2017-08-31 / Front Page

School Committee Approves Change to Pell School’s Hours

By Brooke Constance White

In a 4-2 vote during a special meeting Aug. 28, the Newport School Committee approved a last-minute change to school hours at Pell Elementary School that could affect parents who arrange babysitters and work schedules around school hours.

The change in start time from 8:45 a.m. to 9 a.m. and moving the end of the school day from 3:15 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. was requested by the district’s bus service, Durham School Services.

In a phone interview on Aug. 29, Superintendent Colleen Jermain said that last year the busing service, which was new to the district at the time, struggled to pick up Rogers High School students at 2:50 p.m., drop them off at various locations around the city, and get to Pell by 3:15 p.m. for dismissal.

The buses were frequently 10-15 minutes late picking up elementary school students. Since school let out for summer vacation on June 30, Jermain said district bus drivers have been practicing by driving the route to find ways of avoiding afternoon traffic and making the schedule work. After receiving updated enrollment and route data, John Rivers, general manager of Durham School Services, told Jermain that it would be impossible to get to Pell by 3:15 p.m., when school gets out, and that they would need extra time.

“They said if we could extend the school day 15 minutes, we would be in good shape and they could guarantee that all the buses would be there,” Jermain said. “We will still be opening the cafeteria at 8:30 a.m for breakfast and we will extend a few staff members so we will have more supervision at that time than we had before … We do realize that some parents drop off children and have to get to work and that a schedule change, especially in the morning, could be difficult for them.”

Rivers said he’s been discussing the issue with the superintendent since Durham became the district’s busing service last year. The company looked at several different scenarios, such as finding alternate routes and adding more buses, but it all came down to traffic, he said.

“Between the side streets that are not open to larger vehicles, and one-way streets, it was taking us anywhere from eight to 12 minutes longer to do the route in the afternoon. The morning routes were fine,” he said during an Aug. 28 phone interview. “Adding buses would not help the timing situation and would actually cause any additional buses to run late as well. We tried to address the matter as quickly as possible, once we knew routes and enrollment for this year.”

Jermain acknowledged the last-minute change, saying the administration is working hard to inform parents and guardians about why the adjustment to the school day is needed and why the decision wasn’t made sooner. Written notification about the change will be included in each student’s information packet, which will be given out on the first day of school, Sept. 6. The district will also be conducting robo-calls and putting out information over its list-serve and website.

“We would have liked to be able to have meetings and reach out to parents much sooner than this,” she said. “The thinking is that it’s better to do this right away, knowing they can’t get to our school on time, and make sure our students are safe and supervised. [Students] should be getting home in the afternoon around the same time as last year, since the buses were late picking them up last year as well.”

In a phone interview on Aug. 29, Dave Hanos, chairman of the Newport School Committee, expressed his frustration, saying he wasn’t happy that the news of the needed change was coming to them a week before school starts. Both he and Committee Member David Carlin voted against the change. In his opinion, it seemed like something that could have been brought to the committee’s attention well in advance.

“I really hope this doesn’t create too much headache for parents and families,” Hanos said. “It makes sense to make the change, but I don’t understand why this wasn’t discussed in June or July so we had an opportunity to talk with parents about this. It’s not a ridership issue; it’s a flow of traffic issue, so it seems as though somebody had to have known that this change was needed long before now.”

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