After a disastrous new bus schedule rollout last fall when the school system went from three tiers to two, the School Committee formed a Transportation Subcommittee that spent hours upon hours revamping the entire East Greenwich bus system. Last week, with the start of the new school year, the new system was put to the test.
What went well: most of the buses got kids to school on time – no small feat with parents snapping first-day photos and young bus riders getting the hang of things. What didn’t go as smoothly: last minute changes were confusing, some children have bus stops a half mile away and buses are crowded. In addition, some parents are protesting the loss of a bus to Cole Middle School for the Hill and Harbor neighborhoods.
“The busing situation has been a nightmare in our household,” said Jenn DeLuise via email. “They took away our bus stop for Meadowbrook and now we drive to a bus stop a half mile away. This was done the night before school started so we had to scramble to figure out how to get the kids to school.”
DeLuise said communication had been “a mess,” and she also was unhappy that her 9-year-old had to cross South Pierce Street on her walk to Hanaford.
While saving money was one motivating factor behind the bus system recalibration, Transportation Subcommittee head and School Committee member Jeff Dronzek said the whole bus system was outdated and relied on inaccurate information. The subcommittee focused on encouraging parents to fill out the transportation form earlier this summer to gauge just who was using the buses and to see if the district could lower the total number of buses needed. [This paragraph was amended and the quote below added at 10 a.m. Sept. 4.]
“We were more stringent in having the transportation form filled out so we could track those opting out of bus service. By doing so, we were no longer creating bus seats for people who would never use them,” said Dronzek.
The longer distances between bus stops is one result. As are the more crowded buses. But, he emphasized, they will continue to look at everything as students settle into the school year. That includes those buses – three, he said – that have been arriving late.
“The buses that have run long, we’re going to watch for a week or maybe a bit longer to see if it’s just the start of the year,” Dronzek said. The subcommittee met for three hours Friday. Dronzek said he would have an update at the School Committee meeting Tuesday.
Here’s a roundup of the schools:
“Our start has been amazing,” said Principal Neil Marcaccio. “I cannot get over the positive energy and engagement. So proud of our students, staff and families.
Several parents agreed.
“I would like to comment on the superb team at Meadowbrook, led by Mr. Marcarccio,” said Mara Derderian via Facebook. “We find him to be extremely welcoming and open. His communication and responsiveness has been amazing.” Derderian, who has twins in kindergarten this year, also complemented the kindergarten orientation, calling it “exemplary.”
Christine Dembinski said she was “impressed and appreciative of Mr. Marcaccio’s communication leading up to and during the first week of school.” She said one email the first day was particularly welcome – a message noting that all the buses had arrived and that he’d visited all the classrooms.
New to the district, Kelly Rennick said she was impressed by how organized and prepared the staffs were at both Meadowbrook and Eldredge. “Both of my kids came home happy and excited to go back,” she wrote on Facebook.
Parent DeLuise, who was not happy with the bus situation, did note Principal Marcaccio was one bright spot during the first week.
Frenchtown Elementary has a new principal this year, Maryann Crudale, but she is not new to the school. Crudale has taught at Frenchtown and Eldredge schools and did a yearlong principal shadowing program at Frenchtown a few years ago. Her familiarity with the school may have helped her get settled quickly – she was only named principal in August.
“I have a kindergartener at Frenchtown and was very impressed with the new principal during the orientation,” said Nicole Curley. “She seemed very professional and well-prepared given she was on maybe day three in her new job.”
Hanaford is under construction this year, getting a new, more secure entrance, but that doesn’t seem to have hampered the start of school. A temporary entrance at the other end of the building was set up and Principal Beth Cauley said the first three days had gone about as well as she could have hoped.
“Beth Cauley has been amazing as usual,” said Lisa Pomeroy. “She greets everyone with a smile and by name and is never afraid to jump in with both feet.”
