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Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 11:34 am

Chance to meet Frederick Douglas descendant at Batavia Peace Garden on Sunday

post by Daniel Crofts in announcements, batavia, local history, Peace Garden

As part of an interstate tour focused on the history of the anti-slavery movement in the Northeast, 16 educators from California and Kenneth Morris, the great-great-great grandson of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, will come to Batavia's Bicentennial Peace Garden around 3:30 pm on Sunday.

The Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden, the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce and the office of the County Historian are planning an afternoon of educational entertainment that includes refreshments and costumed reenactments. It is free and open to the public, but people should bring their own chairs.

The Peace Garden is located at West Main St. in Batavia. It is right next to the Holland Land Office Museum, which is at 131 West Main St.

Friday, July 27, 2012 at 11:49 am

Fundraiser in Jackson Square will benefit Don Carroll

post by Daniel Crofts in batavia, Don Carroll, fundraiser, Jackson Square, live music

T-Shirts, Etc. and the Batavia Business Improvement District (or "the BID") will present "DC in the Square," a benefit for local philanthropist Don Carroll, on Sunday from noon until 4 p.m. It will be downtown at Jackson Square.

Carroll, who is well-known locally for raising thousands of dollars on behalf of underprivileged youth, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in April.

Brian and Beth Kemp of T-Shirts, Etc. have known Carroll for several years and helped him every year with Toys for Kids, an annual toy drive Carroll founded to purchase Christmas presents for children who might not otherwise receive them.

"When I found out about Don's cancer," Beth said, "I went to Brian and suggested we host a benefit. Because he has helped so many people, I thought it would be awesome for the community to be able to give back."

They approached the BID to ask if they could use Jackson Square as the venue. The BID went even further and agreed to sponsor the event.

"DC in the Square" will feature live performances by three bands: "Old Hippies," "Soul Craft" and "Savage Cabbage," plus a Chinese auction and a 50/50 raffle.

Items included in the auction and raffle will include all kinds of goodies donated by several local businesses, including:

  • Clothing apparel from Lamb Farms (Oakfield)
  • A goodie basket from Oliver's Candies
  • T-shirts and gift certificates from The Batavian

Coffee Culture Manager Brenda Richardson, who is also helping out with the event, said that M&T Bank has donated money, which they may use for a kids' basket or something similar.

Clor's Meat Market will be providing BBQ dinners for $9. People have their choice of chicken, rib or pulled pork dinners. Each dinner comes with a roll, butter, and two out of the following three sides:

  • Salt potato
  • Coleslaw
  • Macaroni salad

Tickets can be purchased at the Square on July 29 or in advance at the following Batavia locations:

  • T-Shirts Etc., 111 Main St.
  • Clor's Meat Market, 4169 W. Main St. Road
  • Coffee Culture, 6 Court St.

A minimum $2 donation is asked of everyone at the gate.

Jerry Foster, a former teacher and lifelong friend of Carroll's, provided an update on his condition.

"He's completed his third cycle of chemo," Foster said. "He is starting to be able to swallow a little bit, though not much. ... He will be going back to Strong Memorial Hospital to see if the tumor has shrunk enough that they can operate on it."

For more information about "DC in the Square," contact Brian and Beth Kemp at 345-1993 or email tshirtsetcsales@rochester.rr.com.

Picture courtesy of Brian and Beth Kemp.

Monday, July 16, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Le Roy native's 'Documente' exhibit is more than just paintings

The painting above is titled "The Clash of Cultures," in it artist Tom MacPherson shows us some of the dynamics of his family history.

It's part of a new exhibit at Genesee Community College's Rosalie "Roz" Steiner Art Gallery called "Documente: The Italian American Family Album," which includes original egg-tempura portraits, old-fashioned furniture, photographs, music and stories. It will be on display through Aug. 27.

"Clash of Cultures" depicts MacPherson's two grandmothers in 1940s Le Roy. Grandma MacPherson (foreground) was a Methodist (the ribbon around her waist reads "Methodist Church of Le Roy") of Scottish ancestry, whereas Grandma O'Geen (Gugino) was Italian and Roman Catholic.

While Grandma MacPherson stands outside, Grandma O'Geen stands secure in the "bastion" of her Catholic household (behind the front door), with Swiss Guards from the Vatican guarding the entrance, St. Peter (the first Pope) standing by her side, and Pope Pius XII (upper left) keeping watch overhead.

Born in Batavia and raised in Le Roy, MacPherson now teaches studio art at SUNY Geneseo. His family history is kind of a microcosm of Le Roy's overall past.

His Scottish forebears came to Le Roy in 1801, before it even became a town.

"They were the ones who set the tone for what the local culture would be all about," MacPherson said. "And then my Sicilian relatives had to blend into that."

From the MacPhersons' immigration from the Scottish Highlands to the O'Geens' (who changed their name from Gugino to more easily fit in with American culture) immigration from Sicily in 1896, "Documente" is a detailed panorama of the artist's roots.

Included are the adventures of intrepid MacPherson aunts, elderly Italian aunts praying their Rosaries, the persecution of Italian immigrants by the Ku Klux Klan in Le Roy, and the experience of fathers and uncles in overseas wars.

Scenes re-creating household decor circa 1940-60 add three-dimensional reality, an intimate visit into the artist's everyday world at that time. 

Here in "The Pioneer," MacPherson depicts his bold, adventurous great-aunt Kitty standing on the rocks of her ancestral Scotland.

"No, I'm Not Colonel Sanders" depicts great-uncle Rossolino Barone. Like all of MacPherson's portraits, this is based on a family photograph -- in this case, of uncle "Ross" at a family wedding in the 1970s.

In the background is the drug store that he owned in the Rochester suburbs, and overhead are angels borrowed from Fillipino Lippi's "Madonna with Child and Saints."

MacPherson incorporates images from Italian Renaissance art into his portraits in order, in his words, to "infuse my relatives with their heritage."

"I wanted my Italian relatives to be able to relate to their heritage," he said. "And I wanted (the Renaissance elements) to say something about their personalities."

In the case of uncle Ross, the angels are showering roses on him for the kindness he showed other people.

Great-aunt Catherine MacPherson is the subject of "The Conversion of Great-Aunt Catherine." Catherine was an Army nurse during World War I, and she converted to Catholicism in France after seeing the bravery of the priests and nuns who took care of the wounded and dying.

She is set against the background of her ancestral home in the Scottish Highlands, and the overhead image represents her conversion (when she "saw the light").

The subject of "The Walking Dead" is MacPherson's father, Neil Lewis MacPherson. According to the written description next to the portrait, Neil came back home a "changed man" as a result of his experiences in World War II. MacPherson chose to illustrate this by appropriating the figure of death (right) from German artist Hans Baldung Grien's "The Three Ages of Death."

Here are a few other "Documente" displays:

A series of photographs in honor of MacPherson's cousin, Frank O'Geen.

"La Vita Mia"

"What Ya Gonna Do?" (a portrait of an aunt surrounded by religious icons)

"The Adventures of Great-Uncle Pete" (To view a video explaining this one, click here.)

Having explored the history of the two sides of his family in this exhibit, MacPherson is now working on a book on the subject. He hopes to have it published within the next few years.

Roz Steiner gallery is located at 1 College Road in Batavia and is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Admission is free. Gallery Director Shirley Tokash Verrico always welcomes group tours (though children's groups may not be appropriate, as some of the images are more suited to adult audiences).

For more information, email Verrico at stverrico@genesee.edu or call 343-0055, ext. 6490.

Saturday, July 14, 2012 at 3:03 pm

'Stephen's Table' soup kitchen is open this Saturday

Ed and Beverly Corcoran would like everyone to know that Stephen's Table, the soup kitchen that Ed runs, will be open on Saturday, July 21 from 10:30 am until 12:30 pm.

