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2012-13 School Year Begins, With Some Showers And Transportation Issues



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2012-13 School Year Begins, With Some Showers And Transportation Issues

By Eliza Hallabeck

At both Reed Intermediate School and Hawley Elementary School sporadic downpours of rain the morning of Tuesday, August 28, did nothing to dim the sunny dispositions of students and educators at the start of the 2012-13 school year. Throughout the district, everyone was eager to get back to school, though some reported problems with first-day bus runs frustrated some concerned parents.

“Welcome back,” Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said to a group of fifth and sixth graders who had just stepped off their bus to make their way into the back entrance at Reed.

When a group of fifth grade students were asked how they felt about their first day at a new school, each member of the group smiled and a few held up two thumbs.

Both students and teachers greeted one another before students either lined up as fifth grade students to be lead into the school by a staff member or made their way to their classrooms as sixth grade students.

“You ready?” one teacher asked a student. Another said, “See you in a little bit.”

While students admitted to being both scared and happy, Dr Robinson expressed her excitement for another fresh beginning.

“I love it,” said Dr Robinson, regarding the feeling that comes with each new school year and each new group of students.

At Hawley Elementary School, Principal Jo-Ann Peters was at the ready with a blue and white umbrella and a smile, waiting to give parents directions to drop off children. Some parents did not need directions, but paused as they made their way toward the back of the school to roll down the window and greet Ms Peters.

“Have a great day,” one parent said, with a beaming child in the back seat.

“Good morning,” Ms Peters said to another parent. “Welcome back.”

While the rain did mean students at Hawley had to be brought into the school sooner than they would have been had the sun been out when the buses started to arrive, staff members were waiting with umbrellas. And, like each year at Hawley, teachers were waiting with signs to show each student where they belong.

“Today was a great opening of school despite the rainstorm. At Hawley it is our longstanding tradition, on the first day of school, for all staff members to greet the students as they arrive on their bus,” said Ms Peters, about midway through the first day of school. “The rain didn’t keep the Hawley staff from being outside to welcome our students to the new school year! The outstanding preparation by our staff contributed to a smooth opening of school.”

According to Sandy Hook School Principal Dawn Hochsprung, excitement was in the air at her school in the morning, too.

“Sandy Hook is buzzing on day one!” reported Ms Hochsprung, as students were about halfway through their first school day. “Students are excited to be back and everyone is ready to learn!”

As soon as the sun came out, Ms Hochsprung said, “We knew that our first day was going to be wonderful in every way.”

At Newtown High School, Principal Charles Dumais reported having a “super” start to the 2012-13 school year.

“I just think that everybody is excited to be back,” he said. “There is really a good feeling about this year.”

Mr Dumais also started the day by sending out welcoming greetings and photos of staff members via Twitter. Social media, Mr Dumais said he was excited to share, will be used this year to help spread #NewtownHS news and help students develop professional and ethical ways of using websites like Twitter.

“We are really going to make an effort to make the best use of social media, recognizing students’ need to develop digital citizenship,” said @charlesdumais.

Most of the Twitter accounts associated with Newtown High School, @NHS_Tweets, are going to be open, so people can automatically sign up to follow and receive up-to-date information, Mr Dumais said. A complete list of all of the Twitter accounts connected to Newtown High School is available on the high school’s blog, www.dumais.us/newtown/blog.

“I’m excited about it,” said Mr Dumais, “and teachers are excited about it.”

At Newtown Middle School, Principal Diane Sherlock said the first day at the school was delightful.

“Nine hundred smiling student faces were welcomed by an excited, eager staff,” said Ms Sherlock. “Our students were able to find their classes with only minimal direction, and, according to lunchtime comments from our students, the day was ‘great so far!’”

Reed Intermediate School also had a great first day of school, says Reed Assistant Principal Jennifer Sinal.

“Everybody was just wonderful,” said Ms Sinal. “It was just a wonderful day.”

Fifth grade students showed energy and excitement, and sixth grade students acted as tour guides in the school, Ms Sinal said.

