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Daniel Crofts's blog

May 29, 2012 - 10:33am
posted by Daniel Crofts in Byron Bergen, pageant, National American Miss Pageant.

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 [email protected].

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

May 24, 2012 - 1:13pm

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):

May 19, 2012 - 11:03am
posted by Daniel Crofts in schools, education, Bullying, Jackson School.

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

May 13, 2012 - 1:25pm

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.

May 13, 2012 - 1:23pm

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.

May 13, 2012 - 1:22pm

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.

May 13, 2012 - 1:20pm

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.

May 13, 2012 - 1:19pm

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'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

Photo courtesy of David DiFante.

May 11, 2012 - 2:15pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in photos, schools, education, alexander, nature.

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:

May 5, 2012 - 7:21pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in SUNY, Genesee Community College, education.

Today was the inauguration of Genesee Community College's fourth president, James M. Sunser, Ed.D. He replaces Stuart Steiner, who recently retired after serving as the college's president for 37 years.

Sunser is pictured up front and center in the above photo, along with the distinguished guests -- including GCC officials, members of the Genesee and Orleans county legislatures, officials from the SUNY system, private colleges and some representatives from the state government.

The fact that GCC has only had four presidents in the nearly 45 years of its existence made this a particularly significant event. Mary Pat Hancock, chair of the Genesee County Legislature and the third speaker at the ceremony, lauded the college's thorough and careful selection process during this "crucial transition."

In his speech, Sunser expressed his enthusiasm for the job.

"It is my honor and privilege to stand before you to reflect on this significant and special day," he said. "I am humbled and honored by the confidence you have shown in me, and I assure you that I will aspire toward the highest standard of excellence, for which this college is known."

He also said that he was proud to be part of a college with such a legacy of "resourcefulness, dedication and faith in the future," pointing out the ordinary citizens who "banded together against conventional wisdom and the community's expectations" to found GCC 45 years ago.

Sunser believes that not only meeting, but exceeding expectations is the challenge of education and anyone who wants to make a lasting difference in the world.

As examples of people who have done this, he talked about key historical figures like Albert Einstein (who grew up with a speech impediment) and Rosa Parks, as well as the aforementioned citizens who pushed for GCC's foundation and the pioneers who first came to this region 200 years ago, "pushing beyond expectations."

"I promise to meet and exceed your expectations at GCC," he said. "I believe there is no more powerful, no more enduring gift than education. (At GCC), we will develop programs and curricula that will bring the best to our work force and help shape the vibrant economic prosperity of the region."

Toward the end of his speech, Sunser also encouraged his partners in the community and ordinary citizens to make a difference.

"Each of us can help change our community," he said. "Let us leave a legacy that makes those who follow us proud."

Sunser is an alumnus of Onondaga Community College (OCC), Syracuse University, SUNY Brockport and the University of Rochester. Before coming to GCC, he worked at OCC for 22 years -- first as bursar, then as vice president of finance, and finally as vice president for continuing and extended learning.

OCC president Debbie L. Sydow, who was one of the greeters at today's ceremony, spoke of Sunser's passion for education and dedication to the service of others.

"He always puts the students' interests first (at OCC)," Sydow said.

She described Sunser as "no-nonsense yet good-natured, smart yet down-to-earth."

For more information on President Sunser, see his biographical page on GCC's website.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Carlson.

May 3, 2012 - 2:55pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, Richmond Memorial Library, budget vote.

On Tuesday, voters approved the proposed budget for the Richmond Memorial Library in Batavia. This will mean a 3-cent increase in the library tax per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The budget passed by a four-to-one margin:

Yes: 252
No: 63

Also, library Board Member Beth Stich was reelected to another five-year term with 293 votes. She was unopposed.

For more information about the library's services, visit

April 30, 2012 - 4:05pm

This is a press release from the Richmond Memorial Library:

The Richmond Memorial Library vote takes place on Tuesday, May 1 from
9 a.m. until 9 p.m. in the Gallery Room of the Richmond Library, at 19 Ross St. in Batavia.

Any registered voter residing in the Batavia City School District is eligible to vote.

April 14, 2012 - 9:56am

Members of the "Tale for Three Counties" committee were presented with the Richmond Memorial Library's 2012 "Friend of the Year" award today at a public reception in the library's Gallery Room.