Stephen's Table, a ministry of Batavia Assembly of God Church, serves free meals to needy families in Genesee County. Lunch typically includes a sandwich, a bowl of soup, some crackers, a cup of fruit, a drink and a dessert. Coffee and breakfast sweats are also available.

Ed and Beverly officially begin serving lunch at 11 am, but people can come as early as 10:30 to chat and enjoy some coffee.

Due to church events and other engagements, the soup kitchen is sometimes closed on Saturdays. Whenever this is the case, a sign is posted on the front table during the week notifying people that the kitchen will be closed the following Saturday.

The soup kitchen is at 24 N Spruce St. in Batavia. For more information, contact Ed and Beverly at 344-0270.

Friday, July 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Benefit being held today in Austin Park for cancer-stricken Batavia man

post by Daniel Crofts in announcements, austin park, batavia, benefit, cancer victim

Jonathan Martinez is a happy, energetic young man who has come across a tough break.

Known by the nickname "Tan-Tan" to his co-workers at Rancho Viejo Mexican Restaurant (and formerly to his co-workers at Margarita's), Martinez is well liked by everyone.

"He's always smiling," said his sister, Elena Vega. "He's a really humble, amazing person."

Martinez, 24, was diagnosed with germ cell cancer in December. The cancer was successfully removed, and he enjoyed a period of remarkable recovery until he returned to the doctor for a follow-up in March. It was then that he was diagnosed with spindle cell cancer, which was found around his liver.

He is now in hospice at Batavia's Crossroads House. Things are tough, but he has a positive attitude and is confident that he can beat the cancer.

There is a benefit fundraiser for Martinez today at Austin Park, at the corner of Washington and Jefferson Avenues in Batavia. It started at 1 p.m. and will last until dusk. There is no admission fee, but donations will be collected.

Live music will be featured, including performances by Soulcraft and Amos Williams. Jerry Smith, known in local circles as "Honeybun," will be the master of ceremonies.

Donations will be used to help with the medical expenses of Martinez' treatment, which are quite daunting.

"It's really expensive," Vega said. "We haven't paid for anything yet."

Services from the past seven months for which Martinez' family must still pay include chemotherapy, surgery, X-rays, CAT scans, biopsies and blood transfusions (Vega said her brother's cell count is still very low).

Throughout all the challenges he has come to face, Martinez has been sustained by the love he has for his family -- especially his 3-year-old daughter, Jonelis (pictured).

"He keeps saying he's going to 'come out standing like a rock for his baby girl,' " Vega said. "She is his life."

Martinez' faith has also been key to his positive outlook.

"He has tremendous faith in God," Vega said. "We know there's a purpose in this. We're just waiting for a miracle."

Photo taken by Nelle Williams

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Open house at Batavia's 'Learn Through Play Speech & Language Center'

The newly opened "Learn Through Play Speech & Language Center" is set to hold an open house for kids and families on Saturday, July 14 from noon until 2 pm.

Owner Valerie Edwards, of Alexander, opened the center to serve children who struggle with language and speech difficulties but do not qualify for existing services. She is a licensed speech pathologist who has experience working with preschoolers and children with various disabilities.

"Learn Through Play Speech & Language Center" is at 56 Ellicott St. in Batavia. For more information, call 815-0327.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Rep. Hochul's staff to hold office hours in Batavia

post by Daniel Crofts in announcements, batavia, kathy hochul

The staff of Rep. Kathy Hochul will hold office hours on Tuesday, July 17, from 10 am until 1 pm. They will answer constituents' questions and listen to their concerns.

In Genesee County, office hours will be held in the Conference Room at 1 Batavia City Centre.

Office hours will also be held from 2 until 4:30 pm in Wyoming County. Anyone who cannot make the office hours in Batavia can go to the Wyoming County Building, at 143 N Main St. in Warsaw.

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 7:52 pm

'DC in the Square' to benefit Don Carroll

"DC in the Square" is scheduled for Sunday, July 29 in Batavia's Jackson Square from noon until 4 pm. It is a benefit for Don Carroll, who has spent most of his life raising money for kids in need in Genesee County and is now battling esophageal cancer.

The event will include live performances by "Old Hippies," "Soul Craft" and "Savage Cabbage" as well as a Chinese auction and 50/50 raffle. Everyone is asked to contribute a minimum $2 donation at the gate.

Presale BBQ tickets can be purchased at the following Batavia locations:

  • T-Shirts Etc., 111 Main St.
  • Clor's Meat Market, 4169 W. Main St. Road
  • Coffee Culture, 6 Court St.
Monday, July 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Holy Family School was shining beacon for Le Roy, Western New York

Le Roy's Holy Family School closed its doors for the last time a couple of weeks ago, but the school will long be remembered for the outstanding staff and students who graced its hallways and classrooms, for the positive community atmosphere it enjoyed, and for what it meant to local families during its 123-year history.

Photo courtesy of Kelly Hansen

There were 10 students in the final graduating class of the school at 46 Lake St., which was attached to Our Lady of Mercy Parish and served pupils in pre-K through eighth-grade. Students came not only from Le Roy, but also from elsewhere in Genesee County as well as Wyoming, Livingston and Monroe counties.

Photo courtesy of the Le Roy Historical Society

The school has seen a lot of changes -- including a change in its name -- since it was first staffed by the Sisters of Mercy more than 120 years ago (see the  timeline of milestones at the end of this story). Throughout all of these changes, its tradition of academic excellence and thriving school family remained much the same.

People who were part of the Holy Family community are filled with sadness, but also with fond memories and hope for the future.

Here are some stories that give an idea of just how special a place Holy Family was:

Michael Ficarella

Michael Ficarella, of Batavia, was hired as a sixth- through eighth-grade teacher at Holy Family School for the 2011-2012 school year. It was his first full-time teaching job.

"I couldn't have picked a better school to start (teaching)," Ficarella said.

He talked about the supportive team of teachers who welcomed and helped him throughout the year.

"From real early on, they were always coming by my room to see how I was doing, offering pointers on how to make this or that lesson better or how to make the classroom run smoother, etcetera."

In addition to teaching science and social studies, Ficarella also worked with younger students in the school's after-school program. During his brief time at Holy Family, he got to know a lot of kids.

"The students were great," he said. "They were well-mannered, very eager to learn and took pride in their school."

He mentioned the eighth-grade field trip to Washington, D.C., on which the kids were "phenomenal."

Despite losing his job his first year teaching, Ficarella said he is "absolutely 100 percent" glad of the experience and has no regrets.

The Hansen Family

Photo courtesy of Kelly Hansen

One of Ficarella's students was Alex Hansen, who was part of Holy Family School's final graduating class. He attended the school from kindergarten through eighth-grade.

"(The graduation) was bittersweet," said Kelly Hansen, Alex's mother. "What we were witnessing was never to take place at Holy Family School ever again."

"There were many 'lasts' over the past few months. It was very difficult for everyone as the adults tried to make the last days of school the best they could possibly be."

Hansen said that the decision she and her husband made to send Alex to Holy Family was "curious to some because we live in Batavia."

"The answer is never an easy one," she said, "but it always contains the same elements. The high test scores, great word-of-mouth, a place where God could be mentioned without fear of ridicule, not to mention a stellar reputation within the community for more than one hundred years."

She and her husband were also impressed with the parish to which the school was connected, which was called St. Peter's at the time.

"I'm not sure there would be a way to calculate the grand sum from the parish that has kept the school afloat for 123 years," she said.

Photo courtesy of Our Lady of Mercy Parish Secretary Sue Bobo

Of course, the school environment was also a major factor in the decision.

"We were impressed with what we saw the day we first visited," Hansen said. "Children holding the door for us as we came and went, walking down the halls and having students greet us without an adult to prompt them, students standing and greeting adults as they entered a classroom -- all this left us knowing that we were making the right decision for our family."

