Monday, April 23, 2018

Happy Spring Break!

It was nice to finally get some sun and warm weather here in Syracuse. I was too busy to get away this week so I am thankful for weather that will at least let me run in shorts and a tee shirt, and maybe even hit some golf balls!

Speaking of running, and in the "I am old" category, I was running the Mountain Goat training run on Saturday morning and grooving right along. I was feeling good about everything until a younger dude ran by me WHILE TALKING ON HIS CELL PHONE. I am at an age where I really am racing against myself, but come on!

Safety Training: On Friday we had a very successful student training and staff training day in the area of security. In the morning, students worked with their teachers, administrators, and Camillus Police on specific emergency scenarios. When I checked in with students after their training, they reported that they felt more assured in what they would do if we were to have an emergency situation.

In the afternoon, Armoured One came in and did a more advanced training for 800 of our employees. It was intense; but very worthwhile. Many of our employees felt empowered after the training, and we will take those feelings and build on them in future training. The training exceeded my expectations and my personal thanks goes out to the Armoured One staff who have now become our partners in security.


Sports Schedule Expands to Sundays: You may be seeing sports played on Sundays for the rest of the sports season. I am absolutely not a fan of having any activities on Sunday, but the poor spring weather forced the Section into allowing teams to play seven days in a row if needed. Our athletic director has informed all coaches that we will only use Sundays if absolutely necessary, but I felt you should know if you see a game or practice going on through the month of May on Sunday afternoons.


#GoBlue4Kids for Child Abuse Prevention: You may also see blue and silver pinwheels around each campus. This is because our Parent Teacher groups are working with the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center on their "Go Blue for Kids" campaign during the month of April for National Child Abuse Prevention Month and raising money through the sale of pinwheels is a part of that. 

Enjoy this beautiful week. I will be in the office but hope to get away here and there. If you are away, enjoy and safe travels.

Thanks!

Chris

Monday, April 16, 2018

To Be Young Again

Junior Prom: I must have checked the weather every ten minutes on Saturday as we closed in on the time of the Junior Prom. I cannot remember a time when we had a winter weather advisory on prom night. I mean, who does that? I had been talking with students all week about the prom, what kind of limo they were riding in, whose special car they were going to get to drive, where they were going to eat, what color tux and tie, and where dresses came from. 

Actually, during those conversations, I got a stomach ache when one of the girls told me that a prom "package" (shoes, limo, dress, makeup, tan, and hair) can cost over $1,000. I had boys, and one of them worked at Men's Wearhouse during high school so our yearly cash outlay was a LOT less for proms and balls; comparatively speaking. I think if I spent that on my outfits and hair and stuff, I would wear it for about two weeks following prom!


Anyway, at about 5:30 p.m. I realized that the temperatures were going to stay high enough until the overnight hours and the heavy rain was going to stay north of the prom site. We were golden! Actually, we were blue and gold. What a great night. Prom always makes me feel young again. The DJ was excellent and put the students through the paces. As students left at 11:00 p.m., they told me they were exhausted from dancing so much. It was REALLY a good time. Thank you to all of the student and staff volunteers, as well as our administrative team. I always sleep with one eye open on prom and ball night, and I did not get one call or text. Success!  Next up, Senior Ball in a few weeks.

Assessment Update: Earlier in the week, our students took the Grades 3-8 English Language Arts assessment. About 2,000 of our students tried the assessments online for the first time. On day one, we had some Internet issues followed by larger issues at Questar, the test site, so we pulled the plug and decided to start the assessments the second day (we have six days to administer a two-day assessment). On day two, we had some glitches, but nothing that prevented us from moving forward, and the third day was pretty smooth. I was disappointed, but not surprised, that there were some issues during this ramp up into digital testing. I hadn't read about a state that had a smooth launch, and we were no different. They will get everything resolved and I expect smoother delivery of the math assessments in the coming weeks. There are bigger fish to fry for sure.


School Security: We met with the architects on Friday to finalize our budget and plans for "Proposition 4" on the upcoming budget vote regarding school security. We had established a number of up to $2M (no increase in taxes) to make security updates including entryways, interior locks, cameras, and other hardening measures. To do "all of it", the cost is going to be $3.8M, so we had to decide which items need immediate attention with the $2M, and which can wait until our larger capital project in the fall.  

We decided that we will work on the entrances and the interior lock upgrades first, and then tackle camera and software upgrades in the next project. Pending approval in May, we will get started in late summer. I will be explaining in more detail this Tuesday when I present the budget in the West Genesee High School Large Group Instruction room at 7:00 p.m., and then again in the West Genesee High School Library on Wednesday during our regular Board of Education Meeting. I feel comfortable with the direction we are headed. It will meet our goals and keep our word as to what we said we were going to when we met as a large group back on February 28.

Hosting Outside Organizations: As you know, we are hosting the multi-denominational "Workcamp" for a week in late June at the high school, where close to 500 teens from all of the country will come to Camillus and work on the homes of senior citizens and the less fortunate.

We are also excited to be hosting the Syracuse chapter of the National Organization of Missing and Exploited Children. They do a very large bike ride each year to raise money and bring it back to our local youth. They are having their organizational meeting at West Genesee Middle School tomorrow, Tuesday, from 6:00-7:15 p.m. All are welcome to attend.

Community Open House-#CMSVotesforWomen: Tonight at Camillus Middle School starting at 7:00 p.m., you will be treated to a traveling active museum to celebrate the Women's Suffrage movement. Our librarian and assistant did an awesome job of securing artifacts and information. The students have learned a ton from it and it is worth the trip to see it. Click here for more information about the event.

Swing-In is a Success: Congratulations to our performers who crushed it in the 50th annual "Swing In" on Wednesday night. Professional musician Winston Byrd, loves to come to West Genesee and he definitely gets the most out of the students. Cool! Click here for more information about the event.


