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Archived Notes

2015-16 School Year

Notes from the Superintendent

Welcome to "Notes from the Superintendent," an online newsletter to the community from Superintendent Neil O'Brien. To receive these notes from the Superintendent as they come out, please click here.

 

March 17, 2017

Dear Friends,

While I cannot recall the moment I found out that Santa Claus did not exist, I can probably give a pretty accurate description of the feeling I had at the moment.

On Monday, when I heard the news that Bob Ware had passed, I went through emotional pain, disbelief, sense of loss and I guess a little bit of anger, too, which is probably very similar to the feelings I had back forty or so years ago when I heard the news that Santa was not real.

Bob served on the school board for 15 years, the Port Byron Fire Department for more than 50 years, was involved in countless other civic organizations, and upheld many community duties and responsibilities. He also played the role of Santa and the Easter Bunny for our kindergarten and UPK students, respectively.

Bob was my boss, friend, colleague, team member and, to me, a person who just represented the quintessential "Good Guy." He loved life, students, civic engagement and doing the right thing. He had little time for complaining and never waited for someone else to take the lead or come to the aid of a neighbor or community member. Whether it was three in the morning or three in the afternoon, Bob was the person who answered the fire or ambulance call - or simply, took a call from a friend. He never said "No." I just do not think it was in his blood to do so. He cared about everyone and personally felt the pain when someone was hurt in the community.

He was an incredible caring and loving dad, grandpa and husband. Yes, he had boundless love for family, too. His pride for his family was only matched by his Port Byron pride. Love for family and community - that was a pretty easy philosophy to follow in his eyes. Love both (family and community) and take pride in their accomplishments.

While I was taken back by the news that Santa did not exist as a child, I did realize later that the Christmas spirit was something that was much more powerful and uplifting than a man in a red suit. Similarly, the pain and sadness of Bob Ware's passing will be eclipsed by the recognition that the goodness of Bob lives in the eyes of all the people he served and touched. This is especially true of those children who looked into Bob's eyes and really believed Santa existed. His work or spirit was much greater than a mortal being.

St. Nicholas gains a friend in heaven and we lose one...RIP Bob...

Neil

 

March 10, 2017

Dear Friends,

Sometimes I like to share what occurs behind the proverbial curtain so that you can understand the thought processes that go into a decision. In addition, I want for you to understand and appreciate the talented people who work on your behalf.

A week ago Thursday morning, we had an amazing wind storm throughout the area. The wind caused power lines and trees to topple onto Route 38. This occurred during the middle of the night. The damage to the power lines resulted in a major road being closed for more than 14 hours.

When the event occurred I received a text message at 4:00 a.m. from Town of Mentz Highway Superintendent Dave Nielens. While Dave contacted me, Port Byron Fire Department Chief Bob Ware contacted the district's Director of Transportation Corey Rooker. While this might seem trivial, I would like to tell you that such communication is not always common among municipal entities. The gift of having two hours to assess and plan was critical in helping us get ready for rerouting the students north of the closure. The buses would have to travel through Weedsport to reach the students.

The actual decision to go with school on time that day came from cross conversations on what a delay would do. The reality is that a delay really wasn't going to provide any relief. We had the bus routes redone and we were ready to adjust the closure for the morning commute. We realized the best course of action was to communicate to as many people as possible that a road closure existed. Therefore, we used social media (Twitter and Facebook) and phone lists to communicate to students, parents/guardians and staff the need to adjust morning routines.

The morning went well with the buses only being delayed by about 20 minutes. In the afternoon, Mr. Rooker came up with an ingenious plan that allowed the commute to perform seamlessly with the closure. The high school run went through Weedsport on the way up north and was of course delayed due to the extra distance. The idea that made the afternoon become manageable was Mr. Rooker's decision to take a couple of extra buses and use them to load the elementary students at the normal time. These buses were available because we did not have any sports runs at this time. The added buses picked up elementary students at the normal time and began the journey to Weedsport on their way up north. In Weedsport, they switched drivers with the returning high school bus drivers. This enabled the regular drivers to do the run without the lost time of making it all the way back to the school building. This easily saved 20 minutes from the run.

The reason I tell you the story is the fact we are blessed with talented and vested people in the district and the community. As I indicated earlier in the narrative, this type of teamwork is not always prevalent in similar events across the region or state. We often look to blame government and its workers when things do not work well. Today, I would like to say thank you when it works well.

Peace,
Neil

 

March 3, 2017

Dear Friends,

It is hard to believe winter is coming to a close very shortly. While there is a winter chill in the air today, we have seen and felt more than a hint of spring during the past two weeks.

The month of March usually features events in the secondary building that will not be negatively impacted by sports practices and games. The spring musical, which is "The Wizard of Oz" this year and will be held on the weekend of March 16-18, is one of these events. We have been trying to find ways to lower the admission price for the musical to contractual minimums set by the licensing company.

The Honor Society will hold its inductions ceremony on March 21st. The changes in the criteria for induction will mean that this upcoming year will see mostly juniors receiving the membership honor. The new criteria in the high school will make it a tad more difficult to be admitted and will shrink the membership.

At the end of the month is the CCMEA All-County Festival. I have referred to the month of March as the "Month of the Arts," because we have our spring musical and the county music teachers have their annual convocation of the most talented students in the county perform at a local high school. This year Moravia will host the event on the weekend of March 31st-April 2nd.

One more thing March is famous for are blizzards. While I am confident on the arts and honor society events this month, I hope that we escape wither’s last punch!

Peace,
Neil

 

Feb. 17, 2017

Dear Friends,

Recently, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that I found fascinating. In the article, they shared the story of a successful author in Argentina who also works during the night as a janitor for the subway system. His story was instructive in light of our recent board meeting in which several teachers spoke eloquently on the challenges we are currently facing with some of our at risk students.

The two stories come together because the writer shares that his father was not a reader, nor was he educated. In addition, the author does not have a degree from a university. The only anecdote he shares in the story was of his father sitting him down as a child and telling him that the only thing that separates humans from apes is the fact we can read. The author states that this anecdote was something that stayed with him and motivated him to become a reader. His love of reading eventually led to his passion to write.

During the recent board of education meeting, several teachers requested from board members help in reaching some of the district’s most challenged students. The discussion was one of the best we have had in a board meeting in quite a while. While several ideas were shared on what would help us deal with disenfranchised populations, I could not help but think to myself what are some of the "I" statements that could be articulated.

