With three snow days in a row, some in the Centralia School District have had a few questions.
Surprisingly, “why?” was not a common one, however, “why wait so long to call it?” seems to be a common one.
Steven Chancellor, Centralia R-VI superintend of schools discussed with the Centralia Fireside Guard what goes into the process of calling off school in response to adverse weather.
The timing, he said, is an essential part of efficient communication, making sure the message gets to the people who need
to receive it.
The district uses a three-pronged approach to spread the word.
- Local television stations
- The districts’ Facebook account
- The district’s telephone tree
That list is related to the timing of district cancellation announcements.
“our Facebook analytics show that most of our people are using Facebook between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m., which also means they are likely holding their phones.”
Chancellor continued: “That’s why we waited the first night, I thought that way the odds were in our favor of getting the most people informed with our initial communication.”
He said he understood that neighboring schools cancelled earlier.
“I always hate to cancel from a forecast, but as our updates and briefings got closer it became apparent that something was going to happen. In my mind, at the worst possible time, in the middle of the night… I very much prefer calling school off the night before, not the morning of.”
Returning to the timing of the initial announcement, Chancellor said he wanted to make sure parents received the message and to minimize any possible miscommunication.
“The reason we waited till 6 through 6:30 to call, is I wanted people to be home, I wanted parents to be home to get the first of what I thought could be a couple sendings… Some would ask why that would be important. I think the general public would be surprised with how many bad phone numbers we have, how many don’t have voice-mails set up or missed calls.”
He said when they issue the calls during the day, administrative staff becomes occupied fielding “I missed a call from this number,” calls. “It’s not that those calls are annoying to us, it tells us how few people we reach with our initial communication.”
He said the reason they made the calls regarding the Thursday and Friday cancellations earlier is because “people had he benefit of looking out the window and seeing how bad it was. It was not going to be a tremendous shock to people that we were going to cancel school on Thursday and Friday.”
Regarding the window factor, he said that meant he was less worried about the possibility of miscommunication.
“There is not,” Chancellor said when asked if there was a financial impact to calling off school.
One aspect of the district’s revenue, he said adding “this is a very simplistic explanation, we get paid through the state, on a minimum number of seat-hours. As long as collectively through the school year we hit that minimum number of hours, we don’t have any negative financial impact.” The majority of the district’s budget, he said is based on local taxes, not state funds. “So it’s even less of an impact than some districts who rely more heavily on state aid.”
He said over his last 11 years as a school superintendent the function of calling off school for inclement weather has not significantly changed.
“The Navy SEALS have a saying ‘The only easy day was yesterday,” Chancellor said. “I would rob that decision and say the only easy snow cancellation was the last one. Each time I have to go out and try and make that decision, it feels like the hardest decision I have every had to make… I don’t know if worry is the right word. It is always on my mind, based on this road, or that report, are we making the right decision.”
One part of the equation not often discussed is the bus-driving staff.
Harsh weather driving is stressful, he said.
“I very much want our bus drivers to feel confident on our roads, on our busses, with our kids. I want them to have a sense of safety and security while driving and I do think it’s possible to tax those things when it comes to winter weather.”
He said bus drivers have the same thoughts as everybody else when driving in hard weather… “they squeeze the wheel a little harder. Our senses become more heightened, awareness more acute. I think that is true with our drivers. I am incredibly confident in our drivers. They are good at what they do, and they all have a lot of experience… It would be foolish of me not to take advantage of that experience.”
Part of Chancellor’s morning routine when the roads are challenging, is to already have driven parts of all the routes and be there in the morning when the drivers arrive at the bus barn to tell them what he saw. “I want them to have confidence and I will try and be encouraging. I’ve already been down at least one road for every driver… Give them a few spots to watch out for and try and talk about the good spots,,, make sure they know I trust them. I’m asking them to go out and pick up our clients. If I can show them I’m confident in their ability to do that and confident in our ability to do what’s right for our kids, that gives them confidence too.”