In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I thought I'd share with you a speech that was recently made by our outgoing Teacher of the Year, Ms. Lauren H. Piper, 3rd grade Teacher at Wilton Elementary. I think it is perfectly appropriate timing to share....
To all distinguished guests, educators, family and friends, Good evening. Let me begin by saying that it has been an honor and privilege to have served as Granville County’s Teacher of the Year this past year. This experience allowed for many valuable opportunities. I especially enjoyed the opportunity to observe all of these amazing educators in their classrooms. As I began to think about my speech tonight, I decided that I wanted it to be short and encouraging.
As educators, we are facing difficult times. There are many obstacles and increasing challenges with a seemingly decreasing appreciation. It is easy to become discouraged in the midst of increasing mandates and requirements. Our love for teaching and the students is the only reason we remain and continue. I would like to spend the next few minutes reminding you how important you are.
This week, I gave my third grade students a writing prompt - What is a teacher?
The responses were very interesting and amusing as you probably would assume. I would like to read from several.
“A teacher is a person who takes their time to plan stuff that’s fun for kids. They could be having fun with their friends and their family but they don’t. They make sure that their class has some fun. They don’t sit and do nothing. They find ways to help their students learn.”
“A teacher is a friend. They help you when you need it. They care about what you do. They take time to sit down and help you. They cheer you up and cheer you on. They are very important.”
“A teacher is caring. They are caring because they use their own time to think about teaching us. It is extra work for them. When they teach, they keep on teaching and teaching until everyone gets it.”
“Teachers are people who help us learn. They teach us stuff that we don’t know. If it weren’t for teachers, I wouldn’t be writing this paper! I wouldn’t know anything if teachers weren’t around. Everybody would be cave people who say Ogga Ogga! That’s one of the many reasons.
Teachers take their time to help us learn stuff on THERE TIME! They don’t have to do it. They just want to. We should be nice to teachers and thank them for making people go to college and helping us. If it weren’t for teachers, the world wouldn’t be what it is. Teachers should continue to do what they do!”
As teachers, we can never fully determine our impact on our students. Someone once said, “ Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions.” I fully believe in the truth of this quote. We are educating the future doctors, lawyers, researchers, engineers, scientists, inventors, mothers, fathers, and citizens of our country. In the midst of all the demands, we may lose sight of our importance and purpose. My goal tonight is to remind you that you are a teacher. You educate students in content areas and life skills. You work. You work hard. You give your all. You love. You care. You are a role model. You are valued. You are important. Thank you for all you do. For every time you didn’t hear it, thank you.
I would like to conclude with a poem by Joanna Fuchs (Fooks) :
If I Could Teach You, Teacher
If I could teach you, teacher, I'd teach you how much more you have accomplished than you think you have. I'd show you the seeds you planted years ago that are now coming into bloom. I'd reveal to you the young minds that have expanded under your care, the hearts that are serving others because they had you as a role model.
If I could teach you, teacher, I'd show you the positive effect you have had on me and my life. Your homework is to know your value to the world, to acknowledge it, to believe it. Thank you, teacher.
Woe unto the administrator who ventures forth into the homework wars.
Scale it back, and parents will be at your door complaining about a lack of academic rigor. Dial it up, and you’ll get an earful from other parents about interference with after-school activities and family time.
If you’re looking to bolster your particular position with research results, you’re in luck, because there are studies that back the more-is-better approach and others that support the less-is-better tack.
“Homework has been a hot topic for a number of years now because it affects so many people,” says Robert H. Tai, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education who has researched the topic and conducted a 2012 study, “When Is Homework Worth the Time?” After studying transcripts and data for more than 18,000 sophomore students nationwide, he found no significant relationship between time spent on homework and grades, but did find a positive relationship between homework and performance on standardized tests. “Homework should act as a place where students practice the skills they’ve learned in class,” Tai says. “It shouldn’t be a situation where students spend many hours every night poring over something [new].”
