Time spent before a bus enters your fleet can be well worth it. In our school system, we have to award bus bids to the low bidder. Writing bid specifications to fit your fleet will help to ensure you get a bus that will meet your needs.
Take time to look at components that you are replacing on your buses to see if you need to specify a component that will give you a longer service life. In the past, we had buses with 9,000-pound front axles, and it seemed like during every bus inspection, we found worn kingpins. After changing specifications to 10,000-pound front axles, we can sale a bus with over 200,000 miles on it and never replace a kingpin. If you are replacing a lot of brake lining, you may need larger brake components than what is offered as a standard option.
Four years ago, we wrote the following into our bid: “Inspection of the first completion unit at the body plant to compare it with the bid specifications and note any discrepancies. Airfare plus expenses for two persons paid by the successful bidder.” Making changes before the body plant builds a unit and delivers it to you is a lot easier than when the units are in service in your fleet. Time and money spent on writing bids and specifying options can save you in future maintenance.
— Submitted by Michael King, fleet maintenance manager, Washington County Public Schools, Hagerstown, Md.
Have someone on staff with any medical expertise? Take advantage of it. Joan Corwin, president of Chappaqua (N.Y.) Transportation, keeps her finger on the pulse of her employees. Or, rather, on their blood pressure. Corwin, who is a registered nurse, has a standing offer to her drivers to stop by her office at any time to have their blood pressure taken. Her employees also feel comfortable coming to her for medical advice.
Employee recognition is a key factor in improving morale and reducing staff turnover. The following recognition strategies are included in “37 Ways to Improve Staff Morale,” a 2003 guide that was jointly sponsored by the National Association for Pupil Transportation and the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute and underwritten by Hydrotex.
Transportation Employee Appreciation Banquet. An appreciation banquet or awards ceremony can be a wonderful and inspiring event. It can be successful whether it involves only your own operation’s staff or staff from several school districts and bus companies in the region. Including outside guest speakers, such as local politicians, can help to heighten the importance of the event.
Recognition of accident-free drivers. Drivers who are not involved in a preventable accident for the school year deserve some recognition. This can take the form of plaques, pins, certificates or a mention in the school newsletter. Clear eligibility criteria should be put in writing so drivers fully trust the process.
Recognition of perfect attendance. Many operations are plagued by high rates of absenteeism, so it’s a good idea to prioritize attendance with incentives. Staff members who show up for work every day deserve the same type of recognition as accident-free drivers. Some operations also provide their drivers with a monetary bonus.
Publicizing accomplishments. Transportation managers should take the initiative to get coverage of accomplishments in the local media. Complaining that the media “only covers the bad stuff” misses the point. It’s possible to feed the “good stuff” to your media outlets; you just have to be proactive. Developing a relationship with local reporters can help. Let them know how many injury-free miles your fleet traveled last year. Or tell them about one of your veteran drivers and his or her accomplishments. There are hundreds of stories that can portray your operation in a positive light. Don’t wait for the media to ask for a story. If you do, they’ll only call when one of your buses is involved in an accident.
Transportation Employee of the Year (or Month). Done right, recognizing one outstanding employee can make all employees feel better about their workplace. Nominations can be encouraged by distributing a simple form to drivers, school staff, parents, supervisors and even students. A peer selection process works well. Transportation Staff Appreciation Week. Initiating an appreciation program in your community is a great way to garner wider recognition for your drivers and others in the department. Appreciation Week can take many forms. How about having supervisors and school administrators cook breakfast or lunch for transportation staff members? Or how about having teachers and students create thank-you cards for them? Be creative. And work with the local media to provide coverage of this event.
Bus drivers should be strongly encouraged to participate in local and regional roadeos. They’ll benefit not only from the competition, but also from the preparation.
Roadeos present an excellent opportunity for drivers to brush up on their behind-the-wheel skills and to learn to focus their concentration. In some cases, there’s also a written component to the event, which tests and strengthens a driver’s knowledge base.
Depending on the jurisdiction, top finishers in local events can advance to a regional or state competition. From there, they can advance to the national event — the International School Bus Driver Safety Competition — held each July in conjunction with the National School Transportation Association’s annual convention.