Second-grade teacher Patty Page is pictured with her granddaughter at a Halloween party at Holy Family School. Photo courtesy of Sue Bobo.

As for the teachers, their "commendable dedication" has left an impression on Hansen.

"Many teachers at (Holy Family School) have taught for 20 or more years," she said. "Catholic school teachers are state certified yet make a small fraction of what their public school counterparts do. They clearly are not in their chosen profession for the money -- it is something they do because they love it."

She sees this as part of a pattern of sacrifices that everyone involved in the Catholic school system makes for what they consider the greater good.

"Most families who choose to send their children to a Catholic school quietly go without things other families take for granted so that their children may reap the abundant benefits," she said.

"We’ve had the same car over the course of all nine years (of Alex attending Holy Family School). It is a bit rustier and a lot noisier. It has driven from Batavia to Le Roy hundreds of times, often carrying multiple students to one event or another."

"To pay for education that could otherwise be obtained for free at a public school is a bizarre choice to some," she said. "But for us it was the only option we could imagine. Anyone familiar with Catholic education knows about the sacrifices made in order for it to be possible."

The Winters Family

Photo courtesy of Bryan Winters

When first-grader Anna Rose Winters learned that her school would be closing, she was very sad. But then the first question that came out of her mouth was: "What are the uniforms like at St. Joe's?"

Anna Rose, like other Holy Family students, will attend St. Joseph School in Batavia in the fall.

"She went through the normal grief stages," said her father, Bryan Winters. "There were tears, but then she very quickly started to incorporate St. Joe's."

Winters was on Holy Family School's Finance Committee for several months, which put Anna Rose in a "unique situation."

"She's a smart kid -- she could read the writing on the wall," he said. "We were honest with her from the beginning that her school could close, but we'd try our best."

And try they did. According to Winters, who makes his living raising money for the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, the committees formed by parents to help save the school "were doing all the right things."

"It's remarkable how much money we were able to raise with the time constraint," he said. "But there were a lot of needs-based scholarships (and other expenses that could not be met with the current student enrollment)."

Like his daughter, Winters also went through the grieving process. But he has a "very great feeling" about St. Joe's and is optimistic about Anna Rose's future.

"(Of course), there are families who have been at Holy Family for three or four generations," he said. "Their grieving process is probably longer, and that's understandable. But I need to think of the best interests of my daughter. We're going to get fully involved in St. Joe's."

Bryan and Kate Winters moved to Le Roy from Monroe County a few years ago. Holy Family School was the main reason for their move.

Having just started a family, they wanted to move to the country to give their kids (they have two younger children in addition to Anna Rose) some "breathing room." But they also wanted to make sure the kids received a Catholic education.

"We looked around Western New York and the Finger Lakes region," Winters said. "We toured different schools in Livingston and Monroe counties, and even some in Erie County."

They were very selective in their search, because everything in their lives is a "distant second to our kids."

When they went to an open house at Holy Family, "that sealed the deal."

"That was where we knew we felt at home (at Holy Family)," Winters said. "We learned about the different programs and the curriculum -- they had a very rigorous program. We liked the student-teacher ratio. It was primarily for that reason that we moved to Le Roy."

With three years as a Holy Family parent under his belt, Winters still sings the school's praises loudly.

"It blows my mind that there were people around here who didn't send their kids to Holy Family," he said. "They must not have known what we had there."

Pictured Principal Kevin Robertson with Mrs. Page's second-grade class. Photo courtesy of Sue Bobo.

Like Ficarella and Hansen, he touted the supportive atmosphere the school offered.

"We could call or email any time, and (the issue) was taken care of," he said. "There was a real family feel, whether it was students with teachers or families with teachers. It was an open community."

Part of this openness was the teachers' willingness to share personal stories with their students.

"Every once in a while Anna Rose would share a story at dinner about a teacher's dog, or about Mrs. So-and-So's son getting into a certain college," Winters said. "The fact that these teachers would recognize (for example) that a first-grader wants to hear stories about a dog means a lot. It goes back to that feeling of family."

Winters' wife is a teacher, so the two of them "have a pretty good pulse on what a good teacher is."

"And these teachers -- they had it," he said.

And the students weren't bad, either.

"The Holy Family slogan was 'Teaching Tomorrow's Leaders,' and I think that's what they were doing," Winters said.

He commented on how the kids would hold doors for people and demonstrate politeness in other ways.

"All that stuff goes above and beyond two plus two," he said. "It was about more than just standardized testing; the focus was on growing the student as a person. It was built into the curriculum."

Anna Rose is excited about going to St. Joe's, but she and her family will always have fond memories of Holy Family School.

STORY CONTINUES after the jump (click the headline to read more):

Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Assemblyman Hawley's monthly outreach to be held at Stafford Town Hall

Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, R-Batavia, invites concerned local citizens to his monthly outreach meeting at the Stafford Town Hall, at 8903 Route 237, on Tuesday, July 10.

The meeting will last from 4:30 until 6 pm. All who wish to share their two cents about what the government can do for Genesee County are encouraged to attend.

For more information, e-mail Hawley at hawleys@assembly.state.ny.us.

 

Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 10:34 pm

'Ramble Music & Arts Fest' is back!

Grab a lawn chair and come to Batavia's Jackson Square for the 2012 "Ramble Music & Arts Fest." Sponsored by the Business Improvement District, this annual event is free and open to the public. It will be held on Saturday, July 7, from noon until 8 pm (a moment of silence for past musicians will be held around 4 pm).

Local and regional groups will perform a variety of tunes while artists showcase their work for display and sale.

Like last year, there will be two stages -- one for electric in Jackson Square and another for acoustic on Center St.

For more information or to reserve a spot, contact Bill McDonald at billmcdonald50@gmail.com or call 343-1929.

 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 10:33 am

Byron-Bergen second-grader is a finalist for 'American Miss'

When Dee dee Hintz got a phone call from someone saying that her 7-year-old granddaughter, Angelique "Angel" Heick (pictured), had been recommended by an anonymous source for the National American Miss pageant, she was a little leery.

At first, she thought this was like the controversial TV reality series "Toddlers & Tiaras" or a similar type of dolled up pre-teen fashion shows. But it turned out to be exactly the opposite.

"The first thing that got me was the no-makeup rule," Hintz said. "(The contestants) aren't allowed to wear makeup or hairpieces. It's not about how they look or how they're dressed -- it's about who they are."

National American Miss is an annual contest designed to develop confidence, independence, poise and community involvement in young girls. It is open to girls ages 4 to 18 and is divided into five different pageants, each for a specific age group.

Heick -- a top-performing second-grader at Byron-Bergen Elementary School, a three-year Girl Scout and a four-year soccer player with Gillam-Grant -- will take part in the New York Junior Pre-Teen pageant from Aug. 23-25 at the Hyatt Regency in Rochester. She will be competing with girls from all over Western and Central New York for the title of Miss New York.

Among other things, the requirements for her age group include writing an essay, submitting report cards (Hintz said the grades don't officially count, but are taken into consideration) and writing a résumé.

As part of an optional talent portion, Heick is also going to perform in a commercial for the young girls clothing retailer "Justice."

Once on stage, the girls will introduce themselves to a large crowd of people and be interviewed by the pageant judges, answering questions such as what they want to be when they grow up, why they want to represent their state in this pageant, etc.

Contestants are judged in four categories:

  • Formal Wear (30%)
  • Personal Introduction (30%)
  • Interview (30%)
  • Community Involvement (10%)

For the "community involvement" component, Heick is donating 12 toys for each month of the year to Community Action of Orleans and Genesee. Each set of 12 toys will go to six boys and six girls.

She said she is buying these toys with the money she earns by "doing jobs" around the house.

If she wins the title, she will be given a paid trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., where she will compete in the nationals. In the meantime, she will also have the opportunity to meet Governor Andrew Cuomo, be an honored speaker at the state fair, and crown her successor at next year's pageant.

