. The weather is not completely predictable. With all of this being said, let's hope that we do not have to call too many delays or closings this year!

Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of the week!


Monday, December 8, 2014


A Busy Weekend: I hope that everyone had a wonderful weekend. Mine was busy and if you are connected to the school yours was probably pretty busy as well! We had all kinds of sporting events, a very successful high school semi-formal and a couple of concerts. Last Thursday we also had West Genesee graduate Benjamin Mauro entertain parents and students in our auditorium and talk about what it is like to be a bonafide rock star (Ben has been the guitarist for Lionel Richie for the past 14 years). All good stuff.

Student Work on Display at the Everson: I did learn two things over the weekend. The first thing is that the Everson Museum of Art puts on a wonderful holiday festival of trees featuring trees and wreaths made by various community organizations. As my wife and I strolled through the exhibits (you can purchase them, with some of the money going to charity and some going to the organization that created the exhibit), she pointed out two wreaths designed and created by our West Genesee Middle School PTA and the 8th grade Studio in Art Classes. So the takeaway was that West Genesee is everywhere and that that exhibit is a way for clubs and organizations to display some great work...and make some money!

Everyday Events Take on New Meaning: The second thing I learned is that when you are faced with the prospect of an empty nest for the first time, normal events can feel different. My son plays for our varsity basketball team, and I have watched him play basketball since he was in kindergarten. On Saturday they played CBA in a tip-off tournament and were winning by 15 points at half time. They ended up losing the game. I was frustrated and irritated as I am sure every other West Genesee parent in attendance was. As I climbed down from the stands, I said to myself "only 18 more games".  By the time I hit the parking lot, I fully understood the gravity of my thoughts. In eighteen more games I will never get to see my own child play high school basketball again. By the time I got to the car, I learned that no matter the outcome, I need to enjoy these last moments because they aren't coming back.

Update on Veterans' Tax Exemption: Last Wednesday at our Board of Education meeting, the Board voted to adopt what is known as the Veterans’ Tax Exemption. This exemption is something that towns and counties have given for a while by law (they would have to opt-out of giving the exemption), but schools have just recently been given the option to opt-in. It is anticipated that at the next meeting on December 17 the Board will adopt the actual level of exemption, Level C, that will be utilized for the 2015-16 school year.

Another busy week ahead, so be sure to take time to enjoy it!


Monday, December 1, 2014

Don't Blink!

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. We had the pleasure of entertaining twenty-six family and friends at our house, and Mrs. Brown did an amazing job with all of the side dishes, appetizers, and the traditional turkey. I tried my hand at a "turducken" (duck breast stuffed into a chicken that is stuffed into a turkey) on the grill, and it came out perfect! My post-Thanksgiving diet is now underway, and I hope to drop five pounds in the next two weeks to get back on track!

A Busy Weekend: If you were out and about this past weekend you might have seen our own Caitlin Barry singing the National Anthem at the Syracuse vs. Holy Cross basketball game in the Dome. She did an awesome job as always!

While she was at the Dome another one of our high school students, Megan Silvia was in Philadelphia in an Irish Dancing competition and earned the right to compete to be in the world Irish Dancing Championship in April. I know that Irish dancers wear green, but I hope she can find a way to sneak in some blue and gold as well!

I would also like to give a big congratulations to the Baldwinsville Marching Band. I thought they did an exceptional job representing Central New York at the annual Macy's Day Parade in New York City.

Also in New York City, Lindsay Weaver and Carly Benson were STILL representing us in cross country at the Footlocker Northeast Regional.  Congratulations to all!

Are You a Closet Rock Star? West Genesee graduate and Lionel Richie guitarist Ben Mauro is going to be in our auditorium this Thursday at 7:00 p.m. He will be giving mini guitar lessons to people who show up with a small amp, extension cord, guitar, and a willingness to learn. Ben and his band are also going to play a few tunes as well. Sounds like fun!

Dance the Night Away: Saturday is our high school semi-formal which means in a few short blinks we are going to be at winter break.  Please try to enjoy this crazy, busy time.  There will be games, concerts, shopping, weather, and stress.  There will also be family, friends, and our children to enjoy as well.  Try to find a balance and try to find the positive side!

Enjoy the week!


Monday, November 24, 2014

Giving Thanks

Being Thankful: As we head into Thanksgiving week, I would like to thank all of you for your support throughout the past seven years. We would not be where we are as a District without your willingness to be a part of our "Wildcat" family.

