Transportation changes at Hillsborough County schools brought on by a bus driver shortage could make it harder for some of Strawberry Crest High’s smartest students to get home from school.
Starting in the fall, International Baccalaureate students at Strawberry Crest – along with IB students at Robinson High – will be dropped off at area high schools at the end of the day instead of bus stops near their homes. In the mornings, parents have already had to drop their children at local schools, referred to by the district as hubs, where they were picked up by busses and taken to Strawberry Crest.
The change increases the number of hubs, but eliminates the neighborhood drop off some parents rely on.
The change hits working families hardest, said Pamela Ward, whose daughter is enrolled in Strawberry Crest’s IB program.
“If the hub system is more than two miles away from the home, then you really haven’t provided transportation,” Ward said during a recent school board meeting.
Ward said she is a single parent who works multiple jobs, including frequent 12-hour shifts as a nurse.
“If you have the resources, you could transport your kids to the hub to get them transported to the schools,” said Ward. “These are your best performing schools, so why would you want to take access away from people that are struggling as it is to get the scholarships, to get the education?”
Strawberry Crest is one of four public IB schools in the county, along with Robinson, Hillsborough and King. It is also the newest, having opened its doors during the 2009-10 school year. There are 493 IB students at Strawberry Crest.
Originally, IB students at Strawberry Crest and Robinson were slated to be transported through the county’s magnet bus ramp locations on their trips to and from school, which would have significantly increased the time those kids spent on buses.
“We made accommodations before the program launched,” said John Franklin, transportation general manager for Hillsborough County school district. He also noted the hubs offer an afterschool learning program to tutor the students while they wait to be picked up.
However, it’s not clear how many of Hillsborough’s brightest students need tutors, school board member Candy Olson said when the subject was brought up during a meeting.
Notification letters detailing the changes were sent out March 26, and county officials organized informational meetings with Strawberry Crest parents on April 26.
“We work from a continuous improvement model,” Franklin said. “We want to make every seat on every bus and every drop of diesel count.”
Franklin said the staff at Strawberry Crest, including assistant principal and IB coordinator Tiffany Ewell, is willing to work with parents of IB students to arrange carpools and other transportation solutions. He also said he has had subsequent conversations with Ward and other parents which he described as productive.
“No one’s prerogative here is to impose change without providing assistance,” Franklin said.