Monday, September 24, 2018

It's Fall!

On the first day of fall, BAM, it was fall. It is crazy how quickly the weather changed, but this is an exciting part of the year.

Fall Events: For starters, in our Marching Band and athletics programs we are beginning to have a good idea of where we stand and what it is going to take to have a successful postseason.

Second, fall means the Tournament of Bands, which is this weekend. It is always exciting to host so many other communities and this year we will have a special guest to hand out the awards. In addition to our Executive Principal, Ms. Coholan, West Genesee graduate and Naval Rear Admiral John Okon will be on hand to help the students to celebrate their success. Very cool! (Check out these great pictures from the annual Middle School Marching Band Day held last week for our middle school students.)

When Not in the Buildings: I received good feedback from the blog last week regarding what happens when I am visiting buildings. So, what happens when I am not visiting buildings? It depends on the time of the year and what is happening that particular week.

Last week we had to meet about shutting down the air conditioning system and flipping over to our boilers for heat. This is not as easy as it is in a home and requires planning and scheduling. We also start talking about our fall/winter grounds and bus plans. What should be put into storage and when, are we in good shape to get our winter fuel mixture for the buses, and has anything changed that would disrupt our snow removal plans.

On the instructional side, last week was a great week to finish data meetings with principals, meet with teacher groups, and talk about the strategic plan and where we are in terms of completing our goals.

We also submitted the second phase of our Smartbond project, which means planning for the purchase of nearly 1,000 more pieces of technology, to add to the 3,000 that we purchased last year through this Federally funded grant. That is also a heavy lift, and we want to be sure that we have all of the details.

Add to that my usual superintendent meetings, some events, and a fundraiser, and that was a week! One of the great things about this job is that every day is different and every day is busy.

A Big Thank You: I want to give a big thank you to Stonehedge fourth grader Andrew Larocca. We read about a lot of negative things but Andrew certainly canceled that with something very positive. For the past few years, and instead of birthday gifts, Andrew has tried to help different causes. This year he wanted to contribute to the Stonehedge landscape by raising money for a "Buddy Bench". A Buddy Bench is a special place where people can make friends and not be alone. The bench will look like the one pictured that Andrew and his friends are on and we welcome its addition in a few weeks. Thanks Andrew!

Time to bust out the sweaters.  Have a great week!


Monday, September 17, 2018


Weather Changes: I hope that you had a great weekend. The weather has been absolutely amazing, and I have tried to take advantage of it before it changes! Speaking of weather changes, it was really interesting to listen to the chatter around town about Hurricane Florence. MANY of us have or do vacation in North and South Carolina, so everywhere I went people were wondering how their rental houses and condos would make it through the storm.

Unfortunately, the devastation of Florence has gone well beyond property damage. The storm has taken the lives of at least 11 people and counting, and I am sure they will need help repairing and rebuilding. It has been refreshing to see how people have banded together to help those in need and my hope is that Florence is the only hurricane we need to worry about this season.

An Interesting Week: I have a face made for radio, but last week I was asked to model some clothes as a part of the Syracuse Fashion Show to help raise money for the Food Pantry. I have spoken to crowds as large as 6,000 people without issue. For this event, however, I was out of my element. In the end I think it was good to feel uncomfortable and to accept a different challenge. I won't be quitting my day job, that's for sure, but I was able to wear some cool clothes! 

Supporting the Sports Boosters: Yesterday our Board of Education president and vice-president, our high school executive principal, and I participated in the Sports Boosters Golf Tournament. We had a blast, but that was another subtle reminder that my golf game is not going to put food on the table. We did have a great turnout though and raised money for our student-athletes! Thank you to all who donated time and resources to support our student-athletes. 

Competition Season: Congratulations to the Marching Band for getting their first top finish of the year! They have been working very hard since July and they are continuing to gear up for the "Dome" competition at the end of October.

Our athletes are also continuing to put in solid performances so if you get a chance to get out for an event, please do!

Visiting our Schools: I was asked a great question by a student during one of my visits last week. The question was what am I doing when I visit a building. Visiting buildings and classrooms is one of the most important parts of my job, and it is much more involved than posting pictures of students on Twitter. 

