Monday, August 22, 2016

What We Can Learn from the Olympics

Summer is Coming to an End: With the New York State Fair only days away (and I controlled myself and only bought eight pre-sale tickets) it is the time of the year when parents of older children are getting ready to take their children to college and parents of our youngest children are getting ready to put them on the school bus for the first time. Having experienced both, I can tell you that the emotions are similar. If you are in either category, just remember that one of the main themes of being a parent is to prepare them to experience life on their own. Another thing to remember is that our children handle these changes better than we do!

Learning from Olympic Athletes: For the past sixteen days many of us watched the Olympics. During each Olympic season there are many things to take away. For starters, the perseverance, drive, athleticism, sportsmanship (or lack thereof), and the human element of winning and losing are conversation starters for sure. I always watch how top athletes behave with their peers when they win and lose because it helps me to have conversations with our student athletes, as well as students who are in our performing groups and competitive clubs.

This year we had the added bonus of watching a high-level athlete get into some trouble and then lie about it. We also watched three of his teammates, who were involved in the same behavior, tell the truth. I will give you five seconds to try and remember the names of the other three athletes. Most of you will not be able to do so, not because they are lesser named athletes, but because they told the truth they quickly spun out of the media cycle. Meanwhile, the fourth athlete took airtime from his fellow competitors in other sports, embarrassed himself and his family, and left a bad taste in the mouth for many in how he represented the United States. Apologies for his behavior and subsequent lies took the "boys will be boys" approach. The athlete in question is 32.

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I value family time and especially any amount of time at the dinner table as a family. A great conversation starter is to discuss this situation and talk with your children about how they would have handled themselves and the benefits of telling the truth over a lie. While the athletes who told the truth still faced a consequence, it was FAR less than the individual who tried to lie his way out of it. Food for thought (no pun intended) for kids of any age.

I am excited for new teacher orientation this week and for most of our capital project to finish.  Enjoy the week, and maybe I will see you at the Fair!


Monday, August 15, 2016

Dog Days of Summer-Part 2

A Hot and Humid Summer: Let's face it, it has been REALLY hot and humid the past couple of weeks. I don't know about you, but I am very careful not to complain about it because in a few months I will be up at four in the morning trying to determine if we are going to have a snow day or not.

The heat did cause our Marching Band to pack up early one day last week, and I cannot remember a time when that has happened. If you have children involved in athletics or Marching Band, you can keep track of the heat index just like we do by downloading the Weather Bug app or finding the website on your computer. Look for the "Feels Like" portion and compare what it reads to this handy chart.

I am hoping we do not need to use it as high school fall sports began today but if we do, you can keep track yourself! We will soon be placing our own weather station for Weather Bug at the high school so we can read temperatures as accurately as possible.

Capital Project Update: Over the past couple of weeks we have continued to manage our capital project and it is really coming together. This week is critical to the project completing on time. We will therefore be focusing a lot of our energies in buildings and with contractors to make sure that everything is completed. I am sure they will all love me. Truth be told, from our project manager through each contractor, trade, and worker, I have not worked with a better crew, ever.

Sharing Services with our Neighbors: We have received a request from the Onondaga Central School District to help them with their food service program. Right now, food service programs in New York state are struggling, but we have been able to weather the storm and our food service program is actually quite successful.

Sharing a service is helpful in the eyes of elected officials as they all call for schools to be as efficient as possible and to share services whenever they can.

We currently share services with the Town of Camillus (facilities and salt), we service all of Solvay Central School District's buses (for five years now), and we will be adding the management of the Onondaga Central School District food service program.

Many thanks to our Assistant Superintendent for Management Services, Paul Pelton, and his crew for the research and development on this initiative.

Update on Tax Rates: If you have followed our budget presentations over the years you know that we have always estimated tax rates that are higher than they end up being when tax bills are printed. (Can you believe I am beginning my ninth year here already? Check out the picture to the right where I am talking with a student on the first day of school in September 2008.

For this year, and thanks to significant assessment growth in the Town of Camillus, many taxpayers will see a tax rate reduction compared to last year while others will see an increase that is significantly lower than what we anticipated. This is much better than we had estimated, so we will take it!

Thanks and enjoy the week!


Monday, August 8, 2016

What Goal Are We Chasing?

Well, I can tell you that I am not as young as I used to be. I spent the weekend in Boston with my dad, brother, and a bunch of my brother's friends for a get together before my brother's wedding. No worries; I was back in my room and in bed by eleven each night. It was good to get out of town for a couple of days, and I even watched my dad take his first Uber ride!

We continue to have a smooth summer. Construction is going well, BOCES summer school is going well, and all of our summer preparations, both academically and operationally, are coming together nicely.

Supply Drive: The West Genesee PTA/PTO District Council is once again sponsoring a School Supply Drive. The purpose is to provide free school supplies for students in need of assistance who attend any school in the District. Last year the program helped well over 150 families, and we anticipate the need to be the same this fall. For more information about how you can donate supplies and/or register to receive the supplies for your child, click here.