In Favor of Homework
A 2004 national survey conducted by the University of Michigan found that the amount of time spent on homework had risen 51 percent since 1981. Most of this increase was found among younger students, with daily homework for 6- to 8-year-olds increasing, on average, from about 8 minutes in 1981 to 22 minutes in 2003.
There is a positive relationship between the amount of homework students do and their achievement outcomes, according to a 2006 study by Harris Cooper, director of Duke University’s Program in Education, which analyzed and combined the results of dozens of homework studies. The studies found that students who had homework performed better on class tests compared to those who did not. Twelve studies linking the amount of homework to achievement and controlling for other factors, such as socioeconomic status, also found a positive link. Of 35 studies that simply correlated homework and achievement, with no attempt to control for student differences, about 77 percent also found a positive link between time on homework and achievement.
However, says Cooper, there was one group in the study for which homework was not correlated with achievement: elementary school students. For these children, the report states that “the average correlation between time spent on homework and achievement … hovered around zero,” or no relationship. This may be because younger students have less-developed study habits and are less able to tune out distractions at home, Cooper says.
The Case for Less
Other research has yielded other interpretations about the usefulness of homework. The authors of “Reforming Homework: Practices, Learning and Policies” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) evaluated homework research and concluded that it does not significantly impact achievement— and can even be detrimental. One study from Penn State that analyzed data from the late 1990s found that, in countries with high homework demands, student performance on the international test of achievement known as Trends in Mathematics and Science Study was poorer than those with less rigorous after-school assignments. The authors, both professors at Australian universities, do not call for a homework ban, but they do recommend less homework, as well as homework assignments of a higher quality, rather than large amounts of drill and practice work.
Further, Tai and colleagues’ study, “When Is Homework Worth the Time?” also found that sophomores who spent more time on after-school assignments did not fare any better or worse with grades, but did perform better on standardized tests. “Based on our research, it appears that the most effective use of homework may be to help students sharpen their skills with things that they already know how to do, rather than trying to use homework as an extension of class time,” Tai says. Issues often arise when students and parents do not understand the aim of the homework assignments, Tai adds, and it is imperative for teachers to make the purpose clear.
A 2011 study in the Journal of Advanced Academics found that it was the sense of self-effcacy students felt while completing homework assignments, and the availability of resources (such as a quiet place to work and access to a computer) that led to increased mathematics achievement on an international exam. And students who spent more time on homework performed worse on the exam, the researchers found. “Although this was a surprising finding, a lack of understanding of a subject can lead to ineffcient and disproportionate effort, as well as diminished motivation,” the study states. The researchers add, “This observation fits the notion that students who have low mathematics scores and spend more time on mathematics homework do it precisely because of low self-effcacy and fewer support resources.”
In 2012, Finland and South Korea came in at numbers 1 and 2, respectively, on the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Education Attainment, which ranks countries based on international test scores, literacy, and graduation rates (the United States was ranked at number 17). Though their students occupy the top spots globally, these two nations approach homework and learning in radically different ways.
Finland follows a European educational model, characterized by short school days and few homework assignments. South Korea, like many East Asian countries, in contrast, has long school days followed by tutoring sessions and a focus on rote learning assignments. “It is hard to find two education systems more different,” says the rankings report “The Learning Curve: Lessons in Country Performance in Education.” The report adds, “Closer examination, though, shows that both countries develop high-quality teachers, value accountability and have a moral mission that underlies education efforts.”
France, ranked at number 25, is considering a different approach: last fall, the French government proposed doing away with homework in elementary and junior high school altogether, arguing that it puts poorer students and those with difficult home situations at a disadvantage. “Education is priority,” French President Francois Hollande said in an October speech at Paris’s Sorbonne University. “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home.”
Now, the very concept of homework is being disrupted by the advent of the flipped classroom, which involves a teacher’s presentation being delivered outside of class, via a video that students view at home, while class time is used for active problem solving by students (which would traditionally be considered ‘homework’) and one-to-one or small group tutoring with the teacher, says Kari Arfstrom, executive director of the Flipped Learning Network, a national clearinghouse on the method.
