quick questions

3 outgoing Albion Village Board members share advice to successors

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 March 2022 at 8:22 am

‘Keep an open mind. Reach out to people. Don’t think you know everything’

File photos by Tom Rivers: Members of the Rebuild Bullard Park Committee, Albion Village Board members and other park supporters celebrated the opening of the amphitheater on June 19, 2021. Pictured from left in front include Jack Burris, Chris Barry, Zack Burgess, Mayor Eileen Banker with scissors, Bernie Baldwin, John Grillo, Stan Farone, Kim Remley and Gary Katsanis. The amphitheater is part of major upgrades at Bullard including a splash pad, new utility building and walking trail.

ALBION – The Village Board will have three new members on April 1 with Mayor Eileen Banker and trustees Gary Katsanis and Stan Farone not coming back for another term.

Banker has been mayor the past four years and a board member for 12 years. Katsanis has six years on the board and Farone, eight years.

Albion Mayor Eileen Banker talks with Gary Katsanis, left, and Stan Farone when the three were endorsed by the Republican Party during a caucus on Jan. 30, 2018.

They leave at a time when the village will see the retirement of Linda Babcock as village clerk/treasurer next month. Katsanis called Babcock “the pulse of the village office.”

The three new board members will join Trustee Chris Barry, who has been on the board two years, and Zack Burgess, who was elected a year ago.

Banker, Katsanis and Farone were interviewed on Feb. 19 in the village office. They highlighted big projects with upgrades to Bullard Park, and the water and sewer plants.

They are pleased with agreements with Elba and Holley, where village personnel run the sewer plants in those villages.

Albion also worked out an arrangement with the Albion school district to have an Albion officer assigned to the district as a school resource officer.

Banker said she doesn’t micro-manage the department heads but pays close attention to their reports. She works as the chief of staff for Assemblyman Steve Hawley. She said her relationships with other local, state and federal officials has helped Albion secure grant funding for Bullard Park and village infrastructure.

Farone is retired after a 33-year career from Kodak. He has been an active firefighter for 50 years, with Albion and Holley, and also as a volunteer with COVA.

Katsanis is retired as a medical data analyst for Strong and then Blue Cross. He managed a staff that stretched from Buffalo to Utica.

The trio said they try to empower the department heads and heap praise on the village employees. The village has about 50 employees and a $7 million budget that includes the general fund, water and sewer.

Gary Katsanis, a trustee on the Albion Village Board, applies stain on Albion’s new utility building at Bullard Park in this photo from July 23, 2020. Katsanis, Trustee Stan Farone and Mayor Eileen Banker volunteered to put two coats of stain and then polyurethane on the cedar siding and wood on the building, which has bathrooms, storage, equipment and infrastructure for the spray park.

The tax rate the past three budgets includes $17.80 per thousand dollars of assessed property in 2019-20 and 2020-21 and then $17.85 in 2021-22.

The new board starts April 1 and budget needs to be adopted by the end of April. The new board also will need to negotiate a contract with the DPW union.

The mayor is paid $9,723 a year with the trustees’ salary at $6,572. Katsanis tracked his hours and estimated it translates into about $2 an hour during busier months.

Question: What were you advice be for the new members of the Village Board?

Stan Farone: For the new people coming in my advice is if you have any questions, I’m available. I know Eileen and Gary would be available to sit down or give us a call. I did sit down with one of the person’s running for trustee. I’m here to help. I’ll sit down with anybody at any time to keep the village going in the right direction.

Gary Katsanis: My advice to people coming on is if you work as hard as you possibly can you may in fact do an adequate job. Speaking for myself I think I’ve worked hard for the village and I think I did, by and large, an adequate job. All of our positions here are just to pass the baton to the next group of people.

Eileen Banker: My advice is to keep an open mind. Reach out to people. Don’t think you know everything because there is a lot to learn. I’ve been on the board 12 years and I’m still learning. There are new things that you learn because things come up that are not in the book, that you don’t know, that’s not black and white. It’s not written down. There is no guide book to this. There are  so many things that could happen that have happened. We’ve always as a board been able to move forward with it.

My husband also says not to look at Facebook. I’ve gotten so aggravated with the stuff on Facebook and taken it to heart. You (Tom Rivers) would put an article on the Orleans Hub, it would be about something positive, and it automatically was bashing and people saying the village is no good.

Stan Farone, right, of Albion is shown on July 12, 2021 in Albion on the Cycling the Erie Canal event, an 8-day journey covering about 400 miles from Buffalo to Albany. Farone did the ride for the fourth time. He said he has made friends with many of the cyclists who come back year after year.

Stan Farone: They also have to know there are going to be times when you get into discussions where you don’t agree with each other. There are times when Eileen and I disagreed over something and it seemed like we were going to cut each other’s heads off. But then we’d walk out that door and I’d go put my sneakers on and we’d go for a walk together.

So once you walk out that door you have to learn to leave everything there.

Eileen Banker: And the mayor does not control the decision making of the board members. You’re individuals. You are individual people who are elected by the village people. You’re not controlled by the mayor. Most of the time I’ll sit up and wait until everybody else votes.

Gary Katsanis: Yeah, the mayor is not supposed to be initiating action.

Mayor Eileen Banker is on a lift and is pictured with a banner of her late father, John Pahura, in June 2020. The banners are 2 ½ feet by 5 feet. Banker coordinated the effort which included 69 banners in 2020 and then 23 more in 2021.

Eileen Banker: I don’t initiate. It’s everybody else voting first. Then if I need to vote, I vote. I usually vote.

Question: Are you concerned about the lack of Village Board experience with the candidates and also with the village clerk retiring?

Stan Farone: I’m very concerned. They do have the qualifications but they don’t have the experience and to me experience is a big thing. I don’t have anything against the two board members who are staying (Chris Barry and Zack Burgess). They are two good people, but they are fairly new. They have only been on two years.

You are going to end up with a new mayor and two new board members, and a new clerk. Like I said there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that they don’t realize.

Like I said in one of my tweets, the trustees are not here to train the mayor. The mayor is here to guide the trustees. I don’t see that happening with a new board coming on.

Eileen Banker: There is also a lot of municipal law you have to be familiar with. There is stuff within the budget. You can’t mix money – the water and sewer funds you can’t mix with the general fund. You have to be really careful because when an auditor comes through and there are things in your books that are not done correctly, the answer “Oh I’m new I didn’t know” doesn’t cut it.

Question: What are some of the things you are proud of during your time on the board?

Stan Farone: There’s a lot we can be proud of for accomplishments. I’m not going to say individually because we work as a board. So the improvements at Bullard Park, the water plant, I’m just proud to be a trustee in the village and seeing it go as far as it has. Being a trustee I’m proud to sit there and make decisions and help the village. We worked on grants, we worked on Bullard Park, basic public relations with employees. It gave me the opportunity to work on some of these other committees like the Scarecrow Committee and just being involved with the village as a whole. I’ve tried to get the people to come downtown and make it better as whole for the village.

Gary Katsanis: We’ve been fiscally responsible and that’s important to me.

Eileen Banker: We did the banners (of veterans) which I’m proud of. But again, fiscally responsible, I think that is important. We’ve tried to hold the line. If we did have to increase taxes it’s because of no fault of our own. It’s because of the increase in retirement of healthcare. You want to have something you can give the employees because you’re down to bare bones in each department so you want the best qualified person. You need to entice them with what we can give them.

There are times we had to raise (the tax rate) by 2, 3, 4, or 5 cents. It’s a minimum increase – would we have still liked to decrease it? Absolutely – but I think we’ve done well. We got, like I said, great department heads and I’m very proud of all of them and all of our employees. We have a lot of new employees and they say this is the best place to work. People have no idea how much they get and how well they are taken care of working for the village.

