NAPT Makes Its Mark on Myrtle Beach

<i>SBF</i> Staff Editors Claire Atkinson and Kelly Roher
Posted on January 1, 2009

In general sessions held during the 34th Annual National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Conference in Myrtle Beach, S.C., speakers tackled timely, complex and diverse issues, helping to kick off several days of workshops that covered myriad topics.

In a session titled “Terrorism and Transportation: Highway Security Strategy, Initiatives and Plans,” Bill Arrington, general manager of the Highway and Motor Carrier (HMC) division of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), reported on the agency’s school bus assessment and efforts in support of the school bus industry.

Arrington noted that schools should have a funding stream specifically dedicated to school bus safety and emphasized the importance of exercises and training. He suggested that school bus operations make use of TSA resources, including the agency’s School Transportation Security Awareness DVD (schools can request a copy by e-mailing [email protected]).

“As we move forward with rulemaking at TSA, we’re going to make sure that frontline people receive training,” Arrington said.

He also urged school transportation officials to contact TSA for a security review of their operations.

In a stimulating keynote presentation by Jon Gordon, a motivational speaker and author of The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work and Team With Positive Energy, he relayed several of those rules (“Stay positive” and “Focus on gratitude rather than stress” were among them) and provided attendees with tips to create positive energy in their lives, and a positive work environment for their employees.

“Inspire your drivers and let them know that they have the power to make a difference in people’s lives. Engage your team,” Gordon said.

Industry advocacy and efficiency are top priorities
A workshop titled “Love the Bus 2009,” featuring Derek Graham, section chief of transportation services for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, and Ken Hedgecock, vice president of sales, marketing and service for Thomas Built Buses, was infused with the type of positive energy Gordon advocated during his presentation.

Graham and Hedgecock discussed the challenges that pupil transportation officials face and shared how the American School Bus Council (ASBC) is working to alleviate these challenges through its mission and goals. These include educating parents, school officials and lawmakers about the essential role that school buses play in the safety and security of schoolchildren and increasing school bus ridership.

Graham emphasized the importance of educating people about school bus safety at the “grassroots” level and explained that the ASBC’s “Love the Bus” program, which will begin on Feb. 14, provides school districts with this opportunity, while also helping to promote bus driver appreciation.

The American School Bus Council held a cake cutting to celebrate "Love the Bus."

Student involvement plays a key role in the program. Graham said that students in North Carolina have shown appreciation for their drivers by making valentines for them.

Transportation administrators are also encouraged to participate. Graham mentioned that holding a group breakfast or lunch for drivers or filling in for them behind the wheel and rewarding them with a day off are effective ways to recognize drivers for their hard work.

Finally, Graham stressed the benefits of alerting local media about Love the Bus activities. “If you can get the media involved, you can really get the word out about bus safety to parents and the public,” he said.

In another session, Graham and John Chesser, associate director for research services at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, discussed a data collection program in North Carolina that measures efficiency of school transportation statewide.

Schools in the state use a routing software system that collects data on pupil density, average distance to school, circuity (ratio of actual distance traveled to crow’s flight) and other information. The data are used to measure the transportation department’s efficiency, which then determines the level of funding from the state. “The tools and incentive all went into place at the same time,” Graham said.

Chesser presented some of the data measured across the state in the first year of the program, and he asked attendees if these types of service indicators would be useful to other districts. “Using this data, schools can determine goals and spot trends,” he explained. In the future, Chesser said the program would incorporate profile information about each district so that other districts can match to a profile and measure their own efficiency against the reported service indicators in North Carolina.

Update special-needs policies and data regularly
Issues involving special-needs students were also among the topics discussed.

Peggy Burns and Linda Bluth teamed up to present a workshop titled, “Dusting Off Your Special Needs Policy and Procedures.” Bluth, from the Maryland Department of Education, helped to drive the discussion, introducing various hypothetical and real-life situations; Burns, of Education Compliance Group, provided legal analysis and advice in response to each case. Both supplemented the discussion with anecdotes from their past experiences.

The workshop covered the ins and outs of developing and auditing special- needs transportation policies, including determining eligibility, providing the least restrictive environment for special-needs passengers, the communication of crucial information between school departments, cost issues and responding to parent concerns.

Bluth and Burns both emphasized the need to create policies that anticipate situations impacting student safety.

“You don’t want drivers to have to be in a position to make a decision then and there,” Burns said. “You have to be that first line of advocacy for your people.”

Both also encouraged transportation directors to ask parents about student needs that impact the school bus ride, but without infringing on medical privacy.

Also essential is communication between the transportation department and other school officials, such as school nurses and other administrators. “This is the internal war we’ve been fighting forever,” Burns noted. “It is the school system’s responsibility to notify those who need to know.”

During his presentation “Special-Ed Data: How to Find It and How to Use It,” Pete Meslin, transportation director at Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, Calif., said that it is important for transportation officials to decide what types of data they want by breaking them into categories: data they must have, data they should have and data that “would be nice to have.”

“Our job is to convince our administrators that good data will help us better serve the students we transport,” Meslin said.

Meslin then outlined the types of special-education data that can be useful to a transportation administrator — for example, information on students themselves and the programs they are involved in, as well as a layout of the district’s classroom locations by type.

Meslin offered methods to secure the data from the district’s special-education department, with approaches ranging from simply asking and saying “please” to impressing upon the department that the student’s safety depends on having the data in question. If faced with objections, Meslin suggested assuring those individuals that the information will remain confidential.

