Local residents may recall the blizzard in 1993 that left many homes without power and many children out of school for days. Local school administrators say modern technologies that didn’t exist 30 years ago can be used to keep kids learning in the event they can’t be in school.
The resources available to us now that did not exist back in 1993 certainly provide different opportunities regarding how students, families, and schools can stay connected,” said Andrew True, assistant superintendent-administration of Kingsport City Schools.
“Whether it’s through mass electronic communication methods that allow districts to directly reach families, social media on multiple platforms, and student technology devices ... the development of educational and communication technology has changed the landscape regarding how schools and students interact.”
True pointed out a couple of items of note regarding snow days with KCS:
• He said they do utilize “banked time” in our schedule, attending school for 7 hours a day instead of the required 6.5. By law, this provides up to 13 days worth of time to be used for select reasons, such as for additional professional learning activities, illness, and to offset days missed for inclement weather. “This year when approving our calendar, our Board of Education approved the use of two of these days for professional learning and has given the district the latitude to utilize up to four of these days for inclement weather without additional approval, should it be needed (we have not had to utilize any of those inclement weather days this year),” True said.
• Also, to count a day as an instructional day (toward the state required 180 days), the school system would need to offer food service to our students. This would certainly be a consideration.
According to Dr. David Timbs, the supervisor of secondary and instructional technology for Johnson City Schools, the district was able to learn and develop a lot of remote learning strategies during the COVID pandemic. Should there ever be another inclement weather event that keeps students from getting to school, he said that the district would likely lean on those strategies.
Timbs recalled schools being out for weeks during the blizzard of ‘93 due to power outages and impassable roads. He said that one of the key modern technologies that would help the district handle a similar situation is the early warning weather system. If the schools are able see a blizzard rolling in, Timbs and district superintendent Steve Barnett said they would be able to quickly jump into action and ensure that students are able to continue to receive instruction during inclement weather.
“We’re much better prepared now than we were even five years ago when it comes to dealing with severe weather situations like this,” said Barnett.
Thinking back to the power outages of the 1993 blizzard, Timbs and Barnett said that if there were ever a similar situation in which families did not have access to internet at their homes and students were unable to get to school for an extended period of time, the district still has internet hotspots that can be checked out and distributed to families.
Assuming that power and internet are secure, the district would be able to use many of the same practices and strategies that they did when the schools were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Timbs added that with the familiarity that parents, teachers and students now have with online learning, this shift would be anticipated and easy to make.
“(Teachers) have a very strong desire for students to grow — and it’s not just a competitive nature … they really truly do care about making sure their students learn as much as possible while they are in the classroom,” said Barnett.
At Johnson City Schools, each student is equipped with their own Chromebook device for school use. Timbs said that these devices could be sent home with students if there was a serious threat of students being unable to get to school for an extended period of time due to weather. Additionally, teachers would be instructed to begin using online teaching tools to deliver instruction.
Teachers could use platforms like Google Meet or Microsoft Teams to host virtual classes, or upload recorded instructional videos for students to view through Canva. These resources can also be used to deliver reading materials to students in addition to physical books and library resources.
“The most important thing that we want our students to continue to do when they’re out of school is to read,” said Timbs. “So we have multiple platforms now where even if it’s not a physical copy of a book, students can access reading materials.”
He added, “The technology that we have in place to not only allow teachers to put out videos of themselves — but also to assign reading electronically to students — is huge. We wouldn’t have even thought about doing something like that in ‘93.”
The school district also has 2-3 days built into each school calendar to be used as “snow days” if needed in addition to a certain number of emergency days that would be used in a situation like the ‘93 blizzard.
And, if worse comes to worst, Barnett said that the district’s students might just get to enjoy a few good old fashioned snow days should the occasion arise.