Welcome to 2016 – It’s beginning to feel a lot like winter!

IMG_1254Welcome to 2016! I hope everyone experienced a relaxing holiday season with family and friends. We asked our staff and students to take time away from school and homework over the winter break to spend time with their families, read a good book, visit relatives, or simply do those things that families accomplish together – cleaning out a closet or repairing something around the home.

Now it’s time to get back to school and re-engage with our learners as we head toward the end of the first semester.

January also heralds two important processes for our community – inclement weather decisions and budget season engagement

Anyone who’s experienced what it means to close or delay schools is well aware of all the frustrations that snow and ice bring to our lives here in Albemarle County. We work hard to keep our schools open but if we have ice or a snow storm, it often means school closures occur even after roads are clear in the urban areas. Albemarle still is a very rural county and many roads that our buses travel are unpaved, mountainous and narrow once beyond of the urban ring and off our main highways.

I am often asked how the decision is made to close schools in winter and what helps guide the final decision. Chief operations officer, Dean Tistadt, explains the division’s school-closing decision-making process in response to winter weather in this video.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNPFBRgGEC4]

We also know that child care, work schedules, and school closures collide to create frustration for parents and employees alike even as our children sing “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” That’s why school closing communication is so important during the winter.

To communicate clearly, we use every media outlet possible including notifying parents as soon as possible through our electronic communications system.This can mean a late evening or early morning wake-up call communication from the school division.If you haven’t signed up for the system and wish to do so, please contact your school’s office staff as soon as possible.

Sometimes, we don’t have enough information to make an evening call. In that case, we need  spend all night monitoring multiple weather system services as well as contacting state and local public safety, VDOT, and surrounding division transportation teams. We also put our own school transportation road assessment team “boots on the ground” to assess road conditions and report in prior to a decision being made.

Around 5 am, I receive a call from Transportation Director Jim Foley and Dean Tistadt in operations and we go through the checklist of data related current and potential weather and road conditions – not just in Albemarle but also in surrounding counties (on the first day of school, I road a Stone-Robinson Elementary bus that crossed into both Fluvanna and Louisa counties. This also can happen with Nelson, Green, Orange, and Buckingham.) We together use the checklist data to make our best analysis of the potential for inclement weather, Mr. Foley makes a well thought out recommendation and only then do I decide to open or close schools.

The worst case scenario occurs when bad weather arrives after buses are on the road (drivers begin leaving to start routes often by 5:00-5:30 am) or a storm system changes course at the last moment. That’s when our team sometimes makes an early morning decision that isn’t in sync with the incoming weather despite our best deliberations. Overall, our calls have a high rate of being on target. However, we know that snow and ice sometimes defy the best meteorologists’ forecasts and we get our decision wrong as a result. However, our entire team appreciates that parents know and support that our job #1 is to always keep children. Sometimes that means we need to close school due to snow or ice.

Some important reminders:

  • Please update your child’s childcare plans after school in the event of an early closing if those have changed since the beginning of the school year. You can contact your school’s office staff to do this.
  • Make sure your child knows the current early closing plan as well as your child’s after school care provider.
  • If your child’s plans need to change after school due to an early closing, please call school office staff as soon as possible to communicate plan changes. Office phone lines stay very busy on a snow day but do not rely on email to communicate a change in plans since it may not be read in time.
  • Review transportation plans with your teen driver in the event of inclement weather. One of my greatest concerns is the accident potential associated with inexperienced teen drivers on our highways in bad weather.
  • School buses are safe transportation vehicles and our drivers routinely go through required training and each driver holds CDL commercial driver’s licenses. Our drivers are prepared to drive in bad weather.

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  • Follow us on Facebook and twitter @k12albemarle.org

 

 

 

Budget work has been in progress for months and I will do my official presentation of the 2016-17 funding request to the School Board on Tuesday, January 19. More information will be provided here in the coming weeks. Here’s a link to the budget calendar.