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February 01, 2005  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Collaboration is Key to Success in Romeoville

Valley View School District and its contractor, Crawford Bus Service, provide exemplary special-needs transportation by focusing on complementary training and efficient maintenance practices.

by Teresa Basich, Editorial Assistant


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Providing quality transportation service to special-needs students is a team effort at Valley View School District (VVSD) in Romeoville, Ill.

The district, which transports approximately 9,500 students using its own fleet, has a contract with Crawford Bus Service to transport its special-needs students. (Crawford Bus is a subsidiary of Cook Illinois Corp.)

“We have a very positive relationship with the school district,” says Jeff Barnes, general manager of Crawford Bus’ terminal in Romeoville. “Without a doubt, our people work hand in hand with the district on a daily basis.”

Crawford Bus operates 64 buses for the district, mainly for special-needs transportation but also for kindergarten and early childhood programs. Most of its small buses are manufactured by Thomas Built Buses, but Barnes says there’s a “good mix of everything” in the fleet.

Derrick Berlin, assistant transportation director for special services at VVSD, is the liaison with Crawford Bus and provides the contractor with considerable support, including specialized training.

Most of the training of contract drivers is handled by Crawford Bus. However, Barnes says, “We do all the new driver training.” Crawford Bus also provides in-service training and holds quarterly safety meetings. Some drivers who have passengers with disabilities that require them to have specialized knowledge are trained by the school nurse or special-needs experts.

Fleet upkeep is strong
Crawford Bus, which is in the second year of a three-year contract with VVSD, employs seven full-time technicians that perform maintenance on its fleet. The terminal’s fleet reaches beyond VVSD, providing service under two other contracts. Barnes says the maintenance is tracked using proprietary software that has helped to keep the program in sound working order.

Many technicians hold certifications from the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence and have received training from component suppliers such as Cummins Inc. and Mercedes Benz.{+PAGEBREAK+} VVSD’s transportation department has reached out to students and parents to inform them of the safety of riding a school bus. “This year, for the first time, we had a program that I started called 'Get to Know Your Bus Day,’” Berlin says. “All the early-childhood, kindergarten students and parents came in and they got to meet their driver. They were also given badges for the year as well as safety information.”

Students played games and learned about their bus by taking rides and observing equipment. Concerned parents took the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the transportation program.

Buster helps out
One highlight of the event was Buster the Bus. Buster was equipped with all the lighting systems of a standard-sized bus. The robot walked and danced via remote control and talked to children who had questions or comments. Because of the success of Buster and the rest of the attractions, Berlin has decided to make “Get to Know Your Bus Day” an annual event.

VVSD’s attitude regarding bus safety is also seen in its vehicle specifications and general bus upkeep. The three-person, in-house maintenance team works only on large buses. Although not involved in the maintenance of Crawford Bus’ fleet, Berlin demands high performance and safety. The oldest bus serving the district but operated by Crawford Bus is 8 years old. The district’s larger buses are only in use for five years before they are retired.

Specs fit the profile
While the district’s small-bus specifications aren’t unusual, some of the equipment necessary for transporting special-needs students is not always available on small buses. Berlin says things like air-conditioning units, wheelchair lifts and car seats for early-childhood riders are all standard features on Crawford Bus’ small buses.

To ensure that Crawford Bus’ drivers are properly prepared in an emergency, Berlin provides them with information on students’ medical conditions and needs.

“I have full access to IEPs, and we put any pertinent information right on the routing directions for that child in case of emergencies,” Berlin says. This access to medical records is important for drivers to maintain a safe atmosphere during rides, and it provides emergency workers with critical information.

Berlin feels his district’s greatest strengths are its employees’ professionalism and cooperation and the department’s ability to stress safe-riding practices through extensive up-to-date preparation and training. “This is a very progressive district,” Berlin says. “It’s a wonderful district to work for.”

 


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