Pete Baxter has gotten his share of thank-you notes throughout his career in pupil transportation, but one in particular stands out in his mind.
After a safety presentation that Baxter, state director of pupil transportation in Indiana, gave at an in-service training session, a veteran school bus driver wrote to him describing an epiphany of sorts.
“She had just written a quick note and basically said that after all her years of attending safety meetings, she finally got it,” Baxter recalled. “It was simply that in-service wasn’t done to her but forher — she saw the value in why she came.”
For nearly three decades, Baxter has been sharing with the school bus community his teaching talent, leadership skills and passion for keeping kids safe.
In recognition of his efforts, Baxter became the 35th recipient of SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s Administrator of the Year award.
SBFPublisher Frank Di Giacomo presented the award at the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) conference in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in late October.
Years of service
Baxter began his career in pupil transportation in 1980, when he was hired by the Indiana Department of Education as an instructor for the classroom training of new school bus drivers. He is now director of the department’s Office of School Transportation and Emergency Planning.
Baxter also serves as the administrator of Indiana’s school bus committee, which has regulation authority for school bus construction and driver standards in the state.
Over the years, Baxter has held two of the most prominent roles in the school bus industry: president of NAPT and president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services.
He is currently serving as chair of the 15th National Congress on School Transportation. In that position, he has been leading efforts to improve the processes for updating the industry’s specifications and procedures manual.
At the Indiana Department of Education, Baxter has sought to make his office efficient and user-friendly for the school bus operations that report to it. This is achieved in part through electronic data gathering.
Transportation departments throughout the state need to submit certain pieces of information to the state, so Baxter’s office has established convenient data collection tools. For example, school bus operations can electronically send their observation of behind-the-wheel driving hours.
In its school bus driver training program, Baxter’s office targets two key areas: One is legal compliance, “to make sure that drivers understand the uniqueness of the statutes that govern them in our state,” Baxter says.
The other is loading and unloading children, where following procedures is particularly critical to maintaining safety. When outside-of-the-bus fatalities have occurred in Indiana, Baxter’s office has analyzed the accidents to see what can be learned from them and how training can be improved.
“If we need to tweak what we do from the department level, then we do that to make sure we have the best information so that core part of the job is done well at every bus stop,” Baxter says.
Traveling and teaching
In addition to leading training in Indiana, Baxter is regularly invited to give presentations in other states. He says that, schedule permitting, he likes to accept the invitations because “it’s in-service for me, and I get a chance to interact with my peers and share some of the things that I’ve learned with drivers.”
Baxter estimates that he has given 50 presentations in 10 states.
It is the teaching of bus drivers that Baxter finds most rewarding in his line of work, he says. “The fulfillment for me is helping them do their job,” he says. “That’s how I look at my role in the department: helping them provide safe rides for kids.”