Sunday, August 28, 2016

Almost There...

'Tis that time of year where everyone in the world of education talks about getting in their last few events of the summer before school starts. Kids are preparing for the upcoming year by maybe doing some back to school shopping, visiting their school for an orientation, wrapping up that summer project. Teachers and staff alike are preparing their classrooms and their plans for the year as we eagerly await the students coming to school next week. In the meantime, during this last official week of summer vacation in New York, please make sure to take some time for you as well. As with any profession, the school year will come with many ups and downs, positives and negatives, and memories to be made. The next 10 months will move at a feverish pace and it's vital that we are all fresh and ready to go. This past weekend, I ventured to the New York State Fair for the first time this year and will probably make a few more trips this week to spend some time with family and friends as I cap off an amazing summer working for our community. Perhaps what made this trip special was that it was the first trip for my kids and I was able to drag my parents with us (my mother hasn't been to the fair in almost 60 years!!). It's great memories like that make the home stretch great. If I'm lucky, maybe some golf and a barbecue are in my future this last week of summer as well. And let's not forget, RFA's opening football game is this coming Friday at home against Proctor!! Seems like a great way to end the summer and kick off the school year. So whatever your fancy, take the time this week to enjoy it and spend some time with those that matter most to you!! 

RFA Football 'BLACK OUT'

During RFA's home opener this coming Friday, September 2; the students of RFA are asking the crowd to dress in all black in honor of RFA Coach Peter Mastracco who recently passed away. Game time this Friday is 7:00 p.m. at home against Utica Proctor. Come on out and support both Peter Mastracco and the RFA football team!!

Assemblyman Brindisi's Grant

This past week, the Rome City School District was honored to receive a grant through Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi's office in the amount of $150,000 to be used toward improving security throughout our district. The only condition on the grant is that it is to be used to improve infrastructure and equipment, which is an area that we can use some improvement. In Rome, we plan to utilize the funding to improve the lighting in our parking lots, add exterior cameras to our facilities to increase security measures during off hours, and update our cameras throughout the district that are older in age and not as equipped as the technology of today. As you know, grant funding like this doesn't happen all the time, so we are very grateful for the efforts of Assemblyman Brindisi and his team for bringing this opportunity to Rome. Thank you!!

RFA Summer Graduation

On Thursday, August 25, Rome Free Academy concluded their 2015-2016 school year by hosting their summer graduation. In all, another 25 students completed their requirements to earn a high school diploma this summer. While some may say that the high school diploma is not a big deal any more in today's society, I would have to strongly oppose that viewpoint. Each year there are an increasing number of professions that do not require post-secondary education, but require the high school diploma. More students are going directly into the work force from high school each year, and this group of students that graduated last week have reminded us all that perseverance is a trait that we all need to have. Having the ability to get up each time you are knocked down or seeing a project completed simply because you refuse to give up is an amazing accomplishment. Congratulations to the summer graduates of Rome Free Academy and to the entire class of 2015-2016; best wishes on a bright and fruitful future. Don't forget where you come from as you move through life's journeys. 


One final thought for this week comes in regard to transportation of our students. Generally, at this time of year families and students are receiving a lot of information about the upcoming school year, including the information about their school transportation, or lack thereof. The purpose of my mentioning this here is because it is important for our families to remember that when the school district establishes routes, stops, and eligibility for transportation; there is no single person sitting in a dark back room plotting to make your lives difficult or being spiteful while making decisions. Our decisions with regard to transportation stem from a series of complex software programs that generate and forecast runs that minimize time on buses for kids as well as cost of fuel combined with both State Education regulations and local policies. I understand that we can't make everyone happy or meet the wants of every person, but please know that we wish we could and we try. If you have a concern or issue with your child's transportation (or any issue for that matter), that is fine, but please remember that venting is one thing and being down right disrespectful is another. Please consider that on the other side of your email or voicemail sits a person, whom you may have never met and/or have no idea what struggles they are working on in life too. You'll hear me say this often; we will get more and go farther together as a school community, than we will if we work against each other.

Monday, August 22, 2016

What Are We Chasing...

Have you ever wondered what it meant to get a 72 on a test? Or how about a 43, or a 3? What do all the numbers mean on this grand scale of 100 points that our education system is so devoted to? In life, we are rarely judged by numbers for our actions. Okay, there is the teacher evaluation model which provides scores... But again, that's education. It seems that everything needs to be justified by a number. Why? What's the end game besides making one person, or worse yet a kid, feel insignificant compared to the next. In life, we measure success in terms of black and white. You did it, or you didn't. Last time you baked a cake; did anyone say, "Wow this cake is an 87" or "this cake is a 3 on the rubric." We don't evaluate our life skills this way so why are we trying to evaluate KNOWLEDGE with numbers. As adults, we know there is more than 1 way to do everything. It's time that we, as adults and educators, transform education to promote the acquisition of knowledge and get away from promoting the chasing of a number. Our kids can perform and can demonstrate what they know in more than 1 way. Perhaps I feel strongly about standards based grading because each year I see an increasingly high number of children become frustrated with school. School should be a time for our kids to enjoy life and grow. Not be told they aren't good enough because they only got an 86. As a community, let's begin the work together to restoring the acquisition of knowledge within our schools. Our kids and our teachers deserve better than the chasm called education that we've fallen into.

