Management

10 Fascinating People in Pupil Transportation

Thomas McMahon
Posted on October 18, 2018

Who served as a mechanic for Marine One, the presidential helicopter? Which Texas transportation director was born in Iran? And who used to draw blood for a living? Learn about these and other intriguing school bus industry people in the return of this popular series.

After starting as a school bus driver, Shannon Evans went back to school to earn a degree in business administration. She’s now director of the largest public school bus operation in the U.S.
After starting as a school bus driver, Shannon Evans went back to school to earn a degree in business administration. She’s now director of the largest public school bus operation in the U.S.

Shannon Evans

Executive Director, Transportation
Clark County School District
Las Vegas, Nevada
Born: West Covina, California
Home: Las Vegas, Nevada
Years in school bus industry: 25


How did you get your start in the school bus industry?
I started as a school bus driver and fell in love with the job. I worked my way up to the director position, which included going back to school to obtain a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

What are your current job duties?
As a transportation director, my duties consist of providing the necessary supports and services for drivers, frontline management, schools, parents, students, and the public. Serving the needs of children is a team effort, and I strongly believe I am a vital part of the team. I make every effort to contribute when and where I can, regardless of who is asking. [Note: With 1,679 route buses serving students daily, Clark County School District has the biggest publicly owned and operated school bus fleet in the U.S.]

What do you consider your top achievements?
Implementation of Zonar to the fleet, an upgrade of routing software, a strong three-tier school bell structure, GPS tracking, and full-time driver instructors with a rigorous training curriculum.

What are your interests outside of work?
My family is my most important interest.

What is the most interesting place you’ve been?
I am not very interesting in this category. I love to spend time on the beach and just walk or fish for hours.

Tell us about the most interesting or strangest job you’ve had outside of school transportation.
Prior to working for Clark County School District, I was a phlebotomist. I woke up at 3 a.m. every morning to wake up patients and draw their blood (yes, just like a vampire!).

What is something that most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I am obsessed with puzzles! I will stay up half the night to finish a 1,000-piece puzzle.

Austin ISD transportation leader Kris Hafezizadeh was born in Iran and has also lived in Turkey and Montreal.
Austin ISD transportation leader Kris Hafezizadeh was born in Iran and has also lived in Turkey and Montreal.

Kris Hafezizadeh

Executive Director of Transportation and Vehicle Services
Austin (Texas) Independent School District
Born: Tehran, Iran
Home: Austin, Texas
Years in industry: 15

How did you get your start in the industry?
I started as a shuttle bus driver back in February 1989 for the University of Texas in Austin. I moved up the ranks in various positions. In April 2004, I was hired by Austin Independent School District as the assistant director of transportation. In June 2008, I was promoted to the director of transportation, overseeing 650 employees and a fleet of 500 school buses. In July 2017, I was promoted to the executive director of transportation, overseeing all vehicles, including the district’s white fleet and police cars. 

Current job duties?
1. My number-one duty and priority is to make sure our students are provided a safe and reliable service in an efficient and effective manner.
2. Lead by example. I try to do everything I can to empower our employees to grow and hopefully step in as our future leaders. I believe leadership is not about being the best; it is about making everyone else better.
3. Continued partnership with our school officials, parents, and other governmental agencies to make sure we all can support and provide quality service for our students.

Top achievements?
1. Promoting quality customer service to our students, parents, and other internal and external partners.
2. School bus replacement plan to keep up with the new emissions [standards] and technology.
3. State-of-the-art transportation technology. Live GPS and providing apps for our parents and school officials to check arrival time of their buses.
4. Digital cameras in all buses.
5. Stop-arm cameras to issue citations to motorists who do not stop for our buses while they are loading and unloading students.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
Hawaii (dream vacation). I have traveled to most European countries. I lived in Turkey for six months and in Montreal for a year. I’ve always loved to visit and learn from other cultures.

Most interesting or strangest job you’ve had outside of school transportation?
I was a window washer for three years — hanging on the side of high-rises! I also worked for a rent-to-own company for two years. Taking TVs from kids on Saturday mornings if their parents did not pay was not fun.

Something that most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I was a certified soccer official for 25 years. I started playing the game when I started to walk.

When their daughter Abby performed in the ballet “The Nutcracker,” Barry Sudduth and his wife, Mary, took part in the dancing as party parents. They are seen here after one of Abby’s recitals.
When their daughter Abby performed in the ballet “The Nutcracker,” Barry Sudduth and his wife, Mary, took part in the dancing as party parents. They are seen here after one of Abby’s recitals.

Barry Sudduth

Executive Director for Fleet and Transportation Services
Stafford County (Va.) Public Schools
Born: Newport News, Virginia
Home: Hague, Virginia
Years in industry: 18

How did you get your start in the industry?
I started in education as a band director. After nine years of that, I moved to the classroom and taught math and science to sixth-graders. My summer job during that time was on a produce farm. One day, when preparing a truck to go to market, I looked up and the school superintendent was driving across the field. He drove up to me and said, “Barry, I have a job you may be interested in applying for.” He [said] it would free my time up to work on my advanced degrees. I fell for it and the rest is history. I fell in love with pupil transportation and have never looked back. I did complete my master’s degree, but as any pupil transportation professional knows, there is minimal free time!

Current job duties?
I manage the county fleet services and the school division’s transportation services. I work with almost 300 drivers, monitors, technicians, routing specialists, trainers, and other transportation professionals to get the job done. Thankfully, I am surrounded by outstanding people who make the job easier.

Top achievements?
On a personal level, it is my family. My wife Mary and daughter Abby have been patient, understanding, and supportive of me. This helps a lot. On a professional level, I am proud of representing NAPT [the National Association for Pupil Transportation] as the president and receiving certifications from them.

Outside interests?
I enjoy farming and being outside. For years, I maintained a five-acre produce operation but have had to back off on that a bit over the past couple of years.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
It would have to be Mount Saint Helens and Mount Rainier in Washington. The sheer power and beauty of nature is awesome, and those places accentuate that.

Something that most people would be surprised to learn about you?
I performed as a party parent in the “Nutcracker.” My daughter was in the ballet, so my wife and I thought it would be fun to join in. Dancing is not my forte, but it was fun.

Outside of work, Brian Reu’s top achievement is being the father of two children, Grason and Stella. Professionally, he’s proud of his work in DWI enforcement.
Outside of work, Brian Reu’s top achievement is being the father of two children, Grason and Stella. Professionally, he’s proud of his work in DWI enforcement.

Lt. Brian Reu

State Director of Pupil Transportation
Minnesota State Patrol
Mendota Heights, Minnesota
Born: Luverne, Minnesota
Home: Near Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Area
Years in school bus industry: 8

How did you get your start in the industry?
I started my career as a state trooper in Minnesota in 2000. In 2002, while assigned to the night shift, I decided I’d pick up a part-time job driving afternoon school bus routes. I drove part time for two years. Ten years later, I had the opportunity to interview for a lieutenant opening within the State Patrol. The lieutenant assignment was for the position of state director of pupil transportation for Minnesota. Having experience behind the wheel of a school bus has certainly helped me in my current position.

Current job duties?
As the state director of pupil transportation, one of my main responsibilities is to oversee the Office of Pupil Transportation. Our office is tasked with inspecting every vehicle used in student transportation. Our staff of 20 inspectors (myself included) conduct over 20,000 annual inspections. We provide outreach presentations to districts, contractors, and the school bus associations within the state. I work closely with the school bus associations and school bus safety groups in Minnesota to monitor and pursue legislative initiatives surrounding student transportation.

In addition to my responsibilities surrounding student transportation, I also coordinate and facilitate Minnesota’s Passenger Vehicle Inspection Program for commercial buses and motorcoaches.

