Ahead of the awarding of Superintendent of the Year at the National Conference on Education this week in San Antonio, Texas, School Transportation News sat down with those in charge of transportation operations at the respective districts that represented to gain a better understanding of how the services function.
Northfield Public Schools, ISD 659 — Northfield, Minnesota.
Since 1989, Benjamin Bus, Inc., has been responsible for supplying all transportation services for Northfield Public Schools located south of Minneapolis. The district currently employs 75 staff members, most of whom hold a CDL. The district encompasses about 182 square miles and runs 23 regular home-to-school routes as well as 20 special education routes for just over 3,200 students.
“Benjamin Bus is blessed to have many outstanding drivers dedicated to supporting our district’s transportation needs,” said company President John Benjamin. “Before and during COVID-19 we experienced painful driver shortages. While there will always be a need for more drivers, as of recently we have been able to attract a number of new employees, making the ongoing shortage more manageable.”
The Superintendent of the Year Award is sponsored by AASA, The School Superintendents Association along with CoreBridge Financial and First Student to celebrates contributions and leadership of public school superintendent. This year’s four finalists were selected from 50 state superintendent award winners and are judged based on their exhibited leadership for learning, communication, professionalism and community involvement. A $10,000 college scholarship will be presented in the name of the 2023 National Superintendent of the Year to a student at a high school the winning superintendent graduated from or from the school district the winner now leads. This year’s award will be announced on Feb. 16 in San Antonio, Texas.
He added that having a strong working relationship with the district administration allows for transportation to run as smoothly as possible. “It allows for higher levels of safety on our buses by ensuring that discipline matters are dealt with in an accurate and timely manner and bus safety concerns are addressed throughout the student’s day, if necessary,” Benjamin added.
Benjamin Bus is currently in the process of installing and implementing stop-arm cameras on all school buses to reduce the number of stop-arm violations and to hold violators accountable. The company is also exploring the potential of alternative energy buses.
John Benjamin added that district Superintendent Matt Hillman understands the district’s needs, especially during inclement weather. He said that Hillmann and a few select officials regularly assess pre-dawn road conditions during the winter season.
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“Having a mainly rural district can make transporting students a challenge at times and Dr. Hillmann has a very thorough understanding of that,” he added. “Also, at the start of every school year, Dr. Hillman and a number of the administrative staff make a point to join us at our back-to-school meeting. They all have very kind words to share and are more than willing to answer any questions our drivers may have. We feel very blessed to have an extremely supportive partnership with Superintendent Dr. Hillmann.”
Hillmann added that the district is privileged to have a “world class transportation partner in Benjamin Bus. Their service quality is exceptional and safety record unparalleled,” he said.
“It is meaningful to be recognized for doing work that I genuinely love in a place where I genuinely love doing it,” Hillmann added, regarding being named a finalist for the Superintendent of the Year award. “Recognition of any staff member brings positive energy to the school district and community. So many people are proud of the validation of our district’s work and community’s support.”
Hillmann noted that Northfield is fortunate to have many skilled professionals. For instance, in the past decade they have had two state teachers of the year finalists, an elementary principal honored as the state’s National Distinguished Principal, a special education director awarded the state’s top honor from her professional organization, a finance director identified as the “rising star” by state finance administrators, and then Hillmann’s executive assistant was awarded the Minnesota superintendents’ office personnel association’s top award.
“That’s a lot of positive recognition,” he said.