Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Things That I NOW Understand

In 2008 I attended my first Kaleidoscope. I had no idea what it was about or really what it entailed. As an incoming superintendent I was more concerned with the management and operations side of the evening. Is there enough parking, will grandparents be able to find seats, who are these people shaking my hand? Remember that I came from a much smaller school district (how small was it?) so small in fact that I used to pull the bleachers out for basketball games and set the final alarm for the night. I had to take care of all of everything at every function. So I really did not get a chance to enjoy the actual student talent the first time I attended Kaleidoscope.

The next year I realized that my role in a larger school is much different, and I got to really watch the student talent and then understood why the evening was called Kaleidoscope. Last year was a treat because I would actually talk to people, know my role, and enjoy the show.

This year I got a little adventurous and explored back stage, the balconies, and the basement before the show. There is a lot going on to make this show happen. There are groups rehearsing in about every usuable space, students in each one of the buildings, staff coordinating what goes on when and where, and how they will get from spot to spot. Now that I think I have a full understanding about ALL that goes into Kaleidoscope, I owe Mr. Davern and his staff an ALL CAPS THANK YOU for making such a production come to life. While ever pleased with the talent and our students, I just am in awe of how it all gets put together...while I comfortably sit in the audience.

Last week we had Channel 9 come to school to do a feature called the "School Buzz".  Chris Brandolino featured a BOCES/West Genesee student who helped me cook breakfast, the Girls Lacrosse Team, our Academic Decathlon Team, and our Marching Band/Alumni Band as they prepared for the Memorial Day Parade.  The links to each feature can be found here:

Last week we also had what has now become known as "The Silly String Incident" at our high school which also made the news. The long and the short of it is that about 18 students decided to spray silly string everywhere and on everyone during a class change. That probably would have been it if they had stopped when they were told to,  but they did not. This lack of respect and act of insubordination, not to mention the disruption to the building and safety issues that it caused, resulted in suspensions.

I have been criticized by some for even talking to the media about this incident and not just either denying that it happened or giving a "no comment".  People need to understand a few things. Since the invention of text messaging the concept of the "no comment" is gone. When something happens within our organization it is seconds before I hear about it from the media. Giving a no comment when it isn't a matter of personnel or confidential in nature number one isn't true and number two would not be in our best interests. 

We have developed an excellent relationship with the press as seen through the hundreds of positive articles and news spots that we have received. We are a large organization and it would be pretty irresponsible of me or the media to think that we would NEVER have a negative incident occur. Lastly we are very successful and very large. This combination makes us a media magnet no matter what. I am just happy that we have such a great relationship with all of our media outlets because when something happens good or bad I am contacted to I can provide the facts. Believe me, I would much rather stay away from the cameras and headlines, but it is important to control the message or the message will control us. The next time a situation arises and I give the facts keep track of how long the story is in the media cycle. Do the same for any other organization that hides information, provides the "no comment" quote, or is generally not helpful and see how long their story remains in the media cycle. Enough said.

Lastly, the Memorial Parade was outstanding. Every five years our Marching Band Alumni gathers and marches in the parade. This was my first year being able to see this take place and it was outstanding!  Just under 500 alumni marched and they were loud, on time, and in tune.  It made me very proud to be the leader of such a great organization. The student marchers were also equally impressive and they quickly made their way back to show center to watch their role models finish the parade.

Enjoy your week. I am going to be bouncing between sporting events, Board meetings, and assemblies so I should be plenty busy!

See you around-


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Some Very Special Olympics

You might think this is trivial, but I was so happy to see one of our students reach 25" in the standing broad jump at the Special Olympics last week.  25". You might give a polite "that's great" or give me a goofy look and wonder why I am so excited about that. Well as it turns out, I watched this same youngster three years ago at the same Special Olympics and he could not walk at all. He had to be pushed in a wheelchair for the wheelchair race because he could not use his legs. His doctors, parents, therapists, teachers, and fellow students have all helped him over the past three years to accomplish this awesome feat and if you ask him, he will tell you that he plans to do the foot race next year.  Incredible.

