Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thanks to Agudat Achim and Alexandra Schmidt for saving the day yesterday

A foot of snow with more falling and more on the way.

Schools closed.

A proctor who was sick with an unplowed driveway.

A replacement proctor who lost power, phone, and Internet access, and who ran into a traffic jam caused by a snow-induced fender-bender outside her development yesterday.

A mountain of snow at the end of my own driveway left in the wake of the town plow. And a similar mound at the end of most students and proctors' driveways as well. Those who didn't have such mounds faced even tougher obstacles in the form of unplowed roads ahead.

A "state of emergency" forbidding "all unnecessary travel" in the City of Schenectady where we were planning to have most of our students take the AMC10/12 yesterday. The order was issued at noon, only three hours before the scheduled start of the exam.

These were just a few of the obstacles we faced yesterday.

We had all the tests. Parents were generously offering us their homes, but the AMC rules do not allow the test to be given in a private home. It must be given in a public place such as a school, church, or library. Furthermore, we had about 50 students signed up to take the test.

Desperately searching for alternatives, I had visions of holding our test in a snow-covered picnic shelter at the park!

Our super-resourceful volunteer advisor, Alexandra Schmidt, a math teacher at Hebrew Academy of the Capital District, had a better idea. Alexandra is an eagle-eyed licensed pilot who always keeps an eye on the weather and thinks ahead about contingencies. She saved the day for our students by finding us a place that could accomodate everyone to take the exam.

Her synagogue, Congregation Agudat Achim, is located in Niskayuna, a well-plowed area outside the city limits (and therefore exempt from the "no unnecessary travel order") and she has been such a helpful member of that community that the congregation leadership very kindly agreed to her request that our math circle students be allowed to use their building on short notice. Rabbi Ted Lichtenberg was on hand to sign the certification that the tests packages were still sealed until right before the exam. The custodians quickly cleared the parking lots and walkways for us and all went amazingly well. The congregation has a great location on a major state road, which is a priority for snow clearance.

From the bottom of our hearts, thanks to the congregation for offering its hospitality on short notice, to Alexandra Schmidt and Professor Rita Biswas of UAlbany for assisting with proctoring and making vast number of phone calls to try to ensure that everyone knew where to go.

Out of the 53 students originally signed up, 43 students managed to take the contest, a totally amazing number given the distances some of the students had to travel, the conditions, the changing parameters about where it would be feasible to hold the contests, and the difficulties in communicating at a time when many people were without power and/or Internet.

Thanks also to all the parents who offered their homes or who offered to contact libraries near them (unfortunately, no library is likely to have room to administer an exam to the 50-plus students who were signed up yesterday), to Union College math professor Kathryn Lesh for making arrangements and Pastor Tom Trouwborst of Calvary Church for making arrangements that would have been great if Schenectady hadn't declared a "state of emergency," to all the New York State and Town of Niskayuna public works folks who kept the highways clear enough for most of the students to get there, and to my daughter Catherine for digging out the mountain of snow at the end of my driveway!

1 comment:

mok said...

UPDATE: One day later the deputy mayor of Schenectady said that the state of emergency she had declared the previous day was not actually as serious as it sounded.

Schenectady's state of emergency not a serious as it sounds, according to the following Channel 13 WNYT news report:

SCHENECTADY - About a dozen municipalities in the Capital Region are in the midst of a snow emergency.
But Schenectady, seemingly, took the weather and the problems it creates a little further. The city Wednesday declared a state of emergency and told people to stay off the roads unless it was absolutely necessary.
Thursday the person sitting in for the mayor while he's away said it's not really that serious. ...

That's probably because a state of emergency, in Schenectady at least, isn't as dire as it sounds.

"We just want to make sure everyone's careful and they are very careful not having accidents. It's an issue, but everything goes on," Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Jordon said....

Other municipalities declare snow emergencies. But that requires towing and plowing, which according to Jordan, Schenectady can't afford for all 409 miles of its streets.
A state of emergency also helps the city to cover its bases. If the city doesn't declare one it wouldn't be eligible for federal reimbursement later if the storm were truly devastating.

"It is what it is and it's a term we've used for years and years," Jordan said.

It's a term the people living and working in the state of emergency believe is overkill.

"It doesn't seem to affect anything that I'm aware of," Schenectady resident Mike Stella said.

"Being from Buffalo, no, we're very used to this," Schenectady resident Mary Beth Michnik.

Schenectady's state of emergency remains in effect until noon on Saturday.