Spring Letter of Intent Signing: Congratulations also to Meredith Barrett, Carly Benson, John Bergan, John Howes, Karsyn Plis, Kevin Sheehan, Kevin Snow, Paul Stannard who signed their National Letters of Intent to further their academics and athletics at a Division I or II college. What always impresses me about these signing events is the overall grade point average of the students. It takes special people to perform at a high level in the classroom and on the field, and I wish them the best of luck in the future. Click here for more information about the event.

Reminder: April 20 is a Half-day for Students: Just a friendly reminder that Friday, April 20, is a half-day for students, as we conduct security and safety training. If you are traveling for spring break, travel safe and have fun! For those of us who are staying behind, lets hope we get some warmer weather!

Thanks for reading and enjoy the week!

Chris

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Well Worth the Wait

A Must See: Yes, I think actual spring weather will be well worth the wait, but I have to tell you that Hamilton on Broadway was well worth the wait also. It took us nearly two years of waiting to finally get tickets (at box office prices) to the show; but it did not disappoint. I am not a Broadway show expert by any means, but if you are looking for a show that has a top-notch story, superb and diverse music, expert acting, and edge of your seat choreography, this show is for you. I am glad we went to the matinee because it is also emotionally draining, and I needed dinner and a nap afterword. Bottom line, a MUST see in my book.

School Safety Meetings: Last week was very busy for me. In addition to my usual building visits and normal day-to-day superintendent work, I had an opportunity to attend and lead four safety meetings: two for West Genesee and two for Onondaga County. All of the meetings were very informative and worked to narrow the focus of our work for school safety. The overarching theme for the meetings was training and preparing for emergencies, and how best to accomplish those tasks. The second theme was how to fund all of the preparedness we want to accomplish, as well as additional security officers. For more information from the PCIC meeting about safety, click here.

Student Perspective on Safety: I also met with the high school students who helped to organize the March 14 Student Walkout Day. We debriefed about that day, and I asked them their thoughts about the next planned National Student Walkout Day on Friday, April 20. They were very pleased about how March 14 went, but as a group, they did not want to stage another walkout on April 20. They asked if they could spend some time that day practicing unique situational safety drills like what would happen during a lunch, class changes, etc.

Friday, April 20-A Half-Day for Students: After giving that meeting some thought, as well as the nine total safety meetings we have had since the Parkland shooting in February, we are going to alter the school calendar on April 20 and turn it into a half-day for students and full-day for teachers.

Our students in the high school are going to work on those situational safety situations mentioned above; our middle school students will do a blend of safety meetings and regular programming; and our elementary students will receive safety reminders, regular programming, and work on the Positivity Project. In the afternoon, all of our employees (with the exception of bus drivers because they are driving the students home) will receive active shooter training. We will deliver similar training to the bus drivers shortly after. Thank you for rearranging your schedules a bit to help us accommodate this important work.

You may be asking yourself about the students who want to continue to express themselves as part of the #NeverAgain movement on April 20 and beyond. There is a great moment in Hamilton spoken by George Washington that says in part, "I know that greatness lies in you, but remember that from here on in, history has its eyes on you." which is a great line for all of the students in the country working for change. I have been working with the student leadership of our local movement and they are planning their future activities. I am lending adult guidance when I feel it is appropriate and wanted.

Upcoming Week: I think we might actually see some baseball and softball games this week. I am not holding my breath for the golf team to play anytime soon, but we have to work with the cards that we are dealt. No matter what weather comes our way on Saturday though, we are ready and excited for the Junior Prom! Yes, it is that time of the year already!

Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Not Quitting My Day Job...

Talented Students and Staff: The day before Passover began and before Easter was celebrated, I was a rockstar, along with a few of my coworkers. Yes, you read that correctly, and rock star equals super cool! It all went down at the West Genesee High School Talent Show.

Students displayed actual talent all night long and then during the judging, "we" showed up. We consisted of Mr. Kesel (vocals) and me (guitar/vocals) from the District Office, Mr. Stachnick (drums) and Mr. Mercer (bass) from Fine Arts, and Mr. Ficarra (guitar) from the high school. We selected a couple of songs that students and parents would know and sing along to, that we could actually play, and that we could turn up the volume on and really "rock" out. Too much fun!

We did this four years ago also, and when you are semi-talented like us, the element of surprise is helpful. Probably the best part of the night was really getting the crowd into the songs, singing, and jumping around. This very short clip shows all of that happening on the sides of the stage while the same thing was happening out in the crowd. It took me until about 1:00 a.m. to settle down. Not to worry though, we aren't quitting our day jobs anytime soon. If you were there, thanks for putting up with us and who knows where and when we will strike again!



Forum Last Week: We had a very well received West Side Support Network event last week regarding substance use disorder and mental wellness. The guest speakers (Dr. Ross Sullivan, Dr. Kristin Botwinik, Camillus Police, Gayle Mallore, and Jordan Eubanks) were just phenomenal.

In addition, the Prevention Network held a session called "Hidden Mischief" for parents only, that was very well received. They set up a mock teenage bedroom and placed 71 clues to drug use and mental wellness in the room and groups of five had five minutes (the time you get to search your child's room most of the time) to find as many clues as possible. The maximum number located was 24 (I only came up with 21). At the end, the Prevention Network staff showed us what we had missed and why. Eye opening to say the least. Thanks to all for an informative and powerful evening.

State Budget Update: Elected officials came to an agreement on the New York State budget on Saturday. The state budget did not hurt us in the sense that the budget plan we developed included what we thought they would add to the budget for education, but I was a little disappointed that there was no money earmarked for any type of security staff or equipment. This means that we will continue to lobby our legislators for seed money for resource officers while we shore up the plan for a "Proposition 4" on our District budget to take care of the building hardening measures that we have been talking about. I have four safety meetings this week, two local, and two countywide, so I hope to have made some headway in getting us some resources by the end of the week.

