Students flooded the halls of all six Valley Central schools on Tuesday morning as summer break officially ended, and the new school year brought with it a new bell schedule for the high school and middle school. In January, the district inked a five-year transportation contract with East End Bus Lines to provide school bus services to Valley Central. The deal, which was a joint agreement with Wallkill Central School District, allowed the district to rethink its transportation schedule as the transition from previous bus provider First Student to East End was made.
The Valley Central administration has worked closely in conjunction with the new bus company, and the new bell schedule sync up with the new transportation contract. While all four Valley Central elementary schools will retain their existing 9:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. bell schedules, the high school and middle school itineraries have been pushed back approximately 15-20 minutes later than last year. The first period at the high school will now begin at 7:45 a.m., with the final bell sounding at 2:45 p.m. At the middle school, classes will commence at 8:19 a.m., and school will let out at 3:30 p.m.
The moderately later start times will provide some relief for students who had to wake up very early to catch the daily school bus, which should help them function better when they arrive at school. “We’re starting school 15 minutes later,” Valley Central Superintendent John Xanthis said. “At the high school we had kids getting on buses before 6a.m., and we feel that’s a safety issue and it’s tough on kids. Especially when winter comes with daylight savings time. It won’t be a big, big help, but certainly the 15 minutes will be some help. Not that we could get there, but all the research shows that secondary kids should come in later, and be the last kids to go to school. We’ve certainly taken a piece of that. We feel the 15 minutes will be an advantage to kids. This is a step in the right direction, and it gives our kids a chance to get a couple of extra winks in the morning.”
The district has worked with its new transportation partner to craft more efficient routes, and at least two bus lines have been eliminated from last year as a result of the careful planning. “The new bus company has been here working hard, and we have a much bigger stake in the game,” Xanthis said. “We are involved with the bus company routing the kids, seeing where buses are going, seeing what the ridership is. We’re making sure that we’re balancing buses.” The new fleet of buses provided by East End also comes with a security upgrade over the previous system. “Every bus has at least two cameras with audio now,” the superintendent noted. “So our administrators can view them at any time if there’s an incident. They have access through their computers, so that’s a good tool if someone needs discipline. You can bring them in, show them the videotape. You don’t have to get it from the bus garage or download it, or any of those things.”
When Valley Central kids returned to school on Sept. 5, they may have noticed the facility renovations that continued over the summer at the high school and Berea Elementary. Construction crews at Berea are finishing up refurbishments that have been ongoing at the site. “At Berea, it’s basically continuing from last year,” Xanthis said of the work. “During the year, all of the windows were put in. We didn’t finish all of the floors last year and unit ventilators, so they’re put in. There’s new ceilings, new lights. There’s some loose ends, but that’s pretty much done.”
Long-planned upgrades at the high school are continuing as well, as workers will install new ceilings after wire and duct work is completed at the school. The labor will be done on weekends and during after-school hours, and windows will be replaced throughout the school, most likely in the spring. “At the high school, this was really the first year that we were able to start,” Xanthis said of the renovations. “The big thing that I think the public will be so pleased about is our new locker rooms. The locker rooms hadn’t been done in 58 years, so they were long overdue. The front office has also been redone. There’s going to be air conditioning roof units put on instead of the window units. There are also four bathrooms at the high school being renovated too. That’s what we completed this summer.”
The school board held its final meeting of the summer on Aug. 28, as the council made its final preparations for the fall semester.
“We’re excited,” Board of Education President Sheila Schwartz said of the new school year. “We did induction with all of our new teachers coming in, and we have convocation this week and we usually speak out to the staff. We’re looking forward to a new year. We’ve got a lot of things going on. We just adopted our five-year strategic plan at our last meeting, and the next thing is to finish off our facilities plan. With the construction going on in the schools as well, there’s a lot of changes going on. So we’re really excited about that.” In advance of the 2017-2018 school year beginning, Xanthis said that the district was primed for the start of another year. “There’s more enthusiasm than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I think people are excited about some of the changes in the school. We have some additional opportunities for kids. I think the people in this business, even though it’s nice to get a respite, by mid-August people are ready to get back to their craft. You want to get back and be with kids and doing good things for them.”
By Ted Remsnyder