Sunday, December 16, 2012

Where Do We Go From Here?

By now I had hoped to have more details related to the shootings in Connecticut, but we simply do not. We do know for sure that a gunman used at least one of his firearms to shoot his way through a glass entrance way, enter a school, and kill staff and students. The speculation as to why he did this is just that and it appears that we might not have any concrete answers for days or weeks.

We also know that the school had security measures in place such as a front door buzzer, sign in procedures, and video cameras. They had prepared for an event like this by conducting lock down, stay in place, and evacuation drills. By ALL accounts thus far, staff and students followed all directions, procedures, and protocols. Law enforcement has indicated that these procedures most certainly saved additional lives.

As parents, you have probably spent some time this weekend speaking to your children, at some level, about the events that unfolded. If you have not, and would like resources on how to speak to your children, please follow this link  or give me a call.  I am also sure that many parents, students, and staff feel somewhat uneasy about returning to school, or sending their children back to school.  I have interacted with many parents who would like bullet proof glass on all windows and doors, metal detectors at each entrance, multiple police officers at each entrance every day, and some would like to see administrators and teachers trained and armed.

I can appreciate the emotions that are flowing right now. A quick Google search titled “Shootings in the United States in 2012” retrieves a list of shootings that have taken place including a movie theater, a temple, a church, a college, a football stadium parking lot, a grocery store, a “big box” retail store, and a school.  Remember this was just for 2012.

The moral of the story is that there are bigger issues to be discussed beyond bulletproof glass, constant police presence, metal detectors, and arming school personnel. There are issues of gun control, mental health services, and parameters for conduct on school property.  I have an opinion on each and I will share them loudly and uncomfortably if necessary at the right time and in the right forum where they might actually lead to some action.

For now, as your superintendent, I want you to know that I have never thought that what happened in Connecticut could not happen at West Genesee, or any other school for that matter.
  • We plan, train for, and conduct drills on a very regular basis. 
  • We coordinate with law enforcement daily about ways to keep our children as safe as possible.  
  • We create scenarios and conduct tabletop exercises.  
  • We have a million ways to instantly communicate.  
  • We do have buzzer systems, sign in procedures, and cameras.  
All of those systems will be under review as we begin the school day Monday. We will also have additional police presence in our buildings as the last of the details present themselves from Connecticut.

There will be a root cause as to why children and staff were killed in Connecticut on Friday. We will learn from those causes and adjust our procedures. At the end of the day, however, we cannot let these acts paralyze us from living.  If we do, we would never set foot in a school, college, church, temple, store, athletic stadium, movie theater, or shopping mall again (plus other places where shootings have occurred prior to 2012).

From struggle and setback MUST come the inner and outer strength to rise above.  We cannot waste this tragedy. We WILL overcome.

Thank you,

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tragedy in Connecticut

By now you have heard that there was an enormous tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  It is times like these where we are all at a loss for words. As a parent and a superintendent, I would ask you as parents to listen to your children this weekend if they want to discuss their feelings or thoughts related to the events that unfolded. I would also suggest that you speak to your children about what happened to the extent that you feel appropriate.

With a twenty-four hour news cycle and more access to the Internet and social media, it would be reasonable to think that our children, even our young children, have heard something about the loss of life that occurred today.

I have two children in the District and feel that they are safe and well cared for while in the hands of our faculty and staff. You should feel the same way. We treat them as my own while they are in our care.

Monday will bring a more complete picture of what actually unfolded in Connecticut.  It will also bring about opportunities for us as mothers, fathers, and children to assist a hurting Connecticut community.  Give your children an extra hug, listen to what they have to say, and keep those impacted in your deepest thoughts.

Thank you,

Monday, December 10, 2012

Shifts In Education

"Six Shifts in Education": My job consists of many things. On most days it involves visiting classrooms, preparing the budget, negotiating contracts, overseeing the operation of the buildings and departments, studying the landscape to make sure that we always have a leg up on anything new, meeting with the community, attending events, and providing instructional leadership. Last week while checking in on some initiatives centered around instructional leadership, I came across what is known as the "six shifts in education". I am always concerned that educational leaders use words that are too big or passages that are too lengthy to describe change. Explaining the "six shifts" can suck someone into that exact same vortex unless you take a look at the shifts from the eyes of students.

Mr. Kesel (Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction), along with Beth Lozier (Principal at Camillus Middle School), Mike Caraccio (Academic Dean at the High School), and Lisa Craig (Principal at East Hill Elementary School), took a look at the "shifts" specifically in math and English language arts and broke things down in a way that I think everyone can understand.

The following link outlines the "shifts" in English language arts and the problem listed below represents the "shifts" in math. As you can see, the bar for what will be required of our students has been raised considerably. This will make your job as parents more difficult as you try to assist your children with their homework. If you need help, please make an appointment to see the classroom teacher or building principal so they can give you some helpful strategies.

2010 Grade 6 Question:

What is the value of n in the equation below?
66 + n = 226

2013 Grade 6 Sample Question:

Represent the equation algebraically-
A number, x, decreased by the sum of 2x and 5.
A) (2x + 5) - x
B) x - (2x + 5)
C) x - 2x + 5
D) (x + 2x) - 5

Show your work...

