Monday, November 30, 2015

Time Goes Quickly

Well, I only gained two pounds over the Thanksgiving break. Certainly could have been worse considering how much I ate and how much less I exercised! It was good to get a couple of days with family.

A Busy Time: The time from now until winter break goes by very quickly and is full of concerts, games, and meetings. All positive things; but imagine hosting groups of people at your house ranging from about a dozen to over a thousand people every night for twenty days straight! I get anxious that every night an event will be special, that our facilities will show well, and that everyone will want to come back next time. It will all work out thanks to talented students, caring advisors, teachers, coaches, and dedicated custodians. I am allowed to worry though; it's in my job description!

The Budget Process Starts: We are also in the beginning phases of budget development.  It is far too early to speculate, but it appears that our "tax cap" (the maximum amount that school taxes can be raised without needing a supermajority of voters) will be much lower than usual. This might sound like a positive, and it can be. If we do not get additional state funding to make up for the decrease in the tax cap, there may be some difficult decisions to make.

The state aid number we are looking for is called the "Gap Elimination Adjustment" or GEA for short. Most school superintendents, school boards, and elected officials are hoping and lobbying for a full restoration of the GEA. This amount would allow schools to keep tax levies down WITHOUT having to make major reductions in what is offered. I expect to have more information about the GEA and state aid by late January.

Changes are Coming in State Education: In state education news there appears to be some movement in the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) process used to evaluate teachers and principals. At the beginning of the school year all schools were directed to have updated APPR plans on file or risk their state aid increases. West Genesee had their plan approved quickly while many schools filed for waivers, prolonging their approval processes. Governor Cuomo has recently hinted at removing, at some level, the tie between student test scores and the APPR process. I expect more information about this soon.

At the same time both the Governor and the Commissioner of Education have separate panels assembled to evaluate the Common Core Learning Standards (the Commissioner is a member of the Governor's panel also). What will come of each panel is somewhat unknown, but it is safe to say that there will be a reduction in the amount of testing related to the Common Core Learning Standards. That, coupled with the potential of assessment results not being tied to teacher APPR scores, may be a sign that people in positions of power are actually listening to people like us who are on the ground. Wishful thinking...but it is the holiday season!

Dedicated Board of Education and the National Honor Society: Lastly, I want to thank our Board of Education and especially Board member Vladimiro Hart-Zavoli. Mr. Hart-Zavoli is legally blind but has never let that stop him from supporting and helping students. The most recent example took place right before break. We were holding our mid-year National Honor Society ceremony. I was watching a basketball practice on one side of the building and as I headed back to the library I heard a custodian helping Vladimiro find the main hallway that would lead to the library.

I hooked up with him and led him to our destination. When the ceremony ended I asked him who was picking him up and where, so I could help him get to the correct door. He indicated that he did not need me to worry because he was going to catch the bus back to his house. It was cold and rainy and he did not have a ride, but he also did not want to miss a student event so he was willing to wait for the bus in the cold and rain. COMPLETE dedication to our students. Needless to say, he got a ride home!

Enjoy the week!


Monday, November 23, 2015

Being Thankful

Finding the Positive: Let's face it, finding the positive in things has been a struggle lately; but we must, we owe it to our children. We cannot let every negative thing that we read, hear, or see make its way to our kids, who are having a tough enough time just being kids.

I would ask that if you come across something that is negative, assess how much of it needs to make it to the dinner table. If it needs to (and that is certainly your judgment as parents), is there a positive that can be taken from the situation? If it is a problem that needs a solution, what are their suggestions?

At school we focus on helping those in need. Students regularly help classmates who are sick or struggling. They help with larger projects to help those in our greater community and around the world. They are familiar with finding the positive, and we need to remember this as we head into Thanksgiving week.

As you know, our community has changed over the past ten years. In 2006 six percent of our families lived below the poverty line. Today we are at twenty-four percent and rising. If you can lend a smile, a handshake, a kind word or more to people in need, please take the time to do so. It feels good!

The Elves at WGMS Receive a Special Message: Congratulations to West Genesee Middle School students who performed Harry Connick Jr's production of The Happy Elf. Under the direction of Christy Knowlton, the students put on a great show. Equally cool was that Mr. Connick Jr sent a personal message and balloons to the cast!

Elementary Parent Teacher Conferences: Please remember that we have half days today and tomorrow for elementary students with dismissal at 11:30 a.m. to accommodate Parent Teacher Conferences.

Thank you for your continued support and I sincerely wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 16, 2015

What is Terror?

What is Terror?: It depends. For me there are levels of terror. Last week I went to calling hours for a twenty-four year old, five month pregnant woman. Open casket; the whole nine yards. Great kid, supporting family. Bad choice. Heroin overdose.

Listening to stories from recovering addicts in the funeral home there were common themes. Former honor roll students, athletes, children of divorce, children overly pressured by parent(s) to perform, children with no other reason to use but to try the "next thing". That is terror to me as a parent and superintendent. That can happen to any one of us as parents. While we think "it can never happen to my family"; it happens. That is one level of terror. It is in our personal control and out of our control at the same time.

