Archive for September, 2011

Editor’s Notebook: 9/16/11

Friday, September 16th, 2011
Jeff Genung

• So today marked the death of The Evening Sun Forum, 2006-2011. RIP. You can read all about my reasoning for pulling the plug in today’s column. So far, reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I think it was about time, too. But, somewhere in the hinterlands of Chenango County, there’s a bridge with a awful lot of trolls hiding under it.

• Was I the only one shocked by a $17M price tag on an Otselic Valley building project? Going to one campus (and repurposing the Georgetown elementary school) makes a certain amount of sense, but … 17 million? In OV? Frankly, this district should be looking at merging with others nearby, not fortifying what they have. Every word we hear from the state has them eager to push mergers – in Chenango County, OV should be the first to go. No offense to the residents there at all – it’s just time to face fiscal reality.

• The Chenango SPCA is hosting its second annual dog walk and ‘alumni parade’ Saturday at Weiler Park. Frank’s going up to get some photos … should be a good time, and a good cause! My little puppy Riley is the first dog I’ve ever had that didn’t come from the SPCA (I was intent on getting a purebred beagle), so I feel a tinge of guilt for not adopting another one up there – but I’m pretty sure my two cats count, even though they aren’t invited!

• Shaking things up in The Evening Sun newsroom this afternoon. Melissa Stagnaro’s departure earlier this week meant some shifting around of editorial assignments. Melissa deCordova, Brian Golden and Julian Kappel took the changes in stride and each have a lot of enthusiasm for their new beats – you’ll start to see the results of their renewed efforts soon. And stay tuned to find out who’ll be filling Ms. Stagnaro’s chair (but never her place in our hearts, sniff sniff).

Sports Editor’s Playbook, Friday, Sept. 16, 2011

Friday, September 16th, 2011
Patrick Newell

I made an inaccurate statement in the previous blog regarding the number of Norwich varsity home soccer games played under the lights. According to the district newsletter that includes all of the sports schedules for the fall, there are only five out of 14 home games that start at 7 p.m., and four of those are this month.

Just as a sidenote to lighting up fields for night games, Unadilla Valley-Edmeston rescheduled its Friday night football games eliminate the cost of lighting the field. All of the home football games this season will be played Saturday afternoon. I would be interesting to know what it costs to light up a high school field for three hours.

Earlier this week, ES staff writer Brian Golden wrote an article about the Common Core Initiative State Standards being implemented into the educational system. Within the article, Norwich school superintendent, Gerard O’Sullivan, warned that the state is looking to reduce the number of districts it supports within the next few years. If school districts are on the chopping block, is there any doubt some Chenango County districts will be at risk? On April 1, Melissa Stagnaro wrote a farcical, tongue-in-cheek blog about a massive consolidation of Chenango County schools. Some time in the not-so-distant future, the combining of school districts may indeed be a reality.

Speaking of Melissa Stagnaro, she said goodbye to The Evening Sun earlier this week as she departs for Agro Farma, producer of Chobani yogurt. She hung on through late Wednesday afternoon, her last day, sifting through the paperwork and “memories” of her three-year stay here. The good ones never stay long enough here at The Evening Sun, and Melissa stacks up with some of the best reporters I’ve worked with over the past 16 years. She was as dedicated as they come, and truly cared about the people that she covered. Over the past three years, she developed a fine professional relationship with Agro Farma, and our small office refrigerator was always well stocked with Greek yogurt. Agro Farma saw Melissa’s worth, and as she put it, “they made her an offer that she couldn’t refuse.” Best of luck Melissa.

Follow Patrick Newell on Twitter @evesunpat

The lowdown

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011
Brian Golden

Well, you never know what’s going to happen at a Norwich City School District Board of Education meeting, and Monday’s was a perfect example (although I didn’t find out the “big news” until Tuesday morning). Regardless, board member Sally Chirlin, surprisingly, announced her resignation Monday night, which leaves a seat up for grabs. Anyone interested has until September 22 to submit a letter of intent, just address said letter to board president Heather Fredenburg and drop it off at the district office, 89 Midland Drive.

Cool story in today’s Evening Sun (if I do say so myself) on Morrisville’s Norwich Campus hosting the Climate Reality Project and its presentation of Al Gore’s “24 Hours of Reality.” It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of environmentalism in general and a fairly firm believer when it comes to climate change, so I’m curious to see how well they do Thursday night at Roger W. Follett Hall. I particularly like organizer Jacqui Rayne’s emphasis on drawing climate change skeptics to the discussion table, not to mention her enthusiasm for the cause. Great job!

