By Haley Raphael
Snowflakes fall from heaven as if angels are having a pillow fight, and the goose down tumbles onto the roofs of the homes of sleeping students and staff. Before drifting into a state of unconsciousness, students of all grades alike sit by their computers, posting on Facebook and anxiously staring at a “snow day calculator,” eagerly awaiting a day off from school. Some even turn their pajamas inside out and put a cold spoon under their pillows before going to sleep, a snow ritual since elementary school. This is a normal pre-snowfall routine.
But this eagerness is not shared by all. Superintendent Dr. Thomas Dolan sits at 2 a.m. with his cup of coffee in hand, telephone in ear, laptop in lap, iPad and cell phone flanking at his sides, struggling to decide whether to close the district for a “snow day.”
Dr. Dolan said the key to this process is “collecting and then sharing information.” First, Dr. Dolan gets a forecast specific to Great Neck from Accuweather, a national weather service the district subscribes to. Subsequently, Mr. James Popkins, director of transportation, updates him on road conditions after driving them at approximately three in the morning. Later, Dr. Dolan communicates with the superintendents of the surrounding school districts to discuss the findings from their transportation directors.
This communication phase usually ends by 4 a.m., and then comes decision time, which must culminate with a verdict by 5:30 a.m. If school is open, Dr. Dolan acts as an umpire after a fair ball, yelling nothing; but if school is closed, he has to scream foul ball. He said that this has become “the hardest moment—” recording the message and waking up all 15,000 citizens of the Great Neck school district.
“Good morning, this is Dr. Dolan. The Great Neck Public Schools will be closed today due to weather. Please have a good day, and we look forward to seeing you tomorrow” resonates on 15,000 devices. While children can’t help but shriek in excitement, most parents quiver as if hit by an invisible earthquake. Please note: most.
When Mr. James Millevoi, parent of two and health teacher, receives the call, he feels “like a kid in a candy shop.” Usually, when he and his children get the day off, they “start a fire and hang out in the backyard.” He always plays in the glossy white snow: building ice rinks, snow forts, and snow men, with the occasional snowball fight and customary termination of “good old fashioned hot chocolate.”
However, while snow soaring down from the sky sprinkles hours of smiles for some like Mr. Millevoi, it also sprinkles calamity. Nobody knows this better than Mr. John Motchkowitz, technology department head. While most are groggily collecting themselves after an extended sleep and adjusting to the overlay of white coating their windows and yards, Mr. Motchkowitz has already started a fire, made breakfast for his kids, plowed the driveways of his parents and neighbors, and arrived at the firehouse where he volunteers to answer an influx of calls resulting from snow frenzy.
“It is mind boggling that we are such a soft society that we can’t function with a few inches of snow,” Mr. Millevoi said. “One time it was 42 degrees, then it suddenly dropped down to 20,” frosting everything and causing the administration to let out the district early. After picking up his young son from his parents’ house, Mr. Millevoi drove onto the highway where he said he “could have walked faster” than most of the cars. With his son thirsty and screaming in the back of his car and the snow moving faster than the automobiles surrounding him, Mr. Millevoi couldn’t take it. He put his car into four-wheel drive, jumped onto the lane closed for construction, and illegally drove all the way home at about 20 mph, passing all the stationary cars.
Other teachers, like Ms. Sheryl Burger, use the extra time to “relax and decompress,” staying inside and avoiding the roads. She uses her days off to “stay in her pajamas all day and watch a couple movies and have extra time to grade papers.” When she receives the call, she feels “elated and relieved.” Her first reaction when she gets the call is turning to her fiancé to see if his district is closed. Ms. Burger, suddenly smiling and playing with her hair, said, “When we get the day off together, it’s nice to spend a little more time together.”
Most teachers do not still turn their pajamas inside out, put a cold spoon under their pillows, or sit on Facebook posting the “snow day calculator,” but according to Mr. Motchkowitz, teachers “enjoy snow days as much as any other kid in the school.”