Superintendent defends actions by Cherokee system during storm
by Michelle Babcock
January 31, 2014 12:00 AM | 3962 views | 18 18 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Frank Petruzielo
Frank Petruzielo
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Cherokee’s school superintendent Thursday defended the school system’s handling of Tuesday’s winter storm emergency and praised teachers and employees for the job they did in keeping all 39,000 students safe.

School Superintendent Frank Petruzielo addressed the decision to dismiss classes two hours early and the frustrations of some parents with the situation that left more than 400 students stranded at schools and 70 students forced to stay through the night.

“As you might imagine, parents have been sharing their thoughts with us. Some are angry, and we certainly understand. Some have shared thanks for heroism showed by our staff, and those are appreciated more than they know,” Petruzielo said.

“I know there are many parents in our community today who are frustrated; it’s unlikely that anything I will say will ease this for them. But know this: I and every one of our employees care more about the safety of your children than how many hours they spend in a classroom,” classroom,” the school superintendent said.

The Cherokee County School District, along with Cherokee Charter Academy, planned to keep schools closed Friday as crews continued to clean up the mess left from Tuesday’s snow.

Petruzielo said the district survived the emergency because of the patience and support of parents, employees, education partners and volunteers.

“On behalf of every one of our more than 39,000 students, please accept my thanks, as I have never been as grateful as when we reunited the last of our sheltered students with her parents on Wednesday afternoon,” Petruzielo said.

The school superintendent said he wanted to dispel the myth there was financial incentive for school systems to have classes Tuesday. State funding is based on two attendance count days during the school year, and Tuesday was not one of those days, he said.

Petruzielo said the decision was based on weather information the school system had Tuesday.

“We based our decision to hold classes on Tuesday and the subsequent decision to close early using the most recent weather information available; Cherokee County was not included in the ‘winter storm warning’ area until after the decision to close early already had been made,” he said. “Had we, or our neighboring school systems, known the speed or severity of this storm further in advance, we would never have held school on Tuesday.”

While many parents appear to be pleased with the district’s reaction to the sudden winter storm, others said they experienced difficulty with the school system.

Some parents said they tried to warn the district before it was too late.

Lynn Hotzclaw, a mother of two children at R.M. Moore Elementary School and one at Teasley Middle School, said she called the school district after she realized roads were becoming icy around 10 a.m. Tuesday.

“At 10 minutes after 10 on Tuesday it started snowing, so I left home and went to R.M. Moore and got my two kids. At 10:30, I called the school district office and told them they needed to load the buses, that the roads were getting bad and I had seen cars having trouble,” Hotzclaw said Thursday.

Hotzclaw said her other child got stuck at Teasley, but has since been able to leave the school.

“We have not been able to get him home yet,” Hotzclaw said. However, the parent did praise the personnel at Teasley for the job they did in caring for the students stranded there.

“Teasley was awesome, the teachers, bus drivers and other staff there were great,” she said.

School district spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said the decision to close schools early was made at 10 a.m., immediately after officials knew conditions were deteriorating.

“The decision was made using our inclement weather protocols, which are posted on our website for public review. Our staff participated in a National Weather Service phone conference from 9 to 10 a.m. with Cherokee County emergency management officials, and based on the forecast for an inch of snow between 1 and 8 p.m., the decision was made immediately following that meeting to announce early dismissal,” Jacoby explained Thursday. “Had we, or any other school system in metro Atlanta, known the speed and severity of the storm, we would never have held school on Tuesday.”

Jacoby said the district has not received any reports of injuries, and said the school district plans to review its protocols and make improvements where possible.

“We’ll be reviewing our protocols and how they were executed to determine where there are areas for improvement,” she said.

Another parent of children at R.M. Moore Elementary School, Melissa Sims, said she tried to warn the district at about 9:30 a.m., after it had been snowing for about 15 minutes.

Sims said she lives near the Lake Arrowhead community in Waleska, and by the time she picked up her kids from school the roads were too icy to make it home.

“We ended up having about 94 cars piled up here,” she said Thursday. “We ended up having to walk two miles home.”

Petruzielo said part of the reason schools dismissed two hours early and not immediately after the call to close them was made is because transportation for 39,000 children takes time.

“School bus routes cannot all be run at the same time. CCSD alone transports 29,000 bus riders home each day, and that process takes more than three hours to complete beginning with hub routes, followed by elementary and then middle and high schools,” he said. “Knowing that our community’s children had to spent the night away from home breaks every educator’s heart including my own, and I am so grateful for the job our staff did to care for these children. Our schools that sheltered students overnight kept them safe, warm, fed and entertained.”

Despite complaints from some, Jacoby said the response from parents has been vastly positive, with about one negative for every 100 positive comments.

Comments
(18)
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People Are Nuts
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January 31, 2014
I've truly seen it all now. Leave it to the local nuts in Cherokee to blame a weather event on the Supt. of Schools. PLEASE do yourselves a favor and google "FTE Count." In summation, schools receive funding based on two major enrollment counts each year. And guess what - Tuesday wasn't one.

For those of you lacking common sense: IT IS CHEAPER TO KEEP SCHOOLS CLOSED (aka a furlough day) THAN TO SEND KIDS AND TEACHERS TO SCHOOL.

Whoever thinks that sending faculty, staff and students to school was a financial decision needs a brain check.
Reading Comp Failure
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February 03, 2014
Leave it to a District minion to think anyone is 'blaming a weather event on the superintendent'. What a poor attempt at deflection.