Had myself a literary blast this morning (as usual) typing up this week’s column. Hard to believe two weeks from today will mark one year (in regards to my weekly column) for this fledgling opinion writer. The experience has been an absolutely fantastic one, to say the least, and is, in many ways, my favorite part of being a writer for The Evening Sun.

It’s soon-to-be-former Evening Sun staff writer Melissa Stagnaro’s last day here in the office and things are a little … chaotic … to say the least. And while we’re certainly wishing Melissa the best in regards to her new position with Agro-Farma, we’re sure going to miss her. An excellent writer who’s extremely dedicated and hard-working, she’ll be hard (if not impossible) to replace.

I must say I’m looking forward to a weekend “off” come Friday, if such a thing really exists for we, the blessed news reporters of the world. No definitive plans though, so to speak, except perhaps a trip to the Cooperstown Fall Festival and the Norwich Purple Tornado Marching Band’s first performance (in Baldwinsville, I believe). Wait a second … first marching band of the show on Saturday … I guess I better bring my camera and grab some shots for Monday’s paper.

Sports Editor’s Playbook, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
Patrick Newell

On the heels of my last blog, where I expressed concerns and complaints about the Norwich school curriculum, I launch into another set of gripes, and I must admit, not-so-well-disguised whining…

I saw three high school football games this weekend – two started in the afternoon, and one began in the late afternoon/early evening. If I have not said it before, I will say it again: I like afternoon football games better than night games. Night football games provide a level of ambience and perhaps some extra level of excitement that is nice – to me – once in a while. Not for every home game, though. Not every game is of crucial importance in terms of a rivalry or a key division game. To compare, what time of day do teams at higher levels of football play? In the NFL, the majority of games begin at either 1 p.m or 4 p.m. For college football, a large percentage of games are played in the afternoon. All week, high school kids practice after school – in the afternoon. Yet for all six of our Chenango County teams, their regular home games are scheduled for Friday night. I suppose my preference is due in part to how I grew up. Norwich played Saturday afternoons at Alumni Field, and the backdrop behind the visiting team’s bench was gorgeous.

Speaking of night games, the majority of Norwich’s varsity home soccer games – boys and girls – are scheduled for 7 p.m. I’m sure the athletics program appropriated the additional funds to light up the multi-purpose turf field. But why? Perhaps I am showing my age, but I grew up playing and watching soccer games during the day. Playing soccer in the day seems like a natural fit. I have attended a large number of night soccer games at Norwich over the past three years, and those games do not appear to garner any more fans that the typical 4:30 p.m. games. The occasional night game for soccer is nice, such as senior recognition night. But really, in this time of budgetary concerns, should we be spending extra money on something (night lighting) that is more a luxury than a necessity? Playing strictly day games may not save a lot of money, but it would be a pain-free way to reduce costs. Need more convincing? About seven miles down the road is Emerson Soccer Complex, a piece of property in Oxford with multiple state-of-the-art soccer fields. Look around, there are no lights to be found. Every game is a day game, and no one has complained – to my knowledge – about the lack of lights for night games. Don’t think I’m picking on just Norwich. A lot of local schools work night soccer games into their schedules. Like I said earlier, unless it’s a tournament final or a special occasion, the special feeling of playing a night soccer game is lost.

Close soccer games seem to be the norm in the early stages of the season. Three of the seven soccer games reported to me last night went to extra minutes, and last weekend, Sherburne-Earlville’s girls played a pair of overtime games – one a win, the other a loss – at the Hamilton tournament. At the least, for me, overtime games make for a more interesting story material. For coaches, it make cause early onset of grey hair.

Follow Patrick Newell on Twitter @evesunpat

Editor’s Notebook: 9/12/11

Monday, September 12th, 2011
Jeff Genung

• Wow, what a week. Terrific time to be a reporter, awful time to be a homeowner (or EMS worker) in much of Chenango County.

• Kudos to soon-to-be-departing reporter Melissa Stagnaro, who literally worked around the clock in providing the best, most up-to-date, flood coverage in the area. The intrepid reporter embedded herself at the county’s emergency operations center for three days straight, and spent at least one night in our rain-soaked office. (Out of the goodness of my heart, I had the ES put her up at the Super8 on that last night she couldn’t get home to Smithville).

