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Our “Best of the Blogs” section includes thoughtful insights on school leadership being shared through blogs maintained by AASA members. This representative sampling of five bloggers, through an RSS feed, will change periodically to showcase other member blogs, so check back regularly. If you are aware of others, contact magazine@aasa.org.

  • Welcome Back!

    Notes from the Superintendent|5/2/2016

    Academic Decathlon in Alaska: I hope that everyone had a great spring break.  As you are reading this, our Academic Decathlon Team members are arriving back to town after a successful trip to Anchorage, Alaska where they competed in the national championship.

    Aside from competing, they had a chance to bike, hike, and visit the Alaska Museum as well as the Alaska Zoo. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience for most, and they are appreciative of your support to help get them there. Once they recover from the jet lag, I know they plan to work with our publications department to send out a summary to our community.

    Vacationing in Vegas: I had a chance to get away for a couple of days to Las Vegas. I had never been there and wanted to check it off the list. I am too cheap to gamble, so we spent the time checking out the themes from each casino, seeing a show, eating a couple of good meals, and then venturing out to the Hoover Dam and Zion National Park.

    I cannot tell you if I was more impressed by the Hoover Dam, Zion, or the Vegas strip itself. They were all interesting in their own ways. As you know, West Genesee has incredible reach. While I was looking over a rooftop and out onto the strip, there was a large video billboard advertising an upcoming stay by music legend Lionel Richie. The last image shown was his guitar player, former West Genesee student Ben Mauro. Wildcat pride!
    NASA Touches Down at the High School: A day before spring break, students, parents, and community members were treated by a visit from NASA astronaut, Dr. Jeannette Epps. Her presentation was sponsored by the Junior League, and she spent about an hour and a half talking about her preparation to become an astronaut, and her message was to never give up on your dreams. There was a long line to shake her hand, or get a picture or an autograph, and I commented that she was as popular as any guest musician or athlete we have ever hosted. Good stuff! She will be headed to the International Space Station in about a year and a half, and we will be following her progress.

    Construction Progress: While we were away, construction workers made significant progress in each of the buildings. I toured all of the work on Friday and took these pictures. We continue to be on or ahead of schedule in all areas and we are also right on target budget wise.

    If your child participates in an activity through the town Parks and Recreation Department, be sure to pay careful attention to the location of each activity when you register as some of them have changed for this summer only.

    West Genesee has a Pep Band:  It has long been rumored that the fine arts students do not get along with the athletes and visa versa. For years I have told people that perception is NOT reality but it has been challenging to prove it, until now. Cue the new and totally awesome West Genesee Pep Band.

    The pep band was started over the winter by a small number of students for one basketball game, and they have since grown to about twenty strong. They are also becoming a common fixture at boys and girls lacrosse games. The group is student driven and you can follow them on Twitter at @westgeneseepep. They sound great, and I am hoping that they stay together and continue to grow in numbers into next fall and winter!

    Mini-Forums this Week: The last two substance abuse mini-forums for this school year take place this week. On Tuesday, May 3, there will be a forum about treatment. It takes place from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. in the West Genesee High School Large Group Instruction Room.

    On Thursday, May 5, there will be a mini-forum that will provide NARCAN (nasal based) training with 3 one-hour training sessions starting at 5:30 p.m. in the West Genesee High School Large Group Instruction Room.

    We have done a tremendous job raising awareness about substance abuse in our community and it would mean a lot to see good representation at these forums. The larger community coalition will then have a final meeting for the year where we will summarize our productive year and make plans for next year. Thank you for the continued support.

    Welcome to May. Graduation is straight ahead. Enjoy the week!

    Chris

  • Do we expect more from technology and less from each other?

    The Superintendent's Chair|4/29/2016

    Sherry Turkle gave an interesting TED talk in 2012 about the rise of technology and the fall of human connectedness. It is worth 19 minutes of your time.

    In the talk, Ms. Turkle states that technology provides "the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship."

    Friendship is messy. It requires time. There is a give and take. Through friendship we will experience deep grief and profound joy. But these emotions demand an investment of ourselves in the lives of our friends.

