Education

New Woodstock District 200 school start times improve student attendance, relieve shorthanded bus drivers, officials say

Under assumption driver shortage persists, district plans spring talks of permanent schedule changes

Since Woodstock School District 200 switched the start and dismissal times across its schools in the middle of last month, far fewer students who take take the bus to class are showing up tardy, district officials said.

They also are getting home much earlier in the afternoon than before.

The schedule changes were made because of the district’s shortage of bus drivers – a problem being encountered in school systems across the state and nation – and they have been relieved by the new routine, as well, even while driving three separate routes throughout the day to get kids to school.

“It’s not a perfect solution, but it has definitely improved getting kids to school on time and home on time, which was obviously the goal. Before the schedule change, we had a lot of issues with the kids coming late to school, which isn’t good for anybody. And the principals are reporting a lot fewer tardy,” District 200 spokesman Kevin Lyons said.

The new schedule has cut the length of school days between five and 10 minutes per day, depending on the school building, and it will be in place at least the rest of this school year, officials said.

“My understanding is, if this is a problem next year, we’re forming a committee and figuring out how to recapture that time. Because this isn’t a long-term solution,” school board member Michelle Bidwell said.

District officials in the spring will analyze the school system’s options for a more permanent solution, as officials do not expect the shortage of bus drivers to be alleviated anytime soon, even as it is still hiring and trying to recruit more transportation workers, Lyons said.

That may include conversations about moving to later start times for junior high or high school students, Lyons said, as research has shown early morning starts are less conducive to their academic performance than later starts.

“There are a lot of people that question the order in which we have school right now. That predates me, there are reasons for it, but I absolutely think that’s a conversation we need to have,” Moan said.

He hopes to have a proposal for a potentially new schedule for the board to consider this spring for approval ahead of the 2022-23 school year.

“We’re certainly open to taking a look at that in terms of times, and when kindergarten starts, when middle school starts, when elementary starts. And we want to have that discussion with parents. This past decision we made, there really wasn’t much we could do, there wasn’t much room for democracy, so to speak,” Lyons said.

Before the schedule that was put into place to relieve pressure on the bus drivers, the district staff had made another proposal that would have had pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students at Verda Dierzen Early Learning Center start class at 7:10 a.m.

That idea was yanked by the district after vocal opposition was mounted by parents. Fewer complaints about the new schedule were made when it was proposed, and there haven’t been many since it took effect last month either, Lyons said.

“You hate to change the schedule in the middle of the year, especially with everything parents have gone through the past two years,” he said. “I think there were some early grumblings about the schedule change, but we have not really heard a lot of complaints since. The bottom line is we are getting more kids to school on time and home on time.”

Drivers for the district now run three routes a day, one for first- through fifth-grade students, another for the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes and a third for middle and high school students.

The current schedule has kindergarteners at Verda Dierzen starting 20 minutes earlier than before and getting dismissed 25 minutes earlier in the afternoon, with an 8:20 a.m. start and a 2:30 p.m. dismissal.

Pre-kindergartners attending morning classes at Verda Dierzen now start at 8:20 a.m. and get out and at 10:45 a.m. under the new schedule, as opposed to the 8:30 a.m. start and 11 a.m. dismissal previously. Afternoon pre-kindergartners start at 12:05 p.m. and get out at 2:30 p.m., as opposed to the 12:25 to 2:55 p.m. school day before.

Pre-kindergartners in morning classes at Greenwood Elementary School now start at 7:20 a.m. and get dismissed at 9:45 p.m., up from the 7:30 to 10 a.m. schedule in place previously. Afternoon pre-kindergarten classes at Greenwood moved up to an 11:15 a.m. start and 1:40 p.m. dismissal, from the 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. classes before.

Students in first through fifth grades are slated to to start at 7:20 a.m. and get out of class at 1:40 p.m., with the start time 10 minutes earlier than previously and the dismissal time 20 minutes earlier.

District 200 middle schools moved start times back to 8:55 a.m. and dismiss students at 3:40 p.m., moved later from the 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. classes previously. High schools moved back to 8:45 a.m. starts and 3:30 p.m. dismissals, from the 8:20 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. days in place previously.

The schedule for District 200′s Clay Academy remained the same, from 8:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.