HomeOperationsSuperintendent Snapshot: New Hampshire District Shares Importance of Collaborating with Transportation Contractor

Superintendent Snapshot: New Hampshire District Shares Importance of Collaborating with Transportation Contractor

Ahead of the Superintendent of the Year being named at the National Conference on Education in San Diego, California, School Transportation News sat down with those in charge of transportation operations at the respective districts to gain a better understanding of how the services function.

The final district profiled is Contoocook Valley School District in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where Dr. Kimberly Rizzo Saunders is the superintendent and one of the four finalists for the award being presented on Feb. 15.

Transportation at Contoocook Valley School District (ConVal) is contracted to Student Transportation of America, a partnership that’s been in place since 2006. Amy Wing, the terminal manager for STA, started at the district 23 years ago, when Laidlaw had the contract. She worked at ConVal with Laidlaw until 2006, then returned to ConVal as an employee of STA in 2012.

Dr. Kimberly Rizzo Saunders, the superintendent for Contoocook Valley School District in New Hampshire. 

Currently, ConVal’s transportation operations consist of 34 employees but is 22 drivers short. The district is running 23 routes and transporting on average 1,400 students a day. The state of New Hampshire recently updated its law so public schools may have to transport students to either private or charter schools. That’s been an additional challenge.

Wing said to offset the driver shortage, the district and STA are consolidating routes and subcontracting out some special education transportation because of staff shortages.

“We’re surviving and trying to survive a driver shortage and trying to get as many people in as we can to go through all of the state regulations and federal regulations,” Wing said, adding that those requirements have changed drastically over the past couple of years.

A priority at ConVal during COVID-19 was to continue paying STA, so that the contractor wouldn’t have to lay off its driving force. The drivers delivered food, assignments and books during the school closure. “Sometimes that bus driver was the only person they saw outside their family for days and days and days,” Saunders said, emphasizing the importance of the role played by transportation. “Because at the end of the day, when you have a positive relationship with your bus company and with the local provider, you’re able to meet the needs of our students in multiple ways.”

Saunders, who has been the superintendent for the district since 2016 and before that was the assistant superintendent starting in 2009, added that another important aspect is drivers getting the same training as teachers, especially around behavior, bullying and suicide prevention. “We need to make sure that our driver population has have received that training and that they are understanding of the same pressures, and that they are meeting the needs of students.”

A Positive Relationship

Wing said she has a positive relationship with district administration and can openly speak with Saunders and Brian Cisneros, the district’s business administrator. “To be able to speak openly and honestly about transportation is very helpful to help resolve any problems that we may have or challenges that we’re facing each year,” Wing said. “Each year we have new people move in, new situations arise and that takes many hands to resolve those issues.”

Meanwhile, Saunders said that transportation impacts all the district’s initiatives because the district is a community in itself. She added that New Hampshire offers a universal pre-k program and is responsible for transporting even the youngest of children. She added that transportation also plays a role in equity and what school students attend.

The Superintendent of the Year Award is sponsored by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, along with Corebridge Financial and First Student to celebrate contributions and leadership of public school superintendents.

 

This year’s four finalists were selected from 50 state superintendent award winners and were 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 2024 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. 15 in San Diego, California during the National Conference on Education.

ConVal currently runs a two-tier system, but it’s looking at implementing a single unified system.

“The other piece is looking at consolidating our bus routes,” Saunders said. “We are looking to potentially create a single tier bus system so that we have one starting time, so that we can meet the needs of our adolescent students, as far as sleep and start time is concerned. And I think busing really is particularly valuable to our community because busing really drives our schedule. It becomes so essential to help students access their education and in a rural place that is an essential component of an adequate and high-quality education.”

Saunders noted that working closely with transportation operations is important, especially in the winter months. She noted that Wing is sometimes the first person she speaks with in the morning and the last at night.

“On top of that, every year we have complaints [to answer],” she said. “And in order to have that conversation in a productive way you have to have a great relationship.”

She said she’ll call Wing and ask her to walk her through the procedures and understand the why so she can explain it to the parents. “If you don’t have a good relationship or your relationship with your transportation provider is contentious, that can cause larger issues. I think one of the challenges that we face is Amy is local. Amy has been doing this for years and years, so we have a really good working relationship. I think sometimes Amy can end up in the middle of conversations that are for corporate and I think it is really important for the corporate bus companies to give their local liaisons the capacity to work in a deep and meaningful way with the local school districts. I feel like Amy has significant longevity and has been allowed to do that to a greater extent than I think some of my peers, as they have had different experiences.”


Related: Finalists for 2024 Superintendent of the Year Announced
Related: Superintendent Snapshot: Transportation ‘Critical’ to Success of Saint Paul, Minnesota Students
Related: Superintendent Snapshot: Transportation, Administration Demonstrate Strong Working Relationship at Georgia District
Related: Superintendent Snapshot: Texas Districts Says No Student, Department Left Behind
Related: New Hampshire Looks to Establish Electric School Bus Pilot Program


Cisneros added that things change so fast, and transportation needs to be able to solve problems on the fly, such as to help evacuate schools in an emergency. He noted that ConVal encompasses an area that is about one-fifth of the size of Rhode Island that also includes two mountain ranges. He said it can be sunny at the bottom of the mountain and a blizzard at the top, which presents more challenges.

“It’s amazing actually how she can make that work so the kids get home safely,” he said.

ConVal is also running a 100-percent propane fleet for all home-to-school large and small buses, which was an agreement the district worked out with STA. “We’re still paying way less than we would on diesel, probably a third,” Cisneros added. “That’s important too because it’s a variable that we control.”

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