Monday, February 27, 2012

Welcome Back

I hope that all of you had a restful break. For a vacation week we were actually pretty busy at work.  We put the finishing touches on the budget presentation and will now prepare to present it for the first time on March 7. The first draft of the 2012-2013 school calendar has been created (it looks like Spring Break will be April 1-5, 2013, for those who would like to do some vacation planning). Training schedules for the anti-bullying program, academic standards implementation, and our new student management system have been created. Finally, we finished updating our new website. A pretty busy week indeed!

Some of our student athletes spent the week participating in their sectional/state competitions as well.  We have girls basketball, wrestling, swimming/diving, track, and boys hockey involved in competitions, and you can check standings and game schedules right on our website on the athletics page. Best of luck to all!

I did something out of the box last week as well. I went to New York City for a day to be on a panel discussion regarding digital publishing and the future of textbooks. It was very interesting to sit with people from across the country and hear that print textbooks are going to be a thing of the past in pretty short order. I am all for this transition as I watch elementary students walk from the school to the bus with more weight on their backs than they actually weigh themselves! Stay tuned.

As part of our anti-bullying initiative we will be hosting best-selling author Jay Asher on March 20 at the high school.  Mr. Asher wrote the book 13 Reasons Why about bullying and teen suicide.  He is going to be meeting with students all day on March 20, and then he will be holding an informational meeting that evening that will be open to the community.  Much more about this event will be available in the coming weeks, and I am looking forward to his visit.

Have a great week!


Monday, February 20, 2012

While on Break

Don't think for a second that I won't be working during February break, but I am hopeful that many of you will not be. That is why I wanted to get this post out early in the winter break so you can read it and then enjoy the rest of the week!

We have a lot of athletic activity happening right now, and I am going to refer you to our website so that you can see the progress and awards that our student athletes are achieving. I will also provide a summary of our winter campaign after all of our athletes are done competing this winter season.

We met with the Department of Transportation last Friday so they could show us their plans to make entry and exit into our high school safer for all of us. They are going to make changes to Hinsdale Road and the entrance to our high school opposite Hinsdale Road. They plan to add better crosswalks and electronic pedestrian crossing systems. There are also plans to add some sidewalks along West Genesee Street. While still in the final planning process and still needing to go through the Town, etc..., I personally see this update as an absolutely necessary change to ensure the safety of our community members. I would hope that this work, if approved, will take place beginning this summer.

There are a few topics being discussed in education at both the National and State levels and I wanted to explain those topics below in case you read or hear about them. If you have any questions about any of these topics, please feel free to ask.

Drop-Out Age

President Obama is tossing around the idea of raising the drop out age to 18. Currently, in New York State the drop out age is the completed school year after a child turns 16, and some schools have kept that age in their local policies and some have increased the age. From my point of view, and taking into consideration the few drop-outs that we do have, I am much more concerned about why a student would choose to drop out rather than when they drop out. I have recommended to the Board of Education that we keep our drop out age at 16 as we have had and continue to focus on why students are choosing to drop out.

Digital Textbooks

There is a large push from educational publishers right now for schools to convert their print textbooks to a digital format and have the textbooks, curriculum, and assessments delivered in an electronic format on an electronic device. The big question of course is cost. The next questions is the impact that digital material as opposed to print materials will have on student learning.

We are currently exploring both pieces of this initiative before making any decisions to either stay put with print materials, or move to a digital environment. There are ways to make a project of this scope economically feasible and in some cases even less costly than purchasing new print textbooks, but we are really taking the time to study the impact on student learning. Yes, we are in a Facebook, texting world, but the digital transformation is pretty new in our profession and there is a big difference in my mind between posting on a Facebook page and learning an entire curricular unit. Once we have had an opportunity to study things a little more deeply, I will update you with what our future plans will include.

