Skip to main content
 
 

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.


August 11, 2020

Dear Friends,

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Friday that schools may proceed with in-class instruction this September started a chain reaction at Port Byron. Up to that point we were planning for different possibilities for the upcoming school year, but with his big announcement we shifted from a planning stage to an implementation stage.

The Port Byron plan combines best practices for the health and safety of students while maintaining a commitment to teach, feed and nurture students every day. The beauty of the plan is that we can support families with school five day per week, which hopefully will afford them the opportunity to fully rejoin the economy.

The health and safety of the plan includes the pod system, which is considered to be the best method to limit the mixing of students and staff, thus greatly reducing the spread of the virus. The pod system is combined with the wearing of masks in common areas like buses and hallways and social distancing inside classrooms.

We also will have lots of changes to the school day to improve health and safety. We will no longer allow visitors to enter the facility. If you need to pick up your child during the day, then you will come to the Lehn vestibule and make your request via a video conference system. Every aspect of the school day has been reshaped to ensure that we do not permit the spread of the virus. We also cannot allow students to switch bus runs during the week.

If your child cannot attend school or you wish for them not to attend due to the virus then there are two options. One is homeschooling. This requires the parent to take the responsibility of educating their child. The other option is for the school to provide online material for students to progress alongside their peers attending school. If you are exploring either of these options, then you need to write to Assistant Principal Erica Sinicropi at esinicropi@pbcschools.org.

The main thrust of our work in the next two weeks is communication. The district’s website, Facebook and Twitter will be populated with information. In addition, we will be holding Zoom meetings next week to answer questions from stakeholders.

The upcoming school year has many challenges. COVD-19 is a serious threat to the health of residents and vitality of the community. What we can do is be here to provide a safe place for students to learn and grow while supporting the Port Byron community.

Peace,

Neil



July 28, 2020

Dear Friends,
 
The work on devising a plan for the upcoming school year continues and I wanted to take this opportunity to share some more of the details.
 
We will have two pathways for students:

  1. One is to come to school five days for direct and indirect instruction from our teachers.
  2. Option two would be to learn from home using the resources found on teacher’s Google Classrooms.

 
The students coming to school would be placed in groups of 12-15 depending on the size of the classroom. The 12-15 students will become a cohort and stay with each other throughout the school day. In school they would have a blend of in-person and online instruction from their teachers. The school day will be from 8:45AM-2PM with an arrival time from 8-8:45AM and a dismissal window from 2-2:30PM. The schedule for students will be for K-12.
 
The students learning from home will have a district Chromebook or iPad. They will access lesson and material from the teacher’s Google Classrooms. At this time, we cannot pinpoint the exact ebb and flow of this part of the program until we ascertain the number of students who will be participating.
 
The in-school plan will have the necessary safeguards and requirements to promote health and safety for students and employees. In a previous eNews we mentioned some of these requirements and when we post our plan at the end of the week on our website you can read it in greater detail.
 
The missing group is UPK. While the state budget provided the money for us to have the program once again, the governor has not released the funds to school districts. In past years, we would have had the funds by now, but without notice or explanation they are frozen. How and if they become unfrozen is not something the governor’s office has been willing to discuss with school districts. Therefore, we have to wait due to the fact the program is not part of the annual budget but paid for by a grant from the state.
 
The timeline is for us to finish up the reopening plan this week and submit it for approval. The plan we submit will probably change quite a bit over the next month. Similar to the pandemic, our plan will constantly change. These changes will always address the needs of our students, families and staff.
 
We will submit our plan and wait to hear from the governor on his plan for schools. He could have schools come back in September or order us to be online once again. He could also decide have us start online with a new date for the in-person school year to start. He has indicated that in and around August 7 he will give us the details of his plan for reopening.
 
Nobody really knows what next week, month or year will bring. We just keep working to feed, teach and support our students regardless of where and when.
 
Peace,
Neil



July 14, 2020

Dear Friends,
 
The governor and the Board of Regents, separately, have shared with school districts the laws and regulations for safely opening school this Fall. This, of course, leads students, teachers, parents and the community at large to ask us what our plan(s) will be.
 
For the last several weeks, we have quietly started to engage in the work to open school. We have done this even without the state’s guidance. Through this work, we established four principles that we believed are important in shaping our plan. Admittedly, these principles are aspirational since we are not sure we can do so with the rules that are in place due to COVID-19. The principles include:
 
1) Ensuring the safety of students and staff
2) Ensuring we feed students every day
3) Ensuring we provide core instruction inside a classroom every day
4) Ensuring we meet social and emotional needs of students every day
 
These principles have guided our work for the past several years and we have enjoyed remarkable gains during this time. We also recognize the need for parents to work and that school plays a critical role for that to occur.
 
Therefore, we are working hard to meet these four principles and look forward to sharing our plan(s) in the very near future. To assist us in that effort we have canvassed parents to find out how many would be willing to transport their child(ren) to school. This is critical for us to know so we can meet the new guidelines for transporting students. Please remember that every student will need to wear a mask, be social distanced and will have to sit together with anyone in their household on the bus.
 
Please contact Mr. Corey Rooker, Transportation Supervisor, at crooker@pbcschools.org or 315-776-5728 ext. 1316 to let us know if you will be transporting your students. This will allow us to begin the routing process that will be vital to our re-opening efforts.
 
Thank you for your assistance and we look forward to sharing more information in the very near future.
 
Peace,
Neil



March 13, 2020

Dear Friends,

The principals’ eNews this week will bring you up to date on how we will be able to deliver instruction in the event that the schools close for an extended period due to COVID-19. By the end of the school day, we will be able to support student learning in UPK-12 by providing either an iPad or Chromebook to each student.

While it is a remarkable feat to have 1:1 devices for every student, the simple fact that they have a computer at their disposal does not ensure that learning will occur. It will take a lot more than a machine or device to achieve learning in your homes if we are closed for an extended time. We would need to provide the infrastructure and communication tools, alongside parents providing support and expectations.

On our end, we have a remarkable professional team that earnestly aims to make any potential time away as productive as possible. The many features of Google Classroom would enable our hardworking teachers to interact with students when possible, to ensure progress is made through the learning objectives. The actual infrastructure of making sure that the systems are operating well is the work of Mr. Hsu, our Director of Technology, and the building principals.

Communication is the key to avoiding frustration, and to ensure that the distance learning is working for every student. Therefore, there will be additional resources and channels for parents and students to communicate. The building principals will be able to communicate with students and parents through a portal inside of Google Classroom. This platform would give the principals a place to post notes on a variety of topics beyond distance learning that will assist stakeholders during the long absence. In addition to the principal portal, Mr. Hsu will set up a FAQ page and special email address for technology support on the district website. This is a place where parents and students can go to if they are having issues with the device or accessing the materials.

The last communication tool is the most powerful, due to its reach, and that is social media. The school district Twitter and Facebook accounts have over 3,500 followers, and we would employ them to support communication throughout the time we might be out of session. The Twitter account has more of a student focus, while the Facebook is used more as a parent and community tool. Both would be important, because we are working on how we can support our families beyond learning. We have significant caseloads amongst our school, mental health and family counselors. Any long break will be difficult for many of their clients. We would also feed every student, and provide additional food through the backpack program.

