Monday, December 19, 2011

Being Thankful

The week before winter break is always full of many different emotions. There is happiness coming from all of the students, staff, and parents who are fortunate enough to have things going their way. There is frustration and sadness from all of those students, staff, and parents who are coming to the end of a year in which they have lost a job, or maybe a loved one, or things just aren't working out the way they would like.  Trickle in five week reports that are due out shortly. Stir. 

This is the season, no matter what denomination is followed, if any, when the human element really shows. It is critical that all of us as community members recognize that it is what we do when people are not watching that could make all of the difference for a family in need. If you have the time, take the time to do the right thing for someone who needs it.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the high school "Sleigh Ride" concert. What a treat. I always enjoy this concert because one of my good friends, Santa Claus, shows up to help conduct! Santa also brings snow that falls from the rafters and makes for a wonderful scene. The students bring their "A" game as they always do and perform all kinds of songs. This year they showed just how good they are by playing a seven minute piece by Tchaikovsky that was stunning. Nice work.

Right after break I will begin to post about the status of our budget building, redistricting study (remember the first public meeting is on January 5, at 6:00 p.m. at Stonehedge), and the sale of our wooded lot. I will also give you an update about SchoolTool, a piece of software that we will be using starting September 2012 that will give staff, students, and parents K-12 online or smartphone access to student grades, assignments, schedules, and other important pieces of student information. I am excited about this endeavor.

Please enjoy the week and happy holidays to all.


Monday, December 12, 2011

The ABCs of December....Athletics, Budgets, and Concerts

Normally I would take this space to write about individual and team accomplishments. However, while summarizing all of the successes of our fall athletics programs I came to the realization that there are too many to print in this column! Please take a few moments to travel to our District Facebook page to check out our athletes being honored for each sport.

There is also a great piece about Laura Leff, a cross country runner who received some accolades of her own. She can run about two and a half miles for every one that I can. In summary, many athletes made us and their families proud, and I am sure they would appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to read about their successes and even leave them a note if you have the time.

We continue to closely monitor state and federal budget action (or inaction, I suppose) to make sure that we are in the best position possible to build a fiscally responsible budget. We are in the process of establishing a baseline budget in which we are estimating what the new 2% tax cap might mean. It is quite clear that we will not be able to restore any cuts that we have made, but what is not clear yet is how many more cuts may need to be made to fall within the regulations of the tax cap. Stay tuned.

If you are looking for a relaxing evening out, please join us this Thursday evening in our high school auditorium for our annual holiday concert. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. where our finest players will be singing and performing some of your favorite holiday tunes. Santa Claus has been known to be a guest conductor as well.

Have a great week!


Monday, December 5, 2011

White Lights, Big City

It was great to run into so many of you yesterday as I was going to almost every store in Camillus to find five boxes of white Christmas lights. Of course I had five strings of said lights in a box in the basement that worked perfectly last year, but then did not work when we tried to plug them in this year. Must have been gremlins. Anyway, I did find the lights at the last store I checked (of course) but thank you for being concerned! Decorating resumed and all was well by sundown.

I would like to thank all of the staff and students involved in decorating for and attending the winter semi-formal at the high school over the weekend. The decorations were fantastic (New York City theme), and as I walked down the hallway to the gym I thought I was walking along Fifth Avenue. Inside the gym were approximately 800 students, a DJ spinning tunes (probably playing them from an iPod, but spinning sounds cooler), and the New York City skyline. Very well done and an excellent time was had by all.

We are heading towards the new year which means budget planning (which I will discuss in a future blog) and Strategic Planning. If you are fortunate enough to have a job and your employer actually has a plan that they follow, then you know what it is like to work at West Genesee. We take our strategic planning very seriously with the initiatives and goals that wind up making their way into the plan are completed and are provided resources. It genuinely is our guiding document, and we will begin creating our new document right after the new year.

Our redistricting study is moving right along and our community focus group is coming together. The first official committee meeting will be held on January 5, at 6:00 p.m. in the Stonehedge Library. Members of the public are welcome to attend and will be given a chance to speak at the end of the meeting.

If you are looking for things to do. be sure to check out our website at and check the District events calendar. The main events calendar has academic and fine art curricular events; and our athletic calender has all of our sporting events. All of the winter sports teams so far have had strong starts with the boys basketball team tipping off their season this Friday night at Fowler.

Lastly, and most importantly, I would like to address how we are handling all of the recent news related to the sexual abuse of children. While all of our staff are trained to spot and report abuse, there are times when we all go into a heightened awareness for signs of abuse. This is one of these times. When events like we have been reading and watching about unfold, conversations about the events naturally make their way onto buses, into hallways, cafeterias, locker-rooms, and classrooms.

Penn State and Bernie Fine are not topics included in the New York State Curriculum, so we do not teach or really even weigh in about what we think. We do however become very active listeners in case conversations that students are having turn into conversations that might require the help of counselors or building administrators. You should also listen at home to what your children are saying in the event that these events stimulate them to discuss experiences that they may have had.  I wish we DID NOT have to think about or discuss such things, but unfortunately we do and we are ready and equipped to help.

Have a great week!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Missing Student

We were informed by the Camillus Police Department that a tenth-grade student, Brittney Ruggireo, ran away from her home on Sunday, November 27, and was last seen near the home of a cousin on the north side of Syracuse.

She is approximately 5'5" tall and weighs approximately 120 lbs. She has brown hair and was last seen wearing a pink AĆ©ropostale® shirt, black sweatpants, and white sneakers.  If you have any information, please contact the Onondaga County Sheriff's office at 425-2111.

I will update this blog if I hear of any new information.

Thank you for spreading the word.


Monday, November 28, 2011

The Blur

I have heard the time between Thanksgiving and the New Year described as many things, but "the blur" seems to be the most appropriate. One blink of the eye and we will be in January. Testing, concerts, sports, holiday plans, get-togethers, dances, and white knuckle driving (keeping fingers crossed that this current weather holds up though) will test the will and patience of all of us. If we all take a moment to actually enjoy this time and put things into perspective, I think we will all stand a better chance of remembering that each day is a gift.

Our redistricting study is moving along at a strong pace now. Consultants Dr. Silky and Dr. Pole came to my office last Friday and collected a large box of information to sift through as they begin the process of completing the study. Every piece of school community information that you could possibly imagine was collected: census information, schedules, street maps, course catalogues, building condition surveys, building maps, and grade level configurations to name a few. 

While they are collecting and analyzing the information, we are assembling a redistricting focus group consisting of two members of each of our PTA/PTO/PTSA and PTSO volunteer organizations, as well as three Board of Education members (Deb Simon, Neil Widrick, and Karen Fruscello). This 19 member task force will work with the consultants as the study is completed.

There will be approximately five public meetings where the focus group and consultants will meet and which will be open to the general public. The general public audience will be given an opportunity to comment at the end of each meeting. The first public meeting is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, January 5, at 6:30 p.m. in the Stonehedge Library (each meeting will be held at a different building). As this date and time are solidified, I will keep you updated.

On another topic, the Board of Education is considering an offer for the wooded lot on West Genesee Street. Because the matter involves a real estate transaction, the conversations have been held in the Executive Session of our Board of Education meetings. When the time comes to accept an offer and move forward, that announcement and Resolution will be made at a public meeting. I do not have a timeline at this point for a recommendation and Resolution to be made public.

Our anti-bullying task force is meeting this Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the large group instruction room at the high school. The task force will be finalizing our anti-bullying policy that meets the requirements of the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA). The committee will then be screening a video that may be shown to high school students about the effects of bullying.