What I mean by "I" statements are to suggest that in the case of poverty and disenfranchised population we have a tendency to offer suggestions on how others should change. In the story of the author from Argentina, I probably would lament that the father did not demonstrate a love of reading or learning in his actions. But, in reality, that probably is something he was not able to do. His words though were enough. This is the only "I" statement he had to offer to his son.

In my line of work, I need to search for my own "I" statements. What can I do to help? I need to find ways to support teachers and administrators in the budget, planning and visioning of the district to support them. I need to give direction and ideas for the school board to act on. I need to find ways to help the community to be more supportive of families at risk. What I cannot offer is for change to occur when it is not possible. It reminds me of the opening lines in the "Serenity Prayer:"

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

I guess I leave everyone with the question of what "I" statements they can make to support our most fragile learners and community members.

Peace,
Neil

 

Feb.10, 2017

Dear Friends,

My daughter's report card came home this past Saturday. No, I am not going to discuss her progress, but rather the courses she is taking. She is a junior, but is taking a full college load of courses here at Port Byron. It never dawned on me until this week that she is really a full-time college student as a junior in high school.

The number of courses we offer for college credit has grown over the years. In addition to the great number of courses, we have also been able to provide them at no cost to our students. This combination is truly remarkable. Our partnership with Cayuga Community College, along with online and AP courses, have led to the possibility of having students graduate from high school as college sophomores. The number of college courses we offer is extremely high for a rural school district.

As a matter of fact, we had a recent graduate speak to our current students this past fall and bragged about the money she was able to save by completing college in three years due to having such a huge head start with the college credits she earner at Dana West High School. For me, it is not about the cost of the courses or shortening the years a student needs to spend in college, but rather the opportunity to find academically challenging coursework while in high school.

We can only offer these courses due to having a talented teaching staff who meet the standards of professorship. In addition, we have to have a large enough population of students interested in challenging themselves to meet the more difficult coursework found in college courses. Lastly, we have to have a school board and community who supports the academic needs of all our students and wishes to ensure that the size of the district will never be a negative, but only a positive.

Peace,
Neil

 

Feb. 3, 2017

Dear Friends,

Recently, I read two books that made me pause and think about my work as superintendent at Port Byron. One of the books is written by J.D. Vance and is titled "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis," and the other, "An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny" is authored by Laura Schroff.

Both books are inspirational and provide insight into the struggles students have in this world to thrive due to economic and social obstacles. In Hillbilly, J.D. speaks to the struggles many children have, from areas as diverse as the closed coal mines of West Virginia to the shuttered factory towns of NY, Ohio and Pennsylvania. J.D. eventually graduated from Yale Law School, but his journey is simply amazing and equally improbable. In the book, he writes from the heart on his struggles to deal with poverty, family hardships and his mother's drug abuse. Many of the obstacles he faced are very similar to the ones I see in my work here with our most fragile students. I promise if you read the book you will come away with an appreciation on the struggles some of our young people have each day in their lives. You will also walk away with a new outlook and that will change some of your beliefs, too.

The "Invisible Thread..." is just purely inspirational. The story will leave you with an appreciation on how one person can change a life. In this case, it an advertising executive, but in our world it could be a teacher, bus driver, or coach. The story again deals with the devastating impact poverty and drugs have on families, but also on how we can make a difference by our actions. The author of the book is truly a remarkable person who will tell you in the end that her charity for a young person paid a dividend for her that is hard to quantify. It is hard to know what in the human spirit drives a person to go way outside of their comfort zone to be the guardian angel for our most disenfranchised.

In the end of the two books, we are left with a question. What can we do to be the person who transforms a young person's life to lift them out of poverty and despair?

Peace,
Neil

 

Jan. 27, 2017

Dear Friends,

When I think about the district's relationship with Sen. Michael Nozzolio during my first 12 years as superintendent of Port Byron, I am reminded of Carol King's 1971 song 'You've got a Friend." He didn't just help procure resources for the district, he also assisted in so many other ways by listening and advocating for us. Mike has since retired, but we are fortunate that another friend of the district has taken his place.

This past fall, Sen. Pam Helming won the senate seat and replaces Mike. Her victory came from a crowded republican field in the primary and a spirited campaign by her democrat opponent, Kenan Baldridge. Her victory was assisted by support from Senator Nozzolio.

This support came from Mike's conviction that Pam would be a friend to residents in the 54th senate district. He believed that she would follow his lead of advocating for the counties, towns and school districts in the district. He also believed she had the knowledge and skills as a former town supervisor of Canandaigua along with her work with developmentally disabled adults and Canandaigua school district gave her the perfect background to serve in the state senate.

I am relaying this information because I think the song may truly be apt for our nascent relationship with our new state senator. Sen. Helming will be meeting with school board from the region tomorrow at our own Cayuga Onondaga BOCES. She also has reached out to us to be included in one of our upcoming school board meetings. Lastly, and most importantly, she has reached out to myself asking how she can support us in our efforts.

In these difficult times and in a state that definitely tilts towards the "Big Apple" we need as many friends as we possibly can muster. This is especially true of friends who will be with us in good times and not-so-good times and have the capacity to make a difference for the children and residents of Port Byron School District.

Peace,
Neil

 

Jan. 20, 2017

Dear Friends,

We received the governor's proposed school aid for Port Byron and we are slated to receive a $325,000 increase in school aid. This represents an increase of 2.69% in school aid. It is not a bad number, but it is not a particularly good number either. The amount of school aid needed to move forward in the programing we would like for our students will require more aid. On the other hand, the increase in school aid will not require reductions at this time, either.

The real crux of the issue is the fact the governor in his proposed budget wants to disavow money that's owed to us. This is of great concern because the debt, which has increased throughout the past decade, would significantly help a community that struggles. We do not have the advantages that exist in wealthy communities. In actuality, we have challenges that wealthy communities do not have. By eliminating the Foundation Aid goal of fairness and equity, the governor is going down a slippery slope, in which communities like Port Byron always end up on the short side of the stick.

The future of school aid looks more and more like it will be decided by politics. In New York that means downstate and wealthy places win and upstate and economically challenged places lose. This is why we must reach out to our state legislators and ask for more aid and restoration of the ideal that the "little guy" will get what is owed to him from state government and receive a fair chance. In particular, Cayuga County and Port Byron have citizens who need a little extra boost or support and it is the job of the state to provide us the resources so we can do the work.

I am in Albany today and will return to represent and advocate for students and the community. A healthy and vibrant community would do wonders for helping our students. We need the resources and will need for our state legislators to help us even the playing field.

