February 19, 2014

As District Runs Out of Snow Days Superintendent Has Weather Eye Open

While they may be a source of joy for school children, snow days are less appreciated by grown ups. It’s pretty safe to say that most Princeton parents and educators dread such weather-related interruptions to the school year.

Recent storms have forced the Princeton Board of Education to take a close look at the school calendar and make some changes.

As a result, the district brought students to the classroom last Friday, February 14, which was originally intended as a staff development day and again on Monday, February 17, when schools would normally have been closed for President’s Day. The YM/YWCA provided after school programs on both days.

According to Lewis Goldstein, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, there have been six snow days so far this winter. In addition to the making up for lost classroom time on February 14 and 17, this means that four days will be added to the end of the school year.

When asked about the impact of snow days on student learning, Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane’s first response was to offer praise for all of the people who have helped minimize the number of weather-related cancellations. “Everyone focuses on closures, understandably, but I am so grateful to so many people and groups who have helped our schools stay open,” he said. “Our facilities crew and the Department of Public Works (DPW) did a fantastic job of making it possible for us to get into the schools. We also had a number of days with delayed openings and it’s thanks to a lot of people as well as the associations of teachers and staff who helped us figure out how to maximize learning for our students.”

Mr. Cochrane, who took up his post just this January, also quipped that he had spent a great deal more time than he expected looking at The Weather Channel.

In consultation with district staff, Mr. Cochrane determined that making up lost snow days earlier in the school year would be in the best educational interests of Princeton’s students. “By being able to teach on days early in the year, we have a better chance of avoiding possible scheduling conflicts for families who have already made plans for trips based on the school calendar that was set some time ago. We have already added several days to the end of the school year.”

School calendars are usually determined one or two years in advance and the 2013-14 school year was approved by the Board of Education in the spring of 2012. As is customary, it included a contingency of five “make up” days for lost school days due to weather emergencies. Three days could be added to the end of the school year and two would be taken off the number allocated for spring break.

Turning former closed dates into school days requires not only the cooperation of teachers and staff, but the consideration of numerous other issues such as transportation and food services. “This weather has an impact on everyone, families, teachers, food professionals bus drivers, staff, and students,” said Mr. Cochrane. “I have been so impressed by the support provided by the school board and from the community. The Princeton Police Department has been incredible. Student safety is always our first priority and apart from one incident when a school bus slid off the road, in which no one was injured, we have been very lucky.”

The state Department of Education (DoE) requires that school districts provide 180-days of instruction per year, but this requirement can be waived under certain circumstances. Since the DoE did not shorten the school year after Superstorm Sandy, it is thought unlikely that it will do so because of this year’s winter weather.

Changes brought about by the recent weather emergencies will affect Princeton’s kindergarten registration and elementary school moving on ceremonies, which will be rescheduled by school principals.

At present, the John Witherspoon Middle School Eighth Grade Promotion Ceremony is scheduled to take place as originally planned on Thursday, June 12 in Richardson Auditorium of Alexander Hall at Princeton University. The PHS Graduation will take place on the last day of school.

Standardized test dates for NJASK, HSPA, AP will not be affected.

Asked if there was a limit to how many days could be added to the end of the school year, Mr. Cochrane said that June 30 would be the cut off point, since that’s when teachers’ contracts end. “But this is uncharted territory for me as it is for all of us across the state,” he added.

“We use the school’s website to communicate with our parents as often and as accurately as we can as to what is happening,” said the superintendent. According to the website, if more snow days or other emergency closings keep kids out of the classroom, the Board of Education could add two further dates in June for instruction and even consider having school on Memorial Day, pending agreements with teacher and staff our associations and “the resolution of other logistical issues.”

For information or questions about changes to the school calendar, visit the home page of Princeton Public Schools: