Fewer delays seen, but more students coming

After Jefferson County Public Schools spent six days addressing flaws in its new busing system, things went far smoother as elementary and middle school students went back to school – again – on Friday.There were some hiccups, with some buses arriving at schools late in the morning and some buses not showing to schools until more than an hour after dismissal. JCPS officials confirmed the last student was dropped off at 7:43 p.m., a stark improvement from last week’s 9:58 time.At 7:15 p.m. there were only 17 students who remained on buses, according to a release from the district.“Our bus drivers and staff did a phenomenal job getting tens of thousands of students safely to and from school today,” said JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio in the release. “The short-term adjustments we put in place were successful and we continue to work on more substantial, long-term solutions. I’m pleased with the effort and look forward to welcoming our high school students back on Monday.”That will be a further test, with thousands more students added to the busing mix when secondary students return along with their younger peers.To prepare for Friday, about 20 additional drivers and buses were hired, empty buses and vans were on standby to transport kids who missed their buses, about two dozen drivers were given a “shoulder buddy” to assist with directions, and communication channels were ramped up so families wouldn’t be blindsided by late arrivals.Plus, families were urged to drop their student off, if possible, if they had the means.Despite their efforts, though, district leaders were clear that students would still be late Friday.”These are short-term adjustments, not long-term fixes,” JCPS spokeswoman Carolyn Callahan said last week.At Goldsmith Elementary on Friday, the morning runs went significantly better than what they were on the first day Aug. 9, Principal Jessica Carter said.Seven of the school’s 14 buses arrived before the first bell, with three more showing up within 20 minutes after school started at 9:40. These sort of delays are normal for the beginning of each year, Carter said.JCPS drivers spent multiple days practicing their routes after schools were closed due to the disastrous first day that brought the last student home just before 10 p.m.On Thursday, drivers completed dry runs of their routes, stopping at each stop to and from school. Goldsmith’s largest bus of students arrived Friday at 10:05 – but even during the dry run, the driver didn’t get to the school until 9:52, Carter said. After coming to Goldsmith, that bus takes more students to nearby Klondike Elementary – meaning more than half an hour needs to be shaven off the route to get both sets of students to school on time.Goldsmith’s last bus didn’t show until 10:44 a.m., just over an hour after the start of the day.The driver of that bus, which was seen on the district’s new bus tracker on the other side of town at 10:20, told Carter that things would be worse come Monday, likely due to the addition of high schoolers.On a normal day, the district transports about 70% – or 68,000 – of its students. There are few stipulations to who the district will transport on the bus. In many instances, families can choose to send their student to a school on the other side of the county and receive free busing to do so.For example, the bus that arrived last at Goldsmith – which is in the Hikes Point neighborhood – transports five students from eastern Louisville, about 25 minutes away without traffic.On the first day of school, the major issues included students not knowing their stops and families failing to be at their kindergartners’ stops, which caused drivers to wait or take the child back to school.And at depots, where students transfer from one bus to another, buses were held up by late arrivals, creating a snowball effect affecting the rest of the route.On Friday, the district allowed buses to leave the depots without all of their riders and had extra buses and vans waiting to take the late arrivals home. The 3 p.m. group of transfers at the Nichols Compound left within about 20 minutes of arriving, and the 4 p.m. transfers actually left a minute early.While delays were still a reality for some students and their families, Friday seemed to be a far better experience than the first day of school. No students were stuck at their schools for hours after dismissal and no students were stuck on buses after 9 p.m.Contact reporter Krista Johnson at [email protected]

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