SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A virtual town hall held by Springfield Public Schools found parents’ biggest concern this school year was late start times for many students.
Under the new three-tier system, most middle and K-8 students have classes from 9:30 to 4:30 each day.
This year’s change to school start times was to improve bus eligibility for high school students – but parents say it has come at a cost.
“The kids are getting home entirely too late. It leaves little time for family time,” says Pershing Middle School parent Stephanie Shaw. “It’s just a strain really. It leaves little time for family dinner, family time, after school activities. It just makes it tough.”
Although the district says this semester’s schedule will not be changing, SPS Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan says finding a solution will take time amid a nationwide bus driver shortage.
She discussed parents’ concerns at the school board meeting on Tuesday.
“There was a concern about the traffic, the late hours, and we talked about it every day. Board members, I shared with you back in the spring that was a concern, that we’d have to monitor it, says Dr. Lathan. “If I could wave a wand today and change that 9:30 start time, I would.”
The recent virtual town hall or “thought exchange” garnered similar concerns from middle school parents like Stephanie Shaw, but the district says there are other factors at play.
The previous, two-tier bus system had 132 routes, according to SPS Communications Director Stephen Hall. Under the new, three-tier system, there are only 107 bus routes, eliminating the need to hire 25 bus drivers during a nationwide bus driver shortage.
“That moving to the three-tier structure was a huge benefit during a nationwide bus driver shortage,” says Hall. “It allowed us to operate our transportation routes more efficiently with the number of drivers that we currently have. If we’re trying to staff 132 routes with the same structure we had last year, it would have been nearly impossible.”
Hall says the district still started the school year with fewer bus drivers than less than 107 bus drivers.
“We still need about 20 to 25 bus drivers. So, if you want to help us change that sooner rather than later, I’m putting the challenge out there. Find us 20 to 25 bus drivers. We’re telling you one thing that will help change that start time,” added Dr. Lathan Tuesday’s meeting.
Dr. Lathan and Hall say the district is looking at other options for future semesters, but it will take time.
“We will continue to look at this, analyze it, and if we can continue to make changes to make it even more efficient and even more convenient for families, we’re committed to doing that, but it will take some time to assess that,” Hall says.
One other key thoughts that came from the virtual town hall were from parents praising the district for its efforts during the first two weeks of school.
One parent wrote, “Teachers are building relationships and getting to know their students well. This will help in the future to build classroom communities.”
If you’d like to watch the full SPS School Board meeting from September 7th, click here. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHsF0BIbxv0)
Hall says expanding its before and after school programs, which are called SHINE, is one way the district is working to help parents.
The district reports 1,500 students were signed up for SHINE on the first day of school on August 23rd.