Management

Young guns in the yellow bus industry

Posted on October 25, 2011
Justin Wilczynski became fascinated by school buses when he first rode one at age 4. He is pictured here (standing) with staff from his transportation department.
Justin Wilczynski became fascinated by school buses when he first rode one at age 4. He is pictured here (standing) with staff from his transportation department.

Justin Wilczynski
Director of Transportation, Central Indiana Educational Service Center, Indianapolis

What are your key responsibilities in your job?
I oversee the daily transportation for Central Indiana Educational Service Center. My responsibilities include overseeing the day-to-day activities of all facades of our agency. I oversee a staff of two technicians, one shop coordinator, four office employees, 60 bus drivers and 11 transportation assistants.

When and how did you first become involved in the school bus industry?
I became interested at age 4. I was standing outside with my mother waiting for the bus to take me to preschool. I heard a loud roar coming down the street and saw this incredible large yellow vehicle. I jumped on the bus and was greeted by my bus driver, Mrs. Loretta Burke. I was amazed at the bold color of the bus, the red flashing lights and how the door opened and closed. From that point on, I have always been fascinated by school buses.

I joined the transportation industry immediately out of high school, working for Laidlaw Education Services as a bus driver. I have been in the industry since graduating from high school.

Since then, I've also graduated from Purdue University and become a certified director of pupil transportation through the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT).

What do you find to be most challenging in your job?
It's the lack of funding for tools that can assist us with student safety. This is unfortunate, since no price tag should be placed on a child's safety. As the economy recovers, I hope to see funding shift back to public schools and transportation departments to further increase our ability to keep our children safe.

How do you think the industry will change over the next 20 years or so?
I believe the industry will change over the next 20 years in the form of technology and vehicle design. I see Wi-Fi being a normal item on all school buses. I see touch-screen technology on the back of bus seats in the near future, letting students learn or communicate on the bus.

The school bus itself will change in design in my forecast. I see vehicles that are sleeker looking, more aerodynamic and powered by natural resources. I believe manufacturers will look toward solar energy and alternate choices for future power.


Leah Walton says saving every e-mail from her mentor, who was a longtime school bus safety expert at NHTSA, has helped build her knowledge of the industry.
Leah Walton says saving every e-mail from her mentor, who was a longtime school bus safety expert at NHTSA, has helped build her knowledge of the industry.
Leah Walton
Pedestrian and Pupil Transportation Program Manager, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, D.C.

What are your key responsibilities in your job?
I am the pupil transportation and pedestrian safety program analyst for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], within the U.S. Department of Transportation. I serve as the pupil transportation safety expert for behavioral safety programs.

I manage contracts and cooperative agreements that fund programs to increase safety on school buses, including the Child Passenger Safety Restraint Systems on School Buses National Training (and training DVD, to be released in October), the School Bus Driver In-Service Safety Series (to be online in October), and the School Bus Ridership promotional materials (to be released in October).

When did you first become involved in the school bus industry?
My involvement in the school bus industry began when I started working at NHTSA in 2006.

What do you like most about being part of the industry?
The yellow bus is directly associated with school and learning, and just as every child deserves a good education, every child deserves to get to school safely and ready to learn. I am proud that I am working in an industry that provides the safest mode to transport students to and from school.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?
Providing guidance to parents who contact me with children riding school buses that are overcrowded, or who have children whose school bus routes have been eliminated due to budget cuts.

What's the best advice that someone has given you in your career?
I was told early on in my career to save every e-mail I received from my mentor, who was a school bus safety expert at NHTSA for nearly 20 years. I'm glad I took that advice, as he has since retired and I still refer to that information as I continue to build my vast knowledge of the school bus industry.

Do you see a need for the industry to attract more young people?
I feel as though green technology is only going to become more popular and more necessary as time goes on. If the school bus industry continues to push the green initiative both with hybrid technology and reducing the number of cars on the road, it's a large area of opportunity and growth for the new generation of engineers.


The best career advice that Dennis Huffmon has been given is to start the day before 7 a.m. and to not let anyone outwork you.
The best career advice that Dennis Huffmon has been given is to start the day before 7 a.m. and to not let anyone outwork you.
Dennis Huffmon
Vice President and General Manager, IC Bus - North America, Warrenville, Ill.

What are your key responsibilities in your job?
Ensure that IC Bus delivers long-lasting, reliable products by acting as a customer ally within the industry.