The parent’s role is to support the learning. Setting up space, time, and expectations for learning can only happen in the home. Parents will have to be active partners for distance learning to work. Yes, we all dream of the perfect student in high school that can complete the work with little or no interaction with his or her parents, but in reality, this is not the norm. Elementary students are going to need parents to be active participants in the learning. In the secondary school, parents will likely need to be active by setting up expectations and guidelines along with some assistance.

That we “Plan for the worst and hope for the best” is a common quip in times like this. I hope the best is in store for everyone in the near future, but we stand ready for the worst.

Peace,

Neil
 



March 6, 2020

Dear Friends,
 
If you do your homework every night, then the tests at the end of the unit (or year) should become much more manageable. This truism for learning holds great insight to where we stand as a school district in preparing for COVID-19 (Coronavirus).
 
When it comes to building cleanliness, we have been at the forefront by having our facility cleaned with the most modern and effective methods. This includes a special machine that uses electrostatic technology and advanced cleaning products to clean both easy-to-reach surface areas, and those not easily accessible by tradition methods. For example, the “flu killer” spray cleans both the top and bottom of desks. Traditional spraying methods do not effectively deal with the bottom of seats and desks, because they are harder to reach.
 
In addition to using the “flu killer” machine, we also employ many other strategies to make the school and buses as clean as possible. These include:

  • Hand sanitizers located throughout the building
  • Classrooms that have disinfectant wipes
  • During the day, we are wiping down door handles and fountains with disinfectant wipes
  • Nightly cleaning includes wiping down of frequently-touched items
  • Switching nightly cleaning product to more of a disinfecting cleaning product
  • Installing a dispenser for a disinfecting product at the bus garage, so that buses can be disinfected via garden sprayer

 
Besides being at the forefront on cleaning technology and materials, we also are blessed with an incredibly talented, well-trained, and caring staff. These products only work if you have the culture of care that our cleaning staff possesses, and we are fortunate to have such diligence and dedication in our buildings.
 
Outside of cleaning the buildings, we have the capacity to support students and families if we are required to be part of a quarantine. Students are provided with Chromebooks and iPads in grades 3-12. This, along with the expansion of broadband to many of the homes in the school district, will afford us the opportunity to have learning continue even if students may not be able to attend school.
 
One of the steps we took this past year was to ensure that our high-speed internet is available to the community, too. This comes from our belief that the internet is not just for schools, but for the community at large. This means any student could download the lessons by simply driving into our parking lots. Perhaps they might download a movie from Netflix to help ease the boredom, as well.
 
Learning from a distance will be a new frontier for us. Therefore, our principals and teachers are already engaged in conversations and plans with our technology support people to have ideas become operational. We aren’t there yet, but the work is being done knowing that is could happen at a moment’s notice.
 
Doing your homework is a good indicator of success in school, and we believe it will serve us well if we are called upon to face this evolving virus crisis. Doesn’t guarantee an “A,” but we are confident that we’ll be near the top of the class.
 
Peace,
 
Neil
 



February 28, 2020

Dear Friends,

Several events on my calendar from this past week and in the upcoming week highlight the fact we are entrenched in the annual budget season here at Port Byron.

This past week, I was a panelist with several local superintendents discussing school finances to a cohort at the Future Superintendents Academy. The discussion was centered on the evolving issue of the tax cap limiting local resources, and therefore causing every school district in the state to be reliant on state aid. This change has caused great uncertainty due to the fragility of the state budget.

The other event in question is the annual conference in Albany for superintendents, taking place this weekend and going into early next week. The conference has changed greatly over the years. It was once held in the suburbs of Albany, and only a portion of the event was directly linked to the annual state legislative session. Today, the event is held downtown, and its purpose is directly linked to school finances and lobbying. This change highlights the growing importance of the state budget on the operations of all school districts. It has always been a critical part for us, but now every district in the state is keen on the grabbing a piece of the school aid pie.

The issues that these events bring to the forefront are twofold; one political and one financial. The political issue is the reality that the nexus of power in the state is completely removed from upstate. When I first became superintendent, the senate was under republican control, and its leader was chosen from upstate NY.  Also, the governor at the time, George Pataki, was republican, and came from Peekskill in the Hudson Valley. He served in the New York State Assembly prior to being governor, which saw him develop strong relationships with many upstate legislators. Today, both the senate and assembly are controlled by democrats, and its leaders are from New York City area. Every elected position in the state government is in the hands of democrats, who were born and raised in New York City area. Upstate New York’s voice is muted at this time, and the future looks bleak as we continue to lose population along with power. The future is in the hands of downstate politicians who are elected to represent their constituents. This is not us. The exception will be the governor’s office. In the future, it could be a republican and from upstate. Otherwise, we are not in good shape when it comes to lobbying for school aid or any other type of assistance.

The other issue is financial. The political change - along with the state finances being in long-term trouble - means that upstate schools must stop looking to revenue as the sole solution to our future. School districts and other government entities need to find ways to contain costs, increases productivity, and share our resources that will stretch dollars even further. Port Byron has been a leader in this area due to the fact we have spent a lot of time and energy looking at our budget through the lens of cost accounting, which has included measuring productivity and output. We eliminated or reduced many costs that have paid great premiums to the budget. Big items like eliminating the middle school configuration, hiring a private contractor for busing, merging sports and other items with Union Springs, and restructuring our cafeteria service are the ones that were very public and caused some discord among stakeholders. But, behind the scenes, we have had many others that have been just as important. We eliminated compensatory time, and have reduced overtime to a very small amount. Employee attendance today is much improved, and we have redone the hiring process and changed master schedules to find ways to use staff in a more efficient manner. The list of changes is long, but we need to find many new ones to keep up with the pressure to provide the best experience for our students and community.

I will be in Albany looking for additional revenue next week, but the rest of year we need to be looking for savings at home if we want Port Byron to continue to lead and prosper.

Peace,

Neil
 



February 14, 2020

Dear Friends,

Thank you for the well-wishes and inquiries as to what plans I have upon retirement. It has been fun (and a little overwhelming) to put into context that I will be leaving, after serving seventeen-and-a-half years as superintendent of schools. The time seemed to ebb and flow so quickly. I am struck by the fact that when I started in 2004, my youngest daughter, Caitlin, was only four years old. When I retire, she will be graduating from Notre Dame University. My oldest daughter, Maggie, was in seventh grade when I began my tenure here, and she will be married this June, and will be 30 years old when I leave for good.

My future lies somewhere in the south. While I enjoyed the warmth of the people in Port Byron and Cayuga County, I never was a fan of the cold and dark winters. Lynn, my wife, will retire from Nazareth College as professor of bio-chemistry at the same time that I leave Port Byron. The first winter will be spent in Florida, looking for permanent housing. Yes, I will join the “Syracuse Surge” down south to be in a more temperate climate and enjoy Florida’s growing economy, but I will never completely leave Central New York. I will visit often to be with friends and family, along with enjoying Syracuse Basketball and Football on the television. As I have said before, SU basketball is just a little more enjoyable wearing shorts and t-shirt than a winter jacket.