Peace,
Neil

 

Jan. 13, 2017

Dear Friends,

Often, I write or at least sketch out my e-News on the weekend preceding Friday's publication - unless something dramatically occurs during the school week that needs to be addressed. This past weekend, I was struck by the dueling press releases and articles in the papers from around the state by the governor and the comptroller's offices.

The New York State Comptroller has been auditing school districts in earnest ever since the scandalous theft of money from a Long Island school district in 2004. These audits, at first, were mostly to ensure that other school district leaders were not engaged in similar felonious behavior. Subsequently, the audits were used to determine that school districts' financial controls and processes were strong enough to resist such behaviors. Lastly, and most recently, the audits have been to determine budgeting practices at school districts. We have had two major and several minor audits since I have been at Port Byron, and have received positive results. While I am grateful for a passing grade, I have noticed on the audits a recurring theme -school districts are lacking long-term plans for school finance. As a matter of fact, the comptroller is highlighting a new law he sponsored that requires multiple year financial plans be added to school district websites.

At the same time the comptroller's office is turning out these press releases on the lack of long-term planning by school districts, the governor is in the process of releasing the annual state budget. The ironic or sad part of the story is the fact no school district has any idea what school aid will look like this year. The governor ushered in a property tax cap years ago without any mandate relief, which he promised. Therefore, school districts have become true wards of the state. We can plan all we want, but the number one factor in developing the revenue aspect of the school budget is aid from the state. The reliability of this aid is precarious at best, therefore making long term planning almost impossible. The state has borrowed money by withholding school aid in the recent past. Also, the state has not released money owed to school districts under a court agreement that is over a decade old. The most frustrating moment, besides the years of taking away or withholding aid, was two years ago when the governor would not even release the aid figures for each district in his proposed budget.

At the end of the day, we have been generally graded highly on how we have handled the school district finances over the past decade or so. We have expanded programs and opportunities for students and the community by transforming many of our practices. In the upcoming year, we know we need to add additional supports in both buildings to help students and families from our struggling households. These supports need to reach the classrooms so teachers can have new tools to deal with the changing populations in the district and county. Besides this pressing need, the rest of our budget is taking shape. We have settled contracts with all labor groups, annual increase in payments for health insurance and retirement premiums seems to becoming into focus and other costs for programs and initiatives are being costed out or are in the process of being evaluated.

The only thing missing is revenue for us to do our work. We have lived in a self-imposed property tax cap for years. Therefore, we await our state aid amounts, which should be released next Tuesday (assuming we be getting the aid runs this year). The state owes Port Byron over a million dollars in foundation aid. How do you plan a budget for years to come when I honestly do not know what to expect next Tuesday? Will the state begin to make substantial payments of the IOU we having been holding for the past decade?

Peace,
Neil

 

Jan. 6, 2017

Dear Friends,

There are many wonderful advantages to working within schools besides the opportunities to be with students every day. One of the advantages is that fact we have two distinct New Year celebrations. Yes, the one we had this past Sunday is one of them, but we also have a similar event in September that marks the beginning of a new school year.

The reason it is an advantage is the fact we have two opportunities to take stock on where we are on a host of personal and professional issues and make a plan to improve. The ability to be introspective is truly one of the greatest gifts we possess.

Commonly referred to as New Year resolutions, the opportunity to reset your personal and professional life is a powerful tool to bring about change and ultimately improve your life. Therefore, I invite everyone to do so. Outside of the obvious resolutions to lose weight or quit smoking, which are typical favorites, I ask for you to consider how you can help others make powerful, positive changes.

A commitment to read more to your younger child would be one example. If you have older children, then make a commitment to read more in your own personal life. I have known parents who chose to read the same book as their child so they can discuss it and have a common bond or thread. In addition, when said book is for school, the opportunity to dig deeper also provides a chance for students to perform better in school by deepening their understanding of the work.

There is abundant research that informs us on many changes that will help our students in school and improve the life of the adults who care for them. Decisions on meals, sleep, structured family time, setting up space and support for learning within a home are just a few of them. I will leave you with an anecdote from earlier in my career that has stayed with me to this day on how these routines can be so powerful.

I had the pleasure of teaching students from Vietnam nearly 30 years ago. The parents and students were collectively referred to as "boat people" since they left their country on boats in the dangerous waters of South China Sea. Many died trying to escape Vietnam. One of these students who went on to an ivy league school was a little tired in my class one day. I asked why she seemed fatigued on this particular day and she told me her nightly routine.

She was the oldest in the apartment of four children along with mom and dad. It was a one bedroom apartment. As the oldest child and one who could speak and read English well, it was her job to assist the other four every night in their homework. When she was done doing so and the youngest two would go to sleep, it would be her turn to start her personal studies, which she took very seriously, to say the least. This five to six-hour nightly regiment was her life in high school.

I am not suggesting that we have to emulate it to be successful or to be great parents (I promise it is not the routine in the O'Brien household), but, rather, it stays with me because it demonstrated a remarkable drive and will to be successful in a new land. It is a best practice and one that should cause us to pause for a moment to think of what we can do to help our own children to be better students and hopefully a better person in the process.

Peace,
Neil

 

Dec. 16, 2016

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, I was in New York City for the second time this school year to meet with the leadership team of "New Visions for Public Schools." The New Visions team oversees scores of public and charter schools in New York City. They also have partnered with The Gates Foundation to create curriculum for Regents level classes in New York that are aligned to the Common Core.

The reason I have been invited to work with the organization is twofold. The primary reason for my attendance yesterday was due to the fact that I am currently president of a foundation that provides professional development for school leaders in New York. The organization, Leadership for Educational Achievement Foundation (LEAF), has received money from Gates Foundation the past two years help teachers and principals improve teaching and learning in classrooms throughout the state. Gates reached out to LEAF to see if we could partner with New Visions to broaden the reach of the new curriculum beyond New York City.

The second reason I am excited to work with New Visions is the fact that school districts, like Port Byron, are in great need of help to revise high school curriculum with the advent of the Common Core. Several years ago, our high school staff, went through a lengthy process of creating curriculum for each course. We put them on put them on our website and began the process of developing new interim assessments. The curriculum and assessment process collapsed with the shift to the Common Core, which arrived with great speed, but, sadly, without the support of previous changes to state curriculum in the secondary grade levels.

The Common Core in math and English have state curriculum called modules. Social studies and science have nothing like this from the state. The New Visions Curriculum project fills this void and does it much better than the modules for math and English. Besides curriculum, New Visions provides essential questions, activities and assessments. More importantly, New Visions uses networks of teachers to create and refine the work. Unlike the modules the state provided, which were of uneven quality and static, New Visions is a cloud-based system that goes through constant improvement based on teacher experiences and feedback.