The banners were probably one of my proudest moments because of what they stand for. It’s the military, it’s my father, it’s father-in-law, it’s my neighbor. I’m very thrilled with the banner program and I hope it continues.

The photos we’ve put in here (village office and main meeting room). I love the photos and I think more should be done. We had a great photographer (Peggy Barringer) who did those for us.

The Village of Albion was able to use a $300,000 state grant to pay most of the cost of a $380,000 new vacuum truck from the Vactor that can be used when there are waterline breaks, plugged sewers and other work on the water and sewer lines. Jay Pahura, Albion’s superintendent of the Department of Public Works, shows the new truck to Mayor Eileen Banker, State Sen. Robert Ortt and one of Ortt’s staff members in this photo from Dec. 11, 2019. Banker said connecting with other local, state and federal officials should be part of the job for mayor, trying to bring in resources for the village. The $300,000 grant came through Ortt’s office.

Question: Stan, I know you do that Cycling the Canal bike ride every year and even rode the bike in the Metro 10 in Albion.

Stan Farone: I do the canal ride every year. I did the Metro 10 and I still do a lot of 5ks. I’m planning on doing a 6-hour walk and run in Buffalo. I put it on Facebook and to try to encourage people to walk around and come out in the village and look around. I had about 6-7 people come down and we talked about the book, I think it’s The Boy from the Four Corners. It was written about downtown Albion. We talked about downtown Albion and we looked up where you can basically see the dates on the buildings. Just to get people downtown where they can see what’s going on makes me feel good.

Candidate forum this evening at Lockstone

There will be a candidate forum today from 6 to 8 p.m. with the seven candidates running for the Village Board in the March 15 election. The Lockstone is hosting the event at 160 North Main St. The event is sponsored by The Lake Country Pennysaver and Orleans Hub.

The candidates include three people for mayor: Angel Javier Jr., running on the Republican and independent “Better Together Albion Strong” lines; Vickie Elsenheimer on the Democratic and independent “Move Albion Forward” lines; and Kevin Graham on the independent “Albion Pride, Working Together.”

Four people are seeking two trustee positions on the Village Board. Tim McMurray and Dan Conrad are on the Republican line. Sandra Walter and Joyce Riley are under the Democratic line and the independent “Move Albion Forward.”

Geno Allport – ‘Fan of the Year’ – treasures friendships, family bonding in following Bills

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 February 2022 at 8:55 am

Allport family has been passionate season ticket holders since 1974

Photo by Tom Rivers: Geno Allport holds his “Fan of the Year” Buffalo Bills jersey for 2021. He is shown at his home with framed jerseys from many Buffalo Bills legends. Allport and his son Tre are currently in Los Angeles for the Super Bowl festivities.

ALBION – Geno Allport is the Buffalo Bills “Fan of the Year” for 2021 and he and his son, Tre, have been treated to attending the Super Bowl in Los Angeles.

Provided photos: Geno Allport is shown on the shoulders of former Bills offensive lineman Reggie McKenzie, who was an all-pro guard for the Bills from 1972 to 1982. McKenzie was in Albion in this photo from about 1980 for a charity basketball game.

Allport, 47, said the award should go to the Bills’ “Family of the Year.” His late father, Gene, bought season tickets in 1974. The Allports have had family tickets since, even expanding to six season tickets this past season for the first time. They sit in Section 135 in Row 12 with a great view of the 40 to 50 yard line.

In 2020, when no fans were allowed for most of the home games, Allport still was there – as a security guard. He said he has only missed two home games in the past four decades.

Allport’s home on East Park Street proudly displays his love of the Bills, from the red and blue porch lights, to many Buffalo Bills jerseys on the wall. There is even a year-round Buffalo Bills Christmas tree with Bills ornaments.

Allport and his wife Jami were married Aug. 24, 2020 – at the Bills stadium in Orchard Park. Moments after their daughter Hensley was born about three years ago, Allport played the Bills “Shout” song. Allport even convinced the doctor to wear a Bills surgical mask during the delivery.

The Allport home is full of Bills memorabilia and keepsakes from some other famous Bills fans, including signed ketchup and mustard bottles from Pinto Ron, a legendary fan who gets doused in ketchup and mustard while tailgating.

Allport said he has made tons of friends through Bills fandom, and connected with numerous players. Jim Kelly remains his all-time favorite, Kelly transformed a losing franchise into a team that went to the Super Bowl four times. Allport is high on current Bills star Josh Allen and the chances for the Bills to win that elusive Super Bowl.

If that happens, “I would bawl like a baby,” Allport said.

He has been youth football coach for more than 20 years in Albion and also helped start the football program in 2021 at the Vertus Charter School in Rochester. Ocie Bennett of Albion is the head coach for the team. Allport has worked at Vertus for nearly six years as a preceptor and alumni coordinator. He serves as a mentor and teacher for 22 students. Last month was presented with the “Golden Apple” teaching award from WROC in Rochester.

Geno Allport holds his daughter Hensley at her first Bills game on Jan. 2, when Bills beat the falcons 29-15. After Hensley was born, Allport played the Bills “Shout” song in the hospital.

Allport arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday with his son, Tre. Kim Pegula, co-owner of the Bills, had a letter waiting for the Fan of the Year.

“Dear Geno, Welcome to Los Angeles and Super Bowl LVI! You’re going to have a great weekend, and we’re thrilled you are representing the Buffalo Bills. It’s fans like you that make Bills Mafia so great. We really appreciate your unwavering support and are looking forward to a great 2022 season. Enjoy the game and Go Bills!”

The following interview with Allport was conducted at his home on Tuesday evening.

Q: Why are you so passionate about the Bills?

A: Born into it. I mean I came home from the hospital (in 1974) with an OJ pin on. My grandparents told me the only time I wouldn’t through a fit when I was away from my mother is on Sundays when I’d go to the game. They would put me in the car and I’d go to sleep. They said the only time I was calm was on Sundays.

Q: Even when you were a kid what did you like about the team so much, especially with all the screaming fans around?

A: I could tell you everything about all the players, even then. I remember being in school as an elementary and middle school kid and being quizzed by the high school kids, and I could rattle off everything about who was who on the Bills, where they went to college, what position they played and their number.

Q: I’m assuming you’ve made a lot of friends through being a Bills fan, especially the people with seats near you?

A: Yes. A couple that were in front of us they moved up to the red seats. We were real good friends with them for years. The red seats are the Van Miller Club, the Pepsi Club, the seats up there. They were getting up in age and wanted to be up there where they could go inside if need be, or sit under the heaters.

The guys behind us have been there for a while. They are attorneys in Orchard Park. We were able to get the two seats next to us. They had belonged to two guys who had been coming for years been then the last two years they weren’t there and the seats became available. So we added those to our account.

It’s a good section. You see a lot of the same people.

Q: Is there a bond you feel with your dad by going to the game?

A: Oh yeah. We always stop by his brick before the game.

This brick honors Allport’s late father, Gene “Lou” Allport. He was nicknamed for Lou Saban, the Bills coach from 1962 to 1965 and 1972 to 1976. Saban twice led the Bills to be AFL champion in 1964 and 1965. Allport bought season tickets beginning in 1974.

Q: That brick, what is the story behind it?

A: At one point in ’99 they started to sell the bricks you can out by the stadium. They used to be over by Gate 3 but they moved them in front of the store when they built the store.