I am very appreciative of these efforts as the supplies are always much needed and definitely used. We haven't had any leftovers yet!

Update on State Assessment Results: I did want to address the release of the New York State Grades 3-8 Assessment results (click here to view them). If you review them, you may notice that the results were not as high as we see for us on Regents Exams, or our high school completion rate. Please do not panic; it is all part of the greater plan.

We are required to give the 3-8 New York State assessments, so we do. Each of the exams the past three years have been different, and the "cut scores", or basically the curve to see who passes, has changed. As a result of these inconsistencies, I told our principals and teachers to worry more about becoming familiar with the new material and how to teach it, rather than cutting that experience short for test preparation. We even took the importance of improving on the 3-8 New York State assessments out of our strategic plan, until the tests became more valid, which I would expect to happen in two years.

Do the current New York State Grades 3-8 assessments have any value to us right now? Yes. The results do help us to compare understanding of the curriculum between our own elementary and middle schools. We can compare the results with other assessments we give locally in each building and begin to see if there are gaps in instruction; we can then fill those gaps between buildings.

My overall goal as a superintendent is to make sure that each student sitting in a ninth-grade class has relatively the same K-8 education so they can launch into high school and begin to make post high school decisions. I am very comfortable that we are in line with this philosophy.

We do place heavy emphasis on our high school completion rate, which is at an all time high for us, as well as all data points relative to New York State Regents results, which are also very good. You will see improvement in our New York State 3-8 results beginning next year. You will then see exponential growth in two years, when we know the material is being taught to its fullest and our teachers are most confident with it, and we are comfortable with the validity of the assessments.

Should your child take the NYS 3-8 assessments? I believe they should, because they will become more valid. Past experience with other educational reform tells me that a move away from the common core learning standards will take many years, and soon, the state will place true emphasis on the results. Having a child get used to the environment and the experience will help them to be adjusted for when they "really count".

Enough about that. We have a great weather week in the works, and I am looking forward to catching a few Marching Band practices!

Enjoy the week-


Monday, August 1, 2016

Here We Go!

I hope that you are all enjoying the summer. I have only had to mow the lawn a few times due to lack of rain, but a back injury has kept me from being able to run; and that has been a bummer. Hopefully, with rest and some physical therapy I will be back on the streets in a month or so.

Vacation Time: I just got back from our annual vacation to South Carolina. We had a great time even though the heat index was 114 degrees two days in a row! We traveled with our adult children and found something to do that mixed old school with modern day technology and it was a hit.

Many of you may remember the "license plate game" where you would try to find as many license plates from as many different states as possible while traveling in your car. They now have an "app" for that called "States 'n' Plates" that helps to keep track of what you find. Between that and Pokemon Go, everyone seemed happy. Believe it or not, we found forty-three license plates! A hint is to pay careful attention to U-Haul trucks and eighteen wheelers.

Construction Projects Progress: Back home, our construction workers continued to cruise along on the capital project and everything is on schedule to be completed before the school year starts. I think you are really going to be impressed with the outcome.

The high school gym is beginning to look like a college gym. We have a great image of a wildcat being laid down at center court, and the student section of bleachers will have a giant "WG" inscribed that will appear when they are closed. When it is finished and we have a nice coat of wax on the floor it will be a very impressive place to play! The pool area is shaping up, and I am really proud of all the other work being done around the District as well.

I am going to be visiting every site this week, so stay tuned to my Twitter feed (@cbrownwgcsd) for the most up to date pictures.

This week is our annual Board of Education retreat, and I also plan to get back to publishing a blog post each week. You can also expect more tweets as we begin to get ready for another great school year. I hope you continue to enjoy the summer; I will see you around!



Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dog Days of Summer

I hope you had a great Fourth of July weekend and thank you to all of our service men and women for giving us the freedoms we have; it is truly appreciated!

Construction Progress:  Since graduation, the construction contractors have been working diligently to get the additions at Onondaga Road and East Hill Elementary Schools completed. They are also working feverishly at West Genesee Middle School, Split Rock Elementary School, and West Genesee High School to get work completed at those locations as well. 

Things look good, and I continue to be pleased with the professionalism of the workers and the care they take to make sure that the jobs are done right and completed successfully. I will be posting some pictures to my Twitter feed (@cbrownwgcsd) this week so you can see the progress.  

A Busy Summer: We have also been getting ready for our summer retreat, hiring replacements for our retirees, preparing sports schedules for the fall, ramping up for Marching Band season, and going through our year-end statistics. 

Update on High School Completion Rate: We have been working to increase our high school completion rate each year, which is already far above the state average (71%) but until it is one hundred percent (currently at 91%) we will not be completely satisfied.