This award is given each year in recognition of a person or group that has gone above and beyond in support of the Richmond library. According to Paula Haven, Teen Services librarian and staff liaison to the Friends of the Library, "A Tale for Three Counties" met the criteria.

"This is their 10th anniversary," Haven said. "Not all library programs enjoy such longevity."

"A Tale for Three Counties" began when a group of public librarians from Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties got together and proposed an idea for an area-wide book discussion program. Over the years, they have garnered the support of such organizations as Genesee Community College, GoArt!, the Genesee Valley BOCES School Library System, Wal-Mart and Time Warner.

Each year, participants read and discuss books that meet the following guidelines (taken from the program's website): 

  • It must be a work of fiction
  • It must appeal to both adult and teen readers
  • It must have literary merit as evidenced by professional reviews or awards
  • It must present the theme of rural family life or local history
  • It must have issues or topics to discuss
  • It must introduce a new or relatively unknown author to readers

Another perk of this program is that the authors come to the area to give talks every year (click to read an article on the Garth Stein visit in 2010).

Here are some quotes from authors who have visited Genesee County for this program:

"Call: My agent on the phone telling me that my book 'The Call' had been chosen as the one book for 'A Tale for Three Counties.'

"Action: Cheered and then gladly accepted.

"Result: Was greeted so warmly by all involved with the Tale I considered that the place was possibly enchanted and I had crossed over into a better world."

-Yannick Murphy, author of "The Call"

"I really had the sense, during the three days I participated in the Tale for Three Counties, that the program was reaching all sorts of people who otherwise would not be reading literature, opening their minds to its possibilities and encouraging future explorations of books while also uniting the community. It was a great honor to participate in such a worthy program."

- Hillary Jordan, author of "Mudbound

April 12, 2012 - 3:53pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, st. joseph school, garage sales, SUPER MAMMOTH.

Mary Lea Caprio holds up a "sweet" little baby outfit in the "Baby Boutique" at St. Joseph School (more pictures at the bottom).

Featuring clothes, toys and other babyware for newborns through 3-year-olds, the boutique is one of this year's added features for St. Joe's ginormous and burgeoning Super MAMMOTH Indoor Garage Sale.

Chairwoman Kathy Stefani and her committed crew of 127 volunteers have been working hard all year to prepare for the event, which takes place Saturday, April 14, at the 2 Summit St. school from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. and has something to offer for just about everybody.

Items for sale will include your usual antiques, furniture, upholstery, jewelry, paintings, etc. But for those of you manly men out there who don't much care for that stuff, another of this year's "newbies" is a "Tool Town." This will be outside and will include hand tools, power tools and a gas grill.

There's plenty of cool stuff for kids as well, like these Buffalo Bills binoculars that volunteer Colton Bellimer held up for the camera.

According to Stefani, the volunteers have been taking tip-top care of every item.

"Everything sparkles, because it's all been washed," she said. "Our toys are complete -- no pieces are missing, and everything works."

In keeping with the MAMMOTH tradition, the prices are extremely affordable. From a $2 Rolex quartz to 25-cent cat food to a $10 microwave, the merchandise reflects the prices that Stefani and the other MAMMOTH workers have long been proud of.

All of the merchandise will be restocked at 12:30 p.m., so nobody has to worry about missing out on the good stuff by sleeping in.

Some of this year's other new features will include:

  • Rib BBQ dinners from Clor's, in addition to their chicken BBQs
  • A "Winter Room" with Christmas models and decorations
  • Vintage quilts (including one from 1890, another from 1930)

The sale will be divided into two shifts -- one in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Each shift will have 23 cashiers ready to check customers out.

Baked goods and coffee will also be available inside, so bring your appetite!

Here are some more pics of available merchandise:

More pictures after the jump (click on the headline to see more):

March 18, 2012 - 2:07pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, photos, senior center, GoArt!, art, artists.

GoArt! hosted its first GoArt! Members Exhibition on Friday, along with its first Digital Art Exhibit. Both are intended to become annual events.

The above ink-on-canvas painting is called "Fiscal Policy" and was painted by Kevin Hammon, who lives just north of Le Roy. It was on sale for $350.

Here is Hammon with another of his canvas works, "Moon Light Drive-In" ($125).

Below are some of the other paintings on display at Seymour Place.

Oil painting: "Wolf Creek at Letchworth" by Rick Ellingham ($275).

