What transportation issues did the District face at the beginning of the year? How early was the scope of the challenge known?
It was becoming clear just prior to the start of the 2017 - 2018 school year that a wide variety of transportation problems were beginning to surface. The District’s new grade alignment (PK-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-12) was known well in advance, and a great deal of preparation went into planning and adjusting for the new configuration. But when school started it immediately became clear that the complexities of routing four grade levels through an antiquated three-tier hub system were enormously challenging. During planning not enough time was included between each leg, or “tier” of the system, so it was impossible to pick up students and drop them off in the time allotted to complete three tiers of routes.
Ultimately those challenges would overwhelm the system and shed light on a number of significant problems. Thousands of K-12 students mixing on buses and moving through transfer hubs revealed a number of issues in the planning and routing process.
The system collapsed under these pressures and left students with bus route information that was erroneous, missing or confusing. Rather than focusing more on direct routing students from home to the school they’re attending (whether a transfer school or their zoned school), the District relied on too heavily on age-old transfer hubs to manage thousands of riders in a system too bloated and complex to function. Many of the students routed through hubs at the Transportation Facility, Bryan High School and Jane Long Intermediate could have been bused directly had the philosophy at that time been more flexible and current with today’s best practices. The District’s over-reliance on hubs to manage ridership for our 12 transfer-eligible programs, bad/inaccurate/incomplete data, human error and the sheer size of Bryan’s 453-square-mile school district compounded the normal challenges that arise during grade reconfigurations.
Why did the District face these challenges? Wasn’t there plenty of time to plan?
Grade reconfigurations were approved by the Board of Trustees and announced more than a year in advance of the 2017 - 2018 school year, leaving ample time to efficiently route the District. Time to adequately plan was not the issue. Instead, the most significant factors that led to the breakdown were an antiquated philosophy about routing with hubs, bad/inaccurate/missing data and human error. In addition, staff attrition in Transportation left only one skilled router to manage the complex planning process for the realignment year.
Not enough staff were hired and trained to finish the routing process in time for the rapidly approaching start of school. A communications breakdown about the true scope of these problems meant that District administrators were informed about the scale of the problems virtually at the same time that buses began to roll the first day of school.
What decisions were made regarding the problems the District was facing?
The first decision the District made, led by Superintendent Christie Whitbeck, was to acknowledge and address the problems head on and immediately gather a team to find solutions. The District retained the services of a leading transportation consultant and charged him with identifying short-term fixes, finding long-term solutions and making recommendations to the administration. He was directed to examine every aspect of the routing process, from long-held philosophies, to staffing, best practices and logistics.
Who did the District bring in for an independent, fresh set of eyes and the new ideas necessary to diagnose the issues and create a plan with solutions?
The District hired a 35-year veteran transportation expert named Michael Brassfield to assess the situation and make recommendations that would solve these issues and improve transportation for years to come. Brassfield, a consultant, also leads the Department of Transportation at Fort Bend ISD, a rapid-growth District with more than 75,000 students.
What immediate or short-term fixes were put in place? How quickly were the problems addressed?
Based on recommendations from our consultant, the District immediately set about a number of steps to bring relief to the overburdened system. More than 600 students were quickly re-routed (relying more on direct busing) to reduce the number of people moving through hubs. Staff from every level of the organization were deployed to transportation hubs to ensure safety, guide students to transfer buses and improve the efficiency and speed with which students could transfer buses and head to school or home.
Other short-term solutions included reworking some of the traffic flow around certain campuses to create a more streamlined, efficient pathway for car riders and bus riders alike. Bryan Police officers have assisted with traffic management to reduce wait times while maintaining safety around schools. The District also hired additional routers and cross-trained other staff to provide back-up and support to this fundamentally important job in transportation.
Are things better? Did the short-term solutions work?
With 600 fewer students moving through the hub system and many other short-term solutions in place, the outlook in transportation is significantly brighter. Students are arriving to and from school more efficiently and at more reliable times, though work still remains to ensure that students consistently arrive to school on time so they can eat and begin a full day of learning on time and on schedule.
What is needed to create lasting improvements and ensure a safe, reliable, consistent bus system?
Consultant Michael Brassfield began his work in Bryan ISD with a blank slate and an open mind. He applied nearly four decades of experience to the uniquely large geographic size of Bryan ISD and the challenge of a District with a considerable mix of urban and rural students. After considerable study of all aspects of transportation and routing in Bryan ISD, he has made several key recommendations to administration in order to create a long-term solution for present and future routing.