These past few weeks have been "step back and recognize" weeks. We passed the budget and then proceeded to lay 52 people off. The staff who are left are now finding out where they might have to be moved to in order to help fill in gaps from colleagues who will not have jobs next year. Staff are also scoring tests, preparing for finals, and watching their livelihoods be attacked by state and business officials eager to make education run exactly as a Fortune 500 company. To say that they and I are stressed is an understatement, so taking an hour to watch a few dozen of our gifted youngsters at the Special Olympics was a real treat.

Later this week we will be holding our 36th Annual Kaliedoscope Concert at the Civic Center. With the status of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra unknown, this evening will be a treat for those looking for the best of the arts. I will be sitting proudly in my seat and enjoying a beautiful evening of music. You can get tickets (I am sure it will sell out) from the fine arts office at 315-487-4612 or at the main office in the high school.

This weekend is Memorial weekend. While we will not have Friday off as we traditionally have (we used too many snow days), this doesn't mean that we shouldn't recognize all of those service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms that we enjoy. The Camillus Memorial Day Parade will feature nearly 490 Marching Band alum marching with our students, Veterans and others. This should be a wonderful celebration of our freedom and I hope to see you there.

Have a great week and I hope to see you at one of our many events.  I will also try to post again later in the week.


Please Sign-Up to Receive Electronic Newsletters and Other Direct Communications.......
School News Notifier (SNN) is an opt-in alert system where parents can sign up to receive text alerts about school closings, delays, and other time-sensitive emergencies; and e-mail notices about school programs and district news. Parents can choose to receive any or all of the alerts, and they can unsubscribe at any time. To view the e-Newsletter dated May 18, 2011 click here.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


We are knee deep in assessments, AP Exams, Regents review, and the budget. If we could harness all of the stress that everyone is under and convert it to usable energy we could probably power the Town of Camillus for a month. Hang in there!

A dozen students and I had the unique opportunity to be invited to Governor Cuomo’s “People First” speaking tour held at Onondaga Community College earlier in the week. His topics included a tax cap, ethics reform, and same sex marriage. As a superintendent I learned that the Governor is not going to stop until he has placed a cap on taxes at 2%, period. School residents would be able to vote over the 2% cap with a 60% majority vote. This means that as soon as the budget vote is over on May 17, that we will immediately begin planning for 2012-2013 and beyond, with the 2% tax cap figure as a boundary. That will be fun. Not.

The students learned that the Governor is an excellent speaker and that he can fire up a crowd over all topics, both popular and unpopular. Almost all of our students were able to shake his hand and have a few words with him after the speech and one of our students took the opportunity to ask the Governor what his stance was on hydro-fracking. How awesome is that! To his credit the Governor responded that hydro-fracking is a controversial topic that he was not prepared to take a stand on either way at this time until he receives more information. Fair enough I thought, and he treated our student with dignity and respect. A learning experience for all.

Our Student Dignity Team met earlier in the week and after much discussion and presentations we have decided to use the Olweus Bullying Program as our research-based anti-bullying program. This program will now be formulated to be District wide and will incorporate responses from our bullying survey as well as other proven programs that have been successful in our different buildings. This program will also allow us to comply with the Dignity for All Students Act that needs to be enacted by September of 2012. Our next steps will be to lay out the planning for implementation and to also take a look at policies that may adjust our “Codes of Conduct”. While there is still much work to be done, selecting a program is a major first step.

For a variety of reasons our Parent Teacher Associations and Organizations are hurting for volunteers. A down economy usually is the major cause as more parents have to devote additional time to work, second jobs, and child care. If you are able and willing to help, please contact Liz Mossotti at 315-487-2467 or by e-mail at wgcouncil@westgenesee.org.

With recycling still a big topic you might wonder why it sometimes appears like we do not recycle. I asked the exact same question when I saw plastic recyclables being dumped into the same trash can as the regular garbage even though we had separated the plastics into the “blue bins” that have become synonymous with recycling. After a little rummaging around (pun intended) we learned that our garbage removal service takes all of the trash and recyclables to their facility where it is re-separated and sent to the dump or to be recycled. While I have not been given a good enough explanation for me as far as why our separating the trash in house isn’t good enough, please understand that our refuse is separated and recycled at “the plant”.

