Posted by: philipfontana | January 31, 2017

Principal’s Stories #1


A Principal’s Stories, No. 1

The Snow Day


Philip Fontana


     Excuse us for living, if I repeat myself here. But as educators all of us have enough stories to cause us to say that familiar phrase, “I could write a book.” (See in the right margin here, at the bottom, “Education,” for “A Teacher’s Stories, No. 1”) In this instance, I take the liberty to fast-forward from my teaching years to my years as principal to relate a story that will forever stand out in my memory as the most bizarre and, yet, endearing of them all.


      High Mountain Road School, Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, 1962 to the present, on High Mountain Road, near the “circle,” on Franklin Lakes Road, at the well-known Market Basket strip mall. It’s just down the road a bit coming out of urban Paterson, New Jersey, as surprising a change in landscape as that is. Decades ago going from Paterson to Franklin Lakes was crossing into a new world, from city to countryside. It was the “Urban Farms” housing developments of the late 1950’s-early 1960’s that put Franklin Lakes on the map. The McBride family started it all with luxury homes and swim club and golf club. The first stories I recall growing up in Paramus, down the road from Franklin Lakes in Bergen County, were of professional baseball players buying lavish homes in a place called Franklin Lakes. By the time I arrived in 1988 as “HMR’s” (High Mountain Road School’s) third principal, Franklin Lakes had become quite affluent and HMR was in the “most affluent of the affluent” areas of town.



     This story from the early 1990’s starts as just a typical “snow day” for the four schools making up Franklin Lakes Public Schools, three elementary and one middle school. As principals, we got “the call” from our superintendent of schools somewhere in the range of five to six o’clock in the morning that the schools would be closed due to the snow and road conditions. This particular snow fall, as I recall, was in the four inch range, but with the potential to continue snowing through the day. It doesn’t take much in New Jersey to close down the public schools! Curious to the public, whether teachers could get to the schools with the road conditions weighed as importantly as the safety of the children riding school buses. We then as principals initiated our “telephone chain,” calling pre-selected teachers on our listing, who in turn called the next teacher on the list and so on down the line. As the years past, a PTA parent was included in order to initiate a PTA telephone chain to parents.


     Here I am at my desk in my office at High Mountain Road School, dressed casually for a snow day. In those days, we were in suit and tie for regular school days, naturally. But on a snow day we could relax the dress code. In most school districts, principals stayed home on snow days just like the teachers and children. But somewhere along the line in Franklin Lakes Schools, the new superintendent started saying, “Take your time getting in to school. Drive safely. We’ll have a meeting at my office at 1:00.” – – That did not go over well with my fellow old timer principals! 



     This particular snow day, I arrived at HMR around 8:30 AM, in contrast to my usual 7:30. School started at 9:00 AM. Teachers “signed in” by 8:50, if my memory serves me correctly. On a normal operating day, school buses were rolling in by 8:40 with two teachers “on duty” outside in the two respective line-up areas for the children. But this was a snow day, right? – – Well sort of. – – Apparently not for everyone!

Somewhere approaching 9:00 AM, the time school started, I thought I heard something outside my office. My office was somewhat adjacent to the front door line-up area. I went out my office side door to the hallway near the double-front doors to HMR. And there at the front doors, right up to the glass, in the snow, were three lonely little boys. “Mom” had driven them to school as was her custom, not taking advantage of school bus service, and dropped them off at the curb under the bus portico and driven off!


     The High Mountain Road School faculty was everything a principal could ask for in a teaching staff. They were more like a private school faculty, highly intelligent, capable individuals, with substantive interests in their own right. As their principal, I was there to support them and not impede them. I took pride striving to be “a teacher’s principal,” having taught half the years of my career. By that I meant that “teachers came first,” and that if I served them well, students would be best served, and parents to follow. Maximizing instructional time meant everything to my teachers. I called this faculty photo, taken at the opening teachers’ meeting of each school year, a “crazy photo.” Everyone was asked to do something silly as a pose with the idea that humor would help us through the upcoming school year. You have to checkout Al Manfredi, second from photo right, sticking our his tongue! He was our in-house philosopher, loved & respected by all. That’s me, photo left, in the blue suit.



Well. Obviously, Mrs. “So-And-So” didn’t get word that this was a snow day.  – -I know. – – You can say it. – – At the time, I could not! So here I was with three nice little boys to welcome into the school building and make them feel welcome and secure and not feel bad in any way just because Mom had “goofed.” The first thing we did together, naturally, was to “call Mom.” – – No answer on her home telephone, before the days of cell phones. We left a “polite message” that there was, “No school today, Mrs. So-And-So. It’s a snow day.” That being done and without my crackerjack teachers, it was “bonding time” for me and three of my students, who I really knew out of the 230 some children in my charmed little school, but was about to get to know very well before this saga was over. The facts were that I had a one o’clock meeting at the superintendent’s office with him and the other three principals and the director of special services, but I also had three little boys on my hands!

