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Batavia City Schools

Batavia's budget approved, community schools program shifts with new coordinator and focus on social work

By Joanne Beck

Now that the Batavia City Schools budget has been approved, district leaders will focus on certain portions of the financial plan, including how to proceed with changes in the Community Schools program, which will mean hiring a part-time coordinator, Superintendent Jason Smith says.

Once the change officially takes place on July 1, former full-time coordinator Julia Rogers will be reverting back to a former title as assistant principal at the district and a new coordinator will be hired, he said. The program, built upon a five-year $2.5 million grant, is designed to unite the Batavia community and its schools through “shared resources, working partnerships and open, collaborative communication.”

Part of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Elementary and Secondary Education program, also considered a “full-service” community schools program, includes a yearly evaluation review and related report, which is performed and posted by Brockport Research Institute. 

All of the measurable data and protocols for the program is collected by Molly Corey, executive director of curriculum and instruction for the district. 

There are 10 pillars of expectations for the program, each involving various goals, from accessibility of mental and behavioral health resources to equitable diversity ratios among the student and employee populations. 

In reviewing the first report, issued in October 2023, The Batavian asked several questions of Smith. 

Jason Smith
Batavia City School District Superintendent Jason Smith

Q: Given that it is a grant, how was that extra funding from the (coordinator) job reduction used?
A: Per the grant requirements, the District was required to match a portion of the Coordinator of Community School salary. As a result, general fund expenditures have been reduced, allowing us to prioritize other programming while being mindful of expenditures.

Q: One of the program objectives (10) seems to lean heavily on "community schools director and coordinators" that were hired in year one, and The Batavian was only aware of the one coordinator. Were or are there other such positions? 
A: We have hired one Coordinator of Community Schools, given the size of our District. As a note, we have a full-time aide assigned to the Community Schools team, who will remain in place with the hiring of the new part-time coordinator. 

Q: The next question cites a particular section: Train community schools directors and coordinators in trauma-informed care, restorative justice practices, and Multi-tiered Systems of Support. No evidence has been provided that these trainings have taken place. As of the writing of this report, only a System of Care training with eight participants was reported. It is unclear if there was additional training provided during Year 1 or not. 

Was this type of training done for this program? Or will it be incorporated at some point? 
A: The training requirements were met.

MTSS is essentially a system designed to provide academic support for students based on their needs. Several staff trainings have been provided, and future trainings are planned.

Trainings we have already provided include:

  • Summer professional development offerings for restorative practices and MTSS (several sessions)
  • Several sessions have taken place during the school year/school day
  • Faculty meetings (per school)
  • Social workers and counselors were part of a series from the University of Rochester
  • Additional resources are available for self-paced training

We have approximately 20 staff members trained in Trauma Illness and Grief practices. 

Q: Another question based on a specific section of the protocol, based on the Year 2 target: By year two, BCSD expects to maintain a staff reflective of the student population, trained in a variety of evidence-based practices, and engaged in professional learning communities. 

Staff training and engagement with professional learning communities may very well happen by the end of Year 2. The concerning finding from the BEDS data, Brockport Research Institute states, is related to the goal of having a staff reflective of the student population. Currently 97% of BCSD staff are White, and 100% of the teachers are White. As only 70% of the student body is White, it is unclear how BCSD can meet its goal of a staff reflective of the student population by the end of Year 2 (December 31, 2024).

Based on the above percentages, the recommendation was to work with Human Resources, which prompts The Batavian to ask if you can also work with the teachers union to move toward hiring more teachers of color or otherwise affect the staffing ratio. Is this feasible? Does the district have a plan for this? 
A: Our teachers' union is not directly involved in the hiring of staff.

Additionally, the District believes it is important that our workforce reflects our student body and remains committed to diversity in hiring practices, while at the same, hiring highly skilled, qualified, and dedicated teachers and staff. We’re proud of our recent hires who helped us reach this goal, and we’re continuously exploring ways to attract, hire, and retain a diverse staff. 

Q: The researchers also said it was "unclear what percentage of students accessed any of the supports under this pillar (mental and behavioral health) or which of the supports were available during Year 1." Why is that? Do you feel that setting up this program has been working so far? Do you see room for improvement, and if so, can you be candid about some examples?
A: We are thrilled to see numerous students across BCSD access our support services.  We have dedicated staff to address these needs, as well as partnerships with several community agencies that work with our students (mental health and behavioral health) The students who need these services the most are accessing them—and we’re proud to have programs and staff available to help.

Q: This program is about far more than just one coordinator, but it seems, given some of this data, that reducing a full-time position to part-time doesn't seem a likely remedy to accomplish the findings and recommendations made by the BRI, so has the district revised or is revising its strategies moving forward? 
Q: We have systems in place to address student learning needs, as previously described regarding Multi-Tiered System Support.  

The best approach is to increase the resources closest to the students. Each school has a social worker and counseling team that integrates needed resources into their school by working closely with the principal. We have seen tremendous success with this model for our District. Having these resources embedded in each building where they get to know students, their families, and their needs has expanded our capacity to reach those who really need our support directly.

Q: Are you working toward the issues of racial disparity for discipline and absenteeism? According to the report, blacks are in a higher percentage than whites for both. Is there a plan to discover why more blacks are missing school and why more of them are being disciplined? 
A: We are currently providing support through My Brothers Keeper, a grant and program designed to address these issues.

Each school has an attendance team that strives to improve attendance for all students. The DEI committee completed a book study, “Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain,” by Zaretta Hammonds. We are in the process of integrating practical strategies outlined in the book into our attendance process.

Q: It was also discovered that less than half of the parents who completed the program’s needs assessment agreed that students were treated fairly, no matter their race or cultural background. What do you think that's about?
A: Our District's goal and top priority is to ensure fair and equitable treatment for all students, and our leadership team and Board of Education are 100 percent committed to this goal.

We appreciate the input from our parents who participated in the survey -- it provides a helpful perspective. With that being said, we are closely analyzing the results of the survey to help inform our practices, and we will certainly make adjustments as needed. 

Q: Can you elaborate at all about those “critical elements” that the current coordinator will be focusing on, and confirm if there are other coordinators and a director to be handling other components of the program?
A: The new Coordinator will partner with building and district leadership to target focus areas. A particular focus will be to leverage the work of our social workers to support Community School goals.

Citywide response training gets schools 'on the same page'

By Howard B. Owens
police and schools
From L to R: (Front) Melissa Lindner, Notre Dame High School; Karen Green, St. Joseph’s School; Jason Smith, Batavia City School District; Susan Wakefield, St. Paul’s School; Jacqueline Simpson, New York State School for the Blind; (Back) Matt Lutey, Batavia Police Department; Connor Borchert, Batavia Police Department/BCSD SRO; Eric Hill, Batavia Police Department; Lynn Eick, St. Paul’s School.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Mr. Simpson’s in the building.

If you don’t know what that means, you’re one of the many students, staff and faculty at the school districts that don’t use such lingo as a secret indicator of a particular message to be broadcast when necessary over the public address system.

Just imagine what it would be like as a visiting student or substitute teacher on a day when this cryptic notification is aired, and all of the other school members respond in a knowing awareness. What if this message held special significance in relation to a school threat or community emergency? On the other hand, there are two very common terms used by most every school that have caused much confusion as well: lock out and lock down.

Now that a Standard Response Protocol has been implemented this summer, the language and related directives during school incidents will be the same for each of the city school district schools, St. Paul Lutheran, St. Joseph’s, Notre Dame High School and the state School for the Blind, and for Batavia Police Detective Eric Hill, it's about time.

“They've had the lockdown procedure in place and lockout procedure in place for a very, very long time. It's just now we're calling the lockout secure, so there's not that confusion any more. I'm really trying to push the education portion of it. Because a lot of times, you know, because of the very similar wording between lockout and lockdown, the general public would get confused as well. So we'd call for a lockout. And people would be like, 'Oh, my gosh, my kid was in lockdown.' They weren't, but it was just that the language is so close to one another that you don't understand what the difference is between them,” Hill said. “So we're trying to get that information out to the general public, and schools have actually had Parent Night and stuff like that, where they've been pushing out this wording and what it actually means. So when a parent hears 'Oh, you know, my school or my kid was in a Secure,' they understand that there wasn't any threat to the child at all … so we're hoping that that'll alleviate some of the anxiety that comes along with this kind of stuff.”

There have been some districts that used phrases such as Mr. Simpson is in the building to indicate a certain message to the student body, and a more universal language would help to clarify those messages as well, he said.

As for the wording, the new language to be used in this protocol will be:

Hold — is followed by “in your room or area,” and is the protocol used when hallways need to kept clear of occupants.

Secure —  is followed by “get inside. Lock outside doors,” and is the protocol used to safeguard people within the building.

Lockdown — is followed by “locks, lights, out of sight,” and is used to secure individual rooms and keep occupants quiet and in place

Evacuate  — may be followed by a location, and is used to move people from one location to a different location in or out of the building.

Shelter — is to include the hazard causing the incident and safety strategy for the group and for self protection.

These words will be announced by public address system when necessary, although Hill would like to eventually move to having the software available for use on cell phones, laptops, computers and Smart Boards. That will take future grants or other types of funding, he said. 