The upcoming year will be one of transition for the school district, and it will be evident in the budget and district goals. We will see Mike Jorgensen be given the opportunity to expand his role in anticipation of his future tenure as Port Byron’s superintendent. In addition to Mike’s more pronounced role, Kim Brown will also be given a similar chance to grow into his future role as principal at the West building. We are beyond blessed to enjoy the best administrative team in the area. I brag often that we are like the New York Yankees in baseball; I have all-stars at every position in my lineup. In the West building, Kim and Mike have cultivated a high school that is a warm, safe and inviting place to learn and grow. This environment, coupled with the talented staff, is the reason we are enjoying such remarkable success. Kim’s ascension to the principal role will ensure that these gains will continue.

The movement forward will give us the chance share the magic with the next generation of school leaders by offering an internship next year in the West building. We have reached out to local colleges and universities to offer an opportunity for one of their students who is finishing an administration program to work at Port Byron next year. The moving parts of the school year will create the need for some additional support, and this will provide the district with a great opportunity to observe the body of work of a future school leader.

The best way for Port Byron to continue to grow and excel is to train the next generation, while simultaneously affording our administrators the chance to move forward in Port Byron.

Peace,

Neil
 



February 7, 2020

Dear Friends,

Sundown is beginning to drift later into the afternoon, which means that winter will be coming to an end soon. It also means that we are getting ever closer to enjoying our new sports fields and stadium. The spring sports season will be one for the record books on many accounts.

First, did I mention that almost the entire sectional softball team from 2019 is returning this year? The excitement this spring is not just about the facility, but it is about our remarkable athletes, as well.

The baseball and softball fields are ready for practice and play. The fields have lights, and because of this, we will have a few 7 p.m. start times this year. We will be one of the few schools to have night games for either sport. The lights are great, but the fields themselves are also more than noteworthy. The infield, grass outfields, scoreboards and facilities for fans are new and in pristine condition. Combine this “newness” and these state-of-the-art facilities with the best grounds crew in the region, and you’re left with something that should have everyone brimming with pride.

The stadium has had two great fall seasons, but its full potential will not be realized until this spring, when we will host multiple track and field competitions at the varsity and modified level. The addition of a pole vault was the last piece of the puzzle in terms of us being able to compete on an even playing field with other high schools in the region. The lack of pole vault resulted in our team losing many matches in years past, due to the fact we had to forfeit the points for that event.

Both teams, modified and varsity, will not likely have many (if any) away meets for quite a while, as we’ve built up IOUs since we did not have a home facility the last several years. The stadium was designed to support our needs during meets, and to be able to host larger events when needed. As a matter of fact, we are scheduled to host the league championship this year. This will result in a dozen or so high schools coming to Port Byron late in the spring to compete.

The three parking lots, multiple outdoor bathroom facilities, four scoreboards (including one with video) a large and well-appointed concession stand, and proximity to the thruway are among the reasons that the league and section wishes to use our facility for large regional competitions. It is my hope that our great staff, enthusiastic and sports-oriented parents, and lots of community pride will also be part of the attraction into the future.

While we have a few more weeks of winter, there is a bright future for Port Byron.

Peace,

Neil
 



January 31, 2020

Dear Friends,

Two important items for you this week.

In the world of negotiations, you are often stuck in a tight spot. You may know a lot, but can say very little. So it has been over the past four months, in regard to having an officer from the county sheriff’s department assigned to Port Byron and other school districts.

I will spare you the ebb and flow of the efforts to provide us with an officer. Simply put, I wish to offer a sincere and heartfelt thanks to Brian Schenck, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes with the officer’s union, county legislators, and school districts to make this a possibility. In addition to the aforementioned parties, I’d like to offer a special “thank you” to our very own school board member and county legislator, Ben Vitale, for his invaluable assistance.

The recently-approved agreement between the county and officers in the sheriff’s department will allow the county civil service commission to move forward in creating the school-centered position of: “Special Police Officer.” The position will allow the county sheriff to have officers in the schools who have the authority to police and arrest. These officers are part-time, and will most likely be retired police, sheriff, or state troopers. While they have the authority to arrest at the school and on school grounds, the position will be more akin to that of a school resource officer who will work with staff, parents, and most importantly, students. It will provide a resource for safety, liaison with the courts and law enforcement, or just simply be another adult for students and families to reach out to. We will reimburse the county for the service, and will have to provide a vehicle for the officer.

This agreement simply gives the “green light,” as it will take a little time to find the perfect match for us at Port Byron. Though I am hopeful that this will occur in an expedient manner, since we are in the middle of the school year. It is great news, and something that I believe stakeholders have been waiting for.

On another government front, last week the governor presented his budget proposal for the 2020-21 state fiscal year. The annual presentation has grown in importance over the past decade for several reasons. One reason is the tax cap for schools and local governments. The cap has put tremendous pressure on the state budget, since school districts can no longer increase property tax beyond a nominal amount. The cost of schools hasn’t changed much since the state has refused to deal with laws and regulations that inflate costs for school districts. Instead, we continue on business-as-usual without a plan to provide the resources, and therefore we face a constant struggle to receive ever-increasing state aid.

The other reason that the annual budget presentation has grown in importance is due to the inclusion of public policy changes within the budget. The New York State Court of Appeals reaffirmed the power of the governor to wield extraordinary power in the budget process. Governor Cuomo has used this to force public policy that has very little to do with budgeting.

The proposed budget offers Port Byron a small increase in state aid. Too little to meet our natural increases in costs, but we are hopeful that we will receive some more when a final budget in enacted in late March. Our strategic planning has been working on the assumption of the state not fully funding schools due to its overspending, and passing laws to increases costs on municipalities. I wish I could offer a more positive note, but there seems to be little appetite to deal with costly mandates and laws that force us to spend money beyond what other states have to do in education.

Peace,

Neil
 



January 24, 2020

Dear Friends,

The other day, a student emailed me and asked for a little help. He is currently enrolled in a vocational BOCES program, but would like to come back to the high school full time and enroll in more rigorous courses.

On many levels, this is one of the most rewarding parts of my job as school superintendent. I love helping our students overcome adversity. Behind the scenes, I have had the opportunity to move proverbial mountains at times. Often, students are unaware of the efforts that are taken in the background to support them. In many cases this actually makes the work even more rewarding.

In this instance, we were able to do what was unthinkable a few years ago. The old educational system would have to offer regrets to the student, and simply state that it would have to “wait until next year.” The ironclad rules would dictate that a student had to stay in their BOCES program, because we could not offer anything this late in the year.

But, in the age of online learning, we can make magic. The student can come back, and take some online course, coupled with courses offered here at the school. This is helped made possible by the fact that we also have the most caring and flexible staff when it comes to assisting students. In years past, the proverbial doors would have been closed for students who were trying to jump back in this late into the year. Today, we have teachers asking what they can do to help our students, even if it may go against the grain. The combination of online courses and teachers willing to go the extra mile will give this student a gift that will pay dividends for years to come.

