When school officials talk about outreach, snow day clarity is a good place to start
The year’s first snowstorm reminded us of two things: how hard a winter in the Northeast can be (although it can get harder) and how nice it is to have a little certainty about, say, whether the kids are going to school the next day. Whether they have to be bundled up for a morning bus, driven before we go to work or watched while we’re away.
But Cambridge Public Schools officials remain stingy with the certainty. While the school districts in Somerville, Arlington, Medford, Boston and more announced school closings early and decisively Wednesday so students and parents knew what to expect for Thursday and Friday, Cambridge was silent.
Anyone on Twitter or the parents’ Yahoo group that night would have seen people looking for clarity – and even asking for it outright – for next day’s plans.
School Committee member Patty Nolan went online to point people to what information she could, but there were no actual updates until late Thursday morning, and that was only a letter from Superintendent Jeffrey Young explaining again how snow day decisions are made, including Wednesday’s unpublicized decision to keep schools open.
Sure, students and parents can just assume school will be in session unless there’s an announcement it won’t be, but that assumption is hard to maintain when so many surrounding school districts are heard deciding the opposite. And the most official things got Wednesday was listening to the school’s information line at (617) 349-6513 and hear a message say (after some preamble) that school was to be held as normal the next day … unless you called back and heard a message school was not to be held as normal the next day.
The School Committee, superintendent, staff and City Council talk about the need for communication and outreach a lot, albeit mostly along the lines of getting all demographics involved in policymaking. The Kids Council even went so far as to send out a Outreach and Family Engagement Survey for city agencies, schools and community organizations and issue a report in May on its findings. (Warning: Clicking the link downloads the report automatically.)
But for starters, why doesn’t the district just use its existing tools? It has a Facebook page and a Twitter account (which were finally used Thursday to cancel afterschool activities and school on Friday), and it’s simply counterintuitive to not use them – not just to cancel, but to take a positive step when there’s doubt and affirm events or school will take place as usual.
While the explanations from Nolan and Young are appreciated, they’re also nothing new. Any parent or student who’s lived in the Northeast for long has a good chance of grasping why schools close or not in a winter storm – and knowing that when temperatures drop and the snow is coming down, process really isn’t the issue.
We just want to know whether school is open, and that we can rely on officials to be clear even when the skies and roads aren’t.