Monday, January 30, 2012

When Nothing Else Matters

Friday was the end to a very long week. I love my job, so for me to actually be happy that it was Friday was significant. The entire week had been spent on the kinds of issues that make you realize that no matter how long one has been a superintendent, the phrase "I've seen it all" can never be uttered. 

Four days of personnel, operational, academic, athletic, state mandate, community, and budget cases were all battled and solved. In this position you can never let things rattle you. We are the rock, the guide, the "boss" or whatever adjective you want to use, and we are not supposed to show emotion. I woke up on Friday, put on a suit, and was ready to cap the week off with some building visits and meetings; until the phone rang and nothing else mattered.

The call was to inform me that Sophie Kawejsza, a third grader at Stonehedge Elementary School, had passed away after a long and hard fought battle with cancer. After all of the notifications and plans were completed, a short quiet time presented itself where I was embarrassed that anything else from the rest of the "difficult week" had gotten to me. Really? When this bright, young, courageous person was taken from our West Genesee family, and her family, by such an unforgiving disease we can only reflect and celebrate what she did for all of us while she was here, which was immeasurable.   EVERYTHING else was and is now secondary, and we will spend the days, weeks, and months ahead reflecting and enjoying the memories of a flower that was picked way too soon.

Calling hours for relatives and friends of Sophie are Tuesday from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. at Immanuel United Methodist Church, 303 Kasson Rd., Camillus; services will be held on Wednesday at 11:00 a.m., also at the church. Arrangements are by the Buranich Funeral Home, Camillus. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Sophie's name may be made to Golisano Children's Hospital, c/o University Hospital, 750 E. Adams Street, Syracuse, NY 13210.  If you do attend, her favorite colors were pink, purple, and blue, and a great way to celebrate her life will be to wear one of those colors in her honor.

I will post another blog later in the week and will update you on our redistricting meetings, some information about four half-days scheduled for next year, and the accomplishments of our athletes and Academic Decathlon team.

Thank you.


Monday, January 23, 2012

We're Going Through Changes

I have often heard people say that they change things just for the sake of change.  Are you kidding me?  Every time we change in the school environment I lose more hair, get mysterious back pains, and lose five pounds. There are a few areas in which we NEED to change as we look forward to next school year, and I have no problem changing, when change is NEEDED.

The first area of change is in our budget. It has been getting smaller over the past couple of years, and along with a shrinking budget has come the reduction of opportunities for students. As we build the 2012-2013 school budget, we will be answering the essential question, "How do we build a budget that falls within the tax cap, does not take away additional opportunities from students, and does not bleed our reserves?"  We will do this carefully and with an eye to what the future of West Genesee will need to look like in this "new normal" of public finance. I am cautiously optimistic that the significant budget reductions we have made over the past two years, our staff wage freeze, and our state aid picture will create a unique blend that will help us to move ahead in a positive direction. Stay tuned.

If you have been a fan of our "SNN" service you will also be a fan of our new website, which will be released to the public on February 11. We have refined how the site is organized so it is Smart Phone friendly and also will operate more easily for people with disabilities. A video component will also be added a few months down the road to receive small videos of concerts, games, presentations...anything really. Thank you to Bonnie Russell who has helped spearhead this movement. You won't be disappointed.

Another necessary change has been to move our Graduation Commencement to Onondaga Community College beginning in 2013. We have had a great history and experience with the Onondaga County War Memorial, but the new arena at Onondaga Community College will allow us to provide free parking for parents, students, and staff, is less expensive as an overall package, and seating can be better organized to meet our needs. I am excited at this new partnership and very appreciative of what the War Memorial provided for us over the years.

I have heard some rumors that we are having an anti-bullying meeting on January 24. This is just a rumor.  We do not have a meeting on the books yet, and our staff and parents are very busy preparing for the Olweus anti-bullying training. Our new anti-bullying policy also needs three readings before becoming a public document. I would anticipate our next meeting being held in March or April.

Please remember that our next redistricting meeting will be held on February 2 at West Genesee Middle School beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Have a great week. I am quite under the weather...again, so I am hopeful that I can turn the corner during the first part of the week and get back in business.



Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Down to Business

For some school districts a Strategic Plan is a document that sits in a desk drawer and comes out when someone asks if they have a Strategic Plan. At West Genesee, the Strategic Plan and the process surrounding creation of the plan, are two of the most important things that the District does each year. Our plan takes shape for the 2012-13 school year this Thursday and Friday. The Strategic Planning committee consists of administrators, staff, students, and Board of Education members.

Focus areas are prescribed as well as the beginning of action plans on how to achieve the goals established in each Focus Area. Items and cross-cutting themes that make their way to the Strategic Plan are also funded through the budget process so that they have a chance of being successfully completed. Some areas that point directly back to the Strategic Plan are our graduation rates, completion rates, strides in technology, assistance for students with special needs and students at-risk for other reasons, and our anti-bullying efforts.

A complete list of what we have been working on can be found on our website by clicking here. Our new plan will be posted by the end of February.  A big thank you goes out to Debbie Geiss, Brian Kesel, Sharon Seeley, Bonnie Russell, Bill Roberge, Deb Chynoweth and all others who make the strategic planning process work as smoothly as it does.

In other news, at the rate that we are selling tickets our winter musical, The Sound of Music, is looking to be sold out for each performance. The musical will be held on February 9-11, and 500 tickets were sold the first day they went on sale. Please remember that we have reserved seating and you can get your tickets by clicking here or go to the web site where you can select any open seat in the house.  After you select the show day and time you want, check the "View Seating Chart" link in the upper right hand part of the next page to see the actual auditorium layout. Choose the section where you would like to sit on the actual chart on the "BUY" page. Each seat that is open will come up as an orange dot. You can then print your tickets at home for free or have them mailed to you for a fee from etix. 

