Hilliard City Schools officials said they would take a wait-and-see approach to judge the new start and dismissal times at the elementary, sixth-grade and middle schools in the district.

"There will be no changes made during this school year," Assistant Superintendent Leslie McNaughton said.

However, changes could occur next year, she said, as routes are certain to change when the new Memorial Middle School on Walker Road opens in 2018.

"It's one of the many things we balance in the district. We can't make everyone happy but we do what is best for the students (and) for our transportation department that is being pushed to the limit," said Stacie Raterman, a spokeswoman for the district.

Start and dismissal times are 15 minutes later than last year at each of the 13 elementary schools.

Classes begin at 9:20 a.m. and dismiss at 3:45 p.m. at Alton Darby, Norwich and Scioto Darby elementary schools; they begin at 9:05 a.m. and dismiss at 3:30 p.m. for the remainder of the district's elementary schools.

Station and Tharp sixth-grade schools and Heritage, Memorial and Weaver middle schools start at 8 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m.

The start times are 30 minutes later than last year at all three middle schools and Station Sixth Grade School, and 15 minutes later than last year's start time at Tharp Sixth Grade School.

Daily schedules at the three high schools were not changed. High school classes begin at 7:40 a.m. and dismiss at 2:32 p.m.

First impressions

After a few early hiccups, McNaughton said, drivers have settled into a routine and are managing what she describes as a "short window."

"One benefit we have found with the new later start times is that traffic is lighter in the mornings, especially in the roundabouts in the middle of the city (and) around Darby and Davidson high schools and Weaver middle school," McNaughton said.

Challenges, she said, likely will include adverse winter weather during pickup and drop-off times.

Bus drivers leave the three middle schools at 2:53 p.m., drop off students and arrive at their assigned elementary schools by 3:30 p.m.

"It's a really, really short window for our drivers to make," McNaughton said. "While things are settled down, we know winter is coming (and) we're probably going to have some days where kids are late getting to school or will be late getting home."

The schedule presents other potential hurdles.

"Another challenge we are finding is that with any extracurricular activity that begins before 5 p.m., it is hard for our drivers to finish their elementary-school runs and get back to one of the middle schools," McNaughton said.

The district also has a few building-specific issues.

At Crossing Elementary School, buses arrive just in time for a 3:30 p.m. dismissal to find parent's vehicles already in line to pick up students.

The one-way driveway passing in front of the school presents a unique challenge for drivers to navigate, McNaughton said.

Tharp Sixth Grade School also has additional traffic because the district no can longer provide a shuttle between it and Weaver Middle School due to identical start times.

Furthermore, the district is short on bus drivers, Raterman said.

"It's easy for people to tell us to add new routes but there just physically aren't enough humans to drive the routes," she said, noting it is a problem other districts are facing.

This year, Hilliard added five bus routes at a cost of $150,000 to implement the adjusted start-and-dismissal times, McNaughton said.

"All of our full-time and substitute drivers are being used, and even our (licensed) office staff in many instances," she said, sometimes at the expense of having staff members at the transportation department to receive calls from parents.

Some students are riding buses longer than they did last year because sixth-grade students are bused separately from seventh- and eighth-grade students because of the identical start times.

Meanwhile, district leaders are considering all the scenarios and listening to parents.

"We are always assessing what we can do better and what we can tweak just a little to improve it," McNaughton said.

Parents' reactions

Parents have shared differing views on the issue.

Rita Martin has a daughter who is a freshman and a son in the third grade.

"The new elementary-school start times are ridiculously late and causes issues for working mothers," she said.

The district should have increased the capacity its school-age child-care program, Martin said.

"It was too full for us to utilize," she said.

Martin said the "real issue" is the early start times for high-school students.

Jackie McJunkin White, the parent of a seventh-grader, said she had similar concerns.

"I am not a fan of the new start times," she said. "My husband and I both work and the new start time does not allow us to get our youngest child off to school."

White said although her daughter is old enough to walk one block to the bus stop, she prefers to see her off.

"We made sure she got the sleep she needed so we were OK with the (previous) start times," White said.

Not all students get good sleep, which was a motivating concern for the start-time task force, said Dr. Elizabeth Zmuda, a pediatrician with four children in the district.

Zmuda said "clear policy" indicates adolescents who begin classes at 8:30 a.m. and later show marked improvement in mental health, academic performance and even social skills.

"(The new times) have been incredibly helpful for my middle-school (student)," she said.

Judy Marcus Opalek also said she finds the later start times beneficial.

"The new late start time for middle school is fantastic for my seventh-grader," Opalek said. "Last year in sixth grade was so hard with the bus coming before 7 a.m. and in the dark much of the year. (My daughter) is more alert and content with her day."

The later start times also were welcomed by Dina Meier, who said traffic flow is better near Davidson and Weaver.

"I am no longer frustrated at both ends of my day during drop-off and pick-up," she said. "The flow of traffic is much better."

Leslie Drexel, who served on the start-time committee and has a child in the seventh grade and one who is a freshman, said her seventh-grader benefits from the later start times.

She said she hopes later start times eventually are implemented at the high schools.

"My daughter is doing great with the extra sleep and students no longer have to get on buses as early at 6:04 a.m.," Drexel said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

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