Children sled on Memorial Hill / Credit: Georgina Arrieta-Ruetenik

It’s the age-old “Will they/Won’t they?” question — have a snow day, that is. Every winter, with the talk of impending snow, eager children cross their fingers that school will be canceled. Many will even complete a series of superstitions such as sleeping with a spoon under their pillow or flushing ice down the toilet in the hope of nudging chance in their favor. 

But in Needham, students and parents alike know snow days are not that easy to come by, and Superintendent Dan Gutekanst leaves nothing to chance. Members of the Needham Facebook page have taken to running a “GuteKontest” whenever the possibility of a day off looms, betting on the odds of having school called off, when it will be decided, how the news will first be shared, how many inches of snow will accumulate … and in recent years, the likelihood of train horn complaints just for fun. 

While some may think The Call is determined by Gutekanst’s whim or the side of the bed from which he began his day, far more goes into it. With weather events such as snow or ice, he said he relies heavily on input from appropriate town entities as well as the district’s meteorologist at the National Weather Service. 

After speaking with public safety officials and the department of public works, he said he ultimately likes to see the conditions for himself before making the call. If snow is predicted the night before a school day, he wakes up at 3 a.m. and drives to Needham from his home in Shrewsbury.  

“I get the chance to drive while on Route 9, the turnpike, I-95.” He said this gives him the chance to see what conditions would be for staff driving in as well as Boston students. “And I drive around Needham and see where they’re at. Is it safe for the cars to drive in, and if they can I want to stay in school.”  

So, while children in most other districts can go to sleep amid a storm forecast with dreams of cocoa and sledding the next day, Needham folk must set their phone alarms as usual and hope that when they ring at 5 a.m. it’s to tell them to go back to sleep. But at least it’s not 3 a.m.

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