Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Real Snow Storm

As I sit trying to determine if I should cancel or delay school tomorrow, four days after a winter storm, I am reminded that there are so many things I enjoy about being Head of Duke School. I love being with children; I love the rhythm of the school day. I enjoy seeing faculty grow and deliver a great lesson. Project culminations excite me, and the pace of the year is great. I have even made peace with the downsides--long hours, evening meetings, overseeing carlines. However, there is one part of my job with which I cannot abide.

I hate (even though my mother told me never to use that word) having to decide whether to call off or delay school because of a winter storm. Never is it lonelier, or colder, at the top than when wintery weather is on the way. The night of the impending “winter event,” I do not sleep well. I awake every hour and peek out my window, trying to pierce the darkness and see tomorrow’s weather. Then, at 5:00 am, I stumble from bed knowing I need to make a no-win decision. And what is worse, I need to make the decision with little expertise and knowing I carry a Northeastern bias.

For I am from the Northeast, where you go to school when it snows an inch or even 6. Indeed, when I first moved to the Southeast, before I was a Head of School, I appeared at my school’s parking lot more than once to learn that school had been closed because of an anticipated event or because of a flurry or two. I did not and do not understand that state of mind. However, I now work hard to realize that I am in an area that is not equipped nor experienced with snow. Where Wake County thinks fifty snow plows at the call is being “totally prepared” for a storm, I know the game has changed. Yet, I do not want to overreact and I do think that attending school is important, a good quality for a school person, I think.

So, I try to collect data at 5:00 am in the morning. I listen to the television weather reporter, who wants to oversell the storm because that draws in viewers and ad revenue. I look to see what other schools are doing, knowing the public systems must consider a myriad of factors, I do not—student drivers, buses on the road at 6:00 am and the memory of having students stuck in school overnight, not so long ago. I then look at other independent schools, knowing many of them also have student drivers. I, then, often take to the roads in my car. I try to ascertain how bad the roads are, looking for evidence of the dreaded black ice. Of course, many times the storm is predicted to hit at 7:55 am, right at drop off and my drive is for naught.

And then the loneliness hits. I know the clock is ticking. I must make a decision before 6:15 am and I know I cannot win. Students, and dare I say, teachers would love a delay or a cancellation. Two working parents need to get to work and want school opening on time. If school is open and a real storm hits, I have endangered a whole community. If I delay or call off school for a few flakes, I am a snow wimp, taken in by the Triangle snow panic. Most of these mornings I just want to go back to bed and let someone else make the decision.

However, a decision must be made and make it I will. But just once, I would love a real storm, a storm that drops a foot of snow; a snow that starts Sunday night at 8:00 pm and by the time I go to bed has dropped six inches on the ground and is going strong. Then I could make the decision that night and enjoy a restful sleep. I doubt it will happen.
-Thanks to Paul Bianchi, Head of Paideia School whose laments on snow days inspired my own.