APS Wants Your Thoughts on Make Up Days

ColdWeatherKids

 

(UPDATE):  Due to inclement weather, Atlanta Public Schools has cancelled classes and all school activities on Friday, January 19. The district will resume normal operations on Monday, January 22.

Here we are again! Another snow day (grimace emoji!).

As you know, we had to cancel classes and all school activities again on Friday, January 19, due to inclement weather. The sun may be out, but it is still brutally cold outside and ice is everywhere. We can’t have our students, teachers and staff members on the roads going to and from school and school activities. It’s just not safe yet.

Friday (January 19) is the seventh school day that we will have missed due to the weather since the start of the school year in August. I know many people are now starting to ask the inevitable question:  Do we have to make up these days, and if so, when and how will we do it?

First, allow me to clarify something about how many days we are required to make up. The Atlanta Public Schools charter with the Georgia Department of Education DOES NOT require us to make up days. BUT, I am concerned about the significant loss of instructional time we have suffered. So, we are looking at ways we can make up the equivalent of approximately 3 instructional days before the end of the school year.

One of the complicating factors I must consider when exploring make up days is that we have historically paid our employees even when the district is closed for inclement weather.   Many of our employees depend upon a consistent paycheck to pay their bills, which is why we do not reduce their pay when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate.  However, if we make up days during a time that was otherwise scheduled to be a paid holiday, we will have to ask employees to come in to “make up” these days in order to ensure that the make-up options are cost-neutral.  That may seem like a logical request of our employees, but it is not something we have had to do in recent history. We haven’t been in the position of making up days for quite some time, so asking employees to “make up” paid holidays will undoubtedly cause confusion.

Having said all of that, we would like some assistance from you to help us make the best decision for everyone in APS. We have created a survey (click here) with six options for making up the time. We chose these options based on the following factors:

  • We do not want to extend the school year past Memorial Day Weekend, so as not to conflict with summer travel/vacation plans;
  • We do not want to require students and staff to come to school on Saturdays to ensure maximum attendance; and,
  • We do not want to conflict with Spring Break so as not to interfere with travel/vacation plans.

Here are the options:

Option 1 – Make up the days on February 19 – 21 during Winter Break

  • Pros: consolidates make-up days; teachers are already scheduled to work February 19
  • Cons: families and staff may have already scheduled travel for the President’s Day Weekend and/or Winter Break; will require employees who are paid when school is closed for inclement weather to “make up” the days without additional pay to ensure the plan is cost neutral

Option 2 – Make up the days on February 21 – 23 during Winter Break

  • Pros: consolidates make-up days; does not conflict with potential travel plans for President’s Day Weekend
  • Cons: families and staff may have already scheduled travel for Winter Break; will require employees who are paid when school is closed for inclement weather to “make up” the days without additional pay to ensure the plan is cost neutral

Option 3 – Make up the days on February 19-20 during Winter Break and March 19 professional learning day

  • Pros: spreads out make-up days to minimize impact on Winter Break; teachers are already scheduled to work on February 19 and March 19
  • Cons: families and staff may have already scheduled travel for President’s Day Weekend and/or Winter Break; takes away 2 critical professional learning days for staff; will require employees who are paid when school is closed for inclement weather to “make up” the days without additional pay to ensure the plan is cost neutral

Option 4 – Make up the days on February 22 -23 during Winter Break and March 19 professional learning day

  • Pros: spreads out make-up days to minimize impact on Winter Break; does not conflict with potential travel plans for President’s Day Weekend; teachers are already scheduled to work on March 19
  • Cons: families and staff may have already scheduled travel for Winter Break; takes away a critical professional learning day for staff; will require employees who are paid when school is closed for inclement weather to “make up” the days without additional pay to ensure the plan is cost neutral

Option 5 – Add 30 minutes to end of the day from January 29 to March 30

  • Pros: does not conflict with potential travel plans for families and staff; does not interfere with critical professional learning days for staff; likely to have the better attendance than Options 1 – 4 as students will already be in school; will not require employees to “make up” days without additional pay
  • Cons: will require flexibility with start times for athletics and other extracurricular events after school; will require schools to implement plans to ensure instructional time is maximized and not wasted as “extra time” added on to schedule; will require strategies to ensurethe plan is cost neutral

Option 6 – Add 15 minutes to start of the day and 15 minutes to end of the day from January 29 to March 30

  • Pros: does not conflict with potential travel plans for families and staff; does not interfere with critical professional learning days for staff; likely to have better attendance than Options 1 – 4 as students will already be in school; minimizes impact on after school activities; will not require employees to “make up” days without additional pay
  • Cons: will require some flexibility (though less than option 5) with start times for athletics and other extracurricular events after school; may result in more students being tardy to school; will require schools to implement plans to ensure instructional time is maximized and not wasted as “extra time” added on to schedule; will require strategies to ensure the plan is cost neutral

Please, take a minute to complete the survey (click here). We want to hear from everyone – students, parents and staff. The survey will be taken down at 11:45 p.m., Sunday, January 21, and keep in mind that you will only be able to vote one time.