There are a growing number of our community members who are struggling more than ever. If you are aware of someone who needs some help, or a family to celebrate Thanksgiving with, please consider offering a hand.  We don't need to write, tweet, e-mail, or talk loudly about these opportunities; we just need to help those in need. Thank you and enjoy the holiday!

Swimming Update: Our girls swimming team completed their season over the weekend with impressive performances. Those receiving special recognition were: Olivia Castro who finished sixth in the 100 freestyle and 15th in the 200 freestyle. The 400 medley relay team of Rebecca Kanoza, Kaitlin Dunning, Shannon Cahalan, and Olivia Castro finished 20th. We are very proud of the efforts of the whole team, and we are looking forward to the future. Congratulations!

Veterans' Tax Exemption: Last week our Board of Education was brought up to speed regarding the Veterans' Tax Exemption that is available to be given by school districts across New York State. The next step for the Board of Education is to hold what is called a Public Hearing to formally discuss their options and receive feedback from the community. That will happen at our next Board Meeting which will be held on December 3 at 7:00 p.m. in the Stonehedge Elementary School library. The Board of Education has until March 1, 2015 to ultimately make a decision about which direction they would like to take.

Advancing to the Next Level: We would like to congratulate the top twelve spellers who will be advancing to the Post Standard Spelling Bee. (Click here to see the article with the names of those students.) Our own District level competition is always so great that whoever advances is definitely skilled enough to win it all. Good luck!

Fame! JR. at WGMS: West Genesee Middle School students were "on top of the charts" when they offered a joyous performance of Fame! JR., this past weekend. Congratulations to the cast and crew for an inspired performance!

Other Weekend Events: It was great to see so many West Genesee community members at two events over the weekend. The first place was the annual Jingle Bell Run for the Arthritis Foundation that was held at Onondaga Community College, and the second was the Frozen Dome Classic hockey game that was held at the Carrier Dome on Saturday night. I always tell people that we are the smallest large community that I know. My experience of interacting with so many people outside of our four walls proves that time and time again.

Congratulations to those being inducted into the National Honor Society this evening and have a great short week filled with family, friends, and... turkey!


Monday, November 17, 2014

Run Like the Wind

Cross Country Runners Compete: "Run like the wind!", they cheered.  "You can do it!", they yelled. "We are proud of you!", they said. All were shouts going out to our cross-country runners competing at the Federation Championship this weekend in Poughkeepsie, New York. The girls team of Carly Benson, Grace Craig, Lindsay Weaver, Elise Dunshee, Kendall Dombroske, Maria Matkoski, and Sarah Ferranti competed and placed 13th. In the individual competitions, Will Randall placed 18th and Carley Benson placed 6th. Nice work and a great way to end the season. Now they can start their winter sports today!

Musicians Perform at Ithaca College: Over the weekend our Chorale performed at the renovated Ford Hall at Ithaca College where they had a chance to both compose AND perform. There was also a concert for parents in Hockett Hall. There are great acoustics in both halls and when you combine great sound with fantastic performers and conductors (thanks Mr. Alvaro!) special things happen.

The Board of Education Switches Locations for Meetings: Speaking of special things happening, the Board of Education is going to hold a few meetings this year in different buildings so they can become familiar with the facilities that will undergo changes and improvements through our Capital Project.  This Wednesday, November 19, the Board will hold their meeting at Camillus Middle School in the Large Group Instruction Room. The meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m., with a tour starting at 6:00 p.m. The meeting on December 5 will be held at Stonehedge Elementary School in the library.

Veterans Tax Exemption to be Discussed: One of the topics at the Board meeting will be a Study Session regarding the Veterans Tax Exemption. You might remember that last year the Board of Education just did not have enough information from Onondaga County to make an informed decision. We have received a variety of informational and financial pieces of data from Onondaga County that will be shared with our Board members so they can be more informed about the exact impact of the exemption on Veterans and non-Veterans. Because so many media members read this blog, I am quick to point out that the Board of Education is not close to making an actual decision at this meeting; they will simply receive more updated information than they had last school year.

Thankful to the Emergency Volunteers in our Community: Thanksgiving is coming up in a few weeks, and I want to give some early thanks to all of our volunteer emergency organizations that cover our District.  Fairmount Fire Department, Camillus Fire Department, Taunton Fire Department, WAVES Ambulance, the Onondaga County Sheriffs, the New York State Police, and the Camillus Police Department. Brave men and women (many who work for free) to keep us safe, provide helpful tips, and are wonderful community partners. One of these amazing people is Camillus Police Officer Mike Schreyer. You can usually find Officer Schreyer at many of our school functions. On Friday night he was in a parking lot in the community saving someone's life. Again, great people and thanks for your service!

