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Snow Days Don’t Have to Mean-No Days in College. A retrospective of snow days and impact on last 13 years.

Many community members have opinions about snow days. As graduates of Metro Nashville Public Schools who are sophomores in college and are also alumni journalists of the Bobcat Beat, we believe we can offer a fresh perspective on the impact snow days and how weather has impacted our education. Our voice is singular in this article. We believe snow days interfered little with our education, as we had great teachers.

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We love our whacky weather, if it is what we complain about the most.”

— Alumni Bobcat Beat Editorial

Call it coincidence, bad luck, or something else, the past three MNPS superintendents have all had to face major decisions early in their tenure as the leader of Tennessee’s largest school district.

“No matter the weather situation Metro Schools was in, a day off here or there never stopped me from being prepared for college. There is always a way to make sure students are learning, my teachers always made sure I had something to do.””

— America Leon - Bobcat Beat Editor 2015

Coincidentally, it hasn’t been an educational decision each of the last three Directors of Schools’ has made that has been controversial, it has been decisions made about school closing and weather.

Each director, Dr. Garcia, Dr. Register and Dr. Joseph have all had to make a difficult decision about closing schools due to weather in the first weeks of January, in the first year of their tenure.

As successful graduates of MNPS, we are here to assure the parents, the community and maybe even the new leaders from other areas of the country who aren’t familiar with our weather, snow days did not change the outcome of our learning.

We are all in college, and we are highly successful.

As students, we always wanted a snow day. We prayed for snow days. Put white crayons and ice in toilets in hopes of having a snow day,  and we got our fair share.

And though we are all in college with students from around the country, we are not behind intellectually because of the days we were out of class due to the weather.

In fact, recently over Christmas break, we all have shared and compared how prepared we are in comparison to our peers at our respective colleges.

So, it amazes us that leaders above us worry so much about our missing a day of education, instead of first worrying about our safety. We heard a statement that decisions are made about 50,000 who ride a bus, and as graduates, we have a regrets, despite our success.

We wish the adults had worried more about our parents who drive, our teachers who coach us after school. and well, us,  as high school drivers more in the rain, and snow.

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night

To give our readers how many days we think we missed over 12 years, we added up the big weather events throughout our lives, going back and looking at old weather calendars.

We survived the 2010 flood, several major snow events and Hurricane Ivan was so bad it canceled the entire TSSAA golf tournament.

You haven’t lived in Tennessee truly, if you haven’t experienced the threat of tornados which we are sure caused us to leave school early;

We have spent numerous lost hours of instruction in the halls all our k-12 lives under tornado warnings, and weather has canceled so many, many extracurricular events.

Canceling an extracurricular event is important for us to make a special note, because for many of us, what we do after school contributed to how we chose our college. Plus the days we’ve been out for heat and sub zero cold.

Whether it is one days or twenty, the number of days spent in halls, waiting for a tornado or how many snow days are called when it didn’t “snow enough,” hasn’t seemed to matter in very long run to what we know in the end.

What we did learn from our research is, directors learn pretty quickly, that Nashville weather is a no-win situation. Whether you are a director aspires to keep students in school despite the weather, like Dr. Garcia or desires to protect them from the weather as did Dr. Register, what we now know is…. the general public is as finicky as the weather.

A Retrospective of the Snow Storm of 2003

On January 16, 2003, Nashville faced what many have come to call, the “snowpacolypse”. Nashville had enjoyed a warm Christmas of 60-70 degrees weather, and snow days had rarely been used for several year. In his first term, and being new to Nashville, the  Californian Pedro Garcia who had been brought to Nashville to reorganize a school district and implement a new kind of school, called Charter Schools.

Dr. Garcia was skeptical when discussing the weather to the media, and balked just 48 hours before the historic snow fall, that he intended “to keep schools open no matter what.” It seemed a reasonable decision  when it was 65 degrees out 48 hours before the first snowflake hit Tennessee (“School Daze”, Nashville City Paper 1/15/2003).

All rights held by Mike Strasinger
A MNPS school bus slides down Hillsboro road in front of Burton Hills January 16, 2003. Considered the biggest weather day bungle of recent history because then Superintendent Garcia refused to close schools early and stranded 100’s of students overnight at schools.

“It pays to know the locals” and if a farmer or a southerner tells you not to play the odds against the weather, well, that might be a good head’s up.

We Bobcats know as native Tennesseans how long it takes to go from 60 degrees  to 20 around these parts – which is about 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, for Dr. Garcia, Saturday’s 65 degrees turned into 9 inches  and 15 degrees in less than 12 hours one Wednesday morning.

Dr. Garcia, for whatever reason, failed to close schools fast enough and chaos ensued.

Roads became parking lots, school buses ended up in ditches, and the public outcry for poor decision making, had to have been a nightmare.

Students were stranded at schools, principals broke into cafeterias, and coaches grilled frozen hotdogs from concessions to feed 1oo’s of children who spent the night at school because they were unable to get home. We all know teachers who still have stashes of blankets and pillows, “just in case,” because of that day.

