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!