Earlier this month, the staff development day in West Building was devoted to unpacking the New Visions curriculum and seeing how we may use it to fill a void in our developing new curriculum. The social studies department is talking the lead and is actually going to take it for a proverbial test drive with their students to see if fits our needs well.

The curriculum writing process can be very long, labor intensive and costly. Hopefully, if we can join a New Visions network, we might be able to quickly adopt a high-quality curriculum aligned to the Regents, Common Core, the new state science and social studies standards, which is filled with extraordinary high quality teacher designed materials.

Over the years, I have come back from Albany with financial resources for the district, but the other gifts I have received are not as easily quantifiable, but in many ways, are more important to the long-term health of the district.

Peace,
Neil

 

Dec. 9, 2016

Dear Friends,

I have some exciting news to pass along. The Vietnam Veterans of America - Chapter 704, along with Port Byron School District will have "The Wall That Heals," a 250-foot replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, on our campus June 1-4, 2017. The wall visits 35 communities a year throughout the United States. Since it travels mostly over the summer months, it is not often associated with a school district. The national organization is thrilled to have a school district be a site where the opportunities to have it integrated into curricula for students in the Finger Lakes and Syracuse area greatly enhances their mission to educate the next generation.

This event will likely bring thousands of visitors to Port Byron and scores of schools will likely have field trips to our school. I have already sent out a save the date and have heard from schools interested in visiting on Thursday or Friday, June 1st or 2nd. We will be looking into how we can prepare for the large groups to ensure that the event is a great success. The Wall will likely be placed in and around our baseball field. There is much work to be done to prepare and we will need lots of community support.

A very special thank you goes out to Dana West social studies teacher Linda Townsend. Ms. Townsend facilitated the request and has worked tirelessly with a local veteran's group in an effort to honor those who have served our country.

In other news, the district recently received results of its water testing. Out of 177 water sources tested, 14 revealed lead levels that exceed New York state's permissible level, which is 15 parts per billion (ppb). Under the state's standard, water sources that could potentially be used for drinking or cooking that have lead levels greater than 15 ppb are to be taken out of service.

The state level is more stringent than the federal level, which is 20 ppb. In reality, the lead levels on the district's 14 identified water outlets are likely below many of the lead levels found in your homes, especially if the home is more than 20 years old.

We will be replacing the faucets on the sinks that were affected and retest the water. The good news is that having almost all the sinks and fountains come back in good standing to the very high state standard tell us that the basic piping into and throughout the facility are in great shape as it relates to lead.

A notice outlining the district's water testing and results will be sent to all Port Byron parents and guardians.

The last tidbit I want to share is about a program the village has signed onto to fix the eyesore of the old high school auditorium and gym. The village, in conjunction with Catholic Charities of Rochester, is submitting a grant with a New York State program titled, "Restore New York Communities Initiative." The grant request is for 1.4 million dollars to remove the old parts of the building and to refresh the apartments. It would be great to see progress be made in tearing down the bad sections of the building and having the apartments refreshed. It is a long way from a funding request to having the work being completed. Hopefully, the village will be rewarded for their efforts.

Peace,
Neil

 

Dec. 2, 2016

Dear Friends,

December is one of my favorite months of the school year, especially because it marks starting point for the winter sports season.

There is nothing like the excitement of a basketball, volleyball or wrestling match in a school gym where lots of parents, students and community members are cheering on our student-athletes. Besides the modified and varsity games, the district hosts CCYO games on Saturdays. When there is not a game or match, parents and community members are coming to enjoy a holiday concert or event.

Outside of the special events, the buildings are usually bustling with practices, after-school programs and community events. The parking lots and hallways seem to be filled with energy and vitality from six in the morning to nine at night, five days a week. On Saturday, the din of noise finally ceases around three in the afternoon. On Sunday, the community fitness center along with a community basketball league truly confirms we are a seven-days-a-week facility.

The use, or sometimes, it seems, overuse of the school is what excites me the most. The Port Byron school facility is a community asset and the school board has always expressed a desire for us to extend the use of it as far as possible to meet the needs of the community.

Oh, yes, do not forget that in future years we will have lights on the new all-purpose turf field, along with the baseball and softball fields. Therefore, we can be just as bustling in the spring and summer during both day and night!

Lastly, let us not forget that December also holds two other magical moments. One of these magical moments comes with the holiday season. The school and community come together to reach out to the less fortunate. The gift of giving is a critical lesson when teaching to the whole child. We do not wish to teach only the "three R's," but wish to ensure our students will be assets to the community in adulthood. We have several programs running in both buildings to ensure Christmas gifts are under the tree for all children in the community and that the pantry is filled with food for families to enjoy.

See you at one of the many events!
Neil

 

Nov. 18, 2016

Dear Friends,

This is a perfect week to catch up on some tidbits to share with stakeholders.

The electronic sign on the hill overlooking Route 31 died in September. We had been nursing it for the past year or so, but the cost to repair it was too great this time. Prior to the sign going dark, we had been working on finding a replacement. As a matter of fact, we included a replacement in the annual 100K projects that we do with the state each year. Therefore, a new and better sign should be coming in the next several weeks. The new sign is larger and will be much better in providing messages.

We have been a member of the WeatherBug network for the past two decades. As a member, the district has a weather station and camera on the roof of one of its buildings. The camera is sometimes used by WHEC channel 10 in Rochester during its newscasts. We recently updated our station and the new camera is quite impressive. It allows everyone to see images of our fields over a 12-hour period. It also has the capabilities to zoom in and view with 360 degrees.

The weather station is used by many inside and outside of school for a variety of instructional and operation purposes. The camera is so powerful that we can see cars on the Thruway as well as much of our campus. In a few weeks, we will have some monitors in conspicuous spaces throughout the building, which will have a montage of screens with weather information and a picture from the camera. The WeatherBug station is also available by clicking on the button found on our school district website.

I have been asked about the status of the broadband expansion by TDS. The grant awarded to TDS this past summer by New York has several stages. The first couple of stages are regulatory requirements that TDS must complete before the actual construction can begin. At this point, it has been indicated to me that the process has been moving forward as planned and will hopefully result in construction this spring. This is, of course, contingent that the state is satisfied with submissions from TDS and regulatory approval is completed by early next year.

As we enter the holiday break, I want to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and hope that you have a chance to celebrate with family and friends. It is my favorite holiday of the year due to the fact it is the only time of the year that my large Irish family comes together.