Engaged Students: I had some really great classroom visits last week also. It was fun to watch Kindergarten students learn about water; upper elementary students learn about the circle of plant life; middle students learn to sew; and high school students dissect chicken wings. All three groups had their "a-ha" moments, and it is a great reminder that with the proper classroom management, instruction, and care, ALL students can be engaged in their learning!

Showing Appreciation: West Genesee is a close-knit family. The staff would tell you that the students will tell you that. Everyone has a genuine care and appreciation for one another and that really showed last week at the high school pep rally. The students invited the bus drivers to the gym and then surprised them with a huge ovation and thank you. The drivers were overwhelmed to say the least. It was a good day!

Safety Meetings: Quick meeting reminders for the week. The West Genesee School Safety Committee will be presenting to PTA/PTO/PTSA groups on Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. in the West Genesee High School Large Group Instruction Room. All are welcome.

I will be holding an Onondaga County Safety Task Force subcommittee meeting earlier that day for teachers/students and parents (similar to our own February 28 meeting) on Tuesday from 4:00-5:30 p.m. at the Syracuse City School District Professional Development Center on Fayette Street. All parents/students/teachers in Onondaga County are welcome to attend that meeting as well.

Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris

Monday, March 26, 2018

Spring is Here...Almost!

Last week I asked our Athletic Director if there was going to be any way to actually keep to the spring sports schedule that was written well before March decided to host winter for a few more weeks than normal. Unfortunately, not likely for Golf, Track, Baseball, and Softball. Tennis and Lacrosse have a chance if the sun stays out and we can keep the temperature above 40 degrees this week. Not to worry though. All of the games will be played; eventually! Here is to...spring?

My wife and I were fortunate to have our boys in the same room for about twelve hours over the weekend and it was good to catch up. As they get older it is so hard to get them in the same place at the same time so you have to try to make the most out of every minute. We did learn a new board game called Catan that apparently has been around for a long time but is a current hit with twenty-somethings. I did not do well, to say the least, but we had fun!

Starting the Process: Last week we interviewed architects and are in the process of negotiating with a single firm. Once hired, they are going to get right to work to help us design the security features that will become a separate proposition on budget vote day of up to $2M (no increase in taxes). It is looking like the order of operations will be interior lock upgrades, control, camera, and threat assessment software updates and tie-ins, and front entrance work at each building. We will certainly have exact details prior to vote day for your consideration.

This project will then lead us into a larger project in the fall (also no increase to taxes) that will conclude the security upgrades and include many different items that are on our five-year facilities plan. We will share all of those details as we get closer to the fall.

Abby's Song: We often talk about extending learning and authentic learning for our students. I got to witness a classic example last week at Onondaga Road Elementary. A fifth-grade student named Abby wrote the lyrics to a song. Her music teacher, Ms. Hess, helped her to write an actual song to support the lyrics. Then, Abby got to teach her song to the third-grade chorus. I was invited to watch Abby and the third-grade chorus perform the song and it was GREAT! The working song title is "Abby's Song" which is fitting, but I am thinking that it might change as she perfects her masterpiece. Cool stuff!

Upcoming Week is Busy: This week is MEGA busy, but with great things. On Monday we get to congratulate a large group of newly inducted National Honor Society members, and that is always a great evening. Starting on Tuesday, in faculty meetings, I get to congratulate and recognize our employees who have worked 25 years or more (in five-year increments) in each building. These individuals help to make up the roots of the District and it is always my pleasure to help them to be recognized in front of their peers.

Poster for Forum
On Tuesday night I hope that you are planning on joining Ms. Coholan and me in the West Genesee High School upper gym for an evening to talk about substance use and mental wellness in children. We are also hosting the "Hidden Mischief" room, provided by the Prevention Network (please e-mail scoholoan@westgenesee.org to pre-register for this portion of the evening). We did not do television advertising for this event on purpose so that we have a local and intimate crowd to be able to interact with some of the biggest names in the business.

If you are a parent of a middle through early college student, I think you will find the evening useful. In addition to two keynote speakers, and the "Hidden Mischief" room, we have breakout sessions by the Camillus Police Crisis Intervention Team members who will be speaking about mental health and substance use cases in our District and community; one of our Social Workers, Gayle Mallore, who is going to talk about mental wellness in schools; and Jordan Eubanks from Syracuse Behavioral Health who will be speaking about his time as a student user and his road to recovery. We are trying to package all of this plus tables with all of the local service providers for substance use and mental wellness in about two hours. Click here for more information about the evening. Hope to see you there!

Thursday is a little unique for me. Back when I was much younger I played guitar in a classic rock cover band. When I came to West Genesee, I found some colleagues in Mr. Mercer, Mr. Kesel, Mr. Ficarra, and Mr. Stachnik who also played or currently play music. Two years ago we performed in the high school talent show and we had a blast. We are returning to the stage this Thursday night to perform, loudly, a sing-along song or two while judges evaluate the real talent, the student performers. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. and we play at the end. Luckily, we have Friday off to recover. I am not quitting my day job for a career in rock and roll, and you will see why in just a few short days.

Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris


Monday, March 19, 2018

Lessons Learned

Great Role Models: I tell people all the time that if they want to see one of the best Girls Basketball coaches to go watch a Coach Spreter Varsity Girls Basketball practice, or watch him work with girls of all ages in summer camp. He just gets it, plain and simple. At the same time, the young women who have played for him have risen to the challenge of being top role models and athletes.

While they did end up losing in the New York State Final Four (foul trouble proved to be too great to overcome), it was interesting to watch social media reaction to each post about the game while it was in progress. Retweets, favorites, and quotes were strong; people from all over were invested in this team. We are very proud of them for how they represent themselves, our school, and our community. They were the last team we had still in play for the winter and now if the snow ever melts, we can start spring competition!