Clintondale High School in the Clintondale (Mich.) Community School District uses flipped learning, which helped students make strides in homework. The district has 75 percent of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. And three years ago, the school began transitioning to a flipped model to try to engage a struggling student population. “Homework completion rates were around 30 percent, and kids were struggling when we asked them to practice at home,” says Principal Greg Green. “We decided to look at reversing it, and doing homework in school.”
Today, Clintondale students complete miniature lessons at home, which could involve watching a presentation, reading, or reviewing information, Green says, but most of the work, such as writing essays and performing math problem sets, is done in class. Students will have a half an hour of work per night on average, Green says, often watching two or three videos that are five to seven minutes long each.
The results have been positive: The school’s average student failure rate dropped from around 35 percent to under 10 percent since implementing the flipped model, Green says, and state test scores increased in every subject. Attendance went up about 4 percent, now hovering around 94 percent, and the graduation rate increased from 80 to 90 percent. “It’s been quite an evolution here,” Green says, in large part because “teachers are there to offer effective feedback and clarify when students may be struggling. Research tells us we should have kids engaged in rigorous content, have access to technology, and give immediate feedback, and this allows us to give it to them.”
How Much Is Enough?
According to a parent guide released by the National PTA and the National Education Association, most educators agree that for K2 students, homework is more effective when it does not exceed 10-20 minutes daily; for students in grades 3-6, 30-60 minutes a day is adequate; and in junior and senior high, the amount of homework will vary by subject, with many district policies stating that high school students should expect about 30 minutes of homework per course.
Harris Cooper of Duke University concludes, in an op-ed piece distributed by the Duke University Offce of Communications:
—Practice assignments improve scores on class tests at all grade levels
—A little amount of homework may help elementary school students build study habits
—Homework for junior high students appears to reach the point of diminishing returns after about 90 minutes per night
—For high school students, homework is effective until between 90 minutes and 2-1/2 hours of homework a night, after which returns diminish.
It remains diffcult to show causation between increased homework and higher achievement, due to influencing factors such as teacher effectiveness and class participation, researchers say. Most agree that homework should be purposeful, and that more does not translate to better.
“Busy work turns students off from learning,” says Lynn Fontana, chief academic offcer of Sylvan Learning, a national tutoring chain that provides homework help for pre-K12 students. “If they can see the connection between what they’re doing as homework and what they need to know [for class], they are much more willing to do the homework.”
Some say that homework favors more advantaged students who have access to technology at home and, likely, an engaged parent to help them complete assignments.
Because of this inequality issue, last fall the French government proposed eliminating homework in elementary and junior high school, arguing that it puts poorer students at a disadvantage. Greg Green, principal of the flipped Clintondale High School in the Clintondale (Mich.) Community School District, agrees, and believes flipped learning provides all students a chance to succeed by doing school work under teacher supervision, and receiving immediate feedback. “It really levels the playing field for kids,” Green says. “Not all students have a support mechanism, when practicing and going through work. We want any student who’s going through the learning process to be with the expert, and understand things before they leave the facility.”
With at-home assignments that increasingly require technology and internet access, districts must consider options for students who may not have such tools at home. At Clinton- dale, students can use school computers to complete their homework assignments if they lack the resources or a good working environment at home, Green says.
At Florida Virtual School (FLVS), an online K12 public school, students have access to virtual learning labs in both classrooms and libraries as well, according to Michelle Licata, the 2012 FLVS teacher of the year award recipient. FLVS also implemented a Laptop for Learners program, Licata says, which loans laptops to students in need while they complete their courses.
Increasing access to smartphones, on which students can do research or watch videos, across socioeconomic classes in recent years is also helping bridge the gap. “There are still concerns around the digital divide. But if you look at reports, we’re seeing that trend on the decline,” says Greg Levin, senior vice president of school solutions for K12, Inc. “It’s definitely not erased, and there are socioeconomically disadvantaged families who maybe don’t have access, but with cell phones, you’re seeing that not be as much of an issue.”
