Editor’s note: This post from the Winter 2013 edition of The Octorara Outlook, Octorara High School’s quarterly newspaper, is published with permission.
By: Annalyce Daprix
Everyone enjoys a snow day. The night before a storm, students anxiously sit by the phone and constantly reload the school’s website. Below is an exclusive interview with Dr. Newcome outlining the process of how snow closings occur for schools.
Q: Who makes the final call for snow days?
A: I do.
Q: What time do you usually make your decision?
A: The goal is to have a decision by five o’ clock in the morning. Because of transportation there’s a timing that has to happen so that the bus drivers can be informed.
Q: How often do irate people respond back?
A: Not often, we get one or two each time.
Q: What else comes into play with a school closing?
A: The process is at about four o’clock, I get up, turn the news on and see what’s happening. At the same time, Mr. Althouse, with the bus company, is up and out riding around on the roads. By 4:30 at the latest, he and I talk. He will tell me what’s happening and by that time I have a good idea of what the forecast is. Around 4:45, I have a call with surrounding school districts to see what’s happening with them. Sometimes we do the same things, sometimes we don’t.
Q: How do you inform news stations?
A: We have a calling chain so once I make a decision, I call my secretary, Mrs. Hardy, I call Mr. Carlsley, the business manager, Mr. Blantz, and about five other calls. Those people then have calls they make. Then the different principals call different radio stations and such. I think we only call two radio and two TV stations now because we have the automatic phone call go out and the website is updated.
Q: Do you know what our make-up days will be now?
A: Yes. Our makeup days are March 7 and April 17.
Q: If we miss any more days, are they tacked onto the end of the year?
Q: Does anything financial come into play?
A: Yes. The school district is reimbursed for having school. We have bills that we pay, the state reimburses us based on how many students come, and how many days and hours attended and unattended. When we don’t make up a day that costs us money which is our perdiem day. In the past, we have had to go a couple extra days but we haven’t made the seniors go and we actually have to pay around $7,000 a day just because we didn’t have the seniors come in. So there is financial consideration and that’s why we make the days up. The state says you have to go a certain number of days and if you don’t, they penalize you by taking away your reimbursement.
Q: Who is in charge of clearing the campus when it snows for a 2 hour delay and a closing?
A: Our buildings and grounds folks do it. They do most of it; we do sub-contract for the some of the heavy lifting with Bulldog Construction.
Q: Do you know what time they come into do that?
A: They come in at different times, depending on whether it’s a delay or a closing. If it’s a delay, they are in here by 5:30 working on it because they have to have it ready for buses to be able to come on campus by 9. If it’s a closing, they don’t have to be as fast.
Q: Is the process stressful?
A: There is some level of stress, yes.
Q: Do you get any sleep the night before a big storm?
A: I sleep well but I get nervous and wake up before the alarm. If you notice with most storms, the pattern is they are going to start somewhere during the rush hour.
(Top image courtesy of Bill Bittle of Cochranville)