Congratulations to RFA Administrator

This week, Monday, August 22 actually, long time RFA assistant principal Linda O'Neill will be hanging up the walkie talkie and walking off into retirement. During her decade span at RFA, Ms. O'Neill touched countless lives and worked tirelessly to improve the atmosphere at RFA. Teachers, kids, and families alike have all voiced their sorrow of her retirement; while at the same celebrating a career that many of us can hope to have. While I have only known Linda a short time, I can say that she is a true friend and that I have learned a lot through our discussions and laughs. You will be missed Ms. O'Neill and best wishes on an awesome retirement!!

Building Updates

During the past week, I have been making my rounds to visit our schools and I am pleased to report that they are in great shape. The buildings that were hosting summer school have gotten right on top of things and are cranking away at getting cleaned and set up. In every building, teachers could be found either working on their classrooms or participating in professional development to prepare for the upcoming school year. Our custodial crews, maintenance group, and IT department have been right on top of things and working as a team to get our schools ready for opening day in 2 short weeks. Within the coming days, the only thing missing will be the kids. The next 2 weeks are filled with building orientations and walk throughs, so please take a look at our website, for dates and times if you have not received any information as of yet.

New Teacher Boot Camp

Last week our new teacher began their orientation process with what we call, "Boot Camp" in Rome. In all, 22 are attending the meetings last week and this week to learn more about Rome and our schools. Of the 22, 19 are veteran teachers which is an exciting statistic for us because that means that experienced educators want to make Rome their home. In the coming weeks, we should have a few more new teachers coming on board with the hopes that by opening day we are set to go. It has been an exciting summer here in Rome and I know that our teachers are really looking forward to getting going!!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

One For the Ages...

The past 6 months have not been necessarily easy for the Rome City School District family as we have seen tragic loss of life on an all too frequent basis. This past weekend, longtime Rome teacher and current RFA teacher, Peter Mastracco lost his most recent battle with cancer. For those that knew Mr. Mastracco, he was one of a kind. He spent time at both RFA and Strough and has family connections all throughout the RCSD. Beyond the classroom, Peter was a staple of the RFA hockey coaching staff who constantly worked with our young men on how to become better athletes on the ice, but more importantly better men off of it. In the classroom, Mr. Mastracco worked tirelessly to improve the lives of each and every student who entered through his door. He was constantly seen throughout RFA with a smile on his face and a skip in his step. Our entire school community was a better place because of Peter Mastracco. As would be said for any legend of any profession, he was One For the Ages!! When it comes to education, Mr. Mastracco was truly the penultimate of our profession and his legacy will live on.

Grade 3-8 Assessment Results

As many of you may have seen in the media recently, the State has released the grade 3-8 assessment results for 2016. In general, across the State scores rose slightly which many will tout as a victory for education. I can't say it's a victory, but it certainly looks good on paper. In Rome, one of the few positive take aways that exist is the improvement in grade 3 math results. Many people want to hate the Common Core Standards, but they are improving our educational system and ironically, research has shown that teachers feel positively about them. The standards are less of the problem, but they have taken the fall of the distrust created by APPR. While many might say I'm crazy, I will always give people my honest opinions and speak what's on my mind. That's the least that our community deserves from their leader. I personally can't tout the slight improvement in assessment scores as a victory for education because of the large percentage of opt-outs that exist throughout the State. Any decent statistician would say that the sample has been skewed because of this. A true improvement in public education would be a decrease in the number of students opting out. When the opt-out movement swept through our State, there was good reason. Many of those reasons have passed and it's time to move past this trend. After all, if we aren't changing with the time, then we are going backwards in education. I look forward to continuing to work with our community, teachers, and students to make the 3-8 assessment process an actual benefit to all parties, rather than a source of angst.

John Joy Grand Re-Opening

On Wednesday, August 24 at 6:30 p.m. there will be a grand opening ceremony at John E. Joy School to celebrate the re-opening of the facility. After a year at an alternate site, the students and staff of Joy are eager to get back to their turf. As with any renovation project, the completion phase is always exciting. The ability to overhaul an entire school is not an opportunity that comes along often for many school districts and in Rome, we've been extremely fortunate to have this happen multiple times. I look forward to the re-opening and more importantly to the first day of classes when all of the students enter their school for the first time. At that point, we will see true joy and excitement!!

Board of Education Retreat

One of the most important elements of a positive and growing system is a collaborative relationship between the Board of Education and the district office. Also vital is the relationship(s) within the Board of Education. During the past month, I have had the opportunity to closely with the Board of Education to build a solid foundation of respect, understanding, direction, and vision. During a recent retreat, the Board began to rework their goals, discuss possible ways to improve community communication and understanding, and laid the groundwork for our future growth and success!!