I would also like to thank all of the people currently following me on Twitter for their quick response in helping to spread the word about our snow day last Friday. People who have been around for a while know that I like to call snow days as early as possible, and Friday's weather crept up on us MUCH more quickly than anticipated and just as high school students were making their way to bus stops to be picked up for the morning run.

When I first made the announcement on Twitter ( I asked everyone to spread the word and everyone did by the hundreds. In fact, News Channel 9 responded to my Tweet before we were able to get a call into them. This is the exact use of social media that I was hoping for as it really showed that people come together when they need to. Thank you. My apologies also to those who made it out to their bus stop or out onto the roads already. Again, it was a very unusual day.

Tonight (Tuesday) is the Dialogue with the Superintendent. I am not talking about myself in the third person, this is the title of the event!  It is sponsored and supported by all of the Parent Teacher/Student Organizations and Associations in the District. It will be held at the high school in the large group instruction room from 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. Attendees get a chance to hear what is happening in the District and then anonymously have questions submitted to me to answer. This is always a great time to interact, and I always look forward to this opportunity to meet with the community.

Lastly, the minutes from the redistricting meeting are located on our website by clicking here. The next meeting will be held at West Genesee Middle School (please note the location change) on February 2 at 6:30 p.m..

Have a great week-


Monday, January 9, 2012

Happy Monday!

Happy Monday to all! This has been a great first stretch back from break and as I visited all of the classrooms it really seems like the students are ready to buckle down and get to work.

I have been asked by quite a few people what I thought about the Governor’s State of the State Address that was given last week. I can tell you that I expected him to blast education (I had been told ahead of time) in terms of dollars spent versus results; and he delivered. I was pleased, however, that he is going to spend some time appointing a commission to take a look at efficiencies and mandates. I am in favor of ANYONE who can take a look at schools in general and recommend more ways to be efficient without sacrificing any additional student opportunities. I consider myself to have an eye towards efficiency, so I am interested to see what a group of outside people come up with.

Most importantly, the Governor did NOT indicate that he was going to cut state aid to schools any deeper. He did indicate that increases may be tied to performance, and I will have to see how that is structured before I could comment on that. If aid remains at least flat, West Genesee could actually see the beginning of the “new normal” that we have been planning for over the past three years.

We have made substantial reductions in every area over the past two years, while at the same time we have kept a watchful eye three to five years ahead. If everything lines up, we might be able to create some budgets where reductions are more enrollment-based than economy-based, and then we can begin to restructure around what we have lost, as opposed to planning to lose more things. Imagine if that happened. The next month or so will really paint that picture for us.

Last Thursday night we held our first redistricting meeting and it was very well attended. About 100 people joined Bill Silky and Alan Pole as they guided the committee through guidelines as to how the study will be conducted, walked them through current enrollment information, as well as a quick look at current District boundaries. The next meeting will be on February 2 at West Genesee Middle School at 6:30 p.m.

The purpose of the study is to balance enrollment at each elementary school and both middle schools, and to see if there is a way to balance socio-economics at every school as well. A by-product of the study will also be to see if we can accommodate full day Kindergarten.

People were a little hung up on the socio-economic consideration and without the committee having all of the data yet, I completely understand. Balancing enrollment is important but equally important is trying to balance all students and all needs in each building. This will help us to have equal services and opportunities in each building, provide comparable training to staff (many who travel between buildings), and assure that every student entering 9th grade has had the same experiences and the same educational opportunities. I personally see this as a key piece if we want to really get serious about having our graduates be more college and career ready than they already are. A copy of the presentation can accessed by clicking here; and a link to some of the press coverage related to the meeting can be found here

Have a wonderful week!


Monday, January 2, 2012

Welcome Back!

Well it is about time for winter to show up in central New York and we are prepared. Our buildings and grounds crews have plow blades installed, salt is on stand-by, and plenty of elbow grease is ready for plain old snow blowing and shoveling.

Our bus drivers are excellent at what they do, no matter the conditions. The winter weather does give them a chance to shine and show why I have never hesitated to put my own kids in their care when we decide that conditions are favorable enough to have school. For those Kindergarten parents out there who are sending their first child on a bus for the first winter season, have no fear.

Our buses are all inspected at a much higher level than any personal vehicle, they are extremely heavy, and they are driven by trained professionals. We have approximately 88 buses that drive about a million miles per year. If we decide that school should be open, you should not hesitate to place your children on a school bus. My children have been riding since THEY were in Kindergarten and my oldest graduates next year.

The people who really need to use extra caution are us as parents, staff, community members, and student drivers. While we have been trained in many cases (some of us even took Driver's Education!), we just do not have the same weight as a school bus underneath us nor in many cases do we have perfect tires and brakes as our buses do. WE need to take a few extra minutes on poor weather days to get us to our destinations.

This is also a great time to remind our kids (mine too!) that waiting at the bus stop in shorts and a T-shirt is not as cool as it might look.  As conditions can change at a moments notice this time of the year, buses can be a little earlier or later than when conditions are perfect. Long pants, a coat, gloves, boots, and even a hat (yes, I said it!) may not be the same fashion statement as wrinkled up shorts and a Syracuse T-shirt are, but you will make it to school with the ability to feel your fingers and toes.

I hope that all of you had a great holiday. There was a lot to celebrate for the first half of the year and this second half is beginning to shape up really well. 

I am excited to see how our first redistricting meeting goes this Thursday at 6:00 p.m. at the Stonehedge Library. Also, if you haven't had a chance to see our Lady Wildcat Basketball team yet, now is a great time to do so; they are ranked first in our conference!

Have a great week-