An example of a Hold would be if a student is sick and other students need to be kept away and out of the hall, a Hold may be called out over the PA, he said. 

A secure might be if there’s a threat outside of the building — there was a recent real example when police had a car chase, and the driver bailed from his vehicle and police officers chased him on foot. Previously that would have been a lock out, but now is a secure, meaning keep everyone inside and safe, and go about your business with the doors locked to prevent anyone from getting inside.

A lockdown is when the threat is inside the school and students and staff need to keep themselves safe inside, perhaps locked inside a classroom. 

Evacuate is to move out of the building, and shelter is to find a safe place to be in a time of crisis, perhaps a blizzard or other natural disaster.

An initiative that began from tragedy — a school shooting that took the life of Emily Keyes — the I Love U Guys Foundation was founded by her parents, Ellen and John-Michael, in 2006 to “restore and protect the joy of youth through educational programs and positive actions in collaboration with families, schools, communities, organization, and government entities.” 

The couple drafted these directives as ways to provide more uniform responses for kids to follow when incidents occur in schools, up to the point when the incident ends, Hill said. So if it’s a threat inside of school, no one would leave a locked classroom until an authorized person with a key unlocks that door. Because “no one, under any circumstances should open that door for anybody,” Hill said.

“Because, you know, we'll be opening that door. But we specifically set it up that way. The SRP is they've literally thought of everything at the I Love U Guys Foundation. They've put a lot of time, a lot of effort into this,” he said. “And we've actually had several trainings with them over the summer, and with school staff, both private and public school staff, to really understand their SRP and where it would be beneficial to everybody in our community, law enforcement, staff, students in the public, just to get everybody on the same page. So we're all talking the same language.”

The program’s name stems from when Emily was held hostage during her school’s shooting, and she texted that message to each of her parents. One goal is to get schools across the country to sign up and train using this standardized response protocol. Hill wants to ensure that the city’s program is up and running strong before then moving onto spreading it throughout Genesee County.

“Once we kind of get that in place, then we do want to hopefully grow the school safety team by pulling the Sheriff's department in with us. And then rolling it out county wide,” he said. “So that way, all the schools in Genesee County are using the exact same language, they're using the exact same protocols. And we all know what each other is doing. But we just haven't gotten to that step yet. So we're working towards that.”

Crisis response training for each of the schools began in August and will continue throughout the year. This protocol is not to be a replacement for any school safety plan, but an enhancement for critical incidents, officials said. 

Clear communication is critical in a crisis situation, City Schools Superintendent Jason Smith said, and the “standardization of these terms will provide clear direction to our students, staff, families, and community in case of emergency.”

“Thank you to our partners at the Batavia Police Department for leading this effort and for their consistent prioritization of school and community safety,” Smith said. “I’m thrilled to see Batavia’s educational community come together to implement these essential protocols.”

Part of the program includes posters that can be downloaded and printed out for schools to place on walls for free use in times of crisis — especially when someone forgets what a directive means or the steps involved, Hill said. 

There are also other posters that may be placed in windows to alert visitors that “School is Secured” with monitored entry, or “Drill in Progress” with no one in or out, or other such messages, and trainings offered through the program’s website.

 For more about the program, go to I Love U Guys.

Make suicide prevention a way of life, educator says

By Joanne Beck
julia rogers
Julia Rogers, coordinator of Community Schools at Batavia City School District, talks during a Genesee County proclamation presentation for Suicide Prevention Week.
Photo by Joanne Beck

Although the topic of suicide is not pretty or often readily embraced, it is being eagerly addressed as an issue that cannot be ignored at Batavia City Schools and beyond, and, as Coordinator of Community Schools Julia Rogers said during a Suicide Prevention event this week, “we want mental health awareness and suicide prevention to be more than just events in our local community.”

“We want it to be a way of life,” she said during the Genesee County Legislature’s proclamation presentation Tuesday for Suicide Prevention Week. 

“As we face the issue of suicide prevention, we are acutely aware of the discrimination, prejudices and stigma those suffering with mental illness have to deal with on a daily basis," Rogers said. "Our entire staff’s focus has expanded to include looking out for all students. That means our disengaged and disinterested students, our middle-of-the-road students, and our very engaged and overly involved students, and those students who may also be living with a family member or friend who is suffering.”

This all-encompassing approach has led the role of educators to expand in an effort to help support and teach students, families, colleagues and community members about mental illness, she said, “with the hope to overcome its stigma.” 

It is a huge challenge, and one that cannot be accomplished overnight, Rogers said. But the school community now has a raised awareness level.

“We know suicide impacts people of all backgrounds, and we are constantly looking for warning signs,” she said. 

The high school has a Sources of Strength group that helps support students in grades kindergarten through 12 in various activities and serves as a main prevention program. Its mission is to “increase help-seeking behaviors and promote connections between peers and adults.” 

Community Schools collaborated with the county’s Suicide Prevention Coalition last year and was awarded a grant through the American Academy of Pediatrics. A first-ever Youth Suicide Prevention Community Grants Program gave the district an opportunity to do many things throughout the district, including to create posters with safe messaging that were hung in various locations throughout Batavia during this month and in May during Mental Health Awareness month, she said.

“This grant opportunity led us as a coalition to think outside the box and develop Creative Communities. Starting with a Health Fest last spring, in conjunction with Community Schools, many other organizations and agencies, such as the Department of Health, Madeline Bartz Missions, Rochester Regional and the Lions Club, to name a few, our coalition plans to hold quarterly activities to expand our reach and our message,” she said.

Cheryl Netter
Cheryl Netter shares her hope for others during a county proclamation event Tuesday for Suicide Prevention Week.
Photo by Joanne Beck

Cheryl Netter, a member of the coalition who has spoken publicly about her personal story of addiction, depression and being a suicide attempt survivor, wanted to share some words for others who may be struggling.

The coalition has been a passion of hers, Netter said, while it has also given a platform for her to impact others by sharing her story and allowing — with compassion — others to do the same.

“There is definitely power and strength found when you can identify in a safe, nonjudgemental and empathetic way with someone whose life has been impacted by suicide, mental health challenges or addiction,” she said. “The Suicide Prevention Coalition has been a priority for me as well as those who are part of, and can help support, and who helped support, the coalition in offering education, resources, support and most of all, hope for those within our communities.”

Legislator Gregg Torrey read and presented the proclamation to the coalition, which is below:

Whereas, the week of September 10 to 16, 2023 is National Suicide Prevention Week, an annual campaign observed in the United States to educate and inform the general public about suicide prevention and to warn about rising suicide rates, and

Whereas, this week aids to reduce the stigma around it and raise awareness so that more and more people can reach out for help, and

Whereas, these observances are united in raising awareness that prevention is possible and treatment is effective, and people do recover, and

Whereas, the benefits of preventing and overcoming mental health challenges, suicide attempts and loss are significant and valuable to individuals, families, and our community, and

Whereas, it is essential that we educate residents about suicide, mental health and substance abuse and the ways they affect all people in the community, and

Whereas, we encourage relatives, friends, co-workers, and providers to recognize the signs of a problem, and guide those in need to appropriate services and supports, and

Whereas, the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Genesee County is dedicated to providing suicide awareness, training, prevention and postvention strategies for individuals, families, schools and organizations in Genesee County. Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, that Genesee County Legislature proclaims the week of September 10 to 16, 2023 as Suicide Prevention Week and shows great compassion for coming together as a community to educate and support each other.

Suicide Prevention group
Genesee County Legislator Gregg Torrey, left, presents a proclamation to Julia Rogers as Sue Gagne, Peter Mittiga, Lynda Battaglia, Paul Pettit, Cheryl Netter, Rae Frank and Diana Fox, with Daisy, all represent the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Genesee County.
Photo by Joanne Beck

Making this year 'a remarkable journey' at BHS, new principal says

By Joanne Beck

 

BHS first day
Batavia High School Principal Jennifer Wesp greets students during the first day of school Wednesday.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Jennifer Wesp had about a month to prepare for her first big day in welcoming students onto Batavia High School’s State Street campus Wednesday.

And prepared she was, anxiously waiting to greet them at 7:20 a.m.

“It was so exciting to see the students today. Many teachers and support staff came in early in order to spend some connection time before the first bell. We even had a table set up by GSA where students and staff could choose to wear a name tag that states their preferred pronouns,” the newly hired principal said after a full day of meet-and-greets and ensuring all went well on this day of return after summer. “The air was filled with chatter and laughter. I was able to get into many classrooms throughout the day. Teachers had planned many activities that revolved around building community and getting to know each other. Overall, it was an amazing start to the year.”

While her predecessor, Paul Kesler, was over at John Kennedy Intermediate resuming his former role as principal, Wesp was doing what she enjoys after capping off August: celebrating the beginning of the new year and fresh starts, she said.

“As an administrator, you are always thinking about how you can create an environment that is welcoming and affirming for all. I think we are always thinking about short-term goals vs. long-term goals. They are both critically important for student success. This year, we have a theme with students: ‘Promoting the Independence Within,’” she said. “We will be digging into this at grade-level meetings and throughout the school year. We want to empower students to take ownership of their abilities and choices, and we understand that high school spans a large development range. It is our job to help students to become adults who are prepared for the 21st-Century world.”

