Meadville Tribune

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June 7, 2014

Conneaut considers 'cyber days,' not snow days

LINESVILLE — Snow days, those vanishing days built into school calendars to make up for classes lost if weather conditions make the trek to bricks-and-mortar buildings untenable, may soon be going the way of the dodo.

Instead, if Conneaut School District Superintendent Jarrin Sperry and trend-setting members of his faculty and staff have anything to do with it, impassible roads and temperatures low enough to make polar bears shiver will simply flip the district into “cyber snow day” mode.

During the winter of 2013-14, Conneaut missed three days — one because of roads and two because of temperatures. While that wasn’t bad, when Sperry started looking at what was happening on the eastern side of the state, he discovered school districts missing 10 to 12 days in a row. He also noticed that while public schools were clamoring for help, parochial schools in Pennsylvania were starting to use cyber snow dates. Neighboring states, New Jersey and Ohio in particular, were also starting to move in a cyber direction.

With that, Sperry sent an email to Carolyn Dumaresq, Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of education, “asking her to let Pennsylvania lead the way,” he recalled. Sperry and Herb Bossard, the district’s technology integrator and a long-time secondary-level math teacher, were soon on their way to Harrisburg. “We showed them what we’ve done with our cyber program and how we would run a cyber snow day and they said, ‘OK,’” Sperry said.

Working with Pennsylvania Department of Education, Conneaut is now creating the rubric (procedure) that would govern the ability of schools to use cyber snow days as an alternative to instructional time in the classroom, PDE spokesperson Tim Eller told the Tribune.

In addition to providing flexibility for school districts, Eller added, the Conneaut plan takes the massive digital movement of the early 21st century into consideration. “This is expanding flexibility for schools.”

One of the things that Sperry and Bossard made very clear to Dumaresq during their Harrisburg trip was that problems will inevitably crop up. “When we started our district’s cyber program, we discovered things we hadn’t even thought of,” Sperry said. “Three years in, it’s a solid program.”

The district’s own cyber school now offers a full cyber program for grades nine through 12. Approximately a dozen students are attending the full cyber school while another 40 have opted for a blended cyber/bricks-and-mortar program. A total of approximately 60 students are participating in the district’s cyber program.

As for getting the cyber snow day test up and running, “We have some work to do,” Sperry said. “There will be training over the summer with staff, then more training in the fall with staff and students. We’ll do some simulations of snow days in the buildings so kids know what it looks and feels like — and how it works.”

Then, it will be a matter of waiting to see if the opportunity arises for a field test. “There’s always a possibility we won’t have a snow day next year,” Sperry said. “You never know from winter to winter what you’re going to have.”

There is, however, a certain element of predictability playing a key role in the development of the plan. “We usually have an idea if we’re coming up on a day that looks like it might be a snow day,” Sperry said.

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