Don’t you love it when people say, “You must really enjoy your summers?” I would always smile and answer, “I sure do. It’s the only time of the year I get to work eight hours per day!”
One of my favorite human resources director used to respond even more pointedly. “Yes, because in the summers there are these magic fairies that come out the day before school starts and make sure all of the new teachers, custodians, and bus drivers are hired, books are all bought, schools are all clean, and equipment is in place.”
And this year, summer has happened way too early.
The COVID-19 pandemic has closed many schools for in-person learning, as early as nine weeks too early. And many transportation systems have jumped in, delivering meals and providing mobile Wi-Fi hotspots to help students with online lessons.
Summer may mean fun for some people in school operations, but not for the transportation department. Transportation is still responsible for a host of activities:
- Recruitment and hiring of drivers and bus aides
- Heavy maintenance of buses
- Planning, scheduling and publishing of routes
- Planning of staff in-service training
- Updating special needs routes and assignments
- Checking with other districts and off-site campuses on start times, ending times, special schedules, etc.
And this year may present an even bigger challenge, as transportation operations prepare for a post-COVID school year. Yep, summertime is all fun and games!
My experience working with school districts has been that planning usually means next week or next month, at the latest. When talking to a principal or a special education coordinator about next year, you get the blank stare, the “I’ll think about next year after this year ends” look.
And having been married to an experienced school administrator at the building and district level, who happens to also buy into early planning, I can understand it. Here in the South, we have a saying: “When you are up to your waist in alligators, it’s hard to remember your objective was to drain the swamp!” And every principal and every district administrator in the spring can truly say they are surrounded by alligators, with the planning of prom, graduation, mandated testing, next year’s scheduling, spring sports, end of the year field trips, and preparing budgets.
So, this year may give you the best opportunity to talk to building and central office administrators about changes for next year, since very little of that traditional planning is taking place.
I can understand how a meeting on transportation for the coming year can be met with an eye-roll. But a simple, 30-minute meeting with each principal, special education coordinator, director of secondary education and elementary education now, can make a world of difference in August or September.
Here is my checklist of questions:
- What issues have you had this past school year with transportation?
- What things have we done right?
- What if we considered changing starting time, ending time, different lineup procedures, etc.?
- What changes do you anticipate for next year (such as significant increase/decrease in enrollment, additional campus to campus midday needs, a new parking lot configuration, etc.)
- Is there anything else we can do to make your campus work smoothly?
And finally, don’t forget to give your own staff this same courtesy. Your drivers, monitors, dispatchers, mechanics, schedulers, and route supervisors have all observed the operation this school year and can provide you valuable insight for your summer planning.
Maybe, with little work done now, you can actually your summer!
John Haynie is a 35-year veteran of the transportation industry. In 2015, he retired from the North Little Rock School District as director of transportation. He was a member of the Arkansas Association of Pupil Transportation, for which he served as host of the annual conference for four years. The association awarded him the President’s Star in 2014.