Jackie Seaton, who has over a decade of experience in pupil transportation, took time out of his busy and constantly changing daily schedule to talk with School Transportation News about what a day in the bus garage entails.
Seaton started his career in pupil transportation in April 2007 as a substitute bus driver for Greeneville City Schools in Tennessee. The district, located 70 miles east of Knoxville, had a full-time route driver become available the next year, and Seaton said he applied and received the position.
Slowly the district started transiting to in-house maintenance and repairs and Seaton eventually took on that role. He’s been in the garage ever since, while also continuing to drive routes on a substitute basis.
“I have done a combination of the two responsibilities for a total of 13 years,” explained Seaton, a nominee for the Garage Stars feature in the August issue. Currently, he serves as the bus manager and a mechanic for Greeneville City Schools.
And throughout that time, he said he has seen several changes occur, especially in terms of technological advancements and the expectations it puts on a mechanic. Seaton said with the implementation of computer-controlled systems, a mechanics job is more complicated.
“To keep up in the industry you need to be a technician,” he observed. “We can still diagnose some problems with a test light and knowledge of how things work, but as operating systems are updated, we need a laptop with the software to properly diagnose the systems. Experience is still the best teacher so reaching out to folks that have been in the business for a while is always a plus.”
He said computer programs are now being used to track maintenance records, design bus routes, schedule field trips, and monitor student behavior. The list goes on, he noted.
In addition to serving two roles within the district, Seaton also makes time to attend mechanic classes and training sessions sponsored by the Tennessee Association of Pupil Transportation and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. He said he also attends driver training every year.
“Safety is the largest accomplishment I have seen in the school bus industry,” Seaton said, while discussing industry accomplishments as a whole. “From crossing gates, high-back and flame-retardant seating, the option of lap belts, collision mitigation, and electronic stability technology, the industry continues to concentrate on student and driver safety.”
Yet he noted that even with all these safety enhancements available and built into school buses, the school bus driver is still the best safety investment school districts can make. But adding aides to every route could make the school bus ride even safer, he said.
“One thing I think everyone would like to see is an assistant on every bus so the driver could do what they were hired to do, safely drive the bus,” Seaton said.
Despite all the accomplishments the industry and Seaton have witnessed over the years, he said that like automobiles, school buses change rapidly. He said that makes it challenging to stay up to date on all equipment, especially when the changes happen yearly.
“It is very important to keep up to date with the new equipment on our bus, how it works and new ways to diagnose and repair,” Seaton said. “Fortunately, all three major bus manufactures have service and warranty representatives that help when needed.”
Goals Going Forward
Seaton said he would like to see the hands-on training from bus manufacturers continue.
“Unfortunately, with the current pandemic, I am not sure when that will start up again and what changes will be necessary to keep the classes safe,” Seaton continued. “I would like to see the bus manufacturing industry have extended classes taught by a service technician. These are the folks that are in the garages working on the real problems that we face.”
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Although the industry is ever-changing and the current pandemic leaves unprecedented challenges, Seaton said he loves what he does due to the unpredictability of each day.
“I enjoy what I do because no two days are the same,” Seaton said. “One minute, I’m installing cameras on a bus, the next I am repairing an exit gate at the bus lot, working on school zone lights, working with a local metal fabricator to design and build hand sanitizer stands, or welding. Yes, all of those happened today. Never a dull moment at the bus garage.”
He said it’s the continued support from his school system and supervisors that allow him to persevere each day. Besides working in the bus garage, Seaton said he loves when students recognize him for recently substitute driving for one of the district’s routes.
“It gives me a sense of satisfaction when some of the kids say, ‘I know you, you’re my old bus driver,’ Seaton concluded.