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Calling snow days
How superintendents decide when to close schools

02/26/15



Phone trees went the way of the dinosaur a decade ago — now most school districts use a mass calling service or email list to get the message out when school is cancelled. But how do districts decide to call a snow day? 

Bedford School District Superintendent Chip McGee is in his first year on the job.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot about the process,” he said. “Most important is to make sure kids are safe, and we have to balance that with having school. School days in February are preferable to me as opposed to tacking one on at the end of June.”
McGee subscribes to Hometown Weather Service, which sends him updated forecasts via email that he can retrieve from his phone. McGee said he factors in how much precipitation has already fallen, how much snow is coming and how fast it’s going to fall. Hometown also has a meteorologist on call 24/7 if McGee needs to call for the forecast, which is useful in the early morning.
“That really helps me hone in on the next four hours,” he said.
Bow and Dunbarton Assistant Superintendent Duane Ford uses the National Weather Service based in Gray, Maine. The National Weather Service is not on TV or any broadcast, and provides just the facts, Ford said, noting that it is pretty accurate when predicting storm patterns.
“We use that, sort of as a baseline,” Ford said.
Both McGee and Ford consult their towns’ police departments, since they have cruisers on the road 24/7. They also turn to their respective departments of public works people to get an update on road conditions. 
“They do a great job, but sometimes the timing of the storm might be right when our buses leave to pick up kids,” Ford said.
McGee said sidewalks and parking are other factors, as is making sure emergency exits are clear. For that, he looks to the district’s maintenance director.
“The overall question I’m asking is, is it safe for students and faculty to travel to school?” McGee said.
For Ford, some of his juniors and seniors go to Concord Regional Technical Center so if his district is closed and the other isn’t, that needs to be taken into consideration. 
“It’s not very simple,” Ford said of the process.
McGee said a lot of superintendents communicate with each other in the event of a storm.
“We have a network. We touch base with each other. And obviously, we all have our own unique situations. But we can compare notes and look at the factors and make sure we haven’t missed anything,” McGee said.
Buses are another issue. Bedford’s buses are housed outdoors, exposed to the elements, and extreme cold may create problems for the diesel-fueled machines, McGee said. They may not be able to get going without some prep time, which could cause a delay or cancellation.
For a superintendent or assistant superintendent, unless there is already a lot of snow and school was called the day before, work can start as early as 3:30 a.m. That’s when Ford said he gets up to get the forecast, talk to the DPW and police and text other superintendents. A decision is made by 5 or 5:15 a.m. at the latest, Ford said, because that’s when bus drivers start leaving their homes to head to work.
“I wish someone would develop an app that says, ‘You should close on this day,’” Ford said.
As for alerting people, McGee employs several methods, which include Facebook, a mass calling system, TV, radio and cable access.
“I make one call, record it, and it goes out to all parents, students, faculty, so people are notified that way,” McGee said. “I’ve got a whole slew of places I post it to.” 
 
As seen in the February 26, 2015 issue of the Hippo.





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