Peace,
Neil

 

Nov. 10, 2016

Dear Friends,

Throughout the years, I have remarked that students are like mini thermometers. As they enter school each day, they respond in words and actions to the warmth emitted by the adults and their peers. If students encounter a kind and caring environment, they tend to respond similarly.

Every day, I walk the hallways and, as an observer, see magic moments between students and adults unfold. This week, I thought about this as I watched elementary students enter the building. One of the school's teachers, Emma Cowley, received countless hugs and personally bantered with each student. It was Monday and I was amazed on how much insight she had on each one of them. What also made it more amazing is that Ms. Cowley spent most of her career in Port Byron at the eighth-grade level. But, on this Monday in November, she was speaking and reacting so well with students, despite the fact they are half the age of her former assignment's cohort. You would think she had worked at the elementary level for her entire career. The students’ smiles told me that the cold of morning was quickly fading and they were thankful and happy to be at school.

While walking through another hallway, I noticed students as they stopped outside of Laurie Mosley's classroom and viewed the posted schoolwork. The remarkable thing of being in the hallways all the time is that I often fade into the background. While standing there, I watched, as students grew happy seeing their work and grades displayed on the wall. It is clear that prior to students arriving, Mrs. Mosley has posted the work of some of her students with notes of praise and encouragement. Again, Ms. Mosley has turned a magic button in each of those students to start a new day and week at school with fist pump and genuine enthusiasm.

Lastly, is a show I have been watching for 13 years at Port Byron. I use the word 'show' because the characters have remained the same, but the interaction has changed so much as the student has matured. The underlying theme has never changed, though, and that is the interaction between a caring professional and a thankful student. The show's two characters are Alex Mucedola, the student, and Beth Foster, a physical therapist. Alex has worked with Mrs. Foster for the entire time he has been a student here. Throughout the years, they have used the hallway as their classroom. Alex is now a senior and I often stop by and humorously remind him of the hard time he gave Beth over the years when the work was physically difficult and demanding. He smiles in return, but I have no doubt that in all those years he knew Beth was doing her best for him. Alex's infectious smile is the same as the aforementioned thermometers.

These are just a few examples of why we enjoy a very a high attendance rate for a school district. It is not just the heat that warms the building on a cold, late fall morning.

Peace,
Neil

 

Nov. 4, 2016

Dear Friends,

Well, obviously, the most exciting event to discuss this week is the upcoming championship football game at the Dome. While it is truly magical to play a second game in the Dome this year and for it to be the championship game to boot, I would be remiss not to mention other positives points of the big game.

The football success is not just a gridiron accomplishment, but also one that demonstrates the character of the coach and players. It also represents the coming together of two school districts to ensure that their students have the best opportunities even when student populations are shrinking.

Character is twofold. Last year, when the program struggled greatly, students, coaches, players and community members continued to carry themselves with pride. I was at the games and while losing never feels good, everyone recognized that the players and coaches were giving it their best and even during the most difficult moments demonstrated great sportsmanship. This year, the program has improved significantly. It has a perfect win-loss record and is heading to the championship game, yet the sportsmanship and character displayed by its participants has not changed. This, in some ways, is a much greater point of pride than the amazing record of an undefeated season.

The second point is the merged sports aspect of the team. When the school boards entered into an agreement to merge some of our sports, activities and business operations, many community members were surprised and a few were taken aback. Would this change the character of the school district? Would it really increase opportunities for students and save the district money? Will it work? I'm happy to say the agreement has been a resounding success. Sports, district operations and activities have been a boon to both school districts. We are winning on and off the field in the areas we are merged. Both school boards have worked extremely hard to ensure that the interests of the school districts work in tandem when possible.

While I hope to see hundreds of Panthers and Wolves come together on Sunday night in the Dome to root our team to victory, I already know in many ways we have already won the larger game before the first kickoff.

Peace,
Neil

 

Oct. 28, 2016

Dear Friends,

When the school board sent a project to the residents for a vote this past August, I was by law required to be neutral in advocating for its approval. My role is to present the project to residents with facts and figures, but I am precluded by law and regulation to advocate for voters to approve the proposition.

It is now, after the vote is done, that I can discuss why I am happy with the outcome and to offer why I think residents made the right decision. This became crystal clear this past week. The football field needed 250 thousand gallons of water, countless hours of groundskeeper and staff labor, and several supplies such as paint and topsoil in order to survive and thrive during this summer's drought. In other words, it took a lot of grit to produce such a beautiful field for our team to play on this fall.

In just three hours and four inches of rain last Friday, all of the time, money and pride were washed away. Thousands of dollars were washed away and there was no way of stopping it. We could have waited 24 hours to play, but the tragic end to the field would have not changed. As a matter of fact, I happened to be with the head football official on Friday and as I was lamenting about the impending demise of our field, he stated that we were only one of a few schools that were experiencing this predicament. Most other schools competing in Syracuse in the playoffs had turf fields and were ready to play the game without concern.

This is why field turf is the future and grass is a thing of the past. In simple terms, we can no longer afford to pay the annual costs of maintaining and rebuilding a grass field when a low-cost alternative is available. In addition, the turf field is paid for by the state while local residents pay for the maintenance of the grass field.

In the end, we will be saving money when we install the new field. In the meantime, our football team continues their remarkable season tomorrow at Liverpool against Waterville. The game is at noon and yes; it will be played on a turf field!

Peace,
Neil

 

Oct. 21, 2016

Dear Friends,

It's hard to believe, but we have completed roughly one-fifth of the school year. It seems like time is just flying by and we spend much of our energy and resources on day to day tasks and issues that sometimes causes us to lose sight of the longer term.

It's in this light that I will ask you to stop for a moment to pause and reflect. In some ways, it might be a time to do a little adjustment or measure some of the longer-term goals and ask some critical questions to see if you are on the right path.

As a parent or guardian, have you monitored your child’s progress well so far this year?

Especially in the secondary building, enough grades should be available for viewing in the online grade book for each class. Reviewing your student's grades can help assess effort and, to some degree, achievement. If your child is in the elementary school, have you been monitoring your student's take home folder for samples of work and reviewing any feedback his or her teacher has offered?

Besides monitoring your child's progress, we know that the best form of support is to demonstrate interest and to offer help and guidance. This comes in the form of making sure that positive academic routines have been established for reinforcing learning, and ensuring homework assignments are completed. At this point in the year, the ebb and flow of a daily routine should be well established. It is in these routines we can measure whether enough time is being allotted to reading, homework and other positive engaging activities in the arts and athletics.