In the meantime, some of our students through English classes at the high school are reading a book titled, TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY,  by Jay Asher. This book is a New York Times Bestseller and is about a girl who commits suicide because of bullying. Before her death, she sent tapes to thirteen people who she felt responsible for her decision. I am reading the book myself and it is gripping. It is one of the few books that I have seen a wide cross-section of students read from cover to cover. When it comes to bullying and helping students make better choices about words and actions, you need to blanket them with themes and topics that hit home, and this book certainly does that. As a parent of teenagers, I would consider the book a "must read".

On the athletic front, Laura Leff  took 5th place at the Footlocker Northeast Qualifier Competition this past Saturday. Laura led the cross-county race through the half-way mark before relinquishing the lead on the infamous "Cardiac Hill." She ran one of the toughest 5k's of her career and was the only sophomore to qualify, and she finished it in 18:26.1. The top-10 runners advance to the  national race in San Diego's Balboa Park on December 10. Laura also led the New York runners to first place to the states championship as they edged Pennsylvania by one point. Footlocker information can be accessed at:

Have a great week and my next post will be in...December!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I just took a look back at some of the entries that I have made over the past month or so. The budget and state nonsense withstanding, we have had A LOT of things to be thankful for. In our school world we celebrated many academic, athletic, and fine arts accolades. We also spotlighted several stories of our students, staff, and community doing extraordinary things outside of our four walls.

Simply put, we have it good. Please take the time this week to be thankful for family, friends, role models, and people who have helped you out. I know I will. Please accept my best wishes for a safe and relaxing Thanksgiving and I will post again in a week.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Some News Stories to Follow

If you have read enough about the Penn State scandal, global budget pressures, and Lady Gaga, then consider the following three stories that could have a big impact on how we all do business:

1. First is a story out of the New York State Education Department where officials have agreed to support mandate relief for special education requirements. Special education expenses make up a large portion of school budgets, but the money goes to help service students with disabilities. Mandate relief in general has been a big topic for the past couple of years. There are over one hundred mandates for schools that cause money to be spent without any local control. It has been difficult to get the state to make changes to mandates related to reporting, paperwork processing, conducting a census, and other items that really do not impact children.

To see the Commissioner and Governing body at the State Education Department support changes in mandated regulations that directly impact students with disabilities makes me curious, and it should make you curious as well. If this is truly on the table and gaining traction, the questions should be "why now?" and "what don't we know about the state budget that is causing these changes to be seriously considered?" My guess is that we will learn these answers shortly. Something to keep an eye on.
@JohnKingNYSED via Twitter

2. New York State announced today that they will likely have a $350 Million structural deficit (in English it means that they will be short) by the end of their fiscal year. For all of us in the public sector (schools, towns, villages, and counties) what will this mean? The answer cannot be good. My feeling is that the sooner the state confirms this and tells all of us what this means to our organizations, the more time we will have to plan and make the changes that will be necessary to accommodate this shortfall.

3. Lastly, there are five towns who are in disagreement with the county about snow plowing. At this point, the towns are refusing to plow roads for the county because the reimbursement rate is just not financially beneficial enough to take on the work any longer. In Camillus this means that the following roads will be plowed by the county instead of the Town:

Van Buren Road and Armstrong Road South
Belle Isle Road
Gere Lock Road
Milton Avenue
Pottery Road and Armstrong Road North
Thomas Avenue
Thompson Road
Winchell Road

We have been assured that these roads will receive the same care from the county as they did from the town, and I am sure that they will. However, I think that the three topics that I have outlined show you how bad things are finally getting in New York State when decisions have to be made that potentially impact children with disabilities and general public safety. Not good, but telling in my opinion. My advice is to be part of the solution whenever possible.


Monday, November 14, 2011


Laura and Martin Leff continue to represent West Genesee in cross country competition.  Laura finished second in the state (a first for West Genesee) and is continuing her fall running campaign at the Federation Championship on December 19 at Bowdoin Course in Poughkeepsie, NY. Her brother Martin came in 27th place and will also compete at the Federation Championship. This will be his fourth consecutive appearance; his previous three were with West Genesee boys team qualifications. Great work! Also, Good luck to the swimmers competing this coming Thursday at the State level.

Because so many students read this blog and follow me on Twitter, I would like to take this time to thank the members of the Wildcat Nation for their school spirit and respectful behavior. The Nation has represented themselves at all of our fall sports (with the exception of golf I think, but in their defense cheering at a golf match would probably get us a two stroke penalty!)

I am especially pleased and appreciative of the older students who have welcomed the younger students (including elementary children) to join them. In our Sectional Championship game at the Dome I was approached by a security guard who complimented me on the behavior of the group, especially considering the size (around 600 for that game). It is just another example of how well our students represent us. The challenge that I give our students as we enter the winter season is to keep up your reputation of providing a huge dose of school spirit in a respectful way. I know you are up to the task, and I look forward to hearing you at the rink and in the gyms.

In other news, interested parties have until November 15 to submit offers for the wooded lot that is currently for sale on West Genesee Street. Once all offers are received, we will carve out some time at a future Board meeting to discuss which offer is the most advantageous for the District and move forward with a decision.

Also, Castillo, Silky and Martin were approved by the Board of Education to conduct our redistricting study. Dr. William Silky will be on hand at the November 16 Board meeting to outline the process for the study and answer any question that the Board may have. This group was selected over others in large part because of their desire to interact with the community through focus groups throughout the process. We expect a recommendation to be available by April of 2012.

You may have heard that West Genesee Middle School has made a state list as a School in Need of Improvement in the area of Students with Disabilities. This was something that we knew was going to happen over the past couple of years due to our extremely high percentage of students with varying disabilities in that particular school (Camillus Middle School has fewer than 30 identified students while West Genesee Middle School has 100).  Personally, I have been pleased with the progress that our students are making, but the state has raised the bar for all students and taken away all of the "safety nets" for our learners that struggle the most. This combination has caused WGMS to fall below the state mark along with nearly 2,000 other schools in New York State. Because I am not a politician and do not need to sugar coat anything, I can tell you that unless the state recognizes the unrealistic goals that have been placed on some of our most profoundly disabled youngsters, not only will we remain on this "list" but thousands of additional schools will be added next year.

We are working continuously with all of our students to help them find success. So if you were to accompany me through the halls of all of our schools, you would see that list or not, our students are making substantial progress.

Concert season is beginning, so be sure to check out our website ( for our most current schedule. I know the students would appreciate having you at one of their concerts.

Have a wonderful week.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

More than Wins

When it comes to high school athletics and activities winning is always great, but it isn't even close to being the most important thing. In team sports or activities, the experience of working with other people through highs and lows, rallying around common goals, finding a way deep inside oneself to handle pressure, and then acting like a champion when things ultimately go well or come up short, SHOULD BE the REAL reasons why schools and communities support athletics, co-curricular, and extra-curricular activities.

I was on the Carrier Dome turf the Sunday before last to help the Marching Band celebrate their 31st NYS Field Band Conference Competition Championship, and then on the Dome turf again this past Saturday to help our football team celebrate the Section III AA Championship. 

In both cases, students were interviewed by members of the media and there were no leaders or coaches around to prep the students on what to say. In each case the students, without missing a beat, thanked their parents, coaches and leaders, fellow students, and gave credit to their opponent. NONE of the students interviewed used the word "I" once which seals the deal for me as far as supporting these programs as best we can.  I am very proud of our students and look forward to continuing to cheer them on for many years to come. In the short term, this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at Vestal High School our Wildcats will take on Binghamton High School in the first round of state competition. Good luck and know that we are all proud of you.

