Superintendent: Canceling School ‘The Last Thing I Wanted To Do’

Dr. Mary Kolek says the safety of schoolchildren prompted the decision to cancel school Monday.


Saying that cancelling school was “the last thing” she wanted to do, the New Canaan Public Schools superintendent on Monday defended her decision in an email to parents.

Superintendent Dr. Mary Kolek cited a lack of “safe and dependable” transportation and said that New Canaan schools workers live in towns, as she does, that were affected more severely by the winter storm that hit Friday.

“Living in one of the affected towns, I can personally attest to the fact that even with extraordinary effort, it is not possible to get plow service or even to arrange for alternative transportation, especially on the day after the storm when government and businesses are employing all available crews to clear essential areas,” Kolek said in her email.

The full text of the email is attached as a PDF.

Kolek's decision has been widely criticized by Patch readers. Here are some comments posted on an article that Sunday night announced the cancellation:

  • Sarah Norton: Amazing isn't it? I have been here since 1974 and been a teacher in New Canaan for 20 years and never seen the cancellation button pushed so much. I realize the weather is more severe but we have gone the wrong way with contingency planning.
  • spencer richardson: School buses are a convenient way for our kids to get to school, but they are not the only way. New York City has had a bus drivers' strike for about a month now, and those schools are all functioning. Heaven forbid that parents, nannies, older siblings or neighbors might have to drive our children to school instead of the bus drivers who can't seem to get here. This is completely ridiculous and unacceptable. Time for our school administrators to change their approach.
  • James: Really? No school again? All the towns surrounding us have a delayed opening and our town offices are open with a delayed start. But our schools are closed because our bus drivers can't get here? Where do they live? Maine? We should get our bus drivers from the same place that Norwalk, Darien, Wilton, Stamford, etc hire theirs. At least they can show up for work. And we pay the highest salaries in CT for our educators. Too bad they don't have to come to work.
Canaanite February 11, 2013 at 05:47 PM
Gee, I wonder how people managed years ago when snow like this was the norm every winter and people were willing to shovel themselves out if need be, rather than wait on a plow to come do it . . . and when no one drove 4-wheel drive SUVs. How times have changed. At the very least, with all the kids off from school today, they should all be put to work shoveling their driveways and surrounding neighborhoods . . . problem solved.
Christine Ruzek February 11, 2013 at 06:02 PM
We live in a virtual world. Perhaps a telecomute-type/skype class or a reading/research assignment can work in said situations? It has to be a tough call to cancel school. Id lean towards better safe than sorry myself in, the Superintendent's defense. I imagine many teachers and drivers cannot afford to live in town and she is responsible for making a call to ensure the safety of all under her jurisdiction.
Four Jacks February 11, 2013 at 06:13 PM
Just wondering how other school districts surrounding New Canaan were able to open on delay, why could they do it and we couldn't? Certainly they face the same issues regarding support living out of town.
Angie S. February 11, 2013 at 06:21 PM
As the comment from James in the article says, Darien, Wilton, Stamford, Norwalk, etc. seem to be a bit more on top of things. It's not like these surrounding towns are all that much cheaper to live in, and our town pays some of the highest salaries to those working in our school system. Heck, Kolek herself just asked for a huge hike in her budget (i.e., more taxes). I think it's less that the workers can't afford to live in town but more like they don't want to take the hit to their take home pay like many residents do for the luxury of living in town (which is fine; everyone has to make their own value judgments and trade offs; but if the staff in neighboring towns can get to work, why can't our staff do the same? It's not like they're coming from different places!).
Drama Mama February 11, 2013 at 06:21 PM
I applaud her decision. It was a tough call and she made it in enough time to give us ample time to plan. And I believe it isn't just about the bus drivers but other staff as well who aren't even plowed out yet. As for taking great caution with our children's welfare, I applaud her again. One accident and everyone would be suing the district!
runner62 February 11, 2013 at 06:40 PM
Dr. Kolek - what are the other factors that are not evident. Please be transparent and explain why New Canaan is different than other school districts in the state, many of whom were impacted with more snow than New Canaan.
Glen K Dunbar February 11, 2013 at 06:55 PM
I somewhat agree. Why blame Mary? I blame the lazy snow removal people. I blame the NWS I blame the weatherman himself/herself. We are sick/tired of all this crumby dramatic weather ALL THE TIME. We want normal temps w/LITTLE wind and maybe only snow on Xmas eve...the powerdry kind too. NOT the heavy kind. We want decent snow removal. We want NO more BITTER temps. What happened to global warming? Do not even tell me about water shortages anymore. GLEN
Wolverine February 11, 2013 at 08:05 PM
What's happened to the 'can-do' attitude?! We are not teaching our children how to overcome adversity or how to solve problems - we're teaching them how to quit & not GO FOR IT! God forbid, a risk is taken. By allowing such obstacles to shut down our schools, we are showing how to sit back & be defeated. Shovel your damn driveways, help a neighbor, mobilize to get people where they need to go. Modern society has become so lazy. It's embarrassing.
Canaanite February 11, 2013 at 08:26 PM
. . . and selfish . . . fully agree!
Inga Smith February 11, 2013 at 08:36 PM
I couldn't agree more. It's laughable how often New Canaan seems to cancel school days compared to other neighboring towns. I went to school in Rochester, where this would be considered a mere dusting, and we would beg for a school cancelation, which never seemed to happen.
Sarah Norton February 11, 2013 at 09:01 PM
The State of CT permits up to a 3 hour delayed start or early dismissal but the New Canaan Board of Education has historically limited the superintendent to 90 minutes which is also part of the problem. The Board of Education will also need to look at whom they hire not only by qualification but in relation to proximity to New Canaan.