Upcoming Events: Lots of games, concerts, and events the next two weeks. All of our teams are playing well right now and our fine arts performers are on fire. So if you need a couple of hours away from the grind that the holiday season can sometimes be, we would love to see you at any of our events. A full event schedule can be found on our website

Have a wonderful week!


Monday, December 3, 2012

It is the most Wonderful Time of the Year?

High School Semi-Formal Dance: What an awesome week and weekend. Mrs. Hogan and Mrs. Deemer did a wonderful job with their students setting up and operating the High School Semi-Formal Dance over the weekend. The artwork, backdrops, picture taking areas, and the overall layout were just spectacular. The volunteers did a great job making sure that our 900 students had an enjoyable night.  I cannot say enough about how great it is for me to attend these events when they are organized, set up, and run so well. I heard many comments from the STUDENTS about how happy they were with the way things looked. Many thanks to all for a wonderful night.

Students Take the Plunge: All of you know that our students are generous and this weekend was no different. Our hockey team, after a challenging tournament and dance, joined fellow student Andrew Bowman (otherwise known as "The Mayor" of the high school) in the Polar Bear Plunge at Oneida Lake. I was not present because there are two things on my short list that scare me as a superintendent: watching the cheerleading "pyramid" and watching anyone jump into freezing water! My understanding is that all did very well and they raised a lot of money for charity. Nice work and thank you!

Academic Initiatives Update: On the academic front, we continue to monitor legislation related to the following: diplomas being awarded for students headed into engineering fields, the state aid impact from Hurricane Sandy on our budget for next year, the complete roll out of the "Common Core Learning Standards" in the Elementary, and the continued implementation of the "Annual Professional Performance Review Plan" district-wide. I was really happy earlier in the week when the state released how much money was going to be withheld from schools that did not have their APPR plans approved by Friday. Ours was approved long ago, and luckily we will not lose the $1.029M that was on the table.

It should be noted that all of our employees are working to their maximum capacity. All of these changes are taking a toll on many within the organization. While we will continue to achieve at the highest level, we also need a way to blow off some steam. You might see faculty and staff wearing bracelets that read "Just Let Us Teach". This is nothing against me, the administration, or the Board of Education. It is a way to show those above us that maximum capacity has been reached, and it would be nice to let some of these new initiatives breathe a little bit before introducing any more.

Students Try New Things: If you are the parent of a male middle school or high school student you might notice that they are growing a mustache (or trying to). This is completely normal because December is known by students as "Dirt-Stache December" just as November was "No Shave November".  For some reason it seems that many more students than normal are participating so don't be surprised.

Also, if you have children and are allowing them to use the Internet or a Smart Phone, they are moving beyond Facebook and Twitter and into two new applications called Instagram and Snap-Chat. Instagram allows students to use their "friends" lists from Twitter and Facebook to post and share pictures with comments. Snap-Chat is interesting in that students send pictures to others and each picture has a timer setting from 3 to 10 seconds. The person who receives the picture then sends a picture back that displays for 3 to 10 seconds. They are always into something new!

Have a great week and please do not let the stress of the holidays creep in to family and work time. This can be the best time of the year if we allow it to be!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Lake Effect

Winter Driving: I hope all of you had the opportunity to rest and enjoy time with family. We saw our first snow over the weekend and with it came about a dozen accidents in the Camillus area. Please know that our buses will not have issues in the snow as we have experienced drivers and heavy buses with new brakes. Inexperienced student drivers, and people like us trying to hustle to work in the morning, will have more of a challenge. Therefore, please leave for work and school a few minutes earlier and use extra caution on the roads so that this winter will be as accident free as possible.

Legislation to Add Degree Paths: We are keeping an eye on a few things happening outside of our District. First, Senator Charles Schumer has introduced legislation to add some degree paths to High School diplomas that target students who want to enter careers in the technical and engineering fields. These degree paths might allow students to eliminate some traditional courses that you and I took when we were in school, but still earn a New York State High School diploma. His ideas are set to hit the Board of Regents shortly, and I will keep you posted.

State Aid Concerns: The other thing that we are keeping a close eye on is how the Governor will handle paying for Hurricane Sandy damage. We know that FEMA will cover some or maybe even the majority of the damages, but the Governor will have to decide how to handle any gap that might remain. I am cautiously optimistic that the Governor will not take state aid from schools to help fill these gaps. If he does choose to impact our aid, we may have to alter our financial plans. This would be a big bummer because we have worked very hard as a community to work through a solid financial plan. So far we have kept tax increases below the cap, and can now begin to plan to restore some of the things that we have reduced over the past few years. Hopefully we will get some clarity on this situation in the coming weeks, and we can finish our budget preparation for 2013-2014. Stay tuned.

Check out our website for our events this week, and I hope to see you out and about.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks - With Thanksgiving right around the corner I would like to thank you for your continued support. We have worked together over the past five years and have achieved some pretty amazing things. Each day I am proud to represent our community as we face challenges that are presented to us. Your willingness to listen, become involved, and trust our direction makes my job very exciting and I look forward to keeping us moving in a positive direction. I have no problem putting on the blue and gold each morning. Thank you.