Students Honor Students: Last Wednesday was National Student Walkout Day and as I had previously mentioned, our students planned an assembly outside for 17 minutes to recognize and remember the 17 people who were killed in Parkland, Florida. Well over half of our high school students participated in the event and it was incredibly well run, and very powerful. I appreciate the media for respecting our wishes to let it be a student event and to let them show emotion away from cameras.

Seventeen student leaders read one-minute bios of each of the victims and you could have heard a pin drop. To be respectful to the students, I have only shared this one picture so you can see the size and organization of the event while allowing their privacy and emotions to be preserved. What did we learn from this?  We learned that students can express themselves in a peaceful, non-disruptive way when they work well with the adults in the school. That mutual respect is something that continues to help us to grow as a school and community.

Upcoming Events: There are some important dates to remember. The first is March 27. We will be holding a public forum through our West Side Support Network and the purpose will be to feature speakers and resources about substance use disorder and also speakers and resources for mental wellness. Our two keynote speakers are Dr. Ross Sullivan from Upstate University and Kristin Botwinik, who is a highly regarded Clinical Social Worker who works with children.

Additionally, the Prevention Network is going to conduct a seminar titled "Hidden Mischief" where they have created two "bedrooms" full of warning signs of substance use and mental wellness. This seminar requires a pre-sign up (please email Shannon Coholan at scoholan@westgenesee.org to register) and it came to us highly recommended, so don't miss out! At right is the flyer with the event information, and I hope to see you there.

The other date is April 3 at 7:00 p.m. in the West Genesee High School Large Group Instruction Room. Our School Safety Committee is going to be assembled that night and will be presenting who they are and what they do to all of our PTO/PTA/PTSA and SEPTSA groups. This meeting is scheduled as an outcome from our February 28 public forum on safety. Hope to see you there.

Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris

Monday, March 12, 2018

How Sweet It Is!

The year was 1994 and "How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You)" by James Taylor was playing at my wedding, The Lion King and Forrest Gump were released, and Justin Bieber was born. In Camillus, New York, the Girls Varsity Basketball team was in the New York State Final Four, and the Camillus Mall was still around.

The Final Four: It is very sweet to be celebrating the Varsity Girls Basketball team as they advanced to the New York State Final Four with a win over Colonie on Saturday morning. None of the players were alive the last time this happened, but they are determined to make their mark in the history of West Genesee Central School District; and why not? The team is solid, top to bottom and has Coach of the Year Stafford Spreter at the helm, and a great supporting cast of assistants.

They play their semi-final championship game this Saturday at 9:00 a.m. at Hudson Valley Community College, and the championship game is next Sunday at 10:00 a.m. To wish them well on their quest to make West Genesee history, I would ask everyone to wear their West Genesee gear on Friday (if your boss needs a special note, let me know)!

Music in our Schools: March is Music in our Schools month and it hasn't disappointed. Our musicians and teachers hosted the 50th Festival of Bands, as well as the 7-12 Choral Festival over the past two weeks. Those two concerts alone featured nearly 800 of our students with more concerts and recitals on the way!

One West Genesee senior, Joanna Maressa, was featured recently on Carrie Lazarus's special titled Extraordinary Talent. She plays the violin and fiddle and will be attending Johns Hopkins University on a full scholarship to study engineering. She is passionate about her craft. How passionate? When we were going through the recession years ago, third grade Joanna came to my office and played her violin to try and change my mind about having to reduce the third-grade strings program. I was not able to accommodate her request, unfortunately, but even at a young age she was determined, and I certainly appreciate that!  Congratulations to Joanna! Click here to view a video or her appearance on Extraordinary Talent: http://www.localsyr.com/news/extraordinary-talent-of-the-week/extraordinary-talent-of-the-week-joanna-maressa/1014560673.


School Safety Task Force: District Attorney William Fitzpatrick tapped me to lead a countywide subcommittee for teachers, students, and parents as a part of the larger countywide School Safety Task Force. The goal of the task force, in general, is to create some guidelines for schools around the county for teacher and student training with regards to safety, better-securing schools, and figuring out how to get funding for schools to accomplish all of these tasks. We have held our own forum about safety, but I will likely try to offer one for parents, staff, and students around the county to attend if I can find a big enough venue. The committee hopes to be wrapped up by the end of the school year.

Students Stand Strong: This Wednesday is the "National Student Walkout Day". Students from around the country are scheduled to walk out of school at 10:00 a.m. to hopefully encourage Congress to help not to have another school shooting. The walkout is scheduled to last 17 minutes.

I met with elected members of our student body to ask them their thoughts and they wanted to organize something non-political by holding a remembrance for the 17 people killed in Parkland, Florida on February 14.

The Supreme Court Case Tinker vs. Des Moines case in the 1960's established that while students have a right to organize around a cause, school districts have a right to establish a time and place. The students were mature beyond their years and I am satisfied with their plan; so we are giving them a time and place.

I am most concerned about student safety, so we sent a letter home to high school parents only, have asked the media to stay away from school grounds until 10:30 a.m., and have worked with the Camillus Police to provide assistance. Students can voluntarily participate or not, and our staff are volunteering to be with the students who choose to participate while other will be with the students who choose not to. I think it will go well and I will write about it next week. There will be no additional information shared publicly at this time.

Thanks and have a wonderful week!

Chris

Monday, March 5, 2018

Repeat Champions!

Athletics Updates: I rarely say this, but I think we all needed a snow day on Friday. I am not sure that the Girls Basketball team agreed with me that day, as they were supposed to play Cicero-North Syracuse for the Section III title Friday night. Their game got shuffled to 9:00 a.m. yesterday morning at the Carrier Dome and it was an instant classic. Down the stretch, our Wildcats were able to pull away and win the section title for the second time in a row. For any team or Marching Band to repeat a championship these days is not easy, and for a team sport like basketball with so few players, it is on the edge of being remarkable.