It is my expectation that each building principal is the "owner" of their building, and I expect that they will treat and care for it and everyone in it like they would their own home and family.

When I get out of the car, I am looking at the grounds. Is everything cleaned up, trim, and free of garbage? People eat with their eyes, as they say, so curb appeal is important.

Next, I listen to how the secretarial staff interacts with me when I buzz into the building. Are they polite, courteous, and prompt? Next, I look at the floors and walls. Are they clean, inviting, and are posters and student work up to date? Are the hallways free from clutter? 

Then I check in with food service, custodial, and support staff. How are things going? Is there anything I should know or be aware of? What do they have planned for the next few weeks?

I then visit the classrooms. Sometimes I visit with the building principal, but because I visit the buildings so frequently, I often visit classrooms by myself where I check in with the students. Are there any new students I should introduce myself to? Did any kindergarten or first-grade students lose teeth since my last visit (that is a big deal to them)? Are there any casts I should sign (I always write "Dr. Brown was here" and the kids get a kick out of it.

Next, I dig deeper. Are the students engaged? Are the teachers dialed in and having fun? How does the classroom "feel" in terms of climate (happy, tense, stressed, mellow, smooth, etc.) and what has caused those feelings? Then I take some pictures with the students because they enjoy showing off their work to you, and it provides a classroom connection to you from afar. 

If I am in the middle schools or high school, I talk to students about current events and how they feel about them. Sometimes I talk about volunteer opportunities, or we talk about the next time the Wildcat Nation will be together. I learn a lot from them about the life of a teenager, and I use what I learn to be a better superintendent for them. 

After my visit and as I am getting ready to head out, I will meet with the principal. We talk about if there was anything that I felt that just didn't seem right, or at the same time, I will congratulate the principal and teachers for an awesome visit. So the next time you read one of my tweets you will know what went into it! 

Open House/Curriculum Nights: Thank you for attending our various open houses and curriculum nights. They are almost complete, and we will then be rocking and rolling for the rest of the school year.

West Side Support Network: Be on the lookout for meeting dates for our West Side Support Network. This is our fourth year in existence and we will again be focusing on support for those with substance use disorder as well as mental health challenges. We are always looking for new members!

Have a great week and I will see you soon!


Monday, September 10, 2018

We Remember

Well, as a Buffalo Bills fan, this season is starting out like most of the others in recent memory, but Syracuse, my favorite college team, is showing some promise! Football season also means that kids are back at school.

Back to School: We had a terrific first week of school, and watching kindergartners get off of the bus for the first time NEVER gets old. A mom at one of the buildings asked me if I thought it was too much for her to be there taking a picture of her daughter getting off the bus for the first time. I told her that children grow so fast that anything you can do to capture a memory is the right thing to do!

I want to give our bus drivers, mechanics, and transportation administrators a super huge thank you. Their first week was just absolutely crazy. Bus routes are established and sent out to families around the middle of August. Because students are entitled to school transportation, routes are created for every student. It is still summer, so like I used to do, many parents leave the school mailings until the last couple of days before school.

On opening day, the drivers pre-check their buses and then 100 buses turn on and get rolling. Our mechanics get really pressed into service, and this year they also had the Department of Transportation in the garage inspecting buses as part of their routine inspections. While the drivers were out driving, parents were calling into the transportation administrators with changes; 200 to be exact, the morning of opening day alone. Somehow they make it all happen. They will drive 1,000,000 miles before the year is over.  Remarkable.

This week we will really know who is going to utilize their bus pickup and who isn't, and we will then make the final bus route and timing changes for the year. I certainly appreciate your patience and at the same time really applaud our people for getting the job done.

Remembering September 11: Tuesday is September 11. September 11, 2001 to me is always in the present, but to our students it is history. On September 11, 2001, I was a brand new Superintendent not knowing if we were under attack, and if we were, what I was going to do about it. One of our teachers spoke to her brother from my office. He was in Tower II and told her he would be fine. She hung up and about ten minutes later, Tower II collapsed. All I could do was tell her I was sorry, drive her home, and then get back to work and figure out what to do next. I remember that day like it was yesterday.