Hurricane Sandy Relief Kits - Last week was pretty exciting. First, we were able to finish our relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy victims by creating a total of 229 complete relief kits and 197 partial kits. Our students in grades K-12 came together to assemble these kits, and they will be shipped on Tuesday by community partners National Grid. This generous gesture is courtesy of Linda Clark who learned about our efforts through this very blog a couple of weeks ago. It was awesome to see students learning about helping people and then rolling up their sleeves to help. Good work!

Visit from the Commissioner - Dr. John King, the New York State Commissioner of Education, visited our high school during the week. He came without alerting the media and really wanted to get into some classrooms. He focused his visit on learning about how we provide services for our Students with Disabilities, as well as students who are at-risk. Dr. King also wanted to see how we use technology in classrooms and was interested to see how strong our Career and Technical Education program is. Our teachers, counselors, and students did not disappoint. As I shook his hand when he left, he told me that I should be very proud with what we have achieved at West Genesee. I most certainly am.

Parent Portal - Our Schooltool roll out is going pretty well.  If you have not had a chance to use our new student management system yet, please begin to familiarize yourself with it. The link to reach the parent portal can be found on our website, and over time more information about your children will be made available to you.

Healthy Choices - I had a chance to meet with high school students to brainstorm ways to try and make our school lunch program more suitable to them but still fit within the new USDA Healthy Choices guidelines. Our student committee was chosen through Twitter and the group is very diverse. We had a diabetic nutritionist and menu planner on hand to teach the students about why we serve what we serve and how we plan menus. The meeting was powerful from my perspective, and the students gave some great input. Our menu planner and nutritionist are planning a December menu based on many of the suggestions that the students gave, and I am excited to see if student input has an impact on the number of lunches that we serve. Our group will meet again in January so that we can monitor progress and keep looking ahead.

I hope that you are able to take some time to get together with family for Thanksgiving, and I will reach out to you again after the turkey break.


Monday, November 12, 2012

A Big Thank You

Veterans Day - I am really pleased that it seems like we as community members, students, and parents are taking more time to appreciate our veterans. I hope this positive trend continues as we move forward as it is very important  to recognize those who have served our country allowing us to enjoy the freedoms that we have. Several of my former students are veterans as well as many older family members. What always shocks me is what they DO NOT get when they return from service. The least we can do is appreciate them every chance we get.

Hurricane Sandy Relief - Our collection efforts for those still suffering from Hurricane Sandy are going very well.  Many thanks to our community for supporting this cause. We have found some schools and some areas in New York City and New Jersey that are still without power, and will not have power for up to four or five more weeks. Crazy but true. To view a listing of items being collected for Relief Kits, click here.

Cheerleaders Win Section III Title - We are very proud of our Varsity Cheerleaders. If you haven't watched our cheerleaders in the past five years or so, they have become more and more athletic to the point that their quest to be recognized as an actual sport is close to becoming a reality. I am very proud of our girls for bringing home the Section III Championship. Congratulations to these hard working young ladies, and we will see many of you during basketball and winter competition cheer season.

Tastier Menus - This week should be pretty cool. On Tuesday, a group of high school students are meeting with me and a diabetic nutritionist to talk about school lunches and menu planning. We are going to receive feedback from the students, and our nutritionist is going to have the students taste test some new menu offerings that absolutely maximize every calorie that they are allowed to have under the new Healthy Choices Program from the USDA. I am excited to see how things work out.

C.O.D.E./Camillus Optimists Honors Teachers and Youth - On Tuesday, I will be speaking to C.O.D.E. graduates at Split Rock and then head out to celebrate with our Teachers and Students of the Year. Our teachers this year are Patti Sullivan from the High School Learning Center, physical education teacher Dallas Barton from CMS, and special education teacher Pam Ciarla from East Hill Elementary School.  The students are Maureen McInerney and Steven Ferguson from the high school; Lauren Cahalan and Manny Castro from CMS; and Mark Kopp and Johna Halko from WGMS. The program is sponsored by the Optimists Club, and we are very pleased to have this partnership. I look forward to helping them to be recognized.

Harvest Dinner - Wednesday is our Harvest Dinner which is a personal favorite. The students provide some great food and service, and all of the attendees get to sit and catch up with everyone. If you would like to attend the dinner, come to the High School Cafeteria 1 between 4:30-7:30 p.m. Hope to see you there.

Musical at WGMS - Friday is the West Genesee Middle School production of Yes Virginia. Our middle schools put on performances that are as good as high school productions and sell out very quickly. If you would like to attend, you can get tickets at the door. However, make sure to show up early for the Friday evening or Saturday afternoon performances so you can get a seat.

Enjoy the week and I hope to see you around at some of our many events!


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hurricane Relief Information

As I mentioned in my recent blog, we are working on a way to include all of our students, staff, Parent Teacher Associations/Organizations, and community members to organize a relief effort for Hurricane Sandy victims in the downstate area.

We have had great support so far and just added the missing piece at the high school with Mrs. Deemer organizing the students there. So we are ready to rock and roll.

Pasted below is the letter that we will be sending home. (If you would like to access a PDF version online, click here.) Please notice that everything is organized by grade level and the ultimate goal is to be able to provide "relief kits" containing many essential items.