Our Girls Basketball program has talented players for sure, but more importantly, they have a vision and dedication for success as a program. Hats off to all and congratulations! They will begin their quest for the New York State Championship (I wouldn't count them out) next Saturday in Troy, New York. Congratulations to the coaches and players; you continue to make us very proud!

Our winter Cheerleaders ended their season at the New York State Championship on Saturday after a great campaign. They finished with a strong performance overall and their future looks bright as well.

In Track, Esaias Brumfield took home a medal in the Indoor Track State Championship as a member of the the Section III Intersectional Relay team placing 5th, with Wildcat relay member Esaias really helping out. The 4X400 relay team of Meg Delia, Kelsey Fox, Abby Kuppinger, and Caitlin Mills also placed 13th overall in New York State Competition. Again this is in ALL of New York State. Congratulations!

Culture Fair 2018: The weekend was also busy with the Culture Fair at the high school. I really enjoy that event. In its tenth year, I always have a great time watching community members celebrate their culture. I was one of the first people there this year so I got first choice at all of the great food! Thanks to our volunteers, committee members, students, and attendees for another wonderful event. Click here to view a photo array of some pictures from the event.

Discussing Safety: Earlier in the week we held a public forum/Board of Education meeting to discuss school safety.  The meeting was very well attended at close to 90 people, including community members, parents, students, and employees. For about two and a half hours we listened to each other, shared concerns, potential solutions, and realized that we are in this together. I found the meeting to be powerful, emotional at times, and completely valuable.

I think everyone who attended walked away feeling heard and comfortable that we have a plan moving forward. What is the plan? This isn't the place for me to share it with you. All parents in grades K-12 are going to get a physical letter from me that contains everything you need to know to get you up to speed. Also included will be a "one pager" to help parents work with their children if they have anxiety about school safety, what they see on the news, and just life in general. Aside from that resource, ALL of our counselors and social workers are available to provide additional resources.

Students Share their Views: I would like to end with a student story. Last week, several high school students and I had a meeting with Congressman Katko. These students, unbeknownst to me, had expressed themselves outside his office during February break. Senior Anna Kate Waters had initiated a paper backpack initiative where students had written ways to feel safe at school. An assistant for the Congressman came out and took their names down and also collected about 200 of the backpacks from them. Fast forward to last week, and I received a call to meet with the Congressman after school, and with the students, at his office.

The meeting lasted about an hour and the dialogue that the Congressman and the students had was open and frank, both ways. The Congressman was truly impressed with the knowledge and research the students had done about him, and the issues. Several times he openly commented that he had to remind himself that he was talking to high school students. The students truly felt heard, and I was able to get a head start on some grant money for some additional resource officers. You would have been as proud as I was to watch democracy in action and how well our students represented themselves and our community.

Budget Presentation: I will be presenting the budget this week on Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. in the high school library. On Thursday I will be attending my first meeting of the "School Safety Task Force" that was created by District Attorney William Fitzpatrick. I am happy to be one of three superintendents selected to work with all elected officials, emergency management personnel, and law enforcement to see what we can collectively do as county and region to keep students safe.

Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris

Monday, February 26, 2018

Welcome Back!

I hope that all of you had a great break. I am excited to have students and staff back at school because it gets pretty lonely and heavy with desk work for me during breaks when no one else is here!

The end of the week was a bit of an emotional roller coaster. In 24 hours we buried my favorite uncle and then turned around and celebrated a wedding for a relative. I did meet a "Most Interesting Man in the World" candidate at the wedding, however. In attendance was a guy named Richard Bird. He is in his 70's now but "back in the day" he was in the Guinness Book of World Records for running the most marathons in a year, 71 to be exact. Of course, I had to "Google" him and learned that aside from the world record, he led a very interesting life. Cool!

Recognition for School Safety: The beginning of break was pretty rewarding when we learned that we received Titanium with Honors level recognition for the annual Utica National School Safety Excellence Award program. The checklist is about sixty pages when completed and includes every facet of school safety including plans, training, inventories, committee work, emergency communication, and low "risk" exposure. We will receive the award officially at a ceremony later this spring. Congratulations to all involved in helping us reach this goal.

Updates on Competitions: Congratulations to the Academic Decathlon Team. They finished third overall in the New York State Championship and had an enjoyable season overall.

Our Lady Wildcats Basketball Team is capitalizing on hard work, dedication, and momentum. They defeated Baldwinsville last night at SRC arena and are now headed to the Section 3 Championship on Friday, March 2, at 8:00 p.m. at the Carrier Dome. Good luck to them!

Next weekend is busy with the Culture Fair from 12:00-3:00 p.m. at the high school on Saturday, March 3. Girls Cheerleading and track athletes are competing for a New York State Championship.

Listening Sessions: This week is busy for me as well with lots of listening. I am meeting with class officers and student council representatives on Tuesday; the Board of Education and community members Wednesday night at our special Board meeting/forum; employees during my building visits; and our District Safety Team. I expect good conversations.

I am also going to be circling the wagons around my Wildcat family this week. You may be used to me giving a sound byte or interview and I do so to control our message. I have already done that and now it is time for me to work with our people, and do the things I have said we are going to do.

Thanks for your continued support and have a great week!

Chris

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Getting Ready for Next Week

I hope that you are enjoying the final leg of winter break. We got a couple of really warm days, some cold days, some snow, and some rain; typical Syracuse! It was nice to run in shorts and a tee shirt a couple of mornings though.


Winter Athletes are Busy: Even though we have been on break, our winter athletes have been pretty busy. Our Girls Basketball team advanced to the semi-final sectional game that will take place this Sunday at SRC Arena; two of our wrestlers put themselves in position to compete for a New York State Championship; several of our track stars won, and are now preparing for the New York State Championship next weekend; as are our cheerleaders. Our Boys Hockey team lost a heartbreaker to Baldwinsville last night in four overtimes and two shootouts! The consolation for me, and I am sure for the parents, was watching the sportsmanship as our players and coaches congratulated and wished their opponent the best of luck moving forward.

