It is with no small degree of sheepishness that I admit to you that my college-graduate son, a North Cross alumnus, is living at home. In his defense, he is working and studying for the LSAT and hopefully law school is in his future. But his presence does remind me of the days when his friends would text him in a poorly disguised attempt to influence my snow-day decisions. My wife was of little help in defending me because she was always on the receiving end of her own back-door lobbying efforts by fellow moms. (And, yes, I am talking about you Jeannie Fishwick.)
So, in advance of a predicted snowy winter and after the scare of Hurricane Florence and yesterday’s flooding, let me speak a little bit about the thought process that goes into a decision to cancel or hold school. But first, let me thank parents for their unbelievable good spirits yesterday after we, in hindsight, should have called school early. I know it was a huge hassle having to figure a way to get your children with all of the flooding. I am just thankful that there were no bad accidents. What could have been a really miserable afternoon was made so much better because of your smiling faces.
Back to school closings: First and foremost, we start from the premise that school needs to happen. Faculty have lesson plans, students have routines, parents need a place to send their kids while they work, and we have a certain number of hours of instruction that we need to provide. I always want to have school if it is at all possible.
Second, I look at the Weather Channel to determine when the weather event will begin and end, to see if things will get better or worse during the school day. We are fortunate that most predictions are pretty accurate, but there are times when I will delay school opening to allow me one last check before making a final decision. A delay also gives our maintenance crews time to plow driveways and shovel sidewalks.
My next consideration is the teenage drivers who have little experience in bad conditions. Snow is obvious, but as in yesterday’s case, the decision to keep teens from driving home was based on their unfamiliarity with the power of moving water. Just because a parent did his or her residency in Buffalo does not mean that it is safe for their 16-year-old to drive to school.
Then, I factor in the geography of where our families live. Weather on Bent Mountain is different than in the city and families from Franklin County and Blacksburg have longer commutes. Families who live in more remote locations are used to increased difficulty in getting to school, so I am willing to have school even when such conditions occur, but if it is the slightest bit dodgy in Roanoke, I do consider their longer commutes.
And finally, I consider neighborhoods whose snow removal from side roads is not as timely as we’d like. While this fact may buy us an extra snow day following a heavier snowfall, generally, I rely on our parents to find a way to get to a major thoroughfare, even if it takes some extra time.
One thing I try not to rely on is the decision made by public schools. Their status is good information to use, but their decision is always complicated by the fact that they run bus systems which add to their liability and complicate their decision. In the case of the County school system, they also have a large number of relatively rural schools which must be factored in when suburban schools are accessible. We are fortunate that we do not have busses and have only a single location to consider.
The decision to close school is always scrutinized in hindsight. It is readily apparent when we are at home on a perfectly fine day or at school in the middle of epic flooding, when we realize a mistake was made. While I do not anticipate mistakes, if, on the off chance, we do make one, I hope you will forgive us the error.
Again, let me thank parents yesterday for your forbearance. Please remember that if you should ever feel that it would be unsafe to drive to school, simply call the division assistant and settle in for popcorn and movies.
Christian J. Proctor, PhD
Dr. Proctor, the ninth head of school at North Cross since 2011, has more than 26 years of experience in education, 15 of which have been at the head of school level. He has served as headmaster at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, Louisiana, Grace Episcopal School in Monroe, Louisiana, and as Interim Headmaster at Wesley Academy in Houston, Texas. In each location, Dr. Proctor’s tenure was marked by creativity, innovation, and school growth.