Middle school and high school students board a bus on the first day of school for the Starkville School District while Terrance Michael Hargrove, an elementary school student, walks to the bus with his mother. The SSD will implement new, more efficient routes at the beginning of next school year. Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff
December 12, 2012 10:21:27 AM
Dr. Tori Holloway, assistant superintendent for the Starkville School District, was standing at Armstrong Middle School one day, talking to teachers and making sure bus pick-up was going smoothly, when he saw something that struck him as odd.
"I am watching as these buses pull up, and I see these little kindergartners through the windows, and then I realize that these big seventh and eighth-graders are getting on the same bus," Holloway said. "The only thing I could think was, what if that was my kindergartner? Would I want them on a bus with an eighth-grader?"
Holloway answered his own question with a quick "no," saying he was sure the majority of parents would feel the same.
For this reason, among others, the SSD will implement new bus routes at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year -- routes the administration hopes not only promote safer environments but save money also.
Currently, the SSD has 67 buses running routes daily, and 60 of those routes go to every school in the district before they even begin taking students home after school.
"We have some kids on the bus for over an hour and 15 minutes," Holloway said. "Myself, and our new transportation director, (Kelvin Gibson), have just been looking for ways to be a little more efficient."
Holloway said the district is hoping to cut the number of routes from 67 to closer to 50, something that, from an equipment and fuel standpoint, could produce significant savings.
Having buses on reserve could also save the district from a lot of hassle when it comes to providing buses for athletic events, field trips, etc. Currently, when one of these events occurs, buses and drivers have to be pulled from their routes, and other routes are forced to pick up the extra load of daily students.
The routes the SSD currently follows are more focused on final destinations, or regions of the city. If a senior and a kindergartner live in the same neighborhood, they ride the same bus.
"Sometimes we get 40 kids at a bus stop," Holloway said. "That's not safe."
Thanks to research, and new routing software that utilizes GPS to ensure buses take the most efficient route, Gibson, Holloway and other administrators are ironing out details for new routes that will be school-specific, carrying only children from the same school on one bus.
"Students will be on the bus with the same grade and school-level students," Holloway said. "At Sudduth (Elementary), the only students that will be on those buses are students who are in kindergarten through second grade."
The new strategy, known as a tiered bus system, will require the middle school and high school to start a little later than the other schools. Holloway said the time change could prove to be beneficial for the district's older students.
"A lot of research we looked at showed that older kids did better in school when they started a little later," he said. "Our elementary schools will stay at the current start times though."
Starkville High School and Armstrong Middle School, which begin now at 7:50 a.m., will change their start times to between 8:10 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. The elementary schools begin at 7:40 a.m.
Holloway said the specifics are not set in stone yet, but the district hopes to be able to post information about the routes, pick-up times and drop-off times on the district's website by the end of the next semester.
Parents will also have the opportunity to provide feedback on the potential routes.
Holloway said SSD is unsure at this point if there will be any layoffs of bus drivers, but the district will need a roster of substitute drivers as well, something they have struggled with in the past.
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