Your help is greatly appreciated. Our students will roll up their sleeves and put everything together, and we have had some generous community members willing to drive the kits to the downstate area. Awesome! Let's work together to make this happen.  

If you do not have a child in the school and want to help, just pick an item from the list and drop it off at one of our buildings. If you have a business that already delivers downstate and you would like to help with transportation, please let me know as well and we might be able to spread deliveries out (

Thanks again!



In an effort to provide relief to our fellow New Yorkers who were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, West Genesee School District will be assembling and donating hygiene kits to those most in need. Each student will have the opportunity to make a difference by participating in assembling the kits.

To ensure that we receive all necessary items, we are asking for the following grade donations:

Kindergarten: 6 Band-Aids (in a sandwich bag)       
1st Grade: 1 washcloth
2nd Grade: 1 nail clipper
3rd Grade: 1 small container of hand sanitizer
4th Grade: 1 bar of soap         
5th Grade: 2 one gallon plastic Ziploc bags
6th Grade: 2 “D” batteries
7th Grade: 1 bottle of conditioner                              
8th Grade: 1 hand towel
9th Grade: 1 stick deodorant
10th Grade: 1 tube of toothpaste
11th Grade: 1 toothbrush
12th Grade: 1 bottle of shampoo
We will be collecting in all buildings up to Thursday, November 15 and assembling the kits on Friday, November 16. If there are community members that would like to donate items, you may drop them off at any of the West Genesee Schools.

Thank you for your participation in this project.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Doing What Is Right

Hurricane Sandy Relief Kits: Well, that was quite a week we had!  It has been a long time since I had to prepare for a possible hurricane. Fortunately, by an absolute sliver, the brunt of the storm missed us but pounded many in the downstate area.  At West Genesee we mobilized quickly trying to figure out what would be the most help to those in immediate need.

Many larger organizations are collecting cash for displaced people, but thanks to Caroline Flaherty, Split Rock Parent Teacher Organization President, Heather Valerino, Camillus Middle School Parent Teacher Organization President, and Todd Freeman, Split Rock Elementary School Principal, a great idea has emerged for our students to contribute. They have collaborated with the other Parent Teacher Organizations and Associations, our other building principals, and student groups at the high school to create emergency kits to be delivered to those in need downstate.

Students at all grade levels are getting fired up to help. As soon as we have a complete list of needs for both adults and children in the hardest hit areas, we will ask our community to help collect the items. Our students can then put these items together as "relief kits" and we can have the kits shipped as soon as possible. We are working to spread requests out among our whole community so that it will feel like you are only adding one more thing to your shopping cart the next time you are at the grocery store. If you are able and willing to help, thank you. Our students are going to learn a great lesson in volunteerism for a very important cause. Let's work statewide for Wildcat Pride.

BOCES Update: Last week I also had the opportunity to tour our local BOCES, where many West Genesee students are attending classes. I was able to visit Special Education settings, Cosmetology, Building Construction and Trades, Medical Technology Labs, the Culinary Institute, the Alternative Education program, and the GED program. I must say that I was very pleased with what I saw.

BOCES provides some outstanding programs for our students, many of whom go on to be very successful in different trades that we rely on today. What I found most fulfilling was their emphasis on reading, writing, and math. In the culinary classroom, for example, I was able to watch two of our students create some desserts for a meeting that was going to be held that night.  The teacher of that class, however, was being held accountable not for how the dessert tasted or looked, but how the student wrote out the directions to make the dessert which includes nutritional information.  I have always been a BOCES supporter, and my visit affirmed my feelings.

Redistricting Transition: Our redistricting transition planning is complete, and you can find all of the documents from the last meeting (that would have been held had the winds and rain completely stayed away!) on the website in the Redistricting section. Building principals will be organizing letters, welcome packets, and agendas in the coming weeks to be sent to families that have children being redistricted in the next school year. Many thanks to those who served on the committee.

Have a wonderful week, and I hope to see many of you at the various events and activities that are happening in our schools.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Storm Update

Good Morning-

We were very fortunate to have missed the brunt of the hurricane, but others were not as lucky. As we have done in other state emergencies, we are encouraging students to band together and find ways to help those in need to our west and east. I have been through a house flood and they are devastating, no matter how much insurance one has.

We are all New Yorkers and let's take some time to organize and show that we are here to help. Our community is very powerful when it bands together and now is a great time for us to shine again and help those in need.  Be on the lookout for student driven initiatives.

Power was out at the high school and bus garage yesterday for approximately 45 minutes due to a transformer issue on Milton Avenue. I appreciate the high school faculty, staff, and students, as well as our transportation personnel who were able to dismiss students quickly without radios, phones, or public address systems.

Not a long post, but wanted to make sure all of you have the most updated information about what is happening in the District.

Have a great rest of the day.


Monday, October 29, 2012

The Need to Plan

Marching Band Win 32nd State Title - Dedication, precision, repetition, and heart have paid dividends again. The West Genesee Marching Band rocked the Carrier Dome like a hurricane (yes, my musical tastes are still living in the 1980's)!  I was so pleased to watch the students perform at the highest level, yet again, to bring home the New York State Field Band Championship for the 32nd time with a score of 97.6 (a full 2.6 points ahead of Norwalk in 2nd place). I am just so happy for the students, the Marching Band staff, and the many dedicated parents who get an opportunity to see all of their hard work pay off. Planning for next year begins today. Congratulations!