For individual sports and activities (I played golf for Westhill back in the day) things are a little different. Your individual score usually is added to the scores (or times) of other teammates to equal one singular number or time. I can tell you that after being a basketball player (team sport) and a golfer (individual sport), golf was much more stressful on me. For our cross country runners, they are running against themselves, as well as opponents.  A slip, a cold, a bad stride, or just an off day can ruin a run, but our student athletes find ways to block all of those things and quietly continue to keep West Genesee pride in our newspapers and in our hearts with their performances.  Laura and Martin Leff will continue running next Saturday, November 12, at the State championships held at VVS High School, and we will continue to pull for them (since we cannot run along side or catch them!)

This week it is my pleasure to attend C.O.D.E. graduations at Split Rock and East Hill Elementary Schools. C.O.D.E. is a partnership program with the Camillus Police Department to help students make good choices. We will be celebrating their successes with the hope that when they shake my hand at graduation a few short years from now, they will have made good choices through both middle and high school.

Also this week we will begin the budget process. Some of the preliminary work was done last week, and with the 2% tax cap in effect, I can assure you that we will not be able to restore anything that we reduced or eliminated this year. I will provide you with information in the next few weeks about the gap amount that we will likely have to close for the 2012-2013 school year. We have never had to develop a budget where we have to reach a set budget number. This means many of the decisions we make will be in response to the Governor's Tax Cap legislation and there will be some things that simply won't fit within the cap.  Much more about this later this month, and we appreciate your continued trust and support.

For now, we continue to lead by example and enjoy the time that we get to spend with your children and grandchildren each day.

Have a great week.

Monday, October 31, 2011

What a Busy Weekend...

Wow, what a busy weekend! On Friday, Mike Burns, our Athletic Director, had a chance to fill me in on all of the requirements related to the Physical Education grant that we recently received. One of the terms of the grant required him to attend a meeting in Washington, DC (paid for through the grant) where he met with people from all over the country who were also selected for this program. He relayed that he was amazed how in most states Physical Education is not required and many students only receive “gym class” once a week, and in many cases not from a certified Physical Education teacher. This explains to me all of the national commercials about physical activity and making time to exercise, etc.

Mr. Burns is enjoying a very successful first season as Athletic Director as you can see from the following updates:
  • Girls Tennis had an 11-2 record with doubles players, Samantha Heyn and Allison Theberge, winning the Section title and going on to play in the state qualifier;
  • Girls Swimming won the League title with an undefeated 8-0 and will compete at Sectionals later this week;
  • Boys Golf came in second at the Sectionals and finished with an 8-6 record;
  • Boys Soccer has completed their season with sectional play and were showing signs of getting even stronger;
  • Cross Country finished second at the League championships and will be competing at the Sectionals next weekend with Laura Leff ahead of the pack for the girls;
  • Girls Soccer and Girls Volleyball are both still advancing in Sectionals;
  • Football team is undefeated and will be playing for the Sectional Championship against CBA at the Carrier Dome on Saturday at 2:00 p.m.
  • The Cheerleaders also have a lot to be proud of. They have won all three competitions they entered and the program continues to build with some 60 plus girls waiting for a chance to try-out for the Winter Cheerleading session.
Please remember that Mr. Burns is attending every game (varsity through modified), trying to meet all of the requirements of the position, and also covering all of his duties as Assistant Principal at Camillus Middle School. Not sure how much longer this configuration can last, but I am very appreciative of his efforts. I give him a lot of credit for making this work.

The Marching Band won their 31st State Marching Band title at the Carrier Dome on Sunday night. With a very strong program and a very determined group of students, the Marching Band showed to all of New York State why they are at the top of their class. The competition was fierce and at the end of the day when all of the standings were announced and we prevailed, our students humbly accepted their award and were very gracious to their competitors. The road to the 32nd Championship begins tomorrow. Nice work!

This week we will help the Camillus Optimist Club recognize our students and teachers of the year. We will also be recognizing our Commended National Merit Scholars, and foster our partnership with the students involved with Stop the Hate Spread the Hope. Sounds like a great week coming up.

Enjoy your week as well, and I will try to post again before next weekend.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Academic Standards and Changing Times

There were a couple of articles and news broadcasts recently that gave me pause. Not because of how they were written or scripted, but what each represented. Each of the references below discusses topics that surround “academic standards”. Because two of the articles involve political figures, I would like to take this time to indicate that I am a-political. I vote how I feel based on the information I have at the time. I have voted both Democrat and Republican. Also, because these references involve colleges and universities, I should also mention that I have taught as an adjunct professor for SUNY Brockport, SUNY Oswego, Le Moyne College, and have guest lectured for Syracuse University. I have NO allegiance to one college over another; to me they represent places where I can still get into a classroom and teach.
With all of that said, I would like to weigh in on these print and video resources. The first is an article that references a university chronicle indicating that Syracuse University may be diluting their academic standards because they may have become too “community centered”. In easy English this to me means that the chronicle feels that Syracuse University is lowering their academic standards because they participate in initiatives that advance learning for ALL, not just students who can afford whatever the tuition bill might be. To advance educational opportunities for all, one must go where “everyone” is which means satellite classrooms, diversified projects, and widespread visibility and availability. So what.

We always hear that the United States lags behind in high school results, college results, and overall global preparedness. Is it possible that an adult taking SU courses through the Internet or via satellite classrooms will go on to lead a productive life and in return provide opportunities for other community members? I think so. As much as I still question some of the structure and funding for the “Say Yes” program, it is a wise move for Syracuse University to participate because it opens them up to experience true diversity right in our own community, not to mention the opportunities it gives undergraduate and graduate students to work with children in poverty. The children that they work with also receive the benefit of having great adult role models.

If you do not want to participate in those opportunities, but still want to attend Syracuse University on campus and through a “traditional” setting and program, no one is stopping you. Go for it. WE can all get along and it doesn’t matter in my opinion how you get your education, it matters that you got an education.

I am programmed to help ALL students succeed. At West Genesee, while I am pleased that we have a consistent 98% of our students attaining a Regents Diploma, I am even more pleased that our completion rate (the percent of students who complete high school) has gone from 86% to 91% over the past three years and is continuing to climb. This is directly attributed to spreading resources to ALL students. Has this diluted our academic standards? Quite the contrary and our results, national ranking, and college placements prove it.

I also think that people greatly undervalue the community college experience. I was a little jolted when President Obama had to call a press conference to basically let people know that going to a community college is “OK”. Right in our own backyard we have Onondaga Community College, one of the top community colleges in the country that consistently graduates students to four year colleges and onto successful careers.

With how the demands for education has advanced to the point where a four year college degree is essentially required to fill most positions, why not spend a little less and obtain a two year degree from a community college? A full two year degree program at OCC costs less than a half of a year at Syracuse University, and by the way, some of the adjunct professors at Syracuse University also teach at OCC.

We are reviewing all of our Advanced Placement courses to see if we can also make them eligible for OCC credit. Again, it is all about opportunities for ALL. No academic standards will be harmed in the reconfiguring of our courses so students can open themselves up to Advanced Placement AND/OR Community College credit. Raise your hand if you are still paying your school loans. I can’t see you, but I am sure there are some hands up.

Lastly, came the news that fewer colleges are offering scholarship money for achieving the rank of National Merit Scholar. The National Merit Scholar program was designed in 1955 with the purpose of giving students who achieve a high score on the PSAT standardized test, which is taken either during the sophomore or junior year, a little financial boost heading into college. It is incredibly competitive and I have been fortunate to have two National Merit Scholars, a few dozen Commended Scholars, and a Hispanic Scholar.

