School District 72 (SD72) Superintendent Tom Longridge says school openings went smoothly again this year, but, like every year, it was not without its hiccups.
Longridge, as he does every year, gave the board of education a rundown of how school opening went at its first public meeting of the school year Tuesday, starting by thanking the Facilities Department for all its hard work over the summer to get schools ready to welcome the kids last week.
“The bulk of the work is done by relatively few people on the facilities side to make everything safe, clean and ready for the coming year,” Longridge said, “and they did an exceptional job.”
Longridge said this year’s summer maintenance and planning was made more complicated by the closure of Discovery Passage and Oyster River elementary schools at the end of last school year, but thanks to the effort put in by district staff, it all came together in time for opening.
“There was an extra effort this year because we also had the transition of two school communities, and that was not without herculean effort,” Longridge said, “not only on the part of the facilities workers and staff to get the building ready, but and I’d like to say to the administrators of those schools who worked tirelessly throughout the summer – not just by being present but also by doing everything right down to actually physically moving boxes – to make sure everything was ready by the time the kids walked through the door.”
As with every school year, however, this one also had a few transportation issues.
“There were some timing issues and some logistical shifts that needed to happen, such as whether a bus was going up one side of the street or coming down the other,” Longridge said. “We just sort of sort those out as we hear about them.
“That’s actually why Steve (Hrybko, head bus driver) went out and physically ran some of the routes so he could see exactly what was going on. We even stood outside of bus stops and drop-offs to see when kids were being dropped off.”
One thing in particular that they were hearing was a timing problem to the south, where parents were adjusting to new schedules now that their kids were boarding buses into town now that Oyster River is closed.
“Parents from Oyster River were concerned about the start time at Ocean Grove, so we tried to adjust both with the pick-up times coming from the south and the drop off times, coordinating at the school, which has an effect on the start times at the school, so we got that all ironed out.”
Longridge says they expect a few transportation glitches at the start of each school year while everyone gets back into their routine, and would like to thank the public for making the district aware of any issues they encounter so they can address them quickly.
“We know that transportation is a big thing in people’s day in regard to the kids getting to and from school, so we just want to make sure that any elements that come up that need to be addressed, we want to make sure we’re on it. We try to plan ahead as much as possible and then quickly catch those things that somehow didn’t get sorted out as you were prepping,” Longridge says.
“Sometimes it’s just a matter of new drivers doing the routes and buses back up because there’s two minutes here and an extra minute there and it adds up. It’s really just a logistical tightening of what’s going on and making sure there’s nothing we’re missing in regard to where kids need to be picked up and dropped off.”
One pleasant surprise, Longridge told the board Tuesday in discussing schools going back in session, is the fact that it looks like the overall student population in the district may have increased this year.
“These are early days, and I’m always very hesitant to give specific numbers (this early) because you don’t know by the end of the month exactly what you’re looking at – particularly in secondary while kids choose courses and you have FTE as well as headcount to deal with.”
It’s not the growth itself that is a surprise – the district projections were that there would be a decrease in secondary students this year with an elementary increase more than offsetting that decrease, leading to an overall increase of about 15 students.
But the current headcount, “is up about 85 to 90 students,” Longridge says, “but we’ll have to see how that all settles as we discover that maybe some kids didn’t tell us they weren’t showing up or maybe we get a few more families that are continuing to move into the community.”
The board certainly hopes the estimates hold up – or even increase – when the final numbers are in, as the funding they receive from the provincial government is directly tied to the number of students in their classrooms.