Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Some Thoughts on the Season and the Winter Solstice...

A Holiday Message to BHBL Staff-

My father-in-law Fred- who lives with us- got up this morning and looked out the kitchen window into the grey December dawn. “Wow,” he said- “it’s already starting to get lighter a little earlier!” Now, it is only the first day past the winter solstice...but I guess Fred is a glass-half-full guy and I like that! I was still chuckling at the comment as I drove into work.

These are the darkest, shortest, days of the year… it is easy to get down when you look around, when you listen to the news… stories about violence, drugs, corruption, terrorism, depression... It’s easy to succumb to the bleakness of these short, dark days. 

As I pulled into Stevens parking lot, I saw the flag at half-mast. We were asked to lower it in honor of Sgt. Joseph Lemm, a resident of West Harrison, NY, who was killed in Afghanistan on Monday. A hero serving his country and dying far from home. Again, my thoughts turned toward toward the short, dark days of December.

Then I heard the sound of children gathered in the Stevens gym. They were joyful and excited, bubbling over with happiness. They began to sing carols and fun songs… songs about Christmas trees, Hanukkah candles, silver bells and golden rings. As I watched them sing- (and I mean sing! ...singing out with all their little hearts as if there was nothing in the whole world that mattered except this Holiday sing-a-long and all of the excitement it represented)- as I watched them sing, the purpose of the season once again became so clear to me. At a time when the days seem (literally) the darkest, we celebrate a season of light in the world. Hanukkah, Christmas, the New Year- all represent an understanding that light shines in a dark world. My days as a science teacher remind me that light takes away darkness. Darkness cannot take away light- In fact, darkness is nothing (literally) except the absence of light.

Light comes into our lives in multiple ways. For many of us, our faith is a source of connecting with goodness and light. Though different faiths may celebrate this season in different ways, our focus is similar- we recognize that light shines in a dark world and that light dispels darkness.

Light also comes to us through family and through friendships. As we gather for get-togethers, dinners, and parties, we celebrate the light that those closest to us bring into our worlds.

Light comes into our lives as we work to help others, as well. There is no better place to see that in action than in the classrooms and hallways of BH-BL. As Maryellen, Chris, and I walked through the district today it was so apparent that you are bringing light into the world as you work with our kids. The Stevens sing-a-long was duplicated with every bit as much enthusiasm in Pashley and Charlton Heights. In the middle and high school, kids were singing carols (in multiple languages) in the hallway, working on art projects, celebrating with friends in the lunchroom or in a class party, reading great books as a class, raising money for good causes, and even taking math tests!

Everywhere we went there were smiles on faces, a kind “hello”, doors held open, a sense of safety and contentment, and an atmosphere of respect. I could list 100 examples of ways that you are helping to bring light to the world as you work with our students. 

So, it is true... The days ARE indeed getting lighter and longer!

If you need a reminder, take a few minutes over break to watch the video that we showed at Opening Day entitled: The Burnt Hills Way. It is now posted on YouTube.

Have a great Holiday Season! Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year. Enjoy the blessings of family and friends. For a little while, try not to think about all of the incredibly important work you do for our students each day. Rest and relax. Everything will be there for us when we return on January 4! Happy Holidays and all the best for you and your families in 2016!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What an Incredible Fall!

Thanksgiving is upon us. It is the end of Autumn. The Winter winds have already begun to blow. As we pause to celebrate with family and friends, it is fitting that we give thanks for the many, many blessings we have as members of this community.  I am particularly thankful today for the work of our middle school. Led by Melissa Capobianco and Lindsay Armbruster, our students participated in the 20th Anniversary of Community Service Day.  Every 8th-grade student, along with their teachers and many parents, went out into the community to serve and to learn.

In this era of debates over academic standards, testing, and evaluation, we want our parents and our community to know that a BHBL education involves far more than state standards and standardized testing. A BHBL education is a comprehensive education. In addition to rigorous academics, we provide opportunities for our students to excel in the areas that they are passionate about.  Their success comes through the devotion of parents and the years of hard work of teachers and coaches across the district.  Their excellence represents success for all of us!

There has been no shortage of excellence this Fall.  Earlier this month, our K-12 Drama Clubs joined together to perform Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. The production was extraordinary. The sets, the costumes, the singing and the dancing rival any show you could see in the area. Our choral and instrumental ensembles helped us to celebrate our Centennial and to honor our Veterans. Our athletes compiled an astonishing collection of sectional, regional, and even state titles! It has been a full and complete Fall in BHBL!

Please take ten minutes to watch this video compilation of some examples of the excellence that was Fall 2015 at BHBL...

Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, July 10, 2015

Graduation 2015

Here is the text of my speech from graduation- a few people asked me to pass it along...

It is almost time to make this all official- Mr. Brunson has presented you to me as candidates for graduation.  In a few minutes, I will recommend to the President of the Board of Education that you be certified as graduates of the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District. You will receive your diplomas, take pictures with your families, and leave BH-BL to go out into the world.

I want to send you on your way with two ideas… one is an idea about where you came from… and the other is an idea about where you are going.

On the front of your program, you will notice that you are the 96th graduating class of BHBL. That is because the very first graduating seniors, both of them, graduated in 1920... from a school that was created in 1915. Yes, BHBL is on the eve of celebrating its 100th anniversary as a school district.