• While Melissa was busy gathering information, Evening Sun photog extraordinaire Frank Speziale went up, up and away. Accompanied by Norwich pilot Stan Edwards, Frank flew all over the county, getting aerial shots of the flood damage. Although I knew it was happening, obviously, I wasn’t truly aware of the magnitude of the devastation until I saw Frank’s shots from the air. Spectacular work, horrible circumstances.

• And thanks, too, to Evening Sun readers for sharing their own photos of the flood’s effects – both on our Facebook page and via e-mail. Between your participation and our hard work, I dare say we covered the living heck out of that weather event. Between Facebook and our website, Evening Sun traffic quadrupled over the course of a couple days last week. Amazing stuff.

• Mother Nature almost overshadowed the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but we managed to publish a special commemorative edition on Friday anyway, which we also gave away for free at Colorscape and at the Arts Council’s “New York Remembers” exhibit. Coupled with stories and photographs from the Associated Press, the centerpiece of that section was two stories by Melissa deCordova – interviews with the families of Norwich 9/11 victims Robert Peraza and Michele Reed. Powerful stuff.

• Oh yeah, and it was Colorscape (boy am I tired!) weekend! Another amazing event, courtesy of Peggy Finnegan and her coterie of volunteers. And, they chose to honor yours truly with the “ColorsCape” award this year (there’s a photo in tomorrow’s paper; Frank insisted). Although the honor was for my “tireless and fearless” work in promoting Colorscape – and local arts in general – over the years, I’m really just doing my job, and supporting something I feel is important. Aww shucks, I know.

Wanted: 1965 convertible … cheap

Monday, September 12th, 2011
Brian Golden

Once again, I was forced to miss the “nice day” at Colorscape this year (Saturday) and sit through the “not so nice day” (Sunday), much to my disappointment. The rain, at least, held off until mid-afternoon, but it certainly wasn’t the warmest it’s ever been for our annual arts festival. Still, I must say I enjoyed Sunday’s musical line-up (what I saw of it), particularly The Guy Mendilow Band. While the eclectic blend of music the group performs isn’t my favorite genre, I’ll admit, the musicianship displayed by each of its members was … impressive … to say the least.

As for this beautiful autumn-like Monday, I must admit I have a bad feeling in regards to tonight’s Norwich City School District Board of Education meeting. For one, I know for a fact that a growing number of NHS parents, students and teachers – all of whom are involved with the school’s music program – have continued to meet on a weekly basis to discuss changes made to the department’s various ensembles. I expect a large number of this group to attend tonight’s meeting, in addition to those wishing to address the new elementary, middle and high school schedule in general. There’s been a lot of “talk on the street” over the past week (and there’s only been one full day of classes so far) and, as stated, I don’t think it’s going to be pretty.

Well, there are only two days left until the talented Melissa Stagnaro leaves our office for her new digs at Agro-Farma. Melissa was my unofficial “mentor” when I first began here at The Evening Sun and has been instrumental in my newspaper education over the past year-and-a-half. Needless to say, we’re all going to miss having such a gifted writer on hand, not to mention a good friend. I’d say good luck, Melissa, but I don’t think you’re going to need it. Don’t be a stranger and (pun intended) don’t forget to write.

So much for my recently repaired (and subsequently broken-down-once-again) Dodge Neon, a.k.a. The Green Machine. I suppose it’s time I bite-the-bullet and begin my search for a new vehicle, preferably one that will get me from point A to point B without breaking down every other week (if not every other day). I can’t say I’ll be all that sorry to see it go, but at the same time, it was a decent little car while it lasted. Now, however, it’s on to bigger and better things, I hope. Anybody out there have a mint condition, 1965 convertible of some sort they’d like to get rid of cheap?

I didn’t think so.

How is the NHS curriculum benefiting our children?