We continue to struggle with residency cases. In a down economy people who have lost jobs or people who just don’t like the school district that they are living in try different ways to have their children attend our schools. Our Board policy clearly states that in order to attend our schools a child MUST reside in the District. We do have some cases where children are homeless and living with relatives in the District and some students who have an aunt, uncle, or grandparent in the District who have full custody but any other situation is a violation of our Board policy. If you suspect situations of children attending our schools who do not live in the District, please let me know so we can investigate and take action if we are able. Thank you.

There was a major change to the transportation regulations recently that calls for schools to fill school buses in so much as possible by NOT providing a bus stop for students who chronically do not ride the bus. We will follow-up with a letter, but essentially what this means is that if your child drives or is driven to school on a regular basis we will not “hold a seat” on the bus for them without advanced notice to our transportation department. This will allow us to better route our buses to fill them and to run even more efficiently. We will also be altering how we transport parochial and private school students in response to this change as well, and we will be providing information to parents of parochial and private school students before the end of the school year.

Last evening was the High School Honor’s Dinner. What a wonderful night. Social Studies teacher Sam Dance gave an inspiring and thoughtful address and parents had a chance to relax and congratulate their children for their academic successes.

Tomorrow evening is the Senior Ball. My wife and I figure we have chaperoned seventeen of these so far and we have had a wonderful time at each of them. I am always proud of the behavior of our students on this night, and I am also very thankful for all of the parents who volunteer to help out at the after party held at the high school. I remember walking into the after party last year and the temperature outside was close to 80 degrees. We will have another beautiful night for our students this year. If you have a son or daughter attending please remind them (without nagging of course) to make good decisions, to have fun, and to celebrate being young.

Sorry for the long post. Have a great weekend and talk to all of you soon.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Your Mom is NOT Your Dads Mom

Happy Friday to all. This weekend is Mother's Day and a time to celebrate that someone special who helped to make it all happen for you. I am definitely fortunate to have my mom a few streets away and since she reads this,  "Happy Mother's Day!". For any students reading this, remember that your mom is not your dad's mom so it is up to you and not your dad to take care of business this weekend. No excuses now!

A couple of months ago I directed our staff to lower our flags to half-staff at the direction of the Governor due to the death of yet another soldier from New York State. Governor Patterson started this observance when he took over office and I had wondered just how many times we have flown the flags at half staff due to fallen soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. I got the paperwork back from the state yesterday and the answer is that from the time Governor Paterson took office on March 17, 2008 to present (Governor Cuomo has continued this practice) the flags have flown at half staff 108 times. 108 too many. Unfortunately this number will increase and we are going to keep track and provide updates. I think it is always important to recognize why a flag is at half staff and exactly what that represents. Only the President and Governor can direct a school to fly a flag at half-staff.

We had two budget hearings this week and as you might imagine the meetings were filled with emotions, questions, comments, and concerns. We had people in attendance who wanted more things cut, fewer things cut, and everything in-between. No one in the audience can ever remember times worse than these. So you can imagine what fear of the unknown, home financial pressure, and desire to provide children with all of the opportunities they have had sounds like. I have lost three pounds since Monday, so what I have decided to do is create the "Budget Development and Presentation Diet Plan". All proceeds from the sale of this plan will be used to close the gap in the budget. Without giving away all of the secrets in the plan some of the major components include less sleep, upset stomach, lack of time to eat, and that constant sense that someone may push you down the stairs. We are going to start a revolutionary business!

All kidding aside, one thing that I have heard at meetings that needs to be clarified is the feeling that if the budget is voted down that the Board will increase the budget and add pieces back in and bring it back to the voters again. Education Law prohibits this. If the budget does not pass on May 17 the Board can adopt the failed budget (and have to charge ALL groups to use the facilities), place the same budget up for a second vote, or lower the budget and put it up for vote again. If you hear people discussing voting the budget down to have the Board increase the budget please clarify the options that the Board has. Thank you.

We received word yesterday that there are going to be some significant changes to transportation law. We will no longer be required to "save a seat" for each child along a bus route even if they never ride the bus. Because of this change we will be working to adjust our routes accordingly to make our buses filled to capacity as much as possible, and we will communicate these changes to parents as soon as we are able.

