Monday, April 18, 2016

All Clear

Junior Prom Already: I hope you had an opportunity to enjoy the fantastic weather over the weekend. I know I did, and so did four hundred and three students who attended our Junior Prom on Saturday night.

The prom this year was an absolute delight. There was not a single issue and the energy was very high and very positive the whole night. As you can imagine, I as the superintendent (and probably you if you had a child out later than usual last night) sleep with one eye open until I get the "all clear" text from the high school administration and Camillus Police first thing Sunday morning. What a great time; I am looking forward to the Senior Ball on May 13!

Kick-Off of "No Empty Chair" Campaign: On Friday, and just prior to the prom, West Genesee was selected as the kick-off site for the "No Empty Chair" (Click here to view a YouTube video about the event.) campaign sponsored by the Governors Special Traffic Safety Division. Some of our students watched the extended opening press conference.

I was very impressed by senior Katie Lannon, who delivered a powerful message about making good choices while flanked by high ranking officials from the New York State Police, District Attorney's Office, Onondaga County Sheriff's Office, Department of Motor Vehicles, Camillus Police Department, and a parent who had lost a child. She was masterful with the media as well, and I was really pleased with how she represented the District and most importantly, herself. Nice work!

More Mini-Forums: Last week there were a lot of cool events that happened. First was the "prevention" mini-forum. You can view the presentation by clicking here. It was led by Penny Williams from OCM BOCES and Donna Knapp from The Prevention Network. I definitely learned a thing or two about signs to look for in children related to substance abuse, and I think it would be well worth your time to take five minutes to scroll through their presentation.

The next mini-forum is on treatment and will be led by substance abuse treatment counselor Kimberly Sacco on May 3 at the West Genesee High School. Two days later on May 5 will be NARCAN training, which will also be at the high school and provided by the Camillus Police Department. I can't thank everyone enough for their involvement and efforts.

Letter of Intent Signing Ceremony: We also held our official Division I and Division II athletic signing day. This year we had thirteen students commit to various colleges and universities. The sports are women's and men's lacrosse, women's soccer, men's golf, and men's basketball. Click here to read an article from the District e-Newsletter that lists the names and colleges.

The combined academic average of all of the student athletes who signed the letters is a 91; very impressive. We wish them well next year and beyond!

C.O.D.E. Program is Recognized: Many of you are familiar with our Community Oriented Drug Education (C.O.D.E) program.  For those who are not, it is a partnership between the District and the Camillus Police. We tailor curriculum to help teach students in grades K-12 about making good choices, and remaining drug and alcohol free. The program is unique because we select and change the curriculum based on the needs of our community.

Officers Kelly Grace and Diane Brand are responsible to help teach the curriculum.  In 2013 they, our administrators, and teachers made the decision to include some curriculum about what to say and do if faced with abuse.  For their efforts, the Camillus Police Department, Officers Grace and Brand were honored by the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center at the “Shine A Light” On Child Abuse Award Ceremony with the Children’s Guardian Award for the partnership and continuing education that McMahon/Ryan, the Camillus Police and the West Genesee School District share regarding our CODE Program.

Come Meet an Astronaut: This Thursday is your chance to meet with an astronaut. Join us this Thursday, April 21, in the high school auditorium from 7:00-8:30 p.m. for an evening with NASA Astronaut, Jeanette Epps, Ph.D. as she describes her journey to becoming one of NASA’s elite female astronauts. We are looking forward to having Dr. Epps among us and in our District!

Spring break is next week. I am going to give you a chance to enjoy yourselves and not have to worry about checking for a blog. Barring anything unusual I would need to share with you, my next post will be on Monday, May 2. Until then, enjoy and remember that every day is a great day to be a Wildcat!


Monday, April 11, 2016

Evacuation at the High School This Afternoon (4/11/2016)

Good Afternoon,
At the end of the day today a student showed a teacher at the high school a book they had been reading in class. Written in the book was a bomb threat that was non-specific. With quick work of the teachers and administrators, it was determined that the book in question had not been used since last week at the earliest.

In an overabundance of caution, the building was completely cleared and searched at dismissal and then reopened for business. The Camillus Police are assisting us with an investigation, and we are confident that we will find the person responsible in the very near future.

Thank you.


Punching Their Tickets

Community Helps Raise Funds: The nineteen members of the Academic Decathlon Team have worked tremendously hard to raise money to help get the team to Anchorage, Alaska to compete in the National Championship. If you attended their pancake breakfast fundraiser yesterday, you got to see the students and their advisers making sure that everyone was served and happy. There were lines out the door at times, and I want to thank the Camillus Elks Club for the use of their facility and their membership for doing much of the cooking! Thanks to all for your support; they are booked and ready to go!

