First day sees long delays in getting some students home from school
A combination of several factors led to afternoon buses dropping off some students much later than scheduled after the first day of school on Aug. 10, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said. "Thursday did not go as we would have planned - I know that's probably an understatement," Hawkins acknowledged during a telephone interview on Monday morning. He said changes to afternoon bus routes were not clearly communicated to middle and high school students so they understood how those changes would affect them so every student knew what bus they needed to get on. As a result, he said there were "some long delays in getting buses out of the middle and high school, which just kind of compounded the issues." Hawkins also confirmed that some students did not get home until 5:30 last Thursday afternoon, and some walked home. "That should not have occurred," he said. "I think as we were trying to get students on the right buses ... we did have (middle and high school) students walk away without us knowing. And we're trying to make sure that does not happen." Recognizing the communication shortcomings on the first day of school, Hawkins said, "We tried to correct that (situation) on Friday. And I think we did for the most part." Changes being implemented to the transportation system, including the use of shuttle buses for middle and high school students, are designed to ensure elementary students are taken home first, which Hawkins described as "absolutely the right thing to do." The shuttles transport middle and high school students to an elementary school in their attendance zones, before they are taken home, according to Hawkins. "That's the design of the system," he said. "And again, I don't think we did a good job helping our students understand" how the changes would affect them. Although bus drivers had practice runs to prepare for the first day of school, Hawkins also acknowledged there was some confusion in terms of their understanding of the new transportation system. He noted that drivers are trained to take students home - even when they get on the wrong bus, which also causes delays in getting them home. "So it was a combination of several things on Thursday that I think led to us being a lot later (dropping off students) than we should've been," Hawkins said. "And I can tell you, we worked late on Thursday night to ensure that we were making those adjustments." For example, he said extra overflow buses were put into service on Friday to ensure students were not riding on crowded shuttle buses, which happened on Thursday afternoon. "So we did try to make several adjustments on Friday, and I do think it was better, it was a lot better. But we can still be better," Hawkins said. He said all the issues that arose in getting students home late after the first day of school "falls back on me ... but we're going to keep working and we're going to try to correct any issue that we have..." The district will continue working on getting the transportation system right, "and if we can't get it right then we're going to take a step back and figure out what we need to do differently," he said. The problems related to getting students home after the first day of school overshadowed an otherwise great start to the 2017-18 school year last week, Hawkins said. "I don't care what school you went into," he explained, "the enthusiasm, the energy - it was fantastic."