The changing nature of homework and increased use of technology in assignments have affected tutoring companies and the services they provide. Personalized learning is an increasingly important concept for homework help, says Lynn Fontana, chief academic officer of Sylvan Learning, a national tutoring center chain that provides homework help for pre-K12 students. “The degree to which the adaptive technology and computer technology enable us to meet the needs of students as they are clearly defined is really where everybody is going, including in homework help,” she adds.
For example, with SmartTutor, a K5 online tutoring system, students take an assessment test to determine their strengths and weaknesses, and each child is then placed into a personalized learning program tailored to his or her specific areas of need to better target homework help. “We go back to where the gap happened, and assign lessons very specifically to that individual student that will bridge that gap, so they can quickly get up to speed,” says Robin Baker, president of SmartTutor.
Parents often struggle trying to help their children taking higher mathematics, such as algebra and geometry, and these are areas where Sylvan sees the greatest demand for homework help. The company continues to look for better, more systematic ways to support students with after-school assignments. “There’s a huge opportunity to do more than just help students do their homework, to help them understand some of the fundamentals that may be interfering with their ability to do the work on their own,” she says.
Please read this interesting article below that was originally published at this link:
Cursive writing bill linked to for-profit company Posted on April 24, 2013 by Lindsay Wagner
Legislation seems to be popping up around the country that would mandate cursive writing instruction in elementary schools. Indiana, Idaho, and South Carolina all have bills moving through their legislatures that call for the instruction of cursive, and some folks are beginning to question why.
As reported in March, the House Education Committee is considering HB 146, Back to Basics, which would mandate mastery of cursive writing by fifth grade and memorization of multiplication tables. House members supported the bill, introduced by Reps. Hurley, Warren and Shepherd, with few reservations. The Senate will take up the bill on Wednesday.
When Rep. Hurley introduced the bill, her stated justification to mandate cursive writing instruction included the claim that PET scans show that your whole brain works when you’re doing cursive, but that “only half” of your brain works when you are doing manuscript, and that your brain “doesn’t work” when you are keyboarding.
A handwriting instructor, Kate Gladstone, became curious as to what kind of research supported Rep. Hurley’s claim. Upon inquiring with Hurley’s office, legislative assistant Deborah Holder sent Gladstone this article, MJ12 Berninger_NAESP Article_May2012 – which, in fact, does not support Hurley’s claims and even notes possible benefits to keyboard instruction in early grades.
Hurley mentioned during her introduction of the bill that ALEC supplied her with background information with regard to cursive writing instruction. Pressing further, Gladstone asked Hurley’s office how she obtained research relevant to the bill, and Holder explained that they had received a lot of information from a “source in South Carolina.”
Upon further inquiry, that source turned out to be a sales rep from Zaner-Bloser, a for-profit company that promotes cursive writing and sells handwriting instructional materials. Incidentally, the South Carolina legislature is considering an identical bill to mandate cursive writing instruction, no doubt after having received the same research pushed to them by the Zaner-Bloser sales rep.
So are lawmakers really worried that their grandchildren will be able to read the constitution, or are they actually worried about Zaner-Bloser’s bottom line?
First, I'd like to thank our teachers, students, administrators, and the staff of Granville Online for creating an exciting, innovative, quality learning experience for all. As you well know, GCG received national recognition for GO by garnering the prestigious Magna award. The award is presented by the National School Boards Association in conjunction with sponsor, Sedexo, at its national meeting. To receive the award is a ringing endorsement of the program and all it does for students. Without going into a long description, suffice it to say that GO is designed to help provide students with myriad possibilities and courses based on need. Because it is a virtual delivery system taught by our teachers to our students, GO seeks never to tell a student "no" regardless to how esoteric a request maybe. GO has helped hundreds of students take courses previously unavailable to students or to take courses that help them advance more quickly or catch up if need dictates. Receiving the Magna award comes on the heels of receiving state recognition for being a "digital innovative" district. Congratulations to all in our district for all the work being done to create a 21st century learning environment for students.
Welcome back! Just a short post to help keep you up to date.
