Monday, November 27, 2017

Everyone Takes Their Own Path

Surprisingly, my clothes still fit. I am finding that hard to believe after all of the food I ate over the past three days. The diet plan this week will be vegetables, twigs, and leaves. The next few weeks are all about cookies, fudge, and holiday parties. I could resist all of that stuff, but I will selflessly overeat and take one for the team so you don't have to!

I was reviewing some blog posts from the past few months and I wanted to bring you up to speed on things that I have written about.

Fewer Students: First, we have been spending a LOT of time studying the impact of eventually (the next three years) having fewer students at the high school. Our population decline has leveled off somewhat, but the smaller grade level sizes that we have already planned for at the K-8 are now making their way for the first time to the high school. Having fewer students is like playing a game of musical chairs. When the music stops, there could not be enough students for all of the offerings and sections that we have, and that forces change.

Adjusting Opportunities: Just like we did at the elementary and middle school levels, we are beginning to plan for a high school schedule that includes fewer students while preserving the most number of opportunities as possible.

When today's eighth graders get to the high school, we want them to have the same opportunities that today's seniors have. Making this happen is a multi-year effort. At the same time, I want to continue to be true to my word that every graduate is prepared for WHATEVER they want to do after graduation including college, career, trade, military, or the general workforce (playing X-Box in their parents' basement is not part of that list).

There are thousands of unfilled jobs in the trades and technology because there are not enough qualified candidates for those positions, so we have to be extra careful to include those pathways as well. We are working on all of that as we speak.

Emotional and Mental Health: At the same time, we are really digging into the emotional and mental health of our students, and it is paying off. We have fielded hundreds of student mental health cases this school year alone, and that has really helped in many areas. Since we have added mental health support over the past two years, it has had the "if you build it they will come" impact like in the movie Field of Dreams. We are now first in line to advocate for more outside counseling and mental health treatment facilities for children.

The other day, someone told me that kids just need to toughen up and suck it up. I think for many of the lower level issues that exist in the life of a child (not getting something they want, not being able to go the places they want to go when they want to go, etc.), we can work together to toughen them up; maybe. If, however, I was able to share with you why students have REAL emotional and mental health issues, their REAL stories and REAL life situations, you would have to question whether you would be tough enough to "suck it up".

Decrease in Drug Use: Student drug use District-wide has been much less than we have seen in the past (this has been a four-year downward trend). I think a lot of this can be attributed to the high morale that exists in our buildings, and the effort and programming behind that increased student morale. Students just do NOT want to risk being suspended or worse from school because they don't want to miss anything.

Also, more students have been coming forward with information that has really helped us to be proactive. We continue to work in these two areas, but I am really pleased right now and hope it continues. If you know of something that you think I should know in this area, either contact me confidentially or use our "Bully" tipline button to leave us a tip!

The Community: Our community interaction and involvement continues to be full tilt. MANY students are working with clubs to help the less fortunate, we still have an active substance abuse coalition, and our employees are also working to help others. This continues to be a point of pride for us.

Results of Feedback: Last, but certainly not least in this update, Thought Exchange is almost ready to release the results of our feedback initiative. We had a huge response, and I really appreciate it. I haven't seen the results yet either, and I am looking forward to reading them and creating an action plan after the holidays.

Speaking of the holidays, please try to enjoy them. Anyone reading this blog right now is carrying their own burdens and stress. That transfers to our kids really quickly. If you can find a way to compartmentalize those feelings so kids can have a special next few weeks, that would be awesome. You get bonus points if you can enjoy the holiday season yourself!

Thanks for reading and enjoy the week!


Monday, November 20, 2017

Being Thankful

I put studded snow tires on my car for the first time, and I have regretted that decision for the most part UNTIL it started snowing last night. On dry pavement my car sounds like a truck coming down the road and it takes about twice as long to stop; and I get white knuckles when going around a tight corner. In the heavy rain on the Thruway (Saturday night) or snow though? Bring it on!

Making Decisions: The West Genesee Middle School rendition of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (fantastic, by the way) set the stage (no pun intended) for a little sloppy weather. As we head into real winter weather with the possibility of a delay or closing, I wanted to give a quick reminder of where you should go and what you should do to get information from the school as quickly as possible.

