A wrinkle in time

Chemistry teacher Stephen Marsden takes down a clock from the science department office. He climbs to the roof of Munger and hurls the clock with all his strength across Coldwater. Well, at least that’s what he wants to do.

“The first person to get one across Coldwater wins a free trip to the Land That Time Forgot,” Marsden said. “I am a firm believer in appropriate technology. These clocks are not prime examples.”

Currently the clocks are set according to a radio signal sent from Boulder, Colorado where the NIST-F1 Cesium Fountain Atomic clock is located. This atomic clock is one of the most accurate clocks in the world and will neither gain nor lose a second in more than 60 million years. However, many clocks on campus tell the incorrect time, and they cannot be adjusted or set manually.

“No two of them tell the same time, but as far as I know they are centrally-controlled,” history teacher Ari Engelberg said. “So, figure that one out.”

In order for the clocks to be correct, they must be in an open area, so they can re-acquire the radio signal from Colorado, according to Director of Campus Operations James DeMatte. This signal tells the clock the correct time, and the clock automatically sets itself to that time. The clocks become inaccurate when the signal is skewed by walls or floors.

History teacher Drew Maddock has taken extra measures to know the right time.
“I finally went out and bought a wall clock and put it up in the history office myself,” Maddock said. “Clearly, having to do that is ridiculous.”

In the past week, the clocks were especially inaccurate because some of them adjusted back to Standard Time from Daylight Savings a week early. Students have felt the repercussions of the inaccuracy of the clocks.

“I’m usually late for my Shakespeare class because my science classroom clock is little faster than my Rugby classroom’s clock, and also the commute is long,” Kimberly Wang ’09 said.

The school’s policy is that students who receive more than six tardies per quarter are subject to detention. But each teacher has a different tardy policy, and some take into account the problem with the clocks when marking their students tardy.

“If a student is making an honest effort to get to class on time, I don’t worry about tardies,” math teacher Michael Mori said. “I’m not going to worry about a couple minutes either way because I know the clocks are a bit off.”

But even though some clocks are inaccurate, faculty see that if a student is frequently tardy, it’s usually not the clocks’ fault.

“If you come every day saying, ‘It’s the clock, the clock, the clock,’ it’s probably not about the clock,” DeMatte said.

DeMatte said that he and the administration have been planning to update the campus’ clocks, along with installing an emergency intercom system. The new middle school campus will be set up with these updates. However, implementing this plan at the Upper School is a much bigger task.
The Middle School has synchronized digital clocks which can be set manually.

“At the Middle School I didn’t wear a watch, but now that I’m at the Upper School, I need to wear a watch because all the clocks are different,” Dayna Berkowitz ’10 said.

Installing these clocks at the Upper Campus would be much harder.

“It’s a very, very in-depth wiring job to use that type of clock,” DeMatte said. “It’s a lot more complicated than it was at the Middle School.”

The administration will be focusing on the new middle school campus for a few years before they decide to revamp the upper school’s system, according to DeMatte. Until then, students and teachers both have to deal with some of the inaccurate clocks.

“The clocks have been off lately. The school knows about the problem and I believe there are long-term plans to address it,” Director of Studies Deborah Dowling said. “But in the meantime Mr. Salamandra has advised us [teachers] to wear watches.”