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First day of school in Boston marked with enthusiasm, improved bus performance

Students are greeted by staff, politicians, and community members as they arrived at the Holmes Innovation School in Dorchester on Thursday for the first day of school.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

With bells tingling and upbeat R&B music bumping, a festive atmosphere enveloped Mildred Avenue K-8 School in Mattapan Thursday morning as students streamed in on a red carpet for the first day of classes. Along the way, they were greeted by cheering adults, including Mayor Michelle Wu, Superintendent Mary Skipper, and someone dressed as a bunny.

Approaching the hubbub, Lanaiyah Wilder-Williams, an eighth grader who was excited for school but wished she’d gotten more sleep, smiled as teachers hugged her and welcomed her back.

“It’s the first day of school,” she said. “I’m tired, but I’m feeling alright.”

Boston Public Schools students in grades 1-12 returned to school, amid a heat emergency marked by thick humidity and temperatures that soared into the 90s. The sultry weather is expected to persist Friday, but more comfortable temperatures are forecasted for Monday when preschoolers and kindergartners start classes.


But in many ways the weather was a side note to an otherwise joyful day. It’s a big year for Boston Public Schools and for Skipper, who is entering her second year leading the district and is enacting a number of changes that include beefing up reading instruction, expanding college-preparation offerings for high schoolers, and completing a long-term plan for new school buildings.

“This is going to be an incredible year,” Skipper said. “We’re starting so strong from last year.”

Skipper is also under pressure from state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley to overhaul the district under a 15-month-old improvement plan that calls for dramatic changes in such areas as special education, instruction for multilingual learners, facilities, and transportation.

In two positive developments, BPS saw a notable increase in the timeliness of its buses, with 61 percent arriving to school in the morning on time, compared to 50 percent last year, which coincided with the Orange Line shutdown, according to preliminary school district data. All scheduled trips in the morning also had drivers, a significant improvement compared to day one last year when 3 percent of scheduled trips did not have a bus driver.


But the district still needs to make significant improvements to get 95 percent of buses to arrive on time each month, required under the state plan, which BPS failed to meet last year.

A Conley Elementary School second-grader waited for her bus at the intersection of Washington St. & Archdale Rd. in Boston. When the bus was over 20 minutes late, her mother took her on an MBTA bus.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Several families expressed relief about timely buses.

“Her bus was right on the money,” said Anna Ovalles after her daughter Gigi, 11, boarded a bus near the intersection of Geneva Avenue and Bowdoin Street that was destined for the Edison K-8 School in Brighton. “It’s the first day, so you just never know whether it’s going to be late, 5 or 10 or 20 minutes.”

Along Washington Street in Roslindale, a punctual bus bound for the Rafael Hernandez School in Roxbury picked up Natalia Maria’s children, Jose, a fifth grader, and Esther, a third-grader, who were warmly welcomed by other students with shout outs of their names.

Kelvin (7), left, and Kaylanie (6), right, wait as their mom, Balexa Tejeda, orders an Uber before their first day of school at Davis Ellis Elementary. Balexa, walked her kids to the bus stop, but couldn’t find the correct location.Tanner Pearson for The Boston Globe

Other families, however, contended with late buses.

Cheryl Buckman waited with her son for nearly 40 minutes for a bus that never came. Her son Landen, who is starting fifth grade at the Paul A. Dever Elementary School, experienced late and no-show buses in previous years, but were hoping this year would be different. They arrived at their bus stop on Thursday morning at 6:50 a.m., and by 7:30 a.m. Buckman said the bus tracker showed it had skipped their stop and was headed to the school.


“The poor kid was bummed because he wanted to be on time,” Buckman said. She said she waited on the phone for 45 minutes to speak to someone from the school’s transportation department, but ended up having a neighbor give her and Landen a ride to school. He arrived an hour late.

“Landen is a special needs student, he can’t miss any curriculum activity on his IEP, because then he loses out.”

In Dorchester, Balexa Tejeda called an Uber after growing impatient waiting for a bus that was supposed to take her children Kelvin, 7, a second grader, and Kaylanie, 6, a first grader, to the David Ellis Elementary School in Roxbury.

It was the family’s first introduction to BPS after moving here from New Bedford.

“This is not my happy face,” Kelvin said frowning before his mother shelled out the money for their own ride.

Throughout the day, many BPS students settled into classrooms with newly-installed air conditioners. The district has installed hundreds of new air conditioners in recent years, thanks to federal pandemic relief funds, and now nearly all of the district’s schools have central air or air conditioners, according to BPS.

In the approximately dozen schools without thermal cooling systems, school leaders made sure there were enough fans.

Boston Teachers Union president Jessica Tang said the improvements in air conditioning were “long overdue.”

“It makes such a difference,” she said. “The heat is no longer a distraction and they’re able to actually focus on their learning.”


The district took other precautions as well. Skipper allowed principals to decide whether to hold recess outside for the rest of the week and the athletics department postponed all outdoor games and canceled all indoor and outdoor practices for Thursday, while decisions are pending about Friday’s athletic activities, according to a letter Skipper sent to families Thursday.

On a tour of the district, Skipper stopped by a darkened classroom at the Frederick Pilot Middle School, where students who were learning English and had limited schooling in their native countries were filling out questionnaires about themselves. An eighth grader from Liberia wrote that he had five siblings and his favorite musician was The Weeknd, but he was puzzled over how to spell his favorite food: chicken.

“I got you,” said his teacher, Nyree Smith. “That’s one of my favorite foods too.”

In another classroom, Shawn Ralph led his students in a series of ice-breakers. Which did they prefer: pandas or koalas? Dogs or cats? Mashed potatoes or french fries? As pictures flashed on the wall, the students — immigrants still learning the English language — shuffled across the room to show their opinions. Skipper played along, standing alone in support of mashed potatoes.

In an interview, Skipper said the first day of school is her favorite time of the year.

“It’s just filled with hope and optimism – it’s a fresh restart,” she said. “We all need that in life.”


Staff writers Christopher Huffaker and Niki Griswold, and correspondent Vivi Smilgius contributed to this report.

Director of Upper School Sherdene Morrison greeted students as they arrived at Mildred Ave K-8 School in Dorchester for the start of school on Thursday.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

James Vaznis can be reached at Follow him @globevaznis. Naomi Martin can be reached at