“Transportation” often is just a portion of what many district transportation directors need to juggle on a daily basis. Many have responsibilities in a variety of areas, ranging from overseeing building services and crossing guards to emergency management for the city as well as the schools. How do transportation directors with titles that convey a larger scope of responsibilities successfully manage all these obligations? Three versatile directors told us that getting the right people on board, delegation, and planning and prioritizing are essential.
Tap skilled team members
Michael Shields, director of transportation and auxiliary services at Salem-Keizer Public Schools, the second largest school district in Oregon, says that the first thing a transportation director wearing two or more hats needs is a good team. That means staff that can see the big picture, get along with others, want to serve the community and are excited about what they are doing.
Shields oversees, under transportation, a fleet manager and an operations manager. Combined, these two managers supervise four field coordinators; a head mechanic that oversees three shifts and is responsible for 500 vehicles; more than 200 drivers; 160 crossing guards; and nine customers outside the school district, including the Oregon Department of Education, and a community college. The fleet manager also handles cartage and hauling for school customers. Additionally, Salem-Keizer recently assumed budget and maintenance responsibilities for the district motorpool. The auxiliary services manager oversees the warehouse, delivery, district mail, surplus and printing (reprographics).
To get a team on board and thinking bigger picture, Shields references a lesson he learned from the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. “You need to have the right people on the bus. Get the people that are on the bus in the right seats. Get the wrong people off the bus, and replace them with the right people that fit into the seats,” he explains. “Identify the process, communicate the expectations for the outcomes, and try to find the best fit for the people that will help achieve that end.”
For example, Shields doesn’t worry about how Salem-Keizer’s maintenance shift leaders get work orders assigned to mechanics; he trusts that he has the “right people on the bus.” The expected outcome is that all work orders will be completed at the end of the shift, and he gives the maintenance staff the autonomy to achieve that result.
To effectively handle all the responsibilities on his plate, Doug Fedoruk, director of transportation and facilities, St. Paul (Alberta) Education Regional Division No. 1, says he needs efficient people working with him. That way, he can focus on big-picture issues and has assistants help with day-to-day tasks. For example, a maintenance supervisor manages the day-to-day aspects of the facility maintenance, and a transportation assistant does the same with busing.
“Anything they require assistance with or can’t get resolution to, they bring to my attention and we work together to address,” Fedoruk says.
Fedoruk takes advantage of resources such as EDULOG routing software, but personnel is the source of most of his support, he says. “I’m very fortunate that we have excellent staff that keeps me organized.”
“Have good people working with you; that’s truly the most important thing,” Fedoruk adds. “That makes our job much easier.”
Delegate to your team
After you have selected your trusted team members, it’s time to delegate responsibilities to them.
Brian Fowler, former supervisor of transportation, crossing guards and emergency management, Methuen (Mass.) Public Schools, was able to help manage his emergency management responsibilities this way. As these obligations gradually took him offsite more frequently, what helped, he says, was having staff members whom he knew he could delegate tasks to when he needed to be offsite.
“Give authority to people below you within their spectrum of knowledge and trust them to make the right decisions,” he adds.
For example, an administrative assistant in the transportation department helped significantly. “She took awesome notes, dealt with some of the issues that parents were asking about, and did a very effective job,” he explains.
Salem-Keizer’s Shields used delegation after being assigned coordination of the district’s 42 summer school programs. Part of this role entailed hiring teachers, an aspect of the job he did not have experience with. He turned to the director of instructional services and asked her if she would take that on, since, as he puts it, “that was not part of my normal bailiwick.”
Meanwhile, that freed Shields to focus on organizing all other aspects of the program, including scheduling use of the school buildings, security code access, mail service, copier machine use and annual school building cleaning.
Create an action plan
When overwhelmed, identify your goal and desired outcomes, and design a plan to accomplish it, Shields advises. Then, create an action plan to achieve those outcomes. Break the goal down into subcomponents, such as different cash and time elements necessary to achieve the desired outcome and who’s responsible to make it happen. Shields also finds checklists helpful for this.
“Think in terms of the Olympic circles,” he suggests. “Each department and school is an individual circle, but they all overlap in some fashion. We identify how to fit them in that action plan, and design it to meet the greater needs of the school district.”
Thinking long-term, he also writes a five-year action plan, since some goals won’t be accomplished in one year.
Prioritize projects, tasks
Fedoruk is responsible for all aspects of St. Paul’s school buses, as well as the facilities, including oversight of the maintenance and capital projects. Since the school board can’t afford two directors, it streamlined by having one director oversee two departments.
Additionally, his workload got even heavier, as the board had three significant capital projects approved. Each involves approximately two meetings a month and correspondence between meetings, so his reliance on his staff has increased even more. And Fedoruk has coped by prioritizing.
“When your workload becomes overwhelming, make sure that you’re addressing the must-need items first,” he says. “Work on other items on an as-you-can basis.”
He has also learned not to let stressful situations faze him.
Conversely, having one director versus two has brought about fiscal and communication efficiencies. For example, Fedoruk reports on both departments to the secretary treasurer and superintendent, establishing quicker and more consistent communication with them instead of having two people reporting on the same topics.