School starts normally in Northwood, despite unusual time

  • Northwood elementary Principal Jocelyn Young greets students as they get off the bus Monday morning, Aug. 28, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Outdoor sign at Northwood elementary school along Route 4 indicate the later tart time this year, driven by a bus driver shortage. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Northwood elementary school Assistant Principal Adrian Alford talks with a Dail bus driver as students are dropped off the first day of school Monday, Aug, 28, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Traffic control officer Ron Doodell directs cars as parents drop off students at Northwood’s elementary school on the first day of school Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Northwood School Assistant Principal Adrian Alford (left) talks with Ashley Fahey as she arrives at the elementary school with her children Skylar, 5, and Brett, 2, after she drove to the school to drop off Skylar on her first day of kindergarten Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Northwood elementary Assistant Principal Adrian Alford greets students on the first day of school as they arrive at 10 a.m. on a Dial Transportation vehicle on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 8/28/2017 11:20:34 PM

The first morning of Northwood School’s unusual pickup schedule, forced by a shortage of school bus drivers, went pretty smoothly, officials said.

In fact, Monday’s school day of 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. even had some benefits.

“A few parents have commented that their children will be able to sleep in a little bit more,” said Jocelyn Young, principal of the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school.

It will be a while before this system settles down, however.

“Honestly, there are so many unknowns that it is hard to anticipate anything right now. We’re keeping track of when kids come, keeping track of traffic patterns, keeping track of what’s happening – as it normalizes, we’ll adjust as needed,” Young said.

More than 400 elementary students will be going to school about two hours later than usual, for the foreseeable future. The change was required because the company with the contract for busing students, Northwood Transportation, went out of business suddenly in the spring and a tight labor market has kept the district from finding replacement drivers.

Northwood School students are being bused by drivers from Dail Transportation of Epsom after those drivers finish their morning runs in other districts – hence the change in drop-off and pickup times.

That hasn’t helped about 200 Northwood students who attend Coe-Brown, however, because the regional high school’s schedule couldn’t be changed. They have no public transportation to school.

The Northwood School is opening as usual for students to arrive at 7:30 a.m., to help working parents. They will be overseen for 2½ hours until school starts by teachers, volunteers and substitute teachers.

“The drop-off went great,” said Robert Gadomski, superintendent of SAU 44, which includes Northwood. “From the parents, to the bus drivers, to the staff members, the kids, everybody has stepped up to the plate.”

The change in timing required approval from the teacher and support-staff unions and changes to crossing-guard schedules, among other things. An extra guard will be used in the afternoons because of the extra volume on Route 4, nearing the evening rush hour.

The school anticipates more parents picking up children in the afternoon than usual because 4:30 p.m. is close to the end of the work day, which could complicate the traffic situation.

“We’re going to do some problem-solving around that one. We’ll see how today goes,” Young said.

Although Northwood’s situation is unusual, bus companies around the state are scrambling to find and keep drivers in the face of a very low unemployment rate.

Northwood School Board and Dail Transportation, which is part of the national Student Transportation of America firm, even offered signing bonuses for new drivers that started at $1,500 and as of last week had been upped by the school board to $4,500.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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