Winter challenges, apologies and clean-up


1/27/14, 3 pm: Addendum to blog post placed here on Monday afternoon, 1-27-2014.  Following is a message from the Outreach Coordinator serving our region for the Indiana Department of Education. In brief response to specifics about make-up days, we have seven (7) add-on days available to us between the adopted calendar’s last student day (May 28) and the Friday before Commencement (June 6). At present I believe we will get two waiver days as a result of Department of Education action (if true, this would push our last day to Monday, June 2). Beyond this, I will not know until after the February 5, 2014 State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting as noted below.

Good afternoon,

I know that many of you are very concerned about the number of days that your students have missed due to weather and about the quickly approaching ISTEP timeline.  I was told today that the issue of ISTEP testing window will be addressed at the February 5 SBOE meeting. Please know that the superintendent is aware of the concern of making up days. Options are being reviewed and we will receive information as soon as a decision has been made.

Dianne McKinley
Outreach Coordinator-Region 5
Indiana Department of Education

The last few snowy and frigid weeks have been a blur, even for those of us accustomed to not getting much sleep in the winter.  As the powder flies for yet another snow event , I am compelled to do a bit of house cleaning, some of it just necessary (known apologies* and ode to a careening calendar), and some as promised (my next blog post about what came to mind on Thursday of Snow-pocalypse 2014).

Parents and others who weighed in during the calendar making** process in the fall of 2011, indicated firm preference for firmly protecting scheduled days around the established national winter holidays (Dr. King’s birthday and Presidents’ Day). The rationale included: 1) This community makes plans for long weekends, and the schools should not renege upon these (“Even if ZCS calls them ‘flex’ days, we’re going to use them and our children will not attend!”), and 2) The weeks between early January and Spring Break are widely known as “the winter doldrums” in Indiana. Days off*** (though we’ve had them clustered together of late) are salve to the long gray grind so common here.

So, the often contentious but collaborative calendar building we have done here put make-up days at the end of the school year. This was by design. (Please, please don’t allow this to renew the hate mail I get because someone’s Aunt Jilly’s lake cottage is available for free in early June or late August.) In honor of this calendar making process, I do not plan to unilaterally take away the non-student days slated for February 17 and 18, 2014, and yet, I disclaim this emphasis with an “All Hail, Mother Nature” because her 2014 Ego Strut may yet be of enough power to change my mind, though it is not likely.

I challenge someone to choreograph and perform a “Don’t Snow Dance” and we will post it on our YouTube page. Remember to wear Eagles green!

Happy Winter 2014…

Scott Robison
Superintendent of Schools

*The known apologies:

1. I have offered a direct message to the parent who called out our lack of readiness for BAC/UP child care services at Pleasant View on Wednesday morning of the first Polar Vortex week (January 6-10). In a nutshell, the critical candor sparked an after action review, and I do believe we should have reordered our snow clearing effort on Tuesday of that week. I sincerely apologize to GROW Access families because I just did not anticipate the magnitude of the clearing effort on that day, and it resulted in a one day delay that inconvenienced you.  I sincerely apologize. It was a judgment call that day that I missed.

2. We have some experience with a “route spacing” protocol when snow bursts in late afternoon of school days threaten to trap second route students (elementaries) at school because of middle school route lateness (this regards the “going home/afternoon” routes). If the first route is too delayed, it could push us (in winter) to have to transport our little guys and girls home in the dark. If we know about the need for this early enough, we can message it to parents as “TEN-MINUTE EARLY RELEASE FOR JUST BUS RIDERS” such that parents do not scramble from whatever they are doing to pick up kids at school or be home for them earlier. In most cases, we find that conditions really do not put bus riders home earlier, but that little extra “getting to the route” time helps our drivers complete the elementary routes before dark.

Armed with that background, note that a snow burst quite close to day’s end on Thursday, January 16 sparked the decision to do a bus rider only ten-minute early dismissal for route spacing. An internal messaging flaw for which I take full responsibility resulted in a slightly (a few minutes) early general release at the middle level.  A few parents were confused and angry about not getting a phone or text alert, and they let us know about it.  Fortunately, everyone was still on campus and safe, but I know what caused the issue and have already changed the plan for internal messaging.  In the event of slightly early BUS ONLY dismissal in which the supervision chain for students is not relinquished, I/we will message to parents only if we have the luxury of time and chiefly because a few students at the beginning of each MS bus route may be a wee bit early arriving at home on such days. Apologies for not having clarified this “route spacing” phenomenon in  school arrival and dismissal communications.

**Calendar creation in most school districts is tied for second as a “most contentious” activity. Number one is any process related to referendum, and the tie for second is redistricting. Perhaps you already suspected as much.

***You may be surprised to know that a study of 15 consecutive school years in prep for calendar committee work a few years ago yielded that ZCS cancels school an average of only 1.4 days per year!

****Folks with eyes for detail will note that there is no fourth asterisk. You are here because you have persisted with a very long blog post.  For your reward, I would ask that you call or email someone (yes, both calling and emailing are old school, but use one of these anyway) to let them know that they have made a difference in your child’s life—or in the life of some child you know. When you’re done, you’ll be glad you did it.  Thanks.  And thanks for choosing the Zionsville Community Schools.

*****Speaking of “old school”—yeah, I know, there isn’t a fifth asterisk either. Current or former English teachers, please stand down on the flying asterisks (and other, overly casual toned issues with this blog). I was just thinking about the thousands of newsletters (paper, of course) that I sent about during a dozen years as a school principal. In the interest of full disclosure, I now admit that I once devised an early (analog—as in, on paper) “open rate” analysis of my Friday school newsletter by asking that parents send a message to their children or teachers from work via facsimile.  I dubbed it “The Fax Phenomenon”—and fully 608 of 648 students’ families sent funny and warm greetings to the school the next week.  (DO NOT DO THIS…. PALEEEESE!)  This was before I learned about the necessity to be as lean as we are in ZCS.  I burned up about six-months of our toner allowance in about six hours. I have never known any of my newsletter gimmicks or buried messages to pay-off so sweetly—and cost so much at the same time! (Belated apologies to the CFO of the Pike Township Schools, circa 1995!)

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