Boston Public Schools opened their doors to nearly 50,000 students on Thursday amid hope, excitement and anxiety from students and parents across the system.
Weeks before incoming Superintendent Mary Skipper takes the helm, some parents and students told GBH News they are hoping for a better year with fewer complications due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other hot-button issues, like state-mandated improvements.
“We are excited,’’ said Yolanda Leiva, 45, a mother who dropped off her two elementary-school children Thursday morning at the Curley School in Jamaica Plain. “It’s been tough.”
Leiva said she felt positive but anxious — worrying about an array of parental concerns including gangs, guns, bullying as well as current and new viruses. She said some parents have been so panicked that they’ve kept their kids home from school. Leiva, who is from Peru, said she hopes the impending shift in district leadership will bring needed change.
Indeed, students in the city’s 122 public schools have struggled with closures due to the yearslong pandemic and a near state takeover last spring due to an “underperforming” designation. Since then, Boston leaders have promised to make improvements in many areas, including services for special education students and English learners, as well as safety and transportation.
The first day of school also was challenged by a continued shortage of yellow bus drivers, deploying only about a third of its goal to have 90 new drivers on the road for the start of the school year. BPS said about half of its buses came in on-time by the first bell, compared to about 57% last fall when the MBTA was fully operating.
School officials also said they counted uncovered bus routes in their on-time bus evaluation this year, something the state education officials criticized earlier this year saying the problem left thousands of students waiting for buses that never came.
BPS officials said 77% of students arrived at school within 15 minutes of start time, and 92% arrived within 30 minutes.
The monthlong closure of the MBTA Orange Line, which is slated to reopen on Sept. 19, also affected nearly 5,000 Boston students who use it to get to school.
To help students find their way, city and school officials visited MBTA stops along the Orange Line to provide guidance and support, aided by BPS “ambassadors” dressed in neon yellow jackets. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu started her day at the Readville Bus Yard in Hyde Park and took a school bus to the Forest Hills MBTA station in Jamaica Plain to oversee the effort.
“It’s very smooth here,’’ Wu said outside the station. “I couldn't be more grateful or proud of all of the work and coordination that's gone into what has gotten us here today.”
The mood at Forest Hills was festive at times, with students being interviewed by journalists and professional and personal cameras flashing as students gathered before sun-up.
Analia Cribb, 17, of Hyde Park, said she was looking forward to her first day of the year at the Boston Arts Academy in the Fenway. Cribb studies performing arts and was on her way to a brand new school building outfitted with new amphitheaters, a black box theater and art instruction rooms. “I’m excited,” she said.
Syncere Johnson, a 15-year-old Dorchester sophomore whose favorite subject is math, said he woke up at 5:20 a.m. to get to his high school in Charlestown by about 7 a.m. “It’s kind of early, but I’m ready,’’ he said.
Skipper, Boston's new superintendent, starts the job on Sept. 26.