Monday, May 23, 2016

Yearly Rituals

Budget Vote Pressure: As the polls closed last Tuesday night and I began the yearly ritual of getting a stomach ache while the votes were tabulated, I took a moment to reflect. I thought to myself, "Why do I get a stomach ache every year?". We are doing tremendous things at all levels, we are always below the tax cap, we are always transparent about our business, and our District has local, state, and national credibility.

The reality is that even with sustained success, one should never take anything for granted. Trust, support, and votes are earned every day, even when people aren't watching. The level of pressure to keep improving upon our success from year to year AND to keep your trust and support is always on my mind.

The results? Outstanding once again and in that moment of exhale, I am so thankful for all that you do to help support me, our staff, our students, and our community. We are humbled once again and will keep making you proud.

High School Hero: Someone else made me proud last week. After leaving the Senior Ball, senior Nicole Corrente was headed back to school on Route 690 with a friend to enjoy the All-Night After Party. She noticed a person in the median of the highway. It was approaching midnight and the person looked out of place. She and her companion could have kept driving. The music was playing in the car, and they were anxious to hang out with their other friends back at school. Nicole then did the right thing. She decided that the after party could wait a little while. She called 911 and reported what she saw. Turns out the person was suffering from dementia and had been missing. The police came and brought her back to her family.

Nicole probably saved a life. She went about her business from there, back to the after party and did not think much of it until she was contacted by the family of the missing person. Good stuff! There needs to be more Nicole's in the world. Thanks for doing the right thing. (Click here to view CNYCentral coverage of this story.)

Special Olympics: Last Thursday I had an incredible time watching about two hundred of our students cheer on fifty of our athletes at the Special Olympics.

I was filled with pride as students gave it their all while their fans held up signs, cheered, and congratulated their exceptional classmates. This made me very proud to be a Wildcat!

This week is BUSY! There are all kinds of athletic sectional competitions this week as well as Kaleidoscope on Thursday night at the Civic Center. We are looking forward to seeing the Alumni Marching Band and our current Marching Band at the Memorial Day Parade on Monday. We have so many people participating, that they are hoping to break the Guinness Book of World Records! With that many alumni, we have had to reach out as far as Pennsylvania to get enough instruments for people to play! Luckily, it looks like the long-term weather forecast is very good. I cannot wait!

Please remember that there is no school this Friday. Thanks and enjoy the week!


Monday, May 16, 2016

A Busy Time of Year

Another Great Senior Ball: Just when you thought the Senior Ball was going to be a washout, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and over 400 students had a wonderful time at the "Phantom of the Opera" themed dinner and dance held at the OnCenter. The students were mature beyond their years and were just awesome to be with for the evening.

Earlier in the day they attended a modified presentation of a Mock DWI exercise that although abbreviated due to the weather, was still very powerful. Afterwards they enjoyed a delicious breakfast.

All told, I would say that nearly 100 staff, community members, and parents helped to make sure that the students had a safe and enjoyable 24 hours. Thanks to all!

50th Anniversary of Alumni Marching Band: What has 1,276 legs and is over a quarter of a mile long? The West Genesee Alumni Marching Band. On their 50th anniversary they will try to make the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest alumni band. How cool is that?!? I hope to see you there.

Reward School Honor: Last week we received some great news. For the second year in a row, West Genesee High School was recognized as a "Reward School" by the New York State Education Department. This is the highest academic award given by New York State, and we are proud to be a recipient. The main criteria that has helped us to achieve this goal is our overall completion rate, which is very high compared to other schools in New York State.

Congratulations goes to all of our teachers, support staff, administrators, Board of Education, parents, and especially our students! Other schools in our area to also receive this award are Jamesville-Dewitt, Skaneateles, and Westhill High Schools. I want to congratulate those schools for also receiving this honor.

Update on the STAR Program: In keeping an eye on what is happening around the state, I wanted to draw your attention to some changes that are being made to the STAR program. STAR is a property and school tax reduction program that primary homeowners qualify for. If you have not bought a new house this year, you have nothing to worry about as STAR will work as it always has. If you have bought a home this year, check out this brief article from to see how to register and receive the STAR reduction.

Special Olympics is this Week: If you have time on Thursday, May 19, please join me as I cheer on hundreds of children (including many of our own students) at the Special Olympics being held at Cicero-North Syracuse High School starts at 9:30 a.m. with the parade beginning at 10:15 a.m.. This is always one of my favorite things to do each year and every competitor is an inspiration to us all!

Time to Vote on the School Budget: Lastly, please remember to vote on the school budget and for Board of Education members this Tuesday. It is very important to us to hear from as many community members as possible.Voting will take place from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the high school auditorium lobby.

Please remember that due to the state no longer providing waivers to use the old style of voting machines, we will be using the new voting system with the Board of Elections workers working the polls.

A special thank you to all of the volunteers who have worked the school budget vote over the years. We are planning a small celebration for them on vote day, including community member Hugh Stannard who is one hundred years young!

Thank you for your support and have a great week!


Monday, May 9, 2016

Appreciate What You Have

Appreciating our Mothers: It can be easy to just type "Happy Mother's Day" as a Facebook status, as a quick Tweet, or a post on Instagram. With a little extra elbow grease most can even paste a picture of their mom to go along with that Tweet. One thing I have learned over time, and was especially reminded of last week, was how fortunate a person actually is to still have their mom around to celebrate Mother's Day.

Forty-eight hours before Mother’s Day, I was handing a high school diploma to a senior in front of her mom who was expected to pass away at any moment. She unfortunately did not make it to Mother's Day. To read an article about this on, just click here.