Our students don't remember that day at all but they learn about it in their history classes. It got me to thinking that life-changing historical events are generational and stick with some people like they happened yesterday. To others, they are events that don't hold the same level of emotion for them; but they are learned. There is no disrespect there; just perspective. I was not alive for John F. Kennedy's or Martin Luther King's Assassinations for example, but my parents can tell you exactly where they were when those events happened, just as they can about the moon landing. I had to learn about those events but deeply understand their significance.

When I visit with our older students this week I am going to ask them what events in their lives have occurred that were so moving for them that they remember exactly where they were and what they were doing. Should be interesting to hear what they have to say.

Thanks again for reading and have a great week.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018


As much as I love the great New York State Fair, I just could not go again yesterday. Nine times was enough for me this year. I think it might have been the heat, or that every time I went I probably spent six or more hours there! I already asked about having a Wildcat hockey game in the Exposition Center this year but was told "not likely"; that won't stop me from trying!

I do want to give a "shout out" to sophomore Gabby Mitchell. She is an incredibly talented photographer and her photograph, pictured, was the winner, "Best in Show", of ALL Youth submissions at the New York State Fair. She has won awards for other works as well. With two years of high school left, we certainly haven't heard the last of her. Congratulations, Gabby!

Also deserving of congratulations are our fall sports student athletes. They have started their seasons very well and have the promise to do some great things this season. If you get an opportunity to get out and see any of the contests please do. I will certainly keep you posted on their progress.

Marching Band is also getting ready to start their season, and I am looking forward to what they will do!

We are fortunate to have air conditioning in each of our buildings and it will be put to use this week. As we return to school, please know that we will keep all of the kids cool the next few days. We will also make the right decisions regarding the heat for our student athletes and Marching Band members. Looks like once we get to Friday we will get back to more normal temperatures for this time of the year.

Also please remember that we are going to have 100 school buses on the road along with our parent, student, and community traffic. Use a little extra care, look both ways, and we will get this school year kicked off safely.

Thanks and I will be posting a lot of pictures on opening day on my Twitter account, @cbrownwgcsd!

Take care and here we go!


Monday, August 27, 2018

So. Much. Stuff Going On!

Marching Band Previews Their New Program: Under a full moon and on an absolutely perfect night, the Marching Band held their annual preview. They have been practicing all summer, and I have a very good feeling that they are going to be fiercely competitive this year. At 160 members strong, they sound full, present, and confident. The color guard make you feel how the music sounds.

They are very ready to make a name for themselves; and I am looking forward to watching them perform. Thanks to Charlie Miller for taking some fantastic photos. Check out the online calendar from our website for their performance schedule as they make their way to the "Dome Show". I am excited!

Girls Varsity Lacrosse Coaches: I am also excited to announce that we have selected our Girls Varsity Lacrosse head coach, as well as his paid assistant coach. We are happy to welcome Drew White and Riley Donahue to our Wildcat Family. Drew White is very involved in the Girls Lacrosse community, and he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in running a successful girls program. 

Since 2007 he has been the head Varsity Lacrosse coach at Fulton as well as the owner/director of the Salt City Snipers Girls Lacrosse Club. Some highlights from Drew’s career include: Section 3 Girls Lacrosse representative, three- time Freedom League Coach of the Year, 2018 Under Armour Games Highlight Coach, and Coach of four US Lacrosse High School All-Americans and 18 US Lacrosse Academic All-Americans.

Riley Donahue returns to West Genesee after a very successful four-year campaign at Syracuse University, where she was a two-time team captain and earned ACC Academic All-American honors. While at West Genesee she was a two-time NYS Champion, team captain her senior season, 2014 All-CNY Player of the Year, and First Team All-American. She also participated in Ice Hockey, winning the 2014 NYS Championship and earning All-CNY First Team honors. Riley has coached with the Gary Gait Lacrosse Club, Salt City Snipers, Syracuse Lacrosse camps, and Town of Camillus Parks and Recreation program. They will begin lacrosse operations immediately. Congratulations Coaches White and Donahue!

