Administrators at Beavercreek City Schools in Ohio admitted they are getting the itch to get back in the driver’s seats of yellow school buses after not being called to sub drive for almost a month.
District Superintendent Paul Otten and Director of Business Services Greg Thompson went through the process to obtain their commercial driver’s licenses about five years ago. Otten has been a superintendent for 12 years, the last seven at Beavercreek.
Otten explained that the desire to obtain their CDLs came as the district was struggling to find substitute drivers. He noted that despite being just about fully staffed, many drivers would call out due to doctor appointments and other obligations. Therefore, Thompson, Otten and Jason Enix, the assistant superintendent of the district at the time, went through the driver training together. Enix now serves as Superintendent at nearby Huber Heights City Schools and continues driving there when needed.
Then, three years ago Jeff Madden, director of student services joined Beavercreek City Schools to oversee transportation operations. Madden noted that he too saw the importance of having his CDL.
Madden noted that when he came to the district, it was refreshing to see administrators excited about driving a school bus. He said Otten expressed to him that not only does the district need him to drive, but that he will enjoy it. “[They were] really excited about being with the kids and spending some time with kids in that role as a bus driver, even though they’re leaders of the district,” Madden said. “It was kind of a neat opportunity for me to pursue.”
Importance of School Bus Driving
At the beginning of this school year, Otten, Thompson and Madden, noted that they were driving almost every day helping to fill the vacant routes. The district operates a total of 86 daily routes.
However, the district recently partnered with a third-party contractor for sub routes, and the administrators shared they are starting to miss being behind the wheel. They added they will keep their CDLs current and drive when needed.
“It was pretty eye opening to be honest with you,” Otten said of the training process and driving a school bus in general.
He added that he usually, with help of the administration, makes the decision on whether school is delayed or canceled during winter months. He said being a school bus driver and driving in various weather conditions gave him a whole new perspective to student safety. Otten noted that the district also modified its bell times, not necessarily as a direct result of him driving buses, but to better increase safety so that younger kids didn’t have to wait at the stop when it’s dark.
“It put into perspective how important that job is, and the responsibilities that every bus driver has,” Otten said. “I don’t think most people really realize how important that job is to keep the safety of our kids at the highest level.”
Thompson agreed, adding that becoming a driver gave him a greater understanding and respect for the job. “Our drivers are highly trained professionals that take their job seriously,” he said. “And if they don’t, then it’s a concern for safety. I’m impressed with our drivers in terms of how much work they must put in day in and day out to ensure the safety of our kids. In terms of responsibility, it has been eye opening, on just how much responsibility our drivers have daily.”
He added that the job is extremely rewarding. “Not only is it fun … because you get to be around the kids, but it is extremely rewarding to be a part of their day and be the first or the last person that they see,” Thompson said.
The administrators noted that another main reason for obtaining their CDLs was to allow transportation office personnel to concentrate on their daily responsibilities. Otten explained that several people would jump on buses from the transportation department, sometimes leaving one individual in the office to coordinate and schedule the day.
Otten noted that since stepping into the role of a substitute driver, the other district drivers have shown their appreciation. “I’m not saying we didn’t admire what they did before, but once you’ve lived it and you drive the bus and you experience the road being closed, you’ve experienced what it’s like to drive in the dark or when it’s snowing and you can’t read street signs and you’re missing signs,” he explained. “All of a sudden you have a full understanding of what [bus drivers] do day in and day out. I think they really did appreciate it.”
Advice to Other Administrators
Madden said the job, as demanding as it is with the knowledge and responsibility needed to obtain one’s CDL, is “totally worth it.”
He continued, “To know that you have been trained and you can do it safely and you can get students either to school or back home, it’s extremely rewarding. And you get to spend time with kids on a very basic level which is wonderful. A lot of times when I’m in the office — there’s no barrier — but I’m distant from the kids. And this definitely puts me in the front row. It helps me appreciate everything that we do as a school system.”
Otten agreed, noting that he can find 100 reasons to sit in his office and work, as there is plenty of work to do. However, school bus driving, he said, has forced him out of his office, allowing him to interact with school buses and students on a different level.
“It has allowed us the opportunity to watch kids get on drop kids off, talk to kids, and get to know our kids on a personal basis than what we typically would do,” Otten explained.
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Thompson added that it also changes the perspective that school leaders come from the classroom. “We don’t always have the perspective of what it is to be a school bus driver,” he added. “I think this is an opportunity for school leaders to step outside of their comfort zone, would be my guess, and really gain a true perspective of an environment that is a critical environment and an important environment to the school system.”
Otten concluded by sharing a couple of eye-opening stories. He recalled at the start of the school year, when he was driving a daily route, he had gotten to know the students and their families. He said one day before Christmas break, he saw one of the parents of a student he drives and asked about the child. It was then, that the parent realized he was their bus driver as well as superintendent. He noted that driving a bus has helped him build those connections.
“The other thing I think that it’s done, I think all of us would agree, is the group of individuals that are our bus drivers …I was very impressed with the amount of work that those individuals do [for] the families that they drive,” he said. “Meaning they will hear a story about a family that something happened to their house or something’s going on and our drivers will do fundraisers, they will do stuff for our kids that no one ever really gets to see.”
He said he’ll walk into the transportation facility and see a basket, for example, where drivers can buy raffle tickets in which the proceeds go to a certain family. He said being in the administration building, this is something no one else sees.