One more interesting sidebar to the story is the fact he lives in a very rural part of the district, about a mile off the main road. He stated how amazing it is that TDS has given his family the opportunity to have high speed internet. His house has a fiber connection, even though they live so far away from the road. This also brought a big smile to my face, due to the fact we worked so closely with TDS and the governor’s staff to have our community included in the expansion of broadband.

So, in the end, we have a student who wishes to challenge himself with more rigorous coursework in the second semester, and who feels comfortable advocating on his own behalf. He wins on every level, and has the opportunity to do so because the staff, technology and community resources are all aligned to make Port Byron a better place for learning.

A very nice story, and one that could not have been told five years ago.

Peace,

Neil
 



January 17, 2020

Dear Friends,

I often hear wonderful compliments regarding the look and cleanliness of the buildings. The building and grounds staff take great pride in their work, and are always looking for ways to improve.

One of those improvements has a great story behind it, and demonstrates our commitment to provide Port Byron residents with “the best,” and in a fiscally prudent manner. The change to new soap dispensers in the bathrooms throughout the facility is a small step that speaks loudly.

Such a small thing might be easily overlooked in some cases, but since the new dispensers have our panther emblem on them and look incredibly sharp, and they have been a topic of conversation. The dispensers add to a long list of accent pieces throughout the facility and grounds that are visually pleasing, and help separate our district from the common and institutional public-school look.

The soap dispensers were free, due to our never-ending search to decrease costs and increase the productivity of staff. We are constantly looking for new companies to do business with by seeking bids on products and services, and that’s where our story begins. This process led to a bid that would yield savings of one thousand dollars in the annual cost of hand soap.

The company from which we purchased the hand soap responded by seeking ways to keep our business. We acknowledged that the savings were great with the new bid, but what we really needed were dispensers that were translucent, because greater waste occurs when dispensers are solid. The dispensers were checked on a schedule of every other day, and would be changed if there was a chance that they might run out before the next scheduled check. Because the soap comes in a plastic bag, whatever excess remained was tossed out in the garbage, leading to a waste of hand soap.

Translucent dispensers afford us the opportunity to check them every day without going through the time-consuming process of opening them up. This increases productivity and decreases costs. The company offered one more sweetener to keep our business, by expressing a willingness to emblazon our emblem on the free dispensers.

We are saving a thousand dollars, while further enhancing the aesthetic accent to our facility. It is a culture of pride - along with a talented staff that is always on the lookout to innovate and provide better value for stakeholders - that makes us such a special place.

Peace,

Neil
 



January 10, 2020

Dear Friends,

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven,” begins the famous passage in the bible from Ecclesiastes. My “season” at Port Byron will end in December of 2021.

The bible passage talks about seasons in literal and in emotional terms. To this end, I look backwards over my time here at Port Byron. Yes, we did plant a new crop that yielded a great bounty. The school district is better today in every conceivable measure, from academic to financial. We have embarked on a journey over nearly two decades that took us to incredible heights that I honestly could have never imagined in the beginning. Just standing on the roof looking out over the property alone is both breathtaking and satisfying, when viewed through the prism of time.

If the measurement of my time here is just about the district’s fortunes, then I truly have not expressed my true emotions and thanks. The bible passage speaks to seasons on the human emotional side that truly expresses the reason why this has been the best season of my life. Stealing again from the passage, I have been able to laugh, mourn, weep, dance, heal and so much more during my time here as a member of the Port Byron family and community.

Raising my two daughters here and watching them blossom into adults who went on to pursue their education at some of the best universities in the United States is just a small part of why I offer thanks. The great friendships we developed as a family in Port Byron, along with the opportunities my daughters had to develop their talents are truly the greatest gifts that the staff and community have given me during my tenure. My wish and desire was to give back to the students, staff and community so they enjoyed similar experiences on a personal level, too.

I will leave with a sense of pride and accomplishment because of the team I leave behind. I brag about them often, and receive praise from colleagues in the area because we are the best. We have the best school board, administrative team, and staff. These are not platitudes, but rather a true assessment of our status today. When measured by our technology, facilities, professional development, instruction, culture inside of our buildings, and charitable works by staff and students, we are leaders. We are the best because our staff is highly skilled, thoroughly trained, and truly cares about Port Byron. We lead by example, and the greatest flattery is the fact that so many have wished to emulate us. It is this team that I will miss the most when I begin next chapter in my life.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is often read at funerals, and leaving this place after nearly two decades does have the feeling of a “loss.” But, following my family Irish tradition that views funerals as a time of celebration, I will be smiling on my last day.

My season is coming to a close, but it was a championship season and for that I say “thank you!”

Peace,

Neil
 



December 20, 2019

Dear Friends,
 
How do you solicit feedback that is rich and informative? In years past, a simple survey attempted to do the trick, but often the recipient felt that they did not get a chance to express their thoughts or ideas in that format.
 
Recently, colleagues from around the state introduced me to a new way of creating a dialogue with stakeholders that is much more engaging and responsive than the old survey method. It is called Thoughtexchange. It is an online platform that simply asks an open-ended question and lets the audience move the conversation in a direction, providing ideas and consensus. We have had two of them recently; one was with the community at large on how we are engaging stakeholders with our communication platforms. The other exchange was with staff on our performance at it relates to staff development. In both cases, we received great feedback that honestly surprised us, and is helping to shape the direction we will heading toward in the future.
 
We hope to complete a series of exchanges in the future to assist us in this work, and we will ask that you sign up and share your thoughts. When you sign up, we are not able to identify your personal responses or thoughts. Rather, the system promotes continued engagement by encouraging respondents to rate other people’s thoughts. The end product often produces a consensus amongst participants, and this is ultimately what will assist us in our work.
 
We will of course be taking a break from the weekly eNews until we return from winter recess. Even during the down time, we will have some important work at hand. The Cayuga County Holiday Basketball Tournament is being hosted by Port Byron this year. Additionally, our annual wrestling tournament will be held on the Saturday prior to school reopening. Lastly, for those who have a little too much holiday cheer and sweets, the community fitness center will be there to help you burn a few of those excess calories away.
 
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Be safe, and enjoy the time with the special people in your life.
 
Peace,
 
Neil



December 13, 2019

Dear Friends,

Many things have changed over the years, but one of the constants has been the Port Byron School Board’s commitment to improving the school district, and the work they do for the community.

One of the areas of focus for the school board is its monthly meeting with stakeholders. The school board is mandated by law to meet at least once a month to do business in the public. It is not a “public meeting” of the school board, but rather a school board meeting in the public. The distinction lies is the fact that there is not a requirement in state law stating that the board needs to engage with the public. The school board must conduct its business in front of stakeholders, unless it fits a few areas that must be done in executive session.

The school board has tried to make these meetings more responsive than the law requires, by incorporating several key components to increase their relevancy and opportunities for interaction. This Monday’s upcoming school board meeting serves as a great example of this effort and focus. The meeting will meet the legal requirements (such as approving financial and personnel items), but will also include a student performance, presentations by school administrators, and time for stakeholders to enjoy cookies and conversations.