The criticism of the program is that it rewards a student for success on one test. In the twelve years that I have been Superintendent each student that has been recognized by the program ALSO has to have a complete transcript; high overall grades, volunteer experiences, and participation in extra-curricular activities. Some of these students who have all of the above STILL do not get selected.  In my opinion, it is a nice honor whether dollars are attached to the award or not and some of the colleges that participate could be missing out on a future big donor. Their loss.

I think we all need to separate budget reductions and loss of program from academic standards. When something has to be reduced, cut, or run in a different way that doesn’t mean that what is left is watered down. In all of our schools, academic standards are always tweaked and we are always trying to find ways to raise the bar and make ALL students increasingly competitive.

I will step off of my soapbox now, but I wanted to drive home the point that although we need to think differently, universities, colleges, community colleges and school districts do not have to lower the bar just because we are all trying to help ALL students and adults advance. Adapt and overcome.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

We Will Sell You the Whole Seat but You Will Only Need the Edge!

What a great weekend for West Genesee activities! Our football team continued their perfect season with a convincing win over Central Square in the first round of sectionals, and our Marching Band broke 90 for the first time of the season to capture another competition win. Both the Marching Band and the football team continue on with the band having their big competition of the year in the Carrier Dome on October 30, and if the football team continues to win they will find themselves in the Carrier Dome as well at the end of the month. Exciting times!

We also have boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball, boys golf, girls tennis, girls swimming, cheerleading, and boys/girls cross country still making noise which has made this a very productive season thus far with our students representing our community very well!

Our District continues to work towards meeting the requirements of the State Education Department (SED).  We are in the process of completing work that is required as part of the Race to the Top program which has us revamping how we evaluate teachers and administrators. We are also rebuilding curriculum to meet the new "Common Core Standards". 

On the operational side, we are beginning the budget process for the 2012-2013 school year which means tackling the "2% tax cap". This is going to be a challenge for sure, but I truly believe that we put ourselves in a great position to work through this economic storm with some of the moves and decisions that we have made through the past two years. If you are wondering what the tax cap truly means click here and it will take you to the best publication that I have seen so far. It clearly outlines what we have to do as a District with an emphasis on what is at stake.  It is worth a quick read.

Our anti-bullying task force has scheduled their fall meeting to be held on Tuesday, November 29, in the large group instruction room of the high school.  The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. and we will be finishing the anti-bullying policy that is currently in final draft form. We will also be previewing an anti-bullying DVD that our school resource officer would like to show to students at the high school. Upon completion of the policy, our task force is going to begin a partnership with a group of high school students who are involved with a student-run organization, Stop the Hate Spread the Hope. I am excited to merge student and adult ideas into one big initiative.

A little later this week, time permitting, I am going to post another blog centered around academic standards.  Some recent articles and research reports written about Syracuse University, the National Merit Scholar Program, Federal support for community colleges, and Advanced Placement course transferability have me thinking, so I want to get all of my thoughts together before I share them!

Have a wonderful week-


Monday, October 17, 2011

As the Leaves Turn

I can honestly say that I have never been sick for so long. It seems like this gloomy weather has been around as long as my cough! Every time I think I am turning the corner I start to feel bad again. I am hopeful that my antibiotics, fluids, and rest will finally put an end to this!

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know that I like to boast about our professional, family oriented staff.  Another example of my pride for our staff came on Friday when one of our parents got a flat tire in a busy spot in one of our parking lots. I just happened to be walking from one building to another and saw that this person and her four year old son were trying to reach someone to come and help them. 

I called over to our bus garage and asked to see if any of the mechanics could come over and give her a hand. Within moments Ken Gillett arrived in the "tow bus" full of tools. He hopped off the bus and the first thing he did was introduce himself to the four year old young man who really wanted to know how Mr. Gillett was going to change the tire. Like a true gentleman and professional he had the right tools, jacked up the car, changed the tire and then asked if the four year old wanted to "help" him lower the car back down. I wish my picture could have captured the smile on the young man's face when he helped to lower the car. The parent and child then gave their "thank you's" and headed on their way. Kudos to Ken for not only lending a hand but for effortlessly showing his care for the parents and the kids. Thank you!

On October 12 we celebrated the success of Dillon Peterson (pictured at left with Sargent Preston and Captain Gonzales from the U.S. Army Syracuse Recruiting Post) who was chosen to be in the United States Army Marching Band. He will play his tuba in the U.S. Army Senior Bowl on January 7, 2012, in San Antonio. We are fortunate to have students achieve this level of success on a fairly consistent basis and we wish him the best of luck!

We have also found a way to partner with the Skaneateles Central School District to give our lady hockey players an opportunity to play for their high school team.  While parents will be responsible for the financial commitment for this opportunity, it is the first time that I can find on record where West Genesee female hockey players are able to play on a full female high school hockey team. We have approximately twelve girls who are going to participate and if you have a daughter interested in this opportunity there will be an informational meeting held in the high school career center on Tuesday evening, October 18, at 6:00 p.m. Thanks to Mike Burns, our athletic director, for taking the puck and skating with it (pun intended) once the Skaneateles superintendent and I were able to strike a deal. Best of luck to the girls on this new endeavor.

Lastly, I wanted to let you know of a new way to keep track of sex offenders that are currently living in our District. The Onondaga County Sheriff's Office has a website where you can submit your name and information and if there is sex offender activity or other matters of public safety, the website will notify you by text, e-mail, or phone.  If you are currently a subscriber of our SNN system, this Sheriff's Office system works in a similar way. The link for the website is

Have a wonderful and productive week.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

I would like to provide some color on two recent decisions that I have made. As you know, I do not hide from things that I say or do as I always take responsibility for my actions.  One thing that I like to do is keep people informed so that if a decision is made people can agree or disagree with my thought process, and we can agree or disagree with the facts instead of guessing and relying on rumors.

The first decision was to not forfeit the recent football game between the Wildcats and the Baldwinsville Bee's. The game was a high scoring affair that ended up with a fifth down being given. With the extra down we were able to secure a first down and eventually go on to win the game.  No one knew that the fifth down had happened until after the game when a volunteer from Baldwinsville brought it to the attention of the coaching staff and they went on to review the film. Our coach was notified the day after the game and he concurred that a fifth down had been given.

I have coached and I have refereed plenty of basketball games to know that mistakes happen.  In this case the referees, down judges, chain crew, scoreboard operator, and both coaches missed the fifth down being given. The emphasis at that point in the game was how much time was on the clock and that apparently is what got people distracted from what down it was.

I consider myself to be student centered and in this case I was working with the information that a fifth down was given in error with the eventual outcome of the game being a win for the Wildcats. When the fifth down was given there was still time on the clock. The assumption is that the ball would have been turned over on fourth down and that the game would have ended.  In high school sports there is no way to determine the outcome until the game is over. I make it a practice to not let adults ruin things for students whenever possible, so I decided not to forfeit the win and let Section III provide the final judgement. They ruled that there is no national high school athletic regulation that provides for the outcome of a game to be reversed based on error. I did support Baldwinsville's protest to Section III, because it would be nice to know through an investigation why an error was made in the first place.

What would have made me change my decision and suggest a forfeit?  I think if time had expired on the fifth down and if the game had been played at home. At home we assign the volunteers, the chaperones, the security, and the coaches. I take responsibility for their actions every time we have a contest in any sport or activity and if they would have made an error I would have taken responsibility for that and would have forfeited the game. I would have answered to the players, coaches, and parents in my community. Similarly, if time had expired giving no other opportunity to call a play, then I would agree that the outcome of the game had been determined. In this game both of those conditions did not exist, so we decided to move forward the way we did.

