Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When the right answer feels and looks like the wrong one

It was 4:30 AM. I was on the phone with Superintendents from around the county talking about our favorite winter subject - snow. At 4:30 AM the snow had just started. The weatherman on the call with us indicated that we would receive only 3 - 4 inches. Later in the morning the snow would turn to rain with a high temperature of in the upper 30's.

So we all agreed - no snow day.

I hung up the phone, got ready for work, and started in.

My commute lasted twice as long as normal. It was slow, slow, slow! The slower my commute became the more I worried that perhaps I had not made the right call.

My Novi students didn't think I made the right call. Novi students took to Twitter and let me have it:

Clearly getting to school was difficult this morning. Teachers were late. Buses were late. Students were late.

It was messy.

But was having school today the wrong call?

It depends.

When the call had to be made it was the right call. There was little snow on the ground at 4:30 AM. You can't plow snow if there is no snow to plow. The call has to be made early so that staff and parents can be notified.

But 3 - 4 inches of snow coming when staff and students and parents and buses were competing with people commuting to work made teachers late to school, made buses run up to 30 minutes late, and made high school student drivers nervous and frustrated.

I have learned that there is no perfect answer on a snowy day in Michigan. I try to err on the side of student and staff safety. But there does come a time when I have to decide whether it is safe or not. Today I decided that it was safe. I know that there are people who would argue that I was a fool. 

Today I made what I thought was the right call. Even though it took a long time and even though people were upset and even though it tested our nerves and our patience, in the end, I think this was the right decision.

But, to be truthful, at times, it felt like the wrong call.


  1. I feel it was the wrong call. I am a teacher in a neighboring district and I don't think that Novi, or my district, or the ones in between should have had school. It was a treacherous drive to say the least. I got stuck three times as NONE of the roads were plowed, be it subs or main roads. Why wasn't the conference call at 5:30? Still plenty of time to alert staff and parents. You are sending an unnecessary amount of people out onto the roads: staff, bus drivers, parents, high school students with new licenses, etc. I do not think that the superintendents on this conference call made the right call, nor did they have the safety of staff and families in their best interests.

  2. Sorry Doc, it was the wrong call. Putting the students and staff in harms way was a bad call. Error on the side of safety next time.

  3. Indeed it was a wrong call. Besides the drivers of all the students and the teachers, there were also many students waiting at the bus stops for at least 20-30 minutes later as usual.

  4. Thank you for your candor and time presenting this topic. My kids made it safely to school as they left very early. My son even drove himself for the very first time without yours truly -- talk about unsafe and bad parenting. I guess we all make mistakes now and again.

  5. LOL...What a bunch of whiners. All I heard was a bunch over privileged and coddled kids whining..."my white Roshes (shoes) got dirty". The real world is far harsher and this event will provide an opportunity to mature. Can't wait for you folks to get to the real world and try to pull this with your employer...unemployment line you go.

  6. Dr. Matthews,
    We always appreciate the extra effort you frequently spend to explain the obviously very difficult decision-making process you go through with each weather day. In other districts I have been in, we were never offered such explanation and insight into what is going on when days are canceled. My family looks forward to the phone calls from you in the evening or morning when announcing the day has been called. The factors of temperature, amount of snow, existing conditions in the subs, and what the forecast is predicting, are very complicated. I manage an engineering firm in town, and just the decision and efforts we have to make for how and when to treat our loading docks and lots are difficult. Our staff (and trucking companies) often question and reevaluate in hindsight for what may have been the better way. The Novi community appreciates your efforts to make the tough calls all during these winter months, and personally, I think your decision making is excellent.

    1. Great post above! Thank you Doc Matthews for all you do. I know you always have all of our backs!

  7. Thank you Dr. Matthews for being very open regarding the decision to make the "snow day" call. It is never an easy call to make and regardless of any decision you make, folks are not going to be happy. You have to do what you think is the "best" thing to do during the small window of time you have to make that decision. Many folks don't understand that bus drivers have to report to the lot early, which means that they are leaving their homes even earlier. Waiting until 5:30 to "see" what the roads would be like isn't time that you have. The safety of all is at the top of your list as well as keeping in mind that you have a limited amount of "snow days" that you can use. I appreciate your willingness to open yourself up to the Novi community on how difficult it is to make this decision.

    Your job is never easy and no matter what you do, snow day or not, folks will always have something to say. I commend you.

    Paula Henry
    Parents of African American Students in Novi (PAASN)

  8. Thanks for being open about your decision we are willing to work things out accordingly can it be a delay morning if these things happen so that no one put themself in high risk.

  9. I did not think it was bad enough to call a snow day. We are at work as usual and I would like my kids to learn that there are days when things around you are not pretty but you are still expected to function.

  10. It's not fun but Good call. It's Michigan. Be prepared and wear boots, winter coat, gloves, and a hat. I learned this before Kindergarten. Also, Drive slowly & keep a small shovel in your trunk just in case you get stuck. These tips have been working for a long time.

  11. Thanks for sharing....my son nearly slid off of the road three times and was nearly hit by another driver, we live about 2 miles from the school. Perhaps the option of a delayed start should be considered? I understand that a delayed start at the high school complicates things, perhaps an action plan should be considered so that a delayed start is an option?

  12. Dr. Matthew
    I understand what you are saying and I know you have tough decisions to make. I did not expect a snow day but I did expect a two hour delay once the temperature were warmer. The amount of snow was not the problem it was the ice! So I am happy for those who made it with no issues but that was not everybody story. I rather be safe than sorry

  13. If people are that concerned about the kids standing outside waiting for a delayed bus or new drivers then as parents we need to step up and drive our kids to school. Don't put all of this on the school system. Be a parent and make the best decision for your children!

  14. Dr. Matthews,
    You most certainly made the right call based upon the information you had st the time. Employers do not close their businesses because of a few inches of snow in Michigan. Delayed starts are very challenging for working parents to manage. Again, there isn't a solution that will please everyone. Our children do need to learn how to navigate under unpleasant conditions.

    Thank you for always being objective and open minded.

  15. Dr. Matthews
    It is a tough job to make that call throughout the winter. I respect the position that you have and the decisions that you make. I would ask one thing. Please have the entrances to the schools plowed properly if you are expecting parents to drop children off. The back up on Taft Rd due to so many people stuck in the entrances of the schools was very frustrating and very unsafe. School busses were also stuck on Taft due to the back up which could have easily been avoided.

  16. It's getting pretty old to see the superintendent blog and discuss with Novi parents and students every time Novi schools either gets or doesn't get a snow day. No other school district that I'm aware of needs to do this.