The President's Blog

Honey I shrunk the driveway-Or how do we make a decision to close school?
Jim Hansen

Honey I shrunk the Driveway-or how do we decide to close school?



After four bouts of snowblowing this weekend my driveway seems to have shrunk as I left more and more to an “eventual” melt. Every time I was out there the thought of closing school was in my mind. So how do we make a decision to close or modify our school day? Good Question! 

The decision allows for group input but ultimately the decision is made by the President and the Principal.

Our guiding principles are:


            Student Safety. Can they get to school and home safely including if they have to spend some time in the inclement weather?


            Staff availability.  Is staff able to reach the building or have they had sufficient notice to have their Finalsite loaded for an “online” learning day.


            Learning a priority.  Will the disruption impact classroom or school events?


            Facility. Is the facility accessible and are the internal systems capable of providing the environment conducive to learning?



Our process involves getting multiple sources of information about the weather (temperatures, wind, snow/tornadoes etc.) and collecting data from our suppliers-snow plowing, busing, state department of transportation and local municipalities.


Our service area complicates our decision. We have students coming from St Pauls’ Highland Park on the west, Hastings and River Falls on the south, Forest Lake and New Richmond on the north and Ellsworth on the East. We also monitor days of direct instruction to assure we are in compliance.


We attempt to make a decision by 7PM the evening before the event so that notices go out in a timely manner or early in the day in anticipation of what they evening might look like. We send Text and Emails through Constant Contact to those who have opted in and if school is in session make an announcement. We also notify the TV and online sites.  If we make a decision to close Teachers have until early morning to get a lesson with assignments on their FinalSite page so learning continues even if school does not.


As an example on Friday morning we were informed that pelting hail or snow would be coming near the end of school so a decision was made to cancel the Play and all extracurricular activities for both Friday night and Saturday so that students could get home safely before the storm impacted them. Postponing the ACT was a major decision that weighed on us on Friday before most other schools had yet to act.


Between 4-5 am on the day of a storm we have leadership team members checking major freeways and highways and access to the school grounds if we need to make a correction we do so by 5:30am. The Principal and her staff then make decisions about the day schedule and work to find substitutes if staff cannot make it in.


Several times this year schools looked at the same data and made different decisions. North St Paul closed, HM was 2 hours late, Mounds Park was open at the regular time, Woodbury was closed and Mahtomedi was 1 hour late.  Each of us have different served populations (some have elementary schools), busing companies with depots closer to school or buses parked inside and whether or not the side streets are plowed make a huge impact. 


Twice this year the decision was not unanimous-including last evening. We waited until 9 pm to make a decision with weather prognosticators indicating a midnight end to snowfall in the north (it had already stopped in the south) and assurances from our removal team that the school would be ready by 8am.  After personally traveling Highways 96, 61 and 694  at 4:30 am and looking at side strees in wbl, Mahtomedi and grant township others contributed similar observations from Stillwater, Lake Elmo, St Paul and Golden Valley. 


The consensus was main highways were clear with pavement showing, major roads were clear but side roads in the city were a mess. Staff was available and the facility would be ready by 7. We stayed with our evening decision for a 2 hour late start as did some other schools while several closed for the day.


It’s never a simple algorithm and a very easy one to criticize since there is no right answer but we do make the decision with student safety and the balanced needs of the institution in the forefront our mind.