It was November 1999 and we got it for him for his birthday and he actually got out there for a game, which was the Bills versus the Colts – the Rob Johnson game, and he was able to get up there and see the brick, that was in January 2000. He ended up passing away in March of that year.

Allport has a tattoo on his arm about the love for the Bills being in the family’s DNA.

Q: It’s necessarily a memorial then?

A: It has his name on it. It says Gene Allport from Albion, New York.

Q: Why did the team do the bricks?

A: That was when they were trying to raise money to keep them in Buffalo. It was part of the whole big pitch they were doing. They haven’t done it since and they won’t do it again.

Q: So, outside your house you have blue and red lights on the porch. Have you had those a long time?

A: Oh yeah, we do it just for that reason. It’s part of the Christmas decoration but it’s always Bills season here. That’s why we have the tree up. It’s always Bills season. It’s only got Bills stuff on a white tree.

Q: It’s interesting just how excited the community gets when the team is winning.

A: The kids will even say it when we walk into Walmart. They say they’ve never seen this much Bills clothes on people walking around.

Q: I do feel bad for the Fred Jacksons of the world, the team leaders during the playoff drought years that lasted 17 seasons. (Allport has Jackson’s No. 22 jersey in a frame in the dining room with several other Bills greats.) He didn’t get as much love because the team struggled. : You feel like a fan more when the team struggles. It’s a lot easier when they are winning.

A: Yeah, Kyle Williams played for many years too, but at least he did make it to the playoffs.

Q: Do you have a favorite Bills player of all time?

A: I grew up with (Jim) Kelly. During Kelly’s rookie year (in 1986), our family became friends with Van Miller (the broadcaster). He got a football signed for me during Kelly’s rookie year and I’ve had this since ’86. (It’s signed: “Merry X-mas, Geno – Jim Kelly”) I’ve always been a Jim Kelly fan. I was 12 years old when he got here.

I’m a big Josh (Allen) fan. My 3-year-old says that’s her boyfriend. She loves Josh.

Geno Allport is introduced as the Bills “Fan of the Year” on Oct. 31 on the big scoreboard at Highmark Stadium. He is joined by retired Bills players Will Wolford, left, and Reuben Brown.

Q: Was it hard to be a fan during the drought years?

A: Oh yeah. I remember going to the Bills-Colts game in ’84 or ’85 and there were 17,000 fans in the stands. They were 0-11 in ’84 and Dallas came to town in first place and we ended up beating them 14 to 3. So that was fun.

The 2-14 years were tough. Even when they went to the Super Bowl and I was in high school. I still went to school the next day in all my Bills clothes. I’m not going to hide from them. Just like when they just lost to the Chiefs. I went to work in my Bills clothes.

Q: How did you get Fan of the Year? Were you nominated?

A: My son, Tre, sent in a nomination.

Geno and his family keep up a Buffalo Bills-themed Christmas tree up year-round.

Q: Is it about your love of the Bills or more than that?

A: It’s everything. He put in there a few things and I didn’t know anything about it until they came and surprised me at the football practice (in October with the youth football team). He put in there a few things about our family with the Bills. One of the guys from the Bills, my ticket rep, saw my name and pushed for it. I don’t know how the process works or who has a say in it.

Q: Since 1974 as a season ticket holder that’s impressive.

A: Jami and I even got married at the stadium. Just us and the kids went up.

Q: So you have contacts with the Bills. You know these people?

A: I do a lot of work with the Bills through youth football. I’m on the Western New York Amateur Football Alliance. I’ve been working with the people in community relations with the Bills for years.

Q: I think you’ve had the Albion youth teams play at the Bills stadium at halftime?

A: They used to. But since Covid started, actually the year before that, they kind of scaled it back but we’re trying to get that back, or even do the Punt, Pass and Kick or a different version of that because the NFL got rid of it. We went that back because it’s for the kids.

Q: So you’ve been the NOFA (Niagara Orleans Football Association) rep for a long time?

A: This will be coming up on year 22. I’ve been on the NOFA board for 15 years maybe. My son started when he was 6 or 7 years old and I was a coach. Tre is now 27 and he’ll be coming with me to the Super Bowl in Los Angeles.

Q: What does the schedule include for you as Fan of the Year?

A: We leave Thursday morning because we’re able to attend the NFL honors show that night. We get to do the red carpet. We get to attend the awards show at the YouTube Theater that night.

Friday we have Captain Morgan’s brunch, they are the sponsors of the Fan of the Year program. They put on a brunch for us on Friday. Saturday they gave us tickets for the NFL Experience so we get to do that whole thing. There will be different displays from the Pro Football Hall of Fame and I think they even have the Super Bowl trophy, and a bunch of different things for the fans to see and do. It covers all 32 teams so nobody is left out. Sunday we have the game.

Q: Well is this a big deal to you?

A: Oh yeah, definitely. I’ve become friends with the other 31 Fans of the Year. We text. We’re in constant communication. I can’t wait to meet everybody. I’m thrilled. I wish our team was there, but it will be less stress. I’d rather be stressed though. It’s up and downs. It’s a rollercoaster.

Q: Your football passion goes beyond the Bills. Why do you keep doing the youth football?

A: I love helping kids. I love getting kids involved. I think sports are a big part of helping them grow and becoming a good teammate. The hard work, the dedication and the commitment is needed when it’s time to get a job. You’re already working hard, you’re already dedicated. If you’re going to college it’s the same way. It’s getting them to commit to something even if it’s not football. It could be soccer, or indoor track, outdoor track or baseball. It’s just keeping them involved in something. Plus, it keeps them off the streets. It keeps them busy.

Q: As a sport I wonder why you like football so much?

A: I actually played soccer until my junior year and never played football. I played flag football but I was a soccer player. But I always loved football.

My junior and senior years I played varsity. I was 138 pounds, and played kicker, receiver and DB.

Q: Did you play much?

A: No, I had Rayford Callicutt in front of me. Rayford and Lee (Froman) were phenomenal receivers and DBs. Rayford had Ohio State looking at him. He ended up at Bowling Green and then went to Edinboro.

Q: With the youth program in Albion, you’ve been a coach, the equipment manager, and other roles. You must be organized?

A: I’ve done it so long I know what to do. My garage is now the storage shed. I have Tim (McMurray) more involved now. My sister (Jaime Allport) has always been there and she keeps track of the birth certificates, the rosters, the check-ins, and all the stuff no one wants to do DJ Moore, Joe Fuller and Rocco Sidari are stepping up as well. It’s knowing people from Albion, the Lions, from USA Football. It all helps.

Geno Allport, left, is shown with his mother Pam, brother Joe and sister Jaime and their children in this photo from about a decade ago. Allport said supporting the Bills has been a big part of the family his entire life.

Q: A lot of the key players in the youth program don’t have kids anymore that are playing. A lot of times when people’s kids age out the parents don’t continue as coaches.

A: About 10 of us had dinner this past summer with Scott Hallenbeck, he’s the CEO of USA Football. We were talking about our head coaches and how many coaches you got. When he gets to me, I said we have four head coaches and now of them have a kid on their team. He said what do you mean? Three of them don’t have a kid in the program and one has kid on the team above him but he coaches the team under.

He (Hallenbeck) said are you serious. I told him it’s different out here. At the time I think we had nine coaches who didn’t have a kid playing for them. That’s hard to find, but that’s when you know they are there for the right reasons and not playing Daddy Ball, which is the big phrase out there. They are coaching for the love of the game and they love the kids. It’s tough to find but when you do they are guys you want to hold on to.

Q: You could have stayed home and just watched the Bills on TV. But your life really has been enriched by being such a passionate fan.