More importantly, she wants to use the influence she will have as Miss New York for the good of others.

"If I win the title, I want to educate parents and children about the dangers of bullying," Heick said.

That goal is consistent with Heick's compassionate character, which her grandmother had a lot to say about.

Hintz and her husband are raising Heick and her three siblings in Bergen. She said that compassion is Heick's top quality.

As an example, she mentioned the fact that Heick found a wounded frog in January and brought it home, where the family took care of it and fed it until it got better. In March, they let it go free.

"She's also a great big sister," Hintz said, pointing out that she reacts with patience whenever her younger sister steals her things (which is all the time).

She also feels very deeply for the victims of bullying and violence, even if she only knows about them from the media.

With her positive, upbeat attitude and personal strength, Heick has also been recognized as a leader among her peers.

"Every day she teaches me so much," Hintz said. "I want her to get where she wants to go. She has goals, works at them, and somehow accomplishes them."

Heick said her ultimate career goal is to become a cardiac neonatal surgeon.

"I want to help little babies and work on their hearts, "she said.

With three months to go, Heick still needs local sponsors.

So far, she has been sponsored by Genesee Patrons Cooperative Insurance Company, Computer and Phone Repair, Marchese Computer Products, Urban Preschool, and Intelligent Choice of WNY (Hintz's business). She needs to raise $220 more in sponsorship fees, so any help will be greatly appreciated.

Heick is also participating in an advertising contest. If she gets eight pages of advertising for the pageant program, she will win a $1,500 scholarship for college.

Anyone interested in sponsoring and/or advertising with Heick should email angel@angeliqueheick.com.

For more information, visit Heick's Web site: www.angeliqueheick.com. For more details on National American Miss, go to the FAQs page on the program's Web site.

Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Boy Scouts honor 2012 'Distinguished Citizens' at GCC

Area scouts showed their colors and displayed true Boy Scout pride last night for the "BoyPower Distinguished Citizens" dinner at Genesee Community College.

These young men and their leaders are members of Iroquois Council Trail, Inc., the Boy Scouts of America council serving Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming, Livingston and Niagara counties. Every year, they honor one outstanding community member from each county.

Betty Lapp was the 2012 Distinguished Citizen for Genesee County. Lapp is the former director of GCC's Nursing program. She retired in 2005, and has been a "professional volunteer" ever since.

Originally from Ohio, Lapp has an impressive track record as a Geneseean:

  • Board Chairperson of United Memorial Medical Center
  • Board Chairperson of Genesee Valley Educational Partnership (formerly BOCES)
  • Regional Action Phone
  • Family Counseling Services
  • Parent Teacher Association
  • Cub Scouts
  • Genesee County Department of Health
  • Genesee County Mental Health Services

Her service to the wider region includes membership in the following organizations:

  • Lake Plains Community Care Network
  • WNY Rural Area Health Education Center
  • Genesee Valley School Boards Association

Other recipients were:

James Culbertson, Livingston County

David Bellavia, Orleans County (Bellavia currently lives in Batavia, but is originally from Lyndonville)

MORE after the jump (click on the headline to read more):

Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 11:03 am

Jackson principal speaks to community on bullying and district-wide prevention program

post by Daniel Crofts in Bullying, education, Jackson School, schools

Shawn Clark, current principal of Jackson School in Batavia and soon-to-be principal of Batavia High School, got bullied Thursday night. Teachers and students ganged up on him, as parents looked on, in a church no less.

The sham was a demonstration called a "bullying circle," used to help educate people about how bullying tends to work in a school environment.

Clark spoke to the community at Batavia's First Presbyterian Church about a new district-wide anti-bullying initiative.

According to Clark, the district is using the popular Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which has more than 30 years of research behind it.

The vast majority of students who make up that "middle ground" -- that is, those who are neither bullies nor bullied -- is a key focus of the program.

"Most kids want to (help the victims)," Clark said, "but they don't know how."

It is very important, Clark said, for teachers and students to know how and when to respond to incidents of bullying.

"Research shows that when no action is taken, empathy goes down over time."

People then think that either bullying is no big deal or it's the victim's fault, and the problem gets worse.

This program, he said, educates kids and adults on what they can do to help stop bullying in its tracks.

At Jackson, a group of staff have formed a committee called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports to help build a positive, comfortable and friendly environment where every student can feel safe and welcome.

Once per week, the committee facilitates classroom discussions wherein kids can engage in face-to-face interactions with each other and discuss what's going on in their lives. They can talk about anything from problems at home to what they did on vacation.

"The point is to cultivate a family environment where the kids can feel safe talking about issues," Clark said.

Another function of these discussions, according to Clark, is to encourage an atmosphere of empathy. In talking about this, he made a distinction between sympathy, which is a feeling, and empathy, which is a "learned skill."

"Sometimes if the kids who are bullying know what's going on in the victims' lives, then they'll see them as human beings who deserve respect."

When asked if he has seen a difference as a result of these types of intervention, Clark replied: "Absolutely."

"The kids feel much more comfortable coming to adults and talking to them about their issues (including those that can be symptoms of, or precursors to, bullying)," he said. "And when we get the kids to work things out, the problems tend to be so much more minor than if we had let them go. (This way) we can take care of them before they escalate into something more serious."

The district's bullying prevention initiative has had its critics, though. Clark said that some people have suggested to him that what staff members really should be doing is "toughening kids up" so that they can fend for themselves.

According to Clark, it's not that easy.

"Research shows that kids who are bullied are so traumatized by it that they can't help themselves," he said.

Bullying can cause problems in kids' lives that make it very hard for them to stick up for themselves. The trauma resulting from bullying can lead to psychological disorders like anxiety and depression, and can even cause physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea and trouble sleeping.

Problems like these can, in turn, lead to frequent absence from school, which negatively impacts the student's overall academic performance.

Another challenge is the stigma attached to "snitching," or telling on a bully. But Clark maintains that there is a huge difference between "tattling," which means telling on others because you want to get them in trouble, and "informing," which is a way of keeping people safe.

"I never understood the (anti-snitching) mindset," Clark said. "It's okay to ignore the situation when someone is being bullied, but it's wrong to tell an adult about it?"

For Clark, this is all about rights.

"Do the kids at our school have the right to come to school and get an education without having to be afraid? I think the answer is yes."

But the concerns surrounding the reality of bullying don't just apply to the victims. Clark also talked about the risks bullies themselves face.

"(Bullying) can be a sign of a behavioral disorder that can escalate," he said. "Kids who bully are four times as likely to be convicted of crimes (by their 20s). They are also four times as likely to join gangs."

He speaks from experience, having formerly taught at an elementary school in inner-city Rochester. One of his former students has since joined a gang, and was recently killed.

As far as what people can do to reach out to kids who bully, Clark warned against the temptation to assume that they are outcasts who need a boost in self-confidence.

"The bullies might be the most popular kids in school," he said. "Many times, a lack of self-confidence is not the problem -- they have too much self-confidence."

These kids tend to have good leadership abilities, but they use those skills in a negative way.

Principal Clark appealed to citizens to do their part to help eradicate this scourge of mistreating others.

"If you have sons, daughters, nieces, nephews or friends in the Batavia schools," he said, "just talk to them about bullying. The more people talk about it, the better. The more information we can get out there, the better."

In addressing parents, Clark pointed out the role modern technology -- which he called the "new playground" -- has in the whole bullying phenomenon.

"It's so much harder for kids to escape bullying now than ever," he said.

Whereas bullying used to be more or less confined to the schools, now bullies can reach their victims through computers, cell phones, etc. Even at home, over the weekend, and on vacations, someone can make comments about a schoolmate on Facebook or send him/her a harassing text message.

"Parents should monitor what their kids are doing," Clark said. "The kids are not necessarily doing anything wrong, but someone else might be doing wrong to them."

