Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fasten Your Seatbelts!

I thought I could make it a few days without straying from my diet. Wrong. The food and company were too good to not eat at will. Back on the saddle on Monday!

The next few weeks will be an absolute blur as concerts, games, budget building, building visits, and desk work will keep me more than occupied. I am ready to roll, though, so bring it on. The season officially kicks off with the National Honor Society induction tomorrow evening, followed by basketball games, a board meeting, a school boards dinner and then the semi-formal. One of the things that I like about this job is that every day is different and if you were to look at my schedule you would see that I have to be on my toes for anything that comes up!

One of the questions that I was asked several times over the weekend was my professional opinion about Cathie Black being named the new head of the New York City Public School System. If you take away all of the politics related to her hiring, I see a business-woman who has a track record of getting things done in the business world. If I was the mayor of New York City, I would hire an educational assistant for her so that her business mind can be properly wrapped around improving the educational output of New York City Schools. I would then put her on a three-year contract and let her do her job and evaluate her. If she did not advance the school system after that time, I would release her and find someone else. You might wonder why I would care who is in charge of the New York City Public School System. Fair thought. People need to remember that some law makers and legislators are biased towards New York City, and the money the schools receive in the New York City area takes away from what is given to schools upstate. If Cathie Black begins to show improvement, you can bet that she will receive more resources to do her job and that will take away from what we get. Selfish I know, but I consider myself a business man and to stay alive in this tough economy you have to recognize every angle. I wish her the best of luck.

Thanks for visiting Twitter (@cbrownwgcsd) and our Facebook page, which has enjoyed a 290% increase in traffic in the past week alone.
Time to go get some things done. Have a great week and I hope to post again before the weekend.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We Are Going International!

Well this has certainly been an interesting few days.  On Friday I was invited back to my old community to be recognized for their receipt of the Blue Ribbon School award, which was given for most of the time that I was still superintendent there. After having experienced West Genesee receiving the Blue Ribbon School here when I first arrived a few years ago it was nice to think about closing one chapter of my professional life there and opening and now living a very positive and "new" professional life here. What was also good for me personally was that I have been here long enough now that when I went back there some people did not know who I was. That was a good thing to experience.  What have you done for me lately? still reigns supreme and I like it that way!

I was also surprised and humbled on Sunday night by being selected to receive the "Making IT Happen" award from the International Society for Technology in Education (@isteconnects) at the New York State Computers and Technology in Education (@nyscate10) conference in Rochester, New York.  The nomination was made not only by members of our own school community, but by others across the state for helping to influence national and global changes to how we approach the use of technology in education here at West Genesee.  Also imagine my surprise when I got to the podium and discovered that my "prize" was to wear a pink jacket and pink feather boa! 

While I accepted the award, I did so on behalf of all of the staff and community members who have embraced technology, been willing to try new things, and have never strayed from the mission of helping students to be successful. A special thanks goes out to all who have followed on Twitter and read this blog because that exposure has helped us to reach out globally and since Sunday I have been able to create some new networks of people beyond the confines of the state.

Okay, waaay to much about me.  People are going to think that I have one of those "big ego's" which I certainly hope I don't have. I just wanted to cover those two things in case you see them on the news so you didn't feel out of the loop!

Many of our students and staff have had some tremendous success recently in a variety of activities from cross country to bridge building, and everything in-between.  Please take a moment to check out our website for all of the exciting information.

Our Anti-Bullying Task Force is putting the finishing touches on a survey that we are going to administer to students in grades K-12 in the next couple of weeks. A letter will be going home explaining everything by the end of next week, and I want to thank members of the task force for being so generous with their time to help us advance our efforts.

Thanksgiving is just a few short days away and with that I want to give thanks to you again for your continued support. Without all of you our children would not be able to do as well as they have. Please enjoy the next few days with family and friends and I will write again early next week.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Look at the Loons

Another busy week ahead. I was so busy over the weekend that it was an absolute blur. I heard that I missed a great Aladdin, Jr. performance at West Genesee Middle School, and I hope to check out the video so I can share in their excitement. Also this weekend a few of our cross country runners participated in the New York State Cross-Country Championship. Seniors Billy Gabriel and John DeLallo represented us well, and Laura Leff (who I still think might be a machine disguised as a human) placed 4th out of 107 runners and is advancing to her second consecutive New York Federation Championship. Joining her will be the boys cross country team. All I can say is wow, and I suddenly don't feel as good about the four miles that I ran on Saturday morning.

If you had a chance to watch The Sopranos when it was on, Tony Soprano managed to find time to feed the ducks that were in his yard in spite of all the chaos that surrounded his life. I kind of felt that way over the weekend when I signed up to be part of Cornell University's Bird Watching Program. I get to watch the birds that come to my several feeders and send the count and species to Cornell scientists to study bird migration patterns. I only get about five to ten minutes a week to watch the feeder but for that time, time does stand still and I can certainly use that. I actually saw what I think was a small falcon on Saturday morning which was pretty cool to see.

Our Anti-Bullying Task Force is meeting again this Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the high school large group instruction room. When the meeting was scheduled, the District calendar was absolutely empty. Now we have a concert, a PTSO meeting, and a modified basketball game. I think that this is just a simple case where our committee is still new and has not found its place at the top of the pecking order. I know the boss and will work to make sure that our upcoming meetings are as conflict free as possible. I am looking forward to the meeting because we are going to be finalizing a survey instrument that we are going to administer to students regarding their thoughts on bullying. We are also going to hear a presentation about the Olweus Anti-Bullying Program which in all likelihood is going to represent the base from which we will make some adjustments based on our survey. The adjusted program will more than likely be what we invest in and use K-12 to not only meet the new bullying legislation called the Dignity for All Students Act but to also form how we change the culture at West Genesee related to bullying.