“We are just super excited for a fantastic year of brilliant learning and inspired children,” said Ms Sinal. “It is going to be great.”

While waiting for buses to arrive at the school in the afternoon, Head O’ Meadow Principal Barbara Gasparine reflected on the full first day of the school year, saying it was a good and busy day.

“The kids came in smiling, and they left smiling,” said Ms Gasparine.

The day before, Monday, August 27, Ms Gasparine said the school had a large turnout for its “Meet The Teacher Day,” and she thinks that contributed to the large number of students who found their way easily to their new classrooms Tuesday morning. The school’s Meet The Teacher Day offered families the chance to visit the school, and Ms Gasparine said kindergarteners also had their annual first bus run on Friday, August 24.

Like every start of a school year, Tuesday had its issues, but Ms Gasparine said her “strong team” at Head O’ Meadow worked through those bumps.

“When the kids are happy,” Ms Gasparine said, “we’re happy.”

Busing Problems

The Bee solicited responses through its Facebook page and through e-mails on Tuesday, asking people to share their “first morning of school” experiences.

People’s focus, judging from the responses, was on busing this year, with a large portion of the responses sharing information about how the buses arrived early, late, or on time. Some people also expressed annoyance at higher traffic volumes on local roads.

This is the first school year All-Star Transportation has oversight of the majority of bus routes in town, with MTM Transportation continuing to oversee its portion of the routes, mainly special needs routes.

Responding to the concerns regarding busing, All-Star’s Terminal Manager in Newtown Ed Bryan said, “There are some valid reasons that contributed to a rough first day.”

The first day of school is always a bit hectic, and this year, he said, there were more people driving students into school, contributing to higher volumes of traffic. Somehow, Mr Bryan said, the posted times for the bus routes were altered during a “transposition” to the website and what was provided to The Bee.

“We accept responsibility and we are very sorry for anyone we inconvenienced,” said Mr Bryan.

Roughly 50 people responded to The Bee about their first morning experience.

“No [Newtown High School/Newtown Middle School] bus showed up,” commented David Lloyd, “25 minutes from bottom of Toddy Hill to NHS.”

Toddy Hill Road also came up when Terrence Ford said the busing system should be tweaked to deal with the traffic on the road.

“Bus was 35 minutes late,” said Ray Corbo, “and my son was the first stop. Luckily it only downpoured on us three times.”

While the majority of people said the bus was either early or late, some people found their bus pulling up right on time.

“My [middle school] bus was on time,” wrote Jayne Long. “Reed bus a little late. Hawley only slightly late. All kids got to school. One happy Momma!”

Linnea Barthe-Stoyak summed up her morning simply with, “Went smoothly.”

A number of people shared stories of their students making it out to the bus stop, only to realize later the bus had come early.

“Missed our bus, which apparently came 20 minutes early,” wrote Barbara Patrick. “Both boys late for the first stressful days of [middle school and high school]. Not pretty.”

Some people shared stresses over not being authorized for a bus stop, having a stop that has their child walking across what the parent deems as a busy street, and Michelle Dargon said, despite phone calls to All-Star, her child was not picked up for kindergarten, both for the first day of school on Tuesday and for a bus run on Friday.

“Big mistake Dr Robinson,” Ms Dargon wrote in an e-mail to The Bee. “Big mistake at the expense of our taxpayers and, more importantly, at the expense of our children. My children only had one shot at their first day of kindergarten and All-Star blew it for them.”

For Renate Clarke, who called The Bee after trying to reach All-Star Transportation’s Newtown office, waiting for her kindergartener to come home long after he was scheduled to be home was too much.

“It’s just very disappointing,” said Ms Clarke as she continued to wait near the road.

The Clarkes moved to Newtown in 1993, and Ms Clarke has two older children. The family, she said, loved their previous bus driver, an owner-operator. There were never transportation issues for the Clarkes until now, she said.

“I knew there were problems from day one,” she said.