Transportation Training: I want to publicly thank Armoured One for coming to West Genesee last week to train our bus drivers and mechanics on how to handle potential active shooter situations on school buses. I cannot release all of the techniques that were demonstrated, but I can tell you that after riding one of the buses that I was pretty car sick by the end! Check out this coverage from Newschannel9 about the training

We are Ready to Roll:  You will start seeing more cars and activity at each of the buildings this week, and our employees return on Thursday for our Opening Day festivities. If you are a local restaurant owner and reading this, you may want to have some extra staff on hand as we pump nearly 1,000 people back into the local economy.

West Genesee Athletics Honored for Sportsmanship: At the last Board of Education meeting the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) presented West Genesee High School with the Sportsmanship Promotion Banner Award; we are only one of four school communities in the state to receive this 2017-2018 honor. The award is presented to schools which have developed proactive approaches in keeping sportsmanship in the forefront with their students, coaches, spectators, and communities. To read more about the award, click here.

Athletics Update: This Friday our Varsity Football team starts their season against Henninger on the turf field at 6:00 p.m. Also, all  the fall JV and Varsity sports teams begin competition this week. The daily schedule of competitions is available from the Athletics webpage. If this isn't a sure sign that fall is around the corner, I don't know what is!

Thanks for reading! I hope to see you at the State Fair and enjoy the week.


Monday, August 20, 2018

Creature of Habit

In a Routine: There has been construction on Vanida Drive for about the last three weeks. The road is closed, so I have had to use Sanderson Drive to get to my office. That would be great if I hadn't been programmed for the past 11 years to take Vanida Drive to get to my office. I can't tell you how many times over the past few weeks I have pulled into Vanida, remembered that it is closed, and had to turn around and go to Sanderson Drive. I did it twice last week alone. No, I am not crazy, I am just a creature of habit.

The same thing is going to happen this week when The Great New York State Fair opens. My wife and I had a route that we used to walk BEFORE all of the changes. It made me comfortable. The Gianelli sausage spot was always in the best place for our walk, as was the fried dough stand. I will once again want to walk that same route; but it will be different and I will reminisce about "back in the day". I will, however, find the Gianelli stand, in the new and different spot, and my sausage sandwich with peppers and onions will taste the same. Creature of habit.

We are all creatures of habit in some way, especially our kids. Creature of habit is a long way of saying "in a routine". Now is the time of the summer to get your kids back into some type of routine. It always took my wife and I a week or so to get the kids back into a sleep pattern, waking up a little earlier, and being as motivated as it takes to tackle school head on. Starting now, even baby steps to getting back on schedule will pay dividends in early September!

Board of Education Vacancy: Over the summer we had a vacancy on our Board of Education (Board) as Karen Fruscello resigned to make time for a new job.The Board met and decided that it would be best to fill the position before the school year starts, and they have selected Jennifer James.  She and her family live in our community, and she has been a Spanish teacher for the Onondaga Central School District for 21 years along with being involved in many of their extracurricular activities. We welcome her aboard and into the Wildcat family. She will need to run again in May to continue her time on the Board of Education.

STAR Payments Update: The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance has changed how they are processing STAR payments for some people; especially senior citizens. I know how many people read this blog, but I do not know the demographics; so if you are a senior citizen, or maybe a son or daughter with aging parents, please take the time to read this release by clicking here. The way that I interpret it, people like me will apply for STAR once and it will just continue each year. The big change is that senior citizens who qualify for the Enhanced STAR Exemption will need to apply EACH YEAR. Once you have read the document, please contact your local assessor if you have questions. We don't want people to lose out on the exemption if they qualify, so please pass the word along if you have a loved one who qualifies for the Enhanced STAR Exemption and lives anywhere in New York State. 

