New bells add to first-day confusion

Published 10:57 pm Tuesday, September 3, 2013

At Driver Elementary School, Marie Scott greets Bella Wulfkuhle, 8, and Aden Judge, 7.

At Driver Elementary School, Marie Scott greets Bella Wulfkuhle, 8, and Aden Judge, 7.

New staggered school bells added to first-day-back confusion when students returned to classrooms for the new school year Tuesday, Suffolk Public Schools says.

The first-day count for Pre-K through 12th grade was 13,547, school district spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw stated, compared with 13,596 on the first day last year.

But student numbers typically increase each day, she added, with enrollment increasing almost six percent to 14,350 on the 10th day of 2012-2013.

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The School Board opted to go from two bells to four, putting schools on new schedules, to trim $350,000 from the budget by reducing the number of contracted drivers, postpone a $500,000 bill for five extra buses, help cover driver absences, and to reduce congestion in certain parts of the city.

The front doors were kept swinging during the first day back at Driver Elementary School Tuesday.

The front doors were kept swinging during the first day back at Driver Elementary School Tuesday.

“You are always going to have some parents drop them (students) off at the old time,” said Melodie Griffin, principal at Driver Elementary School. “(But) I think it’s going to go well. We are making adjustments as we go.”

Bradshaw cited a range of first-day transportation issues besides the schedule shock. Eight buses had mechanical problems, and parents parked in the wrong place blocked buses in and out of Elephant’s Fork Elementary School in the morning.

Additionally, due to late enrollments and families moving into different school zones, “several hundred changes” had to be made to bus routes after they were posted online.

Then, the district’s Transportation Department phones were out for several hours, meaning parents couldn’t phone to query delays. “The School Administrative Offices worked to offer assistance to parents who called … and sent emails to transportation staff,” Bradshaw wrote.

About 11:30 a.m., the district posted a special form online for parents to share transportation concerns.

Nevertheless, Superintendent Deran Whitney, after visiting “about half the schools,” stated in an email that students and teachers “have gotten back into the groove of learning.”

“Students were quickly engaged in meaningful activities, facilities and grounds were in top shape, and administrators and support staff were excited for the New Year.”

Kids were generally excited, but many had a case of the nerves.

“My kids’ case of butterflies was so bad that it actually spread to me too,” said Julia Burgess-Ballinger, at Driver Elementary School with Cameron, 10, Ben, 7, and Leah, 9, Ballinger.

“They were so nervous they said if they burped butterflies would come out! (But) they are so excited to see everybody and get started again. They have been talking about it for weeks.”

But the first day back was a familiar routine for Marie Scott, a special education teacher’s assistant at Driver Elementary for about eight years and an educator with Suffolk Public Schools for 16 years.

“The kids are very excited to be back,” Scott said. “Some of them keep forgetting which grade they are in and they come down the wrong hall and we have to send them back, saying, ‘You’ve already been to this grade.’”

Fourth-grade teacher April Fleming said she would spend the first week teaching her charges classroom routines.

“Once they get into the routines, it pretty much goes well,” she said.

Fellow fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Soriano also said she will spend a while going over procedures and rules with her 28 students.