I have been told that I have missed a "teachable moment" with this game.  Really.  The teachable moment to me is that adults (through human error in this case) tainted a memory for a bunch of kids on both sides of the ball.  The other teachable moment for us as adults I think is that both teams played until the whistle and both teams fought right to the end; doing exactly what we coach them to do.  There might be something for us to learn from that.

The second decision is centered around pupil transportation. Click here to view a presentation that I gave at the last Board of Education meeting explaining why we now use a transfer system for private and parochial students and why we have farther bus stops for many of our middle and high school students. In a nutshell, we transport 4,800 students daily to seven West Genesee school locations and 32 private and parochial school destinations. With this transfer system we have 37 students who ride 60 minutes or longer to or from school.

As you will see in the presentation, we were forced into this by pressure from the State to place more students on buses and to save money. We do have more students on buses now and we will save close to $225,000.  We are working to deliver some of the longer riding students more quickly (mostly private and parochial students and of the 4,800 students we transport, 272 of them are from private and parochial schools) and if we can we certainly will. The use of the transfer system was something that we did after cutting $8M of our own expenses. If after reading the presentation you have any questions, please contact me.

Please do not consider this blog post to be negative, emotional, or self-serving. Papers need to be sold. I get that and I respect that. I get paid to lead and make decisions, and I make dozens of key decisions each day. Not all of them are popular, but I can assure you that none of them are taken lightly. I appreciate your continued support and have a great week.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

In Stride

The first week in October is when we take time to reflect on every facet of our organization and to do one final check to make sure that everything is running well and will run well for the rest of the school year.  Considering that we made over $5M worth of changes for this school year, I am very proud of our staff for making things work with what we have.

Janine Corning, a physical education teacher at West Genesee Middle School, gets the gold star for perseverance. She has been working since I got here in 2008 to secure a grant to help our physical education department purchase some new equipment which will help really move our health, nutrition, and wellness efforts in a positive direction.  Her efforts have paid off as we learned on Friday that her grant application was selected to be funded by the United States Education Department to the tune of $508,000.  It just goes to show you that ALL of us in this organization are ALWAYS trying to find ways to make things better for our children. Congratulations Mrs. Corning!

I would also like to thank those who participated in the Tournament of Bands on Saturday. This is a major fundraiser for our Marching Band while showcasing the show they have been performing this season. Cold and rain were the descriptors of the day, but if you had a chance to watch the Marching Band you saw that they are nearly ready for the Carrier Dome where the competition should pause and recognize that we have a very determined group ready to compete for the big prize.

Our football team also continues to excel as they showed us on Friday night after being up 21-0 against Baldwinsville, but then they got into a shooting match that went right to the wire. The starting players and many different back-up players had to work together to stay alive in the game, and coach Corley showed how much he respects his players by calling a two-point conversion play to win the game instead of an extra point to send it into overtime.

As you can see, we have created a culture with our staff and students of making things happen, not giving up, and being determined. I am very proud to be a part of it all.

We have obtained all of the necessary paperwork and have the Board of Education approval necessary to move forward and begin to accept proposals to sell the wooded lot we own on West Genesee Street. I will keep you posted on progress in this area.

We are also beginning to receive proposals from different vendors and consultants with regards to our redistricting plans. The hope is to have interviews done and proposals considered by the end of October so that a recommendation can be brought to the Board of Education for a consultant to help us. Once this is done, a public meeting will be held in the beginning of November to outline the process, take comments, and relay any other information relevant to the project. Stay tuned.

I have a very busy week with mandatory training, an out of town commitment, and some reports that are due to the state. I still plan to get around the District as much as possible, and I hope you have a great week.


Monday, September 26, 2011

School Spirit is Alive and Well!

Last week was quite a week. First we had a wonderful spirit week and some great open houses. I was very proud of all of the high school students for being so respectful of all of the hanging decorations that student council, the cheerleaders, and various other student groups placed around the school. It made for a high school open house that really made it feel like the students owned the building. The pep rally on Friday was fantastic.  The colors, skits, activities, cheerleaders, dance team, and staff rendition of the Michael Jackson epic Thriller were perfect, and the students responded with roars of applause that I have not heard in quite some time.

We then took to the football field where the Wildcats played extremely well and continued their winning streak.  All of our fall sports for that matter are doing very well, and our Marching Band kept Striving for the Highest with another win at Oswego. 

On Saturday my family and I went to the SU game and watched as an extra point definitely missed the uprights but was ruled good by the review officials. That is the first time I have heard the crowd know that something was wrong but try to clap through it and show confidence to the officials. Apparently it worked, and SU went on to win.

On Sunday we had the Race for Respect. What a beautiful day to run. My wife and I decided to run the 4 mile component of the race and I did not get lost. I probably did not get lost because my wife was with me, there were arrows spray painted on the ground, and there were students at each turn pointing to where I had to go. I have included a map of the run from the same GPS that did not help me get un "lost" last week just so you can see where the run takes you if you choose to participate next year. Many thanks to Beth Lozier and the rest of the organizers as well as all of our participants for making it a great day.

My family and I then traveled to Buffalo to see a concert by the band the Foo Fighters.  You might think that all superintendent's listen to classical music and drink tea and eat crumpets but not me.  I am all about a good rock and roll show and they did not disappoint. What is interesting is that thanks to YouTube I watched almost the entire show again and was able to re-live my favorite songs. The entire ride to Buffalo was spent fist pounding as the Buffalo Bills overcame a 21 point deficit to beat the Patriots.  This caused the entire city of Buffalo to be in a "good" mood when we got there and certainly exposed my kids to some culture.

This week we finish up open houses for the fall, place the final tweaks on how we expect to run things for the rest of the year, and keep enjoying this warm weather before putting on those bulky winter coats.

Have a wonderful week-

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Stop and Ask for Directions

Anyone who knows me knows that I am directionally challenged. When I leave the house on my way to some place unfamiliar there is physical tension that can be felt wondering if I am actually going to make it to my destination. Yes, I have GPS. Doesn't matter. The stress of not knowing where to go, even when I have directions, can be paralyzing at times.

My latest misadventure happened the other day when I went for a run. Typically, I try to run 3-5 miles about three times a week. I pick this range because I feel that if I ever need to run from a stray dog, the police (just kidding, I am a role model you know!), a falling tree, a large rolling rock, or an out of control car, that 3-5 miles should be a sufficient distance. Always be prepared, as the motto says.

So I start out for a run and on my way out the door my youngest tells me about a "shortcut" through the woods in one of the neighborhoods that I run in. I was already feeling pretty confident about a trail that I was told about by a co-worker so I thought what could possibly go wrong?

Well, I got out about three miles and hopped on the first trail that I already knew about and made it to an area that I had familiarity with. I then employed "the shortcut" (please keep in mind that I have an app on my phone that is keeping track of me on a map that shows all major roads)...(oh and of course I have Lynyrd Skynyrd blasting on Pandora Radio) which involved running on a part dirt, part grass trail.  About a half-mile later I find myself in the middle of a woods. About a half mile later I find myself in the middle of a corn field.  Never being one to back down, I ran forward and now I am in the middle of a corn field and a lettuce patch (which I thought should have been picked already quite frankly).  Next thing my phone beeps to tell me that I have 10% battery life left. I have to stop playing "Freebird" (not kidding) to conserve battery life.

