Overcast to rainy skies robbed the 2018-19 school year of a sunny start on Tuesday, but optimism was in the air when classes got back into session for many Minnesota children.
Some officials were nervous about buses arriving on time. But at many entrances across the state, the scene was like that at Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet School in St. Paul, where St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said efforts by kids to play it cool were betrayed by big grins as staff members greeted the students with their own warm smiles.
“I think the energy you see across this city today bodes well for this school year, and it bodes well for our city in the future,” he said.
Wanted: School bus drivers
Parents and students headed to bus stops in the Osseo Area School District braced for potential late arrivals of the familiar yellow fleet.
A healthy economy has left many districts and bus companies scrambling to find school bus drivers, and as a result, Osseo officials notified families to wait at least 10 to 15 minutes past their scheduled pickup times if buses were running late.
There and elsewhere, drivers were being brought in from other communities to help, and chances were that some pinch hitters were not yet up to speed with their routes.
Jenifer Doyle, a parent in the Osseo district, knows the issue well. She works for First Student, a bus company that serves Osseo and also handles 136 routes for the St. Paul Public Schools.
“This is honestly the biggest driver shortage we’ve had in my memory,” said Doyle, who has been with First Student for 15 years.
In the meantime, recruiting continues. At First Student, the offers include a $3,000 signing bonus for new drivers and a $5,000 bonus for experienced drivers. Call 763-421-2219 or go to firstgroupcareers.com for more information.
Later to rise — and start
Twenty-two years after the Edina Public Schools paved the way by shifting its high school students to later start times, the Mounds View School District on Tuesday gave its older kids the chance to sleep a little later.
Knowing that later starts are a better fit with teenage body rhythms, the district pushed back the start of school at Mounds View and Irondale high schools from 7:25 a.m. to 8:35 a.m.
Four of the six elementary schools are starting just five to 10 minutes earlier than they did previously, spokesman Colin Sokolowski said.
For the high schools, a later start also means a later departure, and while students won’t have to be excused early for sports practices, they may need to be let out early at times for games.
A visit from the governor
Students at Carver Elementary in Maplewood received a special visit from Gov. Mark Dayton and other public officials who greeted students as they returned for classes.
“You got the governor here this morning. Have a good first day back to school,” Christine Osorio, superintendent of the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District, told students. One student beamed: “The governor!”
Many parents stopped to take pictures of their children with Dayton, who was making his last first-day-of-school rounds as governor.
Addressing reporters outside the school, Dayton stressed the importance of offering prekindergarten, noting also that he was disappointed in the lack of progress made in closing the achievement gap, revealed in the latest state test scores. “Early childhood education is the number one thing we can do to close those achievement gaps,” he said.
About noon, Mayor Melvin Carter grabbed a spot among some kids at Obama Elementary with a solid icebreaker at the ready: “What books did you read this summer?” he said.
But it was lunchtime, too, and soon the conversation shifted.
“What’s your favorite food?” a boy named Ronald asked Superintendent Joe Gothard, who was sitting across the room from the mayor.
Carter asked the same of the girl next to him. “Pizza” came the reply, to which he said: “You’ll have to find out from your teacher how to earn a pizza party.”
The two men then went to the cafeteria for corn dogs and sweet potato fries. They were an easygoing pair. Earlier, upon arrival, the mayor shook the superintendent’s hand, and then leaned in for a chest-and-shoulder bump.
A strong partnership will come in handy this fall when Carter, who also is a district dad, co-chairs the campaign asking voters to approve $18.6 million a year in new funding for the schools.
New buses in Burnsville
A fleet of brand-new school buses fanned out across the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district on Tuesday, offering students a ride to school that comes with some additional bells and whistles.
The new buses feature internal and external public address systems, so bus drivers can make announcements to riders without having to yell. Each bus is equipped with a camera to capture all of the activity inside, as well as a GPS system that links to an app that parents can download to monitor the location of a particular bus.
“If on any particular day if the buses are running late and the parents want to know: ‘Did the bus already go past?’ the GPS is hooked up to a tracking app to see where the buses are all the time,” said district spokesman Aaron Tinklenberg.
The buses come with another change: For the first time, they’ll be clearly marked to show which district’s students they are carrying.
Shakopee academies debut
Shakopee students in grades six through 12 head back to school on Wednesday, so Tuesday marked a final day of preparation for two major changes at Shakopee High School.
Students returning to class will enter an expanded school building that now houses ninth-graders, bringing the total enrollment to 2,700 students.
Meanwhile, there’s what Principal Jeff Pawlicki calls the “most transformational” change he’s been a part of in his 20 years in education: the debut of the “Academies of Shakopee.” Starting in their sophomore year, students will select from one of six academies (options include arts and communication, health science and engineering) to focus on while also taking other core academic classes.
Each “academy” will also include opportunities for real-world experiences with local businesses and government.
“What the career-academy model does is help students make connections between things they’re learning in the classroom and how those connect to the real world around them,” Pawlicki said.