Over the break we were notified of three accolades that our district received. One is an award that honors GCS for its recycling efforts. Theresa Baker has done a great job developing our recycling program into a model for other systems. Thanks to her, our students, principals, teachers, parents, and community members for all "pitching in" and receiving recognition. Secondly, we were identified by DPI for having the highest correlation between teacher evaluations and student outcomes. It may not seem important but to hear that administrators are realistically and thoroughly evaluating staff is professionally significant. It is also important to hear that we are the best in doing so. Lastly, you've read about the national recognition of Granville Online. Our teachers and Instructional Technology Department should be commended for building a national model for virtual delivery. Recall that GO is our virtual school developed in GCS by our teachers meeting the needs of our students. GO is something of which we can all be proud.
My mother named me after St. Timothy, an apostle mentored bySt. Paul. He was notable for helping the Church keep and build the faith. Healso is quoted often for writing that “I have fought the good fight.” My fightrecently is not of the magnitude of St. Timothy’s; it is, however, an importantone.
I took up the “sword” against MSLs, or Measures of StudentLearning, the tests that either replace or coexist with our older EOGs (End ofGrade tests) and EOCs (End of Course tests). MSLs are the products of ourstate’s participation in the federal government’s Race to the Top (RttT)initiative. RttT is the root of the change in curriculum to the new CommonCore. I have no “beef” with the Common Core; it’s a more rigorous, necessaryupgrade to the old curriculum. I am disgusted with the implementation of allaspects of the Common Core, but especially with MSLs.
Common sense dictates that you design and write a curriculum,teach the curriculum, tweak it, develop assessments, tweak them, and then holdteachers accountable for implementation. That did not happen in NC. Thecurriculum was “rolled out” with no real support. Our teachers did the writingof the curriculum with help purchased by the district. Little help was forthcoming from our State Department of Public Instruction. Fortunately, we havevery talented and committed teachers who have done a great job writing ourcurriculum. Our teachers have all had a chance to vet the curriculum andprovide necessary feedback. They are teaching the Common Core now. Here’s theproblem. They should have a chance to teach the curriculum and help tweak it,and then teach it again. At the end of this cycle, teachers should assessstudents and be held responsible for outcomes. Not in NC. They have to do allof this in one year. They are literally held accountable this year for what isessentially our metaphoric version of building a plane in flight and having toland it. Moreover, the accountability is suspect because MSLs are arguablyflawed with reliability and validity issues. For the general reading public,I’ll skip over the technical issues with regard to the tests and fall back oncommon sense. Does it make any sense to hold our teachers accountable forteaching an entirely new curriculum which unabashedly changes teachingfundamentally and then evaluate them on outcomes from newly, developed validitychallenged tests? Oh…the results will populate a teachers’ evaluation andbecome part of their job performance ratings. Not surprising, teachers areanxious. I, and other superintendents,have tried to bring reason to the implementation of the Common Core and to MSLsto no avail. I have no idea how all this will play out; I can only hope that weare not metaphorically killing the “goose that laid the golden egg” by chasinggood teachers out of the profession.
From the random thought department:
Skip over the notion that cursive writing has any valuewhatsoever, I commented on more than one occasion in several media thatteaching writing and the expression of thought is being taught and will alwaysbe taught. Cursive is a “font;” it’s pretty but useless. No…my problem withbills posited to mandate its teaching is that it adds one more thing to analready overflowing plate of what we expect teachers to do. You want to take upa cause? How about a cause that brings some “rhyme or reason” to what’s comingout of Raleigh that has a greater impact on teaching children than cursive.Just saying…
This message is particularly meant for my teachers:
I mean no self-aggrandizement but I felt the need to question the implementation of MSLs in a year chock full of change and anxiety. What with a new curriculum and a new standard using new tests to evaluate teachers, I have problems with tests "counting" when what they assess is being literally developed as it is taught. My approach was to question the validity/reliability of the tests. Now some may wonder why I mention the effect of MSLs on teachers and not students, I acknowledge the impact that these tests can have on our students; those effects are mitigated by a huge degree of flexibility NOT afforded our teachers. It appears that the data generated from the tests will have a huge effect (with no mitigation) on a teacher's evaluation. I thought it would be of value to reproduce the questions on MSLs and the answers from DPI to provide clarification.