NYS Assessments Update: You probably saw a lot of news coverage last week about the recent 3-8 English Language Arts state assessments. The types of questions on this assessment were similar to previous years, but the assessments were shorter overall in terms of the number of questions and there were no time limits for completion. I will be interested to see the results of these assessments compared to last year. Nineteen percent of our students refused to take this year's English Language Arts assessment, compared to twenty-three percent last year. The 3-8 Mathematics state assessments are this week, April 13-15.

Substance Abuse Mini-Forum: Tonight is the second mini-forum on substance abuse and the topic is prevention. The presenters are Donna Knapp from The Prevention Network and Penny Williams from the OCM BOCES with the event being held at the Camillus First United Methodist Church from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.  All are welcome.

The next mini-forums center around treatment. There will be one on May 3 led by substance abuse treatment counselor Kimberly Sacco, followed by NARCAN training (date TBD) led by Camillus Police Chief Tom Winn. Our substance abuse coalition, first large forum, and these mini-forums are really making a difference, and we are proud as a District to be community partners in these efforts.

Letter of Intent Signing: This Wednesday, April 13, will be the West Genesee High School National Letter of Intent Signing Ceremony in the high school library starting at 3:00 p.m. We look forward to celebrating this event with the twelve seniors (Troy Temara, Mackenzie Negus, Emma Madonna, Tyler Shoults, Ryan McDonald, Jacob Sparks, Sean Stanistreet, Madisyn Kittel, Mackenzie Kittel, Nicole Delany, Alexa Meager, and Michael Philippone) as they sign their letters committing to play sports at their college or university of choice.

Prom Season: As we enter junior prom and senior ball season we should all remember to have those extra conversations with our children about making good choices. We have many programs to help reinforce that message at school, and we are going to be adding another one this Friday with the No Empty Chair Campaign. The Governor's Office has chosen our high school as the kick-off school for the statewide program, and we welcome the chance to be statewide role models.

Speaking of the Junior Prom, ours is this weekend, and my wife and I have been chaperoning them for twenty five years. Each one has been unique and fun in its own way and this year will be no exception!

Thanks for your support and enjoy the week!


Monday, April 4, 2016

The Difference Between a Bunny and a Chicken

Running in Snow, in April? Only in Syracuse can you play golf one day of the week and then shovel snow on another. My older son and I ran the Syracuse Half Marathon yesterday, and I cannot recall a time when I ran in worse conditions. The funny thing was that no one really complained about it. Most of the comments I heard were "well, this IS Syracuse".

I kept up with him for the first seven miles or so and then he slowly faded into the distance. It was fun to find each other after the race and agree that anyone who actually finished that race in those conditions was a true champion! In this picture he had been finished about ten minutes, and I had just finished. My beard collected a fair share of snow and ice! Already looking forward to next year.

Bunny vs Chicken: I often tell people that I have the best job in the world, and I have the stories to back up my claim. On Friday of last week I was visiting Stonehedge Elementary School, and I walked into a kindergarten classroom. This is a very normal occurrence for the students so I received the usual chorus of "good morning Dr. Brown!" but then a student walked up to me with a paper cutout of a rabbit. She looked up at me and asked if I wanted a chicken. I told her that she did not have a chicken. She quickly responded with, "I know, it is a bunny. April Fools!". I had been had by a kindergartener! It made my day.

Mini-Forums on Substance Abuse: Last week we held the first of six mini-forums about substance abuse in our community. This particular forum was about actual data and resources concerning substance abuse in our schools, as well as a great presentation from the Camillus Police and District Attorney's office about their new "Tip411" service.

You can find video and the presentations by clicking here (page will be updated after each mini-forum). The survey results showed that parents (about forty in attendance and another one hundred seventy watching live on our Periscope app) really enjoyed knowing what is actually happening within the four walls of our schools.

Parents and I were also VERY impressed with the power and anonymity of the new "Tip411" system. Community members can submit tips to the Camillus Police (or twenty one other agencies) about drug activity that they see. The tip is then immediately sent to someone who will respond to the person submitting the tip and then they will either start a new investigation or add the tip to an existing one.

You can check it out by going to and looking for Tip411. We are actually going to add it to our tools to combat drug activity at school, and we will also be showing students how to use the system over time. Good stuff and thank you to all who attended!

Meeting an Astronaut: Always wanted to meet a real life astronaut but haven't been able to? Well now you can! Thanks to the efforts of the Junior League, NASA Astronaut Dr. Jeannette Epps will be live in the West Genesee High School Auditorium on April 21, 7:00 p.m. She is going to talk about her experiences, possible careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (especially for girls) and take questions from the audience. How cool is that? Put it on your calendar!

