Snow Day! A Reprise

Tweed Courthouse, New York City - The headquar...
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Why is it that when the New York City Department of Education seems to do the right thing for what seem to be noble reasons, the cynic in me rises to the surface and speaks.

Last year in early March there was a weather forecast very similar to today’s: snow beginning overnight and becoming heavier as the day progresses with near blizzard conditions due to 45mph winds.

NYCDOE memos say they’ll announce school closings, a very rare event, before 6AM and last year they waited until the very last moment, finally announcing the shutdown after many dedicated teachers had left early to get to work on time and far too late for parents to make alternate arrangements for childcare.

I wrote about that little bureaucratic snafu that morning.

I don’t know if Chancellor Klein or someone with his ear read that post, or the hundreds of other excoriations online, but things were done a little differently yesterday.

New York City is finally moving into the modern era when it comes to communicating with citizens and other people interested in changes in routine. The City offers a notification system similar to the ones introduced to college campuses after the Virginia Tech shooting.

This system allows people to sign-up for text message, email and telephone notification of things like changes in parking regulations, school closings and public health emergencies. I signed up early yesterday morning

Shortly after 11:30 yesterday morning the NYCDOE posted a message on their homepage in the Spotlight section below and to the left of the link teachers click to get to their curriculum information, teaching resources and DOE email.

The email link is significant. My principal and, I’m sure, many others in the system are trying – for budgetary if not environmental reasons – to reduce the volume of paper memos by distributing information via email.

We are told to check our email frequently.

We are never told to check the DOE homepage and most teachers I know don’t spend much time, if any, looking at it.

At about 1:30 in the afternoon I recieved a text message, an email and a phone call from Notify NYC telling me that Alternate Side of the Street Parking Regulations were suspended on the next day due to the impending snow.

Nothing about school closings.

On its homepage, the DOE said it was announcing the school closing so early to give parents time to make childcare arrangements for the snow day.

Still, it was not until more than three hours later, 3:03PM to be precise, that Notify NYC texted, called and emailed to announce the planned school closing.

snow covered cars
Image by dgphilli via Flickr

Apparently knowing that you would not have to move your car to the other side of the street in the morning was more important to NYC residents than knowing you would need to arrange alternative childcare.

Admittedly, its not always easy to find legal parking in NYC, but its got to be easier than finding emergency childcare.

Lots of teachers live in the suburbs and lots of teachers have young children.

Suburban schools close due to snow because it is difficult and dangerous to try driving school busses on slippery streets. Just after noon I received three notifications that my son’s school would be closed.

NYC schools rarely close because only special education students travel to school and home on what they call the “cheese bus.” All the others walk, are driven by parents or ride public transportation.

NYC teachers with school-age children also need to make childcare arrangements so they can go to work even when the suburban schools are closed.

But it was not until 4:30PM that the DOE finally got around to emailing its employees about the decision to close the schools.

The NYCDOE did make the right decision and they made it in a much, much more timely fashion this time. They get a well-deserved pat on the back for that.

But the NYCDOE needs to learn something from the difficulties they seemed to have communicating that decision.

They could realize that having high expectations, like mine for them, is not enough to produce desired learning; that learning requires teaching and time for repeated attempts to err, try again and, eventually, get things right.

Maybe they’ll understand that learning does not happen on a steady, smooth upward incline on a graph.

The NYCDOE went from an F to a C, or in the terms we use, from a low one to a high two, in a little less than a year. They are approaching the standard for school closing.

Eventually there will be another major snow storm, another opportunity to do better.

But chances are they’ll have a lot of time to reflect on their performance this time, to think about how they could do better when the next performance exam comes, and to practice the procedures involved.

I wish they’d give my students that kind of time.

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4 Responses to Snow Day! A Reprise

  1. Dan Callahan says:

    They went from Below Basic to Basic! Maybe next year they’ll get up to Proficient.

  2. Michael J says:

    So if DoE could communicate to teachers in closer to real time, wouldn’t it be cool if teachers could use exactly the same tech to get an SMS message to parents when junior acts like a jerk.

  3. [...] Snow Day! A Reprise « Education On The Plate [...]

  4. Hunter Evans says:

    Extremely exciting short article

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