Editor’s note — Since School Transportation News celebrates its 30th year in print in September, and the pearl is the traditional gift given for such anniversaries, throughout the year we will share stories and pearls of wisdom from student transportation professionals across North America.
“I am a firm believer in trying to learn something from everyone that crosses your path,” advised Jenny Robinson, the transportation general manager at Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) in Pennsylvania. “They have something to teach you for good or for bad, but you have to listen without speaking. You have to listen intently to what they say and what they don’t say. But I think that everyone brings some kind of nugget of knowledge or experience that we can take, use and apply to either our personal or professional lives.”
Robinson, who is contracted with the district through TransPar Group, explained that many of her peers and co-workers found themselves in the industry by accident. She added that despite no graduate degrees in student transportation, the people in the business every day are continuously touched by the work of the industry.
She, too, suddenly found herself working with school buses and didn’t realize how much she would truly enjoy it. “What a rewarding experience it is,” Robinson said.
She noted that pupil transportation has taught her patience, something she admitted to not having for most of her life. Another lesson learned has been embracing delayed gratification, or more aptly gratification regardless of when it comes.
“Sometimes it’s even better if you have to work for it and wait for it,” Robinson said “Definitely learning to take a step back and not be in such a hurry, especially when it comes to significant change. Change is not easy. It’s often not welcome, and not wanted, but in the end, it’s usually a good thing. So, practicing patience, that’s been a hard thing for me.”
She added that her father, Rick Casebolt, is one of her greatest mentors in life and he told her that it’s never too late to take on a new task. “One of the biggest lessons that my dad taught me is that education is never wasted and take in everything that you learn. And whatever you decide to do, be the best.”
Robinson Throughout her Career
Robinson added another influential person in her life was her previous supervisor Paul Larson, who recruited her into pupil transportation in 2015.
Born and raised in the small town of Decatur, Indiana, Robinson obtained her undergraduate degree in secondary education from nearby Ball State University. However, she quickly discovered that was not the correct career path for her.
“I thought going through my undergrad that I wanted to teach high school and coach softball and I did that, and I wasn’t very good at either one of those things,” Robinson recalled. “I was still in the mentality of being a learner and a player, rather than a teacher and a coach. It took me many years to make that transition to be able to teach somebody — either a concept or how to do something like a proper swing or pitching. In my early 20s I didn’t know how to do that.”
Following her short career in teaching, she remained in the student education world working at a Sylvan Learning tutoring center and with Junior Achievement.
When she was growing up, her parents owned a heavy-duty repair shop, which she said was her first and only job through high school and college. Plus, she said, she was an only child, and she learned everything a father might normally teach a son. She found her way back in the automotive industry in operations and management when she and her family moved in 2001 to Tucson, Arizona to be close to her grandparents.
“I got to a point in my life where I was looking for something that offered more career growth potential,” Robinson said. “And somehow, I had seen an advertisement for a position with the transportation department in a school district and I thought, what a great match.”
At this point, Robinson had completed her master’s degree in business from the University of Phoenix and was able to use both her undergraduate and graduate knowledge for the transportation department administrative position at Tucson Unified School District. At that time, the district was contracted with TransPar, and her supervisor Larson worked for the company.
“I thought that was a great position to be in as there were opportunities to work with districts all across the country,” Robinson said, speaking of her decision to work with TransPar Group. “It was an opportunity to perhaps be a part of something in Arizona, or travel somewhere, you know, 2,000 miles across the country to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.”
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Since 2019, Robinson has served under the board of education and the superintendent at Bethlehem Area School District. TransPar soon enters the final year of its three-year contract with the district.
“I am the only person that is contracted here, and it is not something that I focus on or make a big deal out of because I want people — both within the department and within the district — to see this as a seamless thing. That I’m not an outsider, I’m part of the team and part of the work-family,” Robinson said, adding that she is helping with the district’s routing and scheduling as well as management services. TransPar provides consulting services to student transportation operations around the world.
She noted that in her three years at BASD, her greatest accomplishment and biggest challenge has been technology use. During the pandemic, she helped the drivers become more equipped and adept at using the technological tools available to them. However, a lot of the technology that the transportation department wants, is financially out of reach.
Another challenge on the operational side that Robinson shared is that the students that are not eligible for transportation services are often the students who need it the most. Which is something she didn’t see too much in Arizona, as inclement weather wasn’t as big of a barrier. Now, students who live under that two-mile radius might be walking to school in a snowstorm.
The Driver Shortage
Like school districts across the state and nation, Bethlehem Area School District is looking for drivers. Jenny Robinson, the transportation general manager, said that while the operation currently has the ideal number of drivers for all 95 routes, it doesn’t leave any room for people to call in sick. She said she hopes to recruit another 15 to 20 drivers, to feel comfortable with the number of drivers on staff. A couple of weeks ago BASD launched its first paid-training program for potential applicants to obtain their commercial driver’s license. Robinson noted she hopes to track best practices and lessons learned from the first class, so that the district can hold monthly recruiting classes.
Going forward, Robinson said she hopes to better improve her work-life balance. She recalled that during the pandemic while working from home, it was hard to shut off. She found herself always working and checking or sending emails, as the work was right in front of her. Now, she’s trying to be more cognitive of it.
Professionally, Robinson hopes to never stop learning. “I know what I’m capable of, but I don’t know what I’ll become,” Robinson said. “I want to continue to learn something new, I want to continue being surprised by things, I want to continue to gather as much information as I can because … it’s all relevant, somehow, some way. I don’t have a goal for this particular school year, or a five-year goal and I never make New Year’s resolutions. I just like to continue to develop.”
One area of growth this past year she said has been investing in staff members and helping them grow as people and grow in their careers. She noted that servant leadership is important to her.
“Little things can have a big impact, positive or negative — hopefully positive — focusing on the details by keeping the big picture in mind, the people,” she advised. When asked what keeps in the industry, Robinson said student transportation has been one of the best careers she didn’t know existed.