Monday, April 30, 2012

Dance the Night Away

My wife and I had the pleasure of chaperoning our 18th Junior Prom together on Saturday night at Driver's Village. When we chaperoned our first prom we were still dating and I was student teaching. Times sure have changed! We had a great time, and our students were well behaved, polite, and fun to be around. I would dare to say that I feel (but certainly don't look) younger every time I leave the Prom or Ball. Thanks to our chaperones, our staff organizers, the Camillus Police, our administrators, and the students for a "Starry Night in Paris". The Senior Ball is coming up on May 11, and I better make sure my tux still fits!

We had a lot of things going on last week including our first large budget presentation and the second to last redistricting meeting. Not much has changed regarding the budget for next year from what you have previously read. The tax levy is below the "tax cap" for West Genesee, there are no additions or deletions to the budget, and we are spending less than we are taking in. Our next presentations will be held this Tuesday in the high school large group instruction room at 7:00 p.m. and on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. in the high school library. I should provide Tee-shirts to those who attend all three meetings. I have appreciated all of the students who have attended the meetings. Yes, attending our meetings is a class requirement, but I had follow-up conversations with students that attended as many are going to be voting for the first time and they want to be sure to understand all of the details. Kudos.

Our redistricting meetings have been very well attended. We are at the point where the "rubber is hitting the road" so to speak. With that comes the emotions that we all feel when we might have to make a change. My biggest personal "change" emotion came last year when due to budget reductions we had to eliminate Latin and my oldest son lost his opportunity to complete a second language requirement (distance learning did not fit in his schedule). He had to change his schedule, course of study, and it quite possibly could have altered his future plans based on what he wants to do "when he grows up" (although I tell him to NEVER grow up). The reduction was ultimately my call, and the change was made because it impacted the fewest number of students and allowed us to keep other opportunities for a greater number of students long term. Separating the personal from the professional can be difficult at times, but it is vital.

I feel the same way about redistricting. Due to an environment of declining enrollment, we must move forward to provide equal opportunities to all of our elementary and middle school students. This means some students are going to have to move and families are going to be impacted. If you have been following the work of the committee and the consultants, you will see that they have worked through several different scenarios and are beginning to focus in on solutions that impact the fewest number of families relative to the entire District. Ultimately, the Board of Education will have the option to choose none of the possible scenarios or one of the scenarios presented. Things may get personal as this process winds down, but I think we all need to remember that acting on what will ultimately frame our long term District health will benefit the whole.

I would like to thank John Petosa and his group Last year they raised enough money to allow the District to provide a full array of modified sports during this school year, and we are in the same situation again for next year. They are planning a Run/Walk for June 3 at the high school as their main fund raiser. You can register online at the address mentioned above and I think it will be a great event. At the conclusion of the Run/Walk there will be a faculty softball game that is rumored to be umpired by Alec Baldwin if all works out. This group is not-for-profit, has OUR students in mind, and can use our support to donate to the Board of Education. These donations will allow us to offer the full schedule of modified sports to be played again next year.

Lastly, May 2 is our Staff Appreciation Day. The District used to pick a day for each group, but if we truly consider ourselves to be a family as we do it is appropriate to recognize ALL on the same day. This also includes our volunteers and Board of Education. As you have read and watched over the past two years, our staff have really worked hard to make sure that we make it through this economic hiccup intact and stronger than before. They have over-delivered.  Please take a moment to thank them if you get a chance.

Have a great week!


Monday, April 23, 2012

Testing, Testing, 1,2,...3?

Well, one week of NYS Grades 3-8 testing is in the books! So far we have had only one goofy question on the 8th grade English Language Arts test, and one wrong answer in a 3rd grade English Language Arts answer key. The NYS Grades 3-8 Math Assessment is this week, and we will see how that goes.

Testing is interesting in the sense that most would agree some type of testing is appropriate for students. However, the frequency, duration, style of questions, and mistakes in the answer key are always argumentative points for why testing is bad. In my opinion, our job as educators is to move students from an initial point of learning to another point with those points being determined by state standards. Benchmark tests are given periodically throughout the year, along with quizzes and local tests and tell us if a child is making progress, exceeding progress point, or needs extra assistance. The availability of digital testing even allows teachers to adjust instruction while the instruction is being given.

A pet peeve for me related to testing is when teachers and students complain that material contained on a state test was never taught. Not because the information was intentionally omitted, but because the people setting the standards and the people writing the tests do not communicate. This sends mixed messages for staff and students and further gives testing a bad name. From what I have gathered thus far in this testing cycle, the material being tested is the material that was taught. That is a good thing.

We use testing as a way to monitor student progress and provide support that might be necessary to continue to meet/exceed standards. You as parents will have unprecedented access to this testing when the state begins the use of online testing targeted to begin in 2014.

