Thursday, July 24, 2014

When You Don't Want My Job

Someone asked me the other day if I have a business card. When I told them that I didn't, they were surprised and commented that most CEO's love to hand out their business cards with their title. I have made a career of not having to do that.

I have been fortunate to establish trust, build relationships, and lead for many years without ever having to say "I'm the boss". I intend to continue that practice. The job itself is very rewarding, enjoyable, and fulfilling. There are times, however, when I have to make decisions that are not popular; but I feel are in the best short and long term interest of the students and our taxpayers. These are the times that you would not want my job.

As a school community you are always entitled to know why I make decisions or recommendations. I always go to bed at night knowing that you have all of the facts to agree or disagree with a decision that has been made. A decision that I have recently made involves the high school dance program.

Since 2009 the dance program has been a topic of conversation during the budget building process. From 2009 to 2011 we had to lay off a significant number of people due to large reductions in state aid. At the time, dance enrollment was beginning to decline. The classes offered are: introduction to dance, intermediate dance, and advanced dance. I did not recommend eliminating the program at that point because I was not comfortable that the students in the program could obtain their Fine Art credit (each student needs one Fine Art credit in order to graduate) in another way in time for graduation.

As we fast forward to present day:

  • The dance program numbers have continued to decline (there are 85 total students registered for the dance program for the fall), and we have been able to calculate that there has been a 30% drop in students moving from introduction to dance to intermediate, and another 30% decline from intermediate to advanced. 
  • At the same time, our other Fine Arts programs have been growing including: ceramics, drawing, painting, photography, and our performance groups. 
  • There has also been interest in expanding offerings to include the graphic arts, which will give students immediate employment opportunities as many of our engineering courses currently do. 
  • Add to this the knowledge that enrollment at the high school will likely drop by approximately 300 students over the next three years, and it is clear that some decisions needed to be made.

Using the information in the previous paragraph, and removing emotion, the decision was made to begin to move away from the dance program and move those resources into the elementary grades where the need is high. This will allow us to pay for the new graphic arts opportunities at the high school level, which is in high demand. The phrase that I would use to describe this is: an expansion through contraction. Below are the different phases of this process:

  • Students who are currently in the dance program would be able to finish the program, provided there is enough enrollment. 
  • For this fall, introduction to dance, intermediate dance, and advanced danced will run. 
  • In 2015-2016 intermediate dance and advanced dance will run. 
  • In 2016-2017 advanced dance will run.  
  • For the 2017-2018 school year, I would be asking the Board of Education to eliminate dance.  
This decision does not take away from the prior success of the dance program and the many accomplishments of the program faculty.

I certainly understand that this decision may trigger feelings, emotion, and opinions; and those are all healthy. I always take great care when making a decision and this was no different. That being said, there is always an impact to every decision and that is why there are times when you might not want my job!  

Over the course of this school year we will also be creating a three-year plan for the high school, specifically as they begin to brace for the decline in student enrollment that the elementary and middle schools have already adjusted for. I will keep you posted.

Thank you and enjoy the rest of the summer.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mid-Summer Update

Greetings! I thought this would be a good time to check in and let you know how things are going at school.

Rest and Relaxation: Hopefully you have found some time to get away or are planning on getting away. If not, there sure are plenty of things to do in Syracuse this time of the year.

I had a chance to get away on what will probably amount to our final family vacation. We spent about a week in the south including the Fourth of July on the Mall in Washington, D.C. during their fireworks celebration. If you haven't had a chance to watch the fireworks at our nation's Capital, it is worth the trip and all of the museums are open and free. Had I known it was going to be as great as it was, I would have taken the family a long time ago.

Storms can be Damaging: While I was gone we were hit with the nasty storm that caused some damage, power outages, and general mayhem for about a half-hour.

We had to cut down about ten trees between West Genesee Middle School and Onondaga Road Elementary School, and one of our batting cages got pretty damaged. All things considered we were very lucky.

Getting Ready for the New School Year: Our buildings and grounds crew and custodians are hard at work getting our buildings ready for the fall, and we have been busy hiring for our vacancies, providing professional development, and recharging.

Technology Updates for Communications: On the technology side of things we are getting ready to expand our mobile phone app. So many people have downloaded the app that we felt that upgrading is the right thing to do. We are working to seamlessly integrate cafeteria balances, bus runs, and other pertinent student information over the next few months. When we are ready to launch the different features, I will be sure to let you know. In the meantime if you do not have our app yet, please take an opportunity to download it by going to the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and searching for Parentlink West Genesee CSD.

Waiting on the NYS Education Department: The State Education Department is still behind in approving capital projects so we have not had much movement on that front. We are hoping to get some preliminary approvals in the next couple of months.

