PTSC Weekly Update: Being Prepared for What Northwest Indiana Has to Offer Year Round

By: Dr. Stacey Schmidt Last Updated: August 31, 2015

porter-township-schools-logoWeather is tricky no matter where you live, and Northwest Indiana is no exception. Fog, flooding rains, quickly changing temperatures, snow, sleet, ice, blowing and drifting snow, and extreme cold temperatures/wind-chills are all anticipated conditions at some point during the school year.As part of this, we carry extra layers of clothing, cover exposed skin, keep blankets and shovels in the car, drive slowly, and most of all look forward to the days when we don't have to worry about the weather (or is that just me every morning?).

Here are some things to know about weather at PTSC that hopefully you will find helpful for all types of weather:

Please make sure your child comes dressed appropriately (warm enough clothing or cool enough clothing) for school each day. Even if it is too cold in winter for outdoor recess, one can never plan when an emergency might take place and a school has to be evacuated or a school bus breaks down. Wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the middle of winter is going to be challenging–even if the evacuation takes less than a minute.

Don’t know if there will be recess? Send the snow pants, hats, gloves, boots, coats, and scarves just in case (and all labeled with your child’s name).

Want to make sure you receive delay/closing calls? We are using a new system this year called School Messenger. It pulls your contact information (phone and email) directly from our student information system (Harmony). If you did not get a call this morning and have children in our school system, please call your child's school office and update your phone numbers and email. If you have done that and still do not receive a call, please contact your school office again to let them know of the issue. You can also always find the information on our website, on our PTSC Facebook page (with the actual audio message), or on Dr. Schmidt's Twitter feed.

PTSC works with the Meteorology Department at Valparaiso University to get weather reports the night before school and the morning of school. This information is utilized in addition to, weather bug, weather underground, and other weather websites that report Boone Grove data. It does seem that often times there will be a wide range of expected weather predictions depending on which website is consulted. This is also why it is good to have access to the VU Department of Meteorology to help us sort through the data. On top of that, the superintendents in the area are in constant communication sharing the information they have learned.

Do you wonder how school delay and closing decisions are made? There is no formula for this. On any given day I wake up between 4-4:30 am and check on the weather. Most days there are not concerns and I head out for my morning run. On days like today where I am seeing reduced visibility being reported through the weather websites we use, I'm out the door and driving the roads by 4:30 am. If it is an issue of snow, I talk to my parking lot plow crew between 4-4:30 am to get my first look at conditions. Sometimes they tell me not to go out on the roads, that we need a delay. Most of the time I set out driving the roads myself. I’m considering bus traffic, how much the county has already plowed (if it is snow), blowing and drifting, ice, and snow that continues to fall. *It is important to note that I expect roads in NWI to be snow-packed and slippery–this is just part of where we live. I’m looking for roads with large drifts that a car or bus could not drive through safely covering the entire road.There will be times that it is foggy.For fog, I'm looking at the level of light outside when the buses will run and I'm looking at the amount of visibility throughout the district. There may be patches where fog is much more dense--but I'm looking at conditions across the district as a whole and the amount of visibility across the district as a whole. If there is a delay, I am then back out on the roads driving to see if conditions have improved so that we can open school. I usually go back first to the areas that were particularly bad on my drive earlier in the morning.

Do you wonder how wind chill delays and closing decisions are made? If you haven't--give it a few months! There is also no formula for this. It is a combination of many things. How hard is the wind blowing? How cold is the air temperature? What are the expected wind chills? Are my buses starting and staying running? Additionally we have to look to see if the cold will break making a two-hour delay effective. It is not a black and white decision–there are many factors which play into every decision. A change in just a couple of degrees can be the difference between a regular day of school and a closing. This is where we also consult the Valparaiso University Meteorology Department for accurate current temperatures and wind-chills along with a variety of online temperatures. We do live in Northwest Indiana, and we will go to school in cold weather. The decision looks at the extreme conditions of cold that are highly dangerous.

I try to make a call for a delay or closing by 5:30 am. Our buses are already getting ready for routes at that time. Our first routes will start soon after that. While it is nice to know the night before, that is not always the best decision. If I think there is a chance that we will be able to open on time or not have to close school I will always wait. My goal is to keep students safe, but also to keep students on the regular school calendar with school in session if at all possible. That will mean many times that the decision must be made in the morning.

If this happens on a Wednesday when we typically have a 30 minute delayed start--there will be no 30 minute delayed start. The two-hour delay trumps this and school will begin 2 hours later than a regular school start time.

Emergency Closing Plans: We try to never cancel school in the middle of the school day or send students home early, but there are occasions when we must make a decision such as this. Please make sure to construct a plan with your child for what to do if this were to occur.

Virtual Inclement Weather Days: Last year we implemented virtual inclement weather days on a couple of snowy days. For those new to PTSC, this is when the weather is too dangerous (cold or snowy) for students to attend school in their school buildings, so we hold school online. Teachers publish their lessons online (this year through Schoology which has replaced My Big Campus) by 9am and students work on their lessons digitally while at home. Students may contact their teachers and interact with them online all throughout the school day hours. If the roads have cleared enough for passage, we typically try to open at least one building in case you need to accompany your child to the school to use a computer lab together to complete work. Typically we have opened BGHS as it is centrally located. As winter approaches, your child's teacher will communicate more details. We learned a lot through our days last year and have made some improvements. This year you will find that through Schoology teachers can post videos easily. This will be helpful at younger levels as it will allow students to be independent with their work. These days are designed to take the time a student would typically spend in school to complete work. We also learned that these are great for very snowy days when often times everything is shut down. We will not use virtual online days as scheduled make-up days.

Scheduled Make-Up Days: So why do we still have make-up days on our calendar if we can do these all virtually? Great question! There may be days when it is not the best decision to have a virtual inclement weather day. Let's say our area is hit with an ice storm and power is out all across the district. This would make it challenging to access our online content for the students and challenging for our staff members to post their online lessons. For this reason, we have left them in our calendar. If we do not need to use them, they will be a day off for students. But if it is the best option for us to cancel school and have students in session on a schedule make-up day rather than a virtual day on the actual day of the inclement weather--then we will use that option.

This is just a glimpse to the thinking that goes into the weather scenario each day. Hours are spent each day working to make the best decision possible at the time consulting a team of folks. Sometimes we nail it. Sometimes 10 minutes after a decision is made conditions shift. The point is no decision is made lightly or without what amounts to on many days as hours of early morning work. We want our students to be safe, and we also want our students at school learning.