Wesp was hired in July, and began August 1. She admits that it’s hard to talk about what she sees as the biggest change to the school’s environment: Paul Kesler’s absence. He is a beloved administrator who “ran an excellent program for many years at BHS,” she said, however, with his switch back to John Kennedy, “I feel that I have inherited a thriving building.”

“I would say the biggest change for BHS is the change in leadership and the need for staff and students to adapt,” she said. “I will say, though, even though it was only one day, they all really were welcoming and affirming to me. I would say we are off to a great start.”

Wesp has brought a fat portfolio of experience with her, having served as assistant principal at both Spencerport High School and Greece Odyssey Academy; and as a special education teacher in the Churchville-Chili and Greece Central School Districts. 

She received both a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology with a Concentration in Elementary and Special Education and a Master of Science Degree in Inclusive Education from Nazareth College, and has a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Educational Administration from the State University of New York College at Brockport. 

Wesp also serves as an adjunct professor at Roberts Wesleyan College in the Pathways to Teaching Program, and, something Kesler can certainly appreciate, her father attended John Kennedy as a young boy. 

Her future includes some settling in and learning more about “this fantastic community,” which of course should put some Blue Devils’ games on her fall calendar. 

In my short time, I have been extremely impressed with the dedication that the community has to its school and kids. There are so many incredible programs, partnerships, and opportunities for young people. One key goal is to build on our fertile foundation and get more students into the community through those opportunities. It sounds like we continue to build these opportunities, and I want to make sure that we keep a focus in this area to take full advantage,” she said. “Another area of focus is continuing to build upon our high-quality instructional practices in order to provide equal access to all of our learners. We know that social-emotional learning and culturally responsive teaching are paramount to students being able to access academic goals. Batavia High is an incredible school with a strong foundation, so we will just continue to build on that so we stay relevant and on the cutting edge of meeting students' needs.

As we look ahead to the new school year, I am eagerly anticipating working with our exceptional students, dedicated staff, and inspiring teachers. Together, we will make this year a remarkable journey of learning, growth, and success for all.”

Omar Hussain and Jessica Korzelius will return as assistant principals for the 2023-24 school year.

BHS first day
Photo by Howard Owens.

A 'buzz of excitement' for first day of school and increased enrollment at BCSD

By Joanne Beck

 

Robert Morris School First Day
It's that time of year once again when students return to school, shown here on Wednesday at Robert Morris School in Batavia. 
Photo by Howard Owens.

Wednesday brought with it the time-honored tradition of kids boarding yellow school buses, parents transitioning the household routine from summer to fall and school administrators readying their sites for some serious learning time.

This school year will see 152 more students for a total of 2,276 compared to last year’s 2,124, Superintendent Jason Smith said. That’s 456 kids at Robert Morris and Jackson, 501 at John Kennedy, 631 at BMS and 688 at the high school.

The district’s Board of Education had mulled the possibility of adding three more school buses to the budget and ended up including them for this year’s transportation schedule. This will “reduce the amount of travel time for students on buses and also provides separation for our middle and high school students, which will be helpful to our overall school operations,” Smith said.

After 29 professional “first days of school,” he never tires of the routine.

“I am always optimistic and excited about the opportunities a new school year brings for our families, students, and staff,” Smith said. “This never gets old for me, and there is always a buzz of excitement."

Batavia Middle School staff welcomed a new round of students and got busy incorporating all grades into the flow, Principal Nathan Korzelius said.

“We are very excited to have our students return and the opportunity to welcome our new fifth-grade students. This year, we worked with our (social and emotional learning) team to create an opening day schedule that allowed the students to get to know their teachers, schedules, and provide time to do some team building/getting-to-know-you activities,” he said. “Students will participate in a circle-up activity that will allow students to get to know each other and allow them to see the process of academic circles. Each grade level will have a team meeting with the administration to talk about goals for the year.”

Goals for students and staff this year will be academic and social-emotional growth, he said. Social and emotional learning, or SEL, has become a main focus for this and other school districts after being identified for post-COVID educational needs.

“We are working hard on developing our professional learning communities to analyze student performance and growth so that we can provide them with the best support and interventions, as well as improve instruction,” Korzelius said. “We have worked on the fifth-grade schedule to ease the transition to a new building. We have also provided more opportunities for students to access academic interventions within their school day.”

Over at John Kennedy Intermediate School, Paul Kesler returned to his former role as principal and said it was “so exciting to see all of our students again” at the Vine Street school.

“We had excellent first-day attendance, and students transitioned into the building quickly.  We had a whole group assembly to welcome students, go over expectations, and a short contest where students could show off their dance moves,” Kesler said. “We want students to feel welcomed to the school.  We want parents to feel confident that they have left their children in good hands.  Our main goal for the opening days is for the teachers to form positive relationships with their students. We know that students will thrive when they have a trusting relationship with our wonderful staff.”

As for key goals moving into this 2023-24 school year, the John Kennedy community is embracing the theme “Challenge Accepted,” Kesler said, to show students that not only are challenges to be expected in life, but that “we can meet challenges, and that challenge that we take on and work through help us grow.”

Another area of focus for the school is “to continue our excellent student growth in their reading and math progress,” he said.

“We are looking to enhance our work by focusing on staff Professional Learning Communities to provide staff with the best processes to help our students succeed,” he said.

At the youngest levels, Principal Maureen Notaro watched the contagious smiles of students entering Robert Morris and Jackson Primary schools, wanting all students to feel “accepted and comfortable as they begin their journey to a new school or start school for the first time,” she said. 

“My goal for staff is to have them make students feel welcome and go over routines and procedures. In the first few days, teachers have goals to get to know their students and focus on social-emotional learning to ensure students feel connected to school right away. My staff does a fantastic job with this at Robert Morris and Jackson Primary,” Notaro said. “The key academic goals are for students to learn their letters and sounds and blend their sounds to learn to recognize words, read, and understand what they are learning. We want them to recognize numbers and be able to count. By the time students leave 1st grade, we want them to be able to become independent readers and improve their phonemic awareness and comprehension.”

Other goals focus on social and personal growth, she said, such as learning to make friends and playing nicely with one another, using self-control with one’s emotions, and in universal pre-kindergarten through first grade —  which are “exciting times for students” — they learn how to have conversations and develop the capacity to form close relationships with friends and teachers, she said.

"Students show so much growth and really learn how to manage emotions and explore a new environment. They engage in cooperative play and start to develop positive self-esteem by coming to school and being in a social setting with peers,” she said. “I get most excited about the curiosity each student has and enjoy watching my teachers ignite the desire to learn in the littlest learners.”

Notaro is also looking forward to a new reading program, Wit and Wisdom, which explores literacy and is aligned with field trips to help students “bring the program to life and make meaningful connections” to the lessons. 

This year's overall concentration will be on "high-quality instruction," Smith said, and with a renewed and additional focus on meeting those SEL needs.

“Our leadership team spent considerable time this summer focusing on the social and emotional learning (SEL) of our students, and we are going to continue to embrace and celebrate our diversity that makes Batavia so special,” he said.

Photos by Howard Owens.

Robert Morris School First Day
Robert Morris School First Day
Robert Morris School First Day
Robert Morris School First Day
Robert Morris School First Day

 

Batavia City Schools board takes on social media, joins lawsuit

By Joanne Beck

As kids return to Batavia City Schools this week, there are a couple of things most likely happening: along with their notebooks and pencils, they are bringing their cell phones and using social media. 

The district’s Board of Education, however,  has decided that such practices are causing students harm and have agreed to join a consortium formed to sue those social media giants — TikTok, Snapchat, and Facebook, for example — for creating “a youth mental health crisis caused by social media addiction.”

A legal team — the same one that brought suit against e-cigarette company JUUL, representing 300 school districts including Batavia, and won — is now on the trail of those social media magnates. 

The Batavian asked city district Superintendent Jason Smith why the district opted to join the lawsuit — is it a matter of, they’ve got nothing to lose? What harm does he believe social media is causing? Does any responsibility fall to the home as a breeding ground for these actions?

I honestly think it's a balance of family responsibility and the responsibility of other entities to market and use their products in a safe and responsible manner,” Smith said.  “As with any tool, there are positive and negative aspects.  We can look back in history and examine how reforms occurred in the auto industry, tobacco marketing, etc.  Social media is clearly a positive tool and can be used for good, but I think there is a collective responsibility to manage it properly and well between families and the companies themselves.”

So who is ultimately responsible? 
The National Social Media Litigation Team of Wagstaff & Cartmell, Beasley Allen Law Firm and Goza Honnold Trial Lawyers believes the evidence is irrefutable, and Smith deferred to them for part of his answer: 

“Everything about these products — from inadequate age verification measures, insufficient parental controls, endless scrolling, constant notifications, and targeted algorithms — have been designed to addict teen and adolescent users,” the team states in its supplemental materials. “These companies are fueled by their own greed and have put profits over the safety of our youth. As a result, children across the country are suffering mental and physical harms.

“The problem,” the team says, “is that social media companies like Meta (Facebook and Instagram), TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube/Google knowingly put young users in harm’s way to generate billions of dollars in profit. They adopted targeted algorithms to collect adolescent users’ data unethically, used addictive psychological tactics to increase adolescent and teen usage, and feature inefficient controls to help parents exercise their rights and duties to monitor and limit their children’s use.

