ELLICOTTVILLE, NY - Students returning to school are always a clear sign that summer is coming to an end. And although we don't want to think about it, it means winter is not far behind.
With the snow comes the inevitable question of whether or not schools will cancel classes. It's a question that has parents up early and often left wondering how that decision is made.
So we decided to ask an expert.
Meet Mark Ward. He's been a superintendent for 14 years in three different districts. He's currently the Superintendent of Ellicottville Schools, a place we all know gets a fair share of the white stuff.
He says the decision of closing schools for weather is one of the most difficult ones a superintendent has to make. "Sometimes you're going to be the hero and sometimes you're going to be the villain," says Ward.
Many factors go into his decision. There are obvious ones, like road conditions and how well plows are able to keep them safe. There are also some factors you may not realize, like how many students ride to school or walk. And then are some issues, like the amount of snow, that Ward says really does not factor into his decision.
"I think the two things that cause us the most issues here are ice and wind with snow," says Ward. "The amount of snow we have is not a real big deal. I remember one storm, and of course the staff likes to kid me about this, we had 28 inches one night and we ran. It just came down. It was just a lot of snow. We moved it out of the way and it worked ok. But it wasn't icy, it wasn't blowing around, it was just there."
While school districts are each unique, they all have similar systems in place to make the decision about whether or not to close. They consult their transportation directors, talk to town and county road crews, and watch the weather forecast.
David Spacone is the Superintendent of operations in Niagara Falls. He's up early on snow mornings to report back to the district superintendent. "We have a crew that comes in and takes care of our properties for snow removal and salting, I monitor that through the night and usually by 4:30 or 5 o'clock in the morning I am on the phone notifying the superintendent of our progress," says Spacone.
If Ellicottville is going to close, Ward likes to make that decision early. "Probably between 5:30 and quarter to 6. No later than that."
And he says he always errs on the side of caution. "When in doubt, we'll close."