Each year, at about this time, the weather begins to take a turn for the worse. Ice, snow, sleet, or any other wintry mixture always seem to appear at morning commute time. Some days the weather is so bad that canceling or delaying school is easy. Other days making that decision is not so easy. I’m often asked how I make that decision and a two years ago I wrote about if for the FWSU Story. As yet another storm approaches our region, I thought I would repost my story in case any of you were curious about the Anatomy of a Snow Day.
What student doesn’t like a snow day? As a Superintendent, I vividly remember snow days being the highlight of winter when I was in school. Unfortunately, growing up near the ocean, snow days were few and far between. Living in northern New England for the past 30 years, I have experienced many snow cancellations. Some seemed “justified” – others not so much.
As a student, I always wanted to be able to cancel school – I guess I should have been careful what I wished for back then! Now it is my responsibility to consider the impact of weather on the safety of our students and staff. It is never an easy decision. Today as I watch the great Nor’easter of 2014 churn from my office window, I thought I would give a glimpse behind the scenes into how the decision is made to cancel school in FWSU.
Usually, the process begins when our local weather experts on TV drop the first hint about a coming weather event. I find myself immersed in weather reports and weather websites frequently this time of year to learn all I can about any approaching storm. As more details begin to emerge, I consult with other superintendents in the Champlain Valley. Although we lead different school systems, we have many broad community connections since we share students attending regional technical centers and students who are tuitioned to other school districts. At FWSU, we have students attending technology academies in St. Albans, Burlington, and Essex. We also have students enrolled in high schools all throughout the Franklin/Chittenden County area.
Sometimes we have enough information to easily predict conditions a day prior to the big event. However, most of the time that is not the case. Today my morning began at 4am when I awoke to begin monitoring the weather and communicating with principals, area superintendents, and the FWSU Facilities Director. Today I had no power at home, which made communication a little tricky. Fortunately, I found the exact spot in my house where my cell phone works most of the time!
Principals in our system are in direct communication with bus directors and the amazing road crews that keep our streets plowed while we are all still sleeping. Principals gather information and share what they have learned. This morning I was engaged in over twenty phone calls, texts and emails before 5:15am. The news we gathered from every corner of FWSU was clear – our roads were in tough shape and the storm was not ending anytime soon. Today was an “easy” call to cancel school. As I drove into the office I passed a snowplow in the ditch and was glad that we made the decision not to transport our students today.
Once the determination to cancel school is made, the principals spring into action. They immediately contact all the local news agencies, update webpages, and activate our phone/email messaging system. We like to have this completed prior to 6am to give everyone plenty of time to make arrangements. Once this is complete, we can then breathe a quick sigh of relief and get ready for the day ahead.
The decision to postpone school is not easy. Usually, some are happy that school is closed and others are frustrated. I fully realize that in some instances, a decision to close school impacts families a great deal. I also realize that holding school in poor weather conditions has the potential to jeopardize safety. It can be a tightrope act.
Hopefully, many of our students took time today to enjoy our winter wonderland! You can also enjoy a student/aspiring young filmmaker’s perspective here. Maybe some our own FWSU students are working on a similar project today.
Ned Kirsch is Superintendent of Schools at FWSU. He is a constant contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @betaVT