Hurricane Sandy - Speaking of hurricanes, I must admit that it was pretty weird to finalize our school closing contact information sheets last week. This is usually a task that is completed well into November, but the threat of Hurricane Sandy shortened our timeline. I have been a superintendent when the threat of very bad weather has actually happened, and when it has passed by. In fact, I still have the six inch stick that landed on my deck as a result of Hurricane Irene some years back.

The bottom line is that with all of the communication tools that are available, we are going to get a lot of information about each and every potential weather event.  It is probably wise to plan for the worst and hope for the best, and I hope that there are no additional causalities as a result of this storm.  I would say that if I owned a grocery store I would have purchased about every advertising spot before and after every weather report on every local station!

Redistricting Transition Planning - This week we will finalize our transition planning for redistricting.  I must say that the transition team is doing a very thoughtful job of planning activities that will help to relieve some of the anxiety related to redistricting. I will give a full recap of what is planned as well as some general timelines next week. For now, everything that the committee has been working on can be located on the website by clicking here.

This week our teachers and administrators will complete the creation of their goals, fall sports will officially come to a close, and we will begin to transition into concert, middle school musical, and winter sports season.  Have a great week.


Monday, October 22, 2012

In the Long Run

Time Spent in the Community: The highlight of last week was getting a chance to visit the Camillus Senior Center and speak with our senior citizens. I was very happy with the format. They wanted me to come in and talk. Nothing to sell, no offices to run for, and no pressure. We had a wonderful time talking about Camillus and the way things used to be. One gentleman told me that he has lived in Camillus for 70 years and walked from Munro Road to the Camillus Senior Center (it was formerly his school) each day. He said a classmate would drive the school bus and then attend class (don't get any ideas, twelfth graders). I am looking forward to visiting the senior center again.

I spent Sunday morning with about 1,400 others running the Empire Half Marathon along Onondaga Lake. I won't bore you with all of the details, but now that I have participated in a few races in the Syracuse area I must say a big thank you to all of the volunteers who hand out water along the various courses. There are "big name" volunteer organizations, faith based organizations, and sometimes people who just want to help. This is another great example of how our community works; people pitching in to make things happen. Thanks again!

Redistricting Transition Team: Many community members are pitching in right now at West Genesee on our redistricting transition team, and if you have not had a chance to check out their work and are interested you can find everything on our website by clicking here. We meet again tonight and are feverishly working to plan some very beneficial activities for our students and parents who are affected by the redistricting. We hope to have these plans complete by October 29, at which time I will share them with everyone so that we as a community are all on the same page.

In the Classrooms: I am very pleased at what I am seeing in our classrooms. Teachers and administrators have had a TON of new things to work through from the state and federal government, but you would not see the stress caused by all of that if you were to pop your head into a classroom. Teachers are working at full capacity to provide quality instruction, true professionals. We are more fortunate than you might think considering we are still one of only a couple hundred schools in New York State (out of nearly 700 total schools) to have our Annual Professional Performance Review plan completed. Our teachers are nearly done completing their goals (a significant time commitment) while many schools have not even had their plans approved. That will make for a much smoother late fall and winter for our teachers, which is a good thing.

Schooltool Parent Portal: We also began the process of opening up our student management system, Schooltool, to parents. The program generates an email to any parent/guardian with an email address on file. To login, you must use your user name and password to access the system. If you have not received this e-mail and are interested in using the new online system to access student information, please check our website by clicking here for some helpful pointers as well as some key people to reach out to for assistance.

Fall Extra-Curricular Seasons Come to a Close: Our student players and performers are nearing the end of the fall season and they are really doing well. So well in fact, that this week and next weekend are going to be very busy for all of them. Please check our website for the most updated schedules from the Athletics and Fine Arts pages. Right now I know that our West Genesee Wildcat football team plays Christian Brothers Academy in the second round of post season play, and our Marching Band performs at the Carrier Dome on Sunday in their quest to bring home another state title. There are many, many other exciting events as well so again please make sure to check our website.

Also, congratulations to high school seniors Shawn Davern and Nicholas Piato, who have been selected as members of the 2013 U.S. Army All-American Marching Band.  They will join an elite group of musicians who will perform during halftime of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

This is also the time of the year when I get to speak to seniors in their Participation in Government classes. It is a great opportunity to connect with them as they begin to make some life choices as graduation gets closer and closer.


Monday, October 15, 2012


Wildcat Marching Band: When I got the word from New York City that our Marching Band had taken second place overall in their competition, that included over 60 Marching Bands from five states, the first word that came to my mind was "representing". As always, the band has represented our community very well and at an exceptional level. With over 160 students in the band, it is loud, clear, organized, tight, and a pleasure to watch. You can see them at the NYS Field Band Championships at the Carrier Dome on Sunday, October 28, 2012.  Information about the event can be found on our website.