I can assure you that the results will play a significant role in the decision we make. Also, we plan to do some informal polling of our principals and other administrators. Once we have all the facts and opinions, we will be sure to announce our decision in a timely manner.

So, that’s where we are. We will also begin exploring contingency plans for any future closings due to bad weather, as we are at a point where we will need to explore options for employee pay on inclement weather closing dates. We fully expect to be back open for business, bright and early on Friday, January 19. Until then, take the survey (click here), keep warm and stay safe. See you Friday!

APS Prepares for Winter Weather

Colder temperatures have arrived, and I want to share, as the new superintendent, how the district goes about our decision process for weather-related school delays and closings.

I know how frustrating and scary it can be not knowing if bad weather will impact you and your family, especially when our littlest ones are on buses or walking home while you are at work or trying to get home yourself. Having studied, lived and worked in cities and states with snow and ice such as Cambridge, Mass. (always cold and snowy), Washington, DC (sometimes cold and snowy), Saint Paul, Minnesota (absolutely freezing, snowy and icy) and Austin, Texas (icy);  I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would know about bad weather and its impact on schools. I know what it takes to ensure the school system is doing all it can to keep our staff and students safe and our families informed, but I do not control “Mother Nature” so we will do what we can to get closure and delay decisions as accurate as possible. Therefore, when we have one of those days, I want you to know in advance how APS will notify the school community in a timely manner so that you can plan accordingly.

Before severe weather is even predicted, I analyze with our operations and human resources team as much as I can about the housing, living and travel patterns of our staff, especially the support staff who we depend on to pick up our students on school buses, safely get them across the street as crossing guards and to prepare meals at breakfast and lunch in food service, and do much more. Many of our staff live outside of the city, and it becomes important that we know how that would affect our operations during the day if they were not in attendance. Sometimes weather in another community can impact our school district by default. These are all small but important details that go into my decision-making.

So, when severe weather is predicted for our area, the next step begins where we prepare immediately by monitoring the weather and holding conversations throughout the day and, if necessary, throughout the night and early morning hours with Atlanta Fulton County Emergency Management, Georgia Emergency Management, and the National Weather Service to help us make the best decisions for our students’ safety.

We then launch our severe Core Weather Team, which includes representatives from APS Operations, Transportation, Safety & Security, Facilities Services, Communications, Curriculum and Instruction, Nutrition and Information Technology departments. We enter into a live conference call to assess the weather information we are receiving as well emergency plans driven by the city of Atlanta’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Office, Fulton County Emergency Management, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and others.  In these conference calls, we rely heavily on information provided by the National Weather Service and local meteorologists to provide the best and most reliable information. The meteorologists often want to wait as late as possible, when better data allows for more accurate forecasts and precise solutions. Sometimes, this wait can conflict with the district’s need to notify families early as possible.

Once we make a decision about school operations during bad weather, we will begin notifying parents and caregivers as soon as possible.

Here is a sample of key decision times mapped out throughout the day so you can understand where key decision points will be made.

Should we need to close our schools early due to inclement weather forecasted for the same day after school has already started, the Core Weather Team will convene as early in the school day as possible, likely around 9:30 a.m. to make a recommendation. You would, in this case, begin receiving notice of our decision by 10:30 a.m. that day from the district’s communications channels, including the local news media. If inclement weather is expected the next day, our team will begin the conversations and close monitoring on whether to delay or close schools.

We will aim to give you as much lead notice so you can put plans in place for your children should we have to cancel classes or afternoon activities early or if schools have to close for a full day or more. We will communicate our decisions in time for local newscasts (4a.m., noon, 4p.m., 5p.m. 6p.m. 10p.m. or 11p.m.). However, you don’t have to wait for news broadcasts. We will communicate with families via robo calls, texts and emails, the district website, social media, and local news outlets when there is a change in our normal school routine. Please note too, we will not contact you if we are not changing our school schedule.

I will remain in constant contact with principals and assistant principals as the district makes decisions about school closings and delays, and again, we will contact families beginning at 5:00 a.m. on that day, if the district needs to delay or cancel school.  I have reviewed the district’s lessons learned from Winter Storm Leon which will help us address issues faced by students and staff last winter.  As I speak with district leaders, I continue to determine what worked well during previous bouts of inclement weather, what did not and changes needed to move forward.

I encourage you to log in to the campus portal for parents, update your preferences for emergency notifications, which include robo-calls, text messages and e-mails at http://www.atlantapublicschools.us/CPP.

We understand our school community’s desire for timely information, and we do our very best to balance this desire with the need for coordinated community-wide emergency planning in these situations.

In the end, the superintendent does make the final call as to whether schools close for inclement weather. However, it is important that the district coordinates with outside agencies so that these decisions are not made in a vacuum.