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Rumble of Thunder – November 20, 2015

Photo of Dr. HughesIn my last blog post, I wrote about taking risks as it applied to changing how we educate our Thunder. I also mentioned how by working together and taking risks, we can begin to fully realize the promise the merger was meant to provide. Just this month, we had two excellent examples of staff and students taking risks that paid off tremendously.

The first example was a couple weekends ago when Central Valley hosted the regional FIRST Lego League competition at CVA. This opportunity came about when Elizabeth Rossi from SUNY Polytechnic came to one of our Herkimer BOCES superintendent cabinet meetings. Part of the conversation revolved around finding a school to host November’s regional competition. Knowing that we hadn’t had teams compete, but also knowing there was quite a bit of interest in our elementary technology clubs, volunteering to have us host was an easy choice. As soon as school started, eight CV teams quickly formed based out of Jarvis. Each team had mentors to help them take on the various challenges associated with the competition. I cannot begin to tell you the amount of free time each team spent on the project. Anytime they had free time, they were working together to problem solve. Their work ethic and energy was outstanding to see in action.

The students’ weren’t the only ones using their free time to pull off a successful regional competition. The team mentors worked with our Thunder even though many of them knew less about robotics then the students. Over 100 people volunteered to make it happen. It’s not very often that there are more volunteers than are needed. From judges to coaches to parents, every person played an important part. In the end, eight teams proudly represented our communities, with a number of them going on to the next round at SUNY Polytechnic with the goal of making it to the world competition. Not soon after the competition, teams were already working to improve for January. A number of people asked me if we could host again next year. With that level of excitement and learning, that’s a very easy decision to make.

The second example of taking a risk was the Sunday before Thanksgiving at the NYSCATE (New York State Association for Computers and Technology in Education) annual conference. Besides all the professional learning that occurs at the annual conference, NYSCATE was also celebrating its 50th year as an organization, so this was a huge occasion. Two years ago I was fortunate enough to be voted as a board member of this statewide volunteer organization. In thinking about the conference and especially the awards dinner, I noticed that student groups didn’t perform as is typical of other conferences. Last spring, I asked the CEO of NYSCATE if any consideration was ever given to student performance groups. She said she would love to have a group perform and asked if I knew a good one. I told her I did and would get back to her after doing some checking. That led me to chat with our very own Mr. Bunce about the CVA Chamber Choir. During my first few months at CV, I had seen the great things our students could do and wondered if our Chamber Choir was ready to take the show on the road. Mr. Bunce and I both knew that booking our Chamber Choir for such a performance was taking a huge risk, but we also believed our Thunder would rise to the occasion. And that they did!

Our students started practicing this summer well before school even started. Not only did they have to learn five new pieces, but also choreography above and beyond all their other obligations. After the countless rehearsals including weeknights and weekends, they traveled to the Riverside Convention Center in Rochester. This also happened to be the same weekend as Area All-State, so many of them had been singing almost nonstop for three days. When they arrived, they had an hour for final preparations on a new stage. This necessitated adjustments to the space and choreography. Professionals have a hard time doing this, but our Thunder rose to the occasion, so much so that those prepping the tables for the awards dinner stopped to watch and applaud. The Chamber Choir’s ability to adjust and perform at a high level is also a testament to the high expectations set by Mr. Bunce. Final rehearsal was over and that meant two hours to wait until their first set of the night. The hard work and preparation was about to pay off.

Our Thunder took the stage and delivered a performance to remember. As they performed “Hooray for Hollywood”, and medleys from Jersey Boys and Sister Act, there was not a sound in the audience of over 1000 strong. After each number, the applause seemed to get louder. At the end of the third number and first set of the night, there was a standing ovation by all in attendance. The CVA Chamber Choir was even brought back onstage to receive another round of applause. They then left to wait another long two hours before coming back to close the show with “Let It Go” and “Seize the Day”. Again, they brought down the house. Then it was back on the road to return home at 1 a.m. As a sign of their dedication, every single one of the 35 members was in school for chorus rehearsal at 8 a.m. the next morning.

Over the next two days, I heard countless people talking about their performance. When they realized I was also from Central Valley, the positive comments flowed. Almost everyone said the Chamber Choir performance was the highlight of the night. As I’ve said previously, without risks and even failures, there can’t be wins. When I spoke to the Chamber Choir at a rehearsal the week before the performance, I told them they had an opportunity to make a name for Central Valley well beyond the Mohawk Valley. In the eyes of all attendees, including some of our own teachers, Central Valley now stands for professionalism, a strong work ethic, and awesome young adults willing to take risks by putting themselves out there for all to see. As their superintendent, I couldn’t be any prouder.