Monday, August 3, 2015

A Beautiful Day to be Recognized

I think that one of the most powerful things that people can experience is raw emotion. I have known our Boys Lacrosse coach, Mike Messere, since 2008; and raw emotion is something that I have not seen from him.

That all changed on a beautiful Saturday morning when he was surrounded by his family, friends, and dozens of his players and coaches for the official dedication of our turf field in his name. I was honored to be the emcee of the event and after a few brief words and the official dedication, I gave the microphone to him.

At that moment, over forty years of emotion appeared, front and center. He was very moved by the showing of support and paused to collect his thoughts. What came next? He thanked his family, his players, his coaches, and everyone else he could think of for helping the Boys Lacrosse program and him, as the coach, to achieve the level it has.

He turned the microphone back to me, posed for some pictures, and returned to coaching a summer lacrosse team!

I would like to thank everyone who made it to the event. Photographer Larry Duran took a professional panoramic photo of those who participated in the dedication ceremony, and as soon as the picture is ready we will make it available to anyone who would like it.

Over the next few weeks the new recognition sign will be mounted above our scoreboard along with a new "Home of the Wildcats" sign that will go underneath the scoreboard. Both signs are in the traditional blue and gold colors. #WildcatPride!

This week we will continue to fill open positions, register new students, work on the Capital Project, clean classrooms, and receive materials for the fall. Summer is anything but quiet!  Enjoy the week.


Monday, July 27, 2015

The Great Summer Debate for Teenagers

A Weekend of Girls Lacrosse: Another beautiful week and weekend for us. The Girls John Pepper Lacrosse Tournament was held at West Genesee and was bursting at the seams with people. Both the girls and boys tournaments are run incredibly well by their organizers and both bring in dozens of college scouts and coaches as well as parents and players from all over the US. Thank you to all of the volunteers and attendees that participated this weekend.

Mark Your Calendars for the Turf Field Naming Ceremony: Please remember that we will be dedicating the turf field to the boys lacrosse coach, Mike Messere, during the Boys John Pepper Lacrosse Tournament being held on August 1. The ceremony will begin at approximately 11:30 a.m.

Arts and Crafts: This past weekend, Syracuse was bustling with about a thousand other events. My wife and I had a chance to go to the Arts and Crafts festival that was held downtown. We really enjoy viewing local artists at their finest. As we saw about half of Camillus at the festival, it looked like many of you had a great time there as well!

Raising the Wage, Starts a Debate: You might have heard that New York State is raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour for fast food workers that are employed in a fast food establishment with thirty or more locations nationwide. For our area, the minimum wage needs to increase to that level by 2021. Over the past week I have read more opinions about this topic than I can count, but it is important to know that your teenage children (and maybe older) are in debate mode as well.

As I walked through summer school last week several students told me that there was no need for them to finish high school because they can just work at a fast food restaurant and make $15 per hour. They cite day care providers, nurses, soldiers, and retail workers as those who make less than $15 per hour and many of them have had to complete at least four years of college to get the jobs they have.

This is a very interesting debate. We graduate students with the skills to do whatever they want to do after high school. They leave us with the knowledge needed to go on to become bankers, lawyers, doctors, retail workers, soldiers, day care providers, nurses, fast food workers, teachers, etc. So why would we discourage a recent graduate or maybe a senior from trying to get a job in the higher wage fast food market?

The answer is more complex than you might think. When I respond to students I tell them that the economy today is tricky. There are many adults with college degrees who are working in the fast food industry because they cannot find jobs in the fields that they have been trained in. I remind them that although it continues to be difficult for students to find jobs, the likelihood of a student or recent graduate taking a $15 job away from an adult is probably unrealistic.

I cite the recent increase in minimum wage in Seattle, Washington (, as well as the immediate fallout in New York City (

I ask them what they want to do when they grow up, what things they would like to have, and how they would like to live. Most students want lives that are as good as we are giving them as parents, or better; I cannot fault them for that. I take their information and snap it into many jobs, including being a $15 per hour fast food worker, and we then discuss if they will be on target or not.

It is interesting that although it is sometimes hard to engage teenagers and young adults in conversation, they are talking about the minimum wage increase right now. Don't be afraid to join the debate, just be aware that your kids are pretty smart; so be prepared!

Have a great week.


Monday, July 20, 2015

How Much Can You Cram Into 20 Days?