First, please know that I do not make a closing or delay decision in a vacuum, nor do I take it lightly. We know that over 10,000 people are IMMEDIATELY impacted when we delay, close, or stay open for that matter when conditions are sketchy.

Thanks to technology, and a LOT of people who work well together to keep staff and students safe, by the time I make the final call about school, we have heard from town and county plows, our transportation department, our plow crew, the police, local meteorologists, neighboring superintendents, and people from different areas of the District. Believe me, the decision can still be "wrong", but I try to do the best job that I can to keep people safe.

Once the decision is made, the first place I announce it is on Twitter (@cbrownwgcsd). Why, you ask? I have been using Twitter to announce school delays and closings since 2007 and it has NEVER failed. I am sticking to what works.

After Twitter, and within one minute of the Twitter post, I have sent an email to all of our employees, and the information is then posted on our website, our Facebook and West Genesee Twitter pages, email and text blasts are sent, and a notification is pushed out on our mobile phone app.

After that, we reach out to local media outlets (within three minutes of the initial Twitter post), and from there, it takes anywhere from one to fifteen minutes for our message to get on television, the radio, or, depending on their mechanism for reporting information that they receive. Where you elect to receive your information really depends on your personal preferences and how quickly you would like to know!

Being Thankful: There are lots of things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season. My family, our employees, our students, and our community members top the list. Also right up there are our volunteers in our schools who work with our students, and those in the community in our emergency services who keep us safe. We should ALL be thankful to be a part of the Wildcat family.

Enjoy this short week and hopefully time with your families. Safe travels as well!


Monday, November 13, 2017

Mutual Respect is the Key to Success

Social media can be the best thing ever, and the worst. Last week, social media came in very handy for me as I tried to keep up with everything that was happening here while I was at a conference out of town.

Celebrating Veterans: I was very impressed with all of the Veterans Day celebration videos that several of our elementary buildings put out. Click here to view the Split Rock Veterans Day Celebration video.

Athletics Update: I also got to watch from a distance while cross country runners Carly Benson and Matt Bartolotta performed really well at states. Carly will now represent us at the NY Cross-Country Federation Championship meet next weekend.

Congratulations also to Maddie Zapisek for winning the Section III Swimming title in the 200 yd Freestyle. She goes on to compete at the state championships.

Only the Best Spellers: Earlier this week WGMS students Joseph Paoli came in first place and Cooper Corcoran in second place as they faced-off spelling such words as "tenacious" and hostilities"in the West Genesee Spelling Bee. For a list of the top 12 spellers click on this link.

Students Build Bridges: Congratulations to all of our students who participated on five teams at the annual CNY Bridges Build’Em & Bust'Em Competition held this past Saturday.

Conference is Enlightening: If you have been reading this blog for a long time, you know how passionate I am about trying to reach every student, and help every student to become well-rounded and ready for the world. The conference I went to confirmed my feelings that every student deserves equal treatment, but I also learned something about my profession.

The conference is invite only, and it is capped at 50 superintendents from across the country (there are approximately 13,500 school districts and 68,000 public schools in the U.S.).  In this small setting, I get to interact with colleagues from some of the largest school districts (this particular visit, the largest school represented had 73,000 students), and some of the smallest (a superintendent was present from an island school of 100. Students take a ferry to and from the school). Our District size was about average for the group.

Over the course of three days, we were put through our professional paces, being asked our thoughts about curriculum, instruction, finances, current student issues, current employee issues, opportunities, and the future. As the conversations continued, it became clear that I was the longest sitting active superintendent at the conference. It is rare that I play the experience card, because I think that can come across as stuffy, arrogant, and condescending. I couldn’t help myself though during a round-table discussion about raising expectations for student achievement and rigor.

As I sat at a table with very intelligent people discussing this topic, it dawned on me that the pressure cooker of having to increase test scores, being wed to data, and having to meet constant state and federal benchmarks was taking its toll on my colleagues. Each of them pointed to professional development, purchasing the right curriculum, giving teachers time to learn, and technology as the main keys to raising expectations for students.