We are blessed to have a performance of the high school jazz band to get us in the festive mood. One presentation will highlight the contract we are proposing to sign with Under Armor, which would give us a discount on the purchase of uniforms for our athletic teams. In addition, Kim Brown, our athletic director, will discuss the program we have established to replace the uniforms on a schedule, to ensure that purchases occur in an even and regular manner that doesn’t favor any team or gender. This program is something that we developed due to significant issues with uniform purchases in the distant past.

The other presentation is part of a series this year that we’re calling, “PB 700.” This segment will focus on the effects that our declining enrollment will have on the Gates building. Julie Podolak will provide some interesting data showing the changes that have occurred over the past decade or so, and the challenges we’ll face in the future. High School Principal Mike Jorgensen has been leading the overall conversation for the district, which will culminate in building a strategic plan that will ensure that the district remains vibrant and able to fulfill the needs of the students and community, even as the population declines.

The cookies and conversations serve two purposes. One is to expand the public comment section of the school board meeting. Yes, residents can speak to the school board during the set-aside time from the meeting agenda, but we have found that conversations are better than speeches for both board members and stakeholders. Therefore, the break time with the board encourages conversations with stakeholders. The other reason is simply that the cookies are a nice “thank you” to our student performers, and also provide a vehicle for the board to engage students in a social manner.

I write to everyone to offer a cookie or two as a bribe. Come join us at a school board meeting and learn a thing or two, and share with the school board an item or two for them to grow.

Peace,

Neil
 



December 6, 2019

Dear Friends,

Why am I so upbeat about where we are as a district today? Well, the simplest way I can express the great feelings is by talking about staff development.

In the first decade of my time at Port Byron, we were seekers. We sought ways to transform the curriculum, instruction, and culture of the district, in order to improve student learning and achievement. We went to national, regional and local workshops. We brought in speakers and trainers to assist us making changes in all facets of what we did at Port Byron. We even changed grade, building, and team configurations in the hope of creating incremental improvements that would lead to bigger and more substantial gains.

Today, we’re conducting workshops. Our teachers and administrators teach best practices to their peers. It’s been a true 180-degree shift. I invited the Commissioner of Education, Mary Ellen Elia, to come to Port Byron this past spring because I am no different than the aforementioned teachers and administrators. I wanted to show the commissioner what we did so well, so she could assist other districts around the state.

In the past two weeks alone, we had a team from Port Byron give a presentation at the NYSCATE, which is a state conference of technology in education. Mike Dingman (our BOCES technology integration specialist) made the trip alongside our own Penny Mills, Julie Petrosino and Jennifer Roden. They demonstrated to teachers and technology trainers from around the state on how to integrate coding into elementary curriculum.

Likewise, Julie Podolak and Katie Naples (our instructional specialist from BOCES) presented at a regional BOCES meeting of curriculum leaders and school principals on literacy. The presentation went through the journey we have undertaken over the past several years in shifting our literacy curriculum and instruction. It also touched on how data was used to assist us through the shift, and to demonstrate the great gains we have enjoyed for our students.

In order to make such great gains, you need several critical ingredients. But at the top of the list, you need to have talented teachers and administrators who have the energy, skill and passion to work together, professionally, to change curriculum and instruction in a way that is data-driven, and that meets the needs of every student.

We are blessed with a staff filled with such abilities and passion.

Peace,

Neil
 



November 22, 2019

Dear Friends,

Next week, we’ll have a week-long break for students. In our BOCES region, there are four districts who follow this new schedule. This plan came about as we struggled to find a parent conference day in November that fit nicely into the schedule. For a while, we tried having two half-days, but the disruption to learning and the decline in attendance on those days made the option unattractive. We then placed a full day off before or after Veterans Day for parent conferences. This works well, unless the holiday happens to fall on a Wednesday.

That is how we ultimately settled on making the Thanksgiving week a full week for students, and incorporating the parent conferences for Gates and a staff development day for West on that Monday. It really calls back to a schedule from the past, when the first day of shotgun hunting for deer was on the Monday before Thanksgiving. As such, schools in more rural areas of the state had teacher conference days on Monday and Tuesday of the week, so any hunters on the staff could take the days off to enjoy the sport. And by the way, I am really excited about the new student-led parent conferences that will be conducted by the older elementary students!

One more aside of the schedule is Veterans Day itself: This year I was in Nashville, Tennessee on Nov. 11, and I had conversations with some of the locals. They shared that the schools do not close on Veterans Day, but rather celebrate like we do by bringing in Veterans and make it a living history day. They are not the only state I that I am aware to do this. In all honesty, with the scheduling issues schools are facing due to changes in closing on weather-related days, along with more inclusive religious celebrations, it might be something we need to consider here in New York.

I leave you with a request for help. I would like to make our website and social media channels more robust and user-friendly for stakeholders. Therefore, I need to ask my customers to complete a survey to assist us. It is not a traditional survey, but rather a conversation with a large group. It is from a company named Thoughtexchange, which creates surveys that are open-ended and that facilitate greater interaction amongst participants. Please give it a try at https://my.thoughtexchange.com/#794219645.  It will be extremely helpful as we try to fine-tune our communication platforms for the community at large.

Peace,

Neil
 



November 15, 2019

Dear Friends,

After the recent blackout in the village, some stakeholders asked about our new standby generators, and what plans we have in place for dealing with such emergencies.

The backup generators worked perfectly, restoring power throughout the facility in roughly 20 seconds. But, restoring power is just one of the stories. We have put much time and energy into creating a seamless transition during those 20 or so seconds between the loss of energy and when the generators kick in. One example: We have many battery backup systems in place so that we do not lose connectivity in our phone or computer systems during the interruption.

Besides reviewing every critical operational system for redundancy, we also spend just as much time ensuring that we can complete critical business operations if we lose internet and/or power. For instance, we have laptop computers in the district that have student emergency data that is accessible during times of crisis. This data is updated every night. In the event that we need to leave the facility due to an emergency, these laptops will contain critical information regarding student pick-up and emergency contact information.

Outside of planning for emergencies during the school day, we have now begun to create plans for when we are in dual operation: Both as a Red Cross Shelter, and as an operating school facility. We are in conversation with the Red Cross on what we need to do support the community in regard to the facility function. This is not done in a vacuum, but is done with the understanding that we need to be able to serve students and staff simultaneously. Our tentative plan is to use the Lehn Gym (and its surrounding footprint) for Red Cross operations. Our interior doors are now electronic; therefore, we can isolate that area to keep our students safe. The Red Cross area would have the ability to house showers, a kitchen, and a congregation area, all without interfering with the rest of the facility.

Our planning and preparation never ends, though we sincerely hope that you never really see or understand that work we are doing behind the scenes. Our goal is that you always feel safe, and that the school is the center of the community both in good times, and during the times that require us to be at our best.

Peace,

Neil
 



November 8, 2019

Dear Friends,

Winning the league, sectional and state championships are the goals espoused by every varsity sports team from the very first practice of the season. While it is often a mantra that, statistically, has very little chance of becoming reality, the coach and team use it as a motivational tool. This is especially true in the beginning of the practice season, when improving physical conditioning is the primary objective.