While waiting with her father for her son to come home from his first day of school, Ms Clarke said she called All-Star Transportation seven to eight times, but she could not get through to the office. Finally, she said, Ms Clarke contacted the school, and she was told her son was picked up at 4:16 pm. Head O’ Meadow students are dismissed at 3:37 pm.

When her son was dropped off at 5:10 pm, Ms Clarke called back and said the driver had been nice and apologetic.

Hawley parent Jill Matwijec Salvitti also commented The Bee’s Facebook page, saying, “I miss my [owner-operator]! Despite the first day of school, she would have dropped my son off on time this afternoon. Last year his drop off was 3:30 pm from Hawley. With the new times, his drop off should have been 4:05 pm. He finally got home at 4:40 pm. At 4:05 pm they hadn’t even picked them up at Hawley yet! Let’s hope tomorrow is better! All-Star isn’t making any fans in this town this way!”

By Wednesday morning, Mr Bryan said the routes were already running 100 times better than they had the previous day, “and we appreciate everyone’s patience.”

Mr Bryan was deeply apologetic about how late some of the bus runs ran on Tuesday, and asked everyone who tries to call the office to leave some time between phone calls. There are three phone lines, Mr Bryan said, and on Tuesday those lines were rolling over constantly. Mr Bryan said All-Star’s Newtown employees try to respond within 24 hours, but with the high number of phone calls that was difficult on Tuesday. Priority on Tuesday was also put on calls to find students that may have gotten on the wrong bus, he said.

Over the next couple of days, Mr Bryan said adjustments will be made to make sure there is no overloading or underloading of buses.

All bus stop change requests were also supposed to be completed by the middle of August, Mr Bryan said, but the company is in the process of continuing to accept bus stop change requests. He asks parents concerned with their bus stops to file a bus stop change request form, available on the district’s website, www.newtown.k12.ct.us, with their child’s school, which will then forward the requests to All-Star.

Mr Bryan also said he and everyone at All-Star can be contacted at 203-304-9778, and he can also be contacted by e-mail at Ed.bryan@all-startransportation.com for anyone with concerns.

One request he makes to parents is to not follow their child’s bus. In some instances on Tuesday morning, he said, parents followed their child’s bus in their car, sometimes following to the bus lot. Doing so, he said, “presents a safety concern for the operation of the buses.”

Mr Bryan said he knows having a bus company overseeing the routes is a monumental change, and patience and cooperation are appreciated.

“We’re all there working with the best of intentions, working diligently,” said Mr Bryan.

Getting Into The Groove

Tuesday morning, after attending the openings of Reed and Head O’ Meadow, Dr Robinson said there are things to “tweak” with the bus routes, noting some delays and backups.

“We should have most things worked out by the end of the week,” said Dr Robinson.

The first days of the school year typically have more people dropping students off at the schools, Dr Robinson said, and within the first week the number of students being dropped off and taking the bus to school normally evens out.

Parents, Dr Robinson said, should contact All-Star Transportation with any complaints, including concerns over having bus not arrive at the correct time for a stop.

Dr Robinson said she is forwarding all complaints about busing she receives to All-Star Transportation.

At Newtown High School, Mr Dumais said the start of the 2012-13 school year was like any normal year’s start. There are always things that need to be addressed on the first day, he said, “and none of them today were huge.”

“It is not uncommon,” said Hawley Principal Jo-Ann Peters, “during the first week of school, to experience a few bus glitches that need to be corrected. As a proactive measure, John Pecha, director of safety for All-Star, was at Hawley monitoring the arrival of buses. I am confident that All-Star will respond promptly and address any bus issues that have been brought to their attention.”

Despite some of the concerns from the first day, Dr Robinson said she saw smiles in the morning at Head O’ Meadow as teachers lined up to greet students as they walked into the school for the first time in the 2012-13 school year.

“I think the schools were well prepared,” said the superintendent. “The teachers were well prepared to greet the students, really very organized, and it was really very joyful at each of the schools.”

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