Dear SGI Families,

A snow day can be a magical thing. I can still remember getting up as a child to watch the scroll on the TV to wait, and wait, and wait for “Springville-Griffith Institute” to appear.  The ultimate frustration was to get distracted and look away, only to look back to see schools starting with “W” on the screen…ugh!  

As a parent and lifelong educator, I know the feeling of getting that message in the morning that the weather has made travel dangerous and consequently school is closed for the day.  However, on the other side of a snow day is the inconvenience caused to the many parents and families who must still go to work when the weather is lousy.  They are faced with the challenge of scrambling to find childcare or needing to take time off of work to be home with their kids.  

As the winter weather approaches (maybe sooner than we think!), I wanted to communicate how we come to the decision to close schools so that our families, staff, and community are informed about the process.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention a phenomenon of the last decade where local media have begun to sensationalize weather events.  We can all think of plenty of examples in recent years where “feet of snow” were predicted, and all schools in the Western New York area closed ahead of the predicted storm, only to wake up to a few flakes floating through the air or even a beautiful sunny day.

Given the challenges of predicting the weather conditions, we do have a process for determining if schools need to be closed due to weather.  It starts at about 4am when our talented and experienced Transportation Supervisor, Ann Rugg, reaches out to seven Highway Superintendents who cover various areas of our 140-square-mile district.  Crews from Ashford (West Valley), Boston, Colden, Collins, Concord, Sardinia, and Springville report in to let us know the road conditions in their areas.  With such a large district, most of you know that it can be snowing like crazy in one area with almost nothing in another.  That said, we need to make a call holistically because the district is either “open” or “closed,” we can’t transport some students to school and not others.

I’ve also shared that my wife, kids and I have the blessing of living in the Boston Hills, basically between Genesee Rd. and Rice Rd.  If you’ve lived in our community for at least one winter, and if you travel the 219 expressway, you know exactly where I’m talking about…if it is going to snow, there’s a high probability that we are getting the brunt of it!  Given that, I’ve also made a habit of taking a little drive on snowy mornings…being a Ronald Regan, “trust but verify” kind of guy, I like to see for myself just how bad the roads are.  It also gives me something to do while waiting for the report from Mrs. Rugg and our exceptional highway crews.  

By about 5am, informed of conditions from across the district (and a little data of my own), while also taking into account the forecast for the coming hours, we make the call about whether or not we can safely transport our students to school.  It is not an exact science…far from it, but we make the best call we can, given the information we have on hand at the time. 

I’ve been asked by families, “Is there a certain amount of snow that necessitates a snow day?”  The answer is unfortunately, “no”...if only it were that simple.  But, we all know that 6 inches of snow with icy roads beneath can sometimes be more dangerous than two feet of snow that have been cleared away, leaving well-treated roads.  

Another common concern I often hear is for the safety of our high school students who are inexperienced driving in winter weather.  My strong recommendation is that, when the weather is predicted to be bad, our high school students adjust their schedule to take the buses driven by our experienced bus drivers and avoid driving their own vehicles altogether.  As the former high school principal, I know just how unpopular this recommendation is, but I also know that we can’t close school for nearly 1,700 students because of the 75 who drive their own vehicles to school.

I hope that the above information has offered you at least some insight into the process used to call a snow day.  This is a decision that will inevitably leave some unhappy and questioning the call.  But I assure you that each time we decide to close or keep school open, it is done with the best of intentions to have our kids in school as often as possible AND keep everyone safe.  

If school is closed, we will do our very best to inform everyone by 5:15 am using a voice call, text, and email along with a posting on our website.  The closing will also be sent to local media to be included in the beloved scroll at the bottom of the television screen.

If you have any questions about the above information, please feel free to reach out!

James Bialasik
Superintendent of Schools

P.S. There has been some talk in recent years about “going remote” during inclement weather.  At this point in time, if we are closed, school is not in session.  On a snow day, we ask that families stay safe and that our students rest, relax, read a good book and get outside to play if it is safe to do so.  If we find ourselves in a situation where the weather has been particularly bad for an entire winter and we are out of snow days, we may discuss “remote learning days” as an alternative to extending the school year…but we will cross that bridge if we come to it!