A: It’s the whole experience. For the 1 o’clock games we leave here at 7 in the morning, make a pit stop at Walmart and get the gas we need. We’re pulling in at the parking lot at 9 and then hanging out. I’ve met a lot of friends.

Medina superintendent reflects on one-year anniversary of schools being shut down

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 March 2021 at 5:59 pm

Mark Kruzynski worries about mental health toll on students

Photos by Tom Rivers: Mark Kruzynski is pictured at his office on Friday. He has switched to wearing contact lenses because his glasses kept fogging up while wearing a mask.

MEDINA – It was one year ago today when superintendents in Orleans County’s five districts announced the schools were closed for in-person learning due to concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mark Kruzynski, Medina’s district superintendent, thought Medina would be shut down for two weeks. But the schools wouldn’t reopen to students until early September.

Medina has 1,410 students. Kruzynski has been the superintendent four more than four years. Prior to that he was Medina’s business administrator, the high school principal, and middle school principal. He started at Medina as a social studies teacher.

“None of that prepared me for a pandemic,” he said Friday during an interview at his office.

Question: So, going back to last year on March 13, were you surprised how quickly it escalated?

Answer: It escalated very quickly. Earlier that week we had just started spring sports. Earlier that week the big debate going around among the school superintendents was should we allow fans at our exceptional senior basketball game, which was between the Niagara-Orleans League and the GR League.

We were debating whether or not fans should be allowed. And school musicals were going on and should we be allowing musicals to go that weekend. And that was the feeling early in the week. At that time the guidance at the time was if you just wash your hands everything will be OK. The CDC wasn’t saying wear masks at the time, just good hygiene. It looked like it was in the cities and not here yet, but you were hearing all of these horror stories that it was spreading.

By the middle of the week I started to think something was going to change. By the end of the week, that Friday morning, I remember calling all of the administrators to come into by office and we’re going to talk. We sat at this table here and figured out what we needed to do if schools were shut down. We still thought we had some time, but we knew if things were going to happen it was going to happen quickly and we needed to be prepared.

That day we sent an email out to all the staff to prepare lesson plans for Monday, and be ready to work from home. In hindsight, I wish we had told all of the kids on Friday to make sure you take everything out of your locker because that was a big challenge to get everybody in and get all of their belongings back. We weren’t really expecting it that Monday.

We knew something was coming. I actually was helping with softball practice. I remember going out to practice that Thursday or Friday and we were wondering if we would ever get to a game because it was a really warm week at the time.

That Saturday I remember waking up on the 14th and there was a positive case confirmed in Rochester. And just like that Monroe County declared a state of emergency. And then all of the schools were shutting down. At the time if you recall it was for two weeks at a time because it was two weeks to flatten the curve.

‘We have seen an incredible rise in mental health. People are social. They are not meant to be sitting at home all day, kids especially. This pandemic has definitely caused anxiety issues. We’re seeing much more of that and depression. We’re seeing kids who normally on the outward appear fine who are really, really struggling with this.’

Q: Was it in late April, when the governor finally said no (in-person) school for the rest of the year?

A: It was late April or May 1. For a while it was in two-week increments. The way this panned out we were learning what was happening at his press conferences. Everybody would watch his press conferences to see what is going to happen today.

But back to that Saturday morning on March 14th, we had seen that there was a case in Monroe County. In Orleans County, one third of Kendall school district is in Monroe County. So immediately Julie Christensen (Kendall superintendent) has a problem whether she can open school or not.

And we also have a lot of people who work here who live in Monroe County. We figure it’s just a matter of time before it’s coming.

Paul Pettit (public health director in Orleans and Genesee counties) and Lynne Johnson (Orleans County Legislature chairwoman), we all had a conference call that day. Lynne issued the state of emergency, because remember at that time the states of emergency were all issued by county.

Lynne, knowing the situation with the schools, she declared the county as a state of emergency. And then Paul Pettit, with the state of emergency, he gave us the advice that it was still our decision – it was the superintendent’s decision – but he gave us the advice that based on the pandemic I’m not recommending you stay open.

We had all announced by 12 o’clock or 1 that day.

The sign at Medina Central School announced on March 14, 2020 that schools would be closed until further notice.

Q: How long were you thinking this would go on with schools closed?

A: I was thinking a couple weeks. This had started earlier in the year and you had seen all of these stories of China barring people in their homes and having these mass sprayers where they would go around and disinfect everything. There was so much truth and not truth. The internet and social media is never a good source for truth, but there was all sorts of stuff out there that this was just a flu or virus.

But we knew at the time there was the fear that nobody really knew how this spread. So we shut down. That night Niagara County shut down. Before too long Erie County closed. A few days later I think the governor officially shut down schools in New York State. There were still some pretty big cities that were open.

Then it was scrambling. We had to put together a meal delivery plan.

Q: That first week were you totally off or did you have to do the meals right away?

A: We started the meals pretty quickly.

Q: With the remote learning, was there a week or two breather with no education from the school?

A: That first week was just kind of review work. Honestly, in our area we weren’t allowed to do new learning because of the way the rules were set up. If we couldn’t provide the same education for everybody we couldn’t provide new content.

We had the broadband gap. Now this year we are at 100 percent with our one-to-one devices. Last year only 60 percent of the students had school-owned devices.

Q: So people were picking up a lot of paper packets?

A: We were mailing out packets left and right. Dan Doctor (the school’s community liaison) was delivering them to people. It was like copy central here. Teachers would email us work and we would put it on the website, each area every Friday, we would put new work up for kids to do.

Paper packets is not the way to learn.

Q: Has it gone better this year with not having the sudden change thrown at you?

A: Yes. We’re better prepared and we’re pushing out new learning everyday. Last year we were kind of hamstrung in the fact we weren’t technologically available to push out new learning and if you couldn’t push out new learning to everybody, then there would be equity problems.

This year we’ve pared down the curriculum to the point where teachers are selecting what they feel are the most important things to teach. We’re moving forward.

This year we’re in a much better spot because at the elementary, which is open five days a week. If your kid is coming to school from grades K through 6, they are here everyday. Or if the parents selected virtual, we have dedicated virtual teachers who work just with those kids during the day.

Q: For K to 6, do you know what percent is remote only?

A: I’d say about 30 percent. We have a waiting list of people who want to come back full time. We’ve been pretty much able to accommodate.

High school there is a bigger social aspect, not that there isn’t in the elementary. In high school we had a lot of people back but then when they realized they’re on Monday-Thursday or Tuesday-Friday and some of their friends are on the opposite schedule and other friends are on virtual. High school has been tough because we’re on the hybrid model. We have brought some kids back four days a week. We’re trying to accommodate as much as our capacity will allow.

Q: So 7 through 12 is hybrid. How many are remote-only?

A: I’d say about one third. That varies from day to day. Thankfully the quarantines are down.

Q: That must have been a nightmare to deal with that?

A: It was very much a logistical nightmare, especially around the holidays. When we had to shut down the high school it wasn’t because of so many students, it was because so many of our staff members had to quarantine. At one point half of our district cleaning staff and all of the high school staff was in quarantine. We just couldn’t clean the buildings.

That was when we shut down for about a week before Thanksgiving until they all came out of quarantine. Now the rules have relaxed a little bit. When it first started if you were in a room with someone for more than an hour, even if you were wearing a mask and social distancing, everybody in that room would be quarantined.

At the elementary level that would knock out an entire class. At the high school we would have to go through every kid’s schedule to see who they had multiple classes with and where they were on a bus. So we had a lot of quarantines there for a while.

Now they have relaxed that if you are wearing a mask and are six feet apart they won’t quarantine the whole room. They will look at it on a case-by-case basis.