Thursday, September 8th, 2011
Patrick Newell

Between my own children and my significant other Aida’s, we have seven young ladies and men attending Norwich schools. Six of those seven are either in the middle school or high school. The two of us stand unified in our belief that the challenge of the Norwich curriculum is not acceptable.
The most recent head-scratching decision by the school district was the change in schedule. The standard schedule for non-elementary students was changed to 7:45 a.m to 2:15 p.m. Before, middle school and high school students were dismissed in the 3 p.m. range.
Meanwhile, elementary children are attending school from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. If my math is correct – and I believe it is – a Norwich first-grader now has a longer school day than middle school and high school students. Hmmm? Does that seem right?
I have yet to hear of a intelligent reason that necessitated the shorter school day for older students other than accommodating the bus schedule. The bus schedule has remained nearly the same for at least 40 years. If it ain’t broke, why try to fix it?
Our real concerns are the soft schedule and the relative ease with which kids are able to obtain good grades. I nearly fell over when I saw the middle school schedule for one of our children. As most Norwich parents know, the schedule is blocked and alternates between “Purple” and “White” days. On the first day, our child has a fairly busy schedule of classes, and his day ends with a study hall. Day two, however, is absurdly light. I’ll lay it out for you, and I’m sure our child’s schedule is not unique. In the morning, our child undertakes a rigorous load of English and Art before a much-needed 35-minute lunch. After regrouping during the lunch period, an exhausting homestretch of classes includes Math, study hall, gym, and yes…wait for it, another study hall. Our child’s entire school day, for the first marking period, includes just two academic classes on his “White” day.
I don’t know about other parents, but when I went to Norwich Middle School, I spent my entire day attending classes – EVERY DAY! I had never heard of the term, “study hall” until I reached high school.
The school might argue that the curriculum in place lends itself to success. Just look at the Norwich high school and middle school honor roll lists. Our all-purpose, invaluable employee at The Evening Sun, Jan Rowe, has cramping fingers and early symptoms of carpal tunnel after typing in all of Norwich’s kids on the honor roll. When Norwich reveals its honor roll “honorees” at the end of each marking period, the list is extensive. The past couple of years, I counted the names by grade who either made the high honor or honor roll. In the high school alone, the kids in grades 9-12 on either honor roll list ranged from around 75 kids per grade level to as many as 114. In all, more than 50 percent of the kids attending Norwich High School last year made some sort of honor roll.
Does anyone believe that number is especially high? I flipped back to the honor roll lists from when I was in school. (I had to dust off some old, bound books to acquire this information). The percentage of kids on honor roll or honor roll was around 20 to 25 percent. Aida attended Gonzaga Prep, a private Catholic school in Spokane, Washington. She remembers her school’s honor roll list including 10 to 15 percent of the student body. Are today’s kids, our children, really that much smarter than we were? If you base your conclusion on honor roll lists, the answer would be yes. In truth, we as parents know that conclusion is not true.
Please, do not infer that I believe all children are not deserving of their grades. To me, this abundance of scholastic honorees at Norwich does a disservice to the most deserving, intelligent, and hard-working students who would make the honor roll in any school district in any era of education. I have spoken to a number of recent NHS graduates over the past couple of years. All of them agreed that the Norwich curriculum (save the advanced placement classes) is easy. Some consider it almost laughable.
The honor roll used to be a achievement of distinction. Yet, if the Norwich honor rolls are more inclusive than exclusive, what is that teaching our children?
I certainly do not blame the teachers. They are all working within the system that is in place, and every teacher I personally know is exceptional and dedicated. That said, how can they prepare kids to the best of their ability when they are now given less time to do it?
A shorter school day equals less time in the classroom. How does less classroom time benefit our children?

Editor’s Notebook: 9/1/11

Thursday, September 1st, 2011
Jeff Genung

• Happy September. Only 113 days until Christmas!

• So the big news in today’s Evening Sun probably isn’t on the front page … it’s in a column on Page 4, wherein Melissa Stagnaro announced her impending departure. She buttered me up with a lunch at Park Place when she broke the news to me yesterday, but it really wasn’t necessary (although buying me stuff never hurts) – I am extremely happy for her. Our loss is certainly Agro Farma’s gain. Anytime I can hold on to a reporter for three years – especially an excellent reporter like Ms. Stagnaro – I consider it a good run. I’ve been through this a lot over the years, but whenever the departure is a loss for me both professionally and personally, as it is here, it’s a double whammy. Best of luck, Melissa. The Evening Sun is better for having had you here.

• And now back to the drawing board. Julian Kappel’s tenure as low man on the ES totem pole will be remarkably short, it seems. Better get some more hazing in while I still can. If you or anyone you know wants to try their hand at the glamorous world of smalltown journalism, send in those resumes! Find the details here.

• Speaking of double whammys (whammies?), Melissa’s wasn’t the only Evening Sun two-week notice given this week. Just over the wall in the advertising department, Pam Jones announced her intention to leave for another career opportunity, too. Another one we’ll miss dearly, and another job we have to fill!