First day of school for Pinellas County's new superintendent of schools

Before the sun was up on the first day of class in Pinellas County, new school superintendent Kevin Hendrick had already arrived to greet bus drivers before they rolled out to pick up students.

The back-to-school kickoff comes as a dozen schools adjust their bell schedules for the new year due to a bus driver shortage

The changes were announced in late April. At the time, there were 339 drivers charged with covering 373 routes, leading to students regularly arriving late for class and parents never knowing when the bus would show up. 

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The district has now cut the number of bus routes by 40, down to 333 for the current academic year. 

School officials say they still need 30 relief drivers to take the wheel when somebody is out sick. 

They're still hiring as many as 80 bus assistants. 

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What's more, the district is overhauling its bus bulletin notification system for parents. 

The new one is called Travel Tracker, expected for rollout in the coming weeks. It's an app that connects to the GPS system on school buses and automatically notifies families when a bus is running late or if there is a change.

According to the district, some of superintendent Hendrick's top priorities heading into this year include building communication and collaboration within the district, improving academic achievement and student experiences, nurturing strong community partnerships and improving the district's culture and climate.

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He says parents can expect more field trips, more hands-on learning, more experiments, and more of the things that often took a backseat during remote learning. 

District transportation officials urged parents to be patient, saying the first-week transportation hiccups should be ironed out within a few days.