This has been a relatively underwhelming winter so far, with just one early dismissal as of late January. That early dismissal, along with some close calls, 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 Operations Mick McSorley; he is replacing Head of Campus Planning Don Kingman who previously ran the process. While McSorley and others watch the forecast for several days before a possible storm, everything really begins the day before the snow is forecasted. McSorley involves the operations staff, Dean of Faculty Sarah Yeh, Dean of Students Grant Hightower, and Head of School Henry Fairfax. They determine whether the campus will be able to open or not, how roads in the area are forecasted to be while students are driving to and from school, and 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 the updates are only sent out the morning of. At the same time, Grant Hightower and Annie Bailey work to come up with possible study hall or alternative programming to keep boarders occupied for the evening. While McSorley is the leader, the group of himself, Yeh, Hightower, and Fairfax all collaborate on the plan.

Then comes the day of the storm. McSorley 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. Former leader Kingman called the regional public schools an “indicator, not an absolute.” By 5:30 a.m., they have decided on whether to cancel school, at which point communications let everybody know of the snow day. McSorley then alerts local news stations so CA’s cancellation will show up on 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 once last winter when it was snowing heavily as classes concluded. In that case, canceling after-school events was the best option because young drivers traveling after a long day in the dark in still-bad conditions do not bode well for their or anyone else’s safety.

McSorley 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 the storms; 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 a suddenly-free day. Ultimately, the decision on whether to cancel school is made with safety as the priority. McSorley said, “Our priority is making sure everyone can get to and from school safely.” 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.