I share this because we had a very special fall sports team this year, one that recently won the sectional championship. A rare feat. Normally, I would write a congratulatory note because they met a goal that was both lofty and remarkably difficult. Yes, I am very proud of the girls’ varsity field hockey team and their sectional championship. But they won something that I think is even more important, and to be honest, managed to teach me a lesson along the way.

Earlier in the season, a win was taken away from us because a team decided that victory was more important that sportsmanship. I was angry, and showed my darker and more competitive spirit. But the girls, and especially their coach, Mindy Gilbert, taught me a lesson on dealing with loss the correct way. Mindy is not just a coach, but is truly a teacher who coaches. She taught the team (and myself) that winning is not the only objective.

This team has also demonstrated a level of sportsmanship that is just simply amazing. When they won the sectional crown, a parent of a girl who lost to our team the previous round approached Mr. Jorgensen and myself. She shared how excited she was that we had won the game, and mentioned that her daughter said that our team was the “nicest one they had played this year.” Her daughter, after suffering a season-ending loss at the hands of our players, wished us victory in the future because we showed such amazing class.

These girls showed us how to win with class and lose with grace. It sounds easy, but this year they were tested at levels that made the challenges on the field look relatively easy in comparison. They won life’s lesson, and will enjoy that victory for much longer than the game that catapulted them to the sectional crown.

We will celebrate a great season at the upcoming Nov. 18 board meeting with cake and the like. We will celebrate winning on the field. But in reality, we should celebrate the girls’ victory in life. It is truly an achievement, when it can be so easy to forget what is really important in life.

Peace,

Neil
 



November 1, 2019

Dear Friends,
 
On a personal level, this is an important weekend for readying yourself for the upcoming winter season. On a professional level we do the same… but with a slightly different focus.
 
This weekend is a time to change the clocks and to replace batteries in smoke detectors. It is also a time for you to make sure that you are ready for extreme winter weather. Do you have emergency tools in your car like and ice scraper, warm blanket, phone charger, battery cables and gloves? Inside the house, are you ready for power outages in the extreme cold? Or the loss of water or internet? This is the time of year to take stock and make sure you are prepared for the worst conditions. I remind people that a loss of electrical power is much worse in winter than summer. One is annoying, but the other can be life threatening.
 
At school, we are also preparing for the worst, to ensure the safety of the students, staff and community. Your child will tell you that we have lots of drills throughout the fall, so we can be ready for whatever might occur. This past week, we completed a special drill that had all of our students evacuate to the stadium. It is just one of many emergency plans we have developed in order to be ready for a schoolwide evacuation. While tragic events like school shootings come to mind for most adults, we also have to consider events like a toxic spill on the nearby rail lines too.
 
The addition of the emergency generators this past June has also made us look at our facility through a new lens: As a community refuge in times of crises. Therefore, we are working with the Red Cross to make sure we can assist the community in this capacity, while still serving our students. We are developing plans so we can make sure students are safe to attend school during the day when there is a loss of power, while also assisting the community by providing shelter and warmth at the same time. Such an event might occur once in a lifetime, but you must plan now to ensure that you are ready at a moment’s notice. An ice storm or a terrorist strike against our power grid when the temperature is below freezing will require us to be at our best for our students and community.
 
This is the weekend for us to get ready on a personal and professional level. The sudden change in temperatures surely is a reminder, along with the shorter days as we enter a new season. It’s not my favorite season, but we will be ready to make sure that is a season that we can handle.
 
Peace,
 
Neil



October 25, 2019

Dear Friends,
 
With the upcoming week, we turn the page in the calendar and begin to make the shift from fall to winter. It may not be snowing yet, but for the school district, we complete the shift early, in preparation for the inevitable.
 
The most obvious change will be the closing of the sports complex. We will winterize the bathrooms and concession stand, and will lock the gates for security reasons. We will keep the basketball court open as long the snow stays away. It is always sad to say goodbye to outdoor sports and use of the track, but it is a little less so this year knowing that the softball and baseball fields will be ready in the spring.
 
The school facility also is ready for the shift in seasons. The facility has staff continuously working from 10 p.m. Sunday night to 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon. This staffing schedule provides us with the remarkable ability to keep the buildings open for school/activities, even when the weather turns snowy and cold. Even on Sundays, we are not closed for business due to the fact we have the fitness center open and the community basketball games in the morning. We take great pride in the fact we are the center of activity for the community.
 
We take equal pride in our ability to expand the school day for many students, and to give them healthy and nurturing opportunities. Inside the buildings, we will have upwards of 250 or more students engaged in a host of extracurricular activities on some of those cold and snowy winter afternoons. Athletics, school plays, the Gates afterschool program – along with students taking of advantage of our community fitness center – can sometimes give off the feel that facility is just as active at 4:30 in the afternoon as it was at 10:30 in the morning.
 
Yes, occasionally we’ll need to cancel an activity or two due to the weather. We use Twitter and robocalls to alert parents and students if we have to cancel a particular activity. We tend not to close the entire facility unless the weather is extreme and buses cannot safely transport our students on the late run. We want the community fitness center to be open as much as possible for adults in the community. Typically, we only close the entire facility when we need to have parking lots cleared for plowing, or if the roads are too dangerous to navigate due to extreme conditions.
 
While we cannot forestall the ugly parts of the winter season, the school district will remain open for business and pleasure at such a time, hopefully making the long season a little less dark and boring for our students and community.
 
Peace,
 
Neil
 



October 18, 2019

Dear Friends,

This is my 19th year writing a weekly note to parents. I did it as a principal, and now as a superintendent. I think I will be closing in on my 700th edition at some point in the near future.

Writing every week can be a chore, and can either be daunting or easy depending on where we are in the school year, and if there is an issue or thought that is important to relay to stakeholders. This week I write easily, as this Monday’s Board of Education meeting will see the annual presentation of our district and building goals. It will be my 16th time presenting these goals, which have changed greatly over the years.

For instance, this year I do not have overriding academic goals for the district, and will instead let the school principals present the instructional and curriculum goals for their buildings. The district goals of the past couple of years had been process-oriented when it comes to curriculum and instruction. We have built an incredibly rich and deep team of specialists to assist principals, teachers, and staff in writing curriculum, digging into data to inform and change practices, and making shifts in instruction to assist the changes in technology and student learning styles.

District goals have now become more process-oriented, focusing more on the relationship between staff and community. They also tend to have strategic implication. This year, one of the goals is our “PB 700” initiative. In simple terms, this initiative addresses how the district will shift in the near future to deal with the declining student population. We want a soft landing; one that does not unduly affect staff, programming, or the vibrancy of the district.

Other goals include reaching some of the important milestones for which the district continues to strive. A few of these are: 90% graduation rate, 95% participation in state testing, and for 100% of our students to have some connection with staff and school outside of the classroom. The first two are rather easy to discern, but the third is among the goals we have been working on for years.