What was amazing was that even in dire sickness, this mother still kept everything together for her family. That is what moms do, and that is why they are such amazing people.

If you are fortunate to still have your mother with you and TRULY didn't get a chance to thank your mom yesterday, you have some homework to do today.

If your mom has passed on, I hope that you, your family, and your friends took a moment out to remember all of the things that made her the most important part of your lives. If you didn't, you have homework as well! When I write about Mother's Day next year, I will be checking your work!

Ceramics Team Wins: Last week our high school Ceramics Team made school history by winning the "Feats of Clay" event at Onondaga Community College. They have worked hard and are extremely creative and it all paid off. Congratulations to all of the participants and to our Ceramics teacher Mrs. Schrader!

Teamwork: Also congratulations to our ninth grade team who worked together to offer a "Renaissance Festival" to third graders from Stonehedge Elementary School. This is the second year of the full festival and the event has helped to promote teamwork, responsibility, and true authentic learning!

Honors Breakfasts: Congratulations to the hundreds of students in ninth through eleventh grade who were recognized for being on the high honor roll for nearly every semester of their high school careers. It was great to enjoy the moment with their parents, and I am looking forward to celebrating academic success with the seniors later this month.

Wrapping up the Mini-Forums: Last week we also hosted the last two mini-forums about substance abuse for the school year. The first was about Treatment and the second provided NARCAN training.

They were both very informative and close to 200 people received the NARCAN (antidote to a heroin overdose) training convincing me that our community coalition is really doing some positive and much needed work right now. I am proud to be a part of something so important. To view news coverage on this event by News Channel 9, click here.

Simulated Car Crash: Believe it or not, this coming Friday is the Senior Ball! On Friday morning we will be holding a simulated DWI crash in the circle at the high school. We have community partners from area emergency agencies as well as the district attorney's office, Buranich Funeral Home, Meyers Towing, clergy, the county medical examiner, and for the first time since 2009 and weather permitting, a helicopter.

The event takes place from 7:20 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. so please do NOT be alarmed if you are driving on West Genesee Street during that time and see an "accident" unfolding. We want to thank all of these agencies and the community for volunteering their time because it does make a difference!

Thank you for the continued support and enjoy the week!


Monday, May 2, 2016

Welcome Back!

Academic Decathlon in Alaska: I hope that everyone had a great spring break.  As you are reading this, our Academic Decathlon Team members are arriving back to town after a successful trip to Anchorage, Alaska where they competed in the national championship.

Aside from competing, they had a chance to bike, hike, and visit the Alaska Museum as well as the Alaska Zoo. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience for most, and they are appreciative of your support to help get them there. Once they recover from the jet lag, I know they plan to work with our publications department to send out a summary to our community.

Vacationing in Vegas: I had a chance to get away for a couple of days to Las Vegas. I had never been there and wanted to check it off the list. I am too cheap to gamble, so we spent the time checking out the themes from each casino, seeing a show, eating a couple of good meals, and then venturing out to the Hoover Dam and Zion National Park.

I cannot tell you if I was more impressed by the Hoover Dam, Zion, or the Vegas strip itself. They were all interesting in their own ways. As you know, West Genesee has incredible reach. While I was looking over a rooftop and out onto the strip, there was a large video billboard advertising an upcoming stay by music legend Lionel Richie. The last image shown was his guitar player, former West Genesee student Ben Mauro. Wildcat pride!
NASA Touches Down at the High School: A day before spring break, students, parents, and community members were treated by a visit from NASA astronaut, Dr. Jeannette Epps. Her presentation was sponsored by the Junior League, and she spent about an hour and a half talking about her preparation to become an astronaut, and her message was to never give up on your dreams. There was a long line to shake her hand, or get a picture or an autograph, and I commented that she was as popular as any guest musician or athlete we have ever hosted. Good stuff! She will be headed to the International Space Station in about a year and a half, and we will be following her progress.

Construction Progress: While we were away, construction workers made significant progress in each of the buildings. I toured all of the work on Friday and took these pictures. We continue to be on or ahead of schedule in all areas and we are also right on target budget wise.

If your child participates in an activity through the town Parks and Recreation Department, be sure to pay careful attention to the location of each activity when you register as some of them have changed for this summer only.

West Genesee has a Pep Band:  It has long been rumored that the fine arts students do not get along with the athletes and visa versa. For years I have told people that perception is NOT reality but it has been challenging to prove it, until now. Cue the new and totally awesome West Genesee Pep Band.

The pep band was started over the winter by a small number of students for one basketball game, and they have since grown to about twenty strong. They are also becoming a common fixture at boys and girls lacrosse games. The group is student driven and you can follow them on Twitter at @westgeneseepep. They sound great, and I am hoping that they stay together and continue to grow in numbers into next fall and winter!

Mini-Forums this Week: The last two substance abuse mini-forums for this school year take place this week. On Tuesday, May 3, there will be a forum about treatment. It takes place from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. in the West Genesee High School Large Group Instruction Room.

On Thursday, May 5, there will be a mini-forum that will provide NARCAN (nasal based) training with 3 one-hour training sessions starting at 5:30 p.m. in the West Genesee High School Large Group Instruction Room.

We have done a tremendous job raising awareness about substance abuse in our community and it would mean a lot to see good representation at these forums. The larger community coalition will then have a final meeting for the year where we will summarize our productive year and make plans for next year. Thank you for the continued support.

Welcome to May. Graduation is straight ahead. Enjoy the week!


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!