    Sometimes it is just easier to text our friend. That way we give the illusion that we want to share in their grief or joy without actually having to get messy and caught up in this complicated thing called life. Instead of investing we "dabble" in the conversation.

    As I listened to this TED talk I thought about how some people tend to place their trust in technology to solve the problems of education. Give every kid a laptop. Let them learn at their own pace.

    To me this provides the illusion of learning without the demands of thinking.

    Learning is messy. Learning requires time. Learning requires the guidance of a great teacher who can moderate the give and take that is required to learn. 

    Learning is more than knowing facts and figures. Learning is figuring out how to think, how to reason, how to understand how things fit together. That requires that we develop the capacity to reflect and understand another perspective and see how that there is more than one way to solve a problem.

    Technology is a great tool. Technology provides access to information. Technology provides access to networks of people that previously had been unavailable. Technology creates wonderful opportunities for learning.

    But technology does not guarantee that you will learn. Students need teachers to help moderate and navigate the complexities inherent in learning.

    At times technology appears to be a better answer to learning that our standard and common classrooms. That happens when teachers do not take the time to create engaging, meaningful, and powerful classrooms environments that call for the best from students. At times teachers and students tacitly agree that they will not push each other. Teachers and students agree that they will coast.

    But just because that happens does not mean that is the way it is supposed to be or the way that it should be. Great teachers create classrooms that push students to learn, engage them in meaningful and purposeful reflection, and demand thinking.

    Great teachers care for their students in ways that technology cannot. Technology can be a tool. But technology can never replace the wonderfully engaging classrooms that passionate teachers create.


  • Distracting ourselves to death

    The Superintendent's Chair|4/19/2016

    A random tweet on a random Tuesday makes me think that we pay too much attention to "what" we are teaching and not enough attention to "why" we are teaching.

    While content is clearly important, perhaps more important is why we want students to learn the content in the first place. Whether it is the Common Core, the Michigan Grade Level Content Standards, or the High School Content Standards, I would hope that we would agree that content for content's sake is relatively unimportant.

    Google has content. People have context, nuance, understanding.

    Google has content. People make sense.

    What is clearly more important that making sure our students "know" the content is ensuring that our students have the ability to think, to listen, to reason, to communicate, to create.

    Instead of arguing about "just" the content, I want us to make sure students know why they are learning.

  • All Clear

    Notes from the Superintendent|4/18/2016

    Junior Prom Already: I hope you had an opportunity to enjoy the fantastic weather over the weekend. I know I did, and so did four hundred and three students who attended our Junior Prom on Saturday night.

    The prom this year was an absolute delight. There was not a single issue and the energy was very high and very positive the whole night. As you can imagine, I as the superintendent (and probably you if you had a child out later than usual last night) sleep with one eye open until I get the "all clear" text from the high school administration and Camillus Police first thing Sunday morning. What a great time; I am looking forward to the Senior Ball on May 13!

    Kick-Off of "No Empty Chair" Campaign: On Friday, and just prior to the prom, West Genesee was selected as the kick-off site for the "No Empty Chair" (Click here to view a YouTube video about the event.) campaign sponsored by the Governors Special Traffic Safety Division. Some of our students watched the extended opening press conference.


    I was very impressed by senior Katie Lannon, who delivered a powerful message about making good choices while flanked by high ranking officials from the New York State Police, District Attorney's Office, Onondaga County Sheriff's Office, Department of Motor Vehicles, Camillus Police Department, and a parent who had lost a child. She was masterful with the media as well, and I was really pleased with how she represented the District and most importantly, herself. Nice work!

    More Mini-Forums: Last week there were a lot of cool events that happened. First was the "prevention" mini-forum. You can view the presentation by clicking here. It was led by Penny Williams from OCM BOCES and Donna Knapp from The Prevention Network. I definitely learned a thing or two about signs to look for in children related to substance abuse, and I think it would be well worth your time to take five minutes to scroll through their presentation.

    The next mini-forum is on treatment and will be led by substance abuse treatment counselor Kimberly Sacco on May 3 at the West Genesee High School. Two days later on May 5 will be NARCAN training, which will also be at the high school and provided by the Camillus Police Department. I can't thank everyone enough for their involvement and efforts.