Carla Molina has two daughters at Hanaford this year. “Both of my girls have raved about their experiences so far. They love their teachers and are very excited for the year ahead. Molina also gave a shout out to the Hanaford PTG: “Our PTG has been wonderful about communicating via Konstella and not overwhelming families with information.”
Eldredge also has a new principal this year, Dan Seger, who came to the job after several years at Cole Middle School, first as a social studies teacher, then assistant principal and then as principal last year while Principal Alexis Meyer was participating in a special leadership program.
Seger was named acting principal just before school started.
“The first week as Acting Principal of Eldredge has been a wonderful experience!” he said. “I continue to be very appreciative of the warm welcome and support from the Eldredge community during this time of transition. . . . The biggest immediate challenge will be learning about the students as individuals and as learners, starting with names, of course! Needless to say, I am excited to jump into that work.”
Parent Kelly Rennick, new to EG, said, “At Eldredge, my son’s teacher went out of her way to get him settled, even assigning him some ‘buddies’ to show him the ropes. I was concerned he would be sad with the transition, but he has had nothing but positive things to share.”
Kim Cavanaugh really liked that her third grader was invited to come to school the day before school started, to see the classroom, meet the teachers and even put away school supplies. “It was a good start,” she said.
Cole Middle School
“The start of school went exceptionally well,” said Principal Alexis Meyer. “It was a pleasure to have both staff and students back. Students and staff are pleased to have Mr. Montaquila at Cole [as vice principal]. He is known in the community as he is the grandparent of some EG students. The vast majority of his career was spent as a teacher and administrator in Providence schools.”
Meyer said the biggest challenge might be getting used to the new schedule, but that it’s gone fairly smoothly so far.
Parent Mary Ward said her kids had had a great first week at Cole but she noted that their bus – Bus 13 – was very crowded, with three kids to a seat in many instances. “The third hanging on into the aisle is a safety concern if anything were to happen to the bus,” she said. Bus 13 was one of the buses arriving late to school.
Johanna Paola said her new sixth grader was “loving her first days at Cole.” She said the teachers were great and communication between school and home had been good.
East Greenwich High School
The high school has borne much of the brunt of the staff cuts made by the School Committee when settling the budget in June. In particular, there is no librarian at present so the library is not open to students. In addition, there is no chorus teacher this year and the senior project coordinator position is only half time, after having been full time for the past several years. EGHS is also without an assistant principal for now. Mr. Chace left over the summer to take a job at Coventry High School.
One bright spot was the renovation of the life skills classroom that serves students with significant developmental disabilities.*
“The changes to the life skills suite are fantastic and are a wonderful improvement to a space that really needed an update,” said Principal Michael Podraza. “Overall I think it was a very good and positive week. By all accounts new student orientation and professional development were both well received.”
Podraza noted that the school has more students than its had for years – the Class of 2017 was unusually small because kindergarten cutoff moved from Dec. 31 to Aug. 31 that year.
“The building and classrooms feel a bit different now that we are back to all four classes being around 180 to 200-plus students,” he said. “Not having the library open and only having Senior Project support half time are definitely going to be challenges this year. Fortunately our students, faculty and staff are fantastic and seem genuinely energized for a great school year this year.”
“I’m quite upset that the Chorus program at the high school has been cut as well as the lack of a librarian there. Both are completely unacceptable,” said parent Sheila Sanzi via Facebook.
School Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Mark said the School Committee would discuss the impact of budget cuts on the high school at its Sept. 19 meeting.
Chromebook distribution was delayed this year, but they arrived late last week and will be distributed starting Tuesday, Podraza said.
Meghan Giannelli said her two children – one a 6th grader at Cole and one a 9th grader at Eldredge – both “came home happy every day last week. Both had great things to say about their teachers and had lots of stories to tell about the cool things they did in class. Great start to the school year,” she said.
– Elizabeth F. McNamara
* Full disclosure: My son is a student in the life skills classroom.