Q: What have been some of the hardest parts about this past year for you as a school superintendent?

A: It’s hard to play for one week down the road when you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Last year there was a lot of “What are we going to do about graduation?”, “What are we going to do about prom?” We as a district decided we were just going to wait because we knew things were going to change. A lot of announced their graduation plans on April 1 or May 1 but we knew the guidance was changing on a daily basis so we held off knowing that things might change. We lucked out there. We were able to host in-person graduation when some schools weren’t able to do that. We also have a huge facility where we can adequately social distance people.

But it’s hard to plan. The nature of this job is you’re always thinking six months ahead. We’ve been planning next year’s budget for the last three months. The stimulus changes a lot of those numbers with where you’re going to go.

With the pandemic it was literally changing from press conference to press conference.

Medina split last year’s graduation into three different ceremonies to stay under a 150-maximum set by the state. The service was moved from the auditorium to Vets Park. Mark Kruzynski said the district expects the entire class will be able to graduate together in the same service this June.

Q: Right now the outdoor size limit is 200, and I tend to think it will be more in June.

A: Honestly we’re planning for a full graduation this year. If it’s 200 on March 1, then by June we’ll be in a better spot. If we have to scale it back, then we’ll scale it back. We’re planning on prom. The high school is working on a prom location. It may be limited in capacity but there are a lot of places that have outdoor tents, pavilions, things like that that you can use.

To me that’s the hardest stuff: you just don’t know what the next day is going to be.

We fully did not expect winter sports to start when they did. All of a sudden on a Friday we get a one-week lead time that says here’s winter sports. Well that puts us in a tough spot.

And OK we can have kids running up and down a basketball court but we can’t have kids standing feet six feet apart singing in a choir. Sometimes it’s just illogical.

I don’t know how you explain to a parent that this activity is allowed and this activity isn’t.

Q: What about the marching band, which is outside?

A: We’re hoping by the spring we can put something together. I mean if you think about it with marching band we could be 12 feet apart. We could be six feet apart. It’s outdoors. Is that safer than wrestling?

So there is so much illogic through this whole thing.

Q: I think that’s where the governor and some of the public health officials have lost some people when things don’t make sense.

A: I will say Paul Pettit (local public health director) has been fantastic for us in this county. He basically worked with all five of us (school superintendents). Every teacher who has wanted a vaccine has gotten one. We’re halfway through. March 25 is our last big day and then two weeks after the 25th anybody who wanted a vaccine in the district and that’s across the county. That hasn’t happened in every other county.

Q: How many staff work here?

A: We have about 200 full-time and another 100 part-time. So 300 staff members total.

Q: And they will all be vaccinated?

A: I would say about 70 percent of the total of the staff who has requested it has gotten it (with more to be done through March 25). Some we don’t know if they are going on their own. There is no requirement that we ask people.

Q: There is a lot of concern about the isolation for a lot of the students and their mental health.

A: We have seen an incredible rise in mental health. People are social. They are not meant to be sitting at home all day, kids especially.

We’re reaching out to the kids everyday. This pandemic has definitely caused anxiety issues. We’re seeing much more of that and depression.

Q: When you say you see it, is that an observation or do kids somehow get served for those issues?

A: We have kids check in regularly. Then have a check-in. We ask them, “How are you feeling?” “Is this a drawback or a problem?” If any of those come up our counselors reach out to them and try to find out what is going on so we can help. It has definitely, definitely been made more difficult.

One thing we have done this year: Our counselors go into all of the classrooms. Then try to get in at least weekly to check in on everybody because we’re seeing kids who normally on the outward appear fine who are really, really struggling with this. It’s tough – the uncertainty with when is this going to end. We have dealt a lot with that.

‘I’m thinking the first Christmas concert we have together there probably won’t be a dry eye in the house. The first homecoming rally, nobody is going to take that for granted anymore when we have 2,000 people at Vets Park cheering. Once we fully reopen there is going to be a lot said for people really embracing things.’

Q: Is it difficult because we can’t say when it will end. It does seem like there is more optimism now with fighting Covid.

A: There is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. We’re getting closer. I fully expect, barring any new variants or if it turns out the vaccine didn’t work or something, I fully expect we’ll be back to in-person five days a week by fall.

Right now the vaccine is only approved for adults. We got trials going on with kids. Even though the kids don’t tend to have severe cases of Covid, they are transmitters. We have to make sure people are safe.

Do I think we’ll be there by the fall, yeah. Would I like it to be tomorrow? Absolutely.

When this first started we thought maybe it would be Easter at the latest that we would be back. Who knew it would be this long.

Q: Are there any positives through this, maybe speeding up technology?

A: Yes. For better or worse, it’s forced everybody to learn the latest technology. We just did a superintendent’s conference day a week ago on technology training based on topics the teachers had said they wanted to learn. It turns out by the time we had scheduled it for the conference day they had forced themselves to learn it and move on to more advanced technologies. So that has been an improvement.

There has been more connections made with some kids normally in in-person school. And that’s been a positive.

The community has been fantastic in supporting the schools. I have four kids so I understand how tough it can be when we announced on a Monday night we have to go virtual on Tuesday. But everybody just adjusts and I know how tough that is for parents to arrange for daycare and figure things out like that. But the community has been fantastic in working with us on that and understanding that sometimes our hands are tied.

Q: Let’s say there are 500 people or more at graduation, it will be quite a moment. One of the benefits of this past year will be not taking that for granted.

A: I’m thinking the first Christmas concert we have together there probably won’t be a dry eye in the house. Sports have kind of been coming back but they haven’t had full fans. The first homecoming rally, nobody is going to take that for granted anymore when we have 2,000 people at Vets Park cheering.

The things you always took for granted before and now you realize you can’t have. Once we fully reopen there is going to be a lot said for people really embracing things.

Q&A: School superintendent ready to start new year after ‘unreal’ 6 months

Photos by Tom Rivers: Jason Smith is pictured in a high school Spanish classroom were desks have been spaced apart to allow for social distancing. Classrooms will be limited to 12 to 15 students in person to start the school, with teachers working with some students remotely as well. The district has had 15 percent of the students opt for remote learning.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 9 September 2020 at 8:59 am

Jason Smith and Lyndonville district welcome back students today

Classrooms are stocked with hand sanitizer, masks and cleaning products.

LYNDONVILLE – Jason Smith has served as Lyndonville’s superintendent of schools since December 2011. The superintendent and district will begin welcoming back students today for a new school year. Lyndonville is staggering the grade levels this week before all grades come back next week for in-person classroom learning each school day.

Lyndonville is able to offer all students the option for in-person learning each day, rather than a hybrid approach like many districts where students come in to school for classes two or three days a week with the other days remotely at home.

Lyndonville, which has 630 students in grades PreK to 12, can accommodate all students with social distancing guidelines in place. The district has three grade levels at the elementary school, which is being used again after closing after the 2011-12 school year.

This year the district will have PreK and grades 5 and 6 in the elementary school.

The district has many new protocols in place to reopen during the Covid-19 pandemic, including taking students’ temperatures, spreading out desks, having students wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible, and making hand sanitizer available.

Jason Smith was interviewed last week in his office at Lyndonville Central School on Housel Avenue.

The district has signs and decals throughout the hallways, classrooms and campus, urging people to maintain social distancing and wear masks.

Question: This is your 26th year in education. (Smith started his career in 1994 as a social studies teacher in Albion.) How radically different is this start of the school year?

Answer: It has been a radical start, going back to March. I was telling the families when I did the reopening meetings, I began tongue in cheek by saying I’m a history teacher by trade. We’re learning this as we go.