Oil painting: "Route 5" by Joseph Deni ($400).

Kevin Feary, of Batavia, stands beside his oil-on-muslin painting, "Short Order Cook" ($580).

Artist (and City Councilwoman) Rose Mary Christian stands next to her untitled acrylic (not for sale) with Linda Sforno (left) and Roelene Christian.

"Country Cottage Needlepoint" by Joan E. Rotondo ($238).

Watercolor: "Sinking Ponds" by Rita M. Hammond ($50).

Pencil: "Silent Communication" by Judy Wenrich ($175).

Glass art: "Dragonfly Wide Bowl" by Heather Whitney ($100).

Glass art: "Peacock Bowl" by Heather Whitney ($120).

Acrylic and paper: "Night Out" by Kimberly A. Argenta ($100).

Acrylic: "National Geographic: Stampede" by Carole LaValley ($225).

Oil on muslin: "Upton Monument" by Kevin Feary ($580).

Oil: "Rusted & Weathered" by Rick Ellingham ($200).

Connie Mosher, of Albion, stands next to her Arizona-inspired oil painting, "Rugs on a Railing Near Sedona, AZ" ($500).

Pastel: "Alzheimer's--the Ultimate Identity Theft," by Sharon Jahnke Long (not for sale).

Earthenware, slips, glaze: "Cityscape II" by Moi Dugan ($425).

Pastel: "Twoo Wuv" by Sharon Jahnke Long (not for sale).

Woodcut: "Angus" by Rita Hammond ($50).

Clay: "Covered Jar with Wheat" by Jean Grinnell (SOLD).

Long Stitch: "Tiger Walk" by Joan E. Rotondo ($238).

To find out which of these--and other--photos are still for sale, contact Robin Upson, administrative assistant at GoArt!, at 343-9313, or email [email protected].

As this was going on, a reception for non-members' digital art was held next door at GoArt!'s satellite gallery in the Batavia Senior Center.

"Study in Perspective" by Natalie Buczek ($10).

"Katie" by Byron-Bergen ninth-grader Katelyn Simmons (not for sale).

"Guitar Rock" by Susan Meier ($45).

"Let It Be" by Daniel Cherry ($40).

Cherry displays his work, "Broken Treaties," with his sons, Jimmy and Daniel.

The digital artwork will be on display until April 27 at the senior center, at 2 Bank St. in Batavia. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.

For information, contact Joe Langen at [email protected].

February 27, 2012 - 10:04am
posted by Daniel Crofts in Announcements, GCC, schools, lego league, robotics, tech wars.

The following is a press release from Chantal Zambito:

Calling all NXT/RCX Robotic Clubs, Groups, Teams, and Enthusiasts!

If you are between the ages of nine and 14, you are invited to Genesee Community College, in Batavia, to participate in a friendly maze race. Whether you are a novice or an experienced user of the NXT/RCX Robotic software, this is for you.

The event will take place on Thursday, March 15, in conjunction with Tech Wars. Registration will begin at 9 a.m., with the events lasting from 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.

The teams will create a catapult to a launch marshmallows from a designated point. The three teams with the furthest launch will receive a prize, and all teams will receive a certificate of participation. The best distance will be taken from each group’s three launches.

Come and look at the 2011 FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Challenge Missions, projects, and presentations from local teams. Information on how to get a Robotics Club started at your school or in your community will be available at the event.

If you are interested, the registration deadline is Feb. 18.

For a map of the launch pad, registration form, or more information about the NXT Challenge at GCC, contact Chantal Zambito at [email protected]. For more information about Tech Wars go to

December 23, 2011 - 12:16pm

David Markham has been at the helm of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism & Substance Abuse (GCASA) for more than a decade. Today, he retires from his job as its executive director.

Here the 65-year-old Markham introduces himself:

Since he started at GCASA in 2000, the organization has developed some notable new programs and won numerous national awards for both treatment and prevention programs.

The prevention efforts alone have received a government grant to head up a Drug-Free Communities Coalition (DFC) for Genesee County. In addition, they've received grants to mentor two other coalitions -- one in Orleans County and one in Lancaster/Depew.

They have earned such honors as: the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America's (CADCA) Got Outcomes! Award in the category of "Coalition as a Whole" in 2006; the National Exemplary Award from the National Association of State Alcohol/Drug Abuse Directors ('07) ; and selection as Coalition of the Year by CADCA ('07).

