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October 19, 2012  |   Comments (4)   |   Post a comment

50 top traits of great transportation directors

What are the essential qualities for success for a school transportation leader? Here, more than 50 directors and managers explain vital traits for the job, from communication and problem-solving skills to a willingness to get down in the trenches.

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author


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Photo of John Clements of Kings Canyon USD, shot by Shinn Photography

Photo of John Clements of Kings Canyon USD, shot by Shinn Photography

1. Great Communication Skills
Transportation directors need to be able to communicate effectively with a wide variety of people: employees, parents, superintendents, principals, school board members, etc.

“I’ve always found that the ability to communicate with people ... is by far the most important trait a transportation director can have,” says Ron Latko of Mesa (Ariz.) Unified School District (USD) #4.

David Pace of Virginia Beach (Va.) City Public Schools calls communication “the glue that holds all other traits together.”

Lennie Goff of Regional School Unit 18 in Oakland, Maine, adds that being a great communicator isn’t just talking ability but also being “someone who knows how to listen, when to listen and how to process information.”

Nicole Portee of Denver Public Schools notes that talking face to face “displays a level of integrity about you as a person and a leader.”

2. Knowledge
Great directors possess a bevy of knowledge about school transportation regulations, best practices, district policies and more.

“You must know the responsibilities, duties and laws,” says Joyce Kent of East Feliciana Parish Schools in Clinton, La. Without that, “you will not be successful as a supervisor.”

Knowing how to do a wide range of tasks is also important.

“A great director is someone that has driven a bus, turned wrenches, swept floors, helped a student learn to read and built relationships over a period of time,” says Jeff Harris of Guilford County (N.C.) Schools.

3. Focus on Safety
Although safety can be tied to many of the other traits on this list, it should still be noted on its own that transportation directors must be safety focused.

Considering the precious cargo that rides school buses every day, Bobbie Engelhardt of Marion County (Fla.) Public Schools calls safety “the first and foremost essential tool.”

“I believe the No. 1 trait is a genuine concern for the safety of students,” adds Nancy Groom-Bullard of Akron (Colo.) School District R-1. “We do this for the kids. We do this job to keep them safe, warm and dry.”

4. Dedication
Great transportation directors are clearly committed to what they do.

“It doesn’t seem to be a job for great directors, but almost a way of life that they really enjoy,” says Ben Kimbler of Sierra USD in Tollhouse, Calif.

“I think that is why you see great directors that have been in the industry 30 to 40 years or more. That is long-term dedication.”

5. Integration Skills
A successful transportation director has to be a skilled integrator of a variety of areas, such as bus operations, safety and training, and recruiting and retention.

Edward Bishop of Prince William County (Va.) Public Schools says that “integration requires a leader or director that understands the interrelationships of several diverse functions ... [and] how all of them work together to accomplish a common mission.”

6. Flexibility
Directors of transportation must be willing to adapt to some extent to meet various needs.

The steady flow of demands from different stakeholders “requires a certain amount of finesse, patience and flexibility to maintain positive and supportive relationships while maintaining a handle on adherence to policies and regulations,” Pace says.

7. Focus on Students
Great transportation directors always have the students’ best interests in mind.

Pete Meslin of Newport-Mesa USD in Costa Mesa, Calif., says that directors must build and maintain an operation that is focused on the students.

“Ultimately, we are in the student education business,” he says. “We should be filtering everything we do through the core values of “Is this right for students?”

8. Attention to Detail
In this line of work, there’s no room for oversights. Accordingly, directors of transportation have to be keenly attentive to details.

“The smallest mistake, such as failing to train drivers to count students as they depart from the bus, can lead to the serious injury or death of a student,” says Linda Thompson of the Reorganized R-7 School District in Lee’s Summit, Mo.

9. Problem-Solving Skills
At any transportation department, problems will arise, and the director must be equipped to solve them.

Frank Giordano of Clark County (Nev.) School District names just a few of the issues that can come up: a server failure, a parts supplier being back-ordered, the phone system going down, inclement weather, road construction — and the list goes on.

“All these things fall back on you to solve the issue, and solve it quickly, as the kids must get to school,” Giordano says.

10. Clarity
Great transportation directors outline a clear path for their employees.

“So many times, we spend a lot of energy in things that lead us away from the direction the district is going,” says Jim Beekman of Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools. “Employees want to know that there is a mission, a purpose for what they do and how they do it, and that at the end of the day, they have made a positive contribution in the life of a kid.”

Accordingly, the director has to align the transportation department “from the front-line employee all the way up to the district’s mission,” Beekman says.

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I just wanted to thank you for an article that defines every aspect of our Transportation Director, Mr. Raymond Shute! He is all that you have listed and so much more! I cannot imagine our department without his leadership! It is so nice to have a boss that makes me look forward to my job at RSU #3 in Thorndike, Maine every day!

Tammy    |    Jan 16, 2013 06:00 AM

I am also a School Bus Driver...and I must say that if our bus drivers' supervisor--right on up to the Director--make us absolutely hate coming to work. They lie... and will do everything they can to give drivers a negative attitude. This,to me, is unacceptable and shows no professionalism. How can this be? I don't think it helps the students in the Leon County FL area!!!

Anonymous    |    Nov 04, 2012 10:40 AM

Great article! I am a school bus driver for Lake Shore Central Schools in Angola, NY. Reading this I had a big smile on my face.... Because I can truly say my Supervisor Mr. Perry Oddi possess all of these qualities. Can any other driver truly say that about their Directors? I hope so. Because of the qualities he holds... makes me Love my job that much more! :) Thank You.

Victoria DeCarlo    |    Nov 02, 2012 07:12 AM

Outstanding article or should I say list. I would ad... Sense of Humor comes in handy every now and then :)

Lionel Pinn    |    Oct 25, 2012 06:57 AM

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