Parents Fume Over Late Early Dismissal Notices, Lack of Busing for ALMS, IEYMS and NRHS Students

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Parents throughout New Rochelle are upset about the last 24 hours and the response of the City School District of New Rochelle to the recent snowstorm. Some readers seem to think I am unaware (how could I not be aware when I have kids at ALMS and NRHS and my wife works for the district!)

UPDATE: Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeff Korostoff has now issued as statement Explaining Early Dismissals and Delayed Openings. Well worth a read.

I am VERY aware that many parents are upset so for those who are emailing me, calling me, texting me and otherwise letting me know -- and wondering why I have not written about it -- be aware that I have been writing about it on Twitter. For those who are not following me on Twitter or reading the Tweets on the home page, I hope you will start. The nature of Twitter (short bursts of information and retweets from official sources and persons within the New Rochelle community) makes it more suited to reporting on the sort of ongoing event occasioned by a snow storm. I have been tweeting information from my conversations with City and School officials as well as retweeting whatever information they have been putting our directly or through other media. And for those willing to jump in, you can tweet your own experiences and photos and I can retweet them (getting them to my followers on Twitter (900), Facebook (600), Web Site (2000) and Newsletter (1100) or about 4,500 people a day.

With that said, let me address the two main complaints.

1. The late call on early dismissal on Tuesday.

As many parents have observed, the robo-calls did not go out until 11:36 a.m. announcing Early Dismissal at 12:00 p.m.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff was on WCBS-TV with Lou Young last night and explained what happened (I will post video soon but let me paraphrase here).

Below is video from Tuesday at about 5:45 PM and 7:45 PM. Lou Young is doing the live shot over by Swirl in Wykagyl.

[NOTE: this video was recorded on my Cablevision Multi-Room DVR. There does not appear to be any way to "grab" the video and import it into my computer so this is my setting up a video camera and pointing it at my TV; this is why you can hear my birds chattering in the background. If you know how to transfer video from my DVR to my Mac let me know.]

Korostoff said that the basic issue is that the District is reluctant to call Early Dismissal because there are a large number of students in New Rochelle schools where there is no parent or caregiver home to receive students in the middle of the day. From there, there was the issue of the initial weather reports changing over the course of the day so that by about 10:00 a.m. it became apparent that the storm was approaching faster and would be more severe than forecast. A decision was made about that time but due to technical difficulties, the robocalls did not go out until 11:36 a.m.

Korostoff told Lou Young that no students would have simply been dismissed from school, that it was more like the District was switching over from Education to Daycare and that students would have been kept at the school until arrangements could be made to get them, no matter how long that took.

2. The late notice today that there would be no busing for students at New Rochelle High School, Albert Leonard Middle School and Isaac E. Young Middle School.

A message from Joe Williams went out via the ConnectEd system to "remind" parents that there was no busing for NRHS, ALMS and IEYMS but that there will be Bee-Line transportation available, as usual, at dismissal time today. This came as a complete surprise to many parents.

Few parents are aware that it is only very recently that the District adopted an Early Dismissal Policy. When the board considered making a change, the board discussed the issue that the Bee-Line Bus Services ran special routes for NRHS, ALMS and IEYMS in the morning and afternoon but that those routes could not or would not be shifted by Bee-Line to accomodate an Early Dismissal or Delayed Opening in New Rochelle.

The Transportation Handbook for Pupils in Grades 6 to 12 reflect this issue. That document, and the web site as of early this morning, read:

INCLEMENT WEATHER

The New Rochelle School District may announce a delayed school opening of up to two hours. School will open to receive students 15 minutes prior to the delayed start of the day. Parents should make arrangements for their child to get to school.

3. A school-specific issue is that there was a shortage of yellow buses for Albert Leonard Middle School students which led to significant delays for some children getting home Tuesday afternoon, an effort that became more complicated as the snow piled up.

Dr. Korostoff, in an email, told me the the bus company had a shortage of drivers because many of them were unable to report to work because of the severe weather which left them short handed.

SOLUTIONS/RESPONSES

Dr. Korostoff maintains that the District made the best decision they could on Early Dismissal yesterday based on the available information on the weather forecast and concerns over sending a large number of kids home to empty homes. Students and Parents can expect the District to be among the least likely Districts to close, start late or end early.

The "Transportation Handbook" web page has been changed to read:

INCLEMENT WEATHER

In the event of a delayed opening or early dismissal parents should not count on Liberty Lines buses to be available to transport students. Arrangement should be made to get your child to/from school.