Greetings! I hope that these first twenty days of July have been relaxing and rejuvenating. Mine have been a little bit of everything. On the first of July my basement flooded during the torrential rain we had. That was a blast (in a sarcastic voice). We are still repairing drywall, paint, it has been the summer gift that has kept on giving.

Family Vacations-History Lessons Along the Way: We recently took a trip to the Carolinas, which will most likely be our last family vacation. It was fairly emotional, although friends tell my wife and I that having an empty nest isn't so bad once you get used to it.

While there, it was interesting to see New York education news make it to the south. The New York State Education Department parted ways with Pearson, who had been writing Common Core Learning Standard assessments for New York for the past five years. The state chose a new vendor, Questar Assessment Inc., who promises to be transparent to everyone, which would include teachers and administrators participating in all aspects of upcoming assessment creation.

On the way back from the Carolinas we stopped at Gettysburg; the first time I had been there. If you have not had an opportunity to travel there, I highly recommend a trip to Gettysburg, especially with children from about fourth grade and beyond. As adults we know how pivotal Gettysburg was during the Civil War, but there are a lot of things to learn, see, and experience that gave me a renewed appreciation for human resolve, desire, and patriotism. I also found the visit to be very reasonably priced. You could find hotels for under $100 per night and up, and there was the most involved double decker bus tour that cost about $20 for adults and much less for kids (buy tickets for the top deck, you will thank me later). The drive was about four and a half hours, give or take.

My wife and I also celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary with a weekend trip to New York City. While there we caught a Broadway show and also visited the 911 Memorial, which was moving to say the least. If you haven't been there, put a visit to the memorial on your bucket list, especially if you knew someone who lost their life or a loved one on that awful day.

Unlike Gettysburg, in my opinion this memorial is NOT for children under seventh or eighth grade. Like Gettysburg, however, the price to visit is very low. We spent about two hours reading through everything and it reminded me just how heroic emergency service members, volunteers, and the passengers on the airplanes were. If you haven't visited this site yet, put it on your calendar.

Capital Project Progresses: While I was away our contractors were cranking away on the Capital Project. A HUGE crane placed the air conditioning unit on top of Stonehedge Elementary School. Also, the carpets, bathrooms, and locker rooms in various buildings were being torn apart and renovated. When everyone returns to the buildings in September they will begin to see physical progress. I am beyond excited to see these changes.

New IP Phone System: We also installed a new phone system called an Internet Protocol Phone, or IP Phone system. This system uses the Internet to help us make phone calls which allowed us to remove hundreds of phone lines that we were paying monthly fees for. This will save us tens of thousands of dollars.

The system does have voice mail, called ID, and a menu system. We do feel, however, that customer service is very important. So when you call during the school day, you will get a human being on the phone. The menu system will then be activated during the afternoon and overnight. There are still some minor glitches, but they will be worked out very shortly.

The High School is a Busy Place: While all of this was going on during the first twenty days of the month, the high school has been a busy place with Summer School, swim lessons, sports camps, and music lessons.

Summer School is operated by our local BOCES and serves students from five neighboring schools, including West Genesee. They went through a little rough patch this past week with student behavior, but they are in good shape now and we look forward to all of our guests meeting the West Genesee standard of behavior and learning that our community is accustomed to.

Mike Messere Turf Field Dedication: Lastly, please accept my personal invitation to attend the Mike Messere Turf Field Dedication Ceremony. It will take place on August 1 at 11:30 a.m. right on the turf field. I will be the emcee and this will be a special time for the Messere family as well as our school community. I hope you can attend. I will send out more about this event later in the week.

Thanks and enjoy the week!


Monday, June 29, 2015

Year in Review

Even though the weekend was somewhat of a washout, spirits were still very high as my wife and I made it to several graduation parties. We had a great year and there is much to be celebrated. I have to look at the school year from a 30,000 foot view and capture everything. While it is time to celebrate successes, there is also time this summer to work on growth areas.

Our Successes: In the success department, one just has to look at the trophy cases, media stories, and the many awards that both the Fine Arts and Athletics Departments received. More importantly, all of the successes came from the classroom, which carried over into the auditorium, fields, and stadiums. That is exactly how we want it.

Academically, I think it is important to note that from kindergarten through twelfth grade our students are giving their best efforts for their teachers, their parents, and me. Every time I visit a building or classroom, the students go out of their way to show me what they are up to, and they are proud and happy students. Every day is a great day to be the Superintendent and it is a role that I never take for granted.

