Bruce Murphy rolled his blue Jeep up to the front of West Hernando Middle School on Monday morning just in time for the 9:05 bell. His daughter Kelly, an eighth-grader this year, looked back to say a quick "Bye," slammed the door and merged her way into a mass of classmates. The first day is typically hectic enough, but Murphy is one of thousands of Hernando County parents adjusting to a new bell schedule this year. The carpenter should have been at work more than a half-hour earlier but took the time on the first day to drive Kelly to school. It will take some time for the family to get into the new routine, Murphy said.
"If they've got to do it, they've got to do it," Murphy said of the School Board's decision to change start times. "I don't like it. I understand it, but I don't like it."
Another new feature of the district started off well: Weeki Wachee High School opened without any major hitches, principal Dennis McGeehan said.
The $46 million school on U.S. 19 north of State Road 50 opened with freshmen and sophomores this year. No buses showed up late in the morning, and students settled in well, McGeehan said.
"Things have gone very smoothly for us," he said.
A divided board approved the new school start time plan in June to save about $750,000 in busing costs. Of the district's 23 schools, five elementary or K-8 schools start 40 to 55 minutes earlier. Six elementary schools start up to 30 minutes later. Several other schools saw minor tweaks. West Hernando saw the biggest change, starting 85 minutes later.
More than 13,000 of the district's roughly 22,000 students are riding the bus this year, transportation director Linda Smith said. Late buses are a normal part of the first week, and the new schedule added some problems, Smith said.
"It was a little crazy," she said. "Some parents waited until this morning to find out what their stops were. Some people were surprised about the change in times."
Several buses arrived late at Floyd K-8 in Spring Hill on Monday afternoon. Principal Ray Pinder was still supervising loading buses at 5:30 p.m. — 80 minutes after the school's dismissal time.
Few parents showed up to two public meetings called this spring to get comments on the schedule before the vote, but plenty are grumbling about it.
Westside Elementary in Spring Hill now starts at 7:45 a.m., 55 minutes earlier than last year. Mel Pennell was so concerned about making sure his first-grader roused in time for a 7:15 bus pickup that the family started practicing the new schedule nearly two weeks ago.
"He is so sleepy when he wakes up that early," Pennell said. "I sincerely hope it doesn't affect his school performance."
Latosha Dennis and her three children didn't quite make it for the 7:45 a.m. bell at Spring Hill Elementary — an hour earlier than last year. An an assistant manager for a sub shop, Dennis said the change doesn't interfere with her work but will take some adjustment. Her daughter Zerriyah, a fourth-grader, agreed.
"I don't like it," Zerriyah said. "We're waking up so early. A whole hour is a lot."
At West Hernando Middle, parents were most worried about the lag time between the start of their workday and the first school bell, said West Hernando principal Rick Markford.
"They wondered, 'What am I going to do with my child in the morning?' " Markford said.
Markford found an answer, working with the Boys and Girls Club to set up a child care program. Parents can drop off students as early as 7 a.m. So far, about 25 students have signed up, and Markford expects that number to grow.
Later start times and the ability to sleep in does not universally translate to happier students. Christian Samuel stood among a gaggle of denim-clad buddies before class on Monday and all the boys shook their heads when asked if they like the new time.
"I'd rather get out early," said Samuel, an eighth-grader. "I got things to do."
Several parents at West Hernando Middle and Spring Hill Elementary on Monday morning said the changes don't bother them. Others said they like the new schedule better.
Zorayda Puello can now drop off her first-grader at Spring Hill and make it to her managerial job in Clearwater by 9.
"It teaches the children responsibility," she said. "And when they start late, it's a longer day. Now they have more time for homework."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.