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Articles: Transportation

RELIEF FOR SCHOOLS—Roy Garcia, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD associate superintendent, helps organize classroom supplies donated to Moore Elementary School teachers in September. (Cypress-Fairbanks ISD).

School officials in more than 200 southeastern Texas districts were struggling early last month to recover from Hurricane Harvey.

GPS systems not only track buses in real time, but allow administrators to map routes, film drivers for future training purposes and provide data on how well vehicles are functioning. (Gettyimages.co: jaroszpilewski).

A wave of new GPS systems not only tracks buses in real time, but allows administrators to map routes, films drivers for future training purposes and provides data on how well vehicles are functioning.

Years ago, educators at Fremont Middle School in Illinois provided students with engaging projects. But not until the 2015-16 school year did teachers have designated areas where students could work on assignments comfortably or have access to digital technology. 

A new facility designed around an airplane hangar prepares students for new heights at Sterling Aviation High School, a magnet school.

IN THE DARK OF MORNING—An Ohio district school bus makes a stop at 6:35 a.m. one winter morning. More districts are changing school start times to ensure students get proper sleep to perform at their potential in class.

Many district administrators seem to agree that teenagers need more sleep. A new study released in February indicates that attendance and graduation rates may match the science, too.

SEAT BELTS MAKE THEM SIT—New Hanover County Schools in North Carolina is adding seat belts to some buses as part of a state study. Ken Nance, transportation director, says just having students staying put in their seats reduces distractions to bus drivers, two of whom are pictured above.

More districts are adding seat belts to their bus fleets, following the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s 2015 recommendation that “every child on every school bus” needs a seat belt. 

A 2014 study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory examined five districts using propane in their bus fleets, and some saved nearly 50 percent on a cost-per-mile basis for fuel and maintenance. (Photo: Gettyimages.com/Leekris)

Transitioning to eco-friendly propane school buses may help districts save money and safeguard student health. A propane bus costs about $15,000 more than a diesel vehicle, but is less expensive to operate and maintain.

A successful partnership with a transportation contractor, above, can give a district administrator more time to focus on educating.

Xenia Community Schools in Ohio faced a crisis in 2012 that forced administrators to slash $10 million from its annual budget. The district signed a five-year contract with a transportation contractor and saved $458,000. Still, such a move can be a challenging—and sometimes controversial—issue for many districts.

Transportation routing software BusBoss now integrates with ParentLink communication platform

Having less time and fewer resources is a continual challenge that administrators face today. So when there is a chance for apps to integrate, eliminating the need to enter the same student information twice in two different places, savvy leaders must maximize the opportunity.

And one such opportunity was recently announced by Orbit Software. Its BusBoss™ software can now integrate with the ParentLink mobile app by student technology services provider Blackboard.

The many requirements for becoming a school bus driver may deter people from entering the field.

Several months into the school year, many districts nationwide still face the worst bus driver shortage in recent years. Some are offering signing bonuses and increased wages to attract more people to the job.

Only 6 percent of school bus contracting companies nationally had enough drivers this year, compared to 15 percent with no shortage in 2014, according to a survey from School Bus Fleet magazine. Nearly 30 percent of respondents said they had a “severe or desperate” shortage of bus drivers this year.

At Columbus City Schools, Steve Simmons, director of pupil transportation, can see every move a school bus makes on its trip to picking up students at stops, and dropping them off.

GPS and automated route systems, among other advancements, make bus service more efficient and effective. Despite heightened demands on school transportation in recent years—such as safety and expanded bell times—district administrators and transportation managers can cut costs while creating safe and convenient routes.

Diesel-fueled buses are the most common for transporting students in cities, suburbs and rural areas due to good gas mileage and easy fueling.

Alternative fuel, surveillance cameras, maintenance and driver salaries all play a role in how a district manages its transportation—unless, of course, the district decides to outsource and let an outside company make all those decisions.

Students in Denver Public Schools swipe a bus pass before they get on or off. The date, time, and location are recorded on a secure website that parents and administrators can access.

With the swipe of a bus pass, Denver Public Schools students are answering the often-asked parent question, “Did my child get on the bus today?” Denver joins other districts in Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, and North Carolina trying to improve safety by using a system that tracks when and where students get on and off buses.

Driver Dawn Lemaster, above, reads to Lake Orion students. She was the Thomas Built Essay Contest Winner 2012—North American School Bus Driver of the Year.

When a bus driver for Lake Orion Community Schools in Michigan grew concerned that riders were bored, she began bringing books and games on board for students to use while in transit.

That became the first step in the development in a special program to promote reading and other learning activities. Through an initiative dubbed BusSTAR (Support Teaching by Assisting in Reading), drivers now assist teachers in the classroom and provide other support during the part of the day when they are not transporting students.

More students in Fairfield Community Schools in Goshen, Ind., are taking the bus due to tougher economic times. It increased ridership from about 2,700 in 2009 to more than 2,800 this year. In turn, rides are longer for students. Above, one New Paris Elementary School bus ride is 55 minutes long.

Innovations ranging from on-board music to digital mapping and alternative fuels are making long bus rides better experiences for students while also helping districts make transportation more efficient.

Experience shows that children who spend more time on buses are likely to get bored or behave badly. For rural districts, where hour-long rides are not uncommon and some may exceed two hours, the situation can be especially problematic.

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