Clark noted the very positive, caring environment at Jackson Schooland and its great group of students, teachers and staff.

There are more than 400 kids at Jackson, and Clark knows them all by name.

Clark's talk was part of a free spaghetti dinner hosted by Peaceful Genesee, a coalition of local community members and organizations dedicated to fostering nonviolence as a way of life in Genesee County.

Photos taken by Steve Ognibene

Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Q & A with Batavia School Board candidates

The Batavia City School District Board of Education will have its budget vote and member election on Tuesday, May 15. The candidates for election/reelection have shared their views in a series of interviews with The Batavian. Click the names of the candidates below to read the interviews.

There are five candidates running, including three incumbents -- Phil Ricci, Gary Stich and Gail Stevens -- and two newcomers -- Gretchen DiFante and Dennis Warner.

Warner declined our request for an interview.

Phil Ricci interview

Gary Stich interview

Gretchen DiFante interview

Gail Stevens interview

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. at Batavia's John Kennedy Elementary School, at 166 Vine St., for school district residents who live north of Route 5, and Batavia High School, at 260 State St., for those who live south of Route 5.

For more information on the budget, see the May 1 article, Batavia district pitches budget with a nearly 2-percent increase in the tax levy.

For some specifics on the background of each candidate, see their short biographies on the district Web site.

Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Q & A with Batavia School Board candidates: Phil Ricci

The first candidate interviewed was Phil Ricci, who has been on the school board since November. Ricci is a military veteran who currently works as a branch manager of two Bank of America locations, and he has years of experience in business/management, process improvement, financial management and consulting, as well as in working with youth.

Ricci is also a member of the Batavia City Youth Board and a budget ambassador for the school district's Audit Committee. He lives in Batavia with his wife and three children.

Could you talk about the experience you bring to the school board -- especially in terms of business and working with youth?

On the business side, I've worked for both the private and public sector. I've managed millions of dollars in funds, as well as teams ranging from five people to five hundred people. That said, school districts are a whole other beast of burden. They're not like how normal businesses work. The hard thing about experience is that, yeah, I have it, but in order to learn how a school district works, you have to learn how the state thinks and try to apply your business experience to that. Anyone who knows about New York State will tell you that if the state was a business, it would have been bankrupt 10 times over at this point. People on the school board learn real quickly that business experience doesn't go a whole long way with the way New York State does things.

As far as working with youth, when I was in Germany (in the military) I built a program from the ground up. It's called "Skies Unlimited," of which I then became the regional director of instruction for all of Europe. I got to work with every different type of population, and I learned the real message of advocacy. There are so many people out there who do not view youth programs as essential, and I challenge that every time I hear it. If you don't have solid youth programs, solid education, and solid support structures for youth, you end up having higher crime rates. You end up having a less educated workforce.

I think the biggest thing I've learned over the years -- working with kids in the military and being on the Youth Board here -- is that advocacy is huge. Even being on the school board, I can see that the way the state distributes money is inequitable. There are a lot of downstate districts that are not being affected to the same extent that our kids up here are being affected. And if you don't think that fighting for that is important because you don't like the way the system is, I'm not going to disagree with you that the system is broken; but those kids are suffering in the meanwhile. So I think the big thing for me with all the work I've done is learning how to be a solid advocate.

What made you want to run for the school board in the first place?

When Andy (Pedro) left, I was asked to come in and help out, so I threw my hat in the ring. There was a need, because (the school district is in) a really tough situation. The reason I'm asking to stay is that I know how bad it is, and I've seen what still needs to be done. We've got a lot of work to do, and it's far from being over. I know what it's going to take, and I just want the opportunity to help get us there. My big thing is and will continue to be to protect programs and to be equitable for all kids -- haves and have-nots. I'm not going to take away something from one youth that I wouldn't take away from another. But my main object is to not take anything away, and to do the things that need to be done to try to protect as many programs as we can.

I've been involved in the district for about seven years. I haven't always been on the board, but I've been involved. So I know what goes into (making a difference in the school district) and I know I can make a maximum impact.

Is there anything you would you like to change or see changed if you are reelected?

There's lots of things I'd like to continue to change. I think the biggest thing we need to work on right now in the district is our communication. I just think that we have to get better at expressing what we know and why we know it to everybody out there. That's an opportunity we've missed the ball on a lot. Some principles can't be explained simplistically, but it is our job to try and do that.

So one thing I would be pushing for from day one is more transparency, a clearer message, and just putting out there as much as we can.

How would you respond to people who express outrage that all other businesses and organizations are having to cut back and do more with less while the school district continues to propose tax increases? The implication is that the district thinks itself exempt from doing more with less.

I understand why they say things like that, and this goes back to the district not explaining things clearly enough. It's completely false. The district is doing a lot more with less. We're cutting programs. We're cutting positions. We've cut costs. We just closed a school. I think what's not being explained well enough is that these costs that keep pushing things up are not all controllable. Most of them out of our control -- they're coming down from the state. And at the state level, what they're doing is having their costs keep going up, and then they're pulling millions of dollars out of funding each year.

Imagine you have a job and a house budget. And every year, your costs are going to keep going up for whatever reason -- because of inflation or whatever it is. Then your employer comes in and says, "We're going to take eight-percent of your salary away each year for the next five years." So each year your costs are still going up, but you're losing an additional 8-percent of your income. If you're not making cuts, if you're not using your reserves, will you still be able to live in your house? Probably not.

My point is, of course we're cutting. Of course we're doing more with less. Because if we didn't, we wouldn't have a district. But we don't have control over all of our costs and expenditures. There is only so much you can cut, and there is only so much you have in reserve, before you start getting into these situations.

Just to be clear, before last year the board wasn't really raising the tax levy at all. It stayed pretty consistent. In the past couple of years, things have gotten really bad. You have a governor and a state legislature that has cut nearly 20 percent of your income over the past three years. So I would challenge anyone to show me how you can manage to not raise taxes in that situation -- as you're cutting positions and all this other stuff -- when 20 percent of your income goes away.

What are your thoughts on the proposed budget?

It's ugly -- I'm not in love with it, but because of the position we're in...I mean, I also didn't want to close Robert Morris School. My kids go there, and as a parent it was a hard thing to look my kids in the eyes and tell them I was closing their school. But it was a necessity. It was not a decision anybody wanted to make.

Do I think we could have lowered the taxes a little bit more? Yes, and I've already said that publicly. But overall, am I displeased with what we did to keep things going? No. It's not what I would want, and I don't think anyone on the school board wants it. I think everyone would love to deliver a zero-percent tax increase and still keep all the programs and all the schools open. But that's not the reality we live in right now.

What will happen if the budget gets voted down?

What happens is this: If it gets voted down two times, under the new tax cap law our ability to raise drops down to zero. So what that will mean, to put it plainly, is that all the programs we reinstated (with the consolidation) will go away -- for example, the ACE program, different music programs, and I'm sure more on top of that. Non-mandated programs will get looked at. These will get cut, because we're going to have to come up with an additional $500-$600. And plus we have other costs, too. So the people who vote "no" will get their zero-percent tax increase and kids will lose out on programs. It's that simple.

Can you comment on the house administrator position that is being created at Batavia Middle School?

This is another thing I don't think we're explaining well enough. The house administrator position is a re-purposed position. It's a new position as far as title goes, but it isn't a new hire kind of position.

What we did was take a model that is being used all across the country in larger schools. We're going to be adding a ton of kids to the middle school, so to make this really work we've re-purposed an assistant principal position, and we're making that person an in-house administrator; that means that this person is going to be in charge of the fifth and sixth grades. This person will be a direct point person for all parents, oversee all of the teachers, and stuff like that. Sandy Griffin is still in charge of the middle school, but because she is going to have over 800 kids in that school, we wanted to give her some additional support.

