The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 2, 2014

Weather woes: Rough winter causes headache for area schools

JOHNSTOWN — There’s no denying the winter has been brutal and it’s caused more than one headache for area school districts.

Although time in the classroom has been lost to increasing cancellations, delays and early dismissals, district officials are working to ensure that students’ learning is as unaffected as possible.

The Northern Cambria School District has had seven snow days and six two-hour delays as of Feb. 25.

“I really credit all our teachers for their flexibility and motivating the students when they come back after a cancellation,” said Superintendent John Jubas. “Many times if there’s a strong possibility of a cancellation, teachers will notify students on what they need to be doing so they don’t get behind.”

The district’s last day of classes is tentatively set for June 6, and snow days are tacked on at the end of the school year.

“We know it’s an interruption if you lose two days in a row or if you have a long weekend, but we recover and get back on track and catch up on areas lost,” Jubas said.

He said because the district is rural they err on the side of caution when it comes to canceling or delaying and take into consideration whether or not buses will be able to navigate back roads.

“We work closely with other superintendents in the area to determine what’s in the best interest of the schools,” Jubas said.

If anything positive has come from the winter weather it’s that the district has been able to incorporate it into curriculum to teach students about meteorology.

“We use it as a learning tool to study weather and the kids are finding it interesting,” Jubas said.

Vincent DiLeo, superintendent of Central Cambria School District, said being in the northern part of Cambria County, they are used to bad winter weather and the cancellations and delays that come with it, but it does cause a disruption in the classroom.

“The loss of consistency doesn’t help as far as making sure kids are ready for the Keystone Exams and the PSSA, so we’re increasing our efforts to make the best use of time in school,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have weather like this and there’s not much we can do about it. It is what it is and we have to deal with it.”

As of Feb. 25, the district has had six snow days, eight two-hour delays and one early dismissal.

“We add snow days to the end of the school calander; that’s why we start before Labor Day, to get that jump on winter weather,” DiLeo said. “Our last day is June 6, so it’s not too bad for us.”

Deciding on canceling or delaying school starts before 5 a.m., and DiLeo said he’ll be in communication with police, borough officials, other area superintendents and the bus company who have people out checking roads.

“The district covers 100 square miles, and a lot of it back lanes that don’t get touched or treated,” he said. “Our priority is student safety, and we’d rather be safe than sorry. This last ice storm I actually had parents calling and thanking me for not trying to have school.”

The Ferndale Area School District has had six snow days, seven two-hour delays and four early dismissals as of Feb. 25.

“This winter we’ve been able to somewhat anticipate the weather and in many cases teachers have time to plan ahead, and that has helped,” said Superintendent Carole Kakabar. “Students receive work to do while they’re off, but if we have back-to-back days off and we lose that instruction time, we have to review to catch students back up.”

In response to winter weather disruptions, the state Department of Education has given school districts some wiggle room as to when they need to begin the PSSA exam.

“The test was to start March 17, but the state gave us the option to push it back a week to March 24, which we have, and an overwhelming amount of districts said yes to this plan,” Kakabar said.

The district has two snow days – April 17 and May 23 – built into the calander, which they plan to use, and are looking at using teacher in-service days as snow makeup days.

“Graduation is set for June 6 and we’re done with school in early June, so there hasn’t been too many problems for us,” Kakabar said. “But there’s talk of snow early (this) week, and we’re already looking ahead and planning.”

Rick Huffman, superintendent of Windber Area School District, said the district has had six snow days, six two-hour delays and one early dismissal as of Feb. 25.

“We’ve been lucky and have only gone one day beyond our schedule in snow days, so we’ve fared better than some schools in the region,” he said.

One thing that has been helpful is that many teachers post assignments online and that allows students to keep up with the work.

“We have a very flexible staff and we maximize the time we have to make it as efficient as possible,” Huffman said. “So far we haven’t noticed a huge academic impact.”

The last day of school has been set for June 5, but that could change depending on additional cancellations.

“I would say the variety of this winter – cold, snow, ice – has made it one of the worst we’ve had to deal with,” Huffman said. “It’s definitely the worst for transportation.”

Windber also has elected to move its PSSA testing date, but Huffman is confident students will be well prepared.

“It’s a yearlong learning process, not something we focus on only in the winter,” he said.

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