Sunday, January 23, 2011

Big Week

Last week was pretty tough, to be quite honest. As a leader I am looked upon to be the rock of the organization, the person with all of the answers, and the person that other people look to when they do not know what to do.  The true test of a leader is if you can survive a bombardment of negativity from every angle that you can think of and still come out on the other side making positive and correct decisions without taking on anything more than a scratch. I have many years of experience doing this, but when you can physically hear your own head working and everything else is quiet, you know that you have reached the limit.

I am glad that we had strategic planning last week. It was a way to watch stakeholders from various areas of our school community come together and figure out how we will stay on top after resources and opportunities dwindle. I am pleased with the results, and I think you as community members will be also. At our Board of Education meeting on February 2 our group leader Deb Geiss will talk about the Strategic Plan and it will then be placed on our web site.

This is a BIG week coming up. I cannot imagine being the Governor right now preparing to publish his budget for next year. It is highly anticipated to be the most devastating budget in New York State history. I cannot wait. We have done our homework at West Genesee. We know what we need to do, and we have put the pieces in place to do them. We just need our number from the Governor, and we will have a preliminary budget built in about three to four days. Our first swipe at necessary reductions will be revealed, and we will begin to march toward the end of the year. January is my least favorite month, and this January has taken the cake!

Around this time of the year I get asked how cold it needs to be to close or delay school. First, it would be rare to delay school due to cold temperatures. Even two hours in this part of the country is not enough time to raise the temperature, and in some cases the temperature even goes down as the day progresses. We do not have a specific Board policy related to cold weather, but as a long-standing practice I have always considered closing if the regular temperature hits five below with no windchill and twenty-five below with the windchill. From what I have read, next week might produce a couple of days that will get us near those benchmarks, but then again I cancelled evening activities last Friday after being told that there was big lake effect snow coming only to see a few flakes. Weatherman is definitely my next career.

As part of our budget plan, we are going to reduce the number of paper Communicators to about four (plus the budget issue).  This move will save us about $18K. We are going to replace the other Communicators with an E-blast to still get information out to you, just cheaper and faster. I am very, very excited at the initial layouts and structure of the E-blast. We will continue to develop it and let you know how you can begin to receive your electronic newsletter as soon as we are ready to release it.

Have a great week. Keep your chins up whereever you are and remember that difficult times bring about innovation, change, and advancement!


Monday, January 17, 2011

The Worst Part of My Job is...

Losing a student is, by far, worse than budgets, angry people, layoffs, and job stress. I have lost eight students since becoming a superintendent. Even today I could tell you who they were, their personality, and traits they left behind that we all miss to this day. 

Last week we lost Craig Rienhardt, a junior, to cancer. Cancer does not discriminate and is a very cruel disease. Craig was upbeat, kind, energetic, and full of life. His parents and family are very strong people. 

Many of his family came to our basketball game where three students, Austin Gambino, Peter Johnson, and Lindsey Sweet, held a 50/50 raffle and a blue ribbon campaign for Craig. They wanted to give the proceeds ($1,000 in about a half of a basketball game) to Craig and his family the next day as a show of solidarity and strength. Unfortunately, he passed away during the night and the students did not get a chance to get closer with one of their closest friends. On Friday the staff held a one day fundraiser to help the family as well.  What we take away from a situation like this is that as big as we are we are, we are still small enough to come together for good causes and to help bring peace. May we never forget Craig Rienhardt.

Tomorrow night is the "Dialogue with the Superintendent". It will be held in the high school large group instruction room from 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. If you have questions for me and you don't want to e-mail them to me, call me and ask them, or see me at an event to talk, then this is the place to be. You can place a question on an index card and I will answer anything that is asked to the best of my ability. Should be fun!

Wednesday night is our Board of Education Meeting. I will be giving an overview of the current budget situation and what things (generally because I have not spoken with affected staff yet) are likely to be reduced as we try to zero in on the actual deficit that the Governor will announce during his State of the State address. I will tell you that at least something from every aspect of our organization will be affected, and I will also share with you that I am in a position where many of the decisions that we have made will affect students. Last year we were largly able to avoid this from happening, but with the size of the impending gap there is just no way to avoid it for a second year.

Thursday and Friday we have our Strategic Planning Sessions. This is where a large group of people gathers to help create the guiding document for the District. This will be an interesting session as District initiatives meet dwindling resources.

Budget aside, I hope to get back into my routine of visiting all of our classrooms so I can see all of the cool things that our students are doing. This is all for now, but stay tuned. If anything changes I will be sure to keep you posted. Have a great week.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Ahhh Facebook...

Well I spent most of today passing along messages about inappropriate Facebook pages to our School Resource Officer. As you might know, the school has very little ground to stand on when it comes to people outside of school making inappropriate Facebook pages unless the pages disrupt the operations of our buildings or put our students in unsafe situations.

About three months ago there was a page created titled "WG Hoes" and it had pictures of students and very derogatory information on it.  Some of the students featured on the page were very upset at school.  Our School Resource Officer contacted the District Attorney's office who ordered a subpoena from Facebook of the "IP address" or computer address where the page was created.  Meanwhile, the School Resource Officer did some good old fashioned police work and caught the creator of the page, a graduate. Charges were filed and the person was arrested.

I am hoping for the same outcome in this case as well, but I keep having to remind people to watch who they "friend", what they say, and who they say it to. This cyber bullying nonsense is not going away anytime soon around the world, but I am really proud of our students for bringing it to our attention because they have simply had enough of this as well! All of us, including our students, have many more productive things to be doing with our time.

We are just beginning to ramp up our budget building process for next year and if you watch the news you know that the Governor is trying to enact a tax cap of around 1% while his opposition is trying to fight the tax cap concept. Cap or not, with the decline in state aid that is surely coming, we have a large gap to fill. We are working tirelessly to reprogram how we do business to compete with this financial challenge.  I have said many times that everything is on the table. Everything. These types of discussions are healthy but are causing some stress and tension as you might imagine. We will get there but please be ready for any combination of ideas to help our children have as many opportunities as possible.

I turned 40 over the weekend. I have been a superintendent since my very late 20's, and I have been amazed at how much has changed in this position over the past decade. I entered the job building bus garages, science suites, libraries, and computer labs. Today I find myself looking at ways to keep buildings open, provide full programming, athletics, and fine arts. Crazy. Who knows what the next ten years will bring. I would like to say that I cannot wait, but maybe I can...

Have a great week.  I am hopeful to still get out into all of the buildings this week even though I have what seem like hundreds of budget meetings.  The kids keep me young, and I could use a dose of that!


Monday, January 3, 2011

Welcome to the New Year!

I cannot believe that we are half-way through the school year. I also cannot believe how much snow has melted in just a couple of days. There are three sump pumps in my basement and all of them have been running non-stop since New Year's Eve. It took some time to walk around the yard to look at the house after all of the snow that we had, and I noticed that both the house and yard have taken quite a beating this Winter so far. It will need some touch-up paint, roof sealer, gutter work, and some grass seed for starters.

While I was out assessing my home, I thought about how I would assess the school year so far. Financially, we are in great shape while we wait for the Governor to tell us (hopefully Wednesday) what next year is going to have in store. Academically we have made strides in every area, and there is every indication that our graduation rates will be higher than last year. The athletics and fine arts programs are moving right along and our building and grounds are in pretty good shape, considering that they are facing the same Winter that our homes have been weathering. 

The biggest work that we will have ahead will be building the budget in an environment where there really will be limited resources. In the weeks ahead I will be communicating frequently as we make decisions that will be challenging, but necessary. For now, we are going to get back to what will be a great second-half of the school year!