We understand that parents are nervous about the fifth-grade integration. We recognize that. And we wanted to make sure that next year and years into the future, that program is strong and the kids can go into the seventh grade with no problems. So all we did was utilize the resources we already had and the resources that we were going to have, and we're using them in a smarter way so that we can have a strong integration program with the fifth-graders coming into the middle school.

Do you have any closing comments?

I'll just say this: I understand the frustration that's out there. I'm not blind to it. Every time I make a decision, I'm doing it with four voices in my head. I hear a retired grandmother who is on a fixed income, for whom a 2-percent increase is not just a simple thing. I hear a working, single mom who is struggling to pay her bills -- or even unemployed. I hear the parents -- and the parent that I am -- about protecting programs for their kids so that they have a good future. And then I hear the kids' voices. How many kids have shown up crying at meetings because we're taking away things that change their lives?

These are the voices you hear (when you're on a school board). These aren't easy decisions. Any person who has the courage to go onto a comment board and tell people to vote something down, but not the courage to hear all of those voices and know what goes into making these decisions is someone who doesn't understand fully what it takes to do this job. I do, I'm grateful for the opportunity, and I wish to continue to do it. I've been called crazy for this, but I know I have the right demeanor and the right approach to this...and I care. And I think you need all that in order to be successful.

Photo courtesty of the Batavia City School District.

Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Q & A with Batavia School Board candidates: Gary Stich

Gary Stich has been on the Batavia City School District Board of Education since 2005. He is the president and CEO of OXBO International Corporation in Byron. He and his wife, Beth, have two sons, one of whom is still a student in the Batavia schools.

What do you believe it takes to serve as a valuable member of the school board?

The situation for school board members is pretty complex, because we have to deal with a whole host of regulations -- coming mostly from New York State, and to a lesser extent from the federal government. And here locally, we have the complexities of dealing with various unions as well within the environment we operate in. So it's a pretty complex situation, and I think it takes a fair amount of effort and time to learn the lay of the land in order to be effective.

We have a good group of board members, and I think it's important to note that we work together collegially. We work well with the administration, but we ask tough questions and bring in our perspectives as individual board members from our professional and community backgrounds as well.

You've been on the school board for years. Why are you seeking reelection?

I'm seeking reelection because I don't think the job is finished. We're going through a very difficult period here, and there are a lot of difficult decisions to be made. And they're not over. The situation is not going to improve in the short term due to cut-backs from the state, unfunded mandates and so forth. (These things) make the situation for everyone in education -- including students, taxpayers and all the professionals in the district -- more difficult year by year.

Is there anything you would you like to change or see changed if you are reelected?

Sure. What I'd like to see changed is the attitude in Albany of jamming things down the local communities' throats in terms of unfunded mandates and regulations.

How would you respond to angry citizens who say that the school board is out of touch with the taxpayers?

I think we are trying to do more with less, and I'm not very happy either. I think you can consider me one of the angry taxpayers. But I think where the anger needs to be directed is to Albany. The problems in Albany are very deep. Everybody up here in Western New York and communities such as Batavia are paying the price for all the problems in Albany, and many of them are really issues from downstate. We have a state government that's dysfunctional, and we pay the price all the time.

What are your thoughts on the proposed budget?

Well, I think the school board and the administration have tried to present a budget that recognizes the need to control expenses tightly at the local level and not increase the burden more than we absolutely have to. I'd like to see the burden decrease for the local taxpayers, but in this environment, with cutbacks from Albany, it's difficult. But I think in the long run, we've got to continue to tighten our belts. It's an ongoing project, and the belt-tightening isn't over.

Can you comment on the house administrator position that is being created at Batavia Middle School?

Well, we're going to have a very full building at the middle school. We're adding another grade level there, and from our perspective it's important to provide support for the teachers and the students to make sure that the environment is very positive and conducive to learning. So I think it's the right move.

Photo courtesy of the Batavia City School District.

Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Q & A with Batavia School Board candidates: Gail Stevens

Gail Stevens has been on the Batavia City School District Board of Education for six years. If reelected, she will be serving her third term.

Stevens has a daughter, Michelle, who graduated from Batavia High School and a son, Eric, who will be graduating from BHS this year.

She works as a secretary to the Supervisor of Fleet Management at the New York State Police Troop A and is active in many community volunteer activities (see her short biography on the school district website for more details).

What experience do you have that makes you a valuable member of the school board?

I served on the Pavilion Board of Education before I moved to Batavia 14 years ago, and I have been active at all the parent/teacher groups in the Batavia school district -- first at Robert Morris, then at the middle school and right now at the high school. We now have a district-wide parent/teacher group meeting twice a year, and I was instrumental in developing that, communicating with all the groups, pulling names together and setting the agenda.

I'm also on the Genesee Valley School Boards Institute's board -- they're the ones who develop training programs for different school districts in this area. In addition to that I'm a second vice president for the Genesee Valley School Boards Association, and then I'm currently on the legislative committee for Genesee Valley Educational Partnership Board (GVEP) -- formerly BOCES.

Serving on the GVEP board has been a very enriching and wonderful experience, because it takes you one step above the local school district. BOCES oversees 22 component schools, including Batavia. It really helps you to see the big picture. I've had wonderful opportunities to go to Washington and network with other school districts across New York State.

Also, over the past six years I've attended many school board training sessions, be they conventions, conferences or just all-day workshops. The school district is a whole different entity than what people see it as. It has its own laws -- laws that pertain to education and the State Education Department -- and different guidelines that have to be followed, and it's completely different in how it runs, how it can be run, and what you can and cannot do. So it's been a gradual process, and it's been a fun journey along the way learning and developing myself in that way. That's why I do this. I don't want to sit back and complain or make statements that aren't fact-based. I'm not that kind of person. If anyone comes to me and asks me a question, if I don't know the answer, I'll get it for them. And I'll make sure my answer is not based on hearsay or emotions. That's not my style. I'm a very fact-based person.

Why are you seeking reelection?

I've been part of the consolidation process for a long time, and contrary to what people think, this is not something that has just been thought about or mulled over during the past year. I remember us talking about it years ago, because -- also contrary to what people think -- we (the school district) do plan for the future.

Another thing I want to point out is that people say we don't communicate enough. But the more information you put out there, sometimes I think the more people get confused. Also, some of the information is evolving over time, like with anything else. It's kind of like when you have a job interview; you don't go out and tell the world that you got the job, because anything could happen.

We've had some really tough times and really tough decisions (to make) with this consolidation process -- and contrary to the popular opinion that the board always agrees, we don't always agree. So because of the consolidation process, which I was present for in the starting phases, I would like stay. I want to continue to help with the transition to consolidation.

Of the things you have seen during your tenure as a board member, what do you think the board has been doing well (that you would like to see continue), and what do you think needs to change?

We are very good at communicating with each other when we're at the table working. There's no screaming, no yelling...I've heard of other districts where board members walk out of meetings, and to me that's just a huge waste of time. (At Batavia school board meetings) everyone sits, everyone listens, everyone speaks their peace, and if they don't agree they will say, "I don't agree, but I will support this for the sake of the district," or "for the sake of the students," or "for the sake of the taxpayers," or what have you. Everyone thinks we're all "yes" people, but we really aren't all "yes" people. It's a very diverse section of people, and I think that's what makes it so good. We don't all have the same professional background, some of us have younger kids, some of us have older kids, etc. I think it's a good cross section of the community.

At this point, I don't believe anyone on the board has a personal agenda. I know I never have, and I still don't. I've seen other districts go through some very controversial times because of one or two board members. You can't be out in the community condemning your colleagues or other board members. If you're going to do that, you shouldn't be on the board.