It would be six  years before parents and students would have to worry about another horrific weather day.

Most of us were elementary school for the snowapacolypse, but we remember it well. We remember being scared wondering if we would get home.

It was a newby to Nashville mistake, and as Dr. Garcia said with the next threat of snow, “We would rather err of the side of safety, we are not guessing what’s right if we do that. (Outside Communications PR hired for MNPS 2/27/2003).

 

 

“It is 6 below, tell them to put more clothes on!”

Almost to the day, six years later, in 2009, Dr. Jesse Register, MNPS’s new superintendent and only days into his new job would be faced with a similar decision.

His decision regarding the weather would take courage, because it would be even more unpopular than Dr. Garcia’s late decision close schools.

He declared schools closed because of the freezing temperatures and lack of reliable transportation. It was unpopular to many because there were many who thought it was allowing students to be weak.

On January 17, the day after MLK day, temperatures of single digits were predicted as the high for the day.

In a race to determine if the state law allowed schools to close schools due to temperatures, and against very vocal area businesses, Dr. Register decidede that it would be in the best interest of all students to have them stay at home instead of putting them at risk of being standing for long periods outside in extreme cold. .

Social media cranked up the heat, telling parents who supported Dr. Register, to put more clothes on their kids, claiming they were allowing their kids to be weak. The issue became a very contested social media meltdown.

 “I am a sophomore at a music conservatory in Cleveland, Ohio. Everything they do in the north is with snow than the south. First, they don’t have sleet. The biggest difference though is everyone has the right clothes for cold weather. No one in high school that I knew had a parka. I had to buy a parka when I started school there. It’s expected everyone has clothes that are warm there, in high school, I knew refugees who had never been in cold weather before.””

— Sarah Strasinger

Dr. Register, courageously made a tough decision to close schools  faced with public outcry from every segment of the community. As 8th graders who rode the bus, we actually appreciated his decision. What many did not know is how unreliable the buses are, how early a bus rider goes out to stand in case the bus is early, and long you can wait if the bus is late.

Sadly, as journalists, researching for this article, we found no evidence that anyone tried to find out what the poorest thought of Dr. Register’s decision. As college students, we have a better understanding of the affects of poverty, and Nashville definitely has too many who meet this criteria.  Below is Dr. Register’s statement presented to the public by Communication’s Director Olivia Brown.

As was explained by the MNPS offices “there is no district or state policy cut-off temperature for school cancellation, but the threat of zero-degree weather is “clearly” a safety concern”, Olivia Brown, communications spokesperson said in a district release 

“Some students will be bundled up. Some students might not be bundled up,” Brown said Thursday (January 18, 2009 on 2nd day of closure). “If a bus were to break down, if a bus were to be late, … or if students were walking to school, that’s just extremely cold to have children out.”

MNPS’s decision was announced just after noon on Thursday. Brown said officials aimed to give parents as much time as possible to make plans. (Nashville City Paper 2009, January 18)

On Recent Snow

Dr. Shawn Joseph, Nashville’s newest Director of School, like Dr. Garcia and Dr. Register, ironically had to face finicky weather decisions early in January, under similar scrutiny over a decision about school closings, before he has had to face real intellectual scrutiny over educational policy.

We sincerely hope he will take a moment and reflect on our success as Overton graduates.

We hope he will see us as evidence of the bigger picture.

And in the mean time, we as long time Nashvillians offer him this hope –  give the weather 24 hours, it will be 65 degrees soon.

Actual post on Twitter, 1/24/2015: “Hey Metro! Are you gonna close schools? Here’s a picture of ice on the roads!”

Nashville has closed schools because of zero degree weather, floods, hurricanes,  snow, snow that never came, ice storms, tornadoes, hail, heat, oh the heat. And wait till it sleets.

And like Dr. Joseph’s predecessors before him, who each had to learn the nature of Middle Tennessee weather,   it is, in its own whacky unpredictable way, wonderful. It is one of the most wonderful things that makes us Tennesseans.

And Dr. Joseph, we love our whacky weather, if it is what we complain about the most.


All contributors are sophomores in college. America Leon and Griffin Stackhouse both are TN Promise Scholars who will continue their education on through a four year college. Sarah Strasinger is a music performance full scholarship recipient at the Baldwin Wallace Music Conservatory in Cleveland, Ohio and is a full scholarship recipient in the arts management program. Audrey Phipps is a full scholarship recipient in the Global Studies Program at MTSU; Katie Palmer and Miranda Lewis are both secondary education majors at Austin Peay University.

Today, using technology, we collaborated from our respective colleges and homes to compose the below “Alumni Editorial”.

Our voice is different than most, as we are still students learning, but we are also adult graduates living on our own. As journalists, we have developed perspectives about the Overton community from both looking out as a Bobcat, and looking in as an objective observer.

Sources: Nashville City Paper (January 16-18 2003; January 17. 2009, The Tennessean 1/21/2003; Retrospective “Nashville: It’s Major Weather Events”

 

 

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Snow Days Don’t Have to Mean-No Days in College. A retrospective of snow days and impact on last 13 years.