I’m basically saying I am committed to learning about this and making changes, but understand I was brought up as a history teacher.

March 13 was the last day we had students here. It was unreal because on March 14th I started talking with the superintendents in the county and Paul Pettit (the public health director in Orleans County) and we all closed that day. It was a Saturday.

It was almost like when I was at Albion (as a social studies teacher) and we watched the towers come down in New York City (on Sept. 11, 2001). I watched with eighth-graders in the cafeteria hallway. Standing next to me was Joe Martillotta (another social studies teacher).

March 14th was another surreal moment. It took about four hours from 1 to 5 to get everything done that I needed to get done. Then my wife and I went out to dinner for the last time for a while. Then I went back to work that night and had a call with my administrators. It was very much like I can’t believe this is happening.

It’s been six months. It’s definitely been out of the ordinary. I’ve had many calls with superintendents in Orleans County and also in the Niagara-Orleans BOCES.

There has been a lot of communication, a lot of problem solving and working to meet the new challenges. There has been a lot of pieces to put together.

The district has two thermal scanners that doing rapid screens as students enter the hallways in the main building. That scanner will identify students who may have temperatures at 100 degrees or more. Those students will then be checked individually with infrared touchless thermometers. If they have a temp of 100 degrees or more, they will have to go home.

Question: Last year there was such abruptness with the schools closing and the switch to remote learning. This year I know Lyndonville is starting with the option of in-person learning all five days of the school week. At least you know what you’re getting into at the start of the school year.

Answer: We do have about 15 percent or about 80 students who have opted to do remote only, even though we are offering full person instruction. We are offering the remote instruction to our families.

But the other piece is if we get switched to remote by force or by choice, we wanted to make sure we had a better plan in place. As we developed our plan for reopening, we wanted to make sure we had plans for full in-person which we’re doing, hybrid or full remote.

If we have to go full remote, we wanted to make sure we have enough devices and that there are expectations for teachers, students and families for what it looks like.

For example, last year from March, April, May and June, we were on pass-fail. There wasn’t traditional grading because of the challenges we had. But this year, anyone who is on remote, whether they chose it or were on it by force, it’s going to be regular grading and feedback with tests.

We’ve upped our game and everybody needs to up their game and understand it’s going to be graded, whether you are here or not. That is one of the lessons we learned.

We learned to do mobile hotspots. We actually started planning on March 12th in anticipation of what could happen. We had started that inner game plan a couple days before not knowing it would go on for the rest of the year.

Question: Do you have a sense of the percentage of kids that need the mobile hotspots?

Answer: We purchased 40 of them. The ones that we purchased work very well with a Verizon signal.

When Aaron Slack (high school principal) and I drove around the whole district during the graduation parade, oftentimes our phones died because there wasn’t a Verizon signal out on this road or that road.

So there is a strong need (for mobile hotspots). Our school board is committed to having better high-speed internet. We want to engage in the political process to open up broadband.

We opened up the campus here in the library and later on we placed two hotspots at the White Birch and the Oak Orchard Assembly of God.

So obviously the need is strong. It is definitely a handicap for us.

Jason Smith is shown in the cafeteria at the elementary school, where there will be clear dividers in place at the lunch tables. The school building gave the district the option to shift two grade levels, fifth and sixth, from Housel Avenue to free up more space and reduce the number of people in the main school building.

Question: Are the two hotspots still there at the White Birch and the church?

Answer: They won’t be there right to start. We’re going to monitor it and see how it goes. They didn’t get a lot of use last year. It was a cost for us to have them. We will monitor it. People can still use this campus. They can use the Yates library. The students will have access to Chromebooks, too.

Question: People might wonder what has been the hardest part of being a superintendent during the pandemic?

Answer: Just the changing rules. The changing regulations. The communication from the state and making sure I get that communication out to the staff and the parents.

I think one of the new normals for us is we’ve all had to up our communication game. I’ve used all of our systems. I’ve become much more proficient with it. I’ve got the calls out, the texts out, links, all kinds of stuff and getting the website updated.

Those have been some of the challenges, getting as much information out as much as we can.

Question: You function as the chief communication person?

Answer: I do a lot of it or I have someone else do it but I have my hands on the button all the time. We have our website set up with all the alerts on there. I have a great staff, too, and we have BOCES service that helps us out. But if it’s an immediate need I’ll get it up there.

Certainly we miss our students. While we weren’t open since March, I saw one of our students at the EZ Shop. We just kind of smiled at each other and had a prolonged hello because we just missed seeing each other. You miss the hustle the bustle of students and staff in school. So that’s been hard.

And just the unknown and not knowing, and all the planning.

Mary Kurz, the school nurse, holds one of the infrared touchless thermometers.

Question: The fall sports starting on Sept. 21 is confusing with some sports able to go and others not.

Answer: The practices can start on the 21st. The frustrating part for all of us has been we’ve been able to have youth sports with contact but now there seems to be conflicting guidance. Our infection rate in our state is lower than other states, yet those states with higher (infection) rates are able to play football. Why can’t we do that or something similar here?

That’s been a frustrating part.

But we are excited to get the athletics back and again do that in a smart manner. The guidance says maybe two spectators per child and we’ll have to decide how we’ll manage that and keep the density down.

Question: Two spectators per kid that will be a hard deal.

Answer: That will be tough. Some of what is being tossed around is do we give each child two passes? We’re also going to try to livestream some of the events. If people can’t come in person they could watch it on YouTube. We’re going to look at a service for that.

The elementary school last year was used for an expanded PreK program after being closed since 2012. This year it will have PreK, fifth and sixth grades.

Question: If you didn’t have the elementary school option, would you have been forced to do the hybrid without in-person each day for everyone?

Answer: It would have been tight. By having classes there we’ve opened up space here so we can have spillover rooms. So it was definitely to our advantage to have that building. We’re even able to feed students over there.

It definitely made the process easier knowing that we had that space over there.

Question: In terms of a silver lining, I have to think the kids will be really happy to see each other and they will value in-person friendships.

Answer: Yes, we saw how quickly it all ended last March.

Another challenge we had going back to June was graduation. It was one big task at a time. In March and April it was getting the meals out and the technology out.

In May and June we started having talks about graduation, which is a huge event.

We kind of took a breath and waited for guidance from the state about reopening the schools. We formed a committee, and had that going on the last two weeks in July. Ultimately I did nine presentations, one to the board, six to parents and two to teachers.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed, trying to keep up with the federal laws and the state laws. You want to balance parent needs, student needs and staff needs.

Question: I’m guessing you haven’t had much of a break personally since March?

Answer: Me, no. I had a vacation I was going to take over Memorial Day weekend but it was cancelled.

I will say this, I try to give myself so downtime because the job can be so demanding. During the shutdown I was looking at emails 24-7 trying to keep up with what parents and staff needed, what students needed. I was in constant contact with the administrators. It wasn’t until July when I took every other Friday off. That’s what I was able to do. The idea of taking a week off, for one, where are you going to go? Every place I wanted to go was quarantined.

So you try to balance it out and keep your Sundays free. The job is challenging enough and you add (Covid) to it, it’s another 25 layers.

Question: What else would you like to say?

Answer: It’s been a good process, we’ve learned and we’ve grown as administrators, as staff, as teachers. We’ve all learned.

There are some things we will keep on doing when this (Covid) is done. For example I used to have to drive to Sanborn once a month for a meeting (with the Niagara-Orleans superintendents). Do I have to do that anymore when we can do the same thing online? It saves money. It saves time. It saves gas to do things here. Why do I have to drive there when every Tuesday I’ve been doing Zoom meetings with the superintendents, although there is value to meeting in person, but maybe we’ll do it once every three months in person.

