The first week in the newly-restructured Dothan City School system caused a moderate amount of discomfort for many, but procedural tweaks are helping parents, staff and students make the transitions better, according to school officials.
However, it was not easy at first.
Hollie Wynn said figuring out transportation for her four kids, who are enrolled in four different schools, has been the biggest challenge.
“I ended up in tears at the end of the day,” Wynn said. “For me, the first day was chaos. Both of my girls were late to school because I couldn’t get through the long car lines in time and the schools were far apart.
“One of my sons was supposed to ride the bus for the first time, but he wasn’t in the system yet. I had to pick him up. It was an hour after school before I got there and I still had two more to pick up.”
Wynn was not alone in her struggles.
While many Wiregrass schools were dealing with first-day adjustments, only the Dothan City School district had around half the student and teacher population walking into unfamiliar territory. That, coupled with staggered bell schedules and new transportation procedures, may have compounded the confusion.
Despite Wynn’s hassles, she said her children have come home happy every day after school.
“For them, it went great,” she said. “They didn’t feel like it was crazy like I felt it was. For them, it was organized and put together.”
Wynn credited the teachers with helping organize pickups and drop-offs.
“They were working their butt off getting it done - even in the rain, working for hours,” she said. “They are very much appreciated.”
After Wynn posted her first-day stress to Facebook, she said her friends reached out to help take one of her kids to and from Carver School of Science, Math and Technology, the system’s lone magnet school.
Two of her kids are now riding the bus to Kelly Springs and Dothan High, while she carpools her pre-school child to and from the new Dothan Early Education Center.
“Ever since we’ve got the buses figured out and carpooling figured out, for me, it’s gone a lot smoother. We are all home now by 3:45,” she said.
Heather Williams, a parent of two Carver students, said that transportation has been the primary struggle for her as her kids’ transition to a new school from Montana Magnet. Students in Carver do not have access to the public school’s bus transportation.
“In terms of logistics, it’s a little bit further away… It’s been a little hard trying to figure out who’s picking up… whether it’s a grandparent or one of us…,” Williams said. “Overall, we’re really happy about the school they’re going to. We’re still figuring out our day-to-day routine, but we’re kind of used to that with two kids.”
She said her children in grades 3 and 6 have adjusted well to the change.
“We’ve always displayed a positive attitude for the change, and I think that’s reflected in how they approach it,” she said. “They definitely miss some of their friends that aren’t going to school with them this year, but they’re excited about the opportunities and science labs and offerings that Carver has.”
Dothan Preparatory Academy is now the largest junior high school in Alabama with approximately 1,800 students enrolled, though it is one of few serving grades 7-9.
“It’s going fine. It seems students are responding well and following the guidelines,” Dothan Prep Principal Darius McKay said. “We had a big meeting just so students were informed on what they were allowed to do and not allowed to do and the repercussions.”
New Code of Conduct policies includes a stricter cellphone policy and more severe punishments for some Class III offenses.
Despite warnings, there were some “minor incidents” and some cellphones were confiscated during the first week.
On the first day, the car pickup line persisted nearly two hours after the dismissal bell caused in part by backed-up traffic on Alice Street. McKay said the school has been able to “cut it down considerably” to about 20-30 minutes.
The school has also improved the bus leave times by boarding buses as they are in line rather than holding all buses.
McKay sent out an automatic call to parents over the weekend asking them not to check out students late in the afternoon during their last class. He added that parents may have been checking out students to avoid long pickup lines the first few days, but that issue has been resolved.
He is in the process of preparing information about a before-school program to be sent out this week. The program will begin at 7 a.m. daily and will cost a small fee, he said. The information will also be posted online.
While some details are still being smoothed out, McKay said he is looking forward to the benefits that will come from the consolidation of area resources.
“We’re excited about the great academic offerings and extracurricular activities. The menu of items that they will get exposed to is not comparable to any around us,” he said.
Girard Intermediate’ dealt with a scare on Monday morning after a construction company digging a drainage ditch adjacent to the school building thought they’d hit a gas line.
The incident caused an evacuation of the entire student body, until the Dothan Fire Department was able to clear the school of a possible gas leak.
Besides the false alarm, Girard Intermediate Principal Beth Bouchard said the implementation of the new International Baccalaureate primary years program is going “incredibly smoothly.”
“Students are enthusiastic; teachers are passionate about teaching and the staff is a very unified team,” she said.
She added that she is confident that Superintendent Phyllis Edward’s vision will allow students to excel.
So far, the system has not seen a drop in enrollment number compared to the last year.
“I am very pleased with the implementation of the changes. The first week of school went well,” Edwards said. “There are always issues with transportation and carpool drop-offs. I worked with the chief (of police) and his staff for the first few days and they assisted with our hotspots.”
She continues to stand behind her recommendation for consolidation as the school year starts and believes it’s best for students, academically and socially.