Please remember that we are presenting the budget this week in our Large Group Instruction room at the High School on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.  We also have a redistricting meeting this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Onondaga Road Elementary. All materials for both meetings can be found on our website

Have a wonderful week.


Friday, April 20, 2012


West Genesee experienced two fantastic success stories this week. For starters our Fine Arts Department received word that West Genesee has received the distinction of being one of the Best Music Communities in the Nation for 2012. This is the fourth year in a row (seventh time overall) that we have been given this honor. To receive it this year is significant as the Fine Arts program went through some difficult changes due to the budget. It is good to know that even through change we have remained on top at a national level.

If you are involved with our Fine Arts Department, you know that everything we do is of the highest caliber possible. This is only possible through the dedication of our staff, student performers, and their families who help keep everything glued together. The rock of the department and our Director of Fine Arts, Bill Davern, deserves a special thanks. He has worked tirelessly to keep our programs relevant, fresh, and competitive. I am very proud of their success and look forward to our end of the year concerts, including our flagship program, Kaleidoscope, held on Thursday, May 24 at the Civic Center.

West Genesee is also home to another great distinction, our varsity lacrosse coach, Mike Messere, who has achieved the most wins in NYS (believed to be the highest ever in the nation). On Thursday night he captured his 748th win. (Pictured at left are senior boys lacrosse captains Tim Barber and Matt Schattner as they present a Native American Great Lakes lacrosse stick to Coach Messere as Director of Athletics Mike Burns looks on. The stick is engraved with the date that he won his 748th game.)

In my opinion, Coach Messere's greatest successes are not found in the "win" column. They are found in his practices, team meetings, and in his office. Coach Messere turns young men into adults by teaching them how to be organized, how to be a functioning part of something larger than themselves, and he is one of the very few people I have met that can actually teach character.

Although it is never broadcast, he helps his players choose colleges, jobs, or positions in the military.  He will tell his players that no matter how good they are as lacrosse players, they will not be able to eat lacrosse balls for dinner. He then sits down with each player, their high school transcript, and stacks of college catalogues. The player and the coach discuss academic strengths and Coach Messere finds potential colleges for them that work best for their academics AND give them the opportunity to play lacrosse. This combination has been a driving factor to the thousands of Coach Messere's lacrosse student athletes that have found success in life. To me that is MUCH more important than wins.

In traditional Coach Messere fashion, when I spoke to him about the win he was much more focused on the overall program and bringing another State Championship to his student athletes and the District. A true class act. Congratulations. (To view an article with links to other news coverage about the event, click here.)

Wildcat pride is alive and well. Have a wonderful weekend.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Welcome Back!

I hope that all of you had a safe and restful break. It is hard to believe, but the end of the year is in sight. With the end of the school year comes some considerations we as parents and community members need to make. Our students, especially in grades 3-12, are experiencing more testing than ever. At the same time, they are being pulled in more directions than ever before whether it be sports, fine arts, extra-curricular activities, things at home, graduation, beginning to think about moving from elementary to middle school, from middle school to high school, or just plain getting outside because the weather is nice.

The best advice that I can give for this period of time is to make sure that your kids are getting enough rest and are eating well. This applies for elementary students right up through seniors. It is also really important to listen to what they are saying and feeling. As much as we want our children to be more responsible and to act "older", we also need to recognize that they are still kids. When dozens of things come at them all at once and all are "equally important", they can melt down just like we do sometimes!

Have a great week, and I will post budget, redistricting, and testing updates by the end of the week.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Almost Time for the Big Push

Last week was pretty cool. I got to help induct a healthy group of students (including my own son) into the National Honor Society; interacted with many generous business owners and professionals at a middle school career fair; and visited a group of Kindergarten students on their bus as they prepared to head home for the weekend. Being able to have diverse experiences each week is very enjoyable and makes this job interesting.

During the week, finishing touches were put on the budget. The intention is to move forward below the "tax cap" without any program additions or deletions, and with staffing reductions based on enrollment. Word also came through that some additional state aid may be received next year in the neighborhood of $500,000 (we will have a better idea next November). This has not changed our budget plans for next year. If there is one thing we have learned from this fiscal crisis, it is that the situation is not as bad as it seems when we understand that things are different. Creatively making the most out of "less", along with conservative long-term planning, is more important than ever. We have been, and must continue to be, a part of the change that is bringing New York State back to fiscal earth. As a community we have demonstrated, at a national level, that we can be leaders in this area and leaders need to continue to lead.

I have been asked if students will receive any additional days off because the snow days that we have budgeted have not all been used.  If there are no additional snow days, students will receive two additional days off this school year on Friday, May 25 and Tuesday, May 29.  If there are snow days between now and then, an update will be sent to announce any changes to this plan.

This is historically a quick week as we prepare for testing, spring break, and the big push to the end of the year.  Blink and you will miss it.

Enjoy the week.