In addition, have you had the opportunity to discuss with your child the learning that is going on inside his or her classroom? Again, we know from research that children who have parents demonstrating interest and expressing value in learning have much better academic success, enjoy school greater than their peers, and tend to have more positive self-esteem.

The great thing about taking stock today and assessing where you are in relationship to these areas is the fact that there is plenty of time to adjust. It is also only several weeks away from report card time in the West Building and parent conferences in the Gates Building. Therefore, any adjustments can be measured in the short term to see if they produce positive results for you and your child.

Peace,
Neil

 

Oct. 14, 2016

Dear Friends,

I have always found the hiring process to be one of the most difficult tasks to complete as superintendent. While I can quickly ascertain if a candidate has the knowledge and skills to be successful, I have yet to be able to determine the one quality that makes the difference between poor to fair employee or good to great employee. That quality is pride and caring. Luckily, we have had great success in finding those special people.

Two of those areas that have been highlighted this past week are nursing services and grounds keeping. The property and the sports fields in our district are the best in the area, according to our visitors. The measurement of the special pride our employees have in maintaining the grounds are best remarked by those who travel from school to school. A visiting parent or an athletic official provide the greatest validation of the extraordinary effort and care our staff takes to make Port Byron a special place. During last night's school board meeting, we took a moment to personally thank Dave Didio, Chuck Clark and Mike Doyle. They are part of a great team of adults who demonstrate a desire to provide the best facility and grounds for the community, students and staff.

An area in which we are in the midst of welcoming new staff and in which we had an outstanding team previously is in our school nursing department. Both Melissa Sevier and Joanne Townsend recently left the district. Both ladies were special people for our students. The relationship students have with school nurses is a very unique one. A school nurse is the adult that helps a student when they feel the most vulnerable and in need due to sickness and other medical needs. We were blessed with a great team that complimented each other. Joanne and Melissa provided a warm and inviting place for our students during their time of need and were a great resource for parents in search of help. They both had great skills and knowledge, but what set them apart was their extraordinary desire to take care of our students. Sometimes the best medicine is simply a smile and a kind word.

We welcome our new team of nurses, Kristen Gicale and Jennifer Stoddard, to Port Byron. Kristen will be the elementary nurse and Jennifer will take responsibility for students in the West building and those who participate in athletics. I am confident we have another great team for our students and parents.

These are just two of the areas in which we are blessed with special people. A note or word of gratitude and a smile in the best gift we can give back to show appreciation. Also, if we can pay it forward by demonstrating the same special effort, then we can make a difference for a greater good.

Peace,
Neil

 

Oct. 7, 2016

Dear Friends,

It is hard to believe, but we have been talking about snow this week. No, it is not in the forecast, but the planning process happens now so that when it does arrive we are ready on many different operational levels.

The first item of work is to confirm that our communication systems are in place. Throughout the past decade, we have moved away from the 20th Century model of only informing television and radio stations of a delay or closure, to adding instant communication via a phone call, tweet, Facebook post, text message and email. In addition, if you have an Apple or Android smartphone, then download our Port Byron App and you can also receive push notifications. These systems are in place and a test will be sent out at noon tomorrow (Saturday, Oct. 8). The test will provide an opportunity for parents to change the primary contact numbers the district has on file for them. The best number, in many cases, is a cell phone number since emergency closures can happen at anytime during the school day.

In addition to making sure phone numbers are correct, I would also ask for parents and students to add us to their social media portfolio. If you have Twitter or Facebook, please follow us or like us. Both platforms are used to provide updates that go beyond the emergency phone calls. Sometimes, we use Facebook to provide a more complete explanation, or an update that cannot easily be conveyed through a pre-recorded phone message. Also, we are mindful that phone calls can be intrusive at the workplace.

The district is @PortByronCSD on both Facebook and Twitter. While visiting the district's pages on social media, please click the "like" button on Facebook and the "follow" button on Twitter to receive social media notifications from the district.

The second part of managing winter weather is being ready to work with local highway superintendents to make sure roadways are open and - more importantly - safe to travel on. Every year, we have an annual breakfast with the village and town highway superintendents. One of the operational items that many residents might not be aware of is the fact we have a contract with the Town of Mentz to provide grit in the district's parking lots to help with motor vehicle traction. We have to work in tandem with the town in scheduling snow removal.

The third part of preparing for the winter season is dealing with the extreme cold. The cold weather is viewed in many ways in relationship to the morning commute and students waiting at bus stops. We do not struggle with that issue as much as suburban or city school districts do because most of our students are picked up at their residence. In addition, we offer 100 percent transportation to students.

The cold is a more serious issue if we have to evacuate the building during the school day. We do not have a warm haven in the village to house 1,100 students and adults. Instead, we have contingencies to put students on school buses in the event of an emergency. We will be testing our ability to get buses inside the bus loop to house students and, if necessary, transport them to Weedsport Jr.-Sr. High School as part of our safety drills this year.

On a personal note, the work performed on a snowy or cold morning changes each year, too. The technology at my disposal is simply amazing and grows each year. The weather radars and stations from around the area provide a wealth of information. New York Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) provides information on state route road conditions and cameras on certain interstate roads deliver a realistic view of conditions. The WeatherBug weather station at our school, which is accessible from our website, is a critical measurement device for wind chill decisions.

All the technology in the world does not supplant the human component, though. To determine whether students can be safely transported to school, discussions with highway superintendents and colleagues at bordering school districts are the critical decision-making steps. In all honesty, the changes in technology are changing these patterns, too. Superintendents in the BOCES no longer rely on making phone calls back and forth to each other to discuss weather conditions. They instead use text messaging on a listserv to communicate. This form of communication has proven to be most effective in addressing time-sensitive decisions.

Planning for winter weather should not just be for the school district, but for parents and students, too. It is a good time to review the possibilities of school delays and closures, how they will impact custodial care, and to review or develop back-up childcare plans.

In addition, we are in the midst of the annual Red Cross Emergency Preparation Awareness Program. Do you have an emergency kit in the car and at home that is equipped to deal with an array of possibilities? Blizzards and ice storms can sometimes result in days of electrical power loss with no heat or water. This is the time of the year to plan ahead and make sure you have supplies and are prepared for these extreme events.

There are probably more than 20 steps taken by the district each year to prepare for the winter weather season. We are crossing off the things we need to do so that when the challenging weather arrives, we are prepared to make the best possible decision to open, delay or close, ensure the facility is ready for any contingency and use multiple communication systems to keep stakeholders informed.