Have a great weekend and you can expect to hear from me again in a post next week.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mid-Week Update

Lots of interesting things going on around the District lately. First of all this weather is really causing issues for buildings and grounds, transportation, athletics, and all of those elementary students who can't get out and run for 20 minutes for recess (probably an issue for their teachers as well!).

The roof over Stonehedge Gold sustained over 300 cuts from the hail and the roof over Cafeteria I at the high school received over 1,000 (see picture at right of what a roof cut looks like). Both roofs have been patched, but we may need to consider an emergency project to replace the roof at the high school this summer not because it has structural issues but because it has been patched more than 1,000 times on an area smaller than a football field.

In addition, roads have been closed and routes have been temporarily altered in some cases which has kept the transportation department busy, not to mention our drivers dealing with the other cars full of drivers confident that their SUV's can actually do 100 mph in driving rain and flood conditions!

Softball and baseball have had a heck of a time getting games and practices in as well. The only bright side for me is that I haven't missed any Tuesday night adult softball games yet because they have all been rained out.

I had a chance to meet with the engineers from the county yesterday to discuss the West Genesee Street Paving Project. To view a copy of their plan, please click here to go to the Superintendent's Message and Informational Documents web page and click on the document, "Paving Project" so you can see exactly what they are proposing. This project has a long way to go before it is finalized. The Town is scheduling a Public Hearing on the matter later this month if you want to get additional information.

Speaking of Public Hearings, we have held two Budget Hearings so far and have our final meeting this evening at 7:00 p.m. in the high school large group instruction room (this is a change in location). It is important to note that these meetings are to present and answer questions about the budget. The Board of Education cannot legally change the budget up or down at this point. The actual budget was adopted on April 13 and our School Property Tax Report Card was submitted on April 23.
The adopted budget, as is, will be taken to the voters to consider on May 17.

The Hearing last night was a mixed bag of emotions, questions, and concerns. Some people in the audience wanted more things cut from the budget and lower taxes, while others wanted the third-grade strings program reinstated. Both meetings have gone well over two hours which is fine with me as long as everyone is respectful (being emotional and being disrespectful are two completely different things) and everyone gets their questions answered. So far so good, and our Board of Education has been very attentive and in tune with what all of the concerns have been. There have been no easy decisions. As I mentioned before, we are preparing to launch a web site dedicated to areas of the budget that will be reduced so people can see how services in the affected areas will be performed in the future.

I would like to congratulate our Fine Arts staff for helping the District to achieve the distinction of being "One of the Best Communities for Music" for the sixth time. This means a lot, especially since we have faced financial challenges in this area yet have still been selected to receive this award. Congratulations to all for your work and dedication to our students.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate Scott Duda for an amazing Academic Decathlon season. His group competed very well in North Carolina against National competition and Mr. Duda is already planning for next year!

Thanks, stay dry, and have a great rest of the week.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Prom Season is Here

Prom season is upon us and our own junior prom was held on Friday night. It was a beautiful affair. My wife and I have chaperoned seventeen proms since we have been together and this one was special because it was the first prom for our oldest son. Out of respect for him and his date our trip to the prom was much shorter than in previous years but the tuxes, dresses, and food were outstanding. 

It was interesting to see how students react to different types of music. One year they played Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Beach Boys, and Elton John (no it wasn't 1974) and the kids gravitated to the the dance floor. This year when Tom Petty came on everyone took a break to get some food, and when the Black Eyed Peas came on you couldn't fit another person on the dance floor.

I would like to the thank all of the organizers, volunteer chaperones, and administrators for a great evening.  The senior ball is right around the corner on May 13.

My wife and I had the opportunity to attend the SALT Awards last evening. SALT stands for Syracuse Area Live Theater Awards and they were held at the Palace Theater across town. It was my pleasure to hand out an award and I was most intrigued by the dress code. Some of the guys were in tuxes and some were in jeans or shorts, while some of the ladies had flowing gowns and some had capri shorts.  All in all, everyone seemed to have a good time and the event just shows how much artistic talent there is in Syracuse.

This week is packed with games and concerts as well as two budget presentations, one on Tuesday night in the high school large group instruction room and one on Wednesday night before our regular Board meeting in the high school library. If you have any lingering questions about the budget you can get all of your answers at these meetings, or you can just call me to talk about it.

Have a wonderful week and I hope to see you at one of our several events.