Safety Update: The last time I wrote, it was just following the most recent school shooting in Florida. I want to take this opportunity to let you know where we are at as a District seven days later, and where we will be moving forward.

First and foremost, I own my words. I always have. I have always tried to make the most out of every day as a Superintendent. My job description has a lot of duties as you might imagine, and one of them is to be an advocate and voice for students. My comments about thoughts and prayers meaning nothing, my views on mental health resources and some kind of gun control sparked reactions both positive and negative. To clear the air and make sure that my consistent readers and supporters have a clear understanding of my position, I offer the following. 

I am faith-based. I feel that there is a time for thoughts and prayers, but there is also a time for action, and I just feel that we missed the boat on that. On gun control, I own guns. When I had time before I was a Superintendent, I hunted. I would be a hypocrite to be anti-Second Amendment. I just feel that there needs to be a conversation to keep firearms out of the hands of people that are identified as being mentally ill or unstable. A National radio host referred to me as anti-religious and uber liberal. I would respectfully disagree. I am a Superintendent who does not want another school shooting, and I think there needs to be action, whatever that looks like, to get us to that point.

At the end of the day you trust me to keep your children safe, educated, and happy. After any tragedy involving a school, we debrief with experts on how we at West Genesee can do a better job to prevent something similar from happening here. We are very fortunate to have such a great resource in the Camillus Police Department. They are invested in our schools, and many of the officers have children who attend our schools.  

I spent Tuesday with Sergeant Nightingale. Sergeant Nightingale is a New York State certified active shooter trainer.  He is recognized for his leadership in this area statewide and by all police agencies. We walked each building in the District looking at points of entry, building safety plans, and anything else that should be considered to keep students and staff safe.

We then debriefed with Chief Winn to develop a partnership plan. Chief Winn gave us an increased Police presence immediately following the last shooting, and we are very appreciative of that. Starting Monday we will continue to have an increased police presence in all buildings; with a twist.  He has initiated an "Adopt a School" program with his officers. Basically, several officers have adopted each of our buildings. They will be meeting with building administrators, students, and teachers over the coming weeks. While on patrol they will be visiting the buildings frequently and will be working with administrators on any situations that arise.Your children may come home and say that they see the Police "a lot". That is by design.

We also identified areas in the District (tactically I am not going to mention those areas in a public blog), that would benefit from some type of increased door barrier. We will be working with vendors and our School Safety Committee to determine the best devices for the different spaces we have identified. This work and subsequent purchase(s) will happen very quickly.

We will also be working with our clerical staff about door and entry protocol, and we will be asking the Board of Education at a special meeting on February 28 to authorize us to add a proposition not to exceed $2M to our school budget vote in May to provide entryway enhancements to include more updated ways to allow or disallow visitors. We had intended to ask for this in the fall as a part of our larger project, but we want to get this rolling within a tighter timeframe.

We will also be increasing our lockdown and active shooter drills. While all of us feel very confident that the plan we have is solid, I think we would all feel more comfortable if we did additional practice.

We should also remember to say something if we see something. This can be ANYWHERE in the community. Every bit of information helps. Unfortunate situations don't just happen in schools; so we all want to be and stay connected.

There is a student component to all of this, especially at the high school. They want to be heard, just like thousands of other students across the country. This is a long blog as it is so I will give you more details in my next writing, but essentially it is my job as a Superintendent to give students a time and place to assemble and speak their minds, as well as a safe environment to do so. At the same time, not all students will share the same views, just as some of you do not share my views. It is my job to make sure all of that is managed in a safe and respectful way. I have every confidence that this will happen. You should also know that as certified professionals, we will NOT tell children WHAT to say. You have my word on that. Our job is to provide students a safe venue and time for them to express themselves. I am meeting with Student Council leaders next Tuesday to see what their thoughts are. Once we know what they would like to do, we will develop a support plan around that and will make sure that it is communicated. Stay tuned.

Thanks again for reading and for your support. I am going to be going over all of this in person at a special board meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the Large Group Instruction Roon next, Wednesday, February 28. If you have further questions you can always call me at 315-487-4562, email me at cbrown@westgenesee.org, or attend the meeting and ask in person.

Thanks and enjoy the rest of break!

Chris

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Another School Shooting

By now you have heard that there has been another school shooting here in the United States, the 18th, in fact, since January 1, 2018. This was the exact email that I sent to my employees last night in reaction to the news:

"Good Evening-

By now you have heard that another school shooting has occurred and that there were fatalities. Over the next hours and days, you are going to see tweets, news articles, and broadcasts. The words "thoughts and prayers" will be thrown around like they mean something. They don't. Elected officials will argue gun control and mental wellness, as they always do, and nothing will happen. Again.

My email box and phone will light up in the coming days by salespeople from "school safety" companies, trying to capitalize on this tragedy by attempting to scare parents into making us spend money on bulletproof glass and backpacks. There may even be a few calls to put school resource officers in every building. All of those things combined will not stop another school shooting from happening.

Does this sound negative? It shouldn't. It should sound realistic. Our relationships with students, our knowledge of school safety plans, our promotion of "if you see something, say something", and our access to mental health care are the best things we can do to keep us all safe. Additionally, our drills need to be taken seriously, and we ALL need to understand that we are equally responsible for our own safety and the safety of the students. We are in this together every day.

If there was something I could do or say to make these shootings never happen again, I would be all over it. My voice is not important enough. Collectively we can have in impact. One fish cannot survive against predators, but a school of fish can thrive in any waters We need to continue to swim together.

Thank you."

