STILES SIMMONS: Snow days ... bah humbug!

By Stiles Simmons

Baldwin Community Schools Superintendent

I am sometimes asked what I enjoy most about my job as Superintendent of Baldwin Community Schools. My reply is always "creating opportunities for children." I am then often asked what part of my job is least enjoyable. My reply is always "snow days."

For many Superintendents and school leaders, deciding to call a snow day can be rather stressful, especially knowing not everyone will be pleased with the decision. So what makes a snow day so challenging for school leaders?

To begin, school leaders must be aware of the weather for the day in question and for the next few days to follow. I have two apps on my phone, Radar Now and Google Now, which help me track weather patterns each week. I also rely on 9 and 10 News to provide up to the minute information regarding the weather. Next, when the forecast calls for inclement weather, school leaders find their work day stretched from 10 hours to 16 hours. I watch the weather reports until 11:30 p.m. before going to bed, and I rise at 4:15 a.m. to check weather reports, road conditions, and monitor school closing reports. This is what my workday looks like on most days during the winter season.

If I must call a snow day, several steps are taken to communicate the decision to students, parents, staff and community members. I first contact Dave Stanulis, Director of Technology for Baldwin Community Schools, who is responsible for checking road conditions along U.S.10 West and M-37 South to the school. He and I share our assessment of road and weather conditions. I then contact the Lake County Road Commission to get their assessment of the roads. If we agree that road conditions are too dangerous for students and staff, then the decision to cancel school is made. I generally use my Twitter account (@StilesXSimmons) to provide instant notification to those who follow me on Twitter. For those without a Twitter account, we communicate school closings through local media outlets, automated phone calls, and direct phone calls to staff and Yates Dial-A-Ride. It is always my goal to communicate school closings before 5:30 a.m.

During the past two winter seasons, we have experienced extreme weather temperatures. This has added to the stress and challenge of calling a snow day. Like other school leaders across the state, I need to be aware not only of what the thermometer reads, but also of what temperatures feel like to determine if it is safe to have students walking to school or standing outside waiting for the bus. We have established 15 degrees below zero as the temperature for closing school. According to the experts, a "feels like" temperature of 19 degrees below zero can lead to frost bite within 30 minutes. Obviously, we want to protect our children so we established a temperature just above the minus 19 degrees mark.

As the winter season sets in upon us, I would like to encourage parents to make sure your child is dressed in layers to protect against cold temperatures. I would also like to encourage our students to read a good book, complete homework assignments and/or create something cool when you find yourself stuck inside on a snow day.