Monday, November 28, 2016

The Blur

It was nice for my wife and I to spend a few days with our boys. We haven't had them in the same room since August so it was great to catch up with them, enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with them, and actually listen to how they have grown. My oldest even got his first new car, totally on his own, and we are very proud for him. This week will be spent eating a lot less and running a lot more to lose the pounds I gained more from the "fixings" and less from the turkey itself!

A New Secretary of Education: Just before we went on break, the Trump administration announced their pick for the new Secretary of Education. Her name is Betsy DeVos, and her history is deep into charter schools and voucher programs. Her background does not include work in public education. As I mentioned in my post-election blog, all signs point to voucher programs and competition for survival for public schools under a Trump presidency, and once she is appointed it will certainly be "game on". I will be keeping a close eye as this progresses to make sure that our students do not lose any opportunities.

A Time of Giving: This is the season of giving, and at school we have several large student groups as well as all of our employees working together to help local families in need. As we get closer to the holidays, you will see information coming out from our building principals as to what is available for struggling families and how you can help.

Looking for Volunteers: At my most recent District parent-teacher/student meeting, it was mentioned to me that each of our PTA/PTO/PTSA/PTSO's are a little light in the membership department right now. If you are not a member of the group for the building(s) that your child(ren) is/are in, I would ask that you please consider becoming one.

The leadership of these groups do NOT need you to attend each meeting if you cannot; they do need parent volunteers for the functions that they hold. If you are interested in joining, or want more information about the benefits about being a member of a PTA/PTO/PTSA/PTSO, please contact the West Genesee PTA/PTO District Council President, Gloria Francisco at Many thanks!

The Blur: Today begins what I call the blur. We have a ton of winter sports coming up, concerts, and you will be busy at home yourselves. Blink and we will be at Holiday Recess. As an old mentor once told me about this time of the year, "stop and smell the roses".  He wasn't the originator of that quote, but he helped me to realize the meaning of it!

Thanks and enjoy the week-


Monday, November 21, 2016

Getting Ready for Turkey Day!

Weather Dependent: I hope all of you enjoyed the warm weather at the beginning of the weekend. Now that it appears that more typical Syracuse weather has returned, please be sure to pay attention to my Twitter feed, our Facebook Page, website, Blackboard Communications email/text/push notification and local media for any delays or closings. Since we have had some weather that involved closing our schools for today, you should have seen this process in motion.

Back in the days before cellphones, I used to have to get in the car, drive the roads, and then make a decision.With school districts being large, it was possible to drive on good roads and open school, only to find out that roads on the other side of town were a mess. I would get to my office, the phones would start ringing, and my day would go right down the drain.

Thanks to cellphones and social media, the process now involves many more people and probably has made our decisions to delay or close a little easier; although as Mother Nature is Mother Nature, every now and then the wrong decision is made.

I begin by having a phone or text conference with road crews, my assistant superintendent, our own plow crew, and the local police. The road crews can give me a good idea of how the outer roads are, the police can keep me up-to-date on accidents, and my assistant and local plow crew can tell me how the snow or ice situation is on our properties.

From there I contact some of our local weather people, who have been great at getting right back to me. They let me know how quickly the weather is moving, where it might go, and what the temperatures will be over our potential school bus commute; in other words, I get my own weather report.

Then I have to rely on experience and my gut feelings, and I then make the "official call" to delay or close. I try to make this call as early as I can. Later calls come on days where the weather is truly temperature dependent. I never worry about our school buses. They are large, heavy, inspected, and driven by experienced people.

I worry about student drivers, their parents, and other traffic on the road. If I open school, it means that I would put my own children in a car on the roads or on one of our buses. Every now and then parents disagree when we open, and I always tell them that as parents, they have a right to keep their children home if they do not feel the roads are safe. Sounds like fun right?

Great Events: The West Genesee Middle School put on a spectacular production of Annie Jr. last Thursday and throughout the weekend. The actors and actresses were very strong. Between those performances and the earlier performance at Camillus Middle School, our high school productions are going to continue to be strong well into the future!

Our winter sports and holiday concert schedules are in full swing. If you get a chance, please get to a basketball game in our newly renovated gym at the high school. The bleachers are safer and easier to climb up into and sit in, the floor has been updated, and rumor has it that the very successful pep band from last year will be returning. Good stuff!