“As a result, our children are becoming addicted to social media, resulting in mental and physical injuries like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, suicidal ideation, self-harm, and even death,” the team states.

What will this cost the district? How would you spend anything won?
There is no cost to the district for signing on to the lawsuit, Smith said; it will be handled “on a contingency fee basis.” 

So if they lose, it will cost nothing, and if they win, they will reap some of the proceeds. 

If the district has the opportunity to receive a settlement, we will use it for proactive educational programming for our students, as we did with the Juul settlement,” he said.

According to its supplemental material, this consortium was formed to “work jointly on behalf of public entities in the investigation and prosecution of claims for damages arising out of negligence, public nuisance and other claims against social media companies like Meta (Facebook and Instagram), Tik Tok, Snapchat and YouTube/Google.” 

“We are committed to representing public entities, large and small, across the country. We will work to obtain just compensation for the mental health crisis and the costs imposed on public entities by irresponsible social media companies,” it states. 

In March, Batavia City School board members unanimously approved nearly $36,000 in settlement funds from a lawsuit in which the district claimed injury, malice, oppression and fraud against Juul Labs. The city school district was one of 143 districts involved in the lawsuit against the makers of the popular vaping products, alleging that the company “fraudulently and intentionally marketed” its products to children and that those products caused numerous health, financial and structural damages to the district and students.

According to lawsuit documents, the district had to hire additional personnel, including a second school resource officer, divert current personnel to retain students on campus when possible, purchase extra equipment and supplies, repair damages, and deal with behavioral issues.

The expected proceeds were going to be invested into the city district’s “preventative and restorative” program called Vape University, Superintendent Jason Smith had said. Operated at the high school, Vape U is a pilot program geared toward helping students with positive replacement behaviors for vaping.

Previously:  

Athletic director retiring from but not leaving district: 'I love working with kids'

By Joanne Beck
mike bromley
Mike Bromley

Mike Bromley and staff were recently updating their sectional banners when the numbers held a new significance:  of the 66 total sectional titles, it was a fairly even split of 34 for males and 32 for females. 

That was over the course of Bromley’s 24 years at Batavia City School District. 

Prior to 1999, they won 17 sectional titles, and only four of those were for girls' sports. 

“I’m proud of that,” he said during an interview Monday with The Batavian, just a few hours before the school board announced his retirement as director of physical education, health and athletics

Not only does he believe that “our job is to teach life skills,” but also to be an equal opportunity sports advocate. And achieving those across the board sectionals titles goes a long way in demonstrating his commitment toward that end

Bromley said his career began when he was just 22, teaching girls' varsity track while “sending out a billion” resumes during a time when there weren’t many physical education jobs to be had. 

He remembers after having an interview in Genesee County, the principal in Cattaraugus called  him into her office to tell him, “They want you at Elba.”

For the next 11 years, from 1988 to 1999, he was the physical ed teacher there. 

Why phys ed and coaching?
"So my role models in high school were my physical education teachers and coaches. They were people that I looked up to and spent a lot of time with, and that were great influences on me," Bromley said. "When I had the ability to do the same thing, that's what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to be a teacher, I wanted to be a coach. You know, I didn't know that I was going to be an administrator at that point. But, you know, they were just my role models in life. They were really good people that took me in and did a lot of extra things with me. And when you see that, and you get that much out of it, it's great to be able to go into a career that you can give back."

In 1999, he was hired by Batavia City Schools as the athletic director. Early on, he established not a Blue Devil but the Blue Devil. There had been different versions, varying looks and feels for the symbols — some not so appealing or at all friendly. 

“That was a big thing, we were trying to unify the Blue Devil,” he said. 

Another notch in his achievement belt has been building wellness centers, he said, that include strength and conditioning systems that run right on through the summer at Van Detta Stadium, of which he was part of every step of the way. A structure that became a Title IX issue for girls due to its unequal amenities, and old, rundown training facilities, bathrooms, locker rooms, concession stand and well-worn track, the stadium went through a major overhaul that has since become a facility that’s used nearly every day, he said.

“If you remember, you know, even during COVID, we would turn the lights on, and kids were able to go outside, you know, be part of something. There's probably something at the stadium four or five times out of six days a week,” he said. “There's something there every night and on Saturdays. So it should be the jewel of the community. And I truly believe it is. We host a lot of good events.

“And I think with the stadium, the success that our teams have gotten, they bought in. You know, you think about our football team and think about our track and field teams, you have to think about our soccer teams, they have gotten better and better," he said. "So you know, I think it just was, you build it, they will come, and the kids and coaches have bought in. So I think that was a great addition to our community.”

What was a major challenge -- in dealing with kids, discipline, and their behaviors -- during your time at Batavia?
“I’m obviously a kid advocate, but you have to hold people accountable. And sometimes, when you hold people accountable, it's not the most popular thing. That's always a challenge. I thought about this, if you asked me what my biggest challenge is right now, or anybody’s, I’d say social media. I want to say this very politely. It's not used to potentially lift people up a lot of times. And unfortunately, it tears people down," he said. "And people could do that in multiple ways on social media. So that's a challenge for some of our athletes. It's a challenge for our coaches. It was a challenge for myself as an athletic director with some of the stuff that goes on in that. So I think that's going to be something that hopefully society figures out.”

 He hasn’t fully considered what he will do once his retirement kicks in, but traveling with his wife Tanni and hitting some “bigtime football games” are on the list, plus perhaps a return to coaching, working as a consultant for the district, and substitute teaching, he said.

“I love working with kids. When you see their success, that’s a high you can’t get anywhere else,” he said. 

He'll be walking away from his full-time gig with a lot of pride for the coaching staff of about 80 positions -- all "dedicated, motivated" people teaching those life skills that are important on and off the field, he said.

"You're gonna learn how to be on time,  you're gonna learn how to work with others ... so all the life skills that you learn, I believe that we teach in athletic. And I think our coaches do a really good job of that," he said. And, you know, I'm very proud of my kids and their successes, and I think a lot of has to deal with coaches from Batavia, holding them accountable and teaching them how to work hard. How to be a good person. So I'm most proud of that." 

Looking back, “You hope you left it better than when you found it, and I hope I did that,” he said. 

The school board officially accepted his letter of retirement, which included the following comments:

“I would like to thank the Batavia Board of Education and all of the superintendents that have helped support our Health, Physical Education, and Interscholastic Athletics programs over the past 24 years,” Bromley. “I feel very fortunate to have worked with many talented and dedicated individuals who have supported our programs. We’ve hired many remarkable and devoted teachers, nurses, buildings and grounds staff, and coaches who always go above and beyond for our students and student-athletes. I would like to thank the Batavia community, parents, and students that I have been able to work within our mission to develop outstanding and very competitive programs. Lastly, I would like to recognize my wife and children, who are my biggest supporters, as it was not always easy to be the AD's family. My plan in retirement is to attend many athletic contests in support of our student-athletes. Once a Blue Devil, always a Blue Devil."

Board member John Reigle congratulated Bromley during the board meeting, acknowledging that he’s “done a lot for this district” and has put in long hours, especially when traveling for away games. Superintendent Jason Smith called the retirement of Bromley and colleague Scott Rozanski “bittersweet” in a press release sent out Monday evening.

“They have both been tremendous colleagues who have grown into good friends. They were supportive of me from day one, and I’m confident I can say the same for the other superintendents they’ve worked with during their many years in our district,” Smith said. “I wish them both the best for the future, and I truly hope they enjoy retirement—they’ve certainly earned it. On behalf of the faculty, staff, students, and Batavia community, I thank them both for their service and commitment to BCSD.” 

The board approved acting director Timm Slade to take over for Bromley when he leaves on Aug. 14 for knee surgery. Slade will be paid $500 per day. Bromley will then help with “transition assistance” for the yet-to-be-hired new athletic director from Oct. 2 to Dec. 31, 2023, at a rate of $62.50 per hour, up to 150 hours. 

The BCSD administration team is currently in the process of hiring a new athletic director. 

Batavia City Schools business admin retires, board approves replacement

By Joanne Beck
scott-rozanski
Scott Rozanski 

There likely won’t be much fanfare with the departure of Business Administrator Scott Rozanski from the city school district, despite his routine presence for two decades.

No surprise, Rozanski was the one to present the yearly budget and the potential financial trappings of bus purchases, school equipment and additional personnel.

More recently, with the dawning of social media, he was also the one to bear the brunt of retorts when stating possible tax rate increases. 

Rozanski has laid it all out with seemingly thoughtful patience, from the multi-page spending plan to myriad school repairs requiring board approval. Whether it was a clock and public address system or a high school roof that was blown apart by a windstorm, it was on Rozanski to explain the expense.

He was hired as Business Administrator in 2003, and as a key advisor to the superintendent, Rozanski oversaw the preparation and administration of the district’s annual operating and capital budgets, administration of internal business operations, audits, management of state aid, insurance, transportation, contract negotiations, and planning of capital construction projects.  

In a prepared statement, he said that it has been an honor and privilege to work for the Batavia City School District and that “I am grateful to have been able to assist our various superintendents and Boards of Education in meeting the educational and community needs in a fiscally responsible manner.”

