Thursday, 11 January 2018 18:03

...It's 4 p.m. Do you know where your children are?

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Imagine this: You’re a parent who doesn’t know where your child is. They haven’t gotten off the school bus and you are straining to remember; did they stay after for an extracurricular? Did they miss the bus or just hop onto the wrong one? The Saratoga Springs City School District (SSCSD) has decided to eliminate those questions with a new system called Tyler Drive. Tyler Drive, a system created by Tyler Technologies, is a software that manages student location information. Through a tablet mounted near the school bus driver, this system provides the driver with step-by-step directions to each stop on their route, effectively managing student ridership and eliminating the middleman of handheld directions or anything that will not allow the bus drivers to pay full attention to the road and the riders on board.

“Every student in the school district is going to have an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) card. Basically, what’s going to be on there is just their picture and their name. It will have a bar code and there will be a number on it that basically will just associate with our system. When they get on a bus or off a bus, they just tap on or tap off,” explained Cheryl Dalton, transportation director of SSCSD for the last 12 years.

Once the student has tapped their RFID card, the software connects to the driver’s tablet and the bus stop information is pulled up.

“Basically, it’s almost like they’re being checked in, kind of like how you do attendance in a classroom. It’s the same thing when they’re getting off the bus. What’s really neat about it is it literally shows where the student got on the bus, what bus stop, and when they’re getting off in the afternoon and what stop they get off,” Dalton said.

The RFID cards will be attached to each students’ backpacks but if lost, the driver will be able to manually input the students’ information into their tablet.

“I was always intrigued [by Tyler Drive] and probably initially overwhelmed with the idea of it because technology is growing so much,” she said.

The district has all their bus routing through Tyler Technologies, plus GPS through the dispatchers that allows them to see where the busses are on the roads.

“Tyler Industries actually came to us and offered us this pilot. They basically have invested in the school district because obviously this is a product they have invested in and they want it to work. They’ve paid for all of the hardware, the tablets, and are supplying all of the training for our drivers and employees,” she said.

Employees from Tyler Industries start riding with the bus drivers and training them next week. Nothing is out of pocket for the SSCSD in year one.

“We had to make a three-year commitment on our end,” she said.

A transportation committee was created out of parents, principals, transportation employees, and some board members, which met over the summer with Tyler Industries.

“It was great, parents came out with a lot of questions, as did principals,” Dalton recounted.

The transportation committee presented the plan to the school board in September and it was approved to move forward. Regarding why Tyler Industries chose SSCSD, Dalton thinks this is because of “the diversity of our district and also the proximity."

Tyler Technologies is in Latham, New York so they can do a lot of things going back and forth. They also have employees who are residents of the school district, so that was important to them,” she said.

After Dalton sent out the initial email detailing this new program on Monday, Jan. 8, she did receive a few feedback responses.

“Some of the concerns are that we’re putting a chip into somebody and that we’re tracking somebody and that’s not that case at all. This is just an RFID card with a bar code scanner on it. If somebody picked it up off the street, it says ‘return to’ with the transportation departments address on it. There is nothing saying where the child lives or any identifying information, it doesn’t even have the school that they go to. None of that information is on there, we clearly stated that,” she explained.

Some parents questioned whether their child will have to participate in the program.

“We’re basically saying, ‘everybody is going to do this.’ This will be a requirement for the district. We think this is going to bring a lot of value to the parents and drivers,” Dalton said enthusiastically.

The parents will have plenty of resources when it comes to Tyler Drive. There is already an online information portal called E-Link, in which the parents can log on and see the bus schedules and coming in the fall is a program called MyStop where parents can have the app on their phone and check when the bus will arrive at the stop.

“They can also see that their child got on the bus; that’s a lot of peace of mind,” she relayed.

Dalton is open to someone from Tyler Industries coming in and giving a show and tell to the parents once the program has been successfully implemented.

The program is scheduled for implementation as follows: late January 2018, Maple Avenue Middle School and Dorothy Nolan Elementary School; late February through early March 2018, Caroline Street Elementary School, Geyser Road Elementary School, and Greenfield Elementary School; April 2018, Division Street Elementary School, Lake Avenue Elementary School, and Saratoga Springs High School.

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