Below, Markham answers some questions about himself and his career.

Did you grow up wanting to pursue a career in the social work/mental health field?

No. My college degree was in philosophy, with a minor in sociology. My first job was as a psychiatric social worker trainee at Kings Park in Rochester. At that time, the Department of Mental Hygiene (which no longer exists) was awarding grants for people to pursue careers in social work. So I went back to school on a grant from them and got a master's degree in social work from SUNY Albany. As I got into the field, I gradually held positions with greater responsibility.

I understand you have a private practice in Brockport. What type of counseling do you do?

As a licensed clinical social worker, I kind of do it all. Most of my clients deal with stress-related problems like anxiety and depression. They might have problems with their families, at work...sometimes they're dealing with grief, too. I also do couples and family counseling.

How did you get into the administrative aspect of the social work field?

Having been a clinician, I felt I had ideas about how services could be organized more effectively and efficiently. It has kind of been a dual career of mine, because I’ve continued to have my own practice. I’ve found the two (clinical and administrative work) to be interrelated in an intimate way. The way I see it, the manager is like an architect, and the clinician is the general contractor he hires to carry out the plan. There are key processes that govern the way services are delivered and develop the ability to implement those services. 

When and how did you come to GCASA?

I came in 2000. Before that, I had been the director of clinical operations at the Rochester Health Association, and about half of their programs were related to substance abuse. I left in 2000 and was looking for something else, and it just so happened that Sharon McWethy (GCASA's executive director at the time) was retiring.

What would you say has been your management philosophy during your 11 years at GCASA?

My overall philosophy is collaborative and participatory. I think it's important to understand what is important to all of the various stakeholders, whether these are clients, families, members of the community, etc. I guess I'd say I'm the opposite of an autocrat. I like to work in a way that elicits not just the cooperation, but the enthusiasm of the multiple stakeholders. That way, we can all work productively toward a common goal.

You are originally from, and currently live in, Brockport. Having worked in Genesee County through the DFC and through prevention, what has been your impression of the Genesee County community?

It's the most wonderful place I've worked in the world. And I'm not just sucking up -- I think it's the Garden of Eden. Everyone from the county executive to the Batavia city manager, to the schools to the legislature, has been great to work with. You get to know all of the officials on a very personal and collaborative level, and there's a great sense of overall collective welfare.

You don't get that in Monroe County--there's too much bureaucracy. It's more divided. There's not the kind of corruption (in Genesee or Orleans counties) that you see in Monroe County or Erie County, so it's easier to get things done. I think one of the reasons GCASA has won all these awards and been able to implement all these new programs is that the community is smaller and more tightly knit. The programs can be at a scale that's easier to design and implement.

The thing about both Genesee and Orleans counties is that even though these are rural communities, the people are very sophisticated. They're surprisingly well-educated. They have wonderful cultural opportunities because of their access to Buffalo and Rochester. So they have all the advantages of smaller, more tightly knit communities plus these cultural benefits.

The people I know (in Genesee County) are very good people. They have very good values and integrity. Working and living here has been extremely satisfying and fulfilling.

GCASA has been noted for giving employees the benefit of flexible schedules, as well as flexibility in how they manage their work projects. Some people in the business world would say this is the wrong thing to do, because it leads to a drop in productivity. How would you defend your workplace policies at GCASA?

At GCASA, we have created an atmosphere that I would like to believe is empowering to employees. And overall, it's been extremely effective. We get great outcomes, our employee satisfaction is pretty high, and we have one of the best workplaces in New York State. The fact that we've won national awards for our work says that we must be doing something right.

One thing that we, as managers, have to realize is that our employees are adults. They manage their own lives, and we should be able to respect their integrity and maturity. I don't understand why a lot of organizations feel they have to micromanage their employees. There is protocol (for workplace projects, etc.), sure -- but no one knows how to do the work better than the people who are actually engaged in it.

As a manager, my concern is with results -- which is why, when I started at GCASA, one of the first things I did was develop an outcome-based job description. A lot of job descriptions are output-based.

Our employees are adults, so we expect them to be able to get the work done (without having to micromanage them)...There are a lot of ways management works with employees to determine the "what." How they get there depends. Employees should always have opportunities to conduct themselves in a way that works for them, as long as they're getting their work done and as long as they're respecting their coworkers.

