LEARNING CURVE: Mixed reactions to new start times at Springfield Public Schools

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – All this week, Ozarks First is dedicating time to helping parents and students get ready for a new school year. The new curriculum starts on August 23, 2021, but at different times for students in Springfield. So whether your child is going to school at 7:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. this year, there certainly are mixed feelings.

Back in February of 2021, the district’s school board approved a transportation expansion. Two months later, Springfield Public Schools grandparent Cynthia Miller talked about how it would affect her.

“I think they said we’re 3.30 miles away, and I don’t know if we’re eligible or not,” Miller said. “I went ahead and opted in and sent the information. I feel good, yeah. I would like that so I wouldn’t have to take time out of my day to drop him off and pick [my grandson] up.”

SPS Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan says it became official in July.

“Our bus drivers are ready to go,” Dr. Lathan said. “They will be there at those bus stops ready to pick up our students to transport them to school.”

This upcoming school year, the district will allow any high schooler who lives within a mile and a half of campus to ride the bus. This change is a first for SPS. In past years, a student had to live more than three miles away to get a lift. Stephen Hall with SPS says this change helps 3,000 more high schoolers plus magnet school kids.

“We want to make sure we can provide free, reliable bus service to as many of our students as possible,” Hall said. “We want to think about the students who historically haven’t had access to bus service every single day. For our choice magnet programs, they’re located all across the city. Many families haven’t applied to those programs because they knew transportation wasn’t possible for them. We’re removing barriers for those families.”

Hall also mentioned kids who normally walk more than three miles to get to school every day.

“Their parents may or may not have a reliable car that would allow them to drop their child off at school every day,” Hall said. “So when you think about students walking three miles plus to school, they may or may not have a sidewalk. That’s not optimal. That’s not necessarily safe for our students.”

The bus route expansion comes at a cost, though: A brand new routine for students and parents around the district. Starting August 23, 2021, high schoolers will begin their day at 7:30 a.m., most elementary schools will start at 8:30 a.m., and the bell rings for middle and K-8 schools at 9:30 a.m. A study alternative will go from 8:15 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

Gracyn Lloyd, a student at Parkview High School, shared her thoughts on the changes.

“So weird, but I think it will be different and a good thing for sports and the younger kids,” Lloyd said.

Others shared their opinion at the district’s board meeting on August 17, 2021. Parkview teacher Andy Willadsen participated.

“This will undoubtedly have a negative impact on our students and our families in this community,” Willadsen said. “This affects the community where I work and care about. This transportation plan is not what is in the best interest of our students, and at face value, this is evident. This plan will greatly reduce the time that students are with their families each and every day. When do you get to be a family? Children need to be home. They need love and support that simply we can’t provide at school though we try as hard as we may. There are life lessons that we cannot and should not teach at the institutional level.”

Parent Natasha Brown agreed.

“I’m very surprised that this is the option that [the board] went for,” Brown said. “I don’t know when was the last time any of you were around five and six year old’s. Those little creatures are not still sleeping at 7:00 in the morning. It feels like you guys maybe forgot that the school system is the glue of the community. So much of what you all decide to do here impacts the community and what the community then decides to do. It impacts extracurricular activities, family time and how students are going to learn.”

Ozarks First asked Dr. Lathan and Hall for their response to parents who may have concerns or complaints.

“I respond, ‘I understand,” Dr. Lathan said. “I get it as a parent when you’re preparing, and you also have to also go to work to get your students to school.”

“We need to remember that there are many students who have not had bus service each and every day,” Hall said. “That has created significant challenges for them and their families. Any time we have changes in the daily schedule, that is going to create some feedback from families that is not always positive. We understand that. We want to be sensitive to that.

That reason alone is why SPS is expanding its before and after school program called Shine.

“We wanted to make sure families had additional options as far as it goes with child care and academic interventions,” Hall said. “For the first time this year, Shine will provide that academic intervention either before or after school, depending on your site. Our hope is that [families] see this as being our answer and our response to some of those concerns.”

Dr. Lathan says SPS will continue to look at its 9:30 a.m. start time and consider other options as the school year goes along.

“I do hear [parents,]” Dr. Lathan said. “I get it. But right now, based on our circumstances and the decisions that we’ve made, we do need to move forward with those three tiers. If there is a change that could be made sooner rather than later, I guarantee you if we could do it, we would make that change. But, we are going to be looking at the tiers throughout the school year and looking at options that better meet the needs of our parents and our students.”

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