The NUMBER ONE thing that I have thought about for the past 18 years, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is keeping everyone "on my watch" safe. I have studied, in the greatest detail possible, every school shooting. How did they enter the school, how did they get their weapon of choice, was the person known, what were their walking path(s) in the school, etc. It is clear that when someone wants to enter a school building, church, mall, etc. to cause harm, they will find a way; so we need to be vigilant and always ready.

We have created safety plans, have practiced them thoroughly and frequently, have conducted "active shooter drills" with staff and students (our staff have even heard "live" rounds in their school buildings so they know what one sounds like), are making sure that our employees have Crisis Prevention Institute Training (I am a trainer), and are working with Upstate on trauma wound control (Stop the Bleed). All of those things make us feel prepared, and I am confident that we will execute those things to perfection should we ever need to. I hope we never need to.

The bigger picture though is since we cannot rely on lawmakers and policymakers to help us, we need to rely on each other.

Chief Winn of the Camillus Police Department and I rely on tips. When you see something, you need to say something. It can be in the neighborhood, at school, at the mall, at the store, at church, while you are on your run, wherever. We both need to know what is out there so that we can assess the threat level and put plans in place. It may seem like we take the information and "it goes nowhere", but I can assure you that it does. Our tabletop drills are based on things that could realistically happen in our community, and many of those exercises are based on tips that we receive. Any amount of information we can have about people, situations, or events can pay dividends in prevention of and preparedness for future acts. It costs nothing to relay a tip, but can save us in areas that you cannot put a price tag on; our safety.

Thank you for reading and for being an active part of the solution.

Chris

Monday, February 12, 2018

Act Like You Have Been There Before

Well, I have avoided the flu but that hasn't stopped me from being on an antibiotic twice and just feeling generally awful for about a week now. I woke up this morning and finally feel like I am turning the corner. You can't call a substitute for my position; and the show must go on!


Athletics Update: Speaking of putting on a show, congratulations to our cheerleaders for placing second at sectionals and qualifying for state competition. Also congratulations to Nate Wade and Devin Earl, who can now call themselves Section III Wrestling Champions and our Boys Hockey team finished the regular season at a perfect 19-0!


Math Competitors at State Level: We are very proud of students Philip Martin and Kate Graziano. They competed in the New York State Math League with 650 other students and finished in the top thirty, which now qualifies them for the state meet at SUNY Geneseo on March 17. Philip and Kate are the first (and hopefully not the last) West Genesee students in over ten years to advance to this level of math competition. Congratulations and good luck!


Musical at the High School: Last Thursday I was very entertained by the high school's performance of the musical Anything Goes. If you haven't been to one of our productions, you are really missing out. The pit provided professional level music, the tech and stage crews made set changes effortlessly, and the actors and actresses took me away from real life for a couple of hours. I can't ask for much more than that. Great work by all!

Graduation Rates: You may have read last week that New York State graduation rates rose slightly, but gaps continue to grow in certain student groups (students with disabilities, students in poverty, and minority students). I am proud to say that our graduation rates did rise as well, but we did NOT find gaps in any certain student groups, in fact, we made gains. This makes me very happy. I never gloat about our success like others do. I expect it, and when it is achieved, we briefly celebrate then get to work improving from that spot. As I often say, we (and you) are a part of something really special, and West Genesee is where I would want my kids going to school, as mine did.

Vaping: Student health is something that is important to us as well. By now you have probably heard of what a "vape" is, or what an e-cigarette is. If not, a vape is a device that is used to heat scented oils that people inhale. When modified, a vape can also be a means for smoking marijuana.

In a recent survey, we found that students find plain old cigarettes to be taboo. They don't want to touch them due to the health hazards they cause. It is clear that our society has not done enough to explain the same (and worse) health concerns exist from e-cigarettes and vapes. In fact, I have spoken to parents who openly allow their children to smoke vapes at home because "it is just scented oil".

TJ Vaughan, our eleventh grade principal, made it a project to get all of the current research about vapes and e-cigarettes. He shared his information with the students at the high school over the past two weeks and it started a lot of conversations. He is going to share his presentations with parents on Thursday, February 15, at 7:00 p.m. in the high school auditorium. If you are a parent of a middle or high school student (please feel free to attend if you are a parent of a child in another district) I would encourage you to attend.

Thanks, don't forget about Valentine's Day, and enjoy the week. Also, enjoy mid-winter break. I will write again when we return.

Chris

Monday, February 5, 2018

Best Laid Plans

Winter in CNY: Well, Friday morning was interesting. I woke up at 4:45 a.m. like normal to check on the snow band that was supposed to blow through quickly, and at that time it was right on schedule to be through Camillus well before the morning commute. We checked in with local plows and our own plows and everything was good to go.

Next thing you know it is 6:35 a.m. and the snow band decided to set up shop and start dumping fluffy snow on frozen roads; awesome. Unfortunately, it was too late to delay. Buses were already out with kids on them. Everyone pulled together, including our parents and students, and we made it happen. There is only one person to blame on those kinds of mornings and it is me; plain and simple. The weather unexpectedly changed, and we got caught.

I can vividly remember the last time this happened and it was eight years ago. The high school was in and buses were out getting elementary students. I was driving from Onondaga Hill to the District Office down Onondaga Road and up ahead cars suddenly started sliding off the road. I can remember stopping at Onondaga Road Elementary to check things out. The roads had been wet but the temperature was not supposed to drop like it suddenly had. That created instant black ice. Again, too late to make a different decision. The kids all made it in, but that morning was no fun either. Ahh, Syracuse.

Planning Strategically: Besides the Friday morning commute, we had a banner week. On Wednesday and Thursday we held our annual Strategic Planning meeting. It went very well and I want to thank the staff, parent and student volunteers, and Board of Education members, and all of you who participated in our recent "Thought Exchange" for your time and effort. Once we compile all of the information, we will share it with you.