Reverse Instruction

This initiative is also called classroom flipping and involves a teacher either using an Internet or video resource that the student watches at home. The student then completes their assignments during classtime with the more individualized help of the classroom teacher. Initial reports on a national scale find this teaching method to be promising. Mr. Misiano, one of our high school math teachers, is conducting a pilot of this method with one of his math analysis classes. I am looking forward to the first progress review. A very popluar website you can try is  It features free lessons that run about five minutes and cover a variety of topics. I don't think this is quite the future of education, but it is definitely a powerful and promising teaching and learning solution.


If you remember in 2008 when I was hired, I promised the community that I would make sure that our business was as transparent as possibe.  This is why we use Facebook, Twitter, this blog, our website, and our newsletters the way we currently do. The proof that this has been working lies in the new state guidelines for open government, and we go above what even the most current regulations call for. We will certainly continue in this direction.

The Tax Cap

I think that there is a public misconception about the Governor's "tax cap" that he enacted not too long ago.  Essentially, the tax cap was advertised as a "two percent or less" tax levy for schools, libraries, and municipalities. The fine print, however, allows for adjustments to the tax cap both up and down for things like capital project payments, assessment growth, PILOT payments, and judgements for and against the District.  When all of those things are taken into consideration, the approved tax cap for our District is approximately 3.06%.  We will certainly present a budget that falls below this tax cap percentage, but I did not want you to be surprised when you begin to see stories about school budgets and you see tax cap percentages as high as nearly 7.5% and as low as -.7% , with plenty in-between. 

I have a presentation that I will place on the website after break that displays the state formula and how we arrived at our tax cap levy percent. Again, nothing to worry about, but I figured if I didn't provide a quick education you would be mighty confused when all of our schools have tax cap percentages that are different!  Also, just a quick note that if a school wants to exceed their tax cap percentage (which we will NOT), they need the budget vote to pass by more than 60%.

If you get a break, enjoy it; and if you don't, just remember that the grass is green and many of my friends are still playing golf right here in Syracuse, New York!


Monday, February 13, 2012

The Hills Are Alive

Well, they were alive with The Sound of Music over the weekend at the high school. The student performers did a wonderful job, and the crew and the "pit" were equally outstanding. What is always great about our performances is that the musicians in the pit are so talented that their playing allows us to focus on the stage and watch the amazing actors and actresses. Tremendous talent, and thanks for letting me escape from work for a few hours! (I saw the Saturday afternoon performance.)

Saturday morning, the majority of our Board of Education and I attended the Legislative Breakfast that was held at Baldwinsville High School. I have attended about a dozen of these events over the years, and this is the first time that I have ever seen students and parents from around the county address the elected officials who were present and really emphasize that they do not want to lose any additional opportunities in their schools. Board of Education members and superintendents echoed those feelings, and the elected officials received the messages loud and clear.

The difficulty for elected officials, superintendents, Boards of Education, and students is that everyone realizes that the resources are not available at the state level to "fix" what is happening. Everyone also realizes that the decisions necessary to adjust to the loss of resources are unpopular as well.  This "perfect storm" creates a mix of emotions, but it also gives ample opportunity for everyone to demonstrate leadership skills.

The 1930's and early 1970's are two great examples of times in our history when the chips were down, adjustments were made, and we recovered. In both situations, things looked differently in the end but somehow we still moved forward and continued to excel as a state and a nation. Those times weren't easy, but those leaders before us got the job done, and so will we. 

My personal feeling is that while we should spend brain power advocating to keep things the way that they are today, we should spend more brain power planning ahead and recognizing that we are cycling out of a time that has created a "new normal". Adapt and overcome. We will need to adjust and make the difficult choices that are necessary in education that will keep as many opportunities as possible while helping those who pay for those opportunities so that their quality of life is not negatively impacted by the cost of education.

At West Genesee we have made those choices and decisions over the past three years, and we are now creating a budget that represents the "new normal" for West Genesee. The past is going to have to be the past, and we have respected all that we have been able to offer. As we define the future, and that future will represent budgets that tax within the new "tax cap", our District will still provide as many opportunities as possible for our children. 

