‘Snow Jam ’14’: City superintendent says district learned much from ‘unprecedented experience’
February 04, 2014 12:00 AM | 1986 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DEAR EDITOR:

We look(ed) forward to welcoming our students and the entire staff back to work Monday. The impact of what we now refer to as “MCS Snow Jam” was substantial in the lives of children, parents, educators, community members, and our city government partners. However, it is time to return our focus to teaching and learning, although we all experienced and learned some life lessons over the past few days.

Tracking the storm from Monday onward, as it continuously changed, was the most challenging of all the weather events I have had to manage. Ultimately, it was the unanticipated gridlocked traffic that hindered our early dismissal plan, compounded by icing as time passed and the snowfall continuing beyond expectations.

Given the information we had regarding timing, duration and amount of snowfall, moving the dismissal time to an early release for Marietta Center for Advanced Academics and Marietta Sixth Grade Academy (that normally have buses leave their campuses for homes around 4:20 p.m.) would have allowed us sufficient time to transport all of our remaining school children home.

While this decision was not a popular one with everyone, given the status of these early buses as they struggled through horrific traffic jams, I suspended further school bus service, thinking that it would be best for our children to remain safe and warm in our schools rather than risk having them stranded on the road.

Our MCS staff overall performed in an amazing fashion. We shared the facts via conference call with our principals and collectively put responsive plans in place. Students would need to be housed and fed, and the concerns of parents handled appropriately.

We communicated with our families using phone calls, emails, social media and our websites. My key staff remained with me for the night and into the next afternoon in order to serve and support our schools. With titles come responsibility and they never questioned if they would stay nor for how long, and everyone did their jobs with caring and skill.

Our Transportation Department and drivers, who on any given day have a very difficult job, performed in an outstanding manner given the challenges they never anticipated.

Our maintenance staff traveled to schools traversing almost impassable streets bringing supplies and expertise where needed, and school nutrition staff voluntarily braved the elements to assist with the school cafeteria kitchens.

What a camera would have captured that night were the heroic efforts of MCS educators, many of whom were away from their own children, the engagement of our community members and parents who braved the treacherous roads to bring supplies and hands-on support to the schools, staff working in the background answering calls and the absolute positives that came out of this challenge for the children of all ages that spent the night away from their homes — rather than on buses or homes vacant of parents who were stranded as well.

I will never forget the parent I spoke to on Tuesday night who just wanted to check on her child before bedtime. When I began to reassure her, she said she knew her child would be fine because she had been in contact with her teacher earlier. I will also remember the parent that slept in her car for 24 hours, but she kept reminding herself that her child was safe at school and she was thankful.

You would have observed incredible and inspiring teachers and others making a great difference in a crisis situation.

Among terse emails and calls from stressed parents are words of thanks for the work done in our schools and appreciation that students were kept safe, fed and engaged in caring environments surrounded by the wonderful people that make MCS great.

The genuine caring was further evidenced in the volunteer spirit of parents, community members, our MCS Board members and in generous acts between and among schools.

I cannot say enough about the parent and community volunteers who provided support and encouragement that kept the energy strong and created an especially positive atmosphere in our schools. Nor will I forget the important assistance we received district-wide from the Marietta Police Department, Marietta Fire Department, Cobb County Sheriff’s Department, the Governor’s Office and State Patrol, City Manager’s Office and Mayor Steve Tumlin, who visited a number of schools, lifting spirits.

I regret that we had this unprecedented experience, but we learned much from it and the special nature of our extended MCS community. We are a very reflective organization and have already started to review the circumstances before, during and after this winter weather event. While I believe sound decisions were made that put the safety of our students first, we will always strive to improve. Continuous improvement is at the heart of our MCS culture.

I am so proud of what our administrators, teachers and support staff accomplished with a primary goal — to create to the best of their ability a safe, positive experience for students of all ages.

Most sincerely,

Emily Lembeck

Superintendent

Marietta City Schools

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