I sat quietly until someone at the table asked what my thoughts were. I told them that after being through three state education reforms, and three presidents with their reform agendas, the bottom line to raising expectations was making connections with students. Once a connection is made, they will rise to the level that WE set as the adults, because good connections establish mutual respect. Mutual respect drives expectation; and if the adults expect more, students will rise to the occasion. Once that connection is made, then all of the operational pieces like curriculum, planning time, and professional development come into focus.

They looked at me in an almost startled way, and they had that “A-ha” moment that we sometimes hear about. I may have actually taught some new dogs some old tricks!

The weather was nice where I was, but I can say that I truly missed my hometown. Following the Syracuse basketball and football games on Twitter is NOTHING like being in the “Loudhouse” to see them in person.

A Busy Week: We are really busy this week as we head into winter sports competition, the West Genesee Middle School musical, and holiday concert season prep!

Thanks and enjoy the week-


Monday, November 6, 2017

Back to the Future

Not a bad weekend at all. If you just pretend that it isn't raining and cold, you can pretty much carry out anything that you would have had it not been raining; except raking leaves, mowing the lawn, hanging lights...okay, the rain did put a damper on some plans. I hit the auto show, ran a few times, and taught the final class of a Superintendent Development course. I know, I am "Mr. Excitement".

Board of Education Update: Last week, the Board of Education accepted the resignation of James Soper from the Board of Education. The Board had three options to fill the Board seat and option one was to do nothing and keep the seat vacant until the budget and Board of Education vote in May, interview people and appoint a Board member to fill the spot the budget and Board of Education vote, or select someone, ask them to serve, and appoint them until the budget and Board of Education vote.

The Board of Education chose to dig into the past and ask former Board member Kim Coyne to rejoin the Board. Mrs. Coyne is a very experienced, reliable, proven, and trained re-addition to the Board of Education.  She has children in the district and is a former teacher and current administrator in the Syracuse City School District. She will allow us to continue our mission without a hiccup and we are looking forward to her beginning her service on November 15, when she will be officially approved. Congratulations to us for finding such a great replacement, and thank you to Mrs. Coyne and her family for adjusting their lives to help us out!

Cross Country Runners to State Competition: We have other good news to share. As the fall sports season comes to a close, we are happy to mention that cross country runners Carly Benson and Matt Bartolotta performed well enough at Sectionals that they will be representing us in state competition. Way to go!

CMS Musical: Our Camillus Middle School performers also put on a heck of a show over the weekend as they performed their version of Damn Yankees. This photo gallery is courtesy of Charlie Miller. I am looking forward to seeing them perform at the high school before we know it!

Sports Hall of Fame Inductee: Also, congratulations to special education teacher and hockey coach Frank Colobufo for being inducted into the Town of Camillus/West Genesee Sports Hall of Fame. In my opinion, Frank has given as much to children with special needs as he has to his hockey players over the years. I know that we are proud of his efforts and service over the years, and I am sure his family is as well!

Transportation Staff Gives Back to the Community: I would like to focus on our transportation department for a moment. Last week, our bus drivers, led by bus driver Mike Renshaw, assisted an organization that works with the visually impaired called Guiding Eyes to help service dogs to get used to public transportation as well as how to be comfortable in tight spaces. These pups will help many people over their lifetimes, and I am very thankful for our volunteer drivers for helping with this key piece of training.

Our drivers like to give back in other ways as well, and they have decided as a group to help collect resources for the less fortunate as well as for children at Golisano Children's Hospital. Their schedule is still being finalized so check our Facebook page for updates, but I can say without hesitation that we have the most generous group of bus drivers this side of the Mississippi!

Honoring our Veterans: I am very proud of how well our students know what a Veteran is and what they did for them and our country. They do a terrific job of representing, respecting, and honoring our Veterans each year. Our Marching Band kicked-off recognition for our Veterans by marching in the Veterans Parade on Saturday. Throughout the week, our elementary schools will be having assemblies for our Veterans, and I can tell you personally from watching them prepare, that they are as sincere in their appreciation as can be. If you are a Veteran, thank you for your sacrifices.

Short but busy week ahead. I may be a little light on the Twitter posts later in the week because I have to attend some training, but I will do what I can. Thank you for your support and enjoy the week!