You will have to decide if you want to support this direction when you are asked to vote on the budget in May. The residents of our community have demonstrated their leadership capabilities in the past when asked to support our plans, and we will continue to be appreciative and respectful of that leadership as we move ahead.  I will post much more about the budget and what the tax cap actually means for West Genesee later this week.

Last week we held our third redistricting meeting, and again it was very productive.  The consultants presented the following set of slides click here to open or download the presentation which included a possible attendance boundary reconfiguration. The committee took the possible reconfiguration and created lists of pros and cons that the consultants will include for the next meeting that will be held on March 8 (location to be announced). Two decisions were made at the meeting: whatever reconfigurations are proposed none of them will ask elementary school students from one elementary school to split up and attend different middle schools;  that any re-configurations will include capacity for full-day Kindergarten. Again, a great meeting and I am looking forward to March 8 for the next meeting. 

Have a wonderful week. It looks like we could have some questionable weather (it is about time), so make sure to stay tuned to your local weather, our new and improved website and my Twitter account



Monday, February 6, 2012

Beginning to Plan for Next Year

This is the time of the year when we begin to plan for next year. We have started building the budget presentation and supporting documents. We have made sense of the tax cap and how that will affect us. We have also looked at ways to keep our teachers in their classrooms next year.When we took a step back and assessed all of the mandatory initiatives that we are responsible for in the next 24 months, it was pretty staggering. Aligning to the Common Core Standards, training for implementation of the Dignity for all Students Act, preparing for the new Annual Professional Performance Review process, and implementing a new student management system that can track all of the data that are required to be reported are just a few of the things that are taking our teachers out of their classrooms. 

If you put these things (and some other mandatory training items) together it is not uncommon to walk by a classroom and see a substitute teaching the class. We have incredible substitute teachers, but for the sake of consistency, we would like to have the regular classroom teacher available to students as often as possible. The only way to meet all of the mandates and keep teachers in their classrooms is to provide time for them to complete their training sessions and planning during some strategically placed half-days during the course of the school year.

Beginning with the next school year, we will have a total of four half days that will be incorporated into the calendar. We have not set these days in stone yet, but at first glance we will probably place two of the half days close to the beginning of the school year, one part-way through the year, and then one in the spring.  We will get these days established shortly and will let you know so you can make childcare arrangements well in advance, if necessary. Thank you for understanding.

Laura Leff is at it again. Our track and cross-country star ran a mile in 4:48:96 (current Section III record and second best time in the country) and earned herself a spot in a very competitive field at the New York City Armory Track and Field Center on February 11.  Best of luck!

Our Academic Decathlon team did an admirable job in competition which earned them a spot in the statewide competition. The team came up just short of last year coming in second place, and they are fired up to finish what they started at the next level of competition. West Genesee team members that competed were Kenneth Brill, Andrew Fordyce, Lindsay Grome, Kristina Konfederat, Megan Nolan, Alexander Pompo, Michael Richards, Jerry Roy, and Emma Ryan. Alternates on the team that participated were Lauren Brieant, Callie Campbell, John Lisi, Megan Petty, Tatyana Shakhov, and Dakota White. Their coach, Scott Duda, is a WGHS science teacher in the Learning Center, and he has been meeting with the team since the fall to prepare for the Decathlon. Thanks for making us proud and best of luck moving forward.

We held our second redistricting meeting on February 2 and it was excellent. The presentation that was given ( click here to view ) was excellent and I highly suggest that you at least sift through it.  The presentation outlines all of the necessary data that will be used to make redistricting recommendations, including enrollment data projected through 2018-2019. The next meeting will be held at Camillus Middle School on February 9 at which time the committee will begin the process of looking at attendance boundaries and what some changes might begin to look like. I have not offered any opinions about potential changes so I am very interested to see what the committee and consultants propose. After attending both meetings, it has become obvious that full day kindergarten is a high priority for committee members, as well as community members.

Have a wonderful week!