I will write again in a couple of weeks. Until then, try to find some time to relax and enjoy the summer weather.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Out with the Old and In with the New

The Summer Heat: Considering we do not have air conditioning in every building quite yet, I am glad that this really hot weather held off until the end of the school year. As summer school and outdoor summer camps through the Town of Camillus and other organizations begin, be sure to make sure that your children are hydrated, have sunscreen, and know when to "pack it in" if the temperatures are too warm.

If your children are not attending something that is sponsored or officially run by the West Genesee Central School District, take the time to ask what their temperature and relative humidity policies are. We follow very strict guidelines provided by Section III athletics and backed by our school physician. Summertime camps are fun and can be kept that way if everyone exercises common sense!

National Recognition for Communication: I want to thank all of you who take the time to read this blog, follow our Facebook page, and connect with me via Twitter. The National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) recently recognized this blog with an award of "Excellence" which is the highest award possible.  Our Facebook and Twitter pages both received a designation of "Honorable Mention".

While I write this blog, there are people behind the scenes who make sure it looks good on every device, is organized properly, and grammar and spelling is checked thoroughly before being published each week. I would like to give special thanks to Bonnie Russell who wears many hats for us, as well as Sharon Seeley and Karen Piccioni in the District Office for their help each week.

For those who have enjoyed the joke of the day on Twitter, I am wrestling with a few different themes for next school year. I didn't realize how many people read the joke first thing in the morning until I posted the last one on Friday and got an overwhelming reaction! The joke that got the most positive reaction over the course of the school year was: "What do you call a fake noodle? An impasta".  My favorite part of posting those jokes was visiting a first grade classroom at East Hill and having a young man tell me that his dad reads my jokes to him every morning. I innocently asked him if he liked the jokes, and he replied "not really".  The truth hurts!

Board of Education Meetings: On Wednesday night we will have what is called our Re-organizational Board of Education Meeting before our regular meeting. At the regular meeting the high school administration presents graduation statistics, passing percentages, advanced designation rates, CTE endorsements, etc. An advanced look at the data shows we did quite well.

I was most interested to see how our students did with the new common core aligned Algebra regents compared to past Algebra regents. We have been doing a lot of work with our internal math institute re-configuring our curriculum to meet the challenges of the new standards. I knew that the state would probably curve the new exam so that the results would be similar to previous years, but in my mind we exceeded that curve, especially in the areas of eighth graders taking the exam as well as our students with disabilities population.  All of our eighth graders (100%), AS WELL AS, all of our students with disabilities in our 1:15:1 program passed.

This tells me that our curricular changes are working as these results are well above the state curve and are unprecedented for West Genesee. We need to work on our mastery (percent of students receiving an 85% or higher) levels and that work will continue over the summer.

If you are interested in the results of our data, please plan to attend the presentation being given on Wednesday night. The presentation will also be uploaded to the Academics section of our website after the meeting. I feel we are in a good position headed into the next school year.

I am going to take next week off from the blog and try to get away for a couple of days before buckling down for the rest of the summer. I hope that you enjoy this warm weather and I will catch up with all of you soon.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Finishing Touches

Each year around graduation time I can't sleep, have trouble eating, and run off a lot of nervous energy. I always want everything to be perfect for our students and families at graduation; after all, it is the last time that the students are together as a group.

We have used the SRC Arena at Onondaga Community College for a second year now, and I am very happy that we made the change. Our graduation was wonderful. It fills me with pride to be the first person to shake the hands of our graduates as they come across the stage to receive their diplomas.

Equally fun for me, is my vantage point when the graduates all throw their caps into the air and celebrate being graduates. I then get to mingle with families and see many former graduates, moms, dads, grandparents and relatives.

Thanks to the nearly 5,000 people who attended and helped make this event so special. I hope that you found the ceremony to be joyful. I am semi-excited about next year.  My youngest son graduates next year which will leave an empty nest, so I hope the year will go forward in slow motion!

This week features the completion of exams, several elementary moving up ceremonies, and final paperwork for the school year. I intend to give each student one final goodbye for the summer, as we get things ready for what will surely be a busy summer.

Enjoy the weather, the week, and your family. If you follow on Twitter, this is the last week for the joke of the day as well. I never knew how much of a challenge it would be to find a clean, 140 character joke for each day this year!

Thank you for your continued support.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Final Approach

The one and only nice thing about the state testing our kids too much is that their schedule pushed our graduation ceremony date out past Father's Day weekend. I have not been able to really enjoy Father's Day in six years, but thanks to an extended Regents testing week we are graduating a week later. It is important to focus on the positives! I had a wonderful Father's Day weekend with my family and that was much needed and appreciated.

The landing gear is down and the runway is in sight. Our school year is nearing an end and while it has gone quickly, it has been another great year for the history books. Last week we held our annual senior athletic awards night, and I was impressed by how many team scholar award winners we had as well as how many All-American designations and full scholarships to various colleges and universities have been received. Good stuff!