Top achievements?
From a work-related standpoint, I am most proud of the years I spent working the nightshift and dedicating my efforts toward DWI [driving while impaired] enforcement. I worked that shift for approximately 10 years, making more than 1,200 DWI arrests in an effort to keep our roads safe. I was recognized as one of the state’s “DWI Enforcer All-Stars” in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Since taking on the role of state director of pupil transportation, I have had the privilege to serve on the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services’ board of directors as the central regional director. I also chaired the school bus inspection writing committee as a part of the 2015 National Congress on School Transportation.

Outside of work, my greatest achievement is being the father of two beautiful children, Grason (11) and Stella (3).

Outside interests?
Being from the “State of Hockey,” nine months out of the year are spent at the rink watching Grason play! Aside from that, our family also enjoys the great outdoor life Minnesota has to offer. We spend time camping, fishing, and hunting.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
The best vacation I’ve been on would have to be our trip to Jamaica in 2005. Sherry and I were married on the beach, and we enjoyed the rest of the trip celebrating our love and the beginning of the rest of our lives together!

Most interesting or strangest job you’ve had outside of school transportation?
There are many interesting stories I could share about things I’ve experienced as a state trooper, but my favorite job has been working on the family farm. I grew up on a small farm where my dad raised pigs, corn, and soybeans. Throughout the years of working with the pigs, there were various interesting tasks that needed to be done, including assisting a laboring sow with a difficult delivery or administering the artificial insemination process. On the crop production side of things, my favorite season was always harvest season. Up until last year, when my dad retired, I would take two to three weeks off each fall to help him harvest.

Both Elisa Hanley (left) and her husband, Anthony, have served in the military. Their children are Alyssa, 15, and Erin, 1.
Both Elisa Hanley (left) and her husband, Anthony, have served in the military. Their children are Alyssa, 15, and Erin, 1.

Elisa Hanley

Supervisor of Pupil Transportation
Kentucky Department of Education
Frankfort, Kentucky
Born: Waukegan, Illinois
Home: Frankfort, Kentucky
Years in industry: 4.5

How did you get your start in the industry?
We were moving from Jacksonville, Florida, after my husband got out of the military. I applied for the position [supervisor of pupil transportation at the Kentucky Department of Education], as I had previously done air transportation in the Air Force Reserve. I had the final interview by phone, on the wrong day, and got the job! I have been here ever since and have not regretted a minute of it!

Current job duties?
I oversee all aspects of pupil transportation at the state level. This includes doing audits and reviews of school district transportation operations, training driver trainers and inspector instructors, the third-party examiner program, and keeping up with all school bus driver qualifications. I work with our state organizations, provide information to legislators when needed, and am on the board of the Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference [SESPTC].

Top achievements?
My wonderful family is my top achievement. I have a 1-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old stepdaughter who is like my own. I do my best to help mold them to be the best they can be. I finished college later in life, and I ensure that my oldest understands that if you work towards something, you can achieve it if you want it.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
Pakistan. I was stationed in Afghanistan, and the floods of 2010 washed out most of Pakistan. I was sent there on a humanitarian mission. I met some interesting and fantastic people. One of the people climbed a communications pole with no shoes on — just his bare feet. Also, the traffic and the way they drive was crazy. They literally stuff people into the back of trucks to drive to and from places. People even hang on to the back of vehicles.

What would most people be surprised to learn about you?
I lived in Japan from 1999 to 2002 as a military spouse. I was going to bed when [the terrorist attacks of] Sept. 11 happened. I then joined the Air Force Reserve in 2003.

Attendees of the National Association for Pupil Transportation conference and other events have likely seen retired transportation director Jaime Gallego taking photos.
Attendees of the National Association for Pupil Transportation conference and other events have likely seen retired transportation director Jaime Gallego taking photos.

Jaime Gallego

Jaime Gallego Services LLC
Deer Park, Texas
Born: Laredo, Texas
Home: Deer Park, Texas
Years in industry: 41

How did you get your start in the industry?
My next-door neighbor was Ray L. Westmoreland, who was the assistant superintendent at Houston Independent School District [ISD]. My mom and his wife got together and decided I could meet a need that he was having problems with at the time. I eventually worked my way up to director of the vehicle management section.

