Sunday, January 9, 2011

A GSD Exclusive: An Interview with the Superintendent

As the first snow day of the year approaches (see below for the latest news), our Superintendent graciously took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk to GSD about her decision-making process on the big day. In order to accurately predict a snow day, the psychology of the Superintendent may be the key component (and the most difficult to decipher) in the snow day prediction biz.

You think she peaks out the window, makes a phone call, and then heads back to sleep? Think again, O Followers of the Flake! Her insights show the not-so-glamorous underbelly of the snow day decision, revealing the role of other superintendents in her decision, the importance of the highway department in each town, and the go-to media outlet for the very first announcement. We even snagged a special sneak peak at "the list" of all the tv and radio stations the Super calls, including passwords and secret codes. Absolutely riveting!

[Interview conducted December 21st] 

GSD: Did they cover snow day decisions in educational leadership school?

SUPER: No. But I would put snow days under "adaptive leadership."

GSD: Do you find it harder to make decisions for a whole district rather than one or two schools?

SUPER: It's more anxious. Last year I had Bill [Travis] and Bill [Ballen] to rely on, so it's different this year. It's definitely more nerve-wracking.

GSD: Describe your typical morning when you know you have to make a decision about canceling school.

SUPER: Well, I used to get up around 5:30 but this year I need to get up earlier. Probably 4:30 or 5:00. First I check and then I watch Channel 13 to make sure their reports are in sync. Once I do that, I look out my slider and see with my own eyes. Then I check the street out front to see what the roads look like.

GSD: Nothing like good old fashioned observation!

SUPER: [Laughs] Right! Anyway, my first phone calls are to the other superintendents to listen to them and how much snow they're dealing with. We talk and sometimes we have agreement but sometimes we don't. And then--I have to be honest here--I really rely on the Highway Department. Scott Park in Williamstown and Bill Decelles in Lanesborough. I can always tell by the tone of their voice how bad it is. If it's a tricky decision, I'll talk to the bus company and hear what they have to say. Once I make the decision, I start calling all the media. Take a look at this. [Moves painting of Mount Greylock aside to uncover a safe; spins the combination, opens the safe, and pulls out a list of at least 40 names and numbers]. They all have different passwords and code numbers so I have to dial them in. I call Channel 13 first and then Channel 10. After that, I call the custodians and all the principals, and then the announcement goes up onto the schools' websites.

GSD: What's the absolute latest that you will call off school?

SUPER: I'd say 6:00.

GSD: Do you think a missed call on one storm will affect your decision on the next storm?

SUPER: No, not really. The community has been very supportive because I tell them that it's not an exact science. That's important. But for me the decisions in the earlier part of the winter are harder. It's harder to call school off in October and November than in January. January and February storms are easier--there's less pressure. And at the end of the winter if you've had four or five it's harder then, too.

GSD: Are you saying the later it goes without a snow day, the easier it is to call one?

SUPER: January can be a long month. And March. I've had teachers tell me, "You know, March is a very long month," and I know what they're suggesting. It's not something I think directly about but it's in the back of my mind.

GSD: Thanks for the insight. We at GSD really appreciate the inside glimpse to what's involved on a potential snow day.

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