Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Superintendent's Graduation Speech 2009

Almost twenty years ago to the day I sat on the Stage at the Civic Center in attendance at my own high school graduation. I remember thinking to myself at that time it would be a few short years of college then a nice job, nice house, nice car, nice wife, nice kids, cash; success, as I saw it as an 18 year old.

What I didn’t recognize was that there were millions of other 18 year olds out there with the same set of goals. I also didn’t realize how protected I had been by my parents, my teachers, my coaches, and to some degree my friends. As an adult I realize that is the point of high school; to prepare you for “life without a net”, except the net is still there. Reality hit soon enough. Success for me changed into being able to pay the rent on time and getting my clunker to make it to my college job.

There will be times when you will forget the values and training instilled upon you by your parents, relatives, coaches, directors, teachers, and school staff such as integrity, character, honesty, compassion, drive, patience, and how to find the area of a circle. You will be focused on what will feel like survival at the time. That is okay. Your skills will come forward and you will grow to appreciate your days of “survival” as they become visible in your rear view mirror. Please remember to heed the warning “Objects may be closer than they appear.”

So what is my advice to you, 19 years and 51 weeks after I took the plunge mere feet from where we sit today? Remember to love your family. They care more deeply for you than you will probably ever know. Remember to thank the people who got you to where you are today, tomorrow and ten years from now. Those two words are powerful and will cause your mentors to radiate with happiness. Do not put a limit, definition, or number on success. Let success evolve into everything surrounding your life, throughout your life. Lastly, contribute; give back. I am convinced that there is enough character, brain power, and skill in this room to cure cancer, lead the free world, explore other planets, or invent the next generation ShamWow. For the short term, how about helping your parents get the lawn mowed, trash taken out, and rooms cleaned as they prepare for your graduation parties.

Congratulations class of 2009, where-ever life takes you, you will always be Wildcats.

The Year in Review

I completely understand if you do not want to read this whole entry, but I had a moment to write a few paragraphs so I decided to give it a shot. If you want the short version, I think we had a pretty good year. If you want the longer version please read on…

In July I started in this District very proud that I was given the opportunity to return to the neighborhood where I grew up and to be given the reins on the best school District in the area. I spent July and August learning names, structures, policies, and attended my first Superintendent’s retreat.

By the first day of school I felt that we were in very good shape to have a great start to the school year. Through my studies of the District and community I formulated the opinion that I would like to see cafeterias at East Hill and Onondaga Road Schools, as well as full-day Kindergarten at all of our elementary schools. I also felt that we should continue to look at Special Education and transportation to try to find ways to offer more opportunities to students and with transportation in particular, in a more efficient manner.

It did not take long into the school year to learn that the economy was beginning to head in a bad direction. I knew that I could forget about full-day Kindergarten and expanded cafeterias. We did make huge strides in Special Education and transportation however, and I felt good about our progress in each area.

As I began to learn about the District, I realized that the keys to our success really evolve around hiring incredibly well, having solid parent support, and raising the bar for success on each one of us every day. By November I recognized that the sky is going to be the limit. We have the staff, students, and parents to be an absolute powerhouse. This will allow us to expose children to a multitude of opportunities both during school as well as when they head off to college, the military, or the workforce.

The bad economic news dropped right before Christmas. We addressed the problem head on with the help and cooperation of our staff and community members and really had a master plan for the budget before Christmas Day. After the holidays we began planning for our budget presentations for the next year. I felt that our budget plan was fair and still allowed us to offer opportunities to students. It is difficult to keep everyone happy when reducing staff especially when we are the largest employer, but people seemed to rally around the cause and contribute in any way that they could.

While all of this was happening we were nominated as a Blue Ribbon School, we won a Marching Band State Championship and many of our teams were league, section and on their way to competing for State championships.

By the Spring we had passed a budget, recognized our successes, identified our growth areas, and began to plan for next year.

Then came graduation. I am really proud of the students. Their behavior through the end of school and into graduation was superior. This is really a testimony, because the senior class this year had to face some rules that previous classes did not. While they did not really want to follow the new rules and felt as if they were paying a price for past classes’ mistakes, they became role models for future classes.

Graduation was special and I am glad to have been a part of it. I get three more times to “practice” before my first son walks across the stage.

What comes next? Reflection, planning, and execution. We will shine in the face of economic adversity next year thanks to a large group of people who say “We are West Genesee” each and every day.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009


We are days away from the end of another successful school year, but you would not know that if you walked the halls of our buildings. Staff and students are busy preparing portfolios, conducting exams, and organizing events. Our support staff are keeping our facilities clean and attractive, and they are working through an energy performance contract to help continue some of our green initiatives. We seem to be a busy as ever. In a few weeks, though, the hallways will be empty and those who remain will be working to prepare us for another exciting school year.

Since my last post in May, I have been able to attend and participate in many different events. Children's Day was held at Split Rock Elementary School and highlighted the legislation that was written and pushed by Tina Norton, a long time school teacher. She worked with her classes and elected officials for over 10 years to finally have legislation pass to establish a Children's Day. She and many elected officials spent a couple of hours at Split Rock talking about the creation of the day and celebrating education and children. It was a great time.

It was then on to the High School Academic Awards. From my spot on the auditorium stage I was able to look out at almost 180 seniors who received awards and accolades. I was incredibly impressed with the entire event. I am also very proud of the hard work of our students and staff, along with the generosity of the community. Well done.

Then there is of course, "The Mayor", Andrew Bowman, who received the New York State Excelsior Award for Excellence. This award was given to Andrew by Governor David Patterson after being selected by Assemblyman William Barclay because Andrew consistently demonstrates success despite his disabilities. I can personally tell you that my heart feels warm each time I get a chance to talk to Andrew, and he takes time out to speak to me whenever I am at the West Genesee Middle School. Great job Andrew!

Next came the good news regarding our Grades 3-8 Mathematics Assessments results. We achieved our highest scores to date. We are not completely satisfied with these results, however, because we feel that the state lowered the bar on passing standards and we would prefer to compete against the highest scale possible. I can tell you that when we combine the Mathematics scores with the equally high English Language Arts scores, we are consistently successful. I will take that any day.

Sports are winding down as well but not without a fight. Boys and Girls Lacrosse teams as well as Outdoor Track are moving into state-wide competition and play after winning Sectional Titles. I am looking forward to their upcoming games and events and I would love to have a Marching Band title and a couple of State Championships during my first year!

Next was Kaleidoscope. Awesome. Only way to describe it. It was a very proud moment to be part of something that special. It is rare that I am moved to tears, but the strength of Jess Pardee's voice and her range made the packed Civic Center emotional. My congratulations to all of the participants and especially to Bill Davern, our Fine Arts Director, and all of his staff on such a successful event.

I have also really enjoyed reading all of the yearbooks from each building. They are all student centered and packed with photos and momentos. People can now watch my hairline receed from year to year!

Lastly, we finally experienced our first case of Swine Flu. In an organization of over 6,000 (larger than some cities) we were bound to have someone contract the illness. Good old fashioned hand washing and staying out of school when sick seem to be the best tools to combat this illness.

I will probably post one additional message before the summer vacation as I am experimenting with Twitter and will let you know how to connect to that if I can find a way to make my "Tweets" meaningful to you.