From the desk of Supt. Czaporowski

As we approach our February break, I for one am glad that we are getting closer to the end of winter.  I am certainly looking forward to warmer weather.  However, we still have several more weeks to endure and I would like to take this opportunity to address snow day procedures.  One of the many responsibilities that superintendents shoulder is to call weather cancellation days or two-hour delays.  I assure you that all superintendents take this responsibility seriously and utilize a myriad of information including weather forecasts, current conditions, and community consultations, to make these decisions.  Simply put, we do the best we can with the information that we have.

Before I cancel school or call for a two-hour delay, there is quite a bit of groundwork that occurs.  The first calls that I make include the school transportation and maintenance departments, the Department of Public Works (DPW), the Westfield Police Department, the Mayor, other superintendents in the area, and in extreme cases, Emergency Management.  I ask about road and sidewalk conditions, the status of our school parking lots and walkways, and the conditions in Russell since we have a school there as well.  I even text various staff members from around the city to see how things are in their neighborhoods.  As you can see, many factors are taken into consideration.  In some cases, the roads may be fine, but since approximately fifty percent of our students our classified as walkers, I also need to consider whether residents have had the opportunity to shovel and treat their sidewalks.  Ultimately, a collective decision is made with the safety of our students and staff as the top priority.

Delivering the message to stakeholders is my next task.  To preempt bus departures, we must get the word out before 5:30 a.m.  Immediately I contact several central office staff members who spread the message to our local television and radio stations, post information on our district website, contact local cable channel 15, and notify our bus company.  I then post notifications on our district Facebook page and send out a robocall.  New this year, I also send out a notification via text message.  If the weather forecast calls for a significant storm, many superintendents will call cancel school the night before.  While some folks may criticize this decision, the reality is that many of our families appreciate the early call so that they are able to arrange childcare.

Most of us remember that last year we had a total of eight weather cancellation days.  One of those days really should have been a two-hour delay, but because it was also an early release staff development day (ERSD), it did not make sense to have our elementary students in class for less than an hour.  It also would not have counted as a full day of school in the eyes of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  For this reason, we established that moving forward, if it becomes necessary to call a two-hour delay on an early release staff development day that the day will become a full day of school for students and that staff development will be postponed.  When possible, this notification would go out the night before so that families are able to plan accordingly.

Last year, we did not get out of school until June 28.  This was inconvenient for many families across the district. Some families had to move planned vacations and some students had to delay participation in summer programs.  As a result, staff, students, and parents across the district encouraged us to investigate the possibility of alternative structured learning days, or blizzard bags, for this school year.  Our team did an abundance of research on this topic and implemented a pilot program that will go into effect after the fifth weather cancellation day.  We decided to start after the fifth snow day because we needed time to adequately prepare student assignments.  Our team also agreed with parents and student survey feedback that students should be able to have snow day experiences just as we did when we were growing up.

So far this school year, Westfield Public Schools has had to use four weather cancellation days, placing the last day of school on Wednesday, June 20.  As part of our plan, teachers are now explaining alternative structured learning day assignments to students.  The next called weather cancellation day will not be a blizzard bag day but the following day will be.  If we have a two-day event, we want our staff and students to be prepared.  And if we end up not using the blizzard bags, the assignments will be used before the end of this school year.

When weather cancellation days or delays are called, please know that we consider the safety of all our staff and students and I believe it is necessary to air on the side of caution.   Our pilot blizzard bag program is providing us with a nice safety net to ensure that we will not get out of school as late as last year.  And we will survey stakeholders again this June to revise the blizzard bag program for next school year.  Lastly, I’d like to acknowledge all of the work that the school maintenance workers do to get our schools ready in times of adverse weather and to the DPW staff for their tireless efforts to clear the roads during storms.  They all do a great job!

Stefan Czaporowski

Superintendent of Schools

Westfield Public Schools

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