Now I am beginning to worry a bit. It is the brink of dusk, I AM NOT LOST, I just don't know exactly where I am, and I am running. I find some power lines that look like they are parallel to a roadway and head for them. Next thing I know I am deeper into the woods/cornfield/lettuce patch. I continued to make my way until I heard the sound of cars. Eventually I found a roadway and finished my run. When I arrived at the house SEVEN miles later I thanked my son for the "shortcut".  He asked where I went and he said "no, I meant for you to take the trail on the OTHER street". Never a dull moment.

Speaking of directions, my family and I like to geocache. If you haven't heard of it you can go to for complete directions, but in a nutshell you use a handheld GPS or an app for your smartphone and use coordinates provided by the website to find different "treasures" in the woods, near landmarks, etc...  There are geocaches all around the world and there are varying degrees of difficulty (some are even under water!). When you find one you usually write your name on a log file and then report it to the website. We have been doing this for about five years and have found about two hundred caches.

Over the summer my wife and I decided to take our dog and go find some caches on the Erie Canal trail, near the Sims Store. We headed out and made our way down the trail. We ran into some students, past and present, like Julie Barriere (@juliebarriere), her sister Emily, and one of their friends and compared geocaching notes. They indicated that there was a cache on the other side of the canal. I put the master plan in place by walking the length of the canal down to the Sims Store from the park, crossing to the other side, and walking back to the car on the other side while grabbing the cache that would surely be along the way.

Everything was going well until we got to the other side, didn't find the cache, and realized that there was no longer a pedestrian bridge at the lock like there used to be. We had to turn around, walk all the way back to the Sims Store and then all the way back down the other side of the canal to our car. Over 7 total miles.  If the dog could talk I am sure that she would have had some choice words. Good clean family fun.

The moral of the story is that...well there is no moral to the story. I am terrible with directions, Pandora radio drained my cell phone battery, I made the dog walk seven miles, and somehow I am fortunate to remain married.  I am in the best shape of my life though!

Over the next few weeks you may hear information from teachers or coaches about ways to run some of the clubs and intramurals that were cut from the budget. Our hope is that through a partnership with the Town of Camillus and some volunteer work that at least some of those opportunities will be restored, and I appreciate your patience through this process.

I know that most of this blog has nothing to do with school, but I think sometimes it is okay to reach out beyond these four walls and let people know that I do things just like everyone else except for getting lost. If getting lost was an Olympic sport I would be on a Wheaties box.

Enjoy homecoming this weekend as well as the Race for Respect.  Let's hope it stays dry!


Monday, September 12, 2011

Week Two Under Way

With our first successful week of school under our belts, it is now time to keep rolling forward and continue in a positive direction. Earlier I mentioned a few of the initiatives that we would be working on this school year, and I want to take a moment to keep you up-to-date on exactly where we stand with each initiative:

Sale of Wooded Lot
We recently received a completed survey for the wooded lot that we intend to sell in the near future. Now we can give the survey to an appraiser who will officially let us know how much the piece of property is worth. At the same time, we are having an abstract re-created for the property (a legal document that explains the "history of the land"). Once we have the abstract and appraisal completed, the Board of Education will vote to declare the piece of property "surplus" and we can begin the actual sale process. My hope is to have a resolution to the Board by September 21 asking them to declare the property as surplus. My ability to get the resolution to them will hinge on receiving the appraisal back in time.

As you know, we are looking for a company or organization to help us determine the best way to redistrict our elementary and middle schools (if you remember from opening day, I indicated that we WILL NOT be closing Onondaga Road Elementary School at this time). We are in the process of writing a Request for Proposal (RFP). This RFP must include exactly what we expect to receive in terms of process and deliverables. 

The RFP needs to be approved by the Board first and will be presented to them on September 21 for their consideration before it is sent to possible consultants, organizations, and companies. We will then collect all completed RFP's and consider proposals that best meet our needs. One key component will be interaction with the school and community throughout the course of the study. Again, I am hopeful to have some final recommendations for the Board to consider by spring.  As always, I will keep you posted as we move forward with this initiative. 

Dignity for All Students Act
The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) is Federal legislation that outlines how our anti-bullying program must look and act. In order to be in compliance, the "DASA" components must be completed by July 1, 2012. 

We have an active task force working on this legislation and last year the group finished a draft of an anti-bullying policy that should be completed later this month. The task force also approved the use of the Olweus anti-bullying program for grades K-12 (Olweus is an approved program under the guidelines of DASA). Penny Williams from BOCES will help us implement the program. This implementation requires training of ‘staff teams’ in each building which will take place sometime this winter with a follow-up and kick off in late spring and into the fall. Stay tuned for future task force meeting dates.

Enjoy your Open House, all of our other events, and have a wonderful week!


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Welcome Back!

I would like to thank everyone for a great opening day. All of our staff, parents, and students worked together and made yesterday work very well. Our bus drivers fought through the rain and the first day of their bus runs to pick up and deliver students, and I appreciate your patience as they hone in on the correct pick-up and drop-off times. This process usually takes about a week under ideal conditions and today was already much better than yesterday.

We have many different events coming up this weekend. First, on Friday evening our Wildcat Football team will host Corcoran at 6:00 p.m. on the turf stadium. At half-time the Marching Band will deliver their first large public performance of their show, Strive for the Highest. While not the complete show that we will be taken on the road shortly, this version will feature many of the components that will carry us to the Carrier Dome later this fall. The Marching Band sounds very powerful and they have added nearly 40 members from last year. They are a treat to watch.

After their performance, members of our modified sports teams along with their coaches will walk a parade “thank you” lap for all of the parents who helped to raise money to save half of our modified sports program from budget cuts. This should be a large turn out, and I am very appreciative of the efforts of all involved that have made this possible.

On Sunday, the Marching Band will be holding their Annual Bottle and Can Drive. You will see Marching Band members in their Marching Band shirts collecting bottles and cans in various neighborhoods.

At 3:00 p.m. on Sunday in our high school auditorium (doors open at 2:15 p.m.) West Genesee will be hosting a “Remember-Reflect-Renew” free concert sponsored by the Syracuse Chorale to commemorate the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001. There will be several acts including the Syracuse Chorale, Onondaga Civic Symphony Orchestra, Syracuse Pops Chorus, The Master’s Touch Chorale, Five to Life Acapella, the Syracuse Scottish Pipe Band, and readings by Senator John DeFrancisco and Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli. I will also be on hand to meet and greet concert goers and to provide some opening remarks to kick off the event. Event organizers are anticipating up to 1,000 people for this free event, so make sure to get there early.

Time for me to get back into buildings to meet students. If you want a play-by-play of my visits as well as other “hot off the press” information, be sure to follow me on Twitter @cbrownwgcsd.

Have a wonderful weekend.


Monday, September 5, 2011


At our opening day with staff last week I spoke about what will be known in our organization as "The Slide of Negativity".  This slide contained all kinds of nasty things on it like job losses, the change to Spring Break, testing, etc...  I allowed the staff to view the slide for about 15 seconds before turning it to a black slide. I then asked staff to raise their hands if they know of someone with cancer, lost someone on 9/11, or knew someone who does not have a job, needs one, and cannot find one. Almost every hand was in the air, and I would bet that if this exercise was repeated in any public place we would see the same results.

While we get upset over changes and hurdles, they simply do not compare to some of the large life-changing events that can creep up on us out of nowhere. Our staff and I will be very composed this year, as we always are, because we understand perspective and will not let the "small stuff" get in the way of doing what we do best; educating your children.

It has been interesting to read all of the newspaper articles from around the state and country (I am addicted to reading headlines from different papers on my iPad each morning) related to 9/11, and how we will remember what happened and what we are/will/won't/or don't teach our kids about what happened.

