Administrators of Tahlequah’s middle school and high school are working with other district leaders to keep safety the top priority as students and staff begin a new year chock full of changes.
Tahlequah Public Schools students return to class on Wednesday, Aug. 15. Students at the high school will hear their first bell ring at 7:55 a.m., and will need to be in their classes by 8 a.m. for the start of the school day. The bell to end the traditional day will be at 3 p.m.
At the middle school, students will hear their first morning bell at 8:05, and should be seated in class by 8:10 to begin, while their regular classes will dismiss at 3:10 p.m.
Student at the high school are beginning regular classes about an hour earlier than in recent years, a move approved earlier this year to help the district consolidate its bus routes. The decisin, also provides more high school students the ability to participate in extracurricular activities or take classes at Indian Capital Technology Center. But the district’s leaders knew they needed to stagger start-stop times between the middle school and high school for student safety.
“We’re going to let the high school go first at the end of the day, so the drivers can be gone by the time we release middle-school students who walk,” said Tahlequah Middle School Principal DeAnn Mashburn.
Tahlequah High School Principal Jeff Thorne said the majority of high school students who drive their own vehicles leave school as soon as the bell rings, and clear out of the parking lot within 10 minutes. By keeping TMS students in class 10 minutes beyond THS students, administrators believe middle school students who walk will be safer on their after-school routes.
“It’s going to be kind of a trial at first, but our goal is safety first for all students, at the high school and the middle school,” said Mashburn.
Under the district’s new transportation plan, students of all grade levels will be riding together on TPS bus routes
Administrators say this method was used for many years, and makes sense for a district that has adopted new zoning guidelines and also needs to save money. They believe most issues between younger and older bus riders will be easily remedied.
“I don’t want parents to think that everyone just piles on the bus,” said Thorne. “I’ve heard a lot of people say they don’t want the high school kids riding the bus with the elementary kids. But when the bus goes past your house this year, you’ve got to get on it.”
Thorne said school administrators have worked together to create a response plan for any behavioral issues that might arise on school transportation. He said students and their parents will play a large role in ensuring students maintain their privilege of riding the bus.
“There is a process to make sure students behave properly on the bus. The first step of the process is that the bus driver writes a referral. He gives that referral to Transportation Director Gene Amlin,” said Thorne. “Gene calls the vice principal at whatever school the kid goes to, and the vice principal arranges a conference with the student and Gene and the vice principal.”
A written warning will be issued to the misbehaving child, unless the problem is a serious matter; violence, for instance, would result in more severe and immediate consequences.
“The second time that happens, same kid, same process, there are definite consequences and parent contact saying, ‘Your child is about to lose his bus-riding privileges. If this behavior doesn’t stop, we’re going to take him or her off the bus, so parent, you need to help us.’ And if we can’t make any changes, we’ll suspend them off the bus. Kids have to act right, or they won’t get to ride the bus. It’s that simple.”
Thorne believes bus drivers should consider assigning seats on their routes, and placing smaller kids in the front of the bus, though he realizes that’s a decision that will have to be made outside of his influence.
“But my opinion is, I think of it just like a classroom. If I’m the teacher, I’m going to put my kids where I want them, and I’ll make them sit where I want them,” said Thorne. “So it might be a good thing for bus drivers to put students where they want them. We have to give our students our expectations. Kids don’t do things unless you tell them what you expect and enforce it.”
Back to school at TMS
Middle school students can attend open house Aug. 13, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Fifth-graders will go to the fifth-grade building, on the north side of the campus, to get schedules, meet teachers, and see how their day will flow. Students in grades 6-8 will go to the cafeteria that night to get schedules and find out who their teachers are. Students who qualify for Johnson-O’Malley supplies can get those in the school’s library that night, Mashburn said.
Breakfast will be served to TMS students beginning at 7:30 a.m. daily in the cafeteria. Fifth- and sixth-graders who arrive before 7:30 a.m. must meet in the school’s gymnasium on the north side of campus, where areas will be designated for each of those two grade levels. Students in grades 7 and 8 who arrive before 7:30 a.m. will meet in the TMS cafeteria, on the southern end of the school facility.