    Letter of Intent Signing Ceremony: We also held our official Division I and Division II athletic signing day. This year we had thirteen students commit to various colleges and universities. The sports are women's and men's lacrosse, women's soccer, men's golf, and men's basketball. Click here to read an article from the District e-Newsletter that lists the names and colleges.

    The combined academic average of all of the student athletes who signed the letters is a 91; very impressive. We wish them well next year and beyond!

    C.O.D.E. Program is Recognized: Many of you are familiar with our Community Oriented Drug Education (C.O.D.E) program.  For those who are not, it is a partnership between the District and the Camillus Police. We tailor curriculum to help teach students in grades K-12 about making good choices, and remaining drug and alcohol free. The program is unique because we select and change the curriculum based on the needs of our community.

    Officers Kelly Grace and Diane Brand are responsible to help teach the curriculum.  In 2013 they, our administrators, and teachers made the decision to include some curriculum about what to say and do if faced with abuse.  For their efforts, the Camillus Police Department, Officers Grace and Brand were honored by the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center at the “Shine A Light” On Child Abuse Award Ceremony with the Children’s Guardian Award for the partnership and continuing education that McMahon/Ryan, the Camillus Police and the West Genesee School District share regarding our CODE Program.

    Come Meet an Astronaut: This Thursday is your chance to meet with an astronaut. Join us this Thursday, April 21, in the high school auditorium from 7:00-8:30 p.m. for an evening with NASA Astronaut, Jeanette Epps, Ph.D. as she describes her journey to becoming one of NASA’s elite female astronauts. We are looking forward to having Dr. Epps among us and in our District!

    Spring break is next week. I am going to give you a chance to enjoy yourselves and not have to worry about checking for a blog. Barring anything unusual I would need to share with you, my next post will be on Monday, May 2. Until then, enjoy and remember that every day is a great day to be a Wildcat!

    Chris

  • Evacuation at the High School This Afternoon (4/11/2016)

    Notes from the Superintendent|4/12/2016

    Good Afternoon,
    At the end of the day today a student showed a teacher at the high school a book they had been reading in class. Written in the book was a bomb threat that was non-specific. With quick work of the teachers and administrators, it was determined that the book in question had not been used since last week at the earliest.

    In an overabundance of caution, the building was completely cleared and searched at dismissal and then reopened for business. The Camillus Police are assisting us with an investigation, and we are confident that we will find the person responsible in the very near future.

    Thank you.

    Chris

  • Punching Their Tickets

    Notes from the Superintendent|4/12/2016

    Community Helps Raise Funds: The nineteen members of the Academic Decathlon Team have worked tremendously hard to raise money to help get the team to Anchorage, Alaska to compete in the National Championship. If you attended their pancake breakfast fundraiser yesterday, you got to see the students and their advisers making sure that everyone was served and happy. There were lines out the door at times, and I want to thank the Camillus Elks Club for the use of their facility and their membership for doing much of the cooking! Thanks to all for your support; they are booked and ready to go!

    NYS Assessments Update: You probably saw a lot of news coverage last week about the recent 3-8 English Language Arts state assessments. The types of questions on this assessment were similar to previous years, but the assessments were shorter overall in terms of the number of questions and there were no time limits for completion. I will be interested to see the results of these assessments compared to last year. Nineteen percent of our students refused to take this year's English Language Arts assessment, compared to twenty-three percent last year. The 3-8 Mathematics state assessments are this week, April 13-15.

    Substance Abuse Mini-Forum: Tonight is the second mini-forum on substance abuse and the topic is prevention. The presenters are Donna Knapp from The Prevention Network and Penny Williams from the OCM BOCES with the event being held at the Camillus First United Methodist Church from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.  All are welcome.

    The next mini-forums center around treatment. There will be one on May 3 led by substance abuse treatment counselor Kimberly Sacco, followed by NARCAN training (date TBD) led by Camillus Police Chief Tom Winn. Our substance abuse coalition, first large forum, and these mini-forums are really making a difference, and we are proud as a District to be community partners in these efforts.