I think anyone over the age of 16 probably has some recollection of what happened that day and many of us have deeper, much more emotional memories than others. I found it interesting to read all of the different theories about how we should remember and what we should tell our children because these different points of view explain a lot about what actually happened on that day. Thousands of people from different cultures and backgrounds were working when all of a sudden tragedy struck, twice. Then thousands of people from all different cultures and backgrounds gathered together to help the victims and try to piece together some normalcy, resolve, and resilience. And we did.  And we continue to live the way that we are fortunate enough to live.

The moral of the story in my mind related to the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is that people need to do what they WANT to do to remember that awful day. If everyone in America remembers 9/11 differently this Sunday it doesn't mean that we aren't solidified in our beliefs or resolve; it means that we all still live in a country where we have the right to to what we want even after some people tried their best to take that away from us. My continued thoughts for all who lost their lives or a loved one and my thanks to all who helped to bring the site and a Nation back together.

Last weekend a group of individuals (who would like to remain anonymous) collected school supplies for families. They collected many different things and were able to supply back packs to many needy families (well over 100).  They were not able to fill all of the orders and unfortunately had to leave some without. We are continuing to work to possibly fill those orders for people. My thanks goes out to the dedicated unnamed individuals who gave their time and energy to help our many needy people and if a second phase is able to happen, I will let you know.

Wednesday is almost here and I am looking forward to watching Kindergartners get off the bus!

Have a wonderful week.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

You Won't Believe This One!

Some of you may have read the book "Who Moved My Cheese?".  If you haven't, it is about change and how people need to work through change. If you have been following school news around the state for the past couple of years you might imagine why it would be important to understand how change works and how to work through it in a positive way.

I think I need to write a book titled, "You Want Me to Move A Boulder?" and it will encompass all of the changes that we have been forced to implement due to the economy, the Governor, and the New York State Education Department in which all of the suspense will lead up to the last chapter that I will title...


Yes, you read that correctly. On top of all of the other changes we have had to make, most of them affecting our students and staff, we received word on FRIDAY that Dr. John King, the Commissioner of Education, decided to change the dates of the English Language Arts Assessments and they will now fall smack dab into the middle of our Spring Break (about 10-15% of the schools in NYS have Spring Break the same week we do).

Obviously my colleagues and I went nuts when we heard the news, but the Commissioner did not waiver.  We will need to change the dates for our Spring Break. Area superintendent's and I are meeting with Dr. Jessica Cohen, the BOCES District Superintendent, this Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. to discuss the situation and make the changes that are going to be necessary. 

While the Commissioner feels that he has valid points for changing the testing dates, (to view the letter to the superintendents click here) I respectfully disagree with his decision.  It is too late to make a schedule change of this magnitude and many people (staff and parents) probably have vacations planned they have paid for. To view the assessment schedule click here. You can also access both of these files from the About West Genesee - Superintendent's Message page.

My voice and the voices of my colleagues are not loud enough to be heard apparently, but I wanted you to know what I feel about this change.

I will let all of you know what the new West Genesee Spring Break week will be this Wednesday at the conclusion of my meeting with the BOCES District Superintendent.

I am too fired up to tell you about my cool weekend, so I will have to save that for my next post. Stay tuned.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Lots to Share!

I hope that all of you will help me in welcoming Vladimiro Hart-Zavoli to our Board of Education. Vladimiro was appointed on August 17 and will fill the remainder of a term that will expire at the end of this school year. Vlad has children in the District, is enthusiastic about his new role as a Board of Education member, and is ready to help us to move forward in challenging financial times. We will be assembling a press release shortly that will expand about what Mr. Hart-Zavoli brings to the table. Welcome aboard!

At our Board meeting on August 17 I outlined several goals for the school year that fall outside of the normal operation of our building and the goals outlined in our Strategic Plan.

Upcoming Contract Negotiations - For starters, we will be working with our staff to negotiate new contracts for the 2012-2013 school year and beyond. I am sure that you remember the wage freeze that everyone agreed to take for the upcoming school year in an effort to save jobs and opportunities for children, and it is now time to do some long-range planning to make sure that there is a balance between our financial needs and making sure that our quality staff is compensated appropriately. We will be working with 13 different labor organizations to help achieve these goals.

Sale of Property - We are also going to sell a piece of property that we own on West Genesee Street in an effort to help close the 2012-2013 budget gap that we project to be around $1.2M when factoring in the new tax cap that the Governor has passed for schools and municipalities. This piece of property is a wooded lot that separates the Sports PT building and “Cheeburger, Cheeburger”. In the upcoming weeks I will outline how this sale will take place and we hope to have a successful sale in place by the end of the school year.

Onondaga Road Elementary School Future - I am sure that many of you are wondering what I am going to write with regard to Onondaga Road Elementary School. At the beginning of last year I was very close to asking the Board of Education to consider closing the building because of low enrollment (currently at 296 for grades K-5) because I had several tenants lined up to lease the building and therefore keep it occupied, maintained, and also generate some revenue.

With the significant decline in the economy, those tenants are no longer interested in a whole building and I am reluctant as a superintendent and community member to suggest closing a building that would most likely sit and quickly fall into disrepair. To put it in plain words, WE WILL NOT BE CLOSING ONONDAGA ROAD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.

Study on Redistricting - We WILL be studying a complete redistricting of our elementary and middle schools, however, in order to balance out enrollment. For example, East Hill School (which is a sister to Onondaga Road Elementary) has over 400 students while Onondaga Road has 296. This needs to be balanced. West Genesee Middle School has nearly 150 more students than Camillus Middle School yet it is physically smaller. This needs to be changed.

I will be reaching out to a few consultants to assist in this study (and take the emotion out of the study-remember folks, I grew up in this area as well) and as always I will keep you posted along the way. We want to maximize space in buildings, staffing, transportation, and other efficiencies to make sure that we are poised for what is to come. Much more on this as we move forward. I do not have a timetable for transition if there are to be any because I simply do not know what the study will yield and how quickly things will come together as of yet.

Drivers Education - West Genesee Adult Education is now making available the New York State Education Department approved Driver Education Program for our students. Successful completion will earn the student a MV 285 (formally known as a blue card) and an insurance reduction certificate. The course will be offered four times a year beginning in September, January, March, and July. Registration information for the September session can be found on the District web site:, under the Adult Education tab or students may also pick up registration information and forms in the high school guidance office. Please call the Adult Education office at 315-487-2279 or e-mail with any questions.

Race for Respect/Culture Fair - Lastly, I wanted to mention a few things about the Race for Respect and the Culture Fair that we have been fortunate to run each year. We will need to alter how these events are going to run simply because of the economy. Some of our larger donors to both causes are cutting back on community relief and assistance efforts and this will cause us to have to make adjustments.

The first question you might ask is if these donors spent all of their donation money on modified sports or marching band uniforms or other efforts that have made headlines as of late. They have not, and cannot, and I completely understand and am very appreciative of all of the assistance that these groups have given us throughout the years. We will make some changes and move forward as we always do.

Closing in on two weeks before our staff report and I am getting more excited each day! Enjoy the week ahead and see you soon


Sunday, August 14, 2011

In one more very short week our fall sports and activities will fire up and we will be quickly advancing to the beginning of the school year. My body is wired a little differently than most people in that I always feel listless during the summer months when everyone else is getting re-energized. My excitement and energy level makes a huge spike upward once I start seeing students around the campuses once again. This also makes fall my favorite season; again probably not a popular choice for most of you!

