Monday, March 28, 2016

Sustained Success

I hope that all of you had an enjoyable weekend. We spent it with our family, including both of our boys who were able to make it home. The nice weather generated driveway basketball games, whiffle ball in the backyard (yes, even though both are in college they still like me at the "all time pitcher" spot), and bag toss. I used some different muscles that are barking back a bit today but it was well worth it!

One of the Best Communities for Music Education, Again: Last week we received word that for the eighth year in a row (eleventh time overall) we were named one of the 2016 Best Communities for Music Education in the nation. Our fine arts staff and students make it look easy but in reality receiving this award requires an exceptionally well-rounded effort and top notch performances. From our Director of Fine Arts Bill Davern, through each of our teachers, and to our student performers, excellence is heard in every note. Congratulations!

Students Inducted into the National Honor Society: We also had a wonderful National Honor Society ceremony where 158 students were inducted. Most are students I have known since the second or third grade, so it was a pleasure to shake their hands and know that they continue to be on a good path. Click here to see the list of students inducted. Congratulations to all of the family members as well!

Hoops for 'Hedge: I got into a little hot water in my "boss" role last week as well. I graciously accepted the title of coach for the teacher versus teacher basketball fundraiser for the Stonehenge PTA that was held at West Genesee Middle School.

It started innocently enough. Parents and students slowly began to file in about a half-hour before tip-off time to take their seats. I became preoccupied working with my team and the next thing I knew all of the stands were filled and people were three deep around three sides of the gym floor; AND about two hundred more people were waiting in the hallway to get in.

Safety is always a number one concern. So while we had a tremendous time and the PTA raised a lot of money very quickly to help fund their programs, in the future the event will need to move to the high school gym so I get out out of the dog house with the fire marshal! A good problem to have.

Supporting the Sports Boosters: It was also great to catch up with so many of you at the Sports Boosters' Annual Spaghetti Dinner. When I arrived at 5:30 p.m. there were four seats left in the entire cafeteria. Yes, I ate two desserts and they were good, leave me alone!

Mini-Forum on Substance Abuse: I hope that you are able to join us this Tuesday night from 7:00 p.m. until approximately 8:30 p.m (total time including questions and answers) in the West Genesee High School Auditorium for the first mini-forum related to substance abuse.

There will be six mini-sessions held as a result of the survey we received from our large forum (school, prevention, treatment, peer support, family support, and personal support) and we are looking forward to presenting what is happening in our schools related to substance abuse.

If you cannot attend, we will be recording a video of the presentation and will also try to live broadcast it through the Periscope App. The video will be on our website after the event.

Thanks and enjoy the week!


Monday, March 21, 2016

Living in Excess of Excess

Well, my NCAA bracket is BUSTED. It is probably as ruined as any bracket I have ever made, and I am destined for finishing in the basement in the "Brown Family Bracket Challenge". That is okay though, because I have a day job to fall back on.

Capital Project Update: If you have been in and around our school buildings you are really beginning to see progress on our Capital Project.

  • At Onondaga Road and East Hill Elementary Schools they are almost ready to pour concrete for the new additions. 
  • The East Hill playground area is being graded and prepared for the installation of the new equipment. 
  • We removed some trees at West Genesee Middle School in order to make way for the new parent pick-up and drop-off area.
  • At the high school we told some student drivers that we needed to move some spaces to make way for construction trailers and equipment. As you might imagine, a few did not react well to the news, but I reminded them that they actually had a car to drive while many do not and if the worst thing to ever happen to them was that their parking space had to be moved they were having a pretty good life so far! Watching kids grow up keeps me young and on my toes, and I sincerely enjoy my time with them. 
Cell Phone Use: I am sure that you enjoy time with your "student" as well. One thing I am going to bring to your attention regarding your children, especially those who have cell phones, is that they may be using them when you think they are asleep. Our administrators work on cases from time to time where someone said something about someone else via text or social media in general.

When it is investigated, they are finding that these posts and text messages are taking place very late at night. On a school night it is not uncommon to find time stamps of between midnight and three in the morning. When they follow up with parents, they often hear from mom or dad that they had no idea that they were up that late using their phone in that manner.

I have two suggestions for you. The first would be to check your cell phone bill and the line that your child uses. If you look at the bill detail you can see when text messages are sent and when the data plan is used. If you find that they are using their phone when you think they should be asleep, you can take any action that you feel might be appropriate.

Second, you can have your child turn their phone off and give it to you before they go to bed and have the phone charge in your room overnight. The delicate thing about middle and high school students is that their room and now their electronics are how they have "freedom", followed by a car if they are fortunate enough to have one. I always tell people that being a parent is the hardest job ever so I wish you luck but know that you are not alone!

Water Quality in Schools: About six months ago you might have read about water quality issues in Flint, Michigan. Government officials allegedly knew that water quality was suspect but covered it up until the situation was finally exposed. Closer to home, a community near Ithaca was having water issues which prompted the school to test their water and they found that the water contained more lead than recommended. Similar findings have occurred in a community in New Jersey, and one more in a Rochester suburb.