Recent Events in Paris: The second level is a little more complicated. It is terror that is largely out of our control as civilians but can take place where we find ourselves on a day to day basis. Schools, restaurants, sporting events, concerts, malls, churches, airplanes; places we go to and/or use every day. The recent events in Paris, France remind us that there are people for one reason or another who want us to live in constant fear.

Our older students talk about these types of terror because it bothers them as much as it bothers us. A high school student can understand that people were at a concert in France when someone detonated a bomb and began shooting people. A high school student will recollect the last time they were at a concert or a restaurant and it "could have been them". A stretch? Probably. Remember, that in the life of a teenager it is "all about them". That is by human design and development.

What should you do with your student? Talk to them; see if they have any questions. Reassure them that thousands of people are working around the clock to keep them safe and that they have every right to have emotions. Please let their counselor know if their feelings persist. My younger son has aspirations to be a teacher and maybe superintendent someday. I hope he will lead at a time where he will not have to write things like this.

Building Bridges: In more positive news, Twitter was very active on Saturday as a large group of West Genesee students took part in the "Build em' and Bust em'" bridge building/engineering competition at the MOST.

We are very appreciative that the MOST supports this friendly competition!

Cross Country Runners Contribute to State Sectional Win: You are also living in the "fastest" section in New York State thanks in part to the individual efforts of cross country runners Carly Benson (4th place AA girls) and David Leff (11th place AA boys). We are in Section III and the athletes competed for individual New York State Cross-Country Championships this past weekend. David, Carly, and other runners from our section combined their finishing scores to solidify the intersectional scoring win and bragging rights for Section III runners everywhere. Congratulations!

Busy and warm week ahead.  Enjoy!


Monday, November 9, 2015

A Week Full of Great Events!

Visiting Camillus Seniors: I had a chance to speak to senior citizens in our community at the Camillus Senior Center. I get an opportunity to speak there once or twice a year and it is always very interesting. Just because people are senior citizens does not mean that they do not care about what is happening in the schools and in our community. I was asked some great questions about the Common Core Learning Standards, issues that our current young people are facing, and how our Capital Project is progressing. At the end I asked for a show of hands as to who might be interested in taking a bus ride from the senior center to our high school musical in the late winter and everyone raised their hands!

Marching Proudly for Our Veterans: Our Marching Band proudly participated in the Veteran's Day Parade held at the New York State Fairgrounds over the weekend. This is something that our students look forward to each year and while a little chilly, the weather held out for the event.

The Hills Were Alive: Camillus Middle School students (with some cameo faculty appearances) performed The Sound of Music this past weekendIt was a terrific production and it is great to see so many students committed to something positive!

Thanking our Veterans: Speaking of positive, our West Genesee Middle School students invited local Veterans to their classrooms to talk about what it was like to serve our country, what it is like to be a Veteran, and to make lasting connections. The students wrote the veterans thank you cards, and I had a chance to read several of them. Our students DO understand what our veterans did for them, and I am very proud that they do!

Students are Top Spellers: Our annual Spelling Bee was held last week as well. It can be a stressful event for the students but I have to say the sportsmanship displayed by all of the contestants and their parents is remarkable. Forty-three students in grades 4-8 began the Spelling Bee, and twelve spellers finished to advance to the next level. They will join others from Central New York for a written test in January. The top 35 spellers from that round will compete in The Post-Standard WCNY Spelling Bee oral spell-down in February. Congratulations to all! (Click here to see the details.)

Listening Sessions About Common Core: Those looking to see how the Governor is handling the review of the Common Core Learning Standards can attend a listening forum this Tuesday, November 10 at Onondaga Community College at the Storer Auditorium from 7:00 -9:00 p.m. The event is first come first served, so if you are interested in attending contact them soon by clicking here.

Thanking a Local Columnist: Lastly, I would like to give a big thank you to local columnist Sean Kirst. He will be leaving our local paper after more than two decades of quality writing about local interest stories. I love Syracuse, and I felt like he always featured stories about amazing people and events right here at home that just solidified why we live in such a special place. Best of luck to him!

Thank you to all Veterans, your sacrifices do not go unnoticed.


Monday, November 2, 2015

What a Blast!

Last week was a blast. As we are into the heart of the school year, routines are set and students are settled in with a lot of learning taking place. Unfortunately, I also had to take a look at the plow trucks to be sure that they are ready for duty, but that is life in Syracuse, New York.

Marching Band Competes at State Championships: Last night our Marching Band represented the District very well at the New York State Field Band Competition as they always do, but they came up just short of their goal of winning a fifth Marching Band championship in five years. They were very respectful in congratulating the winner, as they know that nothing can be taken for granted. Our marching band knows how much work it takes to even compete, let alone grab the top spot. Planning for next season started today.

Fall Athletes are Still Competing: We do have fall athletes still in competition. 