No one blames Dr. P for the snow. It's how he handled it that is the subject of scrutiny.

He's a poor leader and nowhere was this more apparent than last Tuesday. When CCSD needed decisive leadership, he hemmed & hawed and then decided to dump buses full of kids onto icy roads.

The man's leadership was a complete, total, embarrassing DISASTER.

Leave it to a sycophantic minion to try and take up for this epic failure.
Cherokee Parent
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January 31, 2014
Money from the state is NOT determined on a daily basis. It is determined on a few specific days and Tuesday wasn't one of those. Go check CCSD's FB page and you will see mostly positive comments. Here's the link to the forecast that's show's the timeline: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/ffc/?n=20140128winterstorm Bottom line? Blame Mother Nature. It's weather. It happens! IMHO CCSD did a great job under the circumstances!
#1thirddayfan
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January 31, 2014
ha ha ha ha if they would have loaded at 10:30 when we told them to or 9:45 with the other mother told them too these kids that were stuck on the bus would have been at home!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
JoDee18
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January 31, 2014
Parents were originally emailed by CCSD that the decision was made at a meeting at 9:00 to close school 2 hours early. In the latest reply we are being told the decision was made at 10:00. Tomorrow it will be 10:30. Hmmm, you guys might want to get together and get your story straight.

Read It Again
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January 31, 2014
Read the emails again. The meeting was at 9 am. Which means it STARTED at 9 am. It included a conference call with the National Weather Service. Public safety agencies were in the room as well. There was probably discussion and planning, it probably took a little while, which easily gets you to a 10:00 decision. The news media got a closure notice at 10:15. I have seen in the media where the sheriff's office AND Emergency Operations Center have also said the information from the National Weather Service meeting that morning did NOT lead them to believe the snow would start so early or be so bad. The forecast for Cherokee was "up to an inch" of snow until it was changed at 1:15 pm. Too late for anyone except the Monday-morning quarterbacks!
Mary Baggs
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January 31, 2014
Mustardman, your comment shows a complete lack of understanding of public school funding. If you actually check your facts, you would find that there are NO financial penalties for the School System relative to partial or full days of school. Please post accurate information instead of trying to stir the pot and add to the drama. The fact is that the weather prediction was wrong for Cherokee County, and the teachers and staff did everything possible to protect the safety and well-being of the students. For that, you should be grateful!!
#1thirddayfan
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January 31, 2014
if they made the call at 10:00 why did they tell me at 10:30 they were sticking to the early release at 12:15? I was begging them to relese now at 10:30 A.M and the lady laughed at me and said "mam we have proffesional's driving we are sticking to the early release two hour early." I said " well mam if you do that and wait you will have kids and buses straned and can't get home."
Common sense
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February 01, 2014
The hub buses that get kids back to their home schools from ACE Academy, STEM and Fine Arts, etc. have to run first, and that would have already been underway at 10:30. There are not enough buses to run all the routes simultaneously. 350 buses, and they have to run elementary before going on to middle/high. Student drivers at the high schools were dismissed before elementary schools.
Pants on Fire
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January 31, 2014
The superintendent and his staff are either clueless or blatant liars.

The National Weather Service and numerous other weather sources had updated their forecast at 3AM early Tuesday AM to include Cherokee County in the path of the Winter Storm.

For the Superintendent to claim otherwise shows either his dishonesty or his complete incompetence.

Either trait made him put 39,000 children...and their parents...into harm's way.

The man should be immediately fired for this blunder and hope that no one sues the district for his incompetent, rudderless leadership. The Board needs to remove this man immediately. He's hazardous to the health and safety of our children.
BlindOwl
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January 31, 2014
No, actually Cherokee County wasn't put under a Winter Storm Warning with the rest of the counties to its south until after 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

https://nwschat.weather.gov/p.php?pid=201401281812-KFFC-WWUS42-WSWFFC

But don't let facts get in the way of your narrative, by all means.
What about,,,,,
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February 01, 2014
So, does the charter school principal get fired? He didn't dismiss school until 1 pm on Tuesday, and they don't even have buses to deal with. Kids got stuck at their school overnight as well.
Melissa Sims
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January 31, 2014
Hi folks,

My comment was "we have 94 cars "lined" up here" at the base of the hill. not "piled" up here. Big difference.
buzz off
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January 31, 2014
MAN UP CCSD. YOU BLEW IT. ACTION TAKE TWO HOURS EARLIER WOULD HAVE SAVED THE DAY.
Waleska Parent
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January 31, 2014
I don't believe CCSD had 1 complaint for every 100 positive comments. From the parents I have heard from and on Facebook most parents were furious with CCSD for calling off school so late. We will never know the truth. The county is not going to be honest about the numbers if it makes them look bad. I think we needed an apology not an excuse.
Mustardman
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January 31, 2014
Dr. Petruzielo, put the children of Cherokee County in harms way simply in order to recieve financal payment from the state for a full day of class. There is no logical reason that a decision should be made to release children at 12:30 when at 10 snow was already accumilating. Pure financial decision. Admit it! We are not bamboozled by your degrees!!!!
Acme Fence Co
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January 31, 2014
Georgia school districts do not get paid by daily attendance or days in school! The enrollment count for state funding is determined by a count in October and one in March.
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