Assessments: This week is grades 3-8 assessment week for English Language Arts. Our new Commissioner has made the assessments shorter, has made sure that teachers have had a say in question development, and has made sure that there are no time limits. This will not stop those who are really against state assessing from voicing opinions or opting their children out of the tests.

In my view the current Commissioner has done a remarkable job in a very short amount of time fixing some of the very poor decisions that had been made by the previous Commissioner with regards to how our children are assessed. She needs more time to continue the process, but I am pleased that she is listening to ALL of us about changes that need to be made.

That being said, parents will make choices for their children with regards to assessments and we will respect those choices like we always have.

Thanks for your tremendous support and enjoy the week!


Monday, March 28, 2016

Sustained Success

I hope that all of you had an enjoyable weekend. We spent it with our family, including both of our boys who were able to make it home. The nice weather generated driveway basketball games, whiffle ball in the backyard (yes, even though both are in college they still like me at the "all time pitcher" spot), and bag toss. I used some different muscles that are barking back a bit today but it was well worth it!

One of the Best Communities for Music Education, Again: Last week we received word that for the eighth year in a row (eleventh time overall) we were named one of the 2016 Best Communities for Music Education in the nation. Our fine arts staff and students make it look easy but in reality receiving this award requires an exceptionally well-rounded effort and top notch performances. From our Director of Fine Arts Bill Davern, through each of our teachers, and to our student performers, excellence is heard in every note. Congratulations!

Students Inducted into the National Honor Society: We also had a wonderful National Honor Society ceremony where 158 students were inducted. Most are students I have known since the second or third grade, so it was a pleasure to shake their hands and know that they continue to be on a good path. Click here to see the list of students inducted. Congratulations to all of the family members as well!

Hoops for 'Hedge: I got into a little hot water in my "boss" role last week as well. I graciously accepted the title of coach for the teacher versus teacher basketball fundraiser for the Stonehenge PTA that was held at West Genesee Middle School.

It started innocently enough. Parents and students slowly began to file in about a half-hour before tip-off time to take their seats. I became preoccupied working with my team and the next thing I knew all of the stands were filled and people were three deep around three sides of the gym floor; AND about two hundred more people were waiting in the hallway to get in.

Safety is always a number one concern. So while we had a tremendous time and the PTA raised a lot of money very quickly to help fund their programs, in the future the event will need to move to the high school gym so I get out out of the dog house with the fire marshal! A good problem to have.

Supporting the Sports Boosters: It was also great to catch up with so many of you at the Sports Boosters' Annual Spaghetti Dinner. When I arrived at 5:30 p.m. there were four seats left in the entire cafeteria. Yes, I ate two desserts and they were good, leave me alone!

Mini-Forum on Substance Abuse: I hope that you are able to join us this Tuesday night from 7:00 p.m. until approximately 8:30 p.m (total time including questions and answers) in the West Genesee High School Auditorium for the first mini-forum related to substance abuse.

There will be six mini-sessions held as a result of the survey we received from our large forum (school, prevention, treatment, peer support, family support, and personal support) and we are looking forward to presenting what is happening in our schools related to substance abuse.

If you cannot attend, we will be recording a video of the presentation and will also try to live broadcast it through the Periscope App. The video will be on our website after the event.

Thanks and enjoy the week!


Monday, March 21, 2016

Living in Excess of Excess

Well, my NCAA bracket is BUSTED. It is probably as ruined as any bracket I have ever made, and I am destined for finishing in the basement in the "Brown Family Bracket Challenge". That is okay though, because I have a day job to fall back on.

Capital Project Update: If you have been in and around our school buildings you are really beginning to see progress on our Capital Project.

  • At Onondaga Road and East Hill Elementary Schools they are almost ready to pour concrete for the new additions. 
  • The East Hill playground area is being graded and prepared for the installation of the new equipment. 
  • We removed some trees at West Genesee Middle School in order to make way for the new parent pick-up and drop-off area.
  • At the high school we told some student drivers that we needed to move some spaces to make way for construction trailers and equipment. As you might imagine, a few did not react well to the news, but I reminded them that they actually had a car to drive while many do not and if the worst thing to ever happen to them was that their parking space had to be moved they were having a pretty good life so far! Watching kids grow up keeps me young and on my toes, and I sincerely enjoy my time with them. 
Cell Phone Use: I am sure that you enjoy time with your "student" as well. One thing I am going to bring to your attention regarding your children, especially those who have cell phones, is that they may be using them when you think they are asleep. Our administrators work on cases from time to time where someone said something about someone else via text or social media in general.

