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An old friend returns

Memories of last year are like viewing postcards in my scrap book. I turn the pages, stare in wonder, and try to remember what it was like to be right there at the time. Of course, that is impossible because it is almost a year later. The composition is beautiful color, but the predominant shade is not a brilliant red, green or blue. No, the color that keeps showing its face most often is white. It is over everything that moves, under everything that is stationary, and often on the make between the two. I had forgotten about it until the other day when a snap of cold greeted me when I stepped out the door and I chanced a gander to the top of Schweitzer. Sure enough, snow was reintroducing itself around the neighborhood.

“Biggest snow since the 1960s” more than one long time resident told me last year. “Reminds me of the year the roof at Farmin Stidwell caved in,” another advised me before he took off in his truck with the bright red, front-mounted snow plow. I learned that both of these gentlemen were right on target. As the winter wore on we couldn’t stop the snow from coming and beating that record from the 60s, but we sure worked hard to avoid any roof collapse. I am guessing you remember last winter.

Let me refresh your memory if you have forgotten or tell the story if you are new to our little corner of the world. It snowed so much we called out the National Guard to help us shovel the roofs of our schools for three full days. This wasn’t just a small group of men and women in one jeep. No, we had so much snow they arrived in massive trucks carrying front loaders and packing snow blowers that shot snow like it was propelled from a bazooka. They joined another army of volunteers, school staff, and contractors to do battle with inch after inch of the white wonder until we felt the schools were safe for our children. I now have my own stories to tell!

I enjoyed a few friendly calls for canceling school last year. Some were from students who appreciated the days off and powder hounds who headed up to Schweitzer. However, those calls were few. Most often I heard from unhappy people on these beautiful days. Some parents were outraged that school was cancelled; others were outraged when we didn’t cancel. Both calls would arrive on the same day. I was threatened, offered many suggestions that shouldn’t be printed in a paper read by kind people like yourselves, and generally made to feel like I didn’t know up from down. Which, come to think of it, might have been the case because the snow pretty much obscured my vision as I only stand five foot six inches in my boots.

And so, here we are in another school year. We know it will snow; we simply do not know when and where. I know that Transportation Supervisor Bill Wright and his team of drivers will give me reports from 3:30 am onward so we can make the right decision. Rising at that time certainly gives me plenty of opportunity to enjoy that ranch breakfast you hear so much about, which includes about 10 cups of coffee. When I hear from Bill that the wind is light, the snow is less than 18 inches and the air is not too cold, we forge ahead with school. We think that makes sense because parents count on us to hold school since they are expected to be at work. However, we may not find agreement from all parts of this 52 mile long district. High school parents are especially concerned about turning their barely-16-year-olds out in the family car on those days. Those winter dents are ugly.

We understand these micro climates, and if we only had one school and it was located in one of these climate zones, we just might cancel school more often. However, with a district this long, conditions might be “Banana Belt” like at Clark Fork and Hope, and Bottle Bay may be under a foot. I hope you are beginning to understand the dilemma.

On the days we do cancel school I usually hear from parents telling me that I have inconvenienced them and their employers. They tell me how they are forced to scramble for day care, rely on older siblings or call in late to work. I do understand that, having raised three children. On this type of day, I usually get at least one call telling me I made the correct decision. I sure do appreciate my wife when she does this!

In short, we will do the best we can to make sure your children are safe, both to and from school. Our transportation team is one of the very best in the state and our buses are the safest vehicles on the road for your children. Parents of high school students, who insist they must drive, remind them of the bus. Our drivers know how to drive the roads and know when they are unsafe. They help me make the decision that I hope is the correct one. In the end, as a parent, you ultimately decide if your child should leave your driveway.

The long and short of it? We will try to have school meet every day as scheduled. When the snow is too deep, the wind too strong, or the temperature too low, we will cancel for safety reasons. We know in advance that some of you will be inconvenienced or that you will disagree with the decision. I am thinking that if you read this before the snow starts, call me right now just to vent early. We will both end up feeling better when the actual, stressful day occurs. My number is 263-5053, extension 218. The lines are open.


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Author info

Dick Cvitanich Dick Cvitanich is the Superintendent of Schools for the Lake Pend Oreille School District. He has been an educator for 33 years, and became superintendent for LPOSD in 2006. He was educated at the University of Washington where he earned a BA in History and a Superintendent's Credential. He has been married to Diane for 32 years and they have raised three sons who "taught us as much as we taught them." "I have a passion for public education and the role it plays in our democracy. In my free time I read, ski ... come to think of it, I don't have that much free time."

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