Current job duties?
Currently I am retired. I retired 12 years ago, but I was only retired for one month. Then I worked as a transportation consultant for Region 4 Education Service Center [based in Houston] up until August 2017. Then I permanently retired.

Top achievements?
I have all types of achievements. The Texas Association for Pupil Transportation had one of the first state association websites. I also set up a pupil transportation e-group so that members could post questions and get responses from their peers.

In 1999, when I was the director of transportation at Humble (Texas) ISD, we developed the first 71-passenger electric school bus conversion with the assistance of Houston Lighting & Power. We used mining equipment and batteries, and the total cost of the conversion was under $70,000 per bus — we actually converted two buses, both of which were originally Blue Bird gasoline models.

This proved that large buses could run on batteries.Our first problem was that it was producing too much energy and blowing the circuits, so we had to dissipate some of the energy. We accidently ran it over 90 miles on a charge. We took one of the electric bus conversions on a trailer to the National Association for Pupil Transportation conference in Denver, Colorado, in 1999 for display.

Outside interests?
I love photography and traveling in an RV. I currently have a 2018 Fleetwood Pace Arrow 36U diesel pusher. It has basically the same engine and transmission as school buses. We just returned from a 3,800-mile trip over 38 days. We were in Hammond, Louisiana, for warranty work; Memphis, Tennessee, to see Elvis’ home; Amana, Iowa, for a motorhome rally; Rapid City, South Dakota, to see Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Devils Tower National Monument, and Badlands National Park; Cheyenne, Wyoming, to feed the bison; and Loveland, Colorado, to check out the mountains.

Spending time with family is at the top of Marisa Weisinger’s list of interests outside of work. She is seen here with grandson Colt.
Spending time with family is at the top of Marisa Weisinger’s list of interests outside of work. She is seen here with grandson Colt.

Marisa Weisinger

Executive Secretary
Texas Association for Pupil Transportation
Born: Birmingham, Alabama
Home: Bayview, Texas
Years in industry: 31

How did you get your start in the school bus industry?
While working as an office manager in Dallas, I was involved in a car accident, and recovery took about a year. I decided to take some time off and look for a stress-free part-time job just to support my love of do-it-yourself crafts. A friend who was driving a special-needs route told me about an “easy” part-time job that was only four hours a day riding on a school bus as an attendant. Perfect! What no one told me was that all attendants had to get a commercial driver’s license! I wasn’t sure about that at first, but I got my license and quickly learned I loved driving a bus and everything “transportation.” My “fix-it” attitude led me to want a better experience for new drivers who needed more training, and I was asked to set up a training department for the district, which included a first-ever accident review board — one that would be modeled by many districts within our state.

Current job duties?
As the executive secretary for the Texas Association for Pupil Transportation [TAPT], I am a member of our executive committee and single point of contact for our association. I maintain all records, account for all receipts, and am the meeting planner for all TAPT-supported events. I work with our webmaster to set up online registration and manage conference and class registrations. I also work with the certification program committee to coordinate our professional development classes in five locations across the state and to approve and process applications for professional certification.

Top achievements?
I love when someone I have mentored, supervised, or taught comes up to me and tells me that something they heard or learned motivated them and because of that they are now a director of transportation.

Outside interests?
Spending time with family, friends, and neighbors; interior design and all kinds of crafts; taking road trips with [husband] Brian, and enjoying the local sites, shopping, and restaurants.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
Brian and I took a trip to the West Coast for the Oregon and Washington state conferences several years ago with no agenda. It turned out to be the most enlightening trip we have taken. People we met along the way would tell us about places “down the road,” like a dam where we witnessed the last voyage of a vintage paddle boat as it went through the lock; waterfalls; lavender fields; and a little cafe that made huckleberry pie and shakes!