  • Cross Country still has about 20 runners still competing as they have not had their Sectionals yet. That will be held next weekend at Vernon Verona Sherrill High School. 
  • Fall Cheerleading is also still competing and will have their Sectional competition next weekend at South Jefferson High School. 
  • Girls Swimming/Diving are also still competing and have Sectionals coming up at the end of the week at Nottingham High School. 
  • Girls Volleyball begins their Sectionals on Tuesday. 
Stay tuned for winter sports; they start in about a week if you can believe it!

Celebrating Students of the Year: The Camillus Optimists will be recognizing four middle school and two high school students as "Students of the Year" on November 10. Being recognized this year are: Kamel Awayda and Colleen Augello from the high school; Ty Lisi and Analise Castro from Camillus Middle School; and Maxsim Mekker and Lily Wegerski from West Genesee Middle School. They are all wonderful kids. Congratulations to them, their parents, their families, and to anyone reading this who had a hand in their growth!

Enjoy the week. It is supposed to be warm, so soak it in before it is time to start wearing four layers!

Take care-


Monday, October 26, 2015

Your Time to Be Heard

Celebrating a Playground: Another week is in the books. We have had a great school year so far. Last week was busy. About three hundred people came to the closing ceremony for the East Hill Elementary School playground. It was nice to see so many generations of people, some traveling from out of state, join us for the ceremony. Click here to read an article about the event that includes a video of the ceremony, the video from when the playground was opened in 1989, and many really good pictures. Site preparation for the new playground should begin on or about November 7. The new playground will be installed in the spring.

Honoring our Teachers and Students of the Year: Each year the Camillus Optimists Club sponsors a Teachers and Students of the Year recognition program and dinner. This recognition is highly regarded for our teachers because the honorees are selected by their peers. 

This year the winners are Lisa Long (foreign language teacher at West Genesee High School), Susan Mills (foreign language teacher at West Genesee Middle School), and Kristin Hudson (Kindergarten teacher at Onondaga Road Elementary School). Once we have the student names, we will share those as well. The recognition dinner will take place at Gillfillan's West Hill Country Club on November 10. Congratulations to all honorees!

State Education Department is Looking for Feedback: MaryEllen Elia, the NYS Commissioner of Education, was in town last week on a listening tour. She met with superintendents and board of education members last Thursday and with teachers, parents, and administrators last Friday at the BOCES offices in Auburn, New York. 

Along with her listening tour is a survey that is open to all ( regarding the impact of the Common Core Learning Standards on New York State education. If you are interested, please take the time to complete the survey.

Only a week away from turning the clocks back!

Take care-


Monday, October 19, 2015

Walk the Line

Snow in CNY in October? Many of you said the "S" word over the weekend and that is okay. Snow happens in central New York. Luckily it was just a quick dusting and a blast of cold air. It was enough for me to find the hat, gloves, winter coat, and snow brush. Now if the weather holds true for Syracuse, I will be "too hot and too cold" over the next three weeks before we really get a season change. I will take it considering the alternatives that are out there.

Walking the Line with New Education Commissioner: Johnny Cash wrote a song called "Walk the Line". The lyrics describe how he is hopeful that a person in his life would be trustworthy, dedicated, and loyal. In return, Mr. Cash would be willing to help "turn the tide". This is where I am at with our new NYS Commissioner of Education, MaryEllen Elia.

She promised to listen to all stakeholders, involve teachers and administrators in the decision making process, and be more communicative and transparent. So far she has lived up to those promises:
  • She is involving teachers in the writing of this years' 3-8 NYS assessments (twelve of our teachers are participating). 
  • She is on the Governor's commission to study the Common Core Learning Standards.  
  • She has started her own focused review which will include a survey that ALL New Yorkers can participate in. 
  • She has reorganized her top staff so that  schools are getting quicker responses to questions and communication.. 
When will I "Walk the Line"?  If this continues through next spring, I will begin to have hope that the dark days of New York State education are slowly giving way to a new dawn. We will see.

Celebrating a Playground: This Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. will be the closing ceremony for the East Hill Elementary School playground. Some things have changed since our original communication that is important for you to know.

First, the event will be held outside next to the playground. Why? Two reasons. First, the playground was opened outside in 1989; and secondly, many people I have connected with have not seen the playground since the early 1990's. You will have an opportunity to get some pictures and a last look at the playground before we begin construction on the new one.

In 1989, Friendly's had a shake wagon available. They no longer have these, so we have asked another long time community partner, Cam's Pizzeria, to provide their mobile food truck. They are more than happy to help. Sunset will be around 6:35 p.m. that evening and that will give us plenty of time for the event. Please dress for the weather that day.

Second, during our historical research we discovered that the original time capsule was unfortunately crushed and broken about ten years ago when the bridge on the playground broke and all of the contents were ruined by water. While we will not have any time capsule to open, we will certainly have a fitting ceremony for a great community fixture.

We hope to see you there. I will be there by 5:30 p.m. if you would like to come a little early to really take a look at the playground before the ceremony which will promptly begin at 6:00 p.m.

Four sixteen hour days in a row this week with hopefully a regular Friday. Are you ready? Bring it on. Enjoy the week!