“The bell rings at 8:05 for you to be released to go to class, and the tardy bell is at 8:10. You need to be in class and ready to go at 8:10,” said Mashburn.
Students who need to leave the campus for any reason must be checked out in-person by someone who is listed in the school’s database. Mashburn said parents have control over who appears on that list, and no one else, regardless of relationship to that child, will be allowed to take the student from the TMS campus.
“You have to be on the check-out list – you have to be in the computer to check that child out, even if you are a sibling of that child. Parents must make sure they are putting down exactly who they want. It’s all parent-controlled, but they’ve got to tell us,” said Mashburn.
Parents who drop off students, or pick them up during or after school, must do so by accessing TMS from Pendleton Street north of the school.
“Drop-off and pick-up is all on the north side of the school for parents,” said Mashburn. “You have to come into the front.”
Mashburn’s office is in the main building, on the northern edge of the campus near the school’s gym. Fifth-graders have an attendance office in the fifth-grade wing, also on the north end, while an attendance office for the upper grades is located in the southern building. Vice principals’ and counselors’ offices are in the southern building, which also houses the site’s library and cafeteria.
Students who eat breakfast will be pay ing $1 per meal, and student lunches are $2.25.
“If parents need any kind of assistance, we have social workers on site to offer anything from counseling to supplies,” said Mashburn. “We also have a clothing closet that we share.”
Mashburn said it’s also important for TMS students to call (918) 458-4140 if they are missing school. Without notifying the school of the reason for being absent, the student is considered truant for safety concerns. That information will be turned over to the school resource officer for followup, Mashburn said.
“Truancy is a big safety issue,” she said.
Back to school at THS
High school students can attend open-house events on the THS campus Aug. 13, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. To attain schedules, seniors can visit THS on Monday, Aug. 6; juniors on Tuesday, Aug. 7; and sophomores on Thursday, Aug. 9, with students able to attain their schedules on those dates from 9-11:30 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m. Freshmen students will have an orientation Wednesday, Aug. 8, from 9-11:30 a.m. in the Performing Arts Center.
“They’re going to meet the administration, they’re going to get their schedules, they’re going to get their locker, they’re going to be taken by leadership students for tours around the campus with their schedule,” said Thorne. “They actually will walk around and go classroom to classroom before school starts so they won’t feel so lost. They’ll also make their student IDs that day. This way, maybe the first day of school won’t be as daunting.”
Parent attendance to freshmen orientation is optional, and those who do attend will remain in the PAC when students are taken on a tour of the campus.Thorne said he’ll stay with parents to answer any questions they might have about THS.
“I’ll have about one leadership kid for every six freshmen, so it’s real personal,” said Thorne.
During the school year, THS students arrive at various times in the morning, and Thorne said they should remain either on the school patio or inside the cafeteria until classes begin at 8 a.m.
The school’s main entrance is on the north side of the campus, between the tennis courts and PAC.
Thorne said parents will always need to use that entrance.
“We’ve locked all the doors to come into the school except the cafeteria and our front door on Pendleton,” said Thorne. “I’ve moved the secretaries all to the administration building – the main building – entering on Pendleton. So all parents come in at one place, and they can do whatever they need all in one place.”
As with other TPS sites, THS students can only be checked out in-person and by someone listed in the school’s database. Students who are emancipated must have a notation of that designation in their computer information provided by parents. Some students may have the ability to travel to and from campus for various reasons, such as concurrent enrollment at Northeastern State University, or classes at ICTC.
Students who travel to school with their own vehicle must have a parking decal, which costs $20 for the year, and it must be displayed on the front of the vehicle so it is visible at the THS guard shack. Student breakfasts cost $1 each, while lunches are $2.25 per meal.
THS will also soon begin using its new cafeteria, but Thorne said the facility may not be used until students are into their second month of school.
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