I also want to thank our high school students for their behavior during the last week of classes. They are often encouraged to "do something" by the media. However, as the final bell of the last day of classes rang out at the high school, students spent time thanking staff, figuring out study schedules, and smiling. They were not thinking about pranks and other things that give their school and themselves a bad name. I am very thankful to our students for the respect they show to their classmates, faculty, staff, parents, and community. Thank you!

I will spend this week finishing up my graduation speech, getting into buildings, and preparing to land this plane that we call the 2014 school year at West Genesee. Have a great week!


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Girl Power

Girls Lacrosse Wins Again!: She shoots, she scores! What a great ride for the girls varsity lacrosse team. A group that was denied access to the state championship last year due to an unexpected early exit from sectionals, came back this year with a "Wildcat" roar this year and dominated their way to their seventh New York State Championship.

Role models on and off the field, this particular group of young women wear the West Genesee name with pride, determination, grit, and character. This championship places the girls lacrosse program, under the leadership of coach Bob Elmer, just shy of the  halfway mark to the boys lacrosse NYS championship total of 15; in a quarter of the time. At this rate the girls will be putting some pressure on the boys and that friendly internal competition should further elevate both programs! I could not be happier with this group. Well deserved!

Thank you to the community for their support and cheering the girls on as the buses returned to fire trucks and sirens! (please check out the short video above.)

Media Coverage: I would also like to publicly thank reporter Phil Blackwell as well as the Syracuse Media Group for their coverage of the girls sectional and state finals in all classes. I am usually frustrated at how little coverage girls sports gets over boys sports, but this year there was a concerted effort to provide some balance and I appreciate the coverage as a superintendent and someone who wants to see ALL students get some recognition for their accomplishments. Thank you.

Awards and Scholarships: Earlier in the week we held the high school Senior Awards Program which was as impressive as ever. Well over a hundred students received over $500,000 in awards and scholarships from colleges, the military, community organizations, and memorials established by local families. I am very appreciative of the generosity of our community and very proud of the students and their hard work as they were awarded for their efforts.

Seniors Soar at Rocket Challenge: I was keeping an eye on Twitter this weekend and our Career and Technical Education program (CTE) had a large group of students compete in a rocket building and flying competition in the CNY Rocket Building Challenge. One of our teams (S.N.A.G.R.) received first place! Nice work!

Capital Project Update: As the school year wraps up and we inch closer to graduation, we are learning that the New York State Education Department is significantly behind in approving Capital Projects. Surprise! How far behind are they? Well, right now it looks like the initial phase of our project will be approved sometime in August if we are lucky. That will allow us to begin work around October which is about five months later than we would have liked. My bald spot might be bigger by the time we get going, but at least we have a project in the hopper.

This week is the last week of classes at the high school before we head into Regents week. It is tough for me to wrap my head around that. Very busy week during the evenings but hope to see you soon.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Just Like the Pros

What a weekend! I think I legitimately hurt my hand playing Kan Jam on Saturday night but it was well worth it. It finally feels like late spring, and I think I can speak for many when I say it has improved my mood!

Kaleidoscope Rocks: If you were one of the approximately 1,700 to attend Kaleidoscope on Friday you were treated to some spectacular fine arts performances. For those unfamiliar, Kaleidoscope features each performing group in our high school Fine Arts program, plus soloists and small groups.

We take over the Civic Center and each group performs with no breaks in between performances. Incredible is an understatement. I usually sit in the audience for the show but this year I decided to remain backstage and help the students get into position for each number. That was a real treat. Not only could I hear everything really well, I was actually able to stand just out of view next to the main curtain and watch all the performances from up close.

The one thing that struck me was the poise of each performer as they headed to the stage. Even the soloists were joking and relaxed before they went out in front of such a large crowd. I took some great candid photos that I uploaded to my Twitter account if you get a chance check them out. The coolest part was listening to the audience gasp in awe when the curtain came up for the finale and all 430 of our performers were on stage! Next year is the forty year milestone and I am already looking forward to the performances.

Athletics Update: On Saturday our girls lacrosse team began their quest for their seventh New York State lacrosse championship in dominant fashion, defeating Ithaca High School. They now move to the New York State semi-finals this Friday with the State Championship game being held next Saturday. I am very proud of this group as they seek to put an exclamation point on a great season.

Our spring sports wrap-up will be out at the end of June and there will be plenty of highlights. Many personal records, team records, school records, droughts ended, and overall success. We are also waiting to see if all of our spring teams won academic team scholar awards; which we find to be the most important statistic in our athletics program. (For all of the updates from the weekend, check out our athletics page by clicking here.)

Individual to watch? I would have to go with eighth grader, Carly Benson. Competing at the highest level of girls track, she has already broken the school record for the 800m with a time of 2:14.50 and the second fastest National 8th grade time to advance to State competition. She has four more whole years of competition left. Olympics?

This week will be as busy as last week for me and chances are good if you have a child in school then our paths will cross in some way, shape, or form. Enjoy the good weather and that we are only three weeks away from graduation!