At a Feb. 21 Conroe ISD board of trustees meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Chris McCord updated the board on the implementation of the SMART Tag bus monitoring system. The board approved the $850,000 expenditure in August, according to Director of Communications Sarah Blakelock. Rollout of the system began in January.
The SMART Tag system provides all students with ID cards to monitor the status of school buses as they drive their routes. According to SMART Tag, the system is designed to improve safety, security, visibility and communication for school bus transportation.
"It's a system that helps authorize ridership on buses for campuses and for leadership of transportation," McCord said in a presentation. "But what it really does is, for the first time in 130 years in CISD, it allows us to know with near real-time accuracy where the buses are. That will allow us to be able to answer questions for parents and for ourselves."
Students will receive a passive, non-tracking plastic card to wear with a lanyard. The card is not accessible without the CISD Smart Tag RFID tablet, which is fitted to each bus. McCord said the tablet is what is tracked, not the student's plastic badge.
The card is only identifiable by the unique 14-digit code, which cannot be read by any outside RFID scanners, according to McCord. No student information is saved directly on the ID card.
Another feature of the SMART Tag system will allow parents to choose to receive a text notification when a bus is preparing for pickup and drop-off.
"For parents, what we hear is that they are excited because it is going to limit the time that a student is exposed outside at the bus stop either in the heat, the rain, the cold or the dark," McCord said. "What we also constantly get from families, and I see this in my own neighborhood, is families are excited about the fact that it limits the time families are at the bus stop, too."
According to the board presentation, the tag system also gives an audiovisual cue to the bus driver to ensure the child swiping the card is getting off at the correct stop.
As of Feb. 23, three feeder zones are currently outfitted with the SMART Tag system, including Oak Ridge High School, Grand Oaks High School and The Woodlands High School. The Woodlands High School feeder zone also includes all of Powell, Galatas and Buckalew elementary campuses as well as Wilkerson Intermediate.
College Park, Caney Creek, Conroe and Washington high schools will begin implementation throughout February and March.
McCord said the process has been seamless despite supply issues
"It's a massive undertaking," he said. "It's really going to be the biggest thing done in transportation since computerized digital routing."
Conroe ISD expects the system to be fully operable across all feeder zones by the 2023-24 school year.