Dontarrious Rowls, the director of transportation and fleet services for Flagler County School District in Florida, was working on his bachelor’s degree in psychology a decade ago, when he started driving a school bus for Leon County Schools in Tallahassee, Florida.
He said the job worked with his schedule, as he would get up in the morning to drive, attend class, and drive again in the afternoon.
His career goal was to become a teacher and then move into school administration positions. It was while he was still in college that he was asked by his transportation supervisor to become a lead driver. Rowls admitted that at the time, the last thing he wanted to do was supervise people, but he was talked into it.
“I did that for a year, and I was pretty successful at it,” he recalled, adding at that point he was going on his third year in the industry and was preparing to graduate.
Soon, he was asked to become a school bus driver trainer. Once again, he said, he was talked into trying the position.
“I gave it a shot, and I actually got to do what I initially set out to do,” he said. “I was able to get in as a school bus trainer and teach. I started teaching the school bus curriculum, started teaching the state standard requirement. I developed a curriculum to help the candidates that were interested in schooling. …And it allowed me to be a teacher, which was my initial goal and vision. It was the best of both worlds.”
He said he started to develop an expert driver curriculum and implement it. The resulting school district pass rate for obtaining the Florida state commercial driver’s license was 97 percent, something that was almost unheard of at the time.
“Needless to say, I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree and didn’t leave the district,” he said, adding that the next year the director at the time asked him to become an interim assistant supervisor at one of the transportation compounds.
“I always was a team player,” Rowls explained. “For me, it was about the students and getting the job done.”
He served as the interim assistant supervisor for a couple of months before being named the full-time assistant supervisor. He learned day-to-day operations as well as how to interact with parents and focus on efficiency.
“And all those things to keep the business going,” he said of his role. “At this time, I had decided, well, I actually maybe like transportation.”
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He decided to get a master’s degree in business administration with a focus on human resources management. He continued working as the assistant supervisor while going to school. Then, his supervisor was promoted, and that job opened up. Rowls was 24 years old when he became the supervisor of transportation at Leon County Schools.
“It was definitely a lot of responsibility at such a young age, [being] new in the industry,” he said. “And I think at that point, I probably had my CDL for about four years. I was considered fresh and unseasoned in the transportation industry. But I served as a supervisor [who] did some great things.”
He said one of the biggest things he learned was to always treat people like people. This includes making sure they have the resources to do their jobs successfully.
“I made leaps and reached some things that were almost unheard of,” he said of being a supervisor. “I completely revamped [my] assigned compound. We probably had about 130 people assigned at that location at that time. One of the things that I struggled with was morale and functionality. That transitioned to having days with perfect attendance, which was a shocker [for my supervisor].”
And then he was promoted again to project manager in 2016. “I was promoted at Leon County Schools, six times in five years,” he said.
When he finished his master’s degree, he had the opportunity to become the assistant director of transportation and fleet services at Osceola County School District in 2019. “That was a great experience for me as well,” he said, adding that he served in this role for about two years. “Just sucking in that knowledge and learning everything that I could learn. Bringing change, fixing those things to make the workplace better. From there I got appointed an opportunity to serve as director here at Flagler.”
Rowls is going on his second year of being the director at Flagler. He now also holds a master’s degree in education and a doctorate degree in business administration.