The school district does not provide busing for middle school and HS. Bee-line has routes that go to the schools, and those students can use those. The District makes discounted metro cards available. Because the school district does not have a contract with bee-line, when we are on a delay, the bee-line schedule is not adjusted. Parents should already be aware of this but many are not.

Going forward, the District will include Bee-Line bus information (that there will not be any service) for any delayed openings or early dismissals.

These are the facts as I know them.

Here are my own thoughts.

1) These issues are less about internal decision-making than communications. Parents (and especially Students) may not like not cancelling school but the position of the administration is to try and avoid doing so at all costs unless there is an issue of whether students and staff can travel safely -- and that does not appear likely to change. New Rochelle is somewhat famous for "never" having snow days. If you have not gotten used to that, you never will.

2) It has been obvious for sometime that the ConnectEd system is not as complete a communication system as the District might wish to think. Setting aside the technical issues that occurred yesterday and delayed an Early Dismissal notice for going out for about an hour (a very critical hour), there is the garbage in-garbage out issue. A large chunk of the data in the system is flawed -- in a random sample from once school, it was found that 20% of the calls fail. I have heard many complaints of English speakers getting calls in Spanish and Spanish speakers getting calls in English. For myself, I cannot recall ever getting a ConnectEd message and I have had kids in the school system for about 20 years -- before they even had ConnectEd. The only calls I seem to get are from the nurse at ALMS and that's because they had my number next to my wife's name!

What the District does not appear to appreciate is that unless the system works all of the time for everyone, people lose confidence in the entire system. That lack of confidence breeds distrust and from that a sense that things are out of control. Not a good feeling for a parent and not a good scenario for a public school where not every parent is well-educated, tech-savvy or genteel (at least I am 2 of 3 on that score!)

The ConnectEd system needs an overhaul.

It also needs to be linked with the District's online presence where most people go for information these days. The City of New Rochelle system is much better in this regard (as we all well know, you can hardly escape Noam Bramson "stalking" you by phone, email or text when there is even the slightest emergency...or parade...or special event...or...)

And in an age when so many students carry smartphones, students need to be added to the ConnectEd System and online/social media prescense.

3) The District needs to be a "learning" organization.

Sounds odd for a school system, right? But the District often makes the same mistakes over and over again and misses easy opportunities to avoid communications problems. Failing to "remind" (and I would say "tell" for most people as most people do not read the Transportation Handbook or watch board meetings) parents that there would be, at the very least, a Late Opening and not mention that in the event of a Late Opening there would be no Bee-Line service is an obvious error. But it reflects that either there is no written protocol that says "remind parents, 'no Bee-Line'" or the protocol is written but was not followed. We have seen a lot of both issues in other situations.

4) Realize you cannot communicate "too much". If you are not sure whether to send out a message, send one. If there is a problem (like ConnectEd fails or bus drivers are not on the job) then tell people!

Most parents are reasonable and can not only understand but identify when someone says "hey, we have a problem" or "hey, we screwed up". Board members and administrator could benefit from reading the Cluetrain Manifesto).

http://www.cluetrain.com

The Cluetrain Manifesto is a set of 95 theses organized and put forward as a manifesto, or call to action, for all businesses operating within what is suggested to be a newly connected marketplace. The ideas put forward within the manifesto aim to examine the impact of the Internet on both markets (consumers) and organizations. In addition, as both consumers and organizations are able to utilize the Internet and Intranets to establish a previously unavailable level of communication both within and between these two groups, the manifesto suggests that changes will be required from organizations as they respond to the new marketplace environment...

The authors assert that the Internet is unlike the ordinary media used in mass marketing as it enables people to have "human to human" conversations, which have the potential to transform traditional business practices radically.

The book and website both challenge what the manifesto calls outmoded, 20th-century thinking about business in light of the emergence of the Web...

Parents and students ("customers") will cut the District slack if there is a problem and they are told right away. Few will do so when they are kept in the dark and some will become irate.

Conclusion?

It's always better to get ahead of a problem then wait until the complaints pile up -- play offense with information about problems not defense. This is Crisis Management 101.

In a Cluetrain world, the "customer" can go right around the "company" and communicate with other "customers". That is precisely what has been happening in New Rochelle with not just Talk of the Sound but Facebook, Twitter, etc. The district has to understand what the Cluetrain authors mean by "engagement". Robocalls and broadcast emails are NOT engagement].

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