Above: EGHS opened for school as usual Jan. 10 but water in the front of the building was a challenge.
By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.
When I was growing up, there was magic when we would listen to the radio to hear if we had a snow day or a delay. We would wake up early, grab a portable radio, and listen to the broadcaster go through every school in lower Westchester County, New York. The hope was that we would hear, “Mt. Vernon Public Schools, closed!” If we missed our town the first time, we would have to listen to the entire list again. How did it happen? Who made the decision? How was the decision made?
As I’ve moved along through my educational leadership, a lot of the mystery has made itself clear. There’s less “magic” for me and more of a decision-making process I go through as superintendent of schools. Clearly, there are no more transistor radios, with students huddled together under blankets, hoping to hear the name of their school district. Now, it’s automated. I record one voicemail message. I type one short text message. I write a more extended email. With the push of one button, I can reach out to our entire school community.
In the interest of transparency, I am sharing some insight into how we make decisions about delays and cancellations when inclement weather occurs. When we know there is snow on the ground, we contact the Town of East Greenwich Department of Public Works to ask for an update. They will share up-to-the-minute information on the current conditions and, if possible, the timetable to address any known issues. We will decide at that point using this information and the forecast for the remainder of the day. That is a much cleaner and easier circumstance than what occurred last week.
In the case of last Wednesday, Jan. 10, when the weather event was not snow falling or already on the ground but heavy rain, wind, and melting snow. I was prepared to hear that schools did not have power, especially given what happened when we had another rough storm in November. When I talked with our Director of Facilities, Robert Wilmarth, a little before 5 a.m., I was happy to hear that our schools were ready and all had power.
We get information from our partners in DPW on days like Wednesday if trees are down, and they always let us know if there’s flooding. On this particular day, that information came to us after 6:45 a.m., and because we have to notify our bus company of any changes in status by 6:30 a.m. at the latest, it was too late to call for a delay.
It wasn’t through any fault of DPW. The flooding occurred when the streams overflowed, and that took place after we could inform the bus company. This was simply poor timing.
I’m truly grateful for our partnerships with the Town of East Greenwich that help us make these difficult decisions when we have challenging weather conditions. I hope this helps our community better understand why we handled the events of last week in the manner we did, with the information we had at the time.
My best guess at the future forecast is that there will still be a little magic this winter in East Greenwich!
Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.