“You have to convince your administrators that you’ll treat the special-ed data differently than regular-ed data,” Meslin explained, stressing that confidentiality is key.

In addition, Meslin presented a template of the special-ed transportation request form used at his district to illustrate the kinds of data he requires parents or guardians to disclose about their child, and he emphasized the importance of consistently reviewing the data received to ensure that the transportation department has the most useful, up-to-date information possible.

{+PAGEBREAK+} Working with vendors
In a workshop titled “Vendor/Director Responsibilities and Ethics,” Monica Coburn, transportation manager at Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. in Columbus, Ind., and Norm Foust, director of customer relations for Synovia Corp., provided tips on how to successfully shop for new products for a district’s transportation department.

A key component of having success in this arena is establishing an honest relationship with service providers.

Coburn and Foust said transportation professionals must first determine how the products that they want to purchase will benefit the department and the school district. This will enable them to more effectively demonstrate to administrators why there is a need for the products.

Coburn and Foust suggested getting quotes from several vendors, requesting an RFP (request for proposal) and performing research to ensure that vendors can provide the services they have indicated for the price they have quoted.

“Vendors should have your best interests at heart,” Foust said. “Make sure they sell you what you want and hold them responsible for what they promise.”

Also, both recommended forming a committee to generate buy-in for the product. The committee can generate a list of questions to ask and specifications for the vendor that will meet the committee’s goal for how the product should serve the department.

Trade show highlights
There were many innovative products on display at the NAPT trade show, one of which was Blue Bird Corp.’s new Type D All American school bus.

NAPT conference attendees line up to board Blue Bird’s newly unveiled Type D All American school bus for the first time.

The vehicle’s entrance is wider, taller, power-controlled and has no change in the step dimensions from the ground floor. The emergency exit door is also wider, with larger, bonded windows. A new steering system allows for a wheel cut of up to 50 degrees, enhancing vehicle maneuverability.

The bus is available in a front- or rear-engine configuration and features progressive styling, a one-piece body bow and a coach-style profile. Its exterior displays a restyled warning light module and roof caps. Inside the bus, the driver’s platform has been eliminated; driver ergonomics have also been improved, with more room and better instrumentation placement and grouping. Passenger seats are high-back and channel-mounted.

Dennis Whitaker, vice president of product development, said the bus will go into production in spring 2009.

SafeGuard introduced a new product platform for its line of school bus seating products.

With SpaceSaver architecture, the thin back of SafeGuard school bus seats (including FlexSeat) enables school bus operations to provide lap-shoulder belts while maintaining the same number of rows found in most traditional floor plans.

At the 247Security Inc. booth, ASBC recognized the company as one of its first sponsors. “They put out a call to business partners in the school bus industry to support the council in its endeavors,” said Rob Scott, vice president, sales and marketing. “We’re doing it because we believe it’s the right thing to do. ASBC brings together those various voices that have been lobbying on the industry’s behalf for many years. I said, ‘Let’s be one of the first companies to come forward and maybe encourage other companies to follow suit.’”

The 2009 NAPT Conference and Trade Show will be held Oct. 31 to Nov. 5 in Louisville, Ky.

Heard in the Aisles: What has been your favorite part of the conference?

“I liked the Love the Bus seminar; I learned a lot.”
Deborah Graham, Route Supervisor
Rowan-Salisbury School System, Salisbury, N.C.

“Meeting other people in the industry, networking, new technology. Seeing other people in the industry, talking to other directors to get a different perspective on the same issues you’re having, realizing it boils down to bus drivers. These devices and technology don’t make a difference if you don’t get people on board.”
Dave Misener, Transportation Supervisor
School District No. 23, Kelowna, British Columbia

“The new Blue Bird Next Generation bus. I got to ride in the FE outside in the parking lot and I love the changes they’ve made.”
Kevin Neafie, Director of Transportation
Michigan City (Ind.) Area Schools

“Nikki Hughes [who spoke on human resources issues] was my favorite speaker. I really learned a lot during her seminar. I’m working on my certification, so I enjoyed the Professional Development Series courses.”
Derek Clark, Assistant Director of Transportation/TIMS Data Manager
Randolph County Schools, Asheboro, N.C.

NAPT names poster contest winners

The winners of NAPT’s annual poster contest for students were announced at the trade show.

Lorena Ramirez’s submission won the overall prize in NAPT’s annual poster contest.

Lorena Ramirez from Lucio Middle School in Brownsville, Texas, had the winning poster in Division I and was the overall winner of the contest.

Other winners are as follows:

1st place: Kylie Terrell, Peoria, Ill.
2nd place: Jacob Key, Man, W.Va.
3rd place: Waneque Hines-Davis, Petersburg, Va.

1st place: Sukhmani Kaur, Richfield, Ohio
2nd place: Pietro Chiri, Philadelphia
3rd place: Dylan Champion, Alamo, Ga.

1st place and overall winner: Lorena Ramirez, Brownsville, Texas
2nd place: Pavel Buchouga, Portland, Ore.
3rd place: Byron Knaus, Westphalia, Kan.

1st place: Eli Creasy, Cottontown, Tenn.
2nd place: Skyler Howell, Springfield, Mo.
3rd place: Toby Alderman, Wasilla, Alaska

1st place: T.J. Graves, Cullman, Ala.
2nd place: Kyle Chadwick, Goochland, Va.
3rd place: Danielle Chambers, Colorado Springs, Colo.


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