You had two young children who were killed by a drunk driver in 1993. How has that influenced your work in the field of alcohol and substance abuse?

Well, I was in the field beforehand -- that's the irony of it. It just goes to show that it can happen to anyone. I would have been doing the work I've been doing regardless. But has it influenced my enthusiasm and passion for the work? Absolutely. And I also think it has influenced my credibility when I speak at Victim Impact Panels. I try to be professional about it, but my personal experience is brought to bear.

A lot of these issues can be seen as academic, professional, or as policy issues, which they are. But these personal stories make it more real for folks. It's like (they say), "Reality is when it happens to you." Substance abuse is a lethal disease, whether we're talking about liver disease from alcohol abuse or silly nonsense like drinking and driving. Tragedies show the importance of a healthy and high-functioning community.

Do you have any words of advice for your successor?

Well, it's an easy transition, because John Bennett (former director of GCASA's treatment services) and I share a lot of the same values. I guess what I would say to John is, first of all, to be understanding of our collaborators and have healthy, meaningful, positive relationships with all stakeholders. We work across systems. I think what has made GCASA so successful is its great collaborative partners. It's a lot of work, but if we work to maintain those relationships, we'll be okay.

What do you plan to do now?

I'm going to continue with my private practice on a part-time basis. I've been working two jobs for years, and I'm finally at a point in my life where I can work just one. I'm also involved in a lot of activities for the Village of Brockport and for my church. Finally, I plan on spending more time with family -- I have seven children and 13 grandchildren.

Markham's birthday is Christmas Day. He will be 66.

For more information on GCASA, visit the organization's blog, GCASA Cares, at

December 14, 2011 - 9:29am

What the Dickens are the Batavia Players up to now?

According to Patrick Burk, the popular local theater group's president, they "wanted to do a wonderful Christmas gift to the community for the support of our new Harvester 56 Theater" this holiday season.

So they're putting on their own rendition of Charles Dickens' classic, "A Christmas Carol," the story of Ebenezer Scrooge -- a greedy, bitter, lonely old miser whose whole way of looking at the world gets turned upside down by a series of ghostly visitations on Christmas Eve.

Burk described the show as "bright and colorful as well as technically magical."

"It has a classic storyline and has always been one of my favorites," he said. "I could never find where an original version had been done (in Batavia, at least). A couple of contemporary versions with modern day spins were done in the '70s and early '80s."

The Players, on the other hand, will be giving folks pure Dickens, without any modern spin. All costumes and sets are going to be traditional. The music will be "contemporary for the time (the early 1840s, to be precise)," but with a few newer carols, according to Burk.

Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, in addition to a matinée performance at 2 o'clock on Sunday. All performances will be at the Harvester 56 Theatre, at 56 Harvester Ave. in Batavia.

Sunday's performance will be held for the benefit of the Michael Napoleone Memorial Foundation.

"Many of (the foundation's) members have been very supportive of us," Burk said, "I am so happy to be able to do this for them."

For those who are not familiar with Dickens' story, one of its most well-known and endearing characters is a sick child named Tiny Tim. Burk felt the Napoleone Foundation would be a "good fit" for this story.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for children and seniors. They can be purchased through

September 26, 2011 - 7:45pm

Community Action of Orleans & Genesee will once again be hosting their "Surplus Food Distribution" for low income residents of our area. It will be held at the Genesee County Fairgrounds, at 5056 E. Main St. Road in Batavia, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 5.  It will be in the Kennedy Building.

Anyone who plans on coming must bring the following items:

  • Proof of residence (water, gas, electric or phone bill)
  • Identification (driver's license, etc.)
  • Proof of income (Supplemental Security Income (SSI) grant award letter, Social Security Disability (SSD) award letter, social security end of the year letter, HEAP Grant award letter, WIC card, Department of Social Services budget sheet, or most recent income tax return).

People are allowed to pick up items for others, but they must have signed permission slips.

For more information, call Community Action at 343-7798, ext. 116.

August 16, 2011 - 8:00pm

St. Mary's Church, of Batavia, got a visit from the Blessed Virgin Mary Monday night. The church at 20 Ellicott St. was one of her last stops in Genesee County as she tours the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

The International Pilgrimage Statue of Our Lady of Fatima has been crisscrossing the Western Hemisphere for the past 64 years (there is another statue made for pilgrimages in the Eastern Hemisphere). It was sculpted in 1947 by Portuguese sculptor Jose Thedim, who based it on descriptions provided by one of the children who received visions of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal, in the summer of 1917.

