Tweaks made to NS bus routes, dismissal times

Tweaks made to NS bus routes, dismissal times

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A few weeks into the new school year, which rolled out with later start times at all of the schools, North Smithfield officials have been analyzing the changes and Supt. Michael St. Jean told The Valley Breeze that the biggest newer changes, which took effect Sept. 11, were to adjust the new dismissal times at the middle and high schools to allow more time for buses to get to the elementary school, and to open the middle and high schools 15 minutes earlier to allow more time for parents to drop off students.

“I thank the parents for their patience, certainly within the first couple of weeks as we make adjustments,” St. Jean said. “We’re always looking to improve and make things more efficient.”

The district’s goal, he said, is to “ensure consistency and safety bringing students to and from home.”

In a letter to families of middle and high school students, St. Jean said that after analyzing transportation adjustments during the first week of school, officials decided to make more changes beginning Sept. 11.

Because several buses, especially ones leaving the middle and high school and servicing more rural parts of town, took longer than anticipated to complete their routes and arrive at North Smithfield Elementary School for that school’s dismissal, the middle and high schools’ dismissal time was moved slightly earlier to 2:26 p.m.

St. Jean said they made a couple of adjustments to the bell schedule at the middle and high schools to accommodate for the eight-minute earlier dismissal.

At NSES, St. Jean said, it also takes longer for the younger students to get on the bus and be counted before the bus is allowed to leave.

That change has been going really well so far, St. Jean said. “Elementary dismissal is going much quicker” and students are getting home sooner.

Buses dropping off middle and high school students in the afternoon will be arriving approximately 10 minutes earlier, the note reads. Morning pickup times will remain the same.

For updated route times, visit www.dattcoschoolbus.com/my-childs-route/?did=6 .

This year, the new start time for North Smithfield Elementary School is 8:40 a.m., 10 minutes later than the previous time, while middle and high school students begin at 7:45 a.m., 22 minutes later than the previous start time.

The new dismissal time at NSES is 3:10 p.m., while the original new dismissal time for NSMS and NSHS was 2:34 p.m. and is now 2:26 p.m. after the recent adjustment.

School officials decided to bump back start times based on research that shows the importance of sleep for middle and high school students, as well as safety concerns for students who take the bus. Earlier start times meant that in the winter students were standing outside in the dark, St. Jean said.

There have been mixed reactions to the later start times, the superintendent said. Some parents have said the time changes work better for them, while others have said it’s less convenient.

At least one parent on the Engage North Smithfield Facebook page said the later bus pickup in the morning meant they needed to find someone to watch their kids after they leave for work.

“I wish there was a way that everybody could be pleased all the time,” St. Jean said.

Another adjustment school officials made was to open doors at the middle and high schools earlier. Staff had been letting students in at 7:30 a.m., but starting Sept. 11, they began opening doors at 7:15 a.m. to give parents more flexibility when dropping students off in the morning and help to better accommodate for inclement weather, especially in the winter months, St. Jean said.

The change was in response to a request from some parents, he said.

With last year’s closure of Halliwell Memorial Elementary School, 5th-graders joined the middle school and 4th-graders joined NSES this year, adding more riders to the middle school buses, St. Jean said.

Officials have adjusted a couple of bus routes to better balance the amount of students on the buses and are continuing to see if there are ways to further balance it.

A couple of routes have between 50 and 60 students on the bus, which is under the 72-student maximum capacity but still makes for a tight ride when kids have backpacks and musical instruments with them, St. Jean said.

St. Jean said he has an upcoming meeting with the transportation coordinator and will also discuss making adjustments with Statewide Transportation, which buses North Smithfield students to private or charter schools, primarily in Woonsocket.

Cameras have also been installed on all buses, St. Jean wrote in his email, and “we will continue to monitor routes, times, (and) verify that there is enough capacity, and that grade 5 and 6 students have assigned seats at the front of each bus.”

Because of mass rescheduling due to Eastern Equine Encephalitis precautions across the state, St. Jean said there’s been a strain on after-school transportation. They’ve been working with the busing company to make adjustments with getting student athletes to games. “There have been a couple of tight moments there,” he said. “We’re working that out as well.”