Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween and Other Scary Stories...

"We are about to remove the spleen and place it on the table..." "We are about to hammer in this man's new knee joint..." Not quotes from a new horror movie, but rather two interactive lessons that our students were able to take part in thanks to the equipment in our Distance Learning classroom. High School students participated in a knee replacement surgery and full autopsy as part of a science class through Distance Learning. Students were able to watch the procedures from start to finish and were able to interact with the surgeons during the process. I made it through all of the knee replacement and most of the autopsy :) Interactive video conferencing is definitely part of "Textbook 2.0" for sure. It is so cool to know that this type of capability is available in each of our buildings, and that there over 1,000 topics to choose from K-12. Good stuff.

Please be checking the Neighbor's West next week for some great photography awards that some of our students received, as well as an announcement for a screening of a Veterans Remembrance that Wendy Cross (high school photography teacher) and some of her students from 2006-2009 put together. It is being shown at the Palace Theater on Veterans Day. Great work.

We have been told that we will be releasing a letter to parents regarding H1N1 vaccination clinics for our school age children. The best information that I have is that we will be one of the host sites (at the high school) and that the clinic will take place during one evening in the first part of December. I know that there will be a link on our web site to register, and that there will also be a phone number to call to register. The clinic will only be for school aged children who attend a school in our District. This whole operation is being run by the county and funded by the Federal Government, so I apologize for not having any additional information. As soon as I know all of the details, I will immediately pass them along.

Lastly, I am sad to report that the Pythagorean Theorem, yes, a2 + b2 = c2, will now be given to all students for their math assessments beginning in 7th grade :( In a recent poll of my friends and colleagues, most remember having to remember that! The dawn of a new era I suppose. Next thing you know the basic Betty Crocker Chocolate Chip recipe will be inlaid on all kitchen counter tops sold in the U.S.!

Be safe, be happy, and have a great Halloween weekend.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Contemplating the Budget Blues

Normally this would have come out on Friday, but I had to take a rare sick day. Interestingly enough I was as nervous as anyone else who is not feeling well that I was getting H1N1! A day in bed, plenty of fluids, a low key weekend, and I am back in the saddle.

While I was out on Friday, the county health department announced that West Genesee School District will be holding a county run H1N1 vaccination clinic for children at some point during the latter part of November, in the evening. The county had released actual dates but are concerned about supply so they have told us they will have firm dates later in the week. As soon as I have more details, I will pass them along.

Last week I spent a lot of time listening to the budget blues. If you study school and state budgets nationwide, you will discover that band-aid fixes to budgets have not been working. States that do not use property tax to fund schools ran out of money about two years ago, and the schools in those states were not far behind. In California, all extracurricular activities were removed and no textbooks were purchased for this year, class sizes are near 60 in many schools, and many students do not speak English and there are no classes for them to help them learn.

Could New York State end up in the same mess? Probably not. Unfortunately, property tax is a component of the school balance sheet along with state aid. My best guess is that the state will make significant cuts to state aid to schools, and then will cap the amount that we can raise property taxes to 4% for a series of years.

This will do two things. First, it will force schools to raise property taxes to 4% which we have not had to do in years. That will certainly spread joy. Secondly, it will force us to use reserves that we have not planned on using. If things do not turn around, we will then have to make deeper program cuts. This will force discussion about merging schools and services as things continue. At the end of the day though, we will probably still offer better educational opportunities for the money than any other state in the nation. This does not mean that we shouldn’t look at changing the model to reflect the times. Then again, maybe nothing will change, and we will all go through this same garbage every year. These are just my thoughts after many years as Superintendent and looking through a national lens.

The bottom line is that whatever happens the next few years will be tricky at best, and could be devastating to what we know as public school education, at worst. I was once told that, “Life is tough, wear a helmet.” We will prevail and our children will get the best of what we have to offer!

This week will be full of building visits, policy review, budget calendar development, meetings, and whatever else comes my way. Enjoy your week as well.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Don't Panic

Today I held assemblies with the Seniors, Juniors, and Sophomores. The purpose was to thank them for being so respectful this year and to tell them about initiatives that we are working on for them such as improved Internet access, more student parking spaces, school safety initiatives, and our renewed efforts to reach at-risk students. I left those meetings pleased that we have such nice students.

I went back to my office and sweated out the Governor's address where he proposed $5 Billion in cuts that in his mind would begin as soon as possible and carry into next year. I took a deep breath and then called our Assistant Superintendent for Management Services, Paul Pelton. Paul and I worked with staff last year to create a budget plan that took into consideration a possible cut in funding this year, and as you know, we also had to make some difficult adjustments in order to align with the times. Our Board was very supportive of our plans, and we were very appreciative of their support as well as the support that we received from our own staff and the community.

Mr. Pelton and I communicated for a few hours before we learned about the actual cuts that were proposed for West Genesee. Finally, we learned that the cuts would be in the neighborhood of $1.5 Million. Mr. Pelton did some number crunching and determined that if we stay the course on our budget plan we will weather this initial storm. Our planning is paying off.

This is an election year and I am sure that by the time the dust settles our "hit" will be less than $1.5 Million but it will still be substantial. We have to be incredibly careful moving forward to make sure that we stay on our budget plan. We have, and we will.

Good night.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Entering Fall in Very Good Shape

We are entering into Fall in very good shape. Our initiatives are off to the races and our budget has tracked as planned so far. We could use a few more sunny days to transition our outdoor landscaping and equipment for Winter, but those days will come. Right now I spend many afternoons watching my kids play golf and soccer in the rain and wind, but the only one complaining about it is me!

As you begin to read and hear about a vaccination being available for the H1N1 virus, you should know that the last I heard we will be one of the sites for a clinic. I do not have many details yet, except that it will probably be offered during one evening in the middle of November. The county will be in charge of the clinic, and it will most likely be at the high school. As I learn more information I will let you know.

You might also be interested to know that our average daily attendance has been 95% or better throughout this H1N1 season. As I have looked at building attendance, there are certainly more cases of flu than last year, however, there are fewer cases of other illnesses and things seem to be balancing out.

Schools in the south are still closing because of the H1N1 virus but reports indicate that attendance is the same once the schools re-open. This has led doctors to believe that closing schools because of H1N1 has no benefit. Washing hands and staying home when sick are recommended to prevent catching or spreading the virus.

Finally, this week represents our homecoming week. Regardless of records, our students take pride in what they do and so do their coaches (and their boss J). If you can attend one of our homecoming games (you can find the schedule on our web site), the students would really appreciate it. Last year I spoke to an elderly gentleman who attended a homecoming game because one of our players had a part-time job at a local convenience store and he wanted to support her. It made her day when she saw him in the stands. It is all about connections, communication, and support.

Talk soon...