Despite contemplating retirement this school year, Amelia Walantyn said it’s her daily interaction with staff and students that keep her dedicated to pupil transportation.
“To be honest, this year has been crazy,” shared the director of transportation for South Haven Public Schools in Michigan. “There has been extra stress and anxiety, and I’m just going to say I thought about retirement a couple of times. What changed my mind? My dedication to my employees and my district families. I enjoy the interaction with the students and their parents. Sometimes the hours are long, but I have a wonderful group of colleagues that I can depend on 24 hours a day seven days a week. I am not going to let COVID-19 or any other thing defeat me.”
As a mother to three daughters, Walantyn was attracted to the job of driving a school bus for South Haven Public Schools in Michigan in 1994. Like many in the industry, she was looking for a job that didn’t require nights and weekend work, and a friend recommended being a school bus driver.
“And I thought, well I could do that,” she recalled. “I like kids. I’m used to driving big equipment as I grew up on a farm. I could do that. And then as [my kids] got a little older, I was able to drive to their sporting events and I mean it was just very convenient.”
South Haven hired her as a substitute driver, as employees must first prove their mettle before coming on full time. However, Walantyn shared that it only took her a few months to obtain full-time status in January 1995. She has driven a school bus ever since and continued working for the same school district throughout her 26-year career.
But five and a half years ago, the current transportation director for the district retired and Walantyn was offered the position. She confessed that she had to think about taking on the added responsibility.
“And it’s been a learning experience every single day,” she said.
This year, however, has been like no other.
In the midst of also looking for two new mechanics to replace recent retirees, she is working on implementing new COVID-19 cleaning protocols, meal delivery to students, and running reduced capacity routes.
Besides those challenges she has also faced a severe driver shortage that required her to drive morning and afternoon routes on a daily basis for two years straight. She shared she was working 15-hour days during this stretch, as she also had to address her daily director duties.
Meanwhile, throughout her career she participated in a local school bus roadeo, where she placed for seven years in a row. She also obtained her Transportation Director Certification in May 2017 from the Michigan School Business Officials organization and the Michigan Association of Pupil Transportation.
In addition, she is also a certified instructor for Proactive Response Options for School Bus Drivers and Train-the-trainer, an OSHA compliant safety training course.
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The technology landscape has also changed over the course of Walantyn’s career. She shared that South Haven Public Schools now utilizes a routing software, Versatrans from Tyler Technologies, which recently released a parent app for parents to better track their children whereabouts. Walantyn said now parents can use the app to see when their children got on the bus and what bus their children are on.
In addition to routing software, the district also implemented exterior cameras and GPS technology, which Walantyn shared is a benefit as the technology capabilities are becoming endless.
Going forward, Walantyn shared she wants to continue to educate herself, but not just in the transportation industry. She wants experience and knowledge in the business aspect as well.
“I want to help my employees feel like they have a sense of purpose and keep them motivated,” Walantyn said. “I would also like to increase recognition and reward my employees for their achievements and ideas.”
Walantyn is currently the treasurer for the Tri-County Transportation Supervisor Association and takes part in local committees such as the Van Buren Intermediate School District Phase IV Work Group for COVID-19.