According to Carl Malburg, one of the statue's custodians, the Bishop of Fatima commissioned the Pilgrimage Statue 30 years after the three children -- Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco -- received the visions.

"The idea came from the message," Malburg said. "It was meant for all the world, not just the people of Fatima."

"Fatima is not over," said Malburg's fellow custodian Patrick Sabat (pictured below), referencing Pope Benedict XVI. "There is a continued need for prayer and penance."

Addressing the people who attended Monday's service, he added: "Pope John Paul II said the message of Fatima is more urgent and more relevant now than it was in 1917."

Much of the content of the Fatima visions -- which began on May 13 and occurred on the 13th of every month until October -- deals with the harm that human sins do to the world, leading to war and destruction. The Virgin Mary reportedly told the children that if enough people carried out her instructions, there would be peace on Earth.

"Pope Benedict XV (who was Pope at the time of the Fatima visions) called Mary the Queen of Peace," Sabat said, adding that her intercession would work "when all human efforts at peace had failed."

Malburg, of Indiana, and Sabat, of the Philippines, escort the Pilgrimage Statue in its travels on behalf of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue Foundation, which is based in Munster, Ind. With permission from Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, they are making a 21-day trip through the Buffalo diocese.

Interestingly, the Buffalo diocese was the first place the statue visited in the U.S. on her very first pilgrimage in 1947. One of her stops was Our Lady of Fatima Church in Elba.

"And we thought, 'Why not bring her back?'" said Sally Ross, Ph.D, a member of St. Padre Pio Parish (which includes Our Lady of Fatima in Elba and St. Cecilia's Church in Oakfield).

Ross was the one who came up with the idea of bringing the statue back to Western New York for a pilgrimage. It all started when she, as a member of Our Lady of Fatima, did some research into how her church got its name. She learned three interesting facts about the Elba church:

1. The Pilgrimage Statue's visit in 1947.

2. It is the oldest church in the U.S. to bear that name.

3. The knoll in front of the church on which the Fatima Shrine is now located was once used by the Ku Klux Klan as a place to burn crosses.

Fact number three is especially interesting if you think about the Fatima message.

"Our Lady wants all her children to live together in peace and harmony," Malburg said. "She said that if we follow her instructions, there will be peace."

To that end, Sabat called everyone to be "Prayer Warriors."

"This is a different kind of war," he said. "It's a war of reparation for the sins of the world."

According to a pamphlet from the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue Foundation, fighting this war includes making each of one's daily sufferings a sacrifice in atonement for sin, praying the Rosary every day, and wearing the brown scapular as a sign of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Miracles and favors have been reported in areas the statue has visited over the years. One of the most famous of these miracles is the "Miracle of Tears," which refers to reports of the statue crying human tears in more than 30 instances.

While there may not have been any tears in Western New York so far, people have been affected by the statue. The pilgrimage isn't over yet, and Ross has already gotten some follow-up calls.

"I wish I could have recorded them, (as they talked about the message)," she said. "Even just the timbre of their's just incredible."

As much of an impact as the statue has had, Sabat and Malburg were both very clear that Catholics do not worship Mary or statues.

"A statue's just a piece of wood," Malburg said. "And the person it represents (Mary) is not divine. But we do talk to her and ask her to pray for us."

He also said that he sometimes meets fundamentalists who object to giving this type of honor to Mary. To this he replies, "You have a guardian angel, don't you?" His point is that Catholics talk to Mary the same way most Christians might talk to their guardian angels.

"Mary is still the greatest catechist (teacher of the faith)," Sabat said. "She's a role model for all Christians, and we continue to imitate her virtues. Our goal is to be as close to Christ as possible, and she was the closest person to Christ there ever was."

St. Joseph's Church welcomed the Pilgrimage Statue at Mass this morning. It is heading to Orleans County today, but will return for a visit to the New York State Veterans' Home on Aug. 19. All total, it will make seven more stops throughout the region before the pilgrimage concludes on Aug. 22.

For more information, go to

Supplemental Video: Malburg and Sabat on local news show in Cincinnati





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