Now let’s pause to spell things out here succinctly, what was off the top of my head at the time. – – A snow day! No, there was no such thing as a school website in those days. But there was or were…

  1. a PTA telephone chain
  2. radio and TV announcements of school closings
  3. no school buses on the roads passing houses and at bus stops
  4. no teachers’ cars parked in the school parking lot
  5. no parent cars dropping off children
  6. no school buses pulling up to the bus portico and dropping off children
  7. no crossing guard on the road directing traffic
  8. no teachers on bus duty
  9. no principal scurrying about checking on things
  10. no children milling around and lining up

But there was one lonely car parked in the snow covered parking lot in its usual parking space; mine! And what did this mother do? She just drove in as usual and dropped off her dear little boys. And they really were “dears.” I told myself, with such nice little boys, this mom must have some redeeming qualities!

So, what did I do? I refer to the boys and me “bonding” above. Oh, I telephoned “Mom” twice more…no answer and left similar, simple messages as the first call. As is my way of looking at things, I then called upon everything at my disposal; an entire school! – – First, a ride on the principal’s famous “book cart” through the hallways! – – Faster, faster! – – Again and again! Then there was an entire gymnasium at their disposal, a boy’s dream, with all sorts of equipment! – – Next, the library, with books and more galore! – – And then, of course, the principal’s office with my stash of children’s books and amusing things. And, how about the boys’ lunch boxes! Mom remembered to pack those! The boys had “snack time” and, yes, as you may be concluding already, this “adventure” stretched out to “lunchtime” and eating their lunches.

By now it was 12:30 PM and I was supposed to be at that meeting at the “super’s” office by 1:00. But guess who rolled into the parking lot at 12:30? – – Mrs. So-And-So, Mom! The boys were having a grand time with the principal but I guess it was time to go! Mom was here! “Hi, Mrs. So-And-So,” I said. “We had a snow day today.” “I was out shopping,” said she. “Did you hear the messages I left for you?” I said. “Yes, thank you. I’m very sorry,” she said. “If you ever pull into the parking lot and no cars are here, that means there is no school,” I said. I walked to her car with the boys and as they got in the car I told her, “The boys and I really bonded together, quality time.” “Thanks,” she said.

“Excuse Us For Living” may have had his “finest hour” here. Make that about three and one-half finest hours!

Comments: Please!

Sources: my memory!



  1. I’ll bet those kids always remembered the day they had the school – and the principal – to themselves!

    • Helen Devries!!! How nice a comment!!! So good re your thought process….I never even considered that! Many thanks! Phil

      • Sometimes as a pupil at grammar school i wondered what it would be like to have the place to myself…so I envy those kids!
        I’m not so sure that our fearsome headmistress would have been the ideal companion, though! A wonderful educator and a great example to girls – but you did wonder whether you needed permission to breathe in her presence…

  2. Hi Phil-
    I had to laugh out loud at the line said by the superintendent-“take your time getting to school” bah humbug! Didn’t that fellow ever remember what fun it was to have a snow day off? Even for the poor principals?? haha!
    Here in Florida, all our kids have off is if a Hurricane is about to strike! yikes…Good article Phil…

    • Marg, Yes, that superintendent I nicknamed “the boy scout.” The other principals nicknamed him “the ass hole.” before him, the principals were off on snow days just like the teachers. Wow! Hurricane Days for Florida schools! –Fly north safely for that $54!!! Thanks for the comment! Phil

  3. As always my dear brother Phil you have written yet a wonderful piece. I only wish I could write as well as you can. As someone that has lived all over this great nation in both extreme cold and hot I can say you painted this picture to a T about snow days. 🙂

    • Padre Tatro, So nice a comment, Padre!!! No great writing skills here….just putting things in print in simple words. You do very well! You have to integrate & synthesize prose & commentary with scripture, a not so simple task with Him looking over your shoulder. You carry the Lord’s burden upon you! So glad the essence of a snow day came through clearly! Many thanks! Hope you are well these days! Phil

  4. Phil, such a great memory. Would that all of our schools were filled with compassionate and kind administrators. I am really touched by how you created a fun experience for these “abandoned” children. I’ve known some who would have left the children sitting on a bench waiting for mom’s return. Hoping this memory has informed the life and relationships of these three boys. (Too deep? It’s the mood I’m in these days 😃)