    Letter of Intent Signing: This Wednesday, April 13, will be the West Genesee High School National Letter of Intent Signing Ceremony in the high school library starting at 3:00 p.m. We look forward to celebrating this event with the twelve seniors (Troy Temara, Mackenzie Negus, Emma Madonna, Tyler Shoults, Ryan McDonald, Jacob Sparks, Sean Stanistreet, Madisyn Kittel, Mackenzie Kittel, Nicole Delany, Alexa Meager, and Michael Philippone) as they sign their letters committing to play sports at their college or university of choice.

    Prom Season: As we enter junior prom and senior ball season we should all remember to have those extra conversations with our children about making good choices. We have many programs to help reinforce that message at school, and we are going to be adding another one this Friday with the No Empty Chair Campaign. The Governor's Office has chosen our high school as the kick-off school for the statewide program, and we welcome the chance to be statewide role models.

    Speaking of the Junior Prom, ours is this weekend, and my wife and I have been chaperoning them for twenty five years. Each one has been unique and fun in its own way and this year will be no exception!

    Thanks for your support and enjoy the week!

    Chris

  • The Difference Between a Bunny and a Chicken

    Notes from the Superintendent|4/4/2016

    Running in Snow, in April? Only in Syracuse can you play golf one day of the week and then shovel snow on another. My older son and I ran the Syracuse Half Marathon yesterday, and I cannot recall a time when I ran in worse conditions. The funny thing was that no one really complained about it. Most of the comments I heard were "well, this IS Syracuse".

    I kept up with him for the first seven miles or so and then he slowly faded into the distance. It was fun to find each other after the race and agree that anyone who actually finished that race in those conditions was a true champion! In this picture he had been finished about ten minutes, and I had just finished. My beard collected a fair share of snow and ice! Already looking forward to next year.


    Bunny vs Chicken: I often tell people that I have the best job in the world, and I have the stories to back up my claim. On Friday of last week I was visiting Stonehedge Elementary School, and I walked into a kindergarten classroom. This is a very normal occurrence for the students so I received the usual chorus of "good morning Dr. Brown!" but then a student walked up to me with a paper cutout of a rabbit. She looked up at me and asked if I wanted a chicken. I told her that she did not have a chicken. She quickly responded with, "I know, it is a bunny. April Fools!". I had been had by a kindergartener! It made my day.

    Mini-Forums on Substance Abuse: Last week we held the first of six mini-forums about substance abuse in our community. This particular forum was about actual data and resources concerning substance abuse in our schools, as well as a great presentation from the Camillus Police and District Attorney's office about their new "Tip411" service.

    You can find video and the presentations by clicking here (page will be updated after each mini-forum). The survey results showed that parents (about forty in attendance and another one hundred seventy watching live on our Periscope app) really enjoyed knowing what is actually happening within the four walls of our schools.

    Parents and I were also VERY impressed with the power and anonymity of the new "Tip411" system. Community members can submit tips to the Camillus Police (or twenty one other agencies) about drug activity that they see. The tip is then immediately sent to someone who will respond to the person submitting the tip and then they will either start a new investigation or add the tip to an existing one.

    You can check it out by going to camilluspolice.com and looking for Tip411. We are actually going to add it to our tools to combat drug activity at school, and we will also be showing students how to use the system over time. Good stuff and thank you to all who attended!

    Meeting an Astronaut: Always wanted to meet a real life astronaut but haven't been able to? Well now you can! Thanks to the efforts of the Junior League, NASA Astronaut Dr. Jeannette Epps will be live in the West Genesee High School Auditorium on April 21, 7:00 p.m. She is going to talk about her experiences, possible careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (especially for girls) and take questions from the audience. How cool is that? Put it on your calendar!

    Assessments: This week is grades 3-8 assessment week for English Language Arts. Our new Commissioner has made the assessments shorter, has made sure that teachers have had a say in question development, and has made sure that there are no time limits. This will not stop those who are really against state assessing from voicing opinions or opting their children out of the tests.

    In my view the current Commissioner has done a remarkable job in a very short amount of time fixing some of the very poor decisions that had been made by the previous Commissioner with regards to how our children are assessed. She needs more time to continue the process, but I am pleased that she is listening to ALL of us about changes that need to be made.

    That being said, parents will make choices for their children with regards to assessments and we will respect those choices like we always have.

    Thanks for your tremendous support and enjoy the week!

    Chris



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