Areas for Growth: Along the way this year we picked up on some growth areas we will be working on for next year.

  • A Different Community - Our community continues to change and as the community changes, so do our students. When I arrived in 2008, about 8% of our students were receiving free or reduced lunch and 9 students did not speak English. Today our free and reduced lunch population is over 20% and there are 88 students who do not speak English. We have been working each year to make our schools as "small" as possible in order to help students in need, but there is still work to do.
  • Drug Prevention and Education - Marijuana and alcohol use were the majority of the poor choices that people were making in 2008. Now people are making those choices, as well as dabbling in prescription drugs and heroin. Again, we have been working in a positive direction with many community partners in this area but there is still room to grow.
  • Preparing our Graduates for the Real World - In the academic world we continue to reflect on what colleges, the workplace, and the military are looking for from our graduates. Strength of schedule is beginning to outweigh class rank and GPA, and more employers are looking for graduates with field/work/volunteer experiences. These are also areas that we will work on this summer. 
  • Communication at our Fingertips - Lastly, our Mobile Phone App is heavily used by parents and students as is our grade and assignment platform Schooltool. Continuing to update those offerings will be a focus as we head into next year.
There will be a lot of work on our Capital Project this summer as well, and I will give a complete update when I blog again in mid-July.

Thank you for your support, enjoy the summer, and take care.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Making Memories

An Incredible Weekend: How many people can say they were able to hand their youngest child their diploma (after having him as a student since Kindergarten) at graduation and then spend the next day with their dad at the ballpark? Not many.

We meticulously plan our graduation ceremonies, and I thought that Saturday was one of the smoothest on record. The student speeches were very insightful and well written and the musical selections were out of this world! Thanks to Dr. Copeland, Mrs. Sierotnik and everyone else who makes graduation as special as it is.

Special Days: While I truly believe that every day should be Father's Day and Mother's Day, we do designate days on the calendar so people can make them extra special. Our graduation coincides with Father's Day most years. If you are fortunate to have your father (or mother) still with us as I do, please understand what kind of gift that truly is.

Background Stories: Our graduation is quite streamlined and attendees do not get to see or hear some of the side stories that are sometimes going on in the background. This year two young men who came across the stage abruptly lost their fathers within the past few weeks, one within 48 hours of the ceremony. There they were, coming across the stage to receive their diplomas and shake my hand. My sense was that they were being "tough" because they were helping to hold their families together and to show some normalcy.

Always trying to learn from every experience, seeing them reminded me that there are a lot of little things in life that we let get bigger than they need to be and because there aren't bigger issues at the time to focus on. Don't let the little things get big, appreciate your family and friends while they are still here, and be kind to others because you don't know their story.

Visit to the White House: Last week I had the opportunity to visit the White House to work with a small group of superintendents from around the country on an educational initiative called the "Maker Movement". Essentially the Maker Movement is a project-based learning approach to education and incorporates ALL subject areas, not just science, technology, engineering, and math as many other project-based initiatives do.

West Genesee was selected to attend because we have demonstrated sustained success in a variety of areas. I was more than happy to carry our flag to the White House, and I am looking forward to attending again in the future.

Preparing for the Arrival of the New Executive Principal: This week is the last week of classes. We will be doing the usual wrap-up items that we normally do, but we are also going to be preparing for the arrival of Geoffrey Morton, who was appointed as Executive Principal for the high school.

Mr. Morton is currently a Middle School Principal in Baldwinsville. He also has high school administrative experience as well as having worked with at-risk, urban, and suburban students. For a period of time he was also a policy writer for the New York State School Boards Association. Before entering administration, he was a high school social studies teacher. He will begin his work at the high school with Dr. Copeland, Mr. Caraccio, and Mr. Blake on July 6.

Enjoy the week and believe it or not, my next blog will be a year end wrap up!


Monday, June 15, 2015

Artifact Collection

Celebrating our Students: Last week and weekend were one of the most enjoyable I have had in a long time. During the week we were able to celebrate our senior Fine Arts performers as well as our athletes.

The number of awards and championships these students provided us are staggering, and an overwhelming number of both fine art students and athletes will be taking their talents in some way, shape, or form to the college and professional levels. Congratulations to all!

The Corporate Challenge: We also put a healthy team of employees together for the Corporate Challenge. This is a great team bonding night for us. The food and company were great, and a math teacher and transportation department worker set blistering paces for the rest of us who took the time to enjoy the scenery!