Most interesting or strangest job you’ve had outside of school transportation?
I was the office manager for an inventory service, and we took inventory for companies using a specially built calculator that strapped to our leg so we were hands-free to move and count as we moved down the aisle. We were pretty fast, and sometimes people would just stop and watch us.

Something that people would be surprised to learn about you?
I am half Italian. My mom is from Rome. She met my dad here in the states on a blind date. When I was 3, we went to Rome to see my grandmother, Nonna. While standing in front of the Trevi Fountain taking photos — being the American kid I was — I climbed right in, frilly dress and all! Police were whistling their whistles, and my Nonna almost passed out. I still love water.

Jeff Vrabel Sr., his wife Mary, and his sons Kenneth, Phillip, and Jeff Jr. pay a visit to Santa Claus.
Jeff Vrabel Sr., his wife Mary, and his sons Kenneth, Phillip, and Jeff Jr. pay a visit to Santa Claus.

Jeff Vrabel Sr.

Executive Director of Transportation and Fleet Services
Dayton (Ohio) Public Schools
Born: Youngstown, Ohio
Home: Grove City, Ohio
Years in industry: 24

How did you get your start in the school bus industry?
I began my career in pupil transportation with the idea of obtaining my commercial driver license [CDL], while being paid to do it. Originally, I thought that I would get the CDL and go work somewhere else. What I didn’t expect was how much I would love the industry. When I started, it was in special needs, and it made me realize that this was the career path I would travel down.

Current job duties?
I supervise a staff of over 200 drivers, mechanics, paraprofessionals, customer service agents, routing specialists, dispatchers, and clericals. I am responsible for the department budget, as well as the oversight of the day-to-day operations.

Top achievements?
In my profession, I have two achievements that I am very proud of. One came while serving as fleet services supervisor in the Columbus (Ohio) City Schools. We worked with the Ohio State Highway Patrol in adding LED strobes and other additional lighting to school buses to make them more visible to motorists and to allow students to have a safer loading and unloading experience.

The second top professional achievement was a license plate program in Ohio that reminds motorists to “Stop on Red — Kids Ahead” (see October 2017 issue, pg. 14).

My greatest achievement is my family.None of it would have been possible without my wife Mary and sons Jeff Jr., Kenneth, and Phillip, and the support of my parents, Nadene and the late Joseph, and my sister Melissa.

Outside interests?
I am very involved in the Sons of the American Legion, and am a past commander of the Detachment of Ohio.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
On Sept. 22, 2001, I traveled to New York City to deliver supplies following the attack on America on Sept. 11. Sons of the American Legion Mahoning Valley Squadron 15 in Poland, Ohio, held a supply drive, which we were able to deliver. We also raised over $1,000, which was donated to the Red Cross. There was tremendous community support, and the people of New York where we delivered the supplies were very gracious. Prior to heading back home, we went to Ground Zero, and everyone was speechless.

At the end of September, Peter Mannella stepped down from his longtime role as executive director of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation.
At the end of September, Peter Mannella stepped down from his longtime role as executive director of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation.

Peter Mannella

Former Executive Director
New York Association for Pupil Transportation
Albany, New York
Born: Utica, New York
Home: Rensselaer, New York
Years in industry: 23

How did you get your start in the school bus industry?
I had signed on with an Albany-based lobbying firm, and we were retained by the New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT) to represent them in the state Legislature. In 2004, the association determined that they wanted a full-time office and presence in Albany, and I agreed to move from the firm to become a full-time executive director. (Interesting fact: The National Association for Pupil Transportation’s Mike Martin preceded me in that role!)

What were your job duties?
As I prepare to step aside from the role of executive director (and give myself time to be a “poppa”), I look back and would share that the role doesn’t only include conference planning, board development, workshop planning, member recruitment, financial management, and advocacy. It also includes being observant of trends and issues that are coming at the industry so that we can prepare our members and get out in front of issues. It includes being the “face” of the members with the media and the political world for good news and harder news. Our members came to rely on a ready presence and a steady voice from me as their executive director, and I have to hope that I satisfied that role loyally.

