Shocked, surprised and excited is what the transportation department at North Royalton City Schools in Ohio felt when one of its own was named the George Sontag, Jr. Award winner, or the school bus driver of the year, by the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation (OAPT).
Bruce Abbott, a school bus driver and an on-bus instructor, started at North Royalton City Schools, located 29 miles south of Cleveland, in 2003. Greg Hovan, the transportation supervisor for the district, said Abbott is very well deserving of the award.
“He does an excellent job, just being a leader among our drivers, whether it be in training, or just leading by example, the way he treats everyone,” Hovan explained. “He is a very personable person, great with the kids, excellent trainer. He just does a very good job. [A] very good role model for everybody here.”
Hovan said Superintendent Greg Gurka nominated Abbott.
Besides being an all-around great bus driver, Hovan said Abbot was specifically recognized for the leadership he provides to the district roadeo team. Abbott helps organize groups for the regional roadeo, and Hovan said Abbott qualifies to go to the state competition each year.
“He is the leader, the go-to person for roadeo, so we always have an excellent showing at our regional, and our drivers have been placing very very well,” Hovan explained. “We are creeping into the top tier and that is always nice to see.”
Abbott had qualified to go to state the past two years. This year, he is scheduled to compete at the 2020 School Bus Driver International Safety Competition in for July. It is the second time he has qualified for the international event.
“We are looking forward to it,” Hovan said. “I know Bruce [Abbott] is, in particular, but I am hoping to be able to go up there myself and cheer him on.”
Hovan said the students also look forward to being on Abbot’s bus, and they are sad if they don’t get to ride with him that day.
Besides being a leader, Abbott is constantly looking forward to training new school bus drivers. Hovan said he can make a school bus driver out of everyone who walks through the doors.
“What I always like with Bruce is when I hand him a new candidate, a new trainee for bus driving — and we like to get folks, honestly, that have no experience before, because Bruce will always say, he’ll make them a bus driver, and he does exactly that,” Hovan said. “He does an excellent job preparing our folks for what they need to do to be a new bus driver.”
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Abbott would have received the award at the OAPT conference this week. However, organizers postponed the event because of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. The conference is expected to be rescheduled sometime in June. The OAPT nomination form said the award is given in honor of OAPT Charter member Gorge Sontag, Jr. to the school bus driver of the year as judged by the OAPT Officers.
The award aims to recognize school bus drivers who exhibit outstanding leadership as well as professional conduct in the school transportation field in both their district and the state of Ohio.