Friday, January 21, 2011

snow delay

This morning, I got up at about 4:15 a.m. so I could begin the process of determining whether I should close my campus for the day, have a delayed start or just open as usual. I have employees and students who must be at the campus by 7:00 a.m., so I try to make the decision no later than 5:15 a.m. This gives me time to record a message on our Inclement Weather Hotline and contact the local television and radio stations. Getting that done early allows the commuters to avoid driving to the campus, then turning around and driving home.

Here is my process:

Step One: Turn on the television and check the three major networks and the weather channel to hear the weather reports and see if there are any school closing reports. This morning, the news reports indicated that all public schools were delayed and that main roads were pretty clear, but the secondary roads were still dangerous. I knew right away that we would open, so now the decision would be whether to have a delayed start or not.

Step Two: If possible, get in my car and drive to the main road, which is about a half mile away from my apartment building. This morning, the snowplow had not gotten to my section of the complex. But I could hear the scraping noise of the plow, so I walked around the side of the building and watched as the plow made a long, slow first pass in front of the long building next to mine. It was quite a sight. There was a beautiful spray of snow that flew up through the air on either side of the machine, so it looked like it was snowing again. He actually stopped the machine when he was close to me and got out to make some kind of adjustment. I waved to him and he came over. I asked him when he thought I might be able to drive up and look at the highway. He said he would clear a path for me next. I wanted to ask if I could ride in or drive the snowplow, but I instantly had a fantasy photo montage in my head of me driving the snowplow over a row of cars and into the Schuylkill River. Maybe not.

Step Three: Back inside, I climbed the stairs to my loft where my office is. I started up the computer and checked to see what all of the other private colleges were doing. This morning, all that were listed were announcing delays, most until 10 a.m. The University of Phoenix was actually announcing an 11 a.m. start.

Step Four: Compose message for Inclement Weather Hotline. I always type this on my computer and read it into the phone when I call to record the message. That way, it will sound smooth and I will only have to record it once. But I don't record it yet. I want to consult with colleagues first.

Step Five: Text my counterpart at my sister school in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. We like to compare notes and we typically take the same action. This morning, she was having an in-service, which meant a later start with no students in the building. I was on my own this time.

Step Six: Drive up to the highway. I just like to look at Highway 422 to see how the road looks and to see how many cars are out there on the roads. This morning, 422 looked pretty good. The plows were still clearing, but cars were beginning to get through.

Step Seven: Check again. This time, more schools had posted delays. I made the decision to go ahead with the delay.

Step Eight: Text my supervisor with my decision. This gives him an opportunity to weigh in on my decision. This morning I waited a while, but did not hear from my supervisor. It was getting close to 5:30 a.m., so I went ahead with the delay.

Step Nine: Call Fox news and go through the automated process to announce our delay. Usually this takes a while because everyone is calling in at once. I usually get a busy signal the first 3-5 times I call. This morning it was more like 7 times! But I finally got through.

Step Ten: Call our own Inclement Weather Hotline and record a message. This morning, I changed my message slightly because our students got a little confused last time.

Step Eleven: Call all managers, just as a courtesy. This is not strictly necessary, since we have the Hotline, but I like to do it just to make sure. Some of them like to call their employees, so I call them to let them know.

At this point, it is about 5:45 a.m., sometimes closer to 6 a.m. I am wide awake, so I go downstairs to make breakfast. That first cup of coffee is wonderful after all of this activity.

I have to say that this is a process that I absolutely HATE. I would love to abdicate the decision to someone else, but that really isn't an option. It is really impossible to make everyone happy. A closure or delay makes some people happy and other people furious. NOT closing or delaying makes some people happy and other people furious. It is simply a no-win situation. And no matter what you decide, multiple people always step up to question your decision and tell you that they would have done something differently. But then, that is the description of all leadership decisions, I suppose! But I will admit that it is very hard to listen to the criticism of any snow day decision! It makes me want to punch people in the nose! I always think that if they knew what I go through that they would just shut up!

All over the country, there are school administrators that are faced with this decision when there is bad weather. I truly sympathize with them, especially public school (K-12) administrators. They get the worst feedback. Like me, they simply can not make everyone happy. But again, it goes with the territory.

But let's end on a beautiful note. Here is a lovely photo of the Schuylkill River in the snow. This is the view from my apartment complex. Isn't it gorgeous? It makes me hate snow just a little less - but not much!!! Stay warm, everyone!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

In 1985, I accepted a job as a Human Resource Technician, Sr., at a mental health center in South Georgia. My job was to meet with mental health clients and make an assessment as to how they were doing on their current regimen of medication. There were four of us at the mental health center; a woman who served as the center director, a woman who provided day treatment activities, a woman who performed secretarial duties and me. All three of my co-workers were natives of the small South Georgia town.

