With one of the largest district-run school bus operations in the country, Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools has a big need for transportation supervisors. Here, Linda Farbry, director of the district’s Office of Transportation Services, details an innovative training program designed to meet that need.
We completed the eighth session of our Transportation Academy last year. It is a five-week program for 20 drivers, five from each operations office. It is concurrent with our summer school program and is intended as an introductory development program for both prospective entry-level supervisors and those drivers who simply want to learn about supervision.
The group spends two weeks divided into two cohorts of 10 each. Those smaller groups spend half a day with each of two different instructors, one who teaches software programs and one who teaches grammar and writing.
Most of the last three weeks is spent with an instructor who works with the group on various elements of management, including leadership, dealing with difficult people, team building, motivation and presentation skills. For part of each day, they are divided into work groups of four or five (along different lines than the original cohort groups), and each group works on a self-defined project that addresses some problematic aspect of transportation. During the last week, they do a presentation of their project, including proposed solutions, for me and the district’s chief operating officer.
During the last three days, the cohort from the preceding year merges with the new cohort on a review of leadership skills, mentoring and coaching.
During the following school year, the school system has three non-paid, non-work days. We bring the summer cohort in on each of those days to spend some time on transportation-specific issues, like bus stop analysis, accident investigation, special-education programs and field trip assignments. The following summer, those from the past summer cohort who have not yet had the opportunity to work in our routing program, Mapnet, can spend three additional days being introduced to it.
This structure allows us to integrate staff from four widespread offices who would not otherwise have a chance to meet. It’s a terrific program, from which many of our new supervisors, and now managers, have come in the past seven years.
Most of the people attending the program are hungry for knowledge. Many have no education past their high school years, and they love every minute of the program. Some are professional retirees who have educations and experience with management. While a lot of what is taught is something with which they’re familiar, they still appreciate some of the refresher information and, most importantly, the opportunity to get to know drivers and entry-level supervisors from all parts of our county.
I should note that this is a costly program, as we pay the drivers for as many as 204 hours of work, pay the instructors and purchase all of the necessary materials. We’re in a very large school district, and with the help of our chief operating officer, we have sold the superintendent on the value of the program, so sufficient funding has been available. We’re now experiencing significant budget problems, but we’re as committed to this program as we can be and are planning to do it again in 2008.