Q & A with St. Johns County School Board Member, District 4, Kelly Barrera

Q: Can you give some background information about the events leading up to the change in school start and end times?
A: The purpose of changing the start and end times was to give some breathing room for the bus runs. Over the years, we have been proactive with regards to transportation, including the pilot program for the strobe lights on the buses for safety, increased training for bus drivers, ramped up recruiting for bus drivers and the installation of software that allowed us to track buses for efficiency. St. Johns County has ranked either first or second in the state the past few years in bus efficiency. Despite all this, we had late buses, due in large part to all the road construction associated with the growth in the county, which was impacting instructional time.

Q: So how did the idea come about to change the times?
A: In October 2018, Superintendent Forson put together a task force to look at alternatives to combat the problem of late buses despite all the proactive items we had implemented. We can’t compromise safety, so what else could be done? This group of 20 people had representatives from ESE, academics, operations and principals from all levels. They considered possibilities and obstacles and vetted the most practical solution, which was deemed to be changing the start times. They even looked at combining the tiers (having students from different schools ride the same bus) and flipping the high schools to be the earliest tier, but discarded these ideas.

Q: What exactly are the changes?
A: We voted on the new times at our last meeting and were careful to make this change in plenty of time for parents to plan prior to implementation in the 2019 – 2020 school year in August. The biggest impact is on middle school, which now starts 20 minutes earlier (from 7:50 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.). Elementary schools start five minutes earlier and high schools start five minutes later. We needed to increase the transition time between the middle school and elementary school tier and again between the elementary school and high school tier.

With projected growth of 500 – 700 riders each year, we need to continue to hire more bus drivers as well as buy more buses. Superintendent Forson also said that this is our plan for next year, but it might change again after that. The district has been very proactive in responding to growth. We haven’t changed start and end times in 10 years and that is a testament to the proactive response.

Q: What should someone do if they are interested in being a bus driver?
A: There is actually a nationwide shortage of bus drivers. The St. Johns County School District now hires bus drivers, as well as substitute bus drivers and substitute teachers, year round. Those interested should visit our website, www.stjohns.k12.fl.us/transportation/jobs for bus drivers and www.stjohns.k12.fl.us/subs for substitute teachers, and fill out an application.

Q: Do you have anything else to share with District 4?

A: On March 14, Staci Boyer, the secretary/bookkeeper from Freedom Crossing Academy, was named the 2018 – 19 School Related Employee of the Year. I’d also like to highlight our District 4 personnel: Carrie Baides, secretary/bookkeeper at Landrum Middle School; Brian Bourke, parking lot coordinator at Nease High School; Lee Serino, secretary/bookkeeper at Ocean Palms Elementary; Tyson Shank, maintenance manager at Palm Valley Academy; Ethan Gumble, food service manager at Ponte Vedra High School; Jessica Peto, food service manager at PVPV/ Rawlings Elementary; and tara Smullen, clerk at Valley Ridge Academy.

Q: How can our readers contact you?

A: They can email me at kelly.barrera@stjohns.k12.fl.us or call me at (904) 547-7510.