Brassfield recommends eliminating the hub system altogether in Bryan ISD and reverting to a more traditional model of direct busing that, as time has passed, has once again become best practice. Brassfield believes, and many who have heard his recommendations agree, that picking a child up at their home bus stop and dropping them off at the school they’re attending is a clean, viable, efficient solution. He points out that each bus may drive more miles, but keeping buses in motion and heading toward a drop-off is significantly better than having them idle for an hour at a transportation hub. Though more buses and drivers would be ideal, Brassfield believes that direct busing can be achieved with the number of buses and drivers the District currently has--thus preventing a massive up-front investment in +$100,000 buses and training more drivers.
Will the new plan work? How can we be certain?
The District’s consultant has modeled direct busing for Bryan ISD and routers have mapped out the plan for buses to head from home to school and school to home. In addition to new accurate and precise routes for direct busing, the District will conduct multiple full-scale test runs to identify additional efficiencies or route enhancements before buses begin transporting students Jan. 8.
How will these changes impact students, families and District staff?
The number one benefit of a well-oiled transportation system that the learning environment is protected when students arrive safely to school on time. Starting a student’s day off right and on time is the responsibility of our drivers, and they take pride in caring for and transporting thousands of children every day. The plan our consultant assembled will help ensure that arrival times are consistent and as expected, on time, at school in the morning and at home each afternoon.
One adjustment necessary to accommodate direct busing’s two tiers (sweeping out to gather students, dropping them off, and going out for another group of students) is the need to adjust start/end times for campuses.
Is it really necessary to adjust start/end times for campuses? Didn’t we just change them before the 2017 – 2018 school year started?
Yes, and yes. Adjusting start/end times is a process we don’t take lightly. We recognize that the scheduling changes and lifestyle adjustments necessary when school children are in the home, and it’s only under extreme circumstances that we would propose making this change in the middle of the year. Our consultant has carefully crafted a two-tier system with ample time between tiers to pick up students, take them to school, and go out for another busload of students, which means we must adjust to accommodate for that.
Why has the length of the day for elementary students been increased by 15 minutes?
In order to keep children of similar ages on buses together and eliminate the transfer hub system, adjustments have been made to the instructional day. The additional time allows for a smoother transportation process, reduces late arrivals at school and minimizes disruptions that occur when classmates arrive late on other buses. The brief extra 15 minutes will go toward extending the time students spend learning and in specials. The extra time also allows for early release days in the school calendar.
Are we going to face changing start/end times again before the 2018 – 2019 school year?
It’s difficult to say with absolute certainty that start/end times will not change next school year. Our goal is to provide safe, efficient, reliable transportation for thousands of students every day. We may need to make further adjustments if we see a chance to gain significant improvements next year, but our preference otherwise is to leave the times alone next year and evaluate the system continuously.
Why implement long-term improvements now? Why not wait until next Fall?
Across the board, each group we met with (parents, teachers, administrators, other staff, board members, community representatives) agreed that we must not wait to implement a meaningful fix and that enduring a change to start/end times was worth it for that solution to be put in place.
How will these long-term improvements protect the learning environment, enhance safety and benefit students and families?
Having students consistently arrive at school on time, while having spent less time on a bus and zero time at a transportation hub is a massive win for kids. The academic schedule is packed with learning every day, and even minutes matter when instruction and learning are on the line. These transportation improvements seek to maximize the days students are in class on time and learning.
Are the improvements, changes, tweaks finished? Is that it, or is more to come?
A crucial lesson learned through the challenging start to school is that continuous improvement must be embedded in all aspects of education, not just in the classroom. We must make sure we modernize our practices and stay on top of improvements in ideas, philosophies, software and staffing models. We can’t say the tweaks are over forever, but we can say we’re heavily invested in modernizing our practices and adopting a culture of continuous improvement in all aspects of Transportation.
Will we have to re-register our kids that currently ride the bus?
There is no need to “re-register” a student that is already registered to ride on a bus this school year.
However, if you would like to register a NEW bus rider, we encourage you to do so at www.bryanisd.org/apps/pages/RegisterNewBusRiders as soon as possible so we will have time to get a bus route letter mailed to your home in early December.
How will Bryan ISD maintain best practices and continue to earn trust in our Transportation system?
It starts with transparency and accountability. We were transparent about our challenges early on, and we’re accountable for fixing those issues. Ensuring that we are correctly trained and staffed, with modern-day best practices driving our work, will become our new norm. We will hire transportation leaders and staff members who share this vision and commitment to provide our kids nothing but the best.
Where can I find bus routes, bus stop locations and bus pick-up/drop-off information?
Infofinder is a tool that can tell you about routes, pick-up locations & times, the school you’re zoned for and more. Visit www.bryanisd.org and search for “Infofinder.”
How can I ensure my child is registered for bus service?
Call 979-209-7130 or e-mail your child’s name, home address and student identification number to: BISD_Transportation@bryanisd.org.
Where can I find more information?
Visit www.bryanisd.org and search for “Transportation.”
If I see something isn’t working or have suggestions for improvement, how can I contact the District?
Where can I share positive experiences about the new transportation system?