As for the second part of your question, there is going to be a lot of change. The Batavia school district, as we know it now, is going to look totally different in the fall. Right now, I think that's enough change. I think that if you bite off more than you can chew and make too many changes at once, that upsets the equilibrium of the district. You have to take baby steps. You have to stop, see what you're doing, see where the problems are, and go forward. At this point, I think the biggest change will be the consolidation and any bumps that come out of that. That's enough for the district to handle at this point.

What are your thoughts on the proposed budget?

Obviously, I support it. If I didn't, I would not have voted in favor of it. Like I said before, sitting on the BOCES board, I obtain a lot of knowledge of what's going on in other districts. I think Batavia was very proactive and out ahead of everyone else, but the flip side of that was that we took a lot of heat from everybody. I had someone sit next to me at a meeting when I talked about the financial situation and the consolidation, and that person asked me, "Why are the districts around us not doing any of this?" Since we were upfront and making people aware of the consolidation, and the districts surrounding us -- not neighboring districts in this area, but other districts in New York State -- hadn't really come out publicly about their financial situations, we came across as acting too fast. But that's how it is. You've got to be proactive. Some districts don't have buildings to close, and they're in serious trouble.

Some people are opposed to the budget because they feel that school district employees are demanding excessive pay and benefits. How controllable are these things at the local level?

They're not. And it's not just the schoolteachers, it's any unionized group -- be it state workers, county workers, etc. If you have a contract, that's a binding agreement. Some people have said, "Make them take a pay freeze." Well, we can't. We would then have to spend even more taxpayer dollars fighting a lawsuit.

And you've got to work with them. That's one thing I can say about our administrators -- they work very well with the staff. We have a committee looking into cheaper medical insurance costs, and there are administrators and union people on that committee. So we're working on it. And that's one of the reasons I work on the legislative committee for BOCES. When we go to Albany every year, we draft a position paper, take it with us, sit down with the senators and the assemblymen, and we talk about (the various laws that pertain to this issue). There's a whole slew of laws in New York State that we would love to see changed, but New York State is a huge ship. You can't turn it suddenly.

So the salaries/benefits that people object to will remain in place even if the budget doesn't pass?

Absolutely. The only things that will be taken out are programs for the students. When you vote down the budget, the only people you're really hurting are the students. If you have an ax to ground with the teacher's association or the union, voting "no" isn't going to help. It's going to be nothing other than self-serving -- so that you can say "I'm happy because I voted 'no.' "

What these people should do is come to board meetings, listen, and educate themselves. (One of these people should) start as a budget ambassador -- that's how I started out. I was budget ambassador two or three years in a row before I half understood what was going on. My biggest pet peeve in life is complaining about something without being willing to do something to change it. If you're not going to work to change it, then don't complain.

What was the rationale behind the in-house administrator position at Batavia Middle School?

We've listened to the parents and their concerns. One of the biggest concerns was the fifth grade moving to the middle school. When all was said and done, parents' biggest concern was with the lack of supervision, the program there, what will be going on...there are going to be a lot of changes. We want the transition to the middle school to be a positive thing for the students, for the parents, and for the staff. As a parent myself, I would have been thrilled if my kids could have gone to the middle school for fifth grade and had the enrichment opportunities these kids will be getting, the exposure to technology, and everything that goes along with it. We want to make sure we don't short ourselves with personnel in that area, because we want this to succeed.

We don't want to set up any of our buildings for failure at all. That's one thing I have to say again about the administration: Contrary to what people think, they are very intelligent people, and a lot of the decisions they make are really well thought out.

Also, everyone keeps saying that we haven't cut administrators. The fact is, we have cut one administrator per year for the last four years. It's right on paper, and I've mapped it out for many people.

Do you have any closing comments?

I just encourage people to go out and vote. Vote however you want to vote, but please vote. It's sad to see the apathy that goes on sometimes. We typically don't see public participation as important until something bad happens, and then everybody's there. Well, we'd like to have everybody there at every meeting, listening, learning, obtaining information and sharing it with others.

Photo courtesy of the Batavia City School District.

Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Q & A with Batavia School Board candidates: Gretchen DiFante

Gretchen DiFante, a newcomer to the school board, has four children who are currently in the Batavia City School District and a daughter -- Lauren, age 19 -- in the Air Force. Her son John, 17, and daughter Nina, 15, both go to Batavia High School. Her two younger daughters -- Elena, 10, and Eva, 7 -- go to John Kennedy Elementary School.

Her children have attended all schools in the district except for the middle school (her three oldest children attended Robert Morris, and one of them switched to that school from Jackson Elementary School; all three attended St. Joseph School for grades six through eight); her daughter Elena will be attending the middle school next year.

DiFante is currently the executive director of a Penfield-based nonprofit called Agape Counseling Associates, which just opened up an office in Batavia. Before that, she was the executive vice president of P.W. Minor shoe company and the director of efficient customer support for Rich Products.

She has won awards for her work in marketing and communications. During Operation Desert Storm, she was part of an award-winning public affairs unit for the Air Force Reserves' 914th Tactical Airlift Group in Niagara Falls. Her wide range of experience includes customer relations, communication and conflict/stress management.

What experience do you have that makes you a valuable member of the school board, and how will your degree in Communications help?

My concentration was in Public Relations, but Communications is a pretty open field. It has given me the opportunity to work in advertising, marketing and public relations -- being a general degree, it has opened up a lot of doors and allowed me to use a lot of different skills. My experience with customer service allows me to be more savvy at looking at budgets and managing departments, processes and flows, and how they come together.

As far as the school board goes, I think that when your community has a need, and there is a piece of it that you believe is missing -- something that you can supplement with your particular set of skills -- then that's an opportunity for you to step forward. And I believe that the particular skill set that encourages open communication, knows how to communicate during a crisis, and knows how to manage change is absent on the board right now.

The board and administration do recognize (that they struggle with communication), and I appreciate that. I work with clients who work in places where people are in a crisis mode at work; it's normal for communication to shut down when you're in conflict, because you don't know what to say and you're trying to protect yourself. Not everybody needs to be crafting that communication. Sometimes if you speak without having the right knowledge or experience, it can bite you back. When GCC was putting together a leadership certificate program for our public employees and they asked if I'd do the PR part of it -- how to train people on what to say to the media and so forth -- I found that sometimes the biggest part of the job is getting people to know when not to say things to the media, because sometimes people just don't think. It takes practice, skill, and a certain type of knowledge.

I believe that my background in change management and crisis communication goes into the places that need to be fixed and that nobody really wants to take over. When I was working at Rich Products, they made me an interim department head because they were looking for a new vice president. That seems to be how things happen for me, and I enjoy that. I enjoy the challenge of going into places where there is a lot of change, people are stressed, and the customer communication is failing because people forget about how to do that during times of change and stress. I think my particular background and experience is only going to enhance what is needed right now.

People say business experience doesn't go a long way on school boards because school districts and New York State are so different from businesses in how they operate. How do you plan to translate your business experience into this completely different environment?

I have a very unusual business background. I got into working with different organizations when I was at Rich Products, because I was an "executive on loan." Mr. Rich would basically lend me out. He lent me out to one of the public schools, the Erie County Clerk's Office, the Saddle & Bridle Club...just whenever people needed help doing a strategic plan, a marketing plan, or communication (both within the company and between the company and the public).

I don't think translating my business experience to a school board is going to be a problem. Right now I'm the executive director of a small nonprofit, and that's a whole different ball game from being an executive vice president at P.W. Minor or running a $2 billion department at Rich Products. So I'm very flexible, and I have experience that's varied. I love learning, and I love trying to figure out what (a given) group needs at a particular place and time, and how I can help meet that need. Right now, the school board needs vision, strategy, structure, communication, and public relations, and I've brought those skills to every job I've had. Don't get me wrong, it's a big learning curve (being on the school board). But believe me, in the military you deal with a lot of federal mandates. Right now I'm running a nonprofit that has to do with medical work, and I deal with HIPAA laws and insurance companies. I'm used to complications.