“The Board has continually provided balance in offering increased opportunities and improvements to both the students and to the community in a cost-effective manner and often at times without increasing the local burden,” he said. “Personally, it has truly been both a deeply satisfying and rewarding aspect of my career, and I am pleased to have been a part of contributing to the many accomplishments. I will always cherish my time here, my Batavia CSD colleagues, and the fine people of Batavia.”

andrew lang
Andrew Lang

The board approved Andrew Lang as the new business administrator during its meeting Monday evening. Lang and his family sat in the audience during the meeting — mostly quiet except for one of his four young children apparently cheering Daddy on.

Most recently, Lang served as school business administrator for the Royalton-Hartland Central School District in Middleport. He is a graduate of Erie Community College and the State University of New York at Brockport, where he received his Bachelor of Science degree, his Master's in Educational Administration, and a Certificate of Advanced Study as a School Business Leader.

He thanked the board for the vote of confidence. He's a Batavia resident whose wife is a Batavia High School grad.

“I appreciate the board and the opportunity to serve with the BCSD team,” he said. “My kids will either attend or be attending.”

In a press release issued Monday evening, Superintendent Jason Smith said that Lang will be a “wonderful addition” to the school district’s leadership team, though he has big shoes to fill with the departure of Rozanski. 

Lang was hired on a three-year probationary term for a pro-rated salary of $102,750. 

$45M Batavia capital project includes repairs, turf fields, a move back for fifth grade

By Joanne Beck
Jason Smith
Batavia City Schools Superintendent Jason Smith

A proposed $45 million city school district capital project would make way for the fifth grade to move back to John Kennedy, for student-athletes to run bases on a synthetic field at the high school and for buildings to be upgraded and equipped with emergency blue light phones, Superintendent Jason Smith says.

The project is not about expansion, rather, it’s about ensuring that the facilities are maintained or improved for all five district buildings plus Richmond Memorial Library, Smith said Monday afternoon before reviewing the plan during the board of education’s meeting.

“We want to take care of our facilities and our property, I think we all want that for our families and students. More than one community member has come up to me and said, ‘You know, we like to see our money is being spent wisely. We want to see our dollars being put to good use.’ I've heard that many times, not just from families or not just from parents, but from community members,” Smith said.  “We’re seeking to enhance what we already have and make the necessary improvements to the roofs, to the upgrades, to the IT. We're not seeking to expand, we're seeking to take care of what we currently have. And we're also with, with the reconfiguration, we're really trying to emphasize the importance of early childhood education.”

The district performs a building conditions survey every five to seven years, and the architect Clark Patterson Lee recommended a detailed scope of work that was prioritized from one to three, Smith said, with mostly ones and twos being chosen for the project. Much of the work is being done to shore up 20-year-old infrastructure, such as the high school’s boiler system, roof, and the gym at Robert Morris.

Nothing is on the list to be expanded, such as extra classrooms or other such student space, which makes sense according to enrollment projections. By the district's calculations, total enrollment topped out at 2,383 in 2013, and fluctuated until it peaked for the last time in 2020 at 2,190, declining to 1,978 in 2023. Estimated total enrollment will be 1,933 in 2024, 1,902 in 2025, 1,880 in 2026 and 1,858 by 2027.

As for Robert Morris, which had some tweaks last year to ready it for a reopening in the fall, “We keep addressing the needs,” Business Administrator Scott Rozanski said. 

“Since it’s been vacant for 10 years,” he said of the former elementary school site at Union Street and Richmond Avenue.

Work there would include meeting and evaluation room renovations, dedicated teacher lunch and work rooms with unisex restrooms, gym renovations, masonry repairs, fire alarm replacements and playground improvements.

There's "significant grant funding" earmarked for early childhood education, and school officials are trying to best use those resources and focus on those early learning years. While that focuses much attention on Robert Morris, officials also reviewed the grade separations at John Kennedy and the middle school, Smith said. "We knew parents were upset" when fifth-graders were moved over to BMS, he said, so "we also want to return the fifth grade to John Kennedy."

All of the schools have many of the same upgrades, including PA/clock and fire alarm replacements, phone system replacement, blue light notification system, information technology infrastructure improvements and pavement replacement for Jackson, John Kennedy, and the middle and high schools.

Jackson is also in line for building-mounted lighting and the replacement of a failing retaining wall on the east side between the school and its neighbors. John Kennedy would also get a new roof, an upgraded gym divider curtain and regraded softball field and other amenities.

Batavia Middle School “is getting the most renovations to the interior space,” Smith said, “where it’s needed.”

“The whole school really needs a lot of work; it’s a historic, beautiful building, and we're trying to home in on that to give it the attention it needs,” he said. “I think that foundation repairs is an example of that.”

A gender-neutral restroom, staff restroom, foundation repairs around the entire building, and a glass safety railing for the auditorium balcony are some of those repairs and upgrades. The conditions survey prompted the glass railing because people sitting in the balcony could also be a potential safety concern, he and Rozanski admitted. 

“It’s the best seat in the house, in my opinion, but we want to make sure that it's well protected and safe for our students,” Smith said.

The middle school softball field will also receive some improvements and a backstop replacement.

Batavia High School is on tap for a new roof, and for anyone paying attention, in December 2021, the school did receive some patchwork after a mini twister blew off a portion of it. However, a large portion of the roof needs replacing, Rozanski said, and that’s what is scheduled in this capital project. 

Current students ought to like this next part: two synthetic turf fields planned for the high school, a baseball and softball field each, for about $7 million of the total cost. A proposed turf field at Van Detta Stadium upset a fair number of people — prospective tax-paying voters — so The Batavian asked Smith why turf for the high school. 

The fields behind the State Street site have been prone to excess water and drainage issues for years, he said, since the school was built on a swamp. “We have received complaints from families,” he said and had to move several games to Genesee Community College as a result. 

Synthetic turf raises the playing field, alleviates pooling water, and provides “a better quality playing field for the kids,” he said. Installing this type of material would permanently fix the swamping issue, he said. 

“Most of us don’t see it as a luxury anymore,” he said. 

While yes, the work is warranted and will maintain all of the facilities, the more important selling point is the cost to taxpayers, he said. 

“Most of that is from state aid, the rest from our reserves,” he said. “So there'll be no additional taxes as a result of this project.”

A note about gender-neutral bathrooms, which are slated to be installed or to replace bathrooms at the middle and high schools.

Gender-neutral bathrooms are something found in older grades, and not at John Kennedy and Jackson, Smith said. They are part of board policy and Title IX regulations. Under Title IX, discrimination based on a person’s gender identity, a person’s transgender status, or a person’s nonconformity to sex stereotypes constitutes discrimination based on sex. As such, prohibiting a student from accessing the restrooms that match [their] gender identity is prohibited from sex discrimination under Title IX. There is a public interest, by federal policy, in ensuring that all students, including transgender students, have the opportunity to learn in an environment free of sex discrimination.

The board is expected to vote on the capital project in October, with a public vote to be in December to ensure enough time to go out for bid in 2024 and schedule work to begin 2024-25. The project completion is estimated for the end of 2027. 

Creative Communities joins Just Kings for a jam-packed Saturday in Batavia

By Joanne Beck
2022 Just Kings event
2022 File Photo of Just Kings Juneteenth Celebration, by Howard Owens.

What began four years ago as a grassroots effort to celebrate the end of slavery has this year drawn city and county organizations into the mix for a community-wide gathering of food, arts, crafts, activities, educational and wellness materials, entertainment, and lots of fun on the city’s north and south sides.

That’s what happens when Juneteenth, hosted by Just Kings, meets up with the city schools’ Creative Communities: Interactive Health Fest. It began when Community Schools Coordinator Julia Rogers began discussing possibilities of a collaboration with Just Kings members.

“It's important that when we as a community are planning events, we try to work together.  As many know, we tend to have many events on the same day in our community, so I wanted to make sure that everyone had the chance to attend both,” Rogers said to The Batavian.

Both events happily fit into one another’s schedules, with Creative Communities first set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Robert Morris School, 80 Union St., Batavia.

“Our interactive event will focus on local artists sharing talents with Batavia students, their families, and the community. We are encouraging Batavia community members to focus on whole body health: physical, mental, social and emotional,” Rogers said. “The difference between this and past events is, in addition to Go ART!, we have partnered with Just Kings, the Suicide Coalition of Genesee County, and the Madeline Bartz Mission, Inc. Families will be able to visit various agencies who have tables at the event, including Rochester Regional's Teddy Bear Clinic and the Batavia Lions Club's Vision Screening. 

“They will have the chance to visit our Heart of Kindness Center (formerly the Community Closet), have a chance to win prizes, and most importantly, learn various ways to stay healthy,” Rogers said.

Integral to this program has been a free bus service, which will pick up and drop off students and families throughout the day at designated school locations from 8:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Buses will then be available to transport families to the Just Kings event beginning at 1:45 through 4:45 p.m. For details and the full bus schedule, go HERE

That’s where the second half of the day fits into this partnership. Just Kings will be hosting its annual Juneteenth, A Freedom Celebration from noon to 8 p.m. at Williams Park on Pearl Street, Batavia.

Greg Monroe and fellow Just Kings members were thrilled to join forces with Rogers for a jam-packed day full of activities, he said.