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During pandemic, Y offers outdoor programs and reimagines space inside former Medina Armory

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 August 2020 at 11:33 am

Quick Questions with Greg Reed, director of Orleans County YMCA

Photos by Tom Rivers: Greg Reed, executive director of the Orleans County YMCA, looks forward to the building being able to reopen to the public.

MEDINA – Greg Reed, executive director of the Orleans County YMCA for nearly three years, has the building ready for a reopening if the state gives gyms the green light. (The state is expected to issue guidelines today for gyms on what precautions they need to take to reopen.)

The Y’s building has been closed to the public since 8 p.m. on March 16, although the site is running a day camp in a room in the basement where there are games and space for activities.

Reed said the former Medina Armory on Pearl Street has been given an extensive cleaning, and exercise equipment has been spaced out at least 6 feet. Some of the elliptical machines, tread mills, cardio-rowers and exercise bikes have been moved to the gym where there is more space.

The Y has shifted some programs outside, including a spin class three times a week, and other programs for kayaking, cycling, stretching and flexibility, and a boot camp.

The Y has 40 employees when it is fully operational. Reed and Jessica Lino are the only full-timers. Lino is director of membership and operations. “She keeps this place running,” Reed said.

The following interview with Reed was conducted Aug. 7 on the front steps of the Y. This was the day Gov. Cuomo announced whether schools would be allowed to reopen for in-person in the fall. The governor said schools could reopen as long as they submitted safety plans to the state and held three meetings with the community about the plans, as well as a meeting with teachers.

Question: You said 40 employees at the YMCA with two full-time. How many have you been able to keep working during this?

Answer: It’s been different throughout the structure of it, because of the PPP program and how they set it up. By the end of your eight weeks you’re supposed to try to bring all of your workforce back in order to have loan forgiveness and that is obviously what we wanted to pursue.

But then in about week 5 they changed it to where if your business is closed due to Covid you didn’t have to honor that. We were thinking how could we make this last long to really help us and get through closure.

At one point we probably had close to 20 employees back to work, whether that was back in the building or remote work. We worked on curriculum development. I had my youth sports lead instructor be creating curriculum for all of our youth sports program so that way it could be a program that lasts past him.

Some exercise equipment has been moved the gym where there is lots of space to spread out the machines. There is also hand sanitizer on a table.

Question: So you’ve been doing outdoor programs. When did that start?

Answer: So basically when the governor released that we could be doing outdoor, low-risk, recreational sports. So specifically in the guidelines they said kayaking is one of those things. When I saw that I wanted to run our kayaking program. It took a couple weeks after that to get it off the ground.

We just finished a session (for five weeks.) I want to say it was probably in the middle of June when we starting our first session of kayaking. We just started a new session that will go for five weeks.

Question: It’s got to be tough because you want to do things, and I think people want to be doing things out in the community.

Answer: Exactly. What our next pivoting move will be, a lot of it will be determined by what Governor Cuomo says today with what schools can and can’t do. We’re all just kind of waiting for that decision.

Some people in a kayak class get into Glenwood Lake in Ridgeway on Aug. 6. The class runs for 5 weeks and is led by Coby Albone in back.

Question: In terms of not only what you can do here but the childcare programs you run?

Answer: With how we can assist schools. We already run an afterschool and before-school programming so if schools can run then obviously we will still be running those programs. But if they are doing hybrid or virtual then obviously parents will have a lot of childcare needs so how can we fit and fill that void with the school year coming up on us.

Question: I knew you have been running the Eagle Pride daycare in Albion. What else have you been doing for childcare?

Answer: Actually we closed Eagle’s Pride Daycare permanently. That was in light of Covid. I want to say it was at the end of June that we notified parents. It was because of the increased regulations on us. The cost to run a childcare program is already difficult and then to  place an additional staff member in there to be working on sanitizing and keeping a safe, clean environment was something that we just can’t keep up with unfortunately.

Question: You would have needed another staff person?

Answer: Probably just to keep up with cleaning, disinfecting and regulations and all those things. I would imagine you probably would have to provide an increase in breaks to go with all the increased things to do it.

And when we polled our families only about half of them needed care. Then our ratios would have been lower but we’re still having to pay staff members to be there. There is definitely a lot of math that goes into running a childcare program, especially daycares.

Greg Reed is pictured in one of the rooms with exercise equipment that has been separated by at least 6 feet.

Question: So what would you be looking to offer schools this year if it’s not childcare?

Answer: It depends on what their needs will be. If it’s going to be afterschool programming, then we would do that.

If it’s something where kids are going to be home a lot more then we might do something similar to what we’re doing now with summer day camp. We could make it like a day camp integrated with learning and tutoring, giving kids the opportunities to do stuff.

I’ve already been talking with Medina schools. With the Education and Recreation Club downstairs, we have 12 computers down there and they are all hooked up directly to Medina Central School’s network. I can’t even get on those computers. You have to be a Medina student or teacher to get onto those computers and they are monitoring them to make sure the kids are using the internet safely. That was my desire when a donor was generous enough to give those to us. I decided I wanted the school district to own those so that way it’s monitored by them.

Question: So you really have to spring into action based on the governor’s announcements.

Answer: Yes. That will be something once that’s decided – I’ve already by talking with Mr. (Dan) Doctor (Medina’s director of community outreach) – even if they are able to do their program, with the high school students being every other day, if there’s any way he or someone else can work with us to maybe have an office hours time where could come in, sign up and use a computer, and then if they have any questions a staff member could be there. That way they would have an offsite place where kids could be. Even if it’s just for four hours a day at least they would have a place where they could go to check in and do work and have internet access.

This young kayaker is among the participants in the class offered by the Y.

Question: Is it strange for you being here at Y when it is so quiet when it was really hopping not long ago?

Answer: It has been sad to look at the graph of membership. Over the years we saw it go up and now it’s back down to lower than before I came.

Question: Financially, how is the local Y doing?

Answer: Membership drives a lot of what we do. Thankfully we’ve had a lot of gracious members keep their membership and be classified as sustainable members. Their membership dues are classified can be a tax deductible donation to the YMCA so we can keep running and Jessica and I can keep doing what we’re doing. The PPP loan has helped us continue as we have all moved on with the full-time staff on the shared work program. All of us are partially furloughed right now. But it’s to help conserve us so that way we can keep going forward. Grants, the United Way of Rochester was really gracious in bringing funds, as well as Dean Bellack from the Orleans County United Way. He’s been trying to get us additional funds to help us out.

I received some Covid relief from the Ralph Wilson youth sports legacy fund. A lot of the grants I had already received I requested if any of the grants could be reallocated to kind of help with general operating costs. A lot of them have been gracious to say a little bit can be moved around. Those grants helped us to do some things but they’ve really helped us to keep trucking forward.

Question: Even though you are largely closed down, there must be a lot of work to prepare to reopen.

Answer: When I’m here it’s very much administrative. It’s trying to keep things moving forward.

Question: With the kayaking program, do they call in and then you process that?

Answer: What we’ve mainly been trying to do, when we post it on Facebook, we’ve pointed people to messaging us on Facebook. That’s probably the easiest way to connect with Jessica or me. Because we have access to that all the time.

She and I are usually the ones signing people up and registering for things. We’re only here a handful of hours each day. To try to catch us is much more difficult than it used to be when we were open from 5 a.m. to 9 at night.

Question: I know the state has been reluctant to reopen the gyms. What does that mean for you and how long can you wait this out?