Some years it seems like only four or five times we have to go through this decision process. On other years, it's closer to two or three dozen times. You just never know what lies ahead in Central NY.

Peace,
Neil

 

Sept. 30, 2016

Dear Friends,

This past Friday afternoon, we had a bus accident on Route 90 during the high school run. It was our first serious accident in quite a few years. While the investigation continues into the cause of the accident, I can share that we learned a lot by having our procedures and practices tested in a real situation.

We responded quickly and our students who were involved in the accident were incredible in demonstrating poise and the ability to deal with a challenging situation. I have watched video footage from the bus's security camera and I am simply amazed at how well students problem-solved throughout the event and how well trained they were in using the emergency exits. One student in particular, Merissa Pethybridge, demonstrated incredible poise and leadership. Calmly, she directed students to sit in their seats, checked on their health status and then made a phone call for help.

The event demonstrated a need to improve our communication with parents when a situation such as this occurs. The procedure was to take all medically cleared students back to the bus garage, where their parents and guardians could pick them up and talk to district and Birnie Bus officials. However, this process fell apart because some parents and legal guardians who learned of the accident via social media arrived at the accident scene and took some of the student's home.

One particular area in which we will be revising the plan to ensure that in a crisis, parents and guardians all personally receive the same information in a timely manner. In this particular situation, we contacted the local media and Mr. Jorgensen called parents of students who were sent to hospital with minor injuries. We now recognize that all parents and guardians should have been personally contacted.

Corey Rooker, Port Byron CSD's transportation supervisor, will be working with Mark Snyder, our BOCES safety coordinator, and officials from Birnie Bus to update our plan and procedures in light of what we learned from this incident.

A healthy organization learns from every event.

Peace,
Neil

 

Sept. 23, 2016

Dear Friends,

Recently, I had a conversation with one of our residents who is a farmer. He lamented about the very low prices for soybeans, corn and especially milk in the commodities market. He did speak with fond memory about several years ago when prices were historically high and land values for farms in the area had skyrocketed.

In reality, this is the normal ebb and flow of income for those who are in agriculture. There are times of feast and times of famines. In many ways, this the same story for the school district when we need to hire staff. There are times of great abundance and selecting a candidate is hard due to so many choices, and at other times, school districts cannot find certified staff to fill critical positions due to a shortage of qualified candidates.

In my time at Port Byron, I have lived through both cycles. Five years ago, when school districts throughout the state were cutting positions due to declining enrollment and severe cuts in state aid, there was an abundance of candidates for any position. I can remember receiving several hundred responses for an opening in an elementary position.

Throughout the past several years, college students have been staying away from careers in education because the market was frozen for new hires for so long. Now, the pendulum has swung in the other direction and we are faced with shortages.

I tell you this because we have had a resignation this past week in which we cannot fill with a new candidate. The supply has completely been exhausted of quality candidates in this particular area of instruction. It is in the area of physics and chemistry.

We are blessed with a staff that put students first and have agreed to fill the void by teaching out of their area of expertise, but obviously they have background in the material. Tim Howell, who mainly teachers Living Environment will take over the chemistry assignment. Greg Fedigan, who mainly teaches eighth-grade science, will take over the physics portion.

I want to thank both of them for their willingness to pitch in and help us. These changes will require some other changes in the teaching assignments and also will mean we will lose the ability to have chemistry through a Cayuga Community College (CCC) this year.

Peace,
Neil

 

Sept. 16, 2016

Dear Friends,

The safety and security of students and staff are two of the district's top priorities. We spend significant amount of time and money continually working to improve our systems and operations to ensure that we provide a safe learning environment.

To this end, we have many current projects and operations going on in the background that I would like to highlight for you in this week's e-News. One of the projects has recently been a topic in the media - a new requirement for school districts to test potable water for lead contamination.

On Monday, Aug. 29, the New York State Education Department and Department of Health notified school districts that the state Legislature passed a bill requiring schools to test all potable water outlets for lead contamination, remediate any contamination and to notify parents and the public of the test results.

These new regulations are designed to ensure all students in New York State have access to clean, drinkable water. Prior to Aug. 29, schools in New York were not required to test their drinking water for lead, or notify parents or government officials of results. Testing was voluntary and administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Port Byron voluntarily tested its water several years ago. At that time, the district received a passing grade as the tests revealed the water was safe to consume.

To ensure it is in compliance with the new state mandate, the district is working with the Cayuga County Health Department and a regional safety coordinator from BOCES to prepare for the testing process. In addition, the district has started identifying water sources from which, in accordance with testing criteria, samples will be collected for testing.

We will share the results with you once we receive them back from the laboratory.

On another legal front, the traditional fire drill law was completely rewritten this past legislative session. In many ways, I applaud the rewrite. The old law was truly meant for a different era. The days of a fire being the primary danger for schools probably passed five decades or so ago. Corey Rooker, the district's safety coordinator, has been working with BOCES safety coordinator Mark Snyder and Port Byron's School Resource Officer Frank Ryan to update the district's safety and emergency response plan to include topics of violence prevention and mental health. We have been practicing these safety drills with the help of law enforcement over the past decade without it being required by law; therefore, the change will not be that significant for us.

Speaking of Officer Ryan, he continually monitors the facility throughout the day. The other day, I noticed he was testing the outside doors to ensure they lock correctly and he found one of them did not do so. Officer Ryan immediately resolved this issue. I tell you this because the most important part of the security system we have in place is not the advanced electronics and surveillance system we employ throughout the building and grounds, but it is our people. Yes, we have the most sophisticated system for a school district in the area, but the true value are the adults and students who work to make sure the systems do as they are intended to do. Students and staff do no leave outside doors open during the school day; our technology and custodial staff continually monitor more than 200 security devices we have deployed in the building, and guests visiting the building are directed to the Lehn entrance where they are informed of visitor procedures. This is how we can continue to provide a safe and secure school facility.

During the next several months, we will be increasing the number of electronic doors in our facility, and adding or replacing security cameras in various locations on campus. The work never stops. It is too important!

Peace,
Neil

 

Sept. 9, 2016

Dear Friends,

Tom Vaughan, who has served as principal at Dana West Jr.-Sr. High School this past year, has accepted an opportunity to lead West Genesee High School and will be leaving today. We are happy for Tom that his talents and accomplishments here at Port Byron enabled him to find an outstanding opportunity closer to his home along with his wife and three school-age daughters.

Prior to his elevation to becoming principal, Tom was a social studies teacher at Dana West. He will be missed both as an educator and on a personal level for the staff, students and community.