When it is investigated, they are finding that these posts and text messages are taking place very late at night. On a school night it is not uncommon to find time stamps of between midnight and three in the morning. When they follow up with parents, they often hear from mom or dad that they had no idea that they were up that late using their phone in that manner.

I have two suggestions for you. The first would be to check your cell phone bill and the line that your child uses. If you look at the bill detail you can see when text messages are sent and when the data plan is used. If you find that they are using their phone when you think they should be asleep, you can take any action that you feel might be appropriate.

Second, you can have your child turn their phone off and give it to you before they go to bed and have the phone charge in your room overnight. The delicate thing about middle and high school students is that their room and now their electronics are how they have "freedom", followed by a car if they are fortunate enough to have one. I always tell people that being a parent is the hardest job ever so I wish you luck but know that you are not alone!

Water Quality in Schools: About six months ago you might have read about water quality issues in Flint, Michigan. Government officials allegedly knew that water quality was suspect but covered it up until the situation was finally exposed. Closer to home, a community near Ithaca was having water issues which prompted the school to test their water and they found that the water contained more lead than recommended. Similar findings have occurred in a community in New Jersey, and one more in a Rochester suburb.

United States Senator Chuck Schumer recently declared the public water supply a top priority and is making grant monies available (water testing is very expensive) for schools to test their water for lead (water testing has not been required and remains not required). While we do not foresee issues with our water, we have decided to participate in the grant and test our faucets and drinking fountains.

The testing will begin the week of April 5 and will be conducted by the OCM BOCES Health and Safety Department. If we find any high levels of lead from any faucet or drinking fountain we will let you know. The remedy is to replace the pipe or connector that may be causing the sample to test positive. The Onondaga County Water Authority tests the water constantly and our area of Syracuse is not known for lead pipes, but we are taking the better safe than sorry approach.

Lastly, and due to the relatively mild winter we had, there will be no school on Friday, May 27. There will also be no school for employees on Friday, June 24, but students will already be on summer break.  If we have to have an emergency closing between now and May 27, May 27 will become a regular school day once again.

Events this week include the National Honor Society Induction Ceremony tonight and the Sports Boosters Dinner tomorrow night. Enjoy the week!


Monday, March 14, 2016

Thruway Pride

Proud to be a Wildcat: Could you imagine if you lived in a community with a District that in ONE WEEK had a school concert with a nationally recognized conductor, one sport team playing for a state championship in Buffalo, another group of athletes competing for a state title in New York City, a young wrestler competing for a state title right in Syracuse, and an academic club (already New York State Champions) fundraising to compete for the national championship in the same place they hold the Iditarod? That would be crazy right? It happened.

I thought about all of this while I was running and wearing my St. Patrick's Day West Genesee shirt. We are pretty fortunate to say the least. Wear your Wildcat clothing with pride as I do. NO other school in the state had the week we just did. Never take what you are a part of for granted. For any of you who have students in the District or have had one while I have been here, thank you for choosing Camillus and for letting us work with your kids (some are now adults and have children of their own starting Kindergarten next year)!

Our Community is Changing: In past blogs I have shared statistics about how our community demographics are changing. More students living in poverty, more abuse in the community, etc. I think we read those reports and have difficulty applying it to real life because we continue to be successful regardless of our changes. Kids are kids. I did run into a situation last week where I can demonstrate to you the challenges that some of our students face every day.

Early in the week and as you heard, read, and saw, a person found himself in the parking lot of Onondaga Road Elementary with a BB gun. He was arrested. Just a bad choice by a graduate I have known since middle school.

All of our grounds are open to the public after school hours. Most people use the basketball courts, baseball fields, etc. very respectfully. On that particular day there were six older students hanging around the grounds. I decided to speak to them face-to-face in school, and then follow up with their parents.

The conversations with the students were simple enough. Be a role model even when people aren't watching. They all were very respectful to me and have always been respectful to me. Guess how many of the six students had parents I could actually call. It was three, half of those involved. Those conversations went really well. The others have parents who have left them, passed away, or are incarcerated. They spend the day at school and then their afternoons and evenings bouncing around.

This is real life. We need to circle the wagons around these students and find ways to help them feel wanted ALL the time; not just while they are in school. I will lead the charge on that. I hope you will follow.

Hoops for 'Hedge: I was really honored to be asked to be one of the coaches for the Stonehedge PTA Basketball "Teachers versus Teachers" fundraiser coming up in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to brushing the dust off of my old playbook and having a great evening. We would love to have you join us.

Have a great week!