When and how did you first become involved in the school bus industry?
I joined the industry in 2007 as the assistant general manager for IC Bus. Past performance within [parent company] Navistar afforded me the opportunity to take on this greater role.

What did you do before that?
I have been with Navistar for the last 10 years. Prior to joining IC Bus, I was accountable for the used truck organization for International Trucks.

Tell us about any involvement you have with industry associations.
I'm a major supporter of NAPT, NASDPTS [the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services] and NSTA [the National School Transportation Association]. I have been working directly with ASBC [the American School Bus Council] to advocate for the yellow school bus industry.

What do you find to be most challenging in your job?
Today's economic condition and the restraint it has placed on our school districts. Like many, I have children — two boys — so I am fully aware of the resource issues our local districts have and the budget tradeoffs that are being made. As an industry, we must become a solution provider to create even greater value within the education system.

What's the best advice that someone has given you in your career?
Successful people start their day before 7 a.m., and do not allow anyone to outwork you.

How do you think the school bus industry will change over the next 20 years or so?
I think it will continue to evolve and be challenged to do things differently. The leaders within the industry today need to shape what it can and should become. Hence the work of ASBC. It's about how we become better — not only individually, but collectively.

Do you see a need for the industry to attract more young people?
I don't think it is a function of young or old; I think it's more of a function of fresh ideas, and those can come from anyone and from anywhere. I would tend to believe that there are a number of new people coming into the industry. For example, I see it within the IC Bus dealer channel.


Dallas Rackow sees GPS making significant changes in school transportation. She believes that the industry is undergoing a revolution in safety, security and efficiencies. 
Dallas Rackow sees GPS making significant changes in school transportation. She believes that the industry is undergoing a revolution in safety, security and efficiencies. 

Dallas Rackow
Director of Transportation, Freeport School District, Freeport, Ill.

What are your key responsibilities in your job?
I'm the director of transportation and am responsible for all aspects of the operation: maintenance, routing, budget, student services and human resource management.

When and how did you first become involved in the school bus industry?
It was a fluke, really. I was looking for a job that would have me home more (I was traveling a lot) and interviewed for the position more for interview experience than anything.

What did you do before that?

I was in human resources for an electronics manufacturer.

Tell us about any involvement you have with industry associations.
I'm a board member of the Illinois Association for Pupil Transportation.

What do you like most about being part of the school bus industry?
The ability to work with students and families as well as the opportunity to see the dedication the drivers, mechanics and office staff display every day.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?
That's tough, but I would say the continuing budget issues.

What's the best advice that someone has given you in your career?

To do my best, to put myself in the other person's shoes and to give up on trying to make everyone happy.

How do you think the school bus industry will change over the next 20 years or so?
I see GPS technology changing how we do things, from routing to student tracking; I think the industry is in the midst of a revolution in safety, security and efficiencies.

Do you see a need for the industry to attract more young people? If so, how can it be done?
Definitely. I'm not really sure on how to attract others. There's not much glamour in pupil transportation, but the satisfaction of knowing that what you do every day matters to thousands of families and that you are part of a bigger wheel is pretty amazing.

As the Region 6 Representative for the Transportation Administrators of Arizona, Tony Mlynek creates mini-conferences throughout the year within his region.
As the Region 6 Representative for the Transportation Administrators of Arizona, Tony Mlynek creates mini-conferences throughout the year within his region.

Antonio "Tony" Mlynek

Transportation Supervisor for Special Education, Washington Elementary School District #6, Phoenix, Ariz.

What are your key responsibilities in your job?

It is my responsibility to supervise 110 super bus drivers and bus assistants who transport special-education students to many of our in-district school sites and out-of-district private schools. My responsibilities also include being a liaison between the transportation department, school staff and parents to collaborate on safe transportation for each student.

When and how did you first become involved in the school bus industry?
I started in July 1997, at the age of 19, at Peoria (Ariz.) Unified School District. I always wanted to drive a school bus when I was younger, and I also needed a job where I could attend college during the mid-day.

What did you do before that?
I attended high school at Centennial High School in Peoria, Ariz.

Tell us about any involvement you have with industry associations.
I am involved with the Transportation Administrators of Arizona, where I reside on the board as the Region 6 representative (Maricopa County). My main responsibility is to create "mini-conferences" throughout the year within my region, to allow for networking and continuing education within our industry.

What do you like most about being part of the school bus industry?
Each day is different; I enjoy having a new challenge to solve. Thank goodness I have great bus drivers and bus assistants that "stand up to the plate" when challenges arise.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?
Simply not having enough time in the day to get everything done!