At last night's school board meeting, Michael Jorgensen was officially appointed to be principal of Dana West. He will transfer from his leadership position in the Gates Building. Mr. Jorgensen has demonstrated remarkable leadership in his tenure at Gates in the areas of curriculum and instruction while having an uncanny ability to develop relationships with student, staff and parents with his warm and inviting personality. He is looking forward to the new challenges and opportunities at the junior/senior high school level.

Joining Mr. Jorgensen at Dana West is Mr. Kim Brown. Mr. Brown was hired inAugust to replace Mr. Ward. He comes to us from the Dryden School District where he taught physical education and coached two varsity-level sports. He also completed his administrative internship at Dryden.

Life is filled with ironies. Mr. Brown and Mr. Jorgensen were bitter rivals in the past as Mr. Brown coached varsity baseball for Dryden and Mr. Jorgensen did likewise for Union Springs. Now they will be teaming up to lead and serve Dana West High School.

Julie Podolak will once again take the helm for the entire Gates Building with the departure of Mr. Jorgensen. She will assume the role of building principal for the whole building, even after we find a replacement for Mike. The new configuration for Gates will revert back to having an assistant principal that supports Mrs. Podolak.

While we search for a replacement at the Gates Building, Gary Astles, a retired administrator from Trumansburg, will once again join us an interim assistant principal. Gary has had three previous tenures with us as an interim and looks forward to joining the team to help us for a month or so.

While we have changes in the administrative team, the mission, values and work on behalf of the student and community does not change.

Peace,
Neil

 

Sept. 2, 2016

Dear Friends,

The new school year begins on Tuesday! The facility is cleaned and truly polished. The staff eagerly awaits the arrival of students to begin another year of learning and growing. We expect to continue the successes we enjoyed last year, with even greater gains this year.

This will be my 13th year welcoming the new students to Port Byron. Over the years, the school district has changed in many ways. Change is a constant for Port Byron because we are always searching to improve the educational program and the lives of the students. This year will be no exception. We have new programs for students to acquire 21st Century learning skills, like robotics and coding. The district has increased the support we provide teachers to help them in their professional growth, which of course benefits are students greatly. The constant search to upgrade systems and equipment never ends, too. We have the next generation smart boards being installed in classrooms, security cameras are being swapped out with newer versions that have greater ability to scan and view, access to computers for students is growing rapidly with another grade enjoying the 1:1 program of iPads and class sets of Chromebooks will become the new norm in the high school.

Speaking of the facility, I would like to thank the community on behalf of the school board for the approval of the recent building project. In the coming weeks, I will give a rough outline of the anticipated schedule for the work to be completed in the building along with the substantial work to be done on the fields. I will add that in preliminary conversations, I am hoping that the next two summers will have much of the transition to LED lighting, energy control systems and asbestos floor removal to be completed. I am also hoping the field work will not require moving any teams from PB property for a season.

Due to the fact he has moved out of the district, Larry Abraham officially resigned from the school board on September 1st. The school board has decided to fill the seat by requesting residents submit letters of interest along with resumes to the school board clerk, Janet Tamilio, by September 7th. The school board will interview perspective candidates and hopefully fill the remainder of the term with a successful applicant, which, by law, will end at the next school board election in May 2017. The successful candidate will need to run in the spring to continue to serve on the school board. I would like to thank Larry for his service to the school and community. He will be missed.

Please remember that the first day of school the buses can struggle a little bit to stay on schedule. The drivers have practiced the runs for the past week, but there are still wrinkles to be worked out that just takes a couple of runs with students to work through. If you have questions or concerns, please contact Corey Rooker, transportation supervisor, at crooker@pbcschools.org.

Peace,
Neil

 

August 22, 2016

Dear Friends,

The days are getting noticeably shorter and the high school is brimming with student-athletes; therefore, we must be getting closer to starting another school year. This is my 13th year at Port Byron and this year's senior class started with me when they entered kindergarten. They have known no other school superintendent. This type of longevity is rare in the business today. I feel blessed to have such a supportive community of stakeholders who have been steadfast over these years as we remake much of the school district.

This past spring saw another step in our evolution of growth. The high school had a graduation rate of 91% and the district was 87%. These two numbers are the highest ever for Port Byron. The quest to improve learning outcomes, along with the desire to provide opportunities for students to emotionally, physically, and socially grow have been the foundation of the board's effort since my arrival here.

The other change for the district throughout the past 12 years is to transform our mission from that of a school district for students to a community asset, which provides broad-based services to improve the lives of all stakeholders. We have been able to do so by leveraging money from state, federal and grant sources. We also have been extremely aggressive in finding ways to reduce costs while, in most cases, improving quality of services.

To this end, we have a building project vote on this upcoming Thurs., Aug. 25. We have one every five or so years due to the state encouraging school districts to make expensive repairs, install money saving systems, and to enhance programming through state funds. If you have been with me over the past 12 years, then you are familiar with the great strides we have made on all three fronts. The facility today is very different than the one I entered in 2004. We are a community center that offers a superior learning environment for students with the latest technology for learning that also ensures the safety of our students.

The $13 million dollar project continues in this vein. First, there will be no additional taxes needed to support the project. We have been living under a rigid tax cap the past seven years that was imposed by the school board. The project makes critical improvements to the facility like removing the remaining asbestos floors in the Gates Building. The facility will also have a series of backup generators installed so we can stay open during power outages. More importantly, we can serve as a Red Cross Emergency Shelter when the community is faced with a disaster. It also has some improvements that will save money from the annual budget. This is how we continue to grow even with constrained resources. The three biggest items for savings are the installation of LED lights in the facility, new energy control systems and the installation of an all-purpose field.

Yes, the all-purpose field is not just a great advancement for student and community programming, but will save at least $300,000 from the local budget over the next 15 years. That number could easily approach a half million dollars if we include possible revenue from the field, inflation of maintenance costs for grass fields and a possible shift to a single bus run in the future that an all purpose field will afford us the flexibility to examine as an option. The field is part of a makeover that comes about because many of the athletic areas are in need of substantial improvement. Most of the area was completed as part of the 1991 project and have reached the end of their useful life span.

The project vote is from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. in the Athletic Lobby of the Lehn Annex. When entering the school district to vote, you can see the remarkable changes the last several projects have brought about. The athletic drive was 12 years ago a one-way road; the lobby was a middle school cafeteria, the Lehn Gym looked like it was from a 1970s movie set and of course we did not have a community fitness center.

I look forward to the new year and hope you can find the time this Thursday to come out and vote.

Peace,

Neil