Matt February 11, 2013 at 10:01 PM
It must be nice to have all the answers and know where employees live for the twons you list. You truly are a marvel.
Matt February 11, 2013 at 10:09 PM
Well that's a brilliant idea! Don't hire the best candidates for a position because in the rare case of an unprecedented event that strands hundreds of thousands in the state we can't open schools! So let's see what the absentee rate is for the two days of April break that are now schools days... or maybe this Friday which was a day off but now is a half-day of school. So important to have school today but when it comes to traveling for vacations on scheduled school days it is fine for kids to not be in school.
DLR February 11, 2013 at 10:09 PM
If this was just one day that a questionable day off had occurred, no one would be commenting. But, this is the third time this has occurred. The learning is very interrupted this year and Ms. Kolek has only made it worse.
Patchmaker February 12, 2013 at 12:28 AM
"Kolek's decision has been widely criticized by Patch readers." Wait, the Patch readers don't like something and are anonymously criticizing? That never happens. Having spent her entire professional career in education, I am sure that Dr. Kolek has just been waiting years for the opportunity to prevent children from learning and bring her authority to bear in personally having to deal with the multiple ramifications associated with scheduling changes. The motivation behind this decision is obvious. This is about sidewalks. This is just a strong arm tactic to get sidewalks throughout town, allowing children to walk to school. Rise up, rise up, rise up Patch readers.
Sarah Norton February 12, 2013 at 01:22 AM
Dr. Kolek made that observation today about looking at candidates not only by qualification but location. it is not exclusionary just something they think should be important in the overall process. No one said don't hire the best candidates overall.
InGodWeTrust February 12, 2013 at 11:46 AM
No child should be penalized for missing classes over what should have been his or her April break.....Dr. Kolek has dropped the ball, and the entire district should not e punished because of her ridiculous decisions.
James February 12, 2013 at 01:20 PM
Why the over reaction??? Did anyone take a drive to Fairfield/Bridgeport/Milford? They got double the snow than we got. Here's the thing though...NONE OF THEIR STREETS HAD BEEN PLOWED. I know cause I have a restaurant in the area and had to transfer every employee to and from work. All while being stuck for over 2 hours in traffic. So please...get over it and spend some time with your kids...you obviously have too much time on your hands right now.
Michael Dinan (Editor) February 12, 2013 at 01:20 PM
Good morning, everyone. A Patch reader who like many of our commenters here has chosen to remain anonymous, emailed New Canaan editor Lisa Buchman the photos I just attached to this article along with this note: "I am disgusted by some of the comments made regarding the superintendents decision to close school. Parents don't realize that some of us teachers still haven't been plowed out. Here are some pics from Bridgeport yesterday that I took. The National Guard and bulldozers were everywhere trying to dig people out. Before any parent complains, maybe they should take a ride up north or take up a shovel."
Elmcrest February 12, 2013 at 01:59 PM
Amen to that! So many things got said here on Patch that turned out not to be true, like that Metro-North was running normally (wrong), or that Norwalk schools were open (wrong), or that teachers and bus drivers are lazy (double wrong), or that Dr. Kolek only closes school if her own home is shut in (wrong again). Absolutely, no one likes to lose another school day, especially after the 6 we lost to Hurricane Sandy, but have some perspective. I have friends in Trumbull whose neighborhoods didn’t get plowed at all until MONDAY night and are now facing cleaned-out grocery stores and no gas at gas stations.
JR February 12, 2013 at 02:59 PM
for those of you complaining about the superintendents decision to close the schools on Monday, please stop crying in your champagne. The same whiners that take it out on bus drivers and teachers, who do nothing but serve the community, should consider the following: 1) bus drivers and teachers cannot afford to live in New Canaan, the same as our policemen and firefighters, they live in the areas that had in excess of 2' of snow, 2) bus drivers paid hourly do not get paid if they do not work 3) teachers lose April vacation days as well, and those who have summer jobs will have a shorter summer vacation, as a result of these snow days 4) despite the hard work of the Towns Highway department most streets still are only 3/4 clear making driving difficult 5) there are more vehicles on the road now than in the good old days, making these crowded roads less forgiving. So please stop whining about your lost Yoga class, shopping time, whatever, and get your kid/grandkid out of the house to shovel the fire hydrant out, check on neighbors, collect food for the food pantry, or do some other character building chores, or perish the thought spend some quality time with them,rather than complain about those who's work makes our childrens quality education possible.
concerned citizen February 12, 2013 at 03:28 PM
Nobody is happy about all the school days missed. I probably would have made the same call as the superintendent. But some earlier decisions to close school were plain wrong and now we are paying for it.
concerned citizen February 12, 2013 at 03:37 PM
When do you think the superintendent was planning on sending an email out to parents about the two days we are missing from April break. Obviously after we read it in the New Canaan News.
concerned citizen February 12, 2013 at 03:41 PM
OK..My bad...just got it. BUT it was in the paper first:)
concerned citizen February 12, 2013 at 03:46 PM
Any doctors out there willing to write a couple of notes:)?
Ben Parker February 13, 2013 at 01:43 AM
You people are idiots.
Glen K Dunbar February 13, 2013 at 01:46 AM
I FOR SURE blame the weather man AND NWS for making it snow in the first place.
concerned citizen February 13, 2013 at 10:56 AM
Everyone needs to lighten up
Michael Dinan (Editor) February 14, 2013 at 03:15 AM
This comments thread is closed.


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