Although I have no evidence to prove it, I believe there was a conspiracy afoot among our fifth grade boys this week. The first email landed in my inbox at 9:10 a.m. on Wednesday: “will we have a snow day tomorrow” No capitalization, no punctuation. It felt for all the world like a ransom note.
A series of similar emails followed over the next 24 hours. Having given up on Thursday, the crafty cabal set its sights on Friday. I responded to each missive personally, of course. “Hello, young Moriarty!” (Note: There is no student at MICDS named Moriarty. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. And of course I did not use the honorific “young” in my response. I am not 117 years old. It only seems that way sometimes.) “It’s good to hear from you! It is too early for me to make a decision about the weather tomorrow. I will be sure to be up before dawn to make a final determination.”
One poor soul got a vocabulary lesson. “Do you know the word ‘inclement,’ by the way? The prefix ‘in-’ means ‘not,’ and the root ‘clem’ comes from the Latin word ‘clemens,’ which means ‘gentle’ or ‘mild.’ So, inclement weather is weather that is not gentle. Another word you can learn at the same time is ‘clemency.’ It means ‘mercy.’” When you mess with the bull, you get the horns.
I am frequently asked how we make weather-related decisions in schools. “Not happily” is the response I am inclined to give, but that’s hardly an answer. I have learned that most parents who ask this question have a mental image of me getting up before dawn, driving around to get a sense of road conditions and making a determination on that basis. While such a ritual is often part of the process – and was part of the process this very morning, in fact – it ultimately carries little weight relative to other considerations. MICDS students live an average of 8.1 miles from our campus, MICDS employees an average of 10.3 miles. And these distances are only “as the crow flies.“ The paved distances are farther still. The roads and highways traveled by our parents, students, teachers and staff to reach us are myriad and are often treated and plowed far less expeditiously or frequently than the streets in Ladue. So the breadth of — and the variety of conditions within — our MICDS community’s “catchment area” are primary considerations for me in making weather-related decisions.
The determinations of other schools and school districts are also relevant. MICDS is not a world unto itself. Many of our teachers have children who attend other schools, the closure of which due to inclement weather (which means “not gentle” weather, by the way, as a certain fifth grade boy will tell you) requires us to deploy substitute teachers in their stead. The same is true of teachers with preschool-age children, as childcare facilities typically follow the lead of their local school districts in making weather-related decisions.
Last Thursday evening, for example, at my request, the MICDS division heads prepared schedules for a noon dismissal the following day in view of forecasted afternoon precipitation, but when I connected with a public-school superintendent early Friday morning, I learned that not only his district but every other public-school district in our area had decided to close because the weather appeared to be coming in earlier than previously predicted. To have implemented a noon dismissal at that point, even had I not believed the revised forecasts, would have meant to run 30-minute classes in grades 5-12 and similarly abbreviated periods of instruction in grades JK-4, a substantial number of which would have been led by substitute teachers. Our pool of substitutes may not even have been deep enough nor those persons available enough to cover every faculty absence. In view of all information at my disposal, I elected to close MICDS that day rather than run the planned abbreviated schedule.
My early-morning conversation with a local superintendent that day was not unusual, by the way. Although schools and school districts make decisions independently, we communicate with each other nevertheless. Public-school superintendents in particular, because they are briefed by the National Weather Service, often have useful information to share. Their considerations are different than ours at MICDS, as most of them have bus fleets to manage, and as they enroll their students from restricted geographic zones, but my own decision-making process is nevertheless aided by open lines of communication with them and with other independent school heads.
I also rely on dialogue with members of our MICDS staff: Beth Miller, who is responsible for campus safety in her role as CFO; Mark Sweeney, whose Grounds Department team works tirelessly and at inconvenient hours to lay down salt and remove snow; Josh Smith and Bob Jett, who as Athletic Director and Director of Operations, respectively, keep me informed about scheduled events on campus; and Amy Scheer, Jen Schuckman and Scott Small, our Lower, Middle and Upper School heads, who advise Assistant Head Brian Thomas and me on late-start and early-dismissal schedule options. Amy Zlatic, our Interim Director of Marketing and Communications, ensures that weather-related decisions are shared quickly with the MICDS community across a variety of media. I am grateful to work with all of these individuals as well as other members of our staff who assist me on days like yesterday and today.
The chorus of R.E.M.’s “Pop Song 89” asks, “Should we talk about the weather?” At this point, realizing that this is my longest Weekly News letter to date, I would suggest that we have talked about it enough. And in any case, as I informed one of those fifth grade snow-day conspirators in an email earlier this week, “The sun always shines at MICDS!”
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. I wish you all a joyful weekend with your families.
Head of School