Enjoy the week-


Monday, November 10, 2014


Spelling is an important Skill: The title was the correctly spelled word that won 6th grader, Abigail Ray, our annual District Spelling Bee. The competition was fierce as always, and I always appreciate students who enter the Spelling Bee. Not only do they learn how to perform under pressure, they have to dedicate time to preparation and maintain a positive attitude; even when they spell a word wrong. These are all great life skills that some don't learn until they are adults, if ever!

National Merit Commended Scholars Honored at Board Meeting: At the last Board of Education meeting we recognized our National Merit Commended Scholars: Steven Mirabito, Christopher Brown, Claire Thomas, Aaron Jones, and John Buttner. These students help to exemplify the academic excellence that is promoted at school every day. A big congratulations goes out to their parents and family members as well. Nice work!

Cinderella Finds Her Glass Slipper at CMS: Camillus Middle School presented a great musical on Friday and Saturday. They did the student version of Cinderella: The Enchanted Edition and their performances were commendable. 

West Genesee Middle School will perform the musical Fame Jr. on November 20-22. I cannot wait until all of these performers get to the high school!

Athletic Update: We have had a VERY successful fall athletic campaign. Our cheerleaders and girls swimming and diving teams all performed extremely well this weekend.  

Congratulations to our girls Swim team for becoming Section III Class A champions this weekend! There were also championships won by Shannon Cahalan for the 100 yard backstroke and Olivia Castro in the 200 yard freestyle and 100 yard freestyle.

It was also a good weekend in cross country. For the girls, Carly Benson placed 5th in the state competition, and Grace Craig came in 53rd. In boys cross country, Will Randall placed 16th in the state competition. Both Carly and Will's meet finish qualifies them as individual racers for next Saturday's NYS Federation Championship at Bowdoin Park in Poughkeepsie. Our girls team has also been selected to compete in that event. This is the first time we have qualified a girls team for this elite competition.  

As we finish up our fall sports, we head right into varsity winter sports, believe it or not!

Update on Progress: Our Capital Project is slightly ahead of schedule and on budget.  I had a chance to see all of the equipment being unpacked and prepared for installation and I could not be happier with the contractors we are using to pull cable and connect equipment so we can upgrade our security and provide all campus wireless Internet access. If you click on this link to my last blog update about the project, you can see the time frame for the remainder of the project and I see no reason why we will not be able to stay on schedule.

There is a Reason We Test New Systems: Last week we tested the phone portion of our Parentlink Communication System using information from Schooltool. No bueno. What we determined from that test, is that there is a lot of work to be done before I would call that phone system a success. We have to work with two companies as well as internally to clean everything up. 

Thank you for your patience during our testing phases. Don't feel bad if you didn't get a test call from our system; I didn't either! For now, emergency closings or other emergency information will still be found through Twitter, the Parentlink mobile phone app, our Facebook fan page, your email, as well as various media outlets.

Elections Affect Everyone: The recent elections are going to create an uncertain future for education in New York State. The current governor has been very vocal about putting pressure on educators to "do better" and has also been vocal about forcing mergers and consolidations. The senate is now a Republican Senate, and they will be more vocal about promoting Charter Schools over public schools. I have been around long enough to be ready for anything, but the "fasten your seat-belt" sign has just been lit!

Recognizing Students and Teachers: Tonight the Camillus Optimists Club will recognize the West Genesee Teachers and Students of the Year.  This is a great event sponsored by the Optimists and held at Gillfian's West Hill. Students are selected by teachers and the teachers are selected by their peers which makes this award very special.  

The teachers being recognized this year are: Eliza Spaulding (West Genesee High School Science), Rebecca Eassa (Math at Camillus Middle School) and Molly O' Keefe (Physical Education at East Hill Elementary School).  

The students being honored are: Alex Tripodi and Claire Wenner from the High School, Katherine McManus and Phillip Martin from Camillus Middle School, and Jessica Potosky and Haneen Awawda from West Genesee Middle School. Congratulations to all!

Celebrating our Veterans: Tomorrow please take a moment to reflect on what our Veterans have done for America which affords us the freedoms we have today. Better yet, see if you can find a Veteran and thank them in person; they will appreciate it!

This is the first year that I will be able to walk the "Lights on the Lake" before they officially open to cars and I am excited! Also I will be attending a fundraiser for the Food Pantry of Central New York at Wonderworks. Cool!

Have a great week-