A lousy first impression

Published 10:17 pm Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Most folks know how important it is to make a good impression on the first day of school. There’s an entire back-to-school retail season devoted to the concept that kids should look good and be well equipped and ready for their first day of school. Students might not receive letter grades for the first impressions they make, but there’s little doubt those impressions are important.

School systems can make first impressions, too, and the first impression Suffolk Public Schools made with many students and parents on Tuesday was terrible. In letter grades, it surely would have ranked as an “F.”

There was much at stake when school administrators decided during the last budget cycle to save money by changing school opening schedules, thereby — in theory, at least — reducing the number of bus drivers needed to deliver children to and from their schools. The system requires clocklike precision and careful timing. Any slight deviation from schedule can easily be compounded until plans go awry.


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On Tuesday, many slight deviations combined with several large ones and a few complete breakdowns (both literal and figurative) to utterly derail the Suffolk Public Schools’ transportation system. In the understandably exaggerated words of one parent who contacted the Suffolk News-Herald, by the time some students were home, their parents could have filed missing-persons reports on them. Some kindergarten students, according to news reports, were two and a half hours late getting home.

That’s an unacceptable performance for the first day of school or any day. To their credit, administrators with Suffolk Public Schools quickly admitted the mistakes and sought to make changes that would help improve the system on Wednesday. They also put out the word on Wednesday to encourage parents to sign up for the system’s emergency notification system, so parents of students whose buses are delayed in the future will have some warning, instead of being left to just wait at home and wonder.

The school system’s quick reaction to the problems was commendable. But many of those problems should have been easily foreseen and could have been avoided entirely if the same effort that went into fixing the system on Wednesday had gone into making it right to begin with.

There’s no second chance to make a first impression. Whatever first impression Suffolk students made with their schools on Tuesday, the one their school system made with many of their parents will be a hard one to change.