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January 01, 2007  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Great Fleets Across America 2007

To further recognize the invaluable service provided by the nation’s pupil transportation programs, we present the seventh installment of our “Great Fleets” series. Find out how this year’s 10 outstanding operations have raised the bar in safety, efficiency, maintenance and other areas.

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South Panola's transportation director, Robert Chapman, paves the way for excellence by establishing effective partnership teams, as depicted by George Young (front) and Raphael Bledsoe, who work in tandem during daily maintenance inspections.


The Great Communicator

South Panola School District
Batesville, Miss.

An effective communicator is difficult to find. An inspirational one with fresh ideas is rare. So when a communicator makes us realize that the words we speak, consume and ultimately digest are as important