100 years ago, in the summer of 1915, the school boards of three small one-room school houses met and discussed the possibility of combining under a law that had recently been passed by the NYS legislature. It was a matter of considerable debate. They knew it meant investing their money and the money of their neighbors and fellow townspeople to form a new school district. They knew it meant a long term commitment to future generations… a commitment to thousands and thousands of students yet to come… a commitment-  even to you. On September 22, 1915, BHBL became the very first Consolidated School district in New York State.

They built a new school building- down where Stevens school is now, and the district began to grow. Despite a devastating fire in 1930, we rebuilt what is now the current Stevens School. The district exploded in growth after WWII. Pashley was built in 1951, the Senior High, opened in 1955,  Charlton Heights and Glenhaven (where the district offices are now) opened in 1958, and O’Rourke opened in 1961… additions and upgrades continue to this day…  But the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District is not brick and mortar buildings… it is much more an idea... The original school board members and parents had a vision for a better education for their children right here, not off on a train to Schenectady or Saratoga...but a complete K-12 education for every local student... right here in their own community.

The school grew based on this idea- the idea that a community, working together, can create a great school for its young people. The idea that school can provide a solid academic foundation, stress scholarship and demand excellence. The idea that the traditional subjects should be complemented by exposure to a wide variety of electives. The idea that the fine arts should be cherished and valued. The idea that young men and women should be treated with respect by their elders and that same respect should given in return. The idea that it is the right thing to teach someone to give a firm handshake, to look someone in the eye, to give a “yes” that means “yes” and a “no” that means “no”. The idea that it is right and good to honor our flag, our veterans, and our country…. The idea that pride in your community is a great thing, that the Spartan maroon and white should be worn proudly. The idea that giving back to your community, that serving others is the right thing to do.  The idea that athletes conduct themselves with class and sportsmanship no matter what. The idea that scholarship and athletics go hand in hand. The idea that differences among us should never be ridiculed… should always be celebrated. This is the idea of hope, optimism, and opportunity that is BHBL… this is the idea you come from….

And now it is almost time to go… I think I speak for your parents, your teachers, your principal, and our whole community, when I say that it is not without some anxiousness that we let you go out from the safe walls of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake. It is easy to be concerned. The world that you are heading out into can be a difficult place. Every day we hear stories in the news about the hardships of our times. Whether it is the national economy, the global marketplace, racial strife, social unrest, terrorism, international conflict, privacy concerns and unspeakable crimes… it goes on and on. You hear people bickering and arguing- blaming one another and complaining, on both sides of the political spectrum. Honestly, it can get so tiring to hear it all…

But I want to take these few minutes I have left to remind you of another idea... to remind you that the trials of the present day… the world you are about to enter, these trials are nothing compared to the greatness of a far larger idea… the American idea … it is this idea that you now enter as adults and that you and your generation must protect.  

John Winthrop was a Pilgrim who travelled across the Atlantic seeking freedom from oppression… looking for a home... he was one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony- he described a vision of America as a “shining city on a hill”- a place that would be a beacon for hope... a place where men and women would be completely free…

150 years later, Our Founders, in the Declaration of Independence, told the world that they were dissolving bonds with Great Britain and beginning a new experiment… a new idea...a new nation formed upon the self- evident truths  “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Many of our leaders, over the years, have sought to remind us that, whatever the faults of our nation, the idea of America was inherently good…

President Lincoln called her “a Nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

President Lyndon Johnson emphatically stated that America was “free and restless, growing and full of hope.  So it was in the beginning.  So it shall always be, while God is willing, and we are strong enough to keep the faith.”

President Kennedy said “the American, by nature, is optimistic... experimental, an inventor and a builder who builds best when called upon to build greatly.”

and President Reagan- often referred back to Winthrop’s image of the “shining city on a hill.”
He said my mind [America is] a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. Reagan concluded:  That's how I saw it and see it still. ...after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm.”
And with these words, Class of 2015, I hope to remind you that despite the immediate troubles and uncertainties that you are walking out into, the idea of the America that you enter as adults now is one of hope, optimism and opportunity.

President Clinton once said “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”

You are going out into America, a great shining city that leads the world… it is an idea that you have been prepared for here… an idea that you can… and proud of… American Medical Schools and Research universities are among the very best in the world…  incredible technological innovations of IBM and Microsoft,  Apple and Google came from the classrooms and garages... of America… the humanitarian relief efforts of famine, AIDS, Ebola, and natural disasters... are led by America...and when the world needs security… they look to America… and to the brave men and women who have served, and who will serve, many of whom are here today… as Ray Charles once famously sang…”America...sweet, sweet,  America… God shed His grace on thee…”

And so you see, the idea that you come from... and the idea that you are heading out into are not so different...both bright and shining with hope, optimism, opportunity…  you are rooted in the idea of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake- an idea that has been sustained by this community for 100 years… it will always be your home... you are forever a Spartan.  And you head out into the idea of this great Nation,  where you will work,  raise your own families, and ultimately, i have no doubt- where you will lead.… a nation where you are forever… an American.  

Congratulations and God Bless the BHBL Class of 2015.