Featured on this month’s magazine cover, Dr. Curtis Cain of Wentzville School District in Missouri won this year’s National Superintendent of the Year award. Cain is recognized in the April cover story for working closely with transportation, as he said it is a key piece to keeping the schools up and running.
WSD Transportation Director Kim Boiz added that each year Cain spends a weekend at the transportation department helping to prepare for the City of Wentzville’s Christmas Parade.
Read more about Cain in the April issue at stnonline.com/go/april22.
The three other superintendent finalists recognized by award sponsors the School Superintendents Association, AIG Retirement and First Student were Dr. Quincy Natay of Chinle Unified School District on Navajo Nation in Arizona, Dr. Kamela Patton of Collier County Public Schools in Florida, and Dr. Noris Price of Baldwin County School District in Georgia.
Natay explained that Chinle’s five-year vision is to empower all students to be “Competitive, Unique, Successful and Driven.” He noted that this goal can be achieved through an effective team of teachers, staff, board, parents and the surrounding community, as well as by fostering an environment dedicated to the value of continuous learning.
He shared that the four strategic goals for the next five years are to:
- Eliminate opportunity gaps through results-oriented academic and social-emotional strategies to empower children to be Competitive, Unique, Successful and Driven upon graduation.
- Foster a connection for children to the heritage of resilience of Navajo people through a culturally responsive Navajo Studies curriculum and by opening a Navajo Language Immersion school.
- Inspire families and provide resources and learning opportunities for access to pathways that lead to the realization of the vision they hold for their future.
- Solidify stakeholder commitment to a legacy of high expectations, results orientation, and dedication to providing a high-quality education that leads to brighter futures for children.
In terms of how transportation plays a role, Natay noted that the school bus service is not simply a convenience in his district but a necessity for more than 80 percent of the students. He added that more than half of those students ride the bus for an hour or more each day, noting that efficient, safe and comfortable transportation is crucial.
“Beyond that, representatives of our transportation department are the first people from Chinle Unified to greet our students in the morning and the last to wish them a good evening when they get off the bus at the end of the day,” Natay explained. “When we advertise for school bus driver vacancies, we frame the position as transporters of future leaders because of the significant impact the individual behind the wheel [has on] a child’s day, growth and development. We have many children who come to school in critical need of encouragement and positive relationships with an appropriate adult.”
Natay added that he emphasizes that transporters fill this role as easily as do teachers or counselors, and the greeting in the morning or the last interaction of the day with that individual may be the reason a child comes back to school the next day.
Patton in Florida echoed that transportation plays a critical role in the districtwide focus by ensuring that all students are afforded access and opportunity. She noted that one of Collier’s strategic goals is to graduate students who are college, career and life ready. Patton added that Collier County Public Schools covers 2,300 square miles, an area larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware.
“We have several schools that are geographically isolated like the agricultural area of Immokalee and the fishing village of Everglades City,” she said. “Providing access and opportunities across the district is a top priority. However, in the instances where we are not able to replicate every program in every school, we rely on our transportation department to ensure all students are given opportunities to meet their potential.”
For instance, she noted the district’s Aviation Academy is physically located on two of the district’s campuses, but it is offered to all high school students. “Our recent STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Expo was held on a Saturday, and students learned and interacted with America’s Science Teacher Steve Spangler in person as he taught explosive lessons on stage.
“Our transportation department ensured students had a means of attending, even if their parents were not able to provide a ride to a weekend event,” Patton continued. “Providing safe, reliable transportation is a powerful equalizer in our effort to educate all children and achieve our district’s strategic plan of preparing students to be college, career, and life ready.”
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For Baldwin County School District, Price said a five-year strategic plan focuses on improving student achievement, strengthening school and community partnerships, and recruiting and retaining high-performing staff. She noted the future goals include continuing to offer students a world-class education as well as a process of innovation and creativity.
“Our transportation department will be instrumental in our quest to carry out our district goals and objectives,” Price said. “For the next five years, district goals include continuous staff development that allows our drivers and monitors to compete and be recognized on the state and national levels for their accomplishments. Also, the continued enhanced staff training provides the framework to support the rationale for recommending enhanced competitive compensation that will allow us to attract and retain the best transportation personnel for our school district. Also, the transportation operation will be studying adding alternative fuel vehicles ranging from propane and electric buses, which will save the district significantly in operational costs.”
Use of Federal Funds
Natay said his district has prioritized the use of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds toward five high-impact strategies. The first was establishing and maintaining a one-to-one, student-to-device ratio district, with computer-based learning resources and providing Wi-Fi access to mitigate the digital divide.
He added that a portion of the funds directed at COVID-19 prevention and response has been allocated to transportation. “A key project coming from the transportation department was their 2021 venture that had first been drafted in their strategic plan in 2017,” Natay explained. “The idea was to install routers on the buses that would make it possible for students to access Wi-Fi to do their homework while enduring the long bus commutes from school to home.”
He reiterated that a large percentage of student riders are on the bus for well over an hour every day. “This project was launched with a new purpose during the pandemic when transportation staff installed routers and power inverters to meet the needs of students living in remote areas of our district with no internet access and in some cases no electricity to charge devices,” Natay said. “We parked the buses for hours each day at strategic locations in the vicinity of student homes so they could come to the buses to charge their devices and access classes via bus Wi-Fi. Through ESSER we funded the purchase of the routers, data plans and power inverters to equip the school buses.”
Other core strategies that utilized funding include providing a healthy and safe work and learning environment by meeting COVID-19 prevention and response needs such as improving air quality in facilities, providing recruitment and retention stipends and other strategies like offsetting health insurance premium increases due to school year 2021 COVID-19 related claims, accelerating learning and closing opportunity gaps through tutoring and summer school programs, and maximizing the unrestricted indirect cost rate to identify and sustain effective strategies into the future.
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Additionally, Natay added in terms of transportation a separate competitive transportation grant award that allowed the district to pay for on-the-job training and all fees associated with the successful attainment of a CDL for new hires.
Florida’s Patton said that Collier prioritized the use of funding to support students with unfinished learning tied to the global pandemic. Transportation received a portion of the funds as the department assisted in transportation with after school and Saturday programs.
Meanwhile, Price in Georgia added that she has worked closely with the school board, chief financing officer, staff and parents to identify the needs of the district and allocate the funds accordingly. She noted the district is focusing on providing academic support to students to address the learning loss that occurred due to COVID-19.
However, the district also used ESSER funds to pay signing and retention bonuses to staff.
“We take great pride in supporting individuals who safely transport our students to and from school,” Price said. “Our bus drivers and monitors also have access to an employee assistance program 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”