Monday, November 12, 2012

But It's Sunny Outside

On Monday, October 29, I sent all faculty, staff, and administrators home at 3:00, or immediately after their students departed - whichever came first.  Like the rest of the Northeast, I was keeping an eye on Hurricane Sandy and her path up the eastern seaboard.  I was unsure of our status for the following day and was planning to make a decision in the early morning hours, much like a snow day. 

As I've referenced in an earlier post, there are a substantial number of events that present themselves to Superintendents that aren't covered in "Superintendent School."  School closings due to weather is on the top of that list.  To that end, I reached out to a colleague during the day on October 29, and she had already connected with a former superintendent to ask his advice on the impending storm.

Typically, school closings are the kinds of calls that rarely make everyone happy - but must be made with students safety foremost in our minds.  We cannot educate our students if they are not safe in our classrooms, thus we must make these types of decisions carefully.

My plan to make a decision regarding Montpelier Public Schools in the early morning hours of October 30 was still intact as I left the office on Monday.  Before I arrived home, several schools in Chittenden County had made the decision to close, including the Supervisory Union where my own children go to school.

I was still confident that waiting was the right decision - until I looked at the growing list of schools all over the state of Vermont that were closing before 5:00, the night before!  Some doubt started to creep in and I was very unsure of what to do.

Living in Vermont has a substantial number of benefits, not the least of which is it feels more like a small town than a state.  The meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association work from the Burlington International Airport.  They kept us updated on this storm, sending us alerts as early as October 21 letting us know about the possibilities associated with this storm.  This information is invaluable to making a decision regarding school closing. 

I went back and re-read all the e-mail messages, reviewed the storm's current track, and still was not sure what to do.  There was a chance the storm could miss us - there was a chance it would be a repeat of Hurricane Irene, barely one year earlier, that devastated portions of Vermont. 

It was then that the voice of reason spoke to me: My Wife.  She encouraged me to reach out to colleagues and find out what they were doing - share my information, listen to theirs, and make a decision together.  That is just what I did. 

My anxiousness began to diminish, as I reached out to Laurie Gossens (Washington South Supervisory Union), Bill Kimball (Washington Central Supervisory Union), and Nancy Thomas (Washington Northeast Supervisory Union).  We connected electronically and by putting student safety first, sharing the information that we each had, along with the best weather forecasting we could access, we together decided to close our schools. 

I was flooded with a feeling of gratitude for the collegiality that my fellow Superintendents and I displayed as we each navigated this tricky decision, based on what is in the best interests of our students.  We have committed to staying in touch throughout the winter, and as best we can, making our decisions collectively, with our students first and foremost in our minds.  To each of them, I say a heartfelt, thank you. 

And of course, I must credit My Wife for refocusing me on collective leadership.  YTD!

Much of Vermont was spared the wrath of Sandy - we know that parts of New York and New Jersey are still continuing to rebuild.  Our thoughts and good wishes are with the people who are still, and will still be, impacted by this storm.  If you are interested in participating in the relief efforts, the American Red Cross has set up a website:

While playing a game of wiffle ball on our lawn on Tuesday, October 30, my oldest son Patrick asked why there was no school for him or for me.  I told him, it was because of the storm.  He responded, "But Daddy, it's sunny outside."  And while I couldn't quite articulate the answer at the time, I know now, that I closed Montpelier Public Schools on that day thanks to my excellent colleagues in Washington County.