Answer: We’ll be rolling out some additional services to membership where we could possibly open up the building, just not as gym. We could utilize it for something different. I’m still processing that and what it could look like. It all depends on what schools end up doing.

There are also a lot more families looking at home schooling. We’re seeing if we could offer a Phys. Ed. program if anyone if doing home schooling. At least they would have an outlet. We have the gym and I used to be a Phys. Ed. teacher in Colorado State.

I think all of us have to think outside the box. That’s something we have told our employees. Our jobs are not going to work the same way they did. We might have to flex and do something different than before we did this. It could be an exciting opportunity if we choose to look at it that way.

Greg Reed, director of the Orleans County YMCA, hands a box to Andrew Lafave on June 12 during a food distribution at the Calvary Tabernacle church in Medina. Reed and Y staff have assisted at several of the events.

Question: I’ve noticed you and some of the Y staff have been helpful at the food distribution events. Why are you doing that?

Answer: Again, it goes back to when we had the PPP program. When my boss said we’re bringing people back and we have to find things for them to do, I was like let’s do good then.

I sent a team over to P.Raising Kids (child care center) to get their space ready, and cleaned and sanitized so they could open and offer child care services. Laura Fields works a lot at the Calvary Tabernacle food pantry. For a while we were able to pay her to be over there rather than volunteer her time. She has always requested Tuesdays and Thursdays not to work so she could keep volunteering even though we can’t pay her now to keep doing that.

My goal with this space has always been to fill community needs and we help out wherever we can.

Robert Batt (executive director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Orleans County) has been doing a great job with the food distribution events. Melissa (Blanar, Office for the Aging director) has done a great job coordinating them. Wherever we can lend a helping hand we want to try to. It is benefitting the mission and vision of the Y.

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Q&A: New Lee-Whedon director says libraries changing to be more dynamic

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 July 2020 at 12:15 pm

Kristine Mostyn says books remain popular, including with teens

Photos by Tom Rivers: Kristine Mostyn is the new director of the Lee-Whedon Memorial Library in Medina. She was the assistant director for 10 years under Catherine Cooper, who retired last month after 33 years at Lee-Whedon.

MEDINA – The new director of Lee-Whedon Memorial Library said the site on West Avenue has changed to offer more electronic materials and online programming. But she said books are still very popular, including among teen-agers.

Kristine Mostyn took over as director last month, following the retirement of Catherine Cooper, who worked at the library for 33 years.

Mostyn, 39, was the assistant director the past 10 years. She sat down for an interview on Friday in the “Teen Space” at the library, a spot with chairs and books for teenagers.

Question: Why stay here? It seems you have built up a resume and could go elsewhere?

Answer: I could and over the years there have been some offers from other libraries, asking me to apply there. But I really love the feel of Medina. It is a great community. It is very involved. All the businesses try to help each other. And the library and the people that work here are wonderful.

Question: Over the past 10 years this place has become more snazzy. How would describe these changes, how one big room has been several spots?

Answer: We made little spaces. We tried to do that because when you come in it is a giant room. It is nice to have that small feel, that it feels comfortable like you are at home.

Question: I’m sure people are wondering of the winter concert series, Finally Fridays, will keep happening?

Answer: I hope it will. We have plans to continue it as long as we are able to.

Question: That is an amazing thing that you get 200 people in here for those concerts on a Friday in February.

Is that unusual here at Lee-Whedon in creating the spaces, embracing artwork and having the concerts? It’s not just books and magazines.

Answer: We want to offer games and anything the people in the community want and need a space for. That is what we want to try to offer.

Question: I know you have a smaller meeting room. Is there local history in there?

Answer: There is. Right now it isn’t open. We call it the quiet room.

Question: What is your annual circulation and how has that been affected with e-Books, etc.

Answer: Our circulation is around 86,000. With electronics going up some of our print collections are going down. People are still borrowing materials, it’s just a different format.

Question: What do you see as the library of the future, or even the next five to ten years, if there will be big changes?

Answer: I don’t think there will be because overall electronic use has actually plateaued. The younger generation prefers books. There are times when they want a device when they are traveling for ease of use, but the teen-agers that are coming in are taking books so I don’t know that the print collection will change a whole lot.

Question: Why do you think that is?

Answer: It may have to do with them being on their devices so much that it’s a break from that.

Question: It looks like you still get a lot of new books. Have you had to shift some dollars away from books to electronics?

Answer: Our book budget has stayed fairly consistent. But how we divide it up between electronics and print changes. I know our Hoopla collection, which is online books and audio, with movies and TV shows on there, that used to be paid by the Nioga Library System. But starting in January, because the price has gone up so much, they can no longer do that. So we’re going to be taking on that cost which will be coming out of book budget.

Lee-Whedon has decals on the floor to encourage social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. This one near the entrance tells people not to proceed if they have flu-like symptoms. The library returned to its regular hours on July 6. 

Question: I should ask you about Covid. I see the Plexiglass dividers at the circulation desk. I wonder what other changes you’ve made to be open to the public.

Answer: So we’ve purchased all of the floor stickers for social distancing. We’ve added additional hand sanitizing stations. We’ve provided face masks and face shields to our staff.

Question: Why face shields?

Answer: Some people don’t like having the mask on all day. Having the piece across their forehead is easier for them to tolerate. Also it is clear for people who are hard of hearing. They can at least see your lips to try to hear what you’re saying better.

We of course have to disinfect all the chairs and tables. We have carts in the foyer. We have to leave everything out there for three days before we can bring it in and check it in and put it back on the shelf.

Question: Is the idea that saves you from cleaning it with cleaning products?

Answer: Yes. They’re saying for the paper and plastic with books if you let them sit for 72 hours, anything that is on there should die.

Question: You reopened how recently?

Answer: Curbside started in May, then in beginning of June we started doing by appointment. You could come in for up to half an hour, and browse and leave. The second half hour we would take to sanitize everything.

On July 6, we started to be open for our regular hours and people could come and go.

Question: When I get up from this chair will someone have to come over and sanitize it?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Have you seen a significant drop in people coming in so far?

Answer: There is a significant drop. We’ve been talking about it. Some people aren’t aware that we are open. We have it up on social media, on our web site, and I’ve put an ad in the Pennysaver. We just added another sign outside that we are open, and please come on in.

We think some people are still afraid. They are just not sure. We have a lot of parents coming in without kids because they don’t want to take a chance with their kids being exposed to anything. So I think people are afraid.

Question: I think the interloan library program has resumed.

Answer: It has not resumed. They’re just not ready to start that yet. We are getting deliveries, but it’s just our books being returned to us, and we have to isolate those for 72 hours as well.

Kristine Mostyn is pictured with Samantha Covis, the new assistant director. Covis was a desk clerk the past three years. She has a master’s degree in library science from the University of Illinois.

Question: Are you happy to be in this line of work?

Answer: I love it. I order books, I order the DVDs for the collection. I see the numbers for what people are borrowing. I get to talk to people about what they like and try to make sure our collection reflects the community.

Question: It seems like all the libraries in our county have stepped it up with their facilities and programs. They aren’t just passive sites.

Answer: Correct. We aren’t just stagnating. When we closed on March 16, we had no intention of having online programming for summer because we’ve never had to. We’ve always done in-house. While we were closed we instituted all new software that all the staff had to learn while they were home.

Now we’re offering on-line summer reading, which is actually turning out really well.

Suzanne (McAllister, the children’s librarian) and I were both doing videos on Facebook. Parents could in and pick up a kit for their kids, and bring it home and do it with us through a video. They log their reading online on our beanstalk site.

Question: What else is there to say?

Answer: We have hired a new assistant director, Samantha Covis.

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