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.