Every time I open an e-mail about the budget the news is not good. I am a big-picture thinker and can tell you that usually when I am presented with a challenge such as the budget, I usually find a solution when I am running, cooking, mowing the lawn, cleaning out the gutters, or some other non-work activity. I came up with some answers this weekend as well, but they are pretty profound. There is no way that we will be able to survive this budget environment without talking to our neighbors about consolidating services, sharing services, or regionalizing services. I will stop short of saying that we need to be thinking merger, but if you consider all of the negative budget conversations that are being had at the state, local, and federal levels, cutting a few people or even a program will not make a dent.  Besides we already did trim staff and programs which most of our neighbors did not do, and we are not in a position to make class sizes any larger or remove any more programs because we need a place for students to go from class to class. 

I have requested a meeting with all of our neighboring schools to discuss what we may need to do if a worst case scenario budget season is to happen. The fact that the new Governor is calling for the largest cuts to happen in health care and education, tells me that I have to be thinking out of the box and thinking big in order to keep up. It is also expected from the state that we should spend from our reserves to balance the budget. Great, we would last 1.4 years doing that, and our neighbors are no better off. Not an option. I am lucky to have a trusting staff, Board of Education, and community who are all willing to help to get us through this. As I learn more specifics about the budget I will certainly share.

Lastly, I wanted to mention that we expanded our breakfast offering to those families who receive free/reduced lunch. Our breakfast numbers have dramatically increased. Food and I go way back, and a good breakfast is very beneficial to having a good day. We have done a great, and confidential, job of helping those who need food to get food. If you are in need of this help, you can contact me directly or you can contact Debra Chenowyth (Food Service Director) at

Have a great week and I hope to write again before the weekend.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What's on My iPod?

Those of you who know me know that I am kind of a technology nerd. Because of this trait (and the fact that I have two teenage boys), I know when the latest and greatest video games are set for release. Tomorrow will be the release of the heavily anticipated video game, "Call of Duty". It is always interesting to look at the attendance sheet on "release days" to see how many of our middle and high school students have suddenly come down with the "flu". The only gamers exempt from an illegal absence tomorrow will be those who got the game to study the code and programming to become game developers themselves. All others: get to school!

One of the questions I am asked is what kind of music do I have on my iPod. This is actually a loaded question. I love music and have about 14,000 downloaded songs to choose from, as well as all of the music that I listen to from online music services like Sirius and Pandora. On any given day my iPod will have some heavy metal, classic rock, rap, jazz, and recordings of live local bands. You won't find any opera or country (unless you count a few Kid Rock tunes), and I switch things up all the time. Unlike some people, I don't need a quiet work area to get things done. The more noise the better. I probably got this trait from my high school golf team days when we would putt for quarters on the practice green while we tried to distract each other. As you can guess, I am cheap also. Another character trait. I didn't lose many quarters.

During my building visits, I had some interesting conversations centered around what I report about and where I am each day and evening. There is some concern that I don't "Tweet" about certain events or activities enough or that I favor certain subjects, buildings, events, or activities over others. The truth is that if I miss something it is completely by accident. I cover a lot of ground each day and try to make it to as many things that I can. If I am not at something it is because I am at something else. The grand complicator is that I also am responsible for running the entire District which also means that I have to spend some time in my office as well. I did take away some positives from my conversations, however. People are passionate about what they do, and they want to share what they do with as many people as possible and people know that I am very connected with the students, which is my ultimate goal.  People also view me as approachable and as a person who listens. I am cool with that.

I am putting my thoughts together about the budget.  If the doom and gloom that each governmental agency is speaking about holds true, schools across New York State are in real trouble. For example, if West Genesee were to be impacted by all of the state and federal proposals we would have to cut about $6M from our budget.  As a frame of reference, our entire fine arts and athletic budgets K-12 only amount to around $2M. We, collectively as a state, need to think way outside the box if schools are to survive the way we know them. The absolute last thing anyone wants to do is take opportunities away from children, but at the same time our education and governmental systems need to change if we are to stay afloat. I have some larger ideas to make this happen that I will share later this week. Some people will not be happy with what I will write but the truth hurts sometimes.

Please don't think that I am down about all of the news that I have mentioned above. I enjoy challenges and the next couple of years will present the greatest challenges in New York State education history. Because I started in the profession so young, I will be able to see what life as a superintendent is like on the other side of this mess.  Good times! 

Have a great week-


Monday, November 1, 2010

It Happens

Good Morning. By now you have probably heard the news. Yes it is true, the Marching Band finished third last night at the New York State Field Band Championship. It is what it is. From my perspective, the students and staff did the best job they could have this season and the performance at the Dome last night was the best of the year, for sure. The Victor Marching Band, who had dominated all season, dominated again last night and they deserved to win. What can you get out of a loss?  Plenty.

First, I hung back on the Dome floor when the announcement was made to watch what our fans, staff, and performers would do. First our staff immediately congratulated Victor, then our students went and hugged the Victor performers, and then our parents and spectators applauded and cheered for Victor, as they should have. This tells me that when our students are faced with adversity in "real life" that they will know how to handle things. With class, dignity, and the right attitude. Were there tears? Sure. Was there disappointment? Sure. All correct emotions that were followed by a comment from an underclassman, "Next season starts tomorrow."  I liked what I saw, and I am proud of them. All of them. When athletic teams face the same ending they handle their business the same way. This is very important if we are to think that we truly are preparing students for life after graduation. 

I am going to post later in the week regarding our anti-bullying task force, my thoughts about Race to the Top now that we are into the program, my thoughts about the proposed graduation requirement changes, and whatever else happens to be happening when I write.

Have a great week and remember to make sure that your kids dress warm!