There’s also a national roadeo dedicated to special-needs transportation. It’s held in conjunction with the annual National Conference and Exhibition on Transporting Students With Disabilities and Preschoolers. The event attracted 34 driver/attendant teams from 14 states earlier this year.
In addition to driving roadeos, there are also competitions for maintenance staff and state inspectors. In fact, the inaugural “America’s Best” competition, organized by the National Association for Pupil Transportation, was held earlier this year in Tulsa, Okla., and crowned a top school bus technician and inspector.
A peer buddy system for new hires can help to ease the orientation process. The peer buddy should be someone who knows the ropes and can provide advice and encouragement during a new hire’s first several months of employment. A new hire will often feel more comfortable with a peer than with an immediate supervisor. The buddy would introduce new hires to the rest of the staff and explain work rules. The buddy system can help to reduce turnover, especially within the critical first six months on the job.
There are many valuable lessons to learn from your counterparts in the classroom. Here are five tips for your drivers based on how teachers keep control of their classes.
1. The bus is a classroom. Drivers should expect a student’s best behavior on a bus just as a teacher expects it in a classroom.
2. Keep rules simple, with a maximum of five rules. Too many rules will confuse students, making them likely to break the ones they can’t remember.
3. Being effective takes time. Immediate results should not be expected when dealing with students. The best teachers know to be patient with their students and to not try to rush them into learning or behaving.
4. Avoid driver-student arguments. Teachers understand that arguments give students what they want — power.
5. Consistency is key. All students must be held to the same standards and same accountability for mistakes. Where a student is from or who the parents are is irrelevant.
Putting together a Website that includes both immediate and urgent information as well as boilerplate material such as contact info, key dates and safety instructions can help school bus operators meet the needs of parents, students, administrators, teachers and the community.
To accomplish this task, transportation officials need to work closely with the Web designer throughout the process.
When the time comes to begin the creation/transformation process, site designers must first consider who their target audience is and what they want to achieve with the Website.
One of the main reasons school districts establish Websites is to reduce the number of misdirected phone calls. Maintaining a Website with simple pages and concise directions keeps viewers from immediately grabbing the phone to call the first number they see.
Contact information should be available if someone does choose to call but shouldn’t be posted on the homepage in a way that advocates picking up the phone over searching the site first. If easing phone traffic is a driving force, making answers to typical phone questions and concerns available on the Web should be a top priority. This way, site visitors will be encouraged to look through the linked pages instead of relying on the phone to receive answers to their questions.
Typically, district transportation Websites contain a contact information section, a “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) page, links to schools in the district, a schedule of routes, school start times, a link to other departments, a page reporting current weather and road conditions, an “Employment Opportunities and Training” page and a page for other related sites.
In terms of aesthetics, simplicity and consistency should remain themes. Artwork that takes a long time to load can turn people off to viewing a site — the Internet is supposed to be both fast and easy, and slow-loading pictures defeat those purposes. Clean, simple pages keep people on the path to the information they want. Too many page elements can be distracting and confusing. A combination of a few links, some small pictures and an introductory paragraph is an ideal format for a transportation department Website.
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The following is a list of six simple actions you can take in the name of increasing school bus safety:
1. Convince your school to have a school bus safety assembly.
2. Stage a school bus emergency evacuation drill.
3. Get the school newspaper to publish an article on school bus safety, or write it yourself.
4. Have a handrail safety day, in which teachers and students check every bus for defective handrails.
5. Hold a themed day, such as “switch rolls day,” where drivers and students engage in role-playing exercises with roles reversed.
6. Produce a short TV or radio news segment on school bus safety using students as reporters.
If possible, do not park or garage all of your buses in the same location. If all buses must be parked in one area, separate them into distinct, smaller groups. This accomplishes two things. One, it makes buses more secure by allowing more visibility around each bus grouping. Local law enforcement and school security officers will have a better view of each bus group and the bus yard as a whole. Two, the separation-of-assets policy segregates high-value buses to avoid a total loss from a fire, explosion or other disaster. For example, a short circuit on one bus can cause a fire that will destroy an entire neighboring fleet.
To maximize their benefits, in-service training sessions should be professionally organized and coordinated.
A successful trainer never takes a training session lightly and will construct an actual lesson plan.