Landmark Theater: If you are from Syracuse you know how much history the Landmark Theater contains. It was great to be back in the Landmark to see Jersey Boys over the weekend. I have probably been to over a dozen shows and concerts in the Landmark since the 1980's, and I had just as much fun soaking in the nostalgia as I did watching the show. My wheels are turning to find some way to get our students performing on that stage in the future.

Parent Portal: As promised, we are beginning to roll out parent and student access to our student management system, Schooltool.  Parents will be receiving their welcome and access e-mail messages shortly. This is an exciting part of this powerful program that is a great benefit to both students and parents.

Redistricting Transition Meeting: After what I am sure will be a delicious spaghetti dinner sponsored by the Sports Boosters tonight night, the first redistricting transition team meeting will be held. There will be 26 of us gathering to plan activities for both students and parents who will be redistricted. Meeting minutes will be placed on our school website and can be viewed by clicking here.  I will also update all of you with the master plans via my blog as well.

Full-Day Kindergarten Transition: The transition process to full-day kindergarten has also begun. You might ask yourself how difficult that could be. It won't be if we get a jump on it now as we prepare for the next school year. Full-day kindergarten will not simply be double what we have been doing during our half-day program. It will mean different curriculum, more special area experiences, and more opportunities for socialization. All of these things will help our youngest students be that much more prepared for first grade.

Upcoming Fall Sports Playoffs: Keep an eye on our SNN emails and our website for fall sports playoff and sectional schedules. Details will be emerging as early as later today, and the students always appreciate the extra support that you give.

Thank you and have a wonderful week!


Monday, October 8, 2012

Five Week Check Up

Five Weeks Down: It is hard to believe that five weeks are almost in the books already! Five week reports will be home shortly to help give you a good first look at how the school year is starting off for your children. If I was grading the school year, I would be sending a pretty positive five week report. There have been an unusually high number of new initiatives to tackle and things are going as well as they can. We also had a very positive homecoming weekend, and our students just seem happy to be at school.

Anti-Bullying Effort: Next week will be the kick off for the curricular part of our anti-bullying efforts. Most of the buildings will be using Tuesday (a half-day for students) to introduce OLWEUS to students. This programming will become a large part of how we continue to address bullying. This program will also help us to work on the role of the bystander in bullying situations so that better choices can be made when situations involving bullying arise. Thanks to all of our parent and staff volunteers for being a part of this launch and program.

If the school year was an airplane flight this is the point in the flight where we are just about at altitude and ready to cruise along to our destination. You can remove your seat belts and feel free to move about the cabin. Have a great week.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Time to Reflect

Before I take you through the week and all of the great things that were accomplished, we must all pause to reflect on the loss of a recent graduate, Joshua Smith. Josh was a member of the Navy and was stationed in Ballston Spa. He was the passenger in a vehicle that crashed and took Josh's life and the life of the driver of the vehicle. Probably the most comprehensive story about his life and death can be found here: I am hopeful that Governor Cuomo will order flags at half staff due to this tragic loss. Another life taken too soon.

Open Houses a Success: In much happier news, all of our open houses are complete and I would like to thank you as parents for attending, as well as  our faculty and staff for their preparation. Our attendance was through the roof and parents had great opportunities to see teachers, administrators, and support staff in action. Thanks again.

Tournament of Bands: The end of open houses also signifies that it is time for the Tournament of Bands. Thousands were on hand, including ten Marching Bands from all over New York State. Thanks to our volunteer parents and community members for keeping things free flowing and organized, Mr. Davern and Mr. Stachnik for overseeing the whole event, and our buildings and grounds crew for helping our campus to collect a truck full of compliments.

Accomplished in the First 18 Days of School: It is hard to believe that we are already entering October. With September now in our rear view, I reminded our faculty and staff that over the past 18 school days they helped to accomplish more than we sometimes are able to accomplish in an entire school year. Highlights are:
  • the Annual Professional Performance Review plan was approved by New York State, 
  • the redistricting transition team has been assembled and meeting dates set (25 total members who will meet on October 15, 22, and 29), 
  • the full day Kindergarten transition team has been assembled, and 
  • the anti-bullying program and new student management system up and running as well.
Spirit Week at the High School: This week is spirit week in the high school as we ramp up to our homecoming on the weekend. It is always a fun time of the year as we see our students come together and show off school pride!

Have a great week and I will write again on the flip side.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Racing for Respect

Racing for Respect: Thank you to all who were able to make it on Sunday to our 14th Annual Race for Respect. The weather was awesome and it was great to see so many people come out just to be together and have a great time. It is a good thing that we were all winners today because I was feeling happy about my under 8 minute per mile run time, until I finished and learned that Laura Leff, our rock star runner, had run the whole course twice before I finished it once. Looking forward to the 15th anniversary next year! (Click here to view a video compilation of the event that is also linked to the homepage.)

Great Week: We had another great week around the District. Thursday was a highlight because we had a rare Thursday night football game against crosstown rival CBA, and our Marching Band provided the half-time show. The weather was great and we estimated about 2,000 people on hand to see our students perform. Good stuff!