From my family to yours I would like to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving!


Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Weather Outside...Could be Frightful

It is that time of the year again! While the next few days look to be stunningly warm for this time of the year, cold and snow could hit us on Sunday into Monday. While I do not expect any weather related issues on Monday, November 21, we need to have a plan in place for a delayed opening because our K-5 buildings are already going to be running on a half-day schedule.

Should we need a delay on Monday, we would NOT bring our K-5 students into school. By the time they would get to school, it would be time to bring them home. Parent Teacher Conferences that are scheduled for the afternoon on Monday would still be held.

Students in grades 6-12 WOULD report to school, just on the delayed schedule that they as students and you as parents are used to.

Again, I don't expect to have a delay, but if we do, I want you to know what the plan is so you can make arrangements at home just in case.

Thank you-


Monday, November 14, 2016

When a New President is Elected...

I was on the west coast at a conference on election day. It was very interesting to read the map on television from right to left as the results poured in. My flight left early the next morning and I knew that I would have jet lag, but I also knew that my friends would all have election lag; so we were even!

What I thought was pretty remarkable was that there was really no conversation about the presidential piece of the election the entire time I was there. The conversation centered completely around a variety (A through P to be exact!) of local propositions. As I got to my connection in Chicago and then on to Syracuse, the conversation changed like switching a radio dial from local concerns, to Trump/Clinton. It quickly made me realize that even with social media and a twenty-four hour news cycle, there truly are differences in culture, opinions, and priorities right in these same United States.

As taxpayers, you pay me to keep your children safe, provide them with the highest quality education and extracurricular experiences possible, and to have, and carry out a vision for the District. Not only to meet, but to exceed those expectations, I also have to have a good handle on "what comes next" and create plans for those things before anyone else realizes that changes may be coming.

Sometimes experience means absolutely nothing; and sometimes experience means everything. When a new president is elected, I have learned over time that there is a four-part process that needs to take place in order to keep the ship steady, make people feel as at ease as possible, and to move the organization forward.
  • The first step is to give some direction to administrators ahead of the election. That direction centers around keeping calm, watching for different student behavior, watching for employee opinions seeping into work duties, and making sure that safety plans are all reviewed in case something really off the rails happens on election day.
  • The second step is to follow the election and once the outcome is determined, read absolutely everything possible about the education platform for the successful candidate, as well as any social policy tendencies that might impact students and staff.  This includes reading material from the left, right, and center and looking for consistencies in opinions.  This also includes reviewing what the successful candidate said along the campaign trail; even if it was an offhand comment, and factoring that in as well.
School is my second home and each of my employees and students are extended family members to me. It is absolutely vital to communicate with all of our employees to let them know what to possibly expect from a new president and how prepared we are, or not, to accommodate any changes that may be coming. They can then relay that information to students as appropriate.

The last step is equally critical and takes place at the District Office. We huddle together and take a look at our budget, revenues, expected expenditures, reserves, and where retirement and pension systems have their money invested. This gives us a very clear picture of how our budget may behave for the next year if we enter a recession or boom (both have happened after past elections) and we can begin to plan for both cases right now.

Sometimes people tell me that we "make it look easy". What you just read is what goes into "making it look easy"; and that is just for the educational impact of a presidential election!

What do I think the major changes will be in education? I think there will be four major changes. 
  • I think that the US Department of Education will be disbanded, or at least heavily trimmed, so that states will have local control over education.
  • I think that many states will abolish the Common Core Learning Standards (understanding that every other major federal educational change has taken a president into a second term to accomplish). I do NOT think that New York State will abolish the Common Core Learning Standards, but I do think there will be a complete overhaul regarding assessments and the number of them.
  • I believe that President-Elect Trump will divert federal monies (and ask states to kick in as well) into a "voucher" system that will allow students in underperforming or high poverty schools to choose a higher performing school to attend. The higher performing school would receive the voucher money to cover the education and transportation expenses of those children.
  • The last major change that I think we could see is a forced competition among schools in an attempt to make schools merge or close, thereby lowering tax impact on all. This would likely be accomplished through the voucher system depleting underperforming schools and competitive grants for levels of success, which would money starve schools that have students but are underperforming.
There are other suggested changes, but these four concepts are generally agreed upon as common opinions by all political groups and pundits.

