Traditionally, a dirty little secret in public school systems that has been no secret at all is that transportation can face uphill battles when attempting to communicate with the larger district administration. At the very least, miscommunication or plain old lack of communication has resulted in crossed signals or worse. This is an age-old concern for all organizations, but it is especially problematic when the customers are children and their families.
Too often I hear student transporters refer to themselves and their departments as the “red-headed stepchild” in their district families. First of all, that’s not fair to our beautiful redhead friends. Transportation also is no “black” mark on the district. Transportation is anything but either. (Plus, we live in the year 2022. Words matter, is my point, and so do perspectives.)
Still, for the past two decades as I’ve learned and continue to learn about this industry, I have noted a shift toward enhanced communication and collaboration between transportation and the rest of the district. Certainly, an example would be the TSD Conference founded by Roseanne Schwaderer 30 years ago to serve that very purpose, in that case to bridge the gap between transportation and special needs programs. But I’ve also seen great strides made between transportation and other departments, whether those be IT or, as we saw during the pandemic lockdowns, food service. Could more be done to improve relationships. No doubt. But while transportation can be kept too far from the school leadership table and too often, more and more they are at least being extended an invitation. Better yet, transportation and its leaders are inserting themselves in the conversations when appropriate. At the forefront of this improvement are superintendents, the best of the best of which we profile this month.
These school district leaders see the entire picture of student education and realize the vital role transportation plays in ensuring children arrive to school safely and prepared to learn. Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world and among imperfect people, especially the ones staring back at us in the mirror. There remain instances, for example, of individual school principals “not getting it” when it comes to school busing or failing (or simply refusing) to back up school bus drivers who are attempting to discipline their student riders. Additionally, as we heard from some readers last year, transportation has been locked out from obtaining its share of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds because the needs of teachers and classrooms continue to take precedence.
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The simple fact is that while school bus drivers don’t spend as much time with their students as most teachers do, school bus drivers are the first and last district representatives to meet, greet and send on their way home our nation’s future.
It is encouraging to me to read the story of this year’s National Superintendent of the Year, Curtis Cain of Wentzville School District in Missouri, and that of his fellow finalists as they speak to the vital importance of student transportation services, encourage participation, and seek out its expertise and perspectives.
I also read and listened with great interest last month to the story of Wendy Moore, not only the superintendent of Genesee Joint School District No 282 in Idaho but also a substitute school bus driver. She is not only agreeing that transportation is a must for so many students and needs to be treated accordingly. She is literally putting her hands on the steering wheel to address the driver shortage. That is nothing short of super.
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the April 2022 issue of School Transportation News.
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