Top achievements?
1. A formal agreement between NYAPT and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2003 to reduce idling, retrofit school buses, and refuel school buses (reviewing [alt-fuel] options).
2. Design and implementation of a “Transporting LGBTQ Students,” which I believe is so important to help our drivers better understand the kids they are transporting.
3. Passage of “standee” legislation, passage of “no advertising” legislation, and passage of PJ’s Law, which requires training for drivers and attendants on special-needs transportation.

Outside interests?
I consume news and politics, which was good for my role as the lobbyist and advocate for NYAPT. I love to read. I confess to loving espionage and mystery books. I am totally into music as well — the Beatles, James Taylor, Pink Floyd, and the like.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
I spent a week in Puerto Rico a number of years back and was intrigued by the pulse of the island and the people. I loved that people just wanted to talk and were not always “on.”

As a pupil transportation director, Adam James applies leadership principles he learned in the Marines, such as knowing his team and looking out for their welfare. He is seen here with bus aide Belinda Williams.
As a pupil transportation director, Adam James applies leadership principles he learned in the Marines, such as knowing his team and looking out for their welfare. He is seen here with bus aide Belinda Williams.

Adam James

Director of Transportation
Greenville (S.C.) County Schools
Born: Greer, South Carolina
Home: Greer, South Carolina
Years in industry: 1.5

How did you get your start in the school bus industry?
I was hired in the spring of 2017 to my current position when I retired from the Marine Corps.

Current job duties?
Oversee 369 bus routes and over 500 employees. Serve on the Inclement Conditions Evaluation (ICE) Team. Advise the district administration on bus service. Aggressively focus on timeliness of routes so as to not miss instruction time for students.

Top achievements?
Being a child of God and being a father to two wonderfully awesome kids. Being in the Marine Corps for 22 years is also a cornerstone of my life. I consider it a great privilege to lead the transportation department for Greenville County Schools.

How does your Marine Corps experience apply to your job in school transportation?
It’s actually very similar. At the end of my Marine Corps career, I was the maintenance chief of an attack helicopter squadron. When we would be prepping for the day’s flights, the mechanics would be out on the flight line inspecting and prepping the aircraft. I’m reminded of this when I get a chance to be at the school bus lot early to see the drivers and aides doing their pre-trip inspections. I also love to see the drivers’ and aides’ faces when they see my face that early in the morning. I’m a people person, so I like to visit with them. Unfortunately, I don’t get to do it as much as I want because we are spread out over five locations.

This transportation department is a lot bigger than a single squadron, but a lot of the leadership principles that I learned in the Marines apply to this, including “Know your Marines and look out for their welfare” and “Set the example.” I really try to get to know the transportation employees well, whether it be the drivers, aides, or the administrative team. I believe in a handshake and a smile.

I also have my CDL to drive a bus. I drove a route for a little bit last school year. I wanted to show the team that I was willing to do what I ask them to do. I even made my supervisors start driving at least once a semester this year. Some have actually driven more than once already since the beginning of the school year. I don’t want anyone on the administrative team to lose sight of what our drivers and aides have to deal with. I came up through the ranks in the Marines, so being qualified and willing to roll up sleeves and get a job done is very important to me.

Outside interests?
I love to ride my motorcycle in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. I’m a pretty rabid Clemson Tiger fan! I love to watch football. I enjoy just about anything outdoors, especially hiking.

Most interesting place you’ve been?

I got to live in Japan for two years. That was very interesting. I lived on the mainland, so there were lots of things to do.

Most interesting job you’ve had outside of school transportation?
I was fortunate enough to serve as a hydraulics mechanic for Marine One, the president’s helicopter, during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. That was a highlight of my career in the Marine Corps.

Something that most people would be surprised to learn about you?
Despite being in the Marines for 22 years, I’m actually a really laid-back person.

Related Topics: Fascinating Personalities

Thomas McMahon Executive Editor
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