Eye on the sky: Leek watches weather to ensure student safety

Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Russell Leek, assistant superintendent at Perry County School District 32, keeps a watchful eye on the weather each winter to make sure students are safe.

Russell Leek is the assistant superintendent of District 32. This time of year, he's also a part-time meteorologist.

"I do spend quite a bit of time monitoring the weather when the word 'snow' is mentioned," Leek said. This week's forecast is for a period of mixed wintry precipitation Thursday and Friday. "I started monitoring immediately Monday morning," he said. "I touch base with Brad Moll of Meyer Bus Line, and I keep Superintendent Scott Ireland posted on what we can anticipate."

Leek doesn't take lightly his responsibility of determining whether to cancel or dismiss school early. "It's all about student safety," he said. "If I'm not 100 percent certain that it's safe for our kids to be on the roads or on campus, we won't take the risk. Sometimes people question the decision to close because the streets or roads in their neighborhood are clear, but we're checking every area in the district. We also have the concern about whether it's safe for students to be walking around campus. Streets may be clear but our sidewalks and parking lots might be packed with ice.

"Our bus drivers are highly trained to drive our students safely to and from school every day, and they do a great job for us. I trust them to travel even when some of our roads have some snow on them. But we also need to consider if the conditions are such that other drivers will be able to respond properly. An accident can happen so quickly."

If District 32 cancels classes or dismisses early, parents are notified as soon as possible via the School Messenger automated service. "The best way to make sure you know about school cancellations is to ensure that your child's school has your current phone number," Leek reminds parents. "We activate School Messenger immediately upon making the decision to cancel or dismiss classes."

School cancellations are also posted under Announcements on the District 32 home page at www.perryville.k12.mo.us and announced via the Perry County School District 32 Facebook page.

The district also works with area media outlets including:

*KBDZ Radio 93.1 FM (Perryville)
*KGMO Radio 100.7 FM (Cape Girardeau)
*KTJJ Radio 98.5 FM and KREI Radio 880 AM (Farmington)
*KFVS-TV (Cape Girardeau)
*KSDK-TV (St. Louis)
*KTVI-Fox (St. Louis)
*Southeast Missouri @ www.semissourian.com

Sometimes, when major routes have been cleared of snow and ice, the District will activate its emergency bus snow routes. "Those routes are used when the main roadways are safe to travel but lesser-used roads and streets are not," Leek explained. "When we use the emergency bus snow routes, we are asking parents to bring their children to the closest intersection to meet the school bus. Again, we make that decision as early as possible and use the School Messenger automated alert system to call parents."

View the 2013-14 Bus Snow Routes here.

Leek said that the District 32 calendar has two snow days "built in." Click here to see the District 32 calendar with make-up days.

"If we don't use any snow days this school year, we will not have school on May 5 and 9," Leek explained. "If we miss one day, we're still off May 5. If we miss two days, we attend classes on May 5 and 9. After that, we begin using make-up days."

So while schoolchildren may be wishing for lots of snow to appear by week's end, Leek is looking further down the road. "I love snow days, too," he said. "But only 2 per year, kids! We don't want to have to make them up later."

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