The Pupil Transportation Safety Institute (www.ptsi.org) offers some suggestions on conducting in-service training programs. It recommends that the training session include five key elements:
Introduction. How are you planning to kick off the session? Think about it ahead of time. How will you get the audience’s attention? The opening minutes can make or break a training session. A disorganized, uncertain opening can turn off the audience and make it difficult to bring them back.
Objectives. What exactly do you hope to accomplish in this training session? Your objectives should be concrete and measurable. The more specific your objectives, the more focused and effective the presentation will be.
Content. The “meat and potatoes” of a presentation. Key questions for the trainer: In what sequence should I reveal the contents of my talk? What will make sense to the audience? And how much content can I realistically expect my audience to grasp? Often, less is more. Novice trainers sometimes try to cover too much material. It’s more important to get one topic down right than it is to ineffectively cover many topics.
Evaluation. A good teacher wants to know if the students understood what was being taught. That’s why you need to structure an evaluation tool into the session. This could take the form of a written or oral test or some type of game that reveals how much the participants learned during the session. It’s important that every student, not just the most advanced, grasps the main content.
Conclusion. Like the introduction, the conclusion is extremely important and very often overlooked by a novice trainer. For one thing, the closing is the last thing the audience will remember. If you close in a disorganized fashion, you will undercut the entire program. It helps to end the session with a summary of the key points. This will help to leave a lasting impression on your audience.
Help employees who help the operation by rewarding them for good fuel efficiency. If a driver contributes to keeping fuel costs down by practicing good fuel economy, give that driver a percentage of what he’s saved. A portion of fuel savings, as determined by a benchmarking process, can be returned to worthy drivers each month as an incentive.
Several devoted instructors in New Hampshire have joined to form a new statewide networking group. The program was designed to provide instructors with a tool for communicating with each other.
Participants will receive a newsletter on a quarterly basis to further their knowledge on school bus instruction. The group will meet periodically to share information, and members will be granted discounts to helpful stores such as Staples.
The first meeting was held in June in Concord, N.H. After kicking it off with a breakfast buffet, the members discussed training topics as well as the birth of the newsletter. The first issue of the newsletter mailed out recently and has garnered great response.
— Submitted by Cheryl Hardy, Networking Chairperson, New Hampshire School Transportation Association
Assigned seats should be a requirement for all student riders on every special-needs bus. Team members must be excellent observers of their student passengers to understand and anticipate events or situations that trigger undesirable behavior and to avoid those conditions.
Maintaining a professional distance at all times is essential to avoid being manipulated by students who are astute at engaging drivers and or assistants in what would otherwise be considered “being friends” or “just being friendly.”
Driver teams can quickly lose control of some special-needs bus passengers when “acting friendly” occurs and the students then negotiate a new set of rules for themselves. These students consider that the “old” rules fit all bus riders except themselves.
Although it seems unlikely that terrorists will ever target your school bus operation, you should prepare for the worst.
In New Mexico, the state’s Public Education Department has put together a security training program for bus drivers and other transportation personnel.
The three-hour course is designed to train drivers on the knowledge and skills required to effectively identify and report perceived security threats. It also offers recommendations on how to respond to actual security incidents.
The mission of the course is to emphasize six basic security management steps:
1. Keep calm and assess the situation.
2. Contact supervision and, if necessary, emergency responders.
3. If required, evacuate, relocate and shelter in place.
4. Protect self and protect and assist the students.
5. Identify self to first responders if the situation dictates.
6. Follow school procedures and complete documentation.
The course is broken into 15 modules. Here is a sample of the topics:
The course includes an outline, instructor’s guide, participant guide and PowerPoint presentation. All four units are available for download at www.nasdpts.org/security.html.
To make my special-needs bus more fun and interesting for the passengers, I post a riddle of the week. They have one week to try to figure it out, and if they don’t get it (even with lots of clues) I give them the answer on Friday. They have fun helping each other try to guess the answer.
I also have some stuffed monkeys on the bus. When the students are upset, they like to hold one for a while. The reason I chose monkeys is that they have Velcro on the hands and can be easily hung up out of the way.
Additionally, I keep a brightly colored blanket on hand in case someone is cold, and I hang funny pictures around the bus as well as one small picture of each student (with parent permission) where they sit.
— Submitted by Ellen Pruim, school bus driver, Ontario, Canada