Anti-Bullying: The last time I had an opportunity to speak to our high school students we spoke about what role they play in continuing to set a good tone for the other students; especially those in the younger grades. I am very proud of our students and how they represent us as a community. We also spoke about turning the corner on bullying and ending it in our schools once and for all. They agreed that people need to do less by-standing and take more responsibility for having a bully free environment.

I reminded them about a link that we have right on our District home page where they could report bullying or situations that could turn into bullying. I was very pleased that a student already used that resource to report a situation that was working its way into a bullying incident. We were able to use the information to make the situation head into a different direction. As community members we are very fortunate to have the respectful and positive students that attend our schools.

Teacher Evaluations: Our teachers are continuing to work on the goals that will help to define how they are evaluated. This is creating some stress, but I am confident that our teachers will create targets that increase student achievement, and that they will do so in a way that will make them models for other schools to emulate.

Coming up this Week...This week we will be establishing our redistricting transition team meetings, finishing up open houses (West Genesee High School on Thursday), and wrapping up what has been a very successful September.

Have a wonderful week-


Friday, September 14, 2012

What Do I Think?

I have been very appreciative of this late season nice weather! With the clear skies that we have had, I have gone running early in the morning when I can see the moon, stars, and the sun all at the same time. I know that this won't last, but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy it while we have it!

Thanks to all of you who have been able to attend our various Open Houses. It means a lot to your children and our faculty and staff as well. About half of our buildings have had their Open Houses so far, and we will finish up next week. It is always great to see everyone.

Race for Respect: On Sunday, September 23, the 14th Annual Race for Respect will be held at the high school. This event is deeply rooted in our desire to bring a culturally diverse community together for a common event and DOES NOT raise money for any cause. In fact, the race just about breaks even each year. It is meant as a way to bring our community together, have some fun, and be healthy. I am hoping that you can join us this year. Information about the Race for Respect can be found by clicking here.

Questions about Changes in Education: Education as we know it is in the process of undergoing major changes. Several parents and community members have asked me what I think about these changes. I am generally an "adapt and overcome" kind of person so my answers might not be too surprising to you, but I thought I would include a few of the questions with my answers below:

Question 1:  Are the "Common Core Learning Standards" a good thing for my child?

Great question.  The Common Core Learning Standards, or CCLS as you will see in different publications, represent a Federal initiative to even the playing field in terms of what is taught (right now in English, Math, Social Studies, and Science) to each student at each grade level across the country. This initiative is to be implemented by each state.

The Common Core Learning Standards, from my view as a parent and a superintendent, are a good thing. I have a senior who over the summer went on many college visits. At each school the academic diversity among incoming freshman was clearly evident, and that diversity only represented different students within the United States. The CCLS, over time will decrease the academic diversity, at least in the US, and would allow college professors to know exactly what skill sets their incoming students have, which could be very powerful.

I also think that the CCLS will bring about more creative content and curriculum from publishers. With so many states having so many different standards, the publishing companies have to create different material for different locations, eating into time, research, and dollars. Unified standards would mean that those same publishers can concentrate on material development, delivery, and innovations to include technology. I find this to be an exciting possibility for students.

My concern about the CCLS is that there is currently nothing on the radar screen for the arts, electives, or the social sciences. I can't really draw, sing, or play an instrument, and I completely understand that there are far fewer jobs in the arts than the sciences, but I absolutely believe in educating the WHOLE child. My hope would be that these areas are not forgotten over time at the federal, and then the state level.

Question 2:  Are we testing children too much?

Another great question. I think we need to define what a "test" is considered to be. For many, state assessments are the tests that seem to keep coming out of nowhere. The concern would be that this increase in state testing is severely taking a toll on teacher creativity (they have to teach to the test, essentially), and that whatever a child scores on the assessments paints the picture of that child. Good or bad, that is how the child is perceived through the eyes of the state, school, and peers, throughout their school experience.

My oldest son was halfway through his Kindergarten year when I became a superintendent. I have watched both him and his younger brother progress through each grade as a parent and as the educational leader of the District. I think from this experience I have learned that the state tests have changed greatly. They more accurately reflect "real life" situations and experiences than ever before.

I would also say that due to the physical number of state assessments, teachers have had to cut out certain units of study along the way. For instance, the "model rocket" unit (for those readers around my age). That extra time allows teachers to teach all of the testing material before the test, which is actually given well before the end of the school year. This does frustrate me both as a parent and as a superintendent, and if I was Commissioner of Education and all of these assessments were proven to be necessary, I would give them all at the end of the year which is similar to what happens in high schools today.

On the flip side, I am a fan of a concept called "Data Driven Instruction" which means teachers use data collected from any assessment we give a child to change how individual children are taught. To collect data, teachers would use a variety of instruments like online exercises, quick quizzes, projects that can be graded, etc... and evaluate the data to see if an entire unit needs to be taught, or if concepts within a unit need to be stressed. This decreases boredom in the classroom, and allows the teacher to provide additional assistance to those who need it, along with additional instruction to those who demonstrate they are ready to move ahead.

This is a blog and not a book, so I am going to hold off until the next blog to write answers to a couple of other frequently asked questions regarding educational changes. If you would like me to explain my answers more fully or you would like to have a conversation, please feel free to contact me. Thanks to the 6,000 or so of you that read my blog each week and have a great weekend!