“It means more people, which is just awesome,” Munroe said. “They had their health fest going, and they pitched their idea to us. I say the more the merrier, celebrate Juneteenth with us. It’s a celebration of the end of slavery, and a day that everyone can celebrate.”

There will be arts and crafts, food and nonprofit vendors at the park, a DJ, an African dance troupe, and Buffalo recording artist Marchon Hamilton II performing at 3 p.m. 

Just Kings will have a booth with brochures and history about the significance of the date — June 19, 1865 — and its designation as Jubilee, or Freedom or Liberation, Day, to mark the end of slavery in the United States.

Saturday is only the beginning of this joint effort, and “collaboration is the key” in moving forward, Rogers said.

“Everyone is part of the Batavia community, and coming together to support one another in any way possible is the best way to be role models to our children. Greg Munroe, a member of Just Kings, has been very helpful in getting the word out about both of our events,” she said. “The Suicide Prevention Coalition and the Madeline Bartz Mission, Inc. also helped develop the idea, and our Community Schools subcommittee (made up of local and state agencies) got the ball rolling.  We are very lucky to be in a community that wants to work together.”

Just Kings barbecue
2022 File Photo of a Just Kings barbecue, by Howard Owens.

Just Kings vendor liaison Lydia Bruce worked with Rogers so that attendees will be able to get a $2 voucher toward food at the Just Kings event. Ever been to a Just Kings chicken barbecue? Organization members line up the grills and have that tangy-charred smell of barbecue in the air just waiting for passersby who may find it hard to resist.

Bruce said that there are about 15 vendors signed up to participate so far, and she appreciates the opportunity for them — whether nonprofits or businesses — to let the community know what they offer.

“This is the first year we’re doing that tag team (with community schools), and everyone can attend both events,” Bruce said. “I think it's going to be an awesome day.”

This event is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a regrant program of the NYS Council on the Arts with the support of the office of the Governor and NYS Legislature and administered by Go Art! 

SRO's duties include disturbances, criminal mischief, building relationships and prom

By Joanne Beck
SROs Borchert and Stevens
File Photo of Batavia City School District School Resource Officers Connor Borchert and Miah Stevens.

School Resource Officer Miah Stevens receives a lot of questions about what she does every day at Batavia City Schools, and the answer is simple, she says.

“We're just placed in the school. We do everything we would do on the road and more. We get to build relationships with students, we get to kind of act as counselors in certain situations,” she said during the school board’s meeting this week. “For our agreement with the schools, we go to the training from the state of New York Police Juvenile Officers Association. So we are members of this, and basically they just help us stay up to date on laws that change or any other information that we should need to know.”

She gave the presentation along with the latest addition, second SRO Connor Borchert, who began in September 2022.

"So the roles of an SRO wear many different hats, as you all may know, but typically, the goals of a well-defined SRO program include providing safe learning environments in our nation's schools providing valuable resources, school staff members, fostering positive relationships with youth, developing strategies to resolve problems affecting youth and protecting all students so that they can reach their fullest potential. This is right off of a national school resource officer website,” Borchert said.

A school resource officer (SRO) is defined by that state site as “a carefully selected, specifically trained, and properly equipped law enforcement officer with sworn authority, trained in school-based law enforcement and crisis response and assigned by an employing law enforcement agency to work collaboratively with one or more schools using community-oriented policing concepts.”

So when Stevens is asked what she does, she explains that “we need to participate in the program,” no matter what program that may be. She and/or Borchert were at open houses, Careers and Candy, Shop with a Cop, Polar Plunge, family reading nights, Thanksgiving food drives, bike raffles, Golisano’s Hospital toy drive, Community Night Out, and Lion’s Club Day of Caring.

They were also at various sporting events and banquets, school dances, plays, musicals, the Mr. Batavia competition and graduation ceremonies.

“You know, we're definitely looking for more opportunities to get in the classroom, so the kids know our names and we know their names is truly helpful,” Stevens said. “Some of this is police jargon, it's what we would consider a call, you know, dealing with, we do a lot of community policing, assist, citizen can call for anything. We're doing lockouts for somebody in the parking lot to having somebody with a personal problem. But basically, we have a large range of different types of things we handle, like I said, pretty much anything that we would handle on  the road, if it involves the school in any way.

“You know, it just creates a partnership where now, if students get into an altercation outside of school, they are now coming into school and a lot of times those problems come with them. So it kind of gives the school another resource,” she said. “We get to be that liaison where they can say hey, we heard so and so I was involved in an incident … is there anything we should be on the lookout for and then I can either go back and either I'm getting an email from one of my co-workers or I'm going back and looking at the call log and reading the call and being able to say, okay, this is kind of what we should expect from this.”

Incidents handled or SRO involvements (no total numbers provided) in the 2022-2023 school year included:

  • Harassments
  • Disturbances
  • Suspicious Conditions
  • Mental Health Situations
  • Community Policing
  • Assist Citizen
  • Bus Issues
  • Fire Alarms (Intentional and Accidental)
  • Property Accidents
  • Larcenies
  • Courtesy Transports
  • Superintendent’s Hearings
  • Classroom Lessons
  • Check Welfare
  • Students and staff personal issues
  • Criminal Mischief
  • Disorderly Conduct
  • Home visits
  • 911 Hangup calls
  • Parking Complaints
  • Property Complaints
  • Sporting events
  • Lockdown/ Fire Drills
  • Mediations

Stevens said that adding a second SRO allowed for more feasible coverage of five schools, split up coverage for both officers, and allowed for more positive interactions with staff and students. Both officers will be working toward future goals of a DARE program and the I Love You Guys standard response protocol, which is to enhance proactive communication between the school district, police department and community.

“It's easier now to build relationships with the school community, we have a lot more positive interactions with staff and students, which is really the goal and that's really what we're looking for," she said. "You know, I've had so many more people come up to me this year, now that they're used to seeing my face and they're saying, Oh, my God, I'm so glad you're here today. And then when they get to see both of us and we're both walking around the football games, and we're both handling prom, you know, I had multiple parents come up to us the other night when we were at prom and say, I'm so thankful that you guys are gonna be here all night. Because it's just in this era. It's just, it's an easier solution.”

BHS principal returns to JK role again after five-year stint

By Joanne Beck
Paul Kessler
Paul Kesler during an interview with The Batavian in March.
Photo by Howard Owens.

When Paul Kesler was about to embark on another level of his career at Batavia City Schools five years ago, he was filled with mixed emotions about leaving the staff he had come to regard as family at John Kennedy Intermediate School.

“My whole experience in 13 years in Batavia has been here. That's going to be the struggle, saying goodbye,” he had said when preparing to leave for a role as principal of the high school in October 2017.

During Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, the group approved Kesler’s latest appointment, which may mean more of those emotional goodbye moments. But this time he’ll be returning to familiar faces as principal of John Kennedy once again.

“Thank you so much to the board. I've been an administrator in Batavia since 2005. And one of the really exciting pieces about being a high school principal is some of your children that I had in elementary school, and to hand them their diploma. And so, I've just been extremely grateful to have such a long career here in Batavia and to continue that at John Kennedy,” Kesler said. “But it's also at the same time bittersweet just because of, I just saw the positive things that we've been able to do together with the high school students.

"And so I just wanted to say thank you, and I really appreciate your ongoing support.”

Earlier this month Superintendent Jason Smith had recommended John Kennedy Principal Brian Sutton for the position of Director of Educational Technology, effective July 1. Smith then recommended Kesler for that soon-to-be vacant role, with qualifications as “an exceptional leader” in the district for the last 18 years.

“Paul started his career at John Kennedy, and I was thrilled when he approached me about returning,” Smith said. “Paul’s steadfast commitment to BCSD and the Batavia community is admirable, and I look forward to his return to JK and thank him for his memorable and impactful five years leading BHS.”

With the departure of Kesler as Principal of BHS, Smith and the BCSD leadership team will immediately begin the search process to name a replacement. 

'More can always be done' to combat threats, superintendent says

By Joanne Beck
Jason Smith
Jason Smith
District Photo

A bomb threat about a school bus in Batavia and a threat to “shoot up a school,” causing a lockout in all Genesee County schools.

Both of those incidents happened in just the last three weeks, and although — thankfully — they were found not to be credible — both were threats of violence involving school children and personnel. Each one stemmed from a call within the City of Batavia, and subsequent investigations found the suspects to be juveniles.

Are they harmless pranks? Can anything with such violence attached — a bomb on a school bus and shooting up a school — be considered harmless? The Batavian reached out to Superintendent Jason Smith to find out what the city school district is doing proactively in light of these recent and potentially increasing threats.

Is the city school district treating students and school bus transportation any differently, any more cautiously, given this and other recent threats -- real or not -- against district students and/or personnel?
“We have a very trusting relationship with STA, our transportation provider, and will continue to rely on that relationship to keep our students safe,” Smith said. “We also have the same relationship with the Batavia Police Department, and this, again, is integral in our successful open, transparent, and real-time communication.

“We continue to remind the entire Batavia community to please report any suspicious behavior, as we appreciate the call received from this most recent threat found to be not credible.”

That call came from a local business that received a call from “what was believed to be a juvenile stating there was a bomb on a school bus” at a location in the City of Batavia, according to Batavia Police Tuesday.

