Parents of students enrolled in Garden City public schools are about to get access to a new way of tracking their children, if that access isn’t already available to them.
USD 457 is piloting a new system that will help parents and faculty members keep track of kids using the district’s bus system. To get the ball rolling, the program launched in January at Garden City High School, Kenneth Henderson Middle School, Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center, and Plymell Elementary School. The idea is to get the bugs out of the program now before doing a complete rollout in the fall 2018 semester.
Through the program, students are provided cards they swipe as they get on and off the bus to electronically sign in and out. All students that use the school bus system are issued a card.
In January, the district launched an interactive application tool called "My Bus Stop" that gives families participating in the pilot program access to real time school bus route information. Through the app, families can view estimated time of bus arrival on a smartphone, tablet or computer.
“This new system will be peace of mind for us and parents,” Said Charles Stillian, USD 457 director of transportation. “With 'My Stop,' families will be able to stay up to date about bus arrival times both for morning pick-ups and afternoon drop-offs. This will eliminate the need for students to stand outside for long periods of time waiting for the bus. Parents can wait for the bus to get close before sending their children out to the bus stop.”
In all, the app allows families to view a student’s bus stop on a map, view the estimated arrival time for the school bus at the stop, keep up to date on bus arrival times for pick-ups and drop-offs, and receive a push notification if a bus is running significantly behind schedule with other important transportation information.
Stillian said software, GPS and maintenance materials for the program were purchased just before the start of the fall 2016 semester. However, the card reading technology wasn’t installed in buses until toward the end of the 2016-17 school year.
Though the technology has been installed in every district bus for the duration of the current school year, the pilot rollout was timed to follow the elimination of a few bugs in the system.
But the pilot test, Stillian said, has been successful.
“It’s been going a lot better than we had hoped for,” he said. “We thought that there were going to be a lot of delays with kids scanning on and off, but we’re finding that they’re walking on, they’ve got their card out and ready, and they’re getting on the bus. So it really has not delayed us at all, either on the pick-up end or the drop-off end.”
Stillian has held his position as director of district transportation for about two years and said that when he started, there were still issues keeping track of students that use the bus system.
If a child got off at a friend’s stop or decided to walk home with a friend without notifying parents or caregivers, for example, district staff would have to review video footage to determine if the student in question had even taken the bus, Stillian said.
“Oftentimes we found that they never even got on the bus,” he said. “They walked home with friends, or they went to somebody else’s house. Or we had some instances when they did get on the bus, but they got off at a stop, a large stop, and then they walked to a friend’s house from there.”
To remedy those issues, Stillian said, the new application tool will allow parents to monitor where their kids get on the bus and where they get off, if at all.
According to Stillian, the cost of the GPS, maintenance package and application software was about $84,000, and the program cost for this year and next year will be an annual rate of up to $24,000. After that, the only cost will entail small fees for updates and maintenance.
He noted that the program would be handy on days of inclement weather and days with a lot of extra traffic.
After the full rollout next year, Stillian said, the district’s use of the program for communication with parents will become “much better.”
To install the app, visit the Google Play Store for Android or the Apple Store for iOS and search for “VersaTrans My Stop.” Select Garden City Schools when prompted, and contact the appropriate school for username and password information.
On the application’s SCANS feature, parents and caregivers can opt in to view when and where students scan on and off the bus with their card.
“This is another effort by our transportation department to improve service to our students and families,” said Dr. Steve Karlin, USD 457 superintendent.
The program is set to build upon previous initiatives by the district intended to improve security. In 2015, remote locks and intercoms were installed at every school entrance in the district, as well as three other district buildings, including the administrative center.
The district also installed security cameras in every school bus.
Contact Mark Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org.