OLD TOWN – The RSU 34 School Board has approved changes in busing and scheduling that officials say will increase opportunities and supports for students at no additional cost to taxpayers.

According to RSU 34 Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Jon Doty, K-12 students will no longer be bused to school simultaneously.  The K-5 schools will begin and end school about 10 minutes earlier than now, while Leonard Middle School and Old Town High School will start and end school about 40 minutes later.

Students, however, are not limited to that school schedule, said Doty.

“The shift creates a 50-minute extended day time at each school, where students can access extra-curricular offerings, have a supported work environment for homework, and receive interventions and enrichment from educators to help them thrive,” said Doty. “The plan will also shift middle and high school start times to those recommended by the American Association of Pediatricians and the American Medical Association.”

While it may seem counter-intuitive, Doty said shifting to two morning bus runs and two afternoon bus runs reduces transportation costs because fewer total vehicles are needed.  RSU 34 staff worked with the bus contractor to identify savings, which will be put right back into student opportunities and supports by staffing those extended day offerings.

This shift will create at least 2,700 hours of additional staff time available to RSU 34’s students each year, at no additional cost to the communities,” said Doty. “For an individual student, across their K-12 journey in RSU 34, the total time newly available to them adds up to 1,700 hours – the equivalent of a year and a half of school.”

Discussion of these concepts began in earnest more than a year ago.  In spring 2018 staff and community feedback brought to light a number of issues with that initial plan that needed to be addressed.  Throughout this past winter and spring the RSU 34 administrative team redesigned the effort to address those concerns, and over the course of the early spring sought input and feedback from staff and the community to fine-tune the proposal and address nearly all of the concerns raised.

Doty noted that some concerns repeatedly addressed by parents were regarding their desires to drop students off on the way to work; to address that the redesigned plan shifted the elementary drop-off time earlier and enables every student to attend the early morning supported work environments at OTHS and LMS so long as they are maintaining the environment in which their peers can work and get assistance.

Some students and parents expressed that they look forward to the ability to get breakfast in the school café and get started on the day’s work before the first bell rings.  Another concern raised through feedback but addressed in the final proposal was regarding student-athletes’ desires to shift their attention earlier to after-school practices.

Under the final proposal OTHS will pilot an “Earned Early Dismissal” in which students who are thriving in academics and work habits can receive parent permission to be dismissed from the end of day Academic Focus Period to either a Talking Study Hall (all OTHS grades) or to be dismissed from campus (juniors and seniors).

“In total, the great quantity of added time available to students – without transportation barriers – will provide great supports and opportunities for RSU 34’s current and future students,” said Doty.

Many next steps are underway to begin to implement the initiative, and RSU 34 staff are working with Cyr Bus to have the new bus routes published on www.rsu34.org by July 1.  Those with questions are encouraged to contact the school administrators, Superintendent David Walker, or Doty for more information contact information for each is on the district website.

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