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!

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