Alfred Karam (left), director of transportation at Bethlehem Central School District, receives the Administrator of the Year award from SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon.
At Bethlehem Central School District (BCSD) in Delmar, N.Y., Director of Transportation Alfred Karam is known as the “Numbers Man,” according to Cindy Jurewicz, who is assistant director of transportation.
“We call Al the ‘Numbers Man’ because of his penchant for wanting to learn and to improve every aspect of our department … by embracing and utilizing KPIs [key performance indicators],” she explained.
This businesslike approach to pupil transportation while also focusing on safe student transportation has paid off: The transportation department has reportedly come in under budget for the past five years, and the team was able to reduce its overall transportation budget by about $900,000 for the 2012-13 school year.
Karam said he has tracked close to 20 KPIs since he became director of transportation in 2002 (he was previously the assistant director of transportation). The KPIs cover everything from out-of-service rates to the cost per bus, per student and per mile, to labor hours from year to year.
This internal benchmarking enables the team to see how the department is doing, and they can then take steps for any necessary improvements.
Jurewicz and Karam said that in terms of routing, they keep daily data on planned versus actual ridership, and in analyzing the data annually, they can determine if they can put more students on buses. They have been able to consolidate their routes from 111 to 86. This also led to a reduction in labor by about 137 hours.
In addition, the department has gone from having more than 19% of its buses out of service in 2000 to just 1% for the 2012-13 school year.
Karam has brought his knowledge on KPIs and other topics to his colleagues within New York as well as nationally as a member of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT) and the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT). He has served on NAPT’s subcommittee on KPIs.
In teaching classes on KPIs for NYAPT, Karam said he tries to make the information easy for attendees to understand.
“Most of our colleagues may be afraid to delve into that game [utilizing KPIs] because they think it’s too complicated, so I try to make a connection between KPIs and what they do on a daily basis,” he said.
For his contributions at the local, state and national levels, SCHOOL BUS FLEET named Karam its 2013 Administrator of the Year. He became the 40th pupil transportation leader to receive the award, which was presented to him at the NAPT awards banquet on Sunday night.
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 said 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 explained. “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 said 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 said. “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 explained. “In other words, he gives us the tools and his confidence, reassurance and guidance for us to grow.”
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.
Karam and Assistant Director of Transportation Cindy Jurewicz say they keep daily data on planned versus actual ridership, and in analyzing the data annually, they can determine if they can put more students on buses.
“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 said.
(He added 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.)
Karam’s response upon learning that he was this year’s 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 noted,” he said, ‘No, it’s not me, it’s all of us.’”
Check out past Administrator of the Year recipients in this photo gallery.