Ah, January. The lovely time of year when the white stuff makes an appearance, along with wind, ice, sleet, and other trendy terms like "Cyclone-Bomb" "Thunder-Snow" and "Snowpocalypse". While it's always fun to see snowmen, sleigh riding, and images of serenity that would be worthy of your wallpaper, it brings a sense of mystery for those in charge of opening or closing places. For Superintendents, this is one of the more frustrating components of the job. I tweeted about it a few years ago and retweeted it the other day the night before a blizzard was expected:
Besides not being able to correct a misspelling on twitter, I liked the overall message, and so did the 50 others (and 827 who engaged in the tweet, along with the 1927 people who saw the tweet). Twitter allows one to be blunt and get the message out, i.e. my reasoning for hating the calling of snow days.
People ask just what exactly happens when a Superintendent calls a day. There are three necessities I have followed:
- You have about 10 web browsers open looking at the weather.
- You are a part of a conference call system to see what other Superintendents in your area are planning on doing.
- You are in steady contact with the local police Chief and DPW Superintendent.
All three of the above should also rotate around one topic and one topic only: SAFETY. If safety is in play, there is no need to deliberate anything; you close and you're done.
If the buses can't run, you're done. School buses are modern marvels; very different from ten years ago. They are designed to run in all kinds of weather, snow included. However, safety still has to be considered. AND - the bus drivers who drive the buses need to get to the bus garage. No bus drivers, no buses.
If sidewalk corners where bus stops are located are not cleared, you're done. The law says students have to have a safe way to get on and off a bus. Climbing over a hill of snow is not safe.
If the majority of your staff is over 10 miles away and the roads are questionable, you're done. One can't reasonably expect people to all have a perfect commute, despite when you leave to get to work.
If you have facility problems (older buildings tend to have major issues with boilers, furnaces, and frozen pipes), you're done. I am not bringing people into a building that is cold, has no running water, or both. It's illegal and unsafe.
If you are a walking district and there aren't any clear pathways, you're done. As the chief school administrator, I am responsible for portal-to-portal safety; from the time your kid leaves the door of your house to the time he/she enters it. I there is no safe way to walk, I'm not going to risk it.
If you have student drivers, you're done. Do you remember your first time driving in the snow? As a parent, do you want your kid rushing to get to school in snow? Let's compound that with the notion that all students drivers think they are professional NASCAR drivers as is because of their year's of driving experience on XBOX & Playstation.
If the head of government (Mayor, Governor, President) declares a state of emergency, you're done (and yes, I like this one the most, because the pressure no longer rests on me).
In my 5th year of doing this, I'm about 85% accurate in closing school. Yes, I keep a record. Why? Because I remember when I was a student and a teacher and how I griped when school was closed or when it didn't.
As a Superintendent, I wear many hats; I'm a cop, a firefighter, a legislator, a referee, a cheerleader, a coach, a teacher, and yes, even a weatherman. The one great things about playing a weatherman is using their statistics. Predicting the weather is no more than 17% of an estimated guess. I learned that in my doctoral statistics class last year (thanks, Dr. Don!)
Time to turn off my phone and suit up my girls - it's time to make a snowman!