Single bell change sounds few alarms

BY STACI WILSON

For years the Blue Ridge School District has operated with a staggered start and two-tier busing system.
But that is set to change with the next school term as the district moves to a “single bell” system where both secondary and elementary students begin and end their day at the same time.

An informational meeting about the proposed changes was held Monday, April 29 with just over 50 people in attendance.

Currently, classes for middle and high school students begin at about 7:45 a.m.; with elementary starting about one hour later.

In the upcoming year, according to the proposed change, the first period of classes will begin at about 8:15 a.m.

Superintendent Robert McTiernan outlined the district’s reasoning behind the schedule change, including adolescent sleep studies that indicate a later school start time increases academic performance.
The single bell system places elementary, middle and high school students on the same schedule with siblings; and would help eliminate the 6 a.m. bus pick-up of many students in the outlying areas of the district.

McTiernan said the change would also increase the district’s efficiency in utilizing its staff and would help with the district’s transportation reimbursement.

With new busing routes proposed, there would be fewer “unloaded” miles and the buses would be filled at a higher capacity than they are currently.

McTiernan said that of 14 middle/high school bus runs, only five are currently running at greater than an 80 percent capacity.

As for the proposed bus routes, the superintendent has set goals to have students riding under 60 minutes.

McTiernan also pointed out that all of the other county schools operate on a one-tier busing system.
He said seating on buses would be separated by age, with elementary located near the front of the bus.
The school board has also allotted a line item for the purchase of bus cameras in the 2013-14 budget, if deemed necessary.

The possibility does exists, McTiernan said, that district could move to a single bell system but bus elementary separately from the middle and high school students if the community thought that was necessary.

In addition to busing, and school start and end times, the superintendent also reviewed the daily schedule that would be in place for secondary students.

With nine periods per day, the middle and high school students would start a half-hour lunch period at 11:40 a.m.; elementary lunch service would begin at about 12:10 p.m.

The final period of the day would be reserved as the “flex” and club period, middle and high school. Students in good standing would be allowed to be dismissed, with parental permission, after the eighth period.

The final class time could also be utilized by the band and chorus instructor to hold rehearsals where all the participants were able to attend; and athletes dismissed for away games would miss less instructional time.

McTiernan also fielded questions submitted by those in attendance, most of which focused on bus changes.
He did say that breakfast service was a concern looked at by administrators and the district cafeteria.
To alleviate congested breakfast service in the single cafeteria campus, McTiernan said the cafeteria plans to open the fourth serving line in the morning, and plans to add a “grab-and-go” breakfast option for middle and high school students that would be available in the high school lobby.

None of the submitted audience questions voiced strong opposition to the adoption of the single bell system and one audience member commented that it was a good change.

McTiernan said that any concerns regarding situations on a bus should be directed to the school principals to address.

Members of the Blue Ridge public were also asked to contact their board representatives with any additional input.