by Lisa Tome
After 35 years working as a custodian for Cecil County Public Schools, David Caldwell knows the drill.
On Monday, January 8, Caldwell and the rest of the staff at Rising Sun Elementary were instructed to get the trash emptied and get home before the predicted ice storm came when school dismissed early. The following day, schools were scheduled to begin two hours late. The late opening was soon followed by the news that schools would shut for the day.
But between the two announcements, Caldwell, who arrived at work about 6 a.m., began clearing ice from the school property in preparation for students. The arrival time for 12 month staff was pushed back until 11 a.m. But not for custodians.
"The ice was bad. I was still clearing it after two hours. I was getting the building ready for people to come in. The ice was a falling hazard," said Caldwell. "So far, it's been a bad year."
Assistant principal Sherri Isaac agreed. "It took me 20 minutes to get out of my driveway," said Isaac. Isaac, school secretaries Lee Jones and Jo Ann Sowers, and principal Cindy Fitzpatrick were staffing the school on Tuesday.
"The day goes by so much slower without the kids here," said Isaac. "School has been very sporadic since the holiday break. Having consistency is key for instruction. It'll be nice to have the kids here consistently." She said she also planned to catch up on paperwork and student files, prepare for professional development, and catch up on things that fall by the wayside when student needs take precedence.
"We always worry about the kids when they are not here. Quite a few of our kids get weekend meals (to take home). We know they were fed breakfast and lunch yesterday," said Isaac.
Debbie Randow didn't have to be at school Tuesday. She just took over filling in as the building coordinator and decided to brave the ice and go to work. "I came in because I have paperwork I need in place for tomorrow. I came in for my sanity. It's good to get paperwork and planning done," said Randow. The secretaries are busy. The phone rings frequently when school is delayed, closed, or dismisses early. There are also phone calls to make - daycare centers and after school programs have to be contacted to get them ready to host students early.
"The kids are the most important part of the day," said Fitzpatrick. The parents want the kids back in school and they are being funny about it, said Fitzpatrick.
Rising Sun Middle School principal Dr. Stuart Hutchinson arrived at school earlier than the recommended 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning. "The building is a priority. The ice was a major concern. The head custodian, Bruce Dill, was here and opened the building at 6:15," said Dr. Hutchinson.
Hutchinson used the snow day as a chance to catch up on scheduling. He and the assistant principals also met to catch up on student progress and worked to address the needs of anyone who was falling behind
"A teacher retired at the end of the calendar year. We have a teacher shortage again. At mid year, it's more difficult to fill positions," he said.
He said the school phones get a workout when there's a schedule change - early dismissal, late arrival, or cancellation.
The phones start ringing at 6:45 or earlier and will ring until 6 p.m.
He also said that due to fire code, there are criteria that have to be met regarding the perimeter of exit doors that have to be cleared. "I always worry if the building is open and if it has heat. Maintenance does a wonderful job. It took four people to clear the ice. It was very thick," he said.
"When the students aren't here, the hustle and bustle isn't here. (As of Tuesday before school resumed) we've seen the kids three days this year," he said.
He was ready for a break in the weather which came the following day.
"I'm ready for normalcy. In terms of missed instruction, you don't have a lot of make up time. The calendar is stringent," he said. "We've seen it. We have a lot of restless kids because the calendar is so stringent. Now, we've had too many days off. When the parents come in, they do joke that they want the schools open," he said.