What's the best advice that someone has given you in your career?
Keep the main thing, the main thing. Focus on safety, timeliness and excellent customer service, and you will be successful in this career.

In what ways do you think the school bus industry will change over the next 20 years or so?
I definitely see technology creating more efficient ways to operate all aspects of the school bus industry.

Do you see a need for the industry to attract more young people? If so, how can it be done?
Absolutely. I would like to see our national associations work with colleges around the country to promote our industry and create an undergrad program in pupil transportation.


Erin Lake believes there's an advantage to having a mix of seasoned veterans and new individuals in the industry who bring with them fresh ideas.
Erin Lake believes there's an advantage to having a mix of seasoned veterans and new individuals in the industry who bring with them fresh ideas.
Erin Lake
Marketing Communications Manager, Blue Bird Corp., Fort Valley, Ga.

What are your key responsibilities in your job?
I oversee all marketing and communications for Blue Bird Corp. This includes internal and external marketing, and support for our dealer network.

When did you first become involved in the school bus industry?
My entry into the school bus market came in 2007, when I joined Blue Bird Corp.

What did you do before that?
I have always held roles in marketing and communications. Marketing is my passion — I love this field.

Tell us about any involvement you have with industry associations.
Blue Bird is an active member of the ASBC. As one of the founding members, Blue Bird has worked within ASBC to ensure the viability of the yellow school bus. Blue Bird is also a business partner and member of the NAPT, as well as a member of NASDPTS and NSTA.

What do you like most about being part of the school bus industry?
Hands down, the people and the mission. This industry comprises so many hard-working, genuine individuals who ensure the safe transportation of our schoolchildren. You can't beat working for a company and an industry that strive for this core principle.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?
The wheels of a school bus manufacturer are continually in motion. Many times, there simply are not enough hours in the day to execute all the marketing projects I strive for.

What's the best advice that someone has given you in your career?

Listen, be flexible and don't be afraid to think outside of the box.

How do you think the school bus industry will change over the next 20 years or so?
With continual initiatives to meet air quality standards and the cost of fuel continually on the rise, I anticipate alternative fuel technology to be an even greater player in the school bus industry. The automotive industry has been moving in this direction for years, and the school bus industry is really beginning to take notice of the features and benefits of alternative fuel technology.

Do you see a need for the industry to attract more young people?
Absolutely. There is always an advantage to having a mix of seasoned veterans and new individuals who bring fresh, realistic ideas.

Gray Ellison is CEO of SMI, which supplies a variety of safety and interior products for school buses, including stop arms, crossing arms and roof hatches. In the background is a cutout of industry veteran Buck Pearce, who retired from SMI in 2007.
Gray Ellison is CEO of SMI, which supplies a variety of safety and interior products for school buses, including stop arms, crossing arms and roof hatches. In the background is a cutout of industry veteran Buck Pearce, who retired from SMI in 2007.
Gray Ellison

CEO, SMI, Pineville, N.C.

What are your key responsibilities in your job?
 The items of significant importance for me are as follows: finding the right people to help lead our organization, striving for operational excellence and finding avenues for continued growth.

When and how did you first become involved in the school bus industry?
Previous to 2006, SMI was privately owned by my family, and I was invited to join the company as a sales associate in 2000.

What did you do before that?
Before working at SMI, I was an adjunct professor at Temple University.

What do you like most about being part of the school bus industry?
At SMI, all of our products have a safety aspect to them. We take a lot of pride in our efforts to make components that help make the school bus the safest mode of transportation in the daily commute to and from school.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?
There are many pieces of my job that are difficult, but trying to manage people I find the hardest. There is rarely one right way to manage the variety of personalities and situations that arise on a day-to-day basis.

What's the best advice that someone has given you in your career?

"You live and you learn" — my father.

How do you think the school bus industry will change over the next 20 years or so?
It will be interesting to see if the current model for funding changes. That area I believe is critical for the longevity of our industry.

We take a lot of pride in our efforts to make components that help make the school bus the safest mode of transportation in the daily commute to and from school.


Mary Aufdemberg

Mary Aufdemberg looks forward to working on engaging with pupil  transportation professionals through social media tools in the future.
Mary Aufdemberg looks forward to working on engaging with pupil transportation professionals through social media tools in the future.

Manager, Center for Education and Marketing, Thomas Built Buses, High Point, N.C.

What are your key responsibilities in your job?
I am in charge of marketing communications, advertising, events, sales and service training and technical publications at Thomas Built Buses.