Community Partners: I have also been working with some of our community partners from the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center, Ronald McDonald House, and SUNY Medical University, where Dr. Stephen Glatt and Stephen Faraone are studying families and children between the ages of 6 and 12 to try to identify how genes influence reward behaviors such as working hard towards goals, taking chances or risk, and delayed gratification. It is fascinating

If you are looking for something to do this summer and make a little money in the process, they are looking for families to participate in the study and are giving each family member $50 to do so. If you have a family with a child between the ages of 6 and 12 and are interested in participating, please call Pat Forken at 315-464-5619 for more details.

Time Off: Despite all of this work, I have been able to take a day off here and there. I got to attend the Dave Matthews concert which was the first time I had visited the new Lakeview Amphitheater. I thought it was great! 

In my Tuesday night "old man's" softball league I actually turned a double play by myself (I play shortstop), and went four for five from the plate without getting hurt! The burned out grass has also made for some long drives on the golf course, and my wife and I have had some wonderful evenings to take in Syracuse Chiefs games. I am a big believer in making every day count!

Summer School Starts: OCM BOCES summer school starts next week at Camillus Middle School, and all of the Town of Camillus Parks and Recreation camps are in full swing as well. It will be nice to have some kids around.

Enjoy the week, and I will write again in a couple of weeks.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Pomp and Circumstance

I hope that you had a wonderful Father's Day and graduation weekend. After graduation I finally had a day to relax a bit. I saw some friends, played some golf, and hung out with my dad. I also had my favorite dinner and watched Game 7 with one of my kids while texting with the other. It was a good day.

Graduation turned out to be a great day. This was my fifteenth graduation as a superintendent. Each graduating class is unique. The class of 2016 are a scrappy bunch. More students than usual lost a parent much too soon, some experienced homelessness, some had to overcome language barriers, a couple helped to pay the bills while attending school, and some were the first in their families to graduate high school.

All the while, this class was respectful, determined, kind, and friendly; and it was hard to say goodbye to them on Saturday. My graduation speech can be found here and if you had the opportunity to attend graduation, the student speeches were the best I have heard in all of my years. The musicians were on point as well. It was a great day! Congratulations and best of luck to our graduates!

This week is the final week of classes for our elementary students, our middle school students are wrapping up exams, and a few high school students have some last minute business to attend to. I am going to write one more blog next week and then take a couple weeks off. Don't worry, I will be at work every day, but without students it takes a little longer to have material to write about.

Thank you so much for a great school year and enjoy the week!


Monday, June 13, 2016

The Home Stretch

When I woke on Sunday to the news that there had been a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida I sat in silence and thought "again?!?".  As the day progressed we learned that the shooter pledged allegiance to a terrorist group and it was also noted that he had anti-gay beliefs. My second thought was, "This is the world we are graduating our seniors into next weekend?".

It is disappointing to think that as far as we have come as a nation, we still have to be concerned with events like what happened in Orlando. In a nation where freedom of speech, expression, and choice are all protected by our Constitution, we still face hatred, bigotry, and ignorance. Fortunately, we are a nation that gains strength from adversity, and we will from this tragic event.

I know that I certainly stand strong with all of our LGBTQ students, parents, and faculty, as well as all of our Muslim students, parents, and staff who do not believe in the same ideologies as this cowardly terrorist. I truly believe that the collective strength of our wills will someday rid our nation of such events so that future graduating classes do not have to think about events like these. It WILL happen.

Home Stretch: On the home front we are in good shape with the following activities:

  • at the middle and high schools we are working our way through final exams, 
  • at the elementary schools there are field trips and end of the year activities,
  • construction is about to really ramp up for the summer months. 
  • our incoming kindergarten class is now up to 274 registered students, and 
  • most of our hiring is complete for next fall. 

Swimmers are Academic All-Americans: Congratulations to the seven West Genesee High School athletes that qualified for the Academic All-American honor from the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Assoc. (NISCA):  Kaitlin Dunning, Rebecca Kanoza, Jack Barrett, Daniel Pesci, Colin Riley, Victoria Lee, and Emily Green. To receive this honor, there is an application process and to qualify for this award students must: have a minimum GPA of 3.750 on a 4 point scale, or 93.7500% of the grade scale your school uses for 7 semesters (non-weighted); be a graduating senior; and have lettered in school program in swimming, diving, or water polo in their senior year. What a great accomplishment!

Runners Set Records: Over the weekend our outdoor track team members established some new school records at the NYS Division 1 Championships. The girls 4X800 relay team placed 4th setting a new school record; the girls 4X400 relay team placed 15th with a new school record; and Carly Benson placed 7th in the 800M also setting a new school record. David Leff ran his best time of 4:17:35 and placed 6th in the 1600M. Congratulations to our runners for keeping our name out there.

Also, congratulations to all of our spring teams for receiving Team Scholar Awards. This means that each team had a combined academic average of at least 90%.  A few teams inched toward 97%. Impressive!

Thanks and have a great week!