BOCES Graduations: I had the opportunity to attend two BOCES graduations. The first was for West Genesee students involved in BOCES Special Education programs, and the second was for West Genesee Students involved in career, trade, and technical education programs. Many of these graduates will head to college or good paying jobs in a few weeks.

I really enjoyed hearing some of their speeches about rallying over adversity and never giving up. Very inspirational and I am looking forward to shaking many of their hands again at our graduation ceremony this Saturday.

Classes Come to an End at the High School: You would have also been proud of how our high school students acted on the last day of classes. Yes we should "expect" them to act well, but there is pressure on them from the outside to conduct "pranks" and generally disrupt the school so people have something to talk about. Our students did not succumb to the pressure, conducted themselves with the utmost class and respect, and are now in the ready line for graduation.

Everyone in our school community knows Andrew Bowman and our custodian "Jimbo"(pictured above), and I got to be with him on his official last day as a high school student as Andrew and his life lessons move on to the next level.

Celebrating Flag Day: This past Friday our elementary students celebrated Flag Day with parades and ceremonies.It is always fun to watch our students honor our flag. Hooray for the red, white and blue! 

Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR): Teachers and administrators are struggling through the new evaluation system that has been put in place for them. Much of the struggle has to do with trying to measure the success of a teacher or administrator based on a student "score", as well as evidence collection that what is being taught is of a high caliber. A teacher or administrator cannot be effectively evaluated on these measures because students and families change from year to year, as do their teaching and administering situations.

To me the following picture would be the entirety of my "artifact collection", and I would want my performance evaluated on this photo to the right. Every person in this picture (except for the young boy) were either students I taught or was their superintendent. Now in their thirties, they are grown up and getting married.

I was asked to be in this wedding by the person to the right of me because he felt that I changed the path of his life and was there when he needed support the most. Many teachers and administrators have these stories and artifacts. I had a blast catching up with all of them and although some of them knew the direct path to my office back in the day, they have all become contributing members of their communities. Evaluate that!

Enjoy the week. Graduation on Saturday!


Monday, June 8, 2015

Out and About!

Spring Athletics Season is Close to Coming to a Close: Another week and weekend are in the books as we draw closer to graduation and the end of the school year. Over the weekend our athletic year drew closer to coming to a close and with it a lot of great memories, awards, and titles. Thank you to all of our athletes and coaches who represented us very well once again.

A special thanks also goes out to our Athletic Director Mike Burns. The job of the modern day Athletic Director is not easy. Beyond scheduling, today's Athletic Director must navigate new rules, be in tune with the athletic, operational and academic needs of students, and must always be available for parents and coaches. I believe that Mr. Burns was able to enjoy one complete day off with his newborn son due to demands of the job, and I am thankful that he will get to spend more quality time with the little guy now.

Honoring our Boys Lacrosse Coach: At our Board of Education meeting last week, the Board voted unanimously to name our turf field after retired teacher and current Boys Lacrosse coaching legend Mike Messere. This has been approximately ten years in the making and is a result of Policy 1540 which was developed to guide the Board through a process.

The process includes a community group submitting an application on Mr. Messere's behalf, submission of a petition containing at least 1,000 signatures (the petition has well over 1,000 signatures) of qualified voters in the District, passing through an anonymous review committee, and a full background check of the applicant before being approved by the Board of Education.

Coach Messere will be officially recognized on August 1 or August 2 during the John Pepper Boys Lacrosse Tournament (details are still being worked out). His recognition will be a sign that will hang above the score board on the turf field that will read "Mike Messere Field". Congratulations to Coach Messere.

Student Sings at the Taste of Syracuse: Our musicians pop up where you least expect them. Saturday night was no exception. West Genesee Middle School eighth grader, Payton Bird, sang the national anthem at the Taste of Syracuse just before the rock and reality star Brett Michaels took the stage! How cool is that?

The Science of Rockets: We also had some West Genesee Middle School students, under the direction of Mr. Ramsden, build and launch some large rockets as a larger part of their research into math, science, and technology. These rockets were probably large enough to make it into orbit!

Upcoming Events: This week we have the Fine Arts and Athletic Receptions as well as the Corporate Challenge to look forward to, and the last day of classes for high school students is this Thursday.

Have a great week and I hope to see you at one of our many events.