HomeSpecial ReportsCommitment to Safety, Professional Development Drives NAPT President Mitchell

Commitment to Safety, Professional Development Drives NAPT President Mitchell

As Teena Mitchell prepared to take over the role of president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) last fall, it made complete sense that new professional development was coming to members.

Granted, NAPT was already prepared for the rebound from a prolonged COVID-19-forced absence. It used road shows several times to bridge the gap between stay-at-home orders and a return to in-person conferences.

Then, in October, the first national conference since 2019 was held. Mitchell as president-elect played a leading role in planning the event, alongside then-president Rick Grisham, NAPT Executive Director and CEO Molly McGee-Hewitt, and the rest of the NAPT and NAPT Foundation boards. The association has been working on refreshing its Professional Development Series over the last couple of years. NAPT has since announced the evolution of its road shows, now known as the National Training Academy, the first of which is held this month in Buffalo, New York.

Professional development is extremely important to Mitchell, as she shared with me for this month’s Q&A. In addition to her role with NAPT, she is the full-time special needs transportation coordinator for Greenville County School District in South Carolina. She is also in her second year as an executive board member for the South Carolina Association of Pupil Transportation (SCAPT), serves on the state roadeo committee and is the chairperson for SCAPT Division 5, which represents transportation for students with special needs and who receive service under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

STN: What is your vision for your NAPT presidential term?

Mitchell: It is exciting to begin my two-year journey as NAPT president. We are expanding, growing and working to enhance every aspect of our association and the foundation. Our mission continues to be to empower and support pupil transportation. One way of accomplishing this mission is for NAPT to further our education opportunities, to update and expand our certifications, and by broadening our curriculum. We are also creating new opportunities in leadership development for our transportation professionals.

Our vision is for every student to have access to safe and efficient transportation. Therefore, I envision that NAPT will continue to advocate for public policy and regulatory relief to further the pupil transportation industry. It is also my hope that we will continue to establish relationships with other professionals, organizations and state associations in our industry. By working together, we can continue to make the yellow school bus the safest transportation for our students.

STN: How did you first become involved in student transportation?

Mitchell: I have been involved with commercial transportation for most of my career. I hold a CDL Class A and B, but I became involved with student transportation when my five children were young. It was the perfect solution for me to work and have time off when my children were out of school. Being safety oriented, it was the perfect platform for me to direct my energy to benefit children.

Student transportation became a career for me and not just a job. It has enabled me to acquire leadership and management skills and to advance professionally.

STN: What made you gravitate to working with students who have Individualized Education Programs?

Mitchell: As a supervisor, my director asked me to switch to the area of supporting students with disabilities. Although at the time I did not have much experience in this area, I did accept the challenge. I put all my efforts into obtaining education in transporting students with disabilities to include the laws, policies, procedures, equipment and best practices. I also felt it was important to align myself with industry professionals who could mentor me with their experiences and knowledge in this field. This advancement in knowledge lead to my current position as a special needs transportation coordinator.

STN: Bus monitors or aides have become a focal point again, especially to help address the driver shortage but also for increased student safety highlighted by a recent case near you in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. What is your perspective on using bus monitors?

Mitchell: We should always strive to “do what is best for our student.” This includes knowing the needs of your students, which starts with transportation being involved with the IEP process. The IEP team decides what services the individual student needs, but unless transportation is invited to the meeting, the team is not aware of the bus environment or specific safety issues exclusive to that school bus route. Staffing for each bus should be based on each student’s IEP, supervision of all the students’ medical, physical, and behavioral needs, as well as the staff needed to operate equipment and to safely evacuate all students in an emergency. School districts can and should add staff to the bus based on the route needs and on best practices.

STN: What is the biggest training need(s) you see for school bus drivers? Other transportation staff?

Mitchell: Bus drivers receive a great deal of CDL training in the safe operation of the school bus. This mandated training and the safety regulations in place on school buses make the yellow school bus the safest transportation for students. While I am grateful for the mandated training, training in pupil transportation requires training for drivers and attendants on how to support students with behavior, medical and physical needs. This training should include education in the different disabilities and strategies that work in difficult situations, de-escalation techniques, special equipment training and evacuation of students with disabilities. To retain drivers and ensure the safety of our students, we must support the drivers and attendants with student support training. As our industry and the needs of our students evolve, our training needs evolve as well.

Directing a transportation staff is a challenging job. Our directors, supervisors, routers, trainers and other support also need ongoing training to meet these needs. These include training in management and supervision, leadership, communication, utilization of technology and a clear understanding of state and national laws and regulations.

STN: I can tell that professional development is very important to you. Why? How do you provide opportunities for your team members at your school district, and how does that translate to work NAPT is doing for its members?

Mitchell: Not only is professional development very important to me as I have shared earlier, but it is very important to our industry. Many of our transportation professionals strive to “keep learning” and stay abreast of updates and best practices of our industry. After all, that is how we better our programs and keep safety at the forefront.

In our district we offer professional development in several varieties, we have worked with the local technical college to provide training in several areas including inter personal skills, leadership skills, team building and Lean Six Sigma. We also offer our staff the opportunity to participate in the certification program with NAPT. We currently have two staff that are certified directors and certified in LLS. We also have several more staff members working toward NAPT certifications in supervision, special needs and specialist. Our staff also participates in professional development opportunities with our state association of pupil transportation (SCAPT).This translates to our work at NAPT because NAPT is committed to the professional development of our members. We are working toward updating and expanding our Professional Development Series, providing educational and informational webinars, holding training academies, providing professional development events and connecting people within our industry. I have benefited from the mentoring of our experienced leaders, and we hope to expand these mentoring and coaching opportunities for new professionals. An example of this is our Leadership Academy for transportation executives that will be held in Buffalo, New York on May 16 and 17. The emphasis will be on enhancing your management, supervision, communication and leadership skills.

STN: Is there anything you would like to add?

Mitchell: Transportation is not a profession that individuals, districts or contractors should do alone. It is a complex industry with many rules, constant changes, and the safety of our children depends on how well we navigate the complexity of the yellow school bus. It is important to align yourself, your district, or your company with your state and your national associations. I am not sure exactly who said this, but I think it came from an African Proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” When we work together, we can advance our industry with education, advocacy, and leadership.

NAPT‘s commitment is CLEAR. We provide our members with Communication, Leadership, Education, Advocacy, and Resources.

STN: Thank you.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the May 2024 issue of School Transportation News.

Related: Evolving Tech & Safety Concerns
Related: Q&A: Back to School with New NAPT Executive Director McGee-Hewitt
Related: At These School Districts, Investing in Transportation Team Members Provides Results
Related: Leadership Training: Challenges & Solutions

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