The city school district hired an additional school resource officer this past year -- a cost of approximately $100,000 per officer for salary and benefits -- making it two officers for the district. At the time, shootings in other parts of the country, Texas being one, were named as reasons for bringing more security on board at the district. 

Are School Resource Officers being put to use in any different way given these threats -- Are they more visible? Going on bus rides with students? Are you having increased school assemblies, reminders, precautions within the district?
“Our SROs will be deployed when and where needed, which could include visibility as needed on our school buses,” Smith said. 

While these threats have so far been found to be false, how do you move forward and not treat them all with a "crying wolf" mentality so as not to overlook the one that might actually be real one day? 
“We will never treat a threat as ‘crying wolf,’ we will continue to rely on the experts at the Batavia Police Department to investigate these threats, and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible, and our Code of Conduct will be followed,” Smith said.

The city school district has increased its number of counselors available for students, spurred by post-COVID funding and the perceived effects of pandemic protocols on student learning and emotional impacts.

Are you ramping up counseling to try and detect any troubled kids that might be on the edge of a really bad day? What do you look for? How do you react?
“We have an outstanding counseling team, and our Counseling Department Chairperson just updated the Board at our meeting on Monday night. We have a comprehensive counseling plan, a crisis intervention protocol, relationships with outside mental health providers and therapists, school social workers, etc., that all work as a team to provide support to our students and families,” he said. “Our reaction ranges from a variety of steps: calmly, immediately, swiftly, thoughtful, transparently, and/or communicative with relevant parties and stakeholders.

“Since mental health has gained more attention, yes, our counseling team and administration has indeed ramped up efforts to detect and respond to children in need.” 

Monday was Batavia’s Board of Education meeting, and Counseling Department Chair Sherry Crumity presented an update of how the department has been working with students and the various programs being integrated within all grade levels.

Sherry Crumity
Sherry Crumity
District Photo

“It’s been a busy year for counselors this year, but it’s been well worth it,” Crumity said.

Her material is based on a couple of components, including the American School Counselors Association, which provides a national model of school counseling programs to improve student outcomes.

This includes areas of academic performance, attendance, threats, and suicide; disciplinary measures; creating regular assessments to “keep our fingers on the pulse of student needs,” and to boil much of it down: “going back to the basics of learning,” Crumity said.

“The last report we got from them on a state level and through the Counseling Association is that mental health needs in schools are up 52 percent. And that's why we see so much increased funding. So counselors’ roles are definitely changing. We're collaborating more now than the teacher, with outside agencies to help us with different things,” Crumity said. “You're definitely playing a more critical role in social-emotional learning. With COVID, we sort of increased it. But I think now we're kind of really seeing the impacts of students returning to school. So counselors have definitely stepped up to the plate, and sort of navigated whether it's small counseling, large group counseling, individual counseling, meeting with parents more on a regular basis, and definitely expanding our social-emotional activities throughout the building.

“Other counselor roles, definitely, you know, academic achievement strategies, we're working with expanding different academic interventions throughout our buildings for their enrichment activities, activities for students who may have had that gap in learning during COVID,” she said.

Increased programs have meant wellness activities, holiday theme weeks, kindness month, spirit weeks, mix it up days — during which kids will sit with others they don’t typically socialize with during lunchtime to try and avoid the clique atmosphere — student/parent newsletters, peace circles and family nights.

There are four goals, with the first one focusing on social-emotional learning, positive behavior and intervention systems, having alternatives to suspensions to keep kids in school, bullying prevention and inviting student/parent/teacher feedback, according to Crumity’s materials.

Attendance is such an important factor in educational success, that there are three tiers for absenteeism: encouraging better attendance and explaining the importance of why students need to be in school; the second tier is designed to remove any barriers that may be keeping kids home and out of school; and the third is a more intense strategy for those that miss at least 20 percent or more school during the year and it has been found they benefit from a stronger level of support, she said.

“We like to promote healthy relevant teaching models,” she said. “And we're just looking at how to fine-tune the action plan and report more efficiently so that we can see on a regular basis if it's working, and if it's not working.”

Do you feel you're doing everything possible, or does more still need to be done
“Until the threats stop, more always needs to be done,” Smith said. “We continue to need and rely on the support of families, community agencies, law enforcement, and our BCSD staff, and I will personally continue to provide information and updates to our community, families and staff in a timely and transparent manner.”

BCSD superintendent sends letter to families regarding false bomb threat

By Joanne Beck
Jason Smith
Jason Smith
District Photo

The Batavian reached out to Batavia City Schools Superintendent Jason Smith after a false threat by an eight-year-old was made regarding a bomb on a school bus Tuesday. 

Smith was not able to immediately respond to The Batavian's questions later Tuesday night, however, he did provide a copy of the letter sent out to district families.

This letter was sent after Batavia Police Department issued a press release regarding the incident

It is below in its entirety:

To Our BCSD Community,

This afternoon, the Genesee County 911 Center received a call reporting there was a "bomb on a school bus" and placed the location of that bus in the City of Batavia.

The Batavia Police Department and New York State Troopers immediately responded to locate the bus (operated by Student Transportation of America). The bus was found on State Street, and there were no longer any students on the bus after completing the afternoon route.

Out of an abundance of caution, the New York State Police and their K9 unit performed a sweep of the bus in question and found no evidence of a credible threat.

The Batavia Police patrol officers and detectives investigated the call and determined it came from the home of a John Kennedy Intermediate student. The student confessed the call was a prank, and the BPD determined there was no additional threat to the district. The case has been turned over to the Batavia Police Department’s Juvenile Detective. BCSD will follow our Code of Conduct with respect to this incident as well.

All bus pickups will occur as usual tomorrow (Wednesday) without any disruption.

We thank the Batavia Police Department and New York State Police for their swift response.

Jason Smith
Superintendent

Sutton hired as director of educational technology at BCSD

By Press Release

Press Release:

Brian Sutton
Brian Sutton
Submitted Photo

Upon recommendation from Superintendent Jason Smith, the Batavia City School District Board of Education approved the appointment of Brian Sutton Monday as the Director of Educational Technology, effective July 1, 2023.

“Brian Sutton has been a respected and impressive leader in the Batavia City School District for many years,” said Superintendent Jason Smith. “What set Brian apart for this position is his clear and compelling vision for the role both operationally and instructionally. I look forward to seeing how he transforms BCSD with his enthusiasm for education and technology.”

Mr. Sutton has served as the Principal of John Kennedy Intermediate since 2020. He previously served as Assistant Principal at Batavia Middle School and as Technology Coach in the Hilton Central School District prior to arriving in Batavia.

“I have had the distinct honor and privilege of working in leadership roles at both John Kennedy Intermediate and Batavia Middle School, where I was able to share my passion for infusing technology into instruction and preparing students with 21st-century skills. I’m thrilled to step into the district-wide role of Director of Educational Technology as I believe there are tremendous opportunities to take our district to new heights of innovation and provide new and exciting learning opportunities for staff, students, and the community,” said Brian Sutton.  

“It is critical we prepare students for our ever-changing society through teaching, computer science, and digital fluency learning standards. I am dedicated to turning over every stone to ensure that, under my leadership, our district continues to progress in both the technological and instructional aspects of education,” said Sutton. 

After a 2022 Comptroller Audit and subsequent independent Technology Department Functional Review in the fall of 2022, Jason Smith, BCSD leadership, and the Board of Education determined that hiring a Director of Educational Technology was a top priority to meet the needs of the district. Following Mr. Sutton’s appointment, he will work with the leadership team to follow up on additional items outlined in the audit and review, including equipment inventory, the re-formation of the Instructional Technology Committee, additional staff and student training, and the implementation of an overall technology curriculum.

“The Board of Education and Jason Smith took the findings of both the Comptroller Audit and resulting Technology Review and made immediate steps towards prioritizing IT needs across the district,” said John Marucci, Board of Education President. “The Director of Educational Technology is a much-needed position on our leadership team, and Brian is a wonderful choice to fill the role. He’s been an exceptional leader at John Kennedy and BMS, and I know he’ll bring his stellar work ethic to the position.”

Mr. Sutton will remain as Principal of John Kennedy Intermediate through June 30. Jason Smith and the BCSD leadership team will immediately begin the search process to name a replacement. 

Photo submitted by Batavia City Schools.

New facilities director hired at Batavia City Schools

By Press Release

Press Release:

chad bliss
Chad Bliss
Submitted photo

On Monday, upon recommendation from Superintendent Jason Smith, the Batavia City School District Board of Education approved the appointment of Chad Bliss as Director of Facilities III, effective June 16, 2023.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Chad Bliss as our new Director of Facilities. Chad brings more than 20 years of leadership and management experience and has a thorough understanding of the scope of operations involved in managing the facilities of a public school system. We look forward to tapping his expertise in all areas, including safety and access systems, energy management, special events, facilities, education, and athletics, as well as his knowledge of New York State codes and regulations,” said Superintendent Jason Smith. 

Mr. Bliss currently serves as the Director of Facilities for the Eden Central School District, and has served as a Construction Manager for Campus Construction Management, a firm that specializes in K-12 capital construction projects. 