When and how did you first become involved in the school bus industry?
My seven-year Daimler-related career started at Daimler Truck Financial. Four years ago, I took a position as the municipal bus finance manager for the Southeast. I traveled the Southeast, working with Thomas Built dealers and customers. I really fell in love with the industry during that year, and when this position was listed at Thomas Built, I applied.

What did you do before that?
After earning my MBA in international marketing and finance, I worked at Walgreens as a senior market analyst.

Tell us about any involvement you have with industry groups.
I am on the board for Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference as a supplier representative and help facilitate its vendor show with Craig Leonard, event specialist for Thomas Built Buses. I am also thrilled to help champion our industry as a member of the ASBC's marketing team and its Yellow School Bus Champions team.

What do you like most about being part of the school bus industry?
I love the family-like feel of the industry and the passion for keeping kids safe.

What's the best advice that someone has given you in your career?

Treat everyone as if they could be your boss someday. It's about respect and building strong relationships.

How do you think the school bus industry will change over the next 20 years or so?
Marketing in the school bus industry has changed tremendously in the last five years. I'm excited to be on the forefront of changing how we engage and dialogue with drivers, technicians and directors through the use of social media and other digital tools.

Do you see a need for the industry to attract more young people? If so, how can it be done?
I think there's a need for balance because of the learning that can take place between different generations. It's amazing what can be accomplished with a mix of dynamic ideas, new technology, storied tradition and lessons learned, all of which can come from any generation! To attract more young people, give them respect, responsibility, challenges and mentoring, and keep an open mind.


Jeff Walker worked as a bus driver while he was going to school for elementary education. He thought he would become a teacher, but his pupil transportation career took off. 
Jeff Walker worked as a bus driver while he was going to school for elementary education. He thought he would become a teacher, but his pupil transportation career took off. 
Jeff Walker
Director of Transportation, Litchfield Elementary School District #79, Litchfield Park, Ariz.

What are your key responsibilities in your job?
I lead all aspects of the transportation department, including the school buses and district vehicles. I am also responsible for the school safety programs.

When and how did you first become involved in the school bus industry?

While I was going to school for elementary education, I began driving a school bus. It worked great with my class schedule. I thought I was going to be a teacher, and 10 years later, I'm still in transportation.

What did you do before that?
I was in high school and worked in a grocery store.

Tell us about any involvement you have with industry associations.
I've been involved with the Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials for five years and served as committee chair for two years. I currently serve as president-elect for the Transportation Administrators of Arizona.

What do you like most about being part of the school bus industry?

My staff! They're a hard-working, fun-loving group to work with who are all 100 percent dedicated to their jobs and students.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?
The most challenging part is definitely working in an era of "do more with less," especially while working in a growing district and trying to please administrators and parents while staying within my tight department budget.

What's the best advice that someone has given you in your career?
When it comes to instituting change, "pick your battles" and prioritize the changes. Some changes require a lot more effort than others. Make sure when you are looking at a big change that you collaborate to ensure that all possible outcomes are considered.

How do you think the school bus industry will change over the next 20 years or so?
I look at how much it has changed over the last 10 years and can only imagine what the next 20 years will bring! I believe that technology will continue to play an integral role in student transportation and that most districts will have such items as GPS, cameras, etc. on their buses and various software in their office and shop.


Aaron Harris grew up around pupil transportation - his father sold textiles to the industry.
Aaron Harris grew up around pupil transportation - his father sold textiles to the industry.
Aaron Harris

Regional Sales Representative/Training Coordinator, BESI Inc., Hamilton, Ohio

What are your key responsibilities in your job?
I am the training coordinator and a regional sales representative for BESI Inc. and Tie Tech LLC. On any given day, I could be meeting with one of the bus manufacturers, training a school district on use of child restraint systems, working with dealers in the Southeast, or working with management on marketing strategy and product diversity.

When and how did you first become involved in the school bus industry?

I actually grew up around pupil transportation because my father sold textiles to the industry. In the summer, Dad would take the family around to the state and national trade shows, and we would vacation while he worked. I actually met the president and founder of BESI at a trade show years later, and within a couple of months, I was working with them.

Tell us about any involvement you have with industry associations.

I am a member of NAPT, the NASDPTS supplier council and NSTA. I attend the NASDPTS annual conference and supplier council meetings, and we recently became a member of NSTA after attending the last three conferences.

What's the best advice that someone has given you in your career?
Always be upfront and honest with your customers, even when you have bad news. They may not like what you are telling them, but they will appreciate your honesty.

