Karam receives the Administrator of the Year award from SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon.
Marine Corps to pupil transportation
Karam became involved in yellow bus transportation in 2000 when he joined BCSD after a 25-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps.
He says that his work in the Marine Corps prepared him well for his jobs at BCSD, and he has applied a lot of what he learned to the school district’s transportation department. Utilizing KPIs and total quality management practices is one example.
“One of my goals as I neared my exit from the Marine Corps was to get into the same line of work: dealing with people and dealing with transportation since transportation logistics was my occupational specialty,” he explains. “It’s all the same: how you lead people, manage resources, and your approach to training. The only thing I had to do when I got into this business was become certified in accordance with the state for a school bus driver instructor.”
Karam also learned a lot about leadership in the Marine Corps. He says he has held leadership positions since 1976, and he believes in sharing the knowledge and resources he has access to with the rest of his staff.
“For me, the higher you go, the more power you have to help those you are leading and managing,” Karam says. “I’m here to support my supervisors, mechanics, office staff, bus attendants and bus drivers.”
Jurewicz speaks to this and what it means for the rest of the staff.
“When Al talks about good leadership, he always expresses to everyone in the department that it starts from the bottom up,” she explains. “In other words, he gives us the tools and his confidence, reassurance and guidance for us to grow.”
Karam and technician Doug Cochrane inspect a bus. Karam works closely with the technicians, spending about 70% of his workdays addressing vehicle maintenance.
Karam’s faith in his staff and their abilities to assist him in running the transportation department is apparent when he talks about balancing his responsibilities. He has taken on the tasks that were previously held by the assistant fleet maintenance supervisor, which requires him to spend about 70% of his workdays addressing vehicle maintenance.
“When I’m engaged in the maintenance side of things, I have full confidence that the routing and operations side is being looked after,” he says.
He adds that what has helped him take on this maintenance workload is not only having experience in maintenance management — which he obtained during his time in the Marine Corps — but having an open line of communication and a good working relationship with his technicians.
Jurewicz says that Karam has long had a strong working relationship with his technicians because he was consistently out in the shop keeping abreast of their work and ensuring that things were running smoothly.
Karam’s response upon learning that he was the 2013 recipient of the SBF Administrator of the Year award also says a lot about his attitude toward his team.
“When I told him he won the award,” Jurewicz notes, “he said, ‘No, it’s not me, it’s all of us.’”
Mannella says Karam’s emphasis on teamwork is one of his defining characteristics, and this has earned him the respect of his colleagues within BCSD and beyond.
“He said in the NAPT awards presentation that it [winning the award] wasn’t about him,” Mannella says. “I’ve heard him say that in his facility — that it’s a team effort, and he just happens to be the supervisor. His approach is, ‘I’m not asking my employees to do anything that I’m not doing as well.’ That’s very ‘old school,’ but it’s important. People have a lot of respect for him in New York, and there’s affection for him because he’s out there doing what his employees do and learning what they learn. I find him to be very inspiring as a leader.”