Transportation - We are preparing to mail home the new transportation stops for students as well as a letter home to private and parochial school parents inviting them to take part in a special "test bus run day". The plan is to show them how their students will be transferring from one school bus to another as they head to their various destinations. It has been interesting to plan all of these changes to transportation, but judging from the other mandates that the state has chosen to take on recently, they mean business with this one as well and they want more students on buses no matter what!

New York State Grades 3-8 Assessments - You might have read about a change to the New York State Grades 3-8 testing system. CTB/McGraw Hill has been responsible for writing all of the 3-8 assessments for the past few years and the criticism has been that the tests have too many “all of the above” and “none of the above” answer choices as well as too many negatives in the context of the actual questions. Pearson, by far the largest publishing company in the US has won the contract to write Grades 3-8 Assessments for New York State for the foreseeable future. They currently provide assessments for approximately 13 other states.

The benefit of this change from my personal view is that Pearson has excellent textbooks, computer resources, remedial tools, and scoring mechanisms. This will provide a MUCH more consistent environment for a student beginning with their daily instruction and continuing right through the assessment. Pearson is also already aligned to the upcoming “Common Core Standards” as well which will help schools to deliver material and test on material that is actually in the curriculum guides that come from the state. This will hopefully keep your children from coming home and complaining that they “were not taught what was on the test”. I am happy with the change and look forward to the results next summer.

College Preparation -You might have also read about how few seniors are actually prepared for community colleges as well as the state SUNY and CUNY systems. If you look at all of the students who graduate from high schools across the state, about 60% (we are just under 70%) make it to their freshman year in college WITHOUT having to take a non-credit bearing course at a full tuition rate. This has been a problem for years and it is due in my opinion to the large disconnect that exists between the K-12 system and the college system. More conversations have to be held between both groups and an understanding has to be reached as far as expectations are concerned.

Advanced Placement Credits -Also, it has been interesting to see how many schools are reluctant to accept Advanced Placement (AP) credits from high schools. The Advanced Placement course is designed to give students in high school a college level course experience. The curriculum and teachers are approved by the College Board and in the past if the student receives a 4 or 5 on the AP exam (and even in some cases a 3) the credit for the class would transfer to most colleges. In my opinion due to the economy, many colleges would like to see a student pay tuition to them for the same course so they have gotten much more finicky about transferring AP credits from high school.

My personal recommendation would be to challenge AP courses as often as possible while in high school, no matter the outcome. The rigor, regimentation, homework load, and assessments will prepare your student for the demands of a college level course even if the class ends up not being transferrable. We are currently working with local community colleges (one of the best bargains in town by the way) to “triple seat” our college level courses. This simply means that a student could exit a college level course with local high school credit, AP credit, and a community college transcript. I am excited about this possibility as more students choose to work their way through a two year program and into a four-year program.

Student Athlete Concussion Study - We are also studying concussions. These are not the ones that I get from banging my head up against the wall at times, but concussions that our student athletes get during competition. The Ivy League schools developed recommendations, especially for football, that outline how many practices with pads Ivy League football players can have, etc… Usually the tail wags the dog in these cases, so I would expect to see changes in high school athletics regarding care for concussions in the near future considering that players in the NFL do less hitting in practice than high school and college students due to the provisions in their new contract. Any changes that provide for a safer environment for our students are important to me and I will work to see these changes implemented in any way that I can.

School News Notifier (SNN) - Lastly for this blog post, if you have not already signed up for our School News Notifier (SNN) services please take a few moments to do so. I will continue to use Twitter to send out daily messages but our Principals, Athletic and Fine Arts Directors, and I will be using this service to send out other reminders and cool stories that will be important for you to receive. To access the SNN system just go to the District web site home page and click on the SNN logo, or go directly to

Stay tuned for more frequent posts as we get ready to start what will be another awesome school year.



Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mid-Summer Update

I hope that you have been able to enjoy some of the weather so far this summer. I know we have had a hot stretch recently but on the positive side I have not had to mow the lawn for four weeks! I will try to do a better job at hiding my excitement about that next time.

We are plugging away here at work on several different things. To keep all of you in the loop I have included all of our projects below with all of the information that I have about them as of today. As we enter August I will be getting back into my normal blog schedule of at least one post per week, so stay tuned and see you around town.

Student Dignity Task Force

Our group last met right before the end of the school year to begin to develop a policy to be used as part of the Dignity For All Students Legislation. We also confirmed that we will be using the Olweus Anti-Bullying Program K-12. This summer Mr. Burns and I have been drafting the sample policy so that the committee can make final edits via e-mail and we can move forward quickly with the policy adoption process when everyone returns this fall. 

Mr. Burns and I are also meeting with Penny Williams who is going to coordinate our training and implementation efforts for the Olweus program. The training process will take this school year to complete and the program will be rolled out for the beginning of the 2012 school year. While this sounds like a long way off, it really isn't considering the state has not fully defined exactly what the program has to contain to meet their mandates.

Modified Sports

As you know, part of our $5.63M in budget reductions for the 2011-2012 school year was $75K in modified sports. The middle schools were scheduled to have one modified team for both middle schools instead of one team for each school. A group of parents, led by John Petosa, is working to raise the $75K necessary to have the full modified slate for this school year and their active efforts have been paying off (no pun intended). They are very hopeful to have enough money raised to save the modified sports teams for the 2011-2012 school year and are fully aware that this will have to continue through at LEAST the 2012-2013 school year because of the tax cap that Governor Cuomo recently put into place.  Actor Alec Baldwin has pledged $25K for the effort as well. People looking to donate to the cause can head to for more information.

Tax Cap

The tax cap for the 2012-2013 school year means that we can raise school taxes by 2% or the cost of inflation; which ever is LESS. Right now the cost of inflation is 1.6%. This will mean that we will need to cut AT LEAST another $1M from the 2012-2013 budget (believe it or not we are already working on that budget) in order to stay within the cap. We have been nationally recognized for our innovative cost saving efforts, and we are going to have to continue to make difficult but economy adjusting decisions moving forward. We are working on some ideas that I will share with you, once I am able, that will help to make a significant dent in closing the gap but unfortunately there will be tougher decisions ahead.

Board Candidates

The Board of Education is seeking applicants for an open position with a term that expires at the end of next school year. A letter of interest and/or resume needs to be into Paul Pelton (300 Sanderson Drive, Camillus, NY 13031 or, or 487-4563) by August 12 to be considered for an interview by the Board of Education at their meeting on August 17.


As you might remember, the New York State Education Department charged each school with the task of placing more students on buses, making transportation more efficient, and reducing the number of bus runs.  Jerry Williams in our Transportation Department has been working with his staff to accommodate this directive. We will be using a shuttle system to help transport students attending private and parochial schools, and we also had to change the length of some of our bus runs as well as drop off and pick up points. We are very appreciative for all of you who turned in your transportation request form (we had over 90% of the forms returned) because it really helped us to create bus runs that are reasonable and reliable. 

The transportation staff will be sending a letter home to private and parochial school families shortly inviting them to participate in a "test run" day so that they can see how their children will be transported each day. This "test run" day will be held later in August and we are hopeful that parents participate because we are in a position where we will have limited flexibility to make changes because the New York State Education Department is mandating this rearrangement of transportation services.

School Calendar

Bonnie Russell has done a wonderful job once again on our annual school Events Calendar and Information Guide.  Since we are using our technology resources more and more, this calendar will be one of the very few pieces of paper correspondence that we will be sending out (the online version of the calendar is now available from the home page of the web site or directly at  Be on the lookout for the Events Calendar and Information Guide to come home the first day of school with your child and thanks again to Bonnie!