How do you think the industry will change over the next 20 years or so?

I see more young children on large school buses every year, with a push for pre-K education. I think the average age of ridership will continue to decrease. I also think that technology will continue to be incorporated into the bus, making it even safer than it is now.

Do you see a need for the industry to attract more young people?
There have definitely been a lot of important people in the industry who have recently retired. I believe that we need some young, motivated people to step up as transportation officials and contractors, and on the supplier side as well. For this industry to continue to grow, we need to recruit and retain people who can innovate without losing sight of our mission: safely transporting our children.


Before becoming Wyoming's state pupil transportation director last year, David Koskelowski worked for a year with industry veteran Leeds Pickering, who was retiring from the position.
Before becoming Wyoming's state pupil transportation director last year, David Koskelowski worked for a year with industry veteran Leeds Pickering, who was retiring from the position.
David Koskelowski

Program Manager, Traffic Safety/Pupil Transportation, Wyoming Department of Education, Cheyenne, Wyo.

When and how did you first become involved in the school bus industry?
I became involved in 2009, when Leeds Pickering [the former state director of pupil transportation for Wyoming] asked if I would be interested in a new line of work. I applied, interviewed and was offered the position.

It was a wonderful combination of timing and opportunity. The timing was that Leeds was retiring, and the opportunity was that I could still work with him for a year and pick his brain for 30 years of industry knowledge and expertise. I can never thank Leeds enough for that year.

What did you do before that?
I started as a project analyst at the Wyoming Department of Education in 2008. I was a retail manager for two years from 2006 to 2008.

Prior to that, I served in the United States Air Force for 21 years, one month and 22 days (that is what my retirement certificate says). I was in the Security Forces for 17 years and was a first sergeant for the last four years and a bit.

Tell us about any involvement you have with industry associations.
I served on the Resolutions Committee and School Bus Inspection Committee at the 15th National Congress on School Transportation. I am a member of NASDPTS and NAPT. I also work with an incredible team of pupil transportation professionals in the Wyoming Pupil Transportation Association.

What do you like most about being part of the school bus industry?
It is the passion and commitment of the people in the school bus industry that inspires me. We are all in this business to get students to and from school, activities and field trips, ready to learn, in the safest form of transportation possible: the yellow school bus.

There is no better industry or profession I would choose to be a part of. It is an honor and a privilege to be part of this industry.


Brandon Billingsley believes the industry should focus on recruiting people who can bring a unique skill set to their position, regardless of their age.
Brandon Billingsley believes the industry should focus on recruiting people who can bring a unique skill set to their position, regardless of their age.
Brandon Billingsley

CEO, Heavy Duty Bus Parts Inc., Willis, Texas

What are your key responsibilities in your job?
I oversee the daily operations at Heavy Duty Bus Parts Inc.

When and how did you first become involved in the school bus industry?
In the late 1960s, my grandfather developed the universal axle bend exhaust system, and my father left the Secret Service shortly thereafter to work with him. I was born in 1972, and the school bus industry is all I've ever really known.

Tell us about any involvement you have with industry associations.
There are various industry associations at different levels (local, state and national), and working with them represents the best part of my job. To be involved with a group of people, have the ability to set aside competition and just work on doing the right thing and making a difference is rewarding.
As for personal involvement, the Texas Association for Pupil Transportation (TAPT) has been a big part of my life since I was a kid. It's always been a very positive experience, and I've met most of my best friends, mentors and role models through TAPT.

What's the best advice that someone has given you in your career?
To develop positive role models and mentors who contribute to a greater cause and always expect the best from me.

How do you think the school bus industry will change over the next 20 years or so?
Consolidation. Over the past few years, we seem to have been developing a "new normal," and this will force greater efficiencies as we learn to do more with less. We'll see technological innovations as well, just as in the past.

Do you see a need for the industry to attract more young people? If so, how can it be done?
Not necessarily young or old, just new talent — people who bring a unique skill set to complement the industry and choose pupil transportation as a long-term career. How can we recruit such talent? Water tends to seek its own level. If we really are getting by on fewer personnel and take into account the current economy and job situation, we'll be fine. We should remain focused on training and retaining good technicians and bus drivers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments ( 1 )
  • george lowinnger

     | about 5 years ago

    Sorry to differ with ms. Walton,but I fail to see the vast knowledge involved in the school bus industry. It's not exactly as challenging as per say a brain surgeon's or rocket scientist's education.

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