The question posed by me to DPI:
I am hearing lots of rumors and concerns regarding MSL's and would like some clarification.
First, I have heard that the MSL will not populate Standard 6 this year. Second, I have heard that the results are not going to be sent to SAS for evaluation. Additionally, I have a concern that if we are modifying the test from what was administered during the spring then we are creating two different standards for teachers of the same subject.
My principals are also concerned about the open ended questions. In particular they have expressed that they have serious misgivings related to the amount of time for grading, the training and how reliable the results will be compared to others districts. Many of these concerns are echoed by the teaching staff as well. Teachers are concerned that they are being rated on test that have not been validated yet and are very different than EOC's and EOG's. We have two separate measures being used to evaluate teachers and they have little correlation to each other. I cannot recall a time when we have given a test that has such high stakes for teachers and had so many unanswered questions and concerns.
Given the level of concern, many of my teachers and administrators have asked what would happen if we did not give MSL's? This is an interesting question and I said I would follow up with you.
The answer from DPI:
Thank you for your feedback on the Common Exams. The exams are truly a partnership between the Department of Public Instruction and school districts, and we strive to make improvements to both the exams and the administration process.
Growth demonstrated on the Common Exams will be used to determine the Standard 6 ratings for teachers who administer the assessments. The SAS Institute will be calculating growth on the Common Exams, just as they do with results of the End-of-Grade, End-of-Course, and Career and Technical Education Post-Assessments. The team at the SAS Institute will study the distribution of Common Exam results, as well as score patterns within and across districts prior to the completion of value-added analysis.
Prior to sending the data from the Common Exams to the SAS Institute for value-added analysis, the Department's Accountability Services staff will complete item analysis, as well as other reliability checks on the data. The revisions that have been made to the high school assessments are a result of this type of quantitative analysis, as well as feedback from teachers who administered the exams to their students during first semester.
The Department of Public Instruction could have kept the high school exams the same from first to second semester, which would have ensured consistency across semesters. However, in the face of quantitative and qualitative feedback that some of the exams were too long, we did decide that it was best for students and teachers to shorten some of the exams. Before sending the results of the exams to the SAS Institute, the Department's Accountability Services staff will compare the results, reliability, etc. of the first semester results with the second semester results. It is possible that the first semester results will not be used in the determination of Standard 6 ratings if they do not hold up statistically in the same way as the second semester scores. However, without second semester data as a point of comparison, we cannot make a decision about first semester scores at this point.
Results from first semester administration show that all but one of the Common Exams demonstrate reliability of .8, which is generally accepted to be the marker of a valid and reliable assessment. This analysis confirms that the scoring on the constructed response items has also been reliable and in accordance with the rubrics. The Department has also held best practice webinars featuring testing coordinators from two districts that administered the exams. They both indicated that scoring was completed in the course of an afternoon.
We had a nice albeit quick meeting of the Superintendent's Council today. The SC is comprised of teacher representatives from every school in the district. They are charged with sitting with me and engaging in conversations relevant to them and their peers. I shared with them about my trip to the General Assembly and the meeting superintendents had withNC House Speaker Thom Tillis. That information aside, we also discussed the budget, cursive writing, Common Core, and a host of other topics. At the end of the afternoon, I also shared with them my thoughts about teachers and teaching. I was asked by a member of the Council to share my thoughts with all teachers because the belief is that everyone should hear them.