Athletics Updates: Congratulations to wrestling coach Brian McAvan for being recognized as the SCAC Metro Division Wrestling Coach of the Year.  Coach McAvan has really worked to revitalize our Wrestling program and the results are beginning to show. Not only did he receive that top honor, several of our wrestlers won Class AA Sectionals in their weight classes: Cole Wade at 182lbs; Victor Elias at 160lbs; Devin Earl at 145lbs; and Nate Wade at 99lbs. The entire wrestling team was also featured as the "Athletes of the Week" which you can view by clicking here. Great job boys!

Cheerleading has also had quite a revitalization. Not only was the fall squad recognized as Section champions, they (both varsity and junior varsity) took first at the very competitive CNS Cheer Competition this past weekend. The sky is the limit for them!

While all of this was happening, the Girls Basketball team quietly became the team to beat again in Section III, and the undefeated Boys Hockey team dropped everything to help a teammate find a lost dog (you have to take a minute to watch this story by clicking here!)

The Skaneateles Girls Ice Hockey team (with West Genesee girls on the team) won another Section III title on Sunday and is headed back to the state tournament. Congratulations!

Future Business Leaders: It wasn't just sports that crushed it last week. On Friday, the Future Business Leaders of America students participated in the regional competition at Bryant & Stratton College. Pictured with their awards are Stacy Pertuz, Machilla Johnson, Kyle Peterson, and Brendan Bresnahan as they won competitions in Job Interview, Global Business, Business Law, Impromptu Speaking, Word Processing, and Electronic Career Portfolio. Fantastic work!
Musical at the High School: Lastly, the cast and crew of the West Genesee High School Musical Anything Goes is ready for their performances on Thursday, February 8 and Friday, February 9 at 7:00 p.m., and Saturday, February 10 at 2:00 p.m. I have seen some of the rehearsals; it is going to be a great show!

Thanks for reading and enjoy the week!

Chris

Monday, January 29, 2018

Wildcat Pride

On Friday, I sent out a "tweet" to the seniors reminding them that today marks the beginning of the last 20 weeks of their high school careers. The message was for them to enjoy the time, finish strong, and prepare for what comes next. What ensued was a string of "likes", some from seniors, but many more from graduates who have "crossed the bridge" to use a Scout term. I feel that there are many former students out there (and parents) who were happy to graduate and go to that next level, but also have really good memories of their time here and are proud of their roots. That is what it is all about!

We do see this pride all over the place, like paw prints on the backs of cars, and seemingly every type of Wildcat clothing that one can imagine. It is our brand. It identifies us as being a part of something special. Senior Brianna Orendorf was at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo recently and snapped this picture of a real "Wildcat". How cool is it that the portrait of this magnificent animal really lines up to how we identify ourselves?!? Great job Bri, and let's keep that #Wildcatpride alive!

Athletic Pride: Speaking of pride, I would like to introduce you to senior Sangu Mbekelu. Sangu was recognized over the weekend at the CNY National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Scholar Athlete Awards Dinner. Was it for the most tackles? No. Maybe the most yards from scrimmage? No. How about the most number of receptions or interceptions? No and No. Sangu was recognized for his academics, and for being an outstanding and selfless teammate.

He fulfilled many roles on the team and worked relentlessly to be the best player and teammate he could be. His academic schedule was rigorous and challenging; he is in many advanced and college level courses, and he has achieved high 90's in all of them. He set an example for our younger players to take pride in their roles and work at them to ultimately impact the people around them in a positive way. The man in the picture with him is Mark Ferrante, head football coach at Villanova. Congratulations Sangu!

Changes in Administration: We do have a Wildcat who will be moving on from our family. Executive Principal Geoff Morton will be realizing a career-long dream of being a district-level administrator by taking on the Director of Pupil Personnel Services position for the Hamilton Central School District. I have never been one to hold someone back from doing what they want to do in their career, and we wish Mr. Morton well.

We are fortunate to have an Executive Principal in waiting at the high school. Her name is Shannon Coholan and she has been our 12th grade Principal for two and a half years. She is a product of the Le Moyne College Teacher Leader Program and is also a recent graduate of the SUNY Oswego Superintendent Development Program (a program not just for people who want to be Superintendents, but for people who want to be the best all-around leaders they can be). You may have also seen her featured as the "Educator of  Excellence" on CBS5 (http://cnycentral.com/news/educator-of-excellence/cbs5s-october-educator-of-excellence-west-genesees-shannon-coholan) after being recommended by many of her peers and students. She is also the co-leader of the West Side Support Network (formerly known as the Community Coalition on Substance Abuse).

If you or your children have been in involved in the Halloween Carnival, Respect and Responsibility Club, Culture Fair, Race for Respect, or any of the recent speakers at the high school, then you have been a part of her work. She is well respected by parents, staff, and most importantly, the students. How do I know how the students feel about her? When I was sitting with the Wildcat Nation at the basketball game on Thursday, word was starting to spread about the change, and I was made to promise repeatedly that "yes, Ms. Coholan will still work with you as seniors right through graduation." We are in good hands.

This change actually begins today so that Ms. Coholan can sit on the Strategic Planning team which meets for 2 days this week and helps to set our course for next year.

Mr. Morton also wore two other hats. He was our 504 Coordinator (504 plans are developed for students who have long-term education and life-altering medical conditions) and was also our Director of Secondary Education (a role to help us properly transition students from 5th to 6th grade and from 8th to 9th grade).

We have tapped our current Director of Staff Relations, Dave Cirillo, to take on the 504 piece; and West Genesee Middle School Principal, Steve Dunham, will be the Director of Secondary Education. This breakout of duties will help us to operate and deliver services in all areas in a much more efficient manner and plays to everyone's strengths. We have advertised for a replacement 12th grade principal and hope to have that process completed by March. Congratulations to all!

I was hoping for a weekend weather extension, but my wish was not granted. Oh well. At least we are headed into February!

Thanks and enjoy the week!

Chris