Clean shirt, new shoes
And I don't know where I'm goin' to
Silk suit, black tie
I don't need a reason why
What do these lyrics from ZZ Top's legendary song "Sharp Dressed Man" have to do with pupil transportation?
Nothing directly. But they came to mind in writing a profile of someone whose reputation is legendary in our industry: Willie Tarleton, director of transportation services for the Midland (Texas) Independent School District, a position he's held since 1998.
He's one of the sharpest-dressed men you'll ever meet! You can't miss the impeccably tailored suits, starched shirts, shined shoes and his trademark monogrammed initials on his shirt cuff.
But that's not the true measure of the man. It's his 29 years (and counting) of contributions to yellow transportation that make him stand out, and his completion of a decade of distinguished service as NAPT's Region IV director.
What triggered the decision to profile Tarleton was an article written by incoming NAPT board member Barry Sudduth, transportation supervisor at Stafford County (Va.) Public Schools.
Sudduth wrote about how he attended NAPT annual conferences at his own expense when employer budgets restricted travel, and how those he met at the conference influenced him.
"I made a connection to a worldwide network of professional resources that regularly proves invaluable to me in my professional endeavors," Sudduth wrote.
Tarleton is one such professional always accessible at NAPT conferences. He is a helpful mentor for those new to the industry, and even seasoned veterans seek his take on things.
A graduate of East Central University in Oklahoma, Tarleton's list of professional and civic accomplishments is six pages long, single-spaced! In addition to many contributions to NAPT, he's served on dozens of boards, committees and other community leadership positions.
Here are just a few: literacy council, arts, children's shelter, city planning commission and Head Start. His awards are many: City of Ardmore, Oklahoma Hall of Fame, Texas State Transportation Association Administrator of the Year, Citizen of the Year, and the list goes on.
While term-limited after 10 years of board service, fortunately Tarleton will remain active within NAPT. He's an encyclopedia of knowledge of federal, state and local policies affecting the industry, and a go-to guy for common sense advice.
Considering the many issues facing the industry, we asked Tarleton about the biggest challenges he sees.
Not surprisingly, he pointed to "budgets" as the biggie. "Transportation administrators will be called on to go way beyond the line of duty, to do more and offer more services with less budget," he said. "There is something about school finance where everyone thinks that districts can take on more responsibility with fewer resources.
"We're going to have to do a better job marketing our products," Tarleton added. "By that I mean be able to provide good, solid data about what we do. Entities like NAPT must provide cutting edge information to help members survive during difficult budget times."
He also singled out bullying as a continuing concern. "School districts are going to have to provide more training for their employees. Drivers and bus aides must be more proactive, identifying situations to prevent things from happening to innocent kids."
He applauded NAPT's efforts to raise awareness about bullying. "NAPT has been the only one in the industry to take a giant step in this arena, and able to get the U.S. Department of Education to recognize the challenges school bus drivers and systems face.
"NAPT received a lot of criticism from some quarters for showcasing this controversial topic at its annual conference in Portland [2010 NAPT Annual Summit]," Tarleton noted. "But by doing so in a prominent way, we forced the transportation world to view bullying from a different perspective. That's leadership, and how you bring about positive improvements."
NAPT Executive Director Mike Martin laments Tarleton's departure from the board. "Willie is one of the most competent, dedicated and reliable people I've ever met. He never asks for anything for himself; he wants whatever is best for the group or team as a whole.
"Moreover, he's trustworthy and will stand in the breach, ready, willing and able to do the things that make the biggest difference whenever necessary," Martin added.
We salute Willie Tarleton. Not just a sharp dressed man — a major contributor to the reputation and achievements of yellow transportation, and still "in the breach," ready to contribute even more.
Barry McCahill is president of McCahill Communications Inc. and NAPT public affairs consultant.