On Tuesdays of each week, I conducted intake appointments with brand new clients. Theoretically, we had an M.D. on staff, but in truth we had a retired, hard-of-hearing, elderly doctor (age 91), who really depended on us to diagnose and determine starting dosages of the psychotropic medicines available at that time.

I had a great big Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) on my desk, along with a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). I was given a list of the most common psychotropic drugs and told how to determine starting dosages for the most common mental disorders. I would meet with a client and run through a barrage of questions designed to determine what their problem was. Sometimes I had a little information before I met with them. (“Johnny exposes himself to the grocery clerks at the Piggly Wiggly. He says Jesus tells him to do it.”) Sometimes I didn’t know a thing.

After I had met with the client, I would go to see the doctor. I would present the information I knew, in a very loud voice, along with a suggested diagnosis and a suggested medication and starting dosage. The doctor would say, “That sounds fine”, and then he would sign my case notes in the client’s file and sign the prescription that I had written up.

All of this seemed very reasonable to me. Years later, when I was working on my graduate degree, I realized that I could have killed someone, or that a misdiagnosis or an inadequate dosage could have caused the client to go do something terrible, which could have caused harm to someone or to themselves. But I didn’t think about any of that at the time. I was just following directives given to me by the director. It didn’t occur to me that she might be being stupid herself. She was a LOT older than me and had been working in the mental health field for a long time. She seemed very confident in my abilities and I stupidly allowed her confidence to persuade me that all of this was quite normal.

I was so unconcerned about what I was doing that if I had talked about my 15 months working there any time within the first two years following my departure, I would not even have mentioned the fact that I was diagnosing patients without the benefit of any training beyond a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. No, what I would have talked about is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

You see, the three women I worked with at the mental health center all used the N-word with ease. To them, all African-Americans were called the N-word without hesitation. They weren’t angry or being combative when they used the word. That was just what they called people who were African-American.

My parents raised their children to believe in the equality of the races. They worked very hard to ensure that we understood the importance of race relations and they made sure that they taught us to be keenly aware of racism and the insidious nature of inequality. By the time I was working at this mental health center, I had lived in North Carolina, Japan, Massachusetts and Georgia. I had spent quite a bit of time in Virginia as well. I had seen racism and I had heard people say shocking things and I had seen people do shocking things.

But these three women purported to be professionals in the field of mental health. So I was shocked! I made a critical error when I spoke up about how I felt. I specifically asked that they not use the N-word around me ever again. I said that I was deeply offended and would appreciate their cooperation. But they saw me for the unarmed, inexperienced woman that I was. My request simply incited them to do everything in their power to annoy and offend me.

That brings me to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday of 1987. My boss told me that although that Monday was a holiday, that they would all three be coming to work and that I needed to be there too because it was a stupid thing to be taking a day off to celebrate the birthday of that n!&&@$. The other two women laughed when my boss said this to me. I summoned up enough courage to say that I would not be in and not to look for me. They harassed me up until the minute I left the office that Friday afternoon. “See you Monday!”, one of them yelled out as I exited the building. I could hear them laughing behind me.

Like I had on so many other days, I went home and cried on my husband’s shoulder. I was five months pregnant with my son and I’m sure my hormones were a wreck, but the situation created enormous stress. I would cry and cry when I got home. Then we would fix dinner, eat, watch TV, and then go to bed. I would wake up during the night and cry some more. This pattern continued for the entire length of my pregnancy.

I didn’t go to work on that Monday. Instead, I attended the MLK Day event at a local university. The speakers focused on perseverance and doing right and God’s expectation that we treat each other with dignity and respect. Sitting in that auditorium, in the midst of men and women who were celebrating justice and good, I felt so empowered and comforted. My battle was such a small one. I knew that I would survive and that things would get better for me.

Things did get better. My healthy son was born three weeks early in April. I used all of my sick leave and all of my vacation time. Then I quit. I was never so happy to leave a job, before or since! Within the next six months, I started a new job at that same local university where I had attended the MLK event. I would be working with high school students, many of whom would go on to be the first in their family to go to college. Those students lifted my heart almost every day. Many are still my friends today.

So, for me, MLK Day is symbolic of embracing the lessons of the past, both small and global, and letting my heart be filled again with the hope that there will be better days ahead. This lesson never ceases to be fresh for me. I need to learn it over and over again! So I thank Martin Luther King, Jr., for teaching that lesson to me. Happy Birthday, Dr. King!

Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Gwendolyn Brooks

A man went forth with gifts.

He was a prose poem.
He was a tragic grace.
He was a warm music.

He tried to heal the vivid volcanoes.
His ashes are
reading the world.

His Dream still wishes to anoint
the barricades of faith and of control.

His word still burns the center of the sun,
above the thousands and the
hundred thousands.

The word was Justice. It was spoken.

So it shall be spoken.
So it shall be done.