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!