Sylacauga City Schools handled the chaotic day well, though, getting every student and employee home or to a safe location by 6 p.m., despite the treacherous road conditions that left buses stalled, Superintendent Dr. Todd Freeman said.
“This was unexpected, obviously,” he said. “We do have procedures in place for a typical dismissal with buses, but where this became difficult was we couldn’t run bus services. The storm’s evolution occurred in such a fast manner that by the time we got bus drivers in, the roads were not safe for them to travel.”
Parents were traveling to schools “from all over the place” to pick up students, Freeman said. Some could not reach the schools, so School Resource Officer Willie Kidd and Student Services Coordinator Bobby Hall organized a plan to carry many students home from each of the system’s four schools. Freeman said their assistance was instrumental.
The 500-plus students at Indian Valley Elementary School were all home safely by about 5 p.m., according to Principal Monte Abner.
“I got the message about dismissal at 10:15, and I immediately started coordinating with my staff to feed lunch to all of our kids,” Abner said. “We knew many of them were going home where they wouldn’t have meals, so we wanted to make sure they were fed, and we got them all a meal within 45 minutes.”
Teachers and other staff assisted with check-outs, and by 3 p.m., there were only three students and four staff members left.
“We had room for chaos, but the teachers handled it very well,” Abner said. “Being a first-year principal, situations like this can be intimidating, because it’s not a common or typical occurrence, but we have brilliant people on staff who know how to handle these things. We were able to work together to get the job done.”
At Pinecrest Elementary School, things went well despite some traffic issues on the surrounding roads, Principal Gary Rivers said.
“We had some issues with parents making it up the hill to get to the back of school, where car-riders are usually picked up,” he said. “Buses usually pick up at the front, and since buses weren’t running, parents could come around front, so that worked out well for us.”
There were several wrecks in the area that stalled traffic, Rivers said.
“The backed-up traffic was our biggest issue,” he said. “At about 3:30, we still had 25 or 30 kids at the school, but Mr. Hall and Officer Kidd both have four-wheel drive SUVs, so they took some kids home. Everybody got home by 4:45 or 5.”
Rivers said the school “had plenty of food, and we were ready to spend the night if we needed to, but we were glad to get everyone home safely.”
Freeman said principals “handled their buildings very well” during the frenzied day. “They thought on their feet very fast to make sure kids were getting where they were supposed to be and parents were getting called.”
The central office offered support, but let each school work out its own dismissal, Freeman said, “and they did an outstanding job with that, coupled with what (Hall) and Officer Kidd were doing. It was a very good effort by everyone, given the circumstances.”
Rivers said the whole day “was an experience” and taught administrators and teachers a valuable lesson.
“We learned a lot from it,” he said. “We learned to expect the unexpected.”
Contact Emily McLain at firstname.lastname@example.org.