    • Viv!!! So nice of you to take away from this “a kind principal” & the “fun experience” for the boys. School should be fun, right? Oh no, to leave these boys alone waiting for Mom…..or even driving them home to a neighbor’s care! And you are the third person to bring to my attention, after all these years, the impact this good experience may have had on the boys. I had never thought of that! Anyway, may both you & Scott be well as well as your big family with all the grands! Thanks again! Comments like yours make it worthwhile that I have not long packed it in with “Excxuse Us…” I’d like to comment more on things political especially now. But I would lose 50% readers by my politics. And now with this “Prez,” the world needs not another mouth! But I DO from time to time comment on income inequality which, in my opinion, is the issue of our times. It links the Occupy Movement, Bernie’s Revolution, the Women’s March, & all the rest. All issues will coalesce around income inequality & Trump is a sitting target for a nationally explosive movement. Thanks, Cous! Phil

  5. Great story Phil. I can’t imagine how awkward I would feel as a student in that type of situation but kudos to you for making the best of it. I bet those kids appreciated the great time had by all. A story they will probably tell for a long time to come. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kimberly!!! Thanks for being here taking a look! And thank you for your thoughts on this story! I never thought of that…re a student feeling awkward in that situation…..Not the way I approach kids just like my own 3 sons! Right, they had some fun despite their Mom’s mistake. I never thought of that…what you said…that the boys would tell this story too as a unique, special experience! Thanks for that! So nice of you to take the time to check this out! Phil

  6. I really love to read your stories my friend! 🙂
    It would have been so much fun to have you as a principal!
    Great teachers are born, not made in my opinion and you sure were a great one. I can tell!
    Hugz & Love ❤

    • Patty, I get excited just seeing that there is a comment from you here on “Excuse Us…”! Glad you like to read my “dribble.” Wow, to have been your principal or better yet your history teacher would have been so much fun! Let’s see…..I left the classroom to become principal in 1985….so you were 3 or 4!!! We sure missed that by far since I taught 6,7,8 grade history! But I could have been your elementary school principal by our ages!!! Thanks, Patty, for that nice comment about being a great teacher! My father wanted me to be a lawyer/attorney & I was drafted out of first year law school. But I wanted to be a teacher. I always said I would be a good lawyer but a great teacher. I loved it & had great fun as did my students! Love to you again & again….we all need all the love we can get! Phil

  7. I have been wondering how the schools in the U.S. inform all parents on the snow day at such short time before internet and text messages invented! Now it is answered by your post. You are so dedicated to stay up with them and accompanied them until the Mrs. So-so picked them up. An unforgettable moment 🙂

  8. Indah!!! You are very inquisitive to have thought about pre-internet days & school closings in the U.S. I forgot in my article to mention that somewhere along the years, we added a prerecorded message about school being closed when a parent called the school telephone number! At that time being sure the boys were happy was my #1 important thing! Yes, I guess this experience really stuck with me. And some readers here commented that the boys probably remember this to this very day! I never thought of that! Thanks, Indah! Hope your USA years are going well! Phil

  9. One principal would never sign off on anything and then castigate the staff for not getting anything done. Another felt she was not doing her job unless everyone lived in fear and was miserable. It took all the joy out of teaching. Many times I wish I had chosen another profession. Shoveling poop at the zoo seemed better at times.

    • Carl, I hear you! You taught 33 years, right? And in the city???!!! I was a teacher for half my career before I became a principal. So I was “a teacher’s principal”!!! My goal was to maximize instructional time for the teachers!!! That’s all they wanted….To Teach!!! Thanks for visiting me!!! Loved your latest cartoon on the bookshelves! Phil

  10. Snow. LOL.
    When I was in high school I wanted to be a teacher. Then I discovered how little teachers made in Texas, and that wasn’t enough to get me where I wanted to go. Plus I realized that if there was a God, s/he would punish me by giving me a roomful of Russel Rays, little juvenile delinquents from hell. Decided, uh, no.

    • Russel Ray! Not surprising that a person like you with so many talents considered teaching! You would have been a great success. But the pay back when was dismally low! I started out in 1969 at 5,000 & my first good position in 1974 was only at 10,000. And you are right re the discipline aspect in the classroom….not so bad in elementary….but I taught middle school!!!!! Phil

  11. Hi Phil, I hope that you might still get an alert when someone writes a note on your post here. This made my day, as I currently sit in your former office at HMR. I LOVE these photos and enjoy imagining how it must have been in “the good old days”! Your positive reputation proceeds you still at HMR. I hope that you are enjoying your retirement! Sincerely, Jaclyn Bajzath

    • Jaclyn Bajzath!!! What a treat to read this from you, the present principal of HMR!!! –Nice office, right? –If those sliding doors are still there & open with conference table!!! And they WERE the good old days before the 3 reorganizations took place within 4 years! And thanks for reference to a positive reputation still that I may have after all these years! Back then what came back to me was that parents could trust my word as truth. Retirement is so good. May God be with you & everyone at HMR with all you are contending with at this time. And thanks for going out of your way to reach out to me. How you found this article & my website is beyond me but for Google! Phil

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