“I look forward to working with the BCSD facilities team to ensure our community members take pride in the safety, cleanliness, and appearance of our buildings and grounds,” said Chad Bliss. “I am eager to get started, and I am genuinely excited to become part of the Blue Devils family.” 

“We have a BMS capital project on the horizon, which is outlined in this year’s proposed 2023-24 budget, as well as ongoing tasks to wrap up the 2020 Vision Project, including our Energy Performance Contract. It’s essential that we have dedicated leadership in place to execute these projects, and we’re confident that Chad’s project management, communication, and strategic planning skills will lead us toward success,” said Scott Rozanski, BCSD Business Administrator.

Photo submitted by Batavia City Schools.

Residents are invited to learn about BCSD's $58.9M budget before vote

By Joanne Beck
BCSD board takes tour of Robert Morris

You know that old saying, April showers bring May flowers, and, of course, school budget season and related district resident votes.

Batavia City Schools will be reviewing its $58.9 million proposed budget during a public hearing at 6 p.m. Monday in the Superintendent’s Conference Room at Batavia High School, 260 State St., Batavia. This is the time to ask questions, voice comments, or express concerns about the district’s spending plan.

The budget is an increase of $4,168,181 from the prior year, or 7.6 percent, with a related tax levy of nearly $19.9 million. That levy equals an increase of 1.02 percent, or $200,093, district officials said.

Despite a tax levy increase, officials predict that the tax rate will go down by 34 cents per $1,000 assessed property value. Based on that decrease, a home assessed at $100,000 would pay $34 less per year (with no change in assessment from 2022-23 to 2023-24).

Factors impacting the change in the projected tax rate, according to district administrators, including the tentative assessed values have increased slightly at 3.06 percent; equalization rates have decreased slightly, and the tax rate has decreased by 1.95 percent with a levy increase of 1.02 percent.

Other key points school administrators want to emphasize are that Robert Morris School was reopened this past year to be used for Universal Pre-Kindergarten and preschool; Community Eligibility Provision was extended through 2025-26; administrators are active in pursuing new grant funding for mental health, Community Schools, pre-school and a 21st Century Schools grant; and they are working on the next capital project.

Important numbers include student enrollment: Grades pre-K are at 72; Grades K through one, 340; Grades two through four, 482; five through eight, 592; and nine through 12, 641.

The average Class Size for UPK is 18; K through one is 17; Grades two through four, 20; Grades five through eight, 21; and Grades nine through 12, 20.

Staff numbers include:

  • Total Number of Teachers - 269
  • Teacher Aides/Clerical - 140
  • Maintenance Staff - 39
  • Nutritional Services - 25
  • Assistant Principals - 6
  • Principals - 4
  • Central Office - 7
  • Information Technology - 3

Revenue Sources for 2023-24 are:

  • State and Federal Aid - $33,174,343 (56.3 percent)
  • Tax Levy - $19,888,991 (33.7 percent)
  • Other Local Revenue $1,492,750 (2.5 percent)
  • Appropriated Fund Balance $3,536,895 (6.0 percent)
  • Other Local Tax-related Items $877,795 (1.5 percent)
  • TOTAL: $58,970,774 100.0 percent

Appropriation (Expenses) Budget:

  • General Support $6,471,769 11.0 (percent)
  • Instructional Support $34,372,758 58.3 (percent)
  • Transportation $2,753,845 (4.7 percent)
  • Employee Benefits $12,501,759 (21.2 percent)
  • Debt Service $2,735,643 (4.6 percent)
  • Interfund Transfers $135,000 (0.2 percent)
  • TOTAL: $58,970,774 100.0 percent

There are four propositions on the city school district’s ballot up for vote:

  1. The 2023-24 budget approval 
  2. Continuing placement of a student ex-officio on the board
  3. To fund a capital reserve of up to $10 million
  4. Election of two board seats due to the terms being up for incumbents Alice Ann Benedict and Barbara Bowman

Voting will be from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on May 16 at district residents’ designated polling locations.

A regular board meeting is to follow the budget hearing. To view it online, go HERE.

File Photo of Batavia Board of Education members, with Superintendent Jason Smith, taking a tour of Robert Morris before it opened last year for Universal Pre-Kindergarten and pre-school. Photo by Joanne Beck.

City school board has private session to discuss building modifications

By Joanne Beck

bms_windows.jpeg

This week’s city school board meeting was rolling along until member Alice Benedict began to ask questions related to half a million dollars worth of late-stage, safety-related modifications to each of the district’s schools as part of the 2020 vision capital project.

After motions were on the floor, Benedict asked for details about the “window film installation/window hardening work.”

Business Administrator Scott Rozanski said that it’s “a security measure to prevent unauthorized access,” and then Superintendent Jason Smith suggested that the board go back into executive session to discuss any further details.

The group had come out of an executive session minutes prior to that for “matters relating to the medical, financial, credit or employment history or a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation.”

This second private meeting was needed to discuss “matters which will imperil the public safety if disclosed.”

bcsd_jason_smith_superintendent.jpg
The Batavian reached out to Smith for an explanation, citing that second description as somewhat ominous and possibly confusing to parents and the general public.

Were the executive session and late-stage window modifications related to a current, past, or potential threat to the district?
“A board member asked for more detailed information on the window film project. It is not related to a current, past or potential threat, but is part of our overall safety program throughout the district. We do not discuss matters regarding safety and security projects in public sessions while the project is ongoing or has not yet started,” Smith said.  “The board was voting on a resolution to authorize the expenditure for the window film project from remaining funds from the most recent capital project. The project does include all of our buildings, and for safety reasons, I did not want to discuss the exact details of the project, including when, where and how the film will be installed, in public session. 

“Once the project is completed, we look forward to sharing more detailed information with our BCSD community and the media regarding our buildings’ safety enhancements,” he said. 

Why was this a late addition to the capital project? And why the executive session in the middle of a regular board meeting (for items that members are going to vote on)?
“This was not a late addition, as this has been discussed at our Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting. There are numerous prior steps that must be taken in order for the board to vote on this resolution,” Smith said.  “Given the safety concerns nationwide, we proceeded as expeditiously as possible to begin this important project.

“It is not unusual to have an executive session in the middle of the meeting, as we did this twice this meeting, and has been done before when needed,” he said. “A board member asked a question regarding the window film project, and for the reasons I stated above, the answers to the question did not belong in a public session, but will be discussed openly upon completion of the project.”

Smith said that the window treatments are a proactive safety measure. The Batavian wanted to make sure that the public has the most up-to-date information about the district’s safety, so the following question was asked again about threats and swatting — an action of making hoax phone calls to report serious crimes to emergency services, which results in SWAT teams responding to an address.

Has the city school district had any threats or swattings recently, or in the past year? If so, how many and when? Were any of them credible?
“We have received no credible threats, swatting or otherwise, this year. We were among several districts across the country that were part of a swatting hoax during our February recess—this was communicated to our families and with the media,” he said. “Per the Batavia Police Department, the threat was deemed not credible.”

The school board approved the resolution to spend no more than $520,000 of the remaining funds in the capital account for the window project at the district’s high and middle schools, Jackson Primary, John Kennedy Intermediate and Robert Morris. The $26.7 million 2020 capital project was voter-approved in March 2017.

File Photo of Batavia Middle School, by Howard Owens.

Batavia superintendent issues message of safety to community

By Joanne Beck

Superintendent Jason Smith issued the following statement to the city school district Friday morning in response to a potential threat made to John Kennedy Intermediate School. The threat was found not to be credible, per Batavia Police Chief Shawn Heubusch after an investigation by local law enforcement.

To Our BCSD Community, 

This morning, the Batavia Police Department received a call from an unknown person who was making threats against John Kennedy Intermediate. The Batavia Police Department, New York State Police, and Genesee County Sheriff immediately responded to John Kennedy to investigate, and they found no evidence of a credible threat. 

As an additional precaution, patrol units were sent to all BCSD schools to do a safety check.

BCSD is currently on February recess, and only a small number of staff members were present during the on-site investigation. No students were in the building at the time of the incident. 

While no credible threat has been found, the Batavia Police Department is continuing its investigation.

All sports practices, events, and club activities will continue as planned throughout the weekend, and BCSD will have increased police presence as a safety precaution. 

We will keep you informed as additional information becomes available. We thank the Batavia Police Department, State Police, and Genesee County Sheriff’s Department for their swift response as well as our John Kennedy staff for their ongoing assistance and cooperation.

Jason Smith, Superintendent 

Batavia City Schools accepting UPK registration until May 1

By Press Release

Press Release:

The Batavia City School District is now accepting registration applications for universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) and kindergarten programs for the 2023-24 school year. 

BCSD will be offering five full-day UPK programs and two half-day programs for the upcoming school year.

BCSD’s UPK program is part of Jackson Primary and is located at Robert Morris (80 Union St.) and at one community-based organization.

The BCSD kindergarten program is located at Jackson Primary (411 S. Jackson St.).  

UPK students must be four years old on or before December 1, 2023. 

Kindergarten students must be five years old on or before December 1, 2023.

Pick up and return your registration packet to the BCSD Registration Office (260 State St.). You can also download your registration packet here. 

Any questions can be directed to the Curriculum and Instruction Office at 585-343-2480 ext. 1003

The deadline to receive applications for the 2023-24 school year is May 1, 2023.

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