Monday, September 10, 2012

A Great Opening Week!

Thank you for a great opening week! As with the beginning of any school year, we are working out some of the kinks that arise. However, we are heading into week two with many things to be thankful for, and I am looking forward to meeting all of our new Kindergarten students. (To view a quick video slide show of the first few days, click here.)

Weekend Activities:
Over the weekend I had an opportunity to watch a good old fashioned football game on our grass field in the rain and wind. While we came up just short against a very competitive Fayetteville-Manlius squad, I was very happy to see so many of our Modified athletes on hand to thank the community for raising enough money to run a full slate of modified athletic events this year. I think that the parents appreciated their efforts, especially in the downpour that drenched us all as the game began!

I was then able to watch the Marching Band conduct final preparations for their competition that took place on Saturday evening at East Syracuse Minoa. The Wildcats finished in first place with a score of 80.2 which is a great first effort. Congratulations.

I then had to quickly jump into a suit and head out to Skaneateles to be part of a fundraising event for an organization called Todd's Fund. Todd's Fund has given thousands of dollars to families in need within our own school District. I would mention all of those on the Board, but I know that they would much rather continue providing opportunities to needy families and children in Central New York than to be recognized. Please accept my thanks for helping our families and students.

Recess and the Press:
Also this weekend an article ran in our local newspaper about a neighboring school removing recess from elementary students schedules this year. Click here to read the article.  I received many positive comments about the importance that we place on healthy choices and physical activity, and I am very appreciative of those who took the time to comment. I did want to address quickly how my comments made their way into the article, in case any readers thought that we were taking an opportunity to weigh in against another school.

I had received a questionnaire from a reporter about recess in general. It asked do we have recess, if so how frequently, do I feel that recess is important, etc...  Some of my responses were used in the article. I want to make it clear, however, that while I am very much in support of recess for our children, the questions were not presented to me in a way that would have lead me to believe that the answers would be used as a contrast to a school that is choosing not to include recess for children.

It is important that I mention that because at the end of the day, ALL of us are trying to help children. Differences in how we are trying to accomplish that goal are respected within our professional circles. Had I known that the questions I was given would be used in the way they were, I would have probably chosen not to comment or I would have used this space to speak about our inclusion of recess.

I am looking forward to another great week getting to know new students, working out problems that occurred the first few days, and preparing for Open Houses.

Enjoy your week as well-


Tuesday, September 4, 2012


You might be surprised when I say that I find the first day with staff more stressful than the first day with students. This has always been the case for me, and I think it has to do with how important setting the tone for the year actually is; especially in an organization as large as ours. All staff e-mail messages may reach everyone, but nothing beats human interaction and actually speaking to them in person.

Opening Day:
This will be my fifth opening day at West Genesee and my thirteenth overall as a Superintendent of Schools. While I do support recycling plastic, paper, and glass; I do not support recycling speeches. Our staff deserves a fresh message each and every year that is exactly tailored to what we have gone through and what we are about to experience.

What will be the theme for this year?  Revitalization. The formula to our success is not complex, but the components are essential to both personal and professional relationships. We value trust, communication, collaboration, unification, composure, and consistency. Trust is trust and is developed over time, and you either mutually have it or you don't. All of the other traits can come and go if you let them and sometimes when a relationship has been established and moving forward for a period of time, it is necessary to go back to what made those butterflies appear in your stomach the day that you met that special someone, or in my case that special group of 900 employees, nine Board of Education members, and many thousands of community members.

Revitalization does not necessarily mean change. It means appreciating what is there and collectively finding different ways to make things even better for our students and for each other. That is the message and the goal for this school year. I am very excited to help make it all happen and I sincerely appreciate your continued support.

First Days of School:
Please remember that Wednesday and Thursday are half days for students grades 1-12. (Kindergartners will start on Friday.) I am appreciative of your patience as we work our staff through state mandated trainings during this time. We have awesome substitute teachers, but there is extreme value to consistency in the classroom and without these training times you could expect to see your child's teacher out of the classroom probably 10 to 15 times this year. Thankfully, we can address our needs through the half days and things can remain consistent in the classrooms.

Also, please remember that beginning on Wednesday there will be school buses and student drivers out on the road again for the morning and afternoon commutes. A few extra seconds of paying attention can go a long way. I will reinforce this with the students as well during the first couple of weeks when I meet with them in student assemblies.

Save Modified Sports Update:
On a very positive note, the Save Modified Sports Boosters were able to accomplish their goal of raising enough money to operate a full schedule of modified sports for the 2012-2013 school year. They have also planned some awesome events for this school year to prepare for the 2013-2014 school year including laser tag, dodge ball, three-on-three basketball, and several other activities to help keep our modified youngsters on a field or court for another year. I could not be more proud of their efforts and their organization in general. By the book, determined, organized, and for a good cause. Simply awesome. Check out our Facebook page and the Save Modified Sports website ( for the exact dates and times of their upcoming events.  You can also follow them on Twitter (

Speaking of Twitter, now is the time to sign up and follow me on Twitter at @cbrownwgcsd as I look forward to another year of keeping everyone very informed.

Enjoy the first week of school and I wish all of you the very best school year!