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Winter weather strikes; SCH responds

Photo+from+%40schacademy+Instagram%2C+taken+by+%40julialehmanphoto
Julia Lehman
Photo from @schacademy Instagram, taken by @julialehmanphoto

When inclement weather hits, SCH calls snow days or delays, but the immense effort that goes on to ensure safety throughout the community is largely unrecognized.

As head of school Dr. Dinkins put it, “a variety of different factors” are taken into account when deciding whether or not to close school. First, though, prior to any significant weather event “a team of school administrators” meet – sometimes the day or night before or, if necessary, very early in the morning – to “have the conversation.” That group, the head of school said, often includes himself, the chief financial officer, the director of communications, the director of facilities, and the division heads.

Along with several other considerations, the group focuses on three key questions in making their decisions: “Can people get [to SCH] safely? And when they are [at SCH], can we operate school safely without interruption? And can students leave safely or have their parents pick them up safely?”

To get school ready to open in snowy conditions the entire facilities team arrived at SCH around four in the morning on both Tuesday, 1/16, and Wednesday, 1/17. On those two days, the facilities team was “operating under the assumption that it was going to be a two-hour delay,” said Ben West, Director of Facilities.

With the delay, Mr. West went on, “we knew that we had until ten. It takes a good five, six hours for us to really thoroughly clean all the walkways, parking lots and driveways.” The team does a lot more than “just shoveling and running the snowblower or a plow,” though. “We have to work during regular school days to make sure all this stuff is maintained and properly ready for [the snow event]. We have to buy pallets of ice melt at a time and we have to unload them by hand and load them into the spreaders by hand.”

Throughout the clearing process the grounds and maintenance crew, “the boots on the ground,” as Mr. West called them, gives him updates regarding whether or not they’ll be able to get the job done in time for people to go to school. From there, the director of facilities said that he confers with the larger administrative group “so that everybody has good information, the same information, and that [they] can make a decision.”

Even though on that Tuesday school was canceled around 7:30 AM, the facilities team “kept on working,” said Mr. West, in preparation for the next day. Because temperatures never rose above 25 degrees, “anything melted with the chemicals immediately refroze overnight…. So [on Wednesday] we came back in at four o’clock in the morning to take care of that snow event.”

Because it snowed all day on Friday, 1/19, and school was already canceled, Mr. West and his facilities team did not attempt to clear the campus. After it stopped, the crew “came in Saturday morning and took care of it all day.”

“You know, we’re all essential workers,” emphasized Mr. West about the facilities crew, a statement that could not be more true. “If you see a maintenance worker, thank them,” he said.

Dr. Dinkins noted that he himself will drive the roads in Chestnut Hill “just to get a feel for how people might be experiencing them.” The head of school was “out driving at 5 AM” throughout the week of January 16.

Throughout the process of calling a snow day, SCH is in constant communication with other schools and their transportation services. “We draw from over 100 different zip codes,” said Dr. Dinkins. “We communicate with local school districts because we’re trying to get a sense of what the busing situation will be.” If other schools decide to close or run on a two hour delay, all the SCH students who take those buses will be significantly impacted, and may not be able to get to school.

“In terms of threshold, I don’t really think about it in terms of inches,” said Dr. Dinkins. “I’m not a meteorologist, but we rely on what the experts are telling us…. And sometimes they get it wrong. And sometimes we get it wrong, and that’s sort of part of the deal.”

The head of school acknowledged that although for some closing school is no problem, the snow day can be a massive imposition for others, especially families with younger kids or two working parents. “So as much as we love the snow day,” Dr. Dinkins said, “and I like a good one, too, even though typically I’m still working those days, we have to really consider the impact on families and I take that seriously.”

Eventually, the communications department needs to relay the snow day decision to the SCH community. Via the third-party platform BrightArrow, Director of Communications Karen Tracy is able to send a text message, email, and recorded voice message out, all simultaneously. “I upload the content for all three of those things into BrightArrow and then hold my breath and then I hit send,” commented Ms. Tracy.

The director of communications noted that if a “game-time decision” looks likely, then she “usually [doesn’t] sleep the night before” because she knows that at around 5 AM she will “have to activate.”

So, before immediately criticizing the decision made by SCH’s team of administrators, think about the meticulous care and effort that undoubtedly goes into making our school function. Without all that work, our school would not be able to function.

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About the Contributor
Griffy Whitman '25, Inaugural Editor-in-Chief
Griffy is a junior at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and he revived The Campus Lantern last year. He loves lacrosse and writing, so you can usually find him either on the field or interviewing someone for a story. Outside of school, he loves to play with his dog, Wesley.
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