If these changes were to happen, is West Genesee prepared? Yes. We can easily survive with more local control. Between myself and several of our employees, we hold seats on influential statewide decision-making committees. Even if we didn't, our proven ability to adapt to change make me confident that we will be just fine.

We are very high performing, and our buildings can accommodate many more students.The voucher system, if funded as I have read, would bring additional diversity, both cultural, and economic, that I would welcome as we prepare students to graduate into a global melting pot.

I am not a fan of competition among schools, and I never have been. I do think though that we all need to do more to consolidate services, and find a way to get opportunities to students in less fortunate settings.

The elephant in the room is how the new administration will treat ALL people moving forward.We have worked incredibly hard over the past nine years  to change the culture of our District and community to be accepting of everyone. Our LGBT club has never been larger, our Culture Fair is well attended, and a true testament of how well EVERYONE gets along in our community, and ALL of our staff feel comfortable in their own skin; and are supported from the top down.  

There are stakes in the sand that we sometimes plant, and this is one of them for me personally. I am not a republican or a democrat and issues of humanity should not be republican or democratic issues anyway, in my opinion. I will FIERCELY defend the rights of ALL of our students and staff, just as I have had to do at times during the Obama Presidency. I, and our schools, are safe zones for ALL. Bottom line.

Now for something fun and lighter. The "Mannequin Challenge" started in early October as internet videos that have become viral. They are done purely for fun and feature people who "freeze" doing normal things while they are recorded. Some of our own students produced a couple of videos that are getting a lot of views on Twitter. Enjoy this one and the week!


Monday, November 7, 2016

A Wildcat in Sheep's Clothing?

On the Lam: I have had several animal encounters during my career as a superintendent. Snakes and LARGE spiders in my office, a bobcat at a sports game, and my favorite, until last week, was a six point buck at my previous district who was scraping up against the front doors to the building, as if he was late to class.

Last week took the cake however, when I got a phone call that a small herd of sheep were grazing near the East Hill Elementary School playground. Yep. Sheep. Remembering that this isn't Ireland where that is probably pretty common, I spoke to the Camillus Police who indeed verified that a resident just outside of their jurisdiction had some sheep in their yard that "escaped" out into the larger community.

I have to give the Camillus Police, as well as several town employees, area law enforcement, and surrounding neighbors a lot of credit for their creativity. After they searched the Internet for a sheep "call", they took two long pieces of snow fence and slowly corralled them. A truck with an enclosed trailer scooped them up and they were taken to a wildlife refuge in the Watkins Glen area. I believe there may still be two more out there, but by now they have probably found sunglasses and are trying to fit in!

Annual String Festival: This picture probably best represents our string program; or all of our fine arts programs for that matter. We have tremendous student involvement in all of our performing groups and it is not unusual, as was the case on Thursday night during the annual string festival, for the conductor (in this case Mr. Mercer) to have to rise above the mass of students in order to do his job. If there was ever a picture to be used to advertise for the program, you are looking at it. Awesome!

Girls Volleyball Update: We are very excited and proud of our girls varsity volleyball team. Under the guidance of Mr. Martin, the team has performed very well this year and they have great student leadership. They have advanced to the sectional finals against Baldwinsville, on Wednesday, November 9 at Cicero North Syracuse High School starting at 8:00 p.m. If they were to win, it would represent the first time volleyball has been sectional champions since I have been here (2007).  Best of luck to them!

Musical Season: Play and musical season is underway and I had a chance to catch a fantastic performance of The Little Mermaid at Camillus Middle School on Friday night. The set changes, costumes, music, and of course the actors and actresses were superb. Congratulations to all!

Veterans Day Celebrations: Our students are very aware, thanks to the dedication of our teachers and administrators, of the importance of our Veterans. With Veterans day approaching, I want all of you to know that our entire school family thanks Veterans for their service to our country. 

We have several large Veterans Day celebrations, letter writing campaigns, donations to Veterans causes, and we also invite Veterans in to speak to our students. As long as I am "the boss" and I am sure well beyond that; any Veteran can consider West Genesee Central School District as a place where Veterans are respected, celebrated, and appreciated.

Thanks and enjoy the rest of the week-