I am, again, by nature not a positive person. No...I am, but I am not effusive in my praise of those who work with me. I rarely praise at all. I have written and spoken myriad times on my upbringing and why I am the way I am. No apologies. That's the way it is. But I digress. I want to share the comments I made about teachers and teaching. In answering a question/concern about our efforts to migrate the new high school standard course of study (Common Core and Essential Standards) onto "Haiku" (an online learning management system - aka: LMS) and the misplaced belief that in doing so, we were destroying the artistry of teaching. I replied the following:
Having a standardized curriculum with a pacing guide housed in a central location in an LMS like Haiku should make teachers' lives easier. There should be a "one stop shop" for a teacher to access what should be taught, thus saving time that should be better spent on how to best deliver it. The curriculum, the "what" of teaching (the content, etc), is and always was the "science" of teaching. It's been that way for the expanse of time. The "artistry" of teaching, the beauty of teaching, if you will, is how a teacher delivers what they teach to students. It's the most critical piece of what we do. Engaging the learner in earnest on the learning is paramount to the learning process. Furthermore, the artistry is the passion that the teacher brings to the learning and additionally, the ability to form with the student a relationship that creates a trusting, respectful environment for students to learn. When I taught German, I was never concerned about what should be taught and in what order; I was concerned about my ability to deliver the content in a fashion that made learning occur. To me teaching is akin to sculpting. The science of sculpting is the use of a hammer and chisel on a block of stone. The artistry is the ability to craft a sculpture, a work of art, using the science. Rodin's The Thinker is a mental model of the result of the science and art creating a masterpiece.
Teachers, consider the above metaphor as we move forward with the new curriculum. Continue to "paint" on the fabric of a child's impressionable mind.
Ok. I was minding my own business. I have been quiet lately because I felt I had lost my muse. Nothing really pushed my "go button" until Monday morning. In the two-hour delay that I had called for Monday morning, I reviewed my social media sites to keep up with the happenings in our area and with friends and acquaintances. I happened upon some postings from friends and others questioning the necessity of delays and the like over the past two weeks. Some of my contacts that hail from the northern part of the country are understandably curious about our responses to weather, particularly those that occur with frozen precipitation. Some make fun, but most understand that snow, sleet, etc. are somewhat anomalous here and we are simply not adept at dealing with the anomaly. No apology, just fact. Others snidely make light that our decisions to close or delay are somehow incomprehensible. For example, a threat on Sunday of freezing rain on Monday morning deserved mockery because of how incongruous it was. Really? Before I expostulate on why we do what we do...let's examine the notion of "threat."
Other threats we deal with, bomb threats, for example, are treated seriously because the possibility of a device exploding in a school is a notion beyond scary. Yet, in my 27 years, there has been no bomb detected in any schools I led. I have never had a parent ask me why we evacuated a building in the face of a bomb threat and question why we did it. It was understood that not to treat it seriously was not only negligent but reckless if something indeed happened. So it is with a "threat" of possible inclement weather. In fact, there are more data supporting caution with weather events than would support security efforts during bomb threats. Additionally, I am not a weatherman (by the way, weather men err often) and the decision to affect a school day makes it a simple issue of safety. I'd also like to add that no one can adequately predict God's design for our weather. The quote that I paraphrase often is "if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans" seems entirely apropos here. Having said all this, how do I make a decision?
We actually use data and predictions from multiple sites, the most important and accurate is the National Weather Service. We start with general predictions from Emergency Management and traditional media outlets, then switch to the National Weather Service the closer we get to events. There are, truly, vast amounts of data and charts that are shown us with high levels of probability, but they only provide percentages of probability for an event. We do the best we can in interpreting what we see and hear, but the final call is based on one notion: err on the side of caution. I frequently get kudos or “razzies” for the calls I make and I take both in stride. The success of a call I make is evaluated by me as "good" if no one is hurt. Inconvenience is factored into my decision only in the timing of my decision. I try to let everyone know well in advance so that they can plan accordingly.
Granville County is a large district that encompasses a large area. We have 109 buses that travel 6397 miles per day, countless high school students who drive, and many employees who drive substantial distances (including from the commonwealth of Virginia), as well. That puts 10,000 people on the roads every day. Those are a lot of lives to impact with a decision. How much is a life worth? Two hours? A half day? A whole day? Missing school pales in comparison to the loss of a child or a staff member. You can joke and ask condescending questions, if you wish. Just know that the responsibility I have and the seriousness with which I take it is important to me and I'm the one that has to live with my decision. It's easy to do when nothing is lost but a little time.