We know that, in the past, we have lost children and families in our district. This year, we want to quantify that every child and family is within reach of the district. This could mean dental, medical, counseling, or backpack program assistance for families and students. Afterschool program, athletics, school plays, and summer programs represent other ways in which we could achieve this goal. Simply put, we want to make that sure every student and family in the Port Byron community has a connection to the school district and staff.

There will be times in the year that writing a note is not easy, but over the years, I have been blessed with a rather easy time of it overall, due the fact Port Byron continues to grow and improve.

Peace,

Neil
 



October 11, 2019

Dear Friends,
 
At present, the FBI, New York State Police, and Social Sentinel (a security software package we subscribe too) all give us warning signs regarding the content that some of our students are posting on social media.
 
In the past several weeks, I have seen (or have been advised by law enforcement about) students posting images and words that are alarming and illegal. It is beyond eye-opening to have the FBI involved, but some of the items are exploitative, and will result in prosecution for the adults involved.
 
I write this week asking for assistance. We frequently speak to the students about the dangers of social media, and have counselors and administrators work with individuals who have been adversely affected by it, but we alone cannot keep up with the issues. There needs to be conversations with and expectations from parents that help ensure that students understand that it is never alright to post nude pictures of yourself or friends. It is never alright to allow someone to make you do something that is harmful, or that violates your personal privacy or values.
 
This might seem like common sense or just “stating the obvious.” But based on the issues we’ve encountered over the past year, there have been too many instances of our students being involved in inappropriate posting on social media, or involved in other activities that violate personal privacy and, in some cases, the law.
 
I leave you with two thoughts: One is the fact I have to write in generalities to protect student privacy, and not share too much. The second is that both the volume and the subject matter of these stories would make you cringe and cry. There are far too many of them, and some are just heartbreaking. It can only be arrested when all of us take a stand, and are willing to speak with our kids honestly and from the heart. Having people arrested might mean that someone pays a price, but for the victims, that cost is way too high.
 
Peace,
 
Neil
 



October 4, 2019

Dear Friends,

Over this past week, the last of the sod was installed on the baseball and field hockey grounds. In addition, the remaining green spaces surrounding our sports fields were hydroseeded. Except for some minor work to fix an item here and there, the project will be declared “completed,” and subsequent paperwork will be submitted to state education department.

In the coming months, additional work will be completed on the areas around the sports complex and bus garage. This work is not part of the project that the voters approved several years ago, but instead is part of a program we have for yearly capital work which is financially supported by the state. The additional work will see the fencing replaced on the east side of the bus garage complex, and the installation of a fabric wall around the base of the new bleachers to create storage areas that are protected from the elements. The $100K project will also have us purchasing two additional exterior doors, which will improve energy efficiency and security (we have long been trying to replace the old exterior doors).

We are always in “improvement mode” inside and outside of the facility. In most cases it comes from programming or operational designs, along with a general need to replace outdated or broken items. In some cases, though, it comes from absolute necessity. One such need arose this fall, when one of our students who struggles with vision found it difficult to navigate in some of our hallways. The white walls and beige lockers did not provide enough visual contrast for this student to safely move through the hallways.

This problem created an opportunity to assist a student, and also to make the facility even more appealing. To start, we have been begun to paint a maroon strip along the white walls to assist the student. Next, we are also going to paint the drab beige lockers maroon during the upcoming Columbus Day weekend. The hallways are coming alive with color, and the building is more inviting and visually appealing with every step.

The students and parents are very thankful for our expeditious efforts to complete the work. We are thrilled to have had the chance to help a student, while also taking the opportunity to make our school even better for all students and visitors.

Peace,

Neil
 



September 27, 2019

Dear Friends,

One person. Yes, it just takes one person to change the course of a life. If you don’t think this is true, then you need only spend a few minutes with one of our graduates, and you will become a believer.

The graduate in question is Mark Talbot, who received his diploma as part of Port Byron’s Class of 1985. He was not considered a “good” student, living in a home with three siblings and a single mom who was struggling to make ends meet. His story is echoed in many of our current homes. The future looked dim for Mark as he walked off the stage at graduation, but then something happened at Port Byron High School that would forever change his life.
One teacher saw beyond the human struggles, and could plainly see the potential brimming under the surface. This teacher was able to connect with Mark, and make him believe that he possessed this great potential. This teacher was able encourage him to measure himself by his talents and gifts, and not by the cards life had dealt him.

That magical moment was like a spark that enabled a flame to grow into a raging fire. It took time, but at 18 years old, time is one thing you are blessed to have. Mark’s journey after high school was, in all candor, essentially moving sideways until he entered the military. This is when the embers of the spark took off. His belief in himself was reaffirmed as he blazed a trail through boot camp and his subsequent assignments. The second person in his life that believed in him was an officer who realized that Mark had the talents and drive to be a West Point graduate. Mark first had to go to a prep school to build the resume academically to make that improbable jump. He did just that, and ended up ranked first in his class. As with everything else, he exceeded everyone’s preconceived notion of what is achievable.

The third believer in his life is his wife, Rachel. Together over the years, they have been a winning team. Beyond blessing him with three children, Rachel is also Mark’s business partner, and they own an enormously successful business in Huntsville, Alabama. When discussing how they could share their bounty, Rachel suggested that they start a foundation to benefit Port Byron students.

The first fruit of this effort is a scholarship that will begin this year. It is called “The Climb Scholarship.” It is a $5,000 gift to a graduating senior (or a couple of seniors) who are trying “rise above” their circumstances. The scholarship is not limited to or intended to be a college scholarship, but rather, was created to provide students with needed boost to go beyond the limitations life might have dealt them. It could be the seed money for a business, or it could be used to cover the costs of a program that will give them the tools to chase a dream.

While the financial gift is what will be the tangible part of the story this week, I really would like equal focus to be placed on the story of Mark, and his remarkable journey. The other question that you’ve likely asked yourself (and like a good story teller, I’ve left it for the end) is: Who is the teacher who so inspired Mark? It was Carolyn Kessler, who retired in 2003. For those who were students during that time period, they would have likely guessed her name. She believed in our students, and the magic of this belief has transformed many lives.

Peace,

Neil
 



September 20, 2019

Dear Friends,

The end of the building project is a great time to offer a larger review of the facility, and the changes that have occurred over the years that I have been with the district. Yes, it is likely to be the last large-scale project that I will be associated with at Port Byron, so there is a desire for a longer look at these changes.
When I first arrived at Port Byron, the two most pressing items that confronted us were roofs and asbestos. The elementary school floors were made with asbestos, and they needed to be transitioned to asbestos-free flooring. We also had some asbestos floors in the Lehn Annex too. The roofs were an item that came to a crisis following the infamous Labor Day storm of 1998. During that storm, the roof over the West Gym blew off, and we were faced with a significant crisis; one that put the facility at risk.

Besides these two pressing items, it became clear that there were safety issues that needed to be addressed, along with some curious shortcomings in programming that were left unresolved from the addition of the high school. The safety concerns were many, but the most alarming among them existed in the parking lots: They did not have a safe pattern for vehicle and pedestrian movement. We also lacked enough parking to accommodate events.
Lastly, the school district has undergone a significant change in student population during the time I have been at Port Byron, which has left us with both challenges and opportunities. This change was coupled with a desire to make the school district the focus of the entire community, and not just the place for student learning as it had been in the past.

