"Everyone wants to be a second guesser, few want to first guess," (Michael Smith, Superintendent of Schools at Tuscola Community Unit School District #310, Tuscola IL). That was a tweet posted this last Friday, and I couldn't resist tagging it as a favorite!
By the time the dust had settled last week, we had just over a day and a half of school. Three weather related cancellations in one week are certainly not a common occurrence. That pushed our total for the year to five snow days. The funny thing in reality is this hasn't been all that bad of a year. We have had only two major winter weather events: one right before Christmas, and the other one this last week. But when taken in totality, five snow days is quite a lot.
No matter what the decision is, I tend to get feedback (and input into the next cycle of winter weather). The feedback is both positive and negative. On the same day I have had people call me with "Good decision", to "I can't believe you cancelled school/didn't cancel school. The only thing we can do is look back with the benefit of hindsight to know whether or not we got it right.
Thankfully weather forecasting has improved dramatically over the past several years! Although far from an exact science, these days a forecast typically begins to firm up about 24 hours prior to the first snowflakes flying. Once we have an idea of the forecast, the phone calls [between districts] begin. (I heard a comment last week where someone hypothesized that all superintendent's must talk to one another when making a school announcement. This is not a hypothesis, its a fact!) Phone calls between superintendents center on when calls and cancellations need to be made, what special circumstances may be going on in that particular district, and what the road conditions are like in that district. And when that call is made, superintendent's want to make sure that we are not out on a limb. While not a hard and fast rule that everyone is going to do the same thing, it is reasonable to use the counsel of colleagues when making these decisions.
While a snow day or late start is a welcomed gift to many students and staff, affording them an opportunity to sleep late or enjoy a quiet relaxing day at home, it is anything but for school superintendents. The day begins very early during a snowstorm. My day begins around 4:30 a.m. with a long drive through the district to check the condition of the roads. During those drives, we are in constant communication with colleagues who are doing the same thing. Those conversations typically focus on the following salient points, "Where are you?" (If they are on a road that is adjacent to the district line it tends to be very valuable information.) "How are your east-west roads compared to your north-south roads? What are you going to do?"
No, it is not a given that we will do the same as Cedar Falls, or that Gladbrook-Reinbeck will do the same as Hudson. But, what those districts are doing is valuable information that we all take into careful consideration when making the decision that is best for our individual school district.