It has been a largely snowless winter in the Boston area, with no snow days at all as of early February. There have, however, been a few close calls, which might bring up the question of how snow days are actually determined at Concord Academy. As one might expect, it is not a cookie-cutter decision, and each storm brings about a unique conversation.
The mastermind of the process is Director of Campus Planning Don Kingman. While Kingman and others watch the forecast for several days before a possible storm, everything really begins the day before the snow is forecasted. Kingman first involves the operations staff, namely Head of Operations Mick McSorley in determining whether the campus will be able to open or not. Kingman and McSorley also look at how roads in the area are forecasted to be while students are driving to and from school, as well as whether the train is expected to run in a timely manner. Another party involved in the process is the communications staff. Nick Pfosi, Assistant Director of Communications and Operations, is in charge of preparing email and website updates in the event of a snow day, which happens before the work day ends the day before a storm, although they are only sent out the morning of. At the same time, Grant Hightower and Annie Bailey are looped in to come up with possible study hall or alternative programming to keep boarders occupied for the evening. Kingman also reaches out to Head of School Henry Fairfax to talk about a potential cancellation.
Then comes the day of the storm. Kingman wakes up before 5:00 a.m. that morning to check the latest forecasts, and communicates with everyone involved. He checks to see whether other schools in the area, namely Concord-Carlisle, Acton-Boxborough, and Bedford, among others, have decided to close. However, their choices do not perfectly match CA’s decision because public schools have to be aware of the number of school days in a year which could lead them to stay open when the safety of the community might suggest otherwise. Kingman called the regional public schools an “indicator, not an absolute.” By 5:30 a.m., they have made the decision whether to cancel, at which point communications lets everybody know of the snow day and Kingman talks to the TV stations so CA’s cancellation will show up on local broadcasts.
In addition to fully canceling school, late starts and early dismissals are also possibilities. This might happen if the snow is ending in the morning but the operations staff needs more time to clear the paths and parking lot, or if snow is expected to start in the afternoon. One wrinkle is that since the decision to cancel or not is made by 5:30 a.m., there is still time for the forecast to change, as it did on Monday, January 23, when it was snowing heavily before classes had gotten out, although it was too late to let students out early enough. In that case, Kingman said, canceling after school events was still the better option because young drivers traveling after a long day in the dark in still-bad conditions does not bode well for their or anyone else’s safety.
Kingman is the main force of the team that decides whether CA will have a snow day, and he coordinates each aspect necessary to deal with it; Operations to get prepared for the snow itself and help predict its impact in the Concord area, Communications to quickly and easily share whether a snow day is coming, and Student Life to care for the 160 students on campus with nothing to do. Ultimately, the decision on whether to cancel school is made with safety as the priority. Kingman said, “When considering whether to call a snow day, safety is always at the forefront of our decision making and it will usually trump other factors that are being considered.” If the roads will not be safe or some students will have trouble getting to school, it will likely be canceled. However, the act of calling a snow day is not a perfect science, and every storm brings with it a new set of decision-making challenges.