All of these items are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that have come together to produce what might be considered a new and improved facility. All of the roofs have been redone over the past two decades, and the school district is asbestos-free today. In addition to those two “must-haves” from when I arrived, we have also redone all the parking lots. The front or the Maple Avenue side of the building was completely redone over a decade ago. The bus loop, car drop off, and large influx of new parking spots were accomplished with the changes, as well. In addition, we expanded the one-lane road at the entrance of Athletic Drive to a full bus loop. One small item in that project that would begin a transformation of the district over time was the introduction of security cameras at each of the exits.

The second major project – one that transformed the middle school into the Lehn Annex –would become the focus of the community engagement. The fitness center, new lobby and total revamping of the Lehn gym were the most memorable (or visible). But, again, lots of behind the scenes work – improving HVAC, identifying energy-saving enhancements, the installation of security cameras and doors, asbestos removal, and roof replacement – all complimented the easier-to-see finished products.

The third and last large project is the one we are completing now. It includes a remarkable list of items, including the stadium and fields. Perhaps lost among the “big items” is the list of the enhancements that improve safety, the physical plant, and energy savings. The LED lighting, security cameras, electronic doors, and HVAC additions are just a small list of improvements we made alongside the board’s original goal of completely eliminating asbestos in the district.
Yes, whether it’s at a Friday night football game in the fall or during a spring softball game under the lights, one can’t help but think of the project we have just completed. But, it should also be remembered when the lights remain on during a blackout, or when a student takes a regents exam in a cool, comfortable gym.

Much has changed over the years, and I hope all would be agreement that Port Byron is the better for it.

Peace,

Neil
 

September 13, 2019

Dear Friends,
 
Over the past several years, I have shared many of the initiatives that the district has taken to meet the growing needs of our students and families. During this time, I have had community members, alumni and others wish to share their bounty to help our students.
 
On several occasions, I have had large checks sent to the school district to support our students with meals through the backpack program, or to ensure that students enjoy the full school experience even if their parents cannot afford the “extras.” We have utilized these donations to provide money for field trips to New York City and Washington D.C., or simply to provide a particular item so students can participate in a sport or school activity.
 
This is the “quiet” charity that is happening behind the scenes. Sometimes, a student or family might know a special effort was made using these funds, but often is done quietly with little or no explanation or fanfare. Students or families just enjoy the thoughtful donations of others in the true spirit of charity. It is the ultimate selfless giving. I have been fortunate enough to see the smiles of students who receive these gifts or opportunities.
 
Recently, a Port Byron alumnus inquired about setting up a foundation to benefit our students. This individual wants to make sure our students have opportunities to enjoy the richness of the American experience regardless of their personal circumstances. Hopefully, in the near future, I can give more details on this program. I am genuinely excited and touched by the desire to give back to Port Byron and our students.
 
We have a foundation here at Port Byron. It is called the “Port Byron Panther Education Foundation.” It is a 501(3)(c) foundation, which means donations are tax exempt. The purpose of the Foundation is to provide for innovative programs, enhance the quality of education through extended learning opportunities, and assist those in financial need within the Port Byron Central School District.
 
While the district has gone through many changes over the past decade or so I have been here, the one constant has been the willingness to share and give for the benefit of the less fortunate. It is the hallmark of being part of and living in a true “community.” It is a blessing to be in and belong to the Port Byron family.
 
Peace,
 
Neil
 

September 6, 2019

Dear Friends,

We had a great opening to the school year. A walk through the facility at 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning was a testament to the incredible staff we are blessed to have working with our students. The ebb and flow of school was no different than it will be in a month. This the dividend we receive from having highly skilled and vested administrators, teachers and staff.

The beginning of the year brings with it some annual rites of passage. The first home soccer game was last Tuesday night, and the first football game is tonight at Union Springs. Remarkably, our first home field hockey game does not take place until next Monday night. I use the term “night” loosely for these events, because we are blessed with a stadium and lights. The only caveat is the football game at Union Springs; while they do not have lights, they have rented temporary lights for the weekend so they can host a night game. The remaining home football games will be held at Port Byron.

We also usually mail out the school district calendar prior to the first day of school. Due to some unforeseen issues, the printing was delayed until last week. The calendars will be in the mail soon, and we hope you’ll find them in your mailbox by the middle of next week.

Another event taking place very soon is the test of our emergency messaging service. We will make a test phone call and text this weekend, which will go the phone number on record for emergency contact. Please make sure it is a good number to contact you at during the school day. While it is tempting to think of “snow days” for the messaging system, the real value is having a means of contact if we have an emergency during the school day. If you wish to change the number on file, then please contact the principal’s office with an updated number.

We are hoping the last major piece of the building project will be completed next week, with the sodding of the baseball and field hockey fields in the back of the facility. When completed, the project will have a few bits and pieces left, but will look “complete” to the naked eye. One of the pleasures I have attending sporting events (besides the enjoyment of watching our talented athletes) it to hear the compliments and literal awe visitors from other schools have when taking in the fields and amenities.

In that regard, we are winners before the first play of the game…

Peace,

Neil
 

August 30, 2019

Dear Friends,
Next Tuesday is the big day. For me, it marks the beginning of my sixteenth year at Port Byron, twenty-sixth as an administrator, thirty-second as an educator, and I guess if you add my years as a student, it will be my forty-fifth opening day of school! Yes, the night before is still one of the most restless of the year for me!

To help abate any anxiety and restless nights for your child, we are continuing our tradition of opening up the facility on Labor Day, to help students (such as those entering the seventh grade) get the lay of the land as they transition into moving from class to class. It will be open 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. for students and guardians to decorate, fill, or simply open and close lockers. It’s a great chance for students to begin to familiarize themselves with their new routine.

As we search for ways to improve the educational experience each year for students and families, we are excited to embark upon the next generation of transportation this fall. We have brought transportation information online, which provides the bus schedule for each home in the district. Later in the school year, the software will show real time movement of the buses. The days of an anxious parent or student waiting for a bus should be ending soon with these enhancements to transportation.

In the papers and on the news are stories on the data breach at Pearson, which is a company that provides testing for schools. We are one of those schools whose data was exposed. In our case, the data contains student names and dates of birth. While any data breach is disconcerting, I am thankful it was limited to information that is available in public records. The breach did not target any current testing we do, but rather focused on an assessment that we used several years back. Some of those students have since graduated. We will send out a letter to those affected with further information on the breach.

Students (and for that matter, adults) like routines. This can be a benefit of the ebb and flow of the school year, and can be the difference between a successful and not-so-successful year. Positive routines like plenty of sleep, healthy eating habits, and ample time for studies are the keys to having a great year. Start the year with this in mind when assisting your child in making good choices and planning out the day and night.

A great year awaits us on Tuesday. I cannot wait for it to start!!

Peace,

Neil
 
Superintendent: Neil O'Brien
Phone: 315.776.5728
Fax: 315.776.4050
Address: 30 Maple Avenue
Port Byron, New York 13140