United States Senator Chuck Schumer recently declared the public water supply a top priority and is making grant monies available (water testing is very expensive) for schools to test their water for lead (water testing has not been required and remains not required). While we do not foresee issues with our water, we have decided to participate in the grant and test our faucets and drinking fountains.

The testing will begin the week of April 5 and will be conducted by the OCM BOCES Health and Safety Department. If we find any high levels of lead from any faucet or drinking fountain we will let you know. The remedy is to replace the pipe or connector that may be causing the sample to test positive. The Onondaga County Water Authority tests the water constantly and our area of Syracuse is not known for lead pipes, but we are taking the better safe than sorry approach.

Lastly, and due to the relatively mild winter we had, there will be no school on Friday, May 27. There will also be no school for employees on Friday, June 24, but students will already be on summer break.  If we have to have an emergency closing between now and May 27, May 27 will become a regular school day once again.

Events this week include the National Honor Society Induction Ceremony tonight and the Sports Boosters Dinner tomorrow night. Enjoy the week!


Monday, March 14, 2016

Thruway Pride

Proud to be a Wildcat: Could you imagine if you lived in a community with a District that in ONE WEEK had a school concert with a nationally recognized conductor, one sport team playing for a state championship in Buffalo, another group of athletes competing for a state title in New York City, a young wrestler competing for a state title right in Syracuse, and an academic club (already New York State Champions) fundraising to compete for the national championship in the same place they hold the Iditarod? That would be crazy right? It happened.

I thought about all of this while I was running and wearing my St. Patrick's Day West Genesee shirt. We are pretty fortunate to say the least. Wear your Wildcat clothing with pride as I do. NO other school in the state had the week we just did. Never take what you are a part of for granted. For any of you who have students in the District or have had one while I have been here, thank you for choosing Camillus and for letting us work with your kids (some are now adults and have children of their own starting Kindergarten next year)!

Our Community is Changing: In past blogs I have shared statistics about how our community demographics are changing. More students living in poverty, more abuse in the community, etc. I think we read those reports and have difficulty applying it to real life because we continue to be successful regardless of our changes. Kids are kids. I did run into a situation last week where I can demonstrate to you the challenges that some of our students face every day.

Early in the week and as you heard, read, and saw, a person found himself in the parking lot of Onondaga Road Elementary with a BB gun. He was arrested. Just a bad choice by a graduate I have known since middle school.

All of our grounds are open to the public after school hours. Most people use the basketball courts, baseball fields, etc. very respectfully. On that particular day there were six older students hanging around the grounds. I decided to speak to them face-to-face in school, and then follow up with their parents.

The conversations with the students were simple enough. Be a role model even when people aren't watching. They all were very respectful to me and have always been respectful to me. Guess how many of the six students had parents I could actually call. It was three, half of those involved. Those conversations went really well. The others have parents who have left them, passed away, or are incarcerated. They spend the day at school and then their afternoons and evenings bouncing around.

This is real life. We need to circle the wagons around these students and find ways to help them feel wanted ALL the time; not just while they are in school. I will lead the charge on that. I hope you will follow.

Hoops for 'Hedge: I was really honored to be asked to be one of the coaches for the Stonehedge PTA Basketball "Teachers versus Teachers" fundraiser coming up in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to brushing the dust off of my old playbook and having a great evening. We would love to have you join us.

Have a great week!


Monday, March 7, 2016

Putting the "U" in Community

A Busy Weekend: I really appreciate all of you who spent a portion of your week or weekend at a West Genesee event. We had swimming, diving, running, cheerleading, and hockey competitions, along with concerts and an amazing Culture Fair; just to name a few.

On top of that there were several non-West Genesee happenings, like grocery shopping and the Tipperary Hill Shamrock Run where I ran into (no pun intended) community members as well! Good stuff!

Budget Season: Last week I also had the first opportunity to present the 2016-2017 budget. We plan to:
  • maintain existing programs, 
  • add some mental health counseling support, and 
  • adjust our staffing to match enrollment. 
The resulting tax levy will be no greater than 1.77%.

Different for this year will be the way we vote. We were not able to get the waiver that allowed us to use the old style voting machines renewed, so we will be using the scanner-based ballot system that is used in all other elections. We did order enough scanners so that we do not anticipate lines or waiting on voting day.

We do have to use employees approved by the Onondaga County Board of Elections to work the polls and that will mean that we will not be able to use the many volunteers who have helped us in the past. We are inviting many of those volunteers to join us the day of the budget vote (Tuesday, May 17)  at 9:00 a.m. for a brief thank you and celebration (including long time volunteer Hugh Stoddard who turns 100 this year!) as the next chapter of school budget voting begins for our District.

Capital Project Update: We opened bids for the high school portion of the Capital Project last week. I am excited about this because it means that we will finish the entire project a little over a year earlier than we had originally projected.

On to Alaska! Our Academic Decathlon team is going to be hitting the streets hard to raise money for their upcoming national championship bid in Anchorage, Alaska. Please be on the lookout. We will be able to help them locate some resources, but my best estimate is that they still need to raise about $15,000 in the next few weeks. I am confident they will get there. Ready, set, go!

There is some warmer weather coming our way this week. I'll take it. See you soon!