What made you want to run for the school board in the first place?

(What made me want to run was) looking around and seeing the trust break down between the schools, teachers, parents and the community. It was painful to go to those public forums and to see all the (bad communication) on the Internet, at Tops, while jogging at the track...it's the most critical dilemma facing Batavia right now. I do strategic planning with the city, and to start that off I interviewed council members one-on-one. Even their constituents want to talk about what's going on with the schools. I looked at that and at what's missing (on the school board and in the district), and I knew I had the skills to fill in those missing links. And that's what being a good citizen is about.

Part of your platform is the fostering of creative community partnerships. Could you talk a bit more about that? What exactly do you have in mind?

I'm in a unique place, because I work with leaders in our community at a strategic level. I also do that with Genesee Community College, and they are a recipient of the "products" that we graduate from our schools. There definitely has to be a lot of collaboration between the SUNY schools and our high schools and middle schools. A lot of the problems GCC sees start way before high school or middle school. I've also been on the steering committee that formed Leadership Genesee. So my exposure to leadership is very high. And everybody complains about the same thing. They'll say, "If only this group of people or this organization would partner with us..." They are struggling to figure out the answer to their problems themselves, but I know there are other groups that are trying to figure out the same thing. So why can't we all just get together? Everyone generally agrees that we all need to come together, but who is taking the lead?

The school board is going to keep losing money. I don't think there's a plethora of surplus money that's going to come down from New York State or the federal government. We have to be realistic and plan for the future. We have to ask how, for example, we can supplement our ACE program with programs that GCC could offer, that Leadership Genesee could offer, etc. I would love to see our district have a mentorship program. We have a lot of dynamic, intelligent people in this community, and yet we don't have active mentorship programs that I'm aware of. On my website, I mentioned a grant for creativity training that GCC got, which is for students going into middle school. We could work with them and seek out grants that will supplement needs in the schools instead of just stumbling upon them. So I'm talking about a much different level of collaboration. I think there is so much opportunity and that we need to start sitting down and getting to know each other, finding out what's available, and figuring out how to create opportunities for our students. We cannot allow their education to suffer just because we're not getting what we need in order to fund the school district.

What are your thoughts on the proposed budget?

I do believe the budget needs to pass, because we have a lot of key programs that we had lost reinstated. If the budget doesn't pass and the contingency budget is adopted, the ACE program and the music programs that have been reinstated will go away. That's where the $300,000 savings will come from. I think it's important that the voters understand that.

I believe the proposed budget meets the needs of the consolidation. Obviously there are some things that are being taken away. And the consolidation is hard for me -- it's hard for everybody. My three oldest kids were students at Robert Morris Elementary School, and I have very fond memories. We're emotional about our schools. We have ties to them, but we have to let those go. We need to move toward whatever's next.

The problem is that we don't have "whatever's next" defined. We've got to do a better job of defining what the future looks like for us. I don't want to sit around and lament what we've lost, I want us to make sure we have the best district in the state of New York. I want people to benchmark it because we are doing such a great job providing this great, enriched, well-rounded education for our students and because they're going places...To me it's not so important what the school district looks like. What's important are the results.

Getting back to the budget, I think it's also important for people to understand that we are depleting our fund balance. At a couple of the public forums I attended, people said: "You know, you've got $1 million, why don't you just wait another year and let us figure this thing out?" But what people need to understand is that it's not "money-out, money-in," it's just money-out. So they've got to have a strategy now for what they're going to do when there is no more fund balance. I would hate to see us take a step back and not pass the budget. I would hate to see us automatically lose another $300,000 just because we don't pass our budget. That's one of the alternatives, and I don't want to take that chance.

You've talked about the possibility of having a third-party mediator at the district's public forums. Could you talk a bit more about that?

Well, first of all, I have certification in conflict mediation from the Litigation Center of Rochester, which I got when I started working in consulting. The reality is that healthy organizations allow themselves to face conflict using measures and smart processes to get through the conflicts and come out on the better end. People disagree because they have different ways of looking at the same situation. When you are trying to bring two sides of a conflict together, you never use anyone who represents either party to be the mediator. What I have seen at the public forums for the school district is that mediators who represented the board of education got defensive, which is natural. It's good to have an objective third party so that you can listen. The board needs to be listening, not getting involved in the conversation. And that was not what happened in those forums.

Somebody who understands communication and its dynamics needs to help. And believe me, I know 100 percent that I could find someone who would facilitate these forums for us and would not charge us. There are people who want to serve. We just need to recognize what we need, and then go out and ask.

Do you have any closing comments?

I want us to be proud of Batavia. I want us to be proud to send our kids to school here and of the opportunities available. Batavia is the 13th city I have lived in, and it's the city in which I've chosen to raise my family. We're here for the long haul, and we want to see it become the best school district in the state. Whatever it looks like, that's my vision. We can do this -- we have a lot of resources, a lot of potential. I'm amazed at the talent we have in our area. We just need to get talking to each other, to have a vision that people can rally around and move forward.

For more information on DiFante and her background and platform, visit difante4schoolboard.com.

Photo courtesy of David DiFante.

Friday, May 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Alexander Elementary School holds open house for outdoor classroom

post by Daniel Crofts in alexander, education, nature, photos, schools

This is the stone pathway that leads into Alexander Elementary School's outdoor classroom (see the May 2 article, "New classroom will give Alexander students a place to learn in the great outdoors," for more details).

On Wednesday, the school held an open house for community members. A group of fifth-grade volunteers manned the various learning stations and explained to visitors what each one was all about.

The path led to a bridge that fords a stream, which visitors crossed in order to reach...

...Station B: "The Gathering Area," which McKenna Moran described as a "beginning and ending point" for students and teachers.

Here are some more close-up pictures of what that will look like:

This area will also include a storage bin for educational materials about nature, as well as for stories about nature written by the students.

"We find that when kids come out into nature it opens up their creativity," said teacher Ellie Jinks, who affirmed that the outdoor classroom can be used for all academic subjects.

Kolbee Koch and Jacob Przybylski had the job of explaining the "Messy Materials" station, which will give kids the opportunity to engage in unstructured play. Koch said it will also include "seasonal materials," such as pumpkins.

Alyssa Dudley and Haley Alvord hung around to talk about the "Building Area," which is where students will be able to work on their math, visual and spatial abilities by building models "on a scale impossible indoors" (according to Dudley) using blocks and other natural materials.

Taya Townley manned the "Wheeled Toy Area," which is kind of self-explanatory. The photo below gives an idea of what it will develop into.

Nick Allen staffed the "Sand and Dirt Digging Area," which will have a large, in-ground planter surrounded by stone in the center. Students will use this space for "digging, planting and plant care" opportunities.

Paige Cumming's job was to help showcase Station L, where kids will hone their "music and expressive movement" abilities. This area will include a 100-square-foot, handicap-accessible stage and two installed musical instruments.

Cumming said that students will also be able to use this space to put on performances.

And here is the "Bird Watch Area," which is for the observation of wildlife. Landscapers will plant a variety of vegetation to attract wildlife, in addition to installing bird feeders and similar structures.

As an additional educational perk, the classroom includes signs identifying the types of trees that grow there:

(This is a Norway spruce. The letters on the sign were more visible before the picture was resized.)

The school district is working on this project with the help of the Nebraska-based organization Nature Explore. This will be the first certified Nature Explore outdoor classroom in Western New York, and it is designed to benefit students of all learning styles.

But it is not meant only to benefit the school district. According to Sheila Hess -- an Alexander parent and employee of Conservation Connects, which is also involved in the project -- people in the community will be encouraged to use this space as well (for picnics, a place to bring the kids, etc).

For more information, visit the Alexander Central School District's Outdoor Classroom Page.

Supplemental Photos

A drawing of what will eventually be the arch of entry:

Footprints in the pathway:

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