Mental Health Literacy: In my last blog I wrote about the Every Student Succeeds Act. Today I am writing about the new mental health literacy requirements. I do not think that we can take mental wellness seriously enough, so I welcome these requirements. While West Genesee has met the majority of them for years, it is important to audit what we offer to children in the area of mental health literacy and when it is offered.

The requirement calls on schools to teach about what to look for as signs of mental wellness or concerns, where an individual can get help, and how students can let people know if they see someone who is struggling.

We are fortunate to be a "Positivity Project" District, so we already have a way to accomplish this in  addition to what we teach in Health and Physical Education courses and in counseling sessions. To give you more detail, we are also required to have community service connections to mental health treatment facilities. We are accomplishing this through the connections we have in the West Side Support Network, as well as with Helio Health, which we are finalizing a contract with to have higher level counseling available for students right in the buildings. Good stuff, and you will get more details from your individual building principals as the year progresses.

Thanks for reading, enjoy the week, and see you at the New York State Fair!


Monday, August 13, 2018

Microphone Check...

There were two indicators between the last blog and this one that really let me know that I am getting old. Well, two, if you don't include the current status of my lower back.

First, on Thursday I went out back of the high school to check in on Marching Band practice. Like always, I climbed the thing the drum majors stand on to direct the band so I could get a good picture. I got to the top of the platform looked out at the kids and immediately felt unsteady on my feet; awesome! I made it back down, but that was probably Mother Nature's way of telling me that I should be taking pictures from the ground from now on.

The second came yesterday. I was playing golf with some friends, and I hit a good four iron (for once) about 190 yards. It was a downhill hole so the people behind me couldn't see me. I hit my shot, walked toward the hole another thirty or so yards more, and a gold ball missed my face in the air by less than a foot. No harm no foul, so I continued on to the green and putted out. A golf cart came up and it was the kid who had hit the shot. It was one of our golfers from the golf team, and he apologized profusely and told me that he had hit a FIVE iron, 220 yards. It was right then and there that I reaffirmed that Father Time is undefeated!

Welcoming New Boys Lacrosse Coach: It was fun to have a full house on hand last week to introduce Shaun Smith as our new Boys Varsity Lacrosse coach. After a couple of quick words to introduce him, I retreated to the back of the room where I could really feel a new chapter of our history beginning. He and his coaching staff have a great plan in place to respect the past and represent our future in boys lacrosse. There was a lot of excitement in the room, and I am looking forward to seeing what they put together.

A Few Educational Topics: I want to thank you for reading this blog. I thought some of you would take the summer off, but the stats indicate that many of you are reading as frequently as you do during the school year. That is great! Since you are reading, I want to hit on a couple of educational topics that you are going to hear more about in each building as the school year unfolds.

The first topic is called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and is the replacement of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). To "measure" student and school district progress, NCLB used test scores predominantly. ESSA uses test scores (some are the same and some are different than NCLB) as well, but there will be a few more markers that will be featured more predominantly.

Two of them that will directly impact you as parents are absenteeism (for sure) and civic readiness (I think). Students who are chronically tardy and absent (without proper excuses) will significantly count against us in terms of our overall performance. We will be ratcheting up the importance of getting your children to school so you may sense that a bit if you have children who were late or absent (without proper excuses) last year.

New York State has not totally defined what civic readiness is going to look like, but I would guess that there will be some extended volunteerism in the community. Completion rate is also thrown in there and we are crushing that right now so I am actually looking forward to challenging ESSA this year. Once ESSA comes more into focus, the principals will keep you up to speed; I just wanted you to hear about it as we finish the summer.

Next week I will start getting you familiar with the new Mental Health Literacy guidelines.

Other Updates: By the end of the today we should also be able to make the Onondaga County Safety Task Force Report available. It was a very humbling experience to be able to represent not only West Genesee but educators around the county, and I am very proud of the work the committee completed.

If you are looking for something to do next Saturday, our High School Executive Principal Shannon Coholan is going to be rappelling (yes, you read that right) over the side of a building downtown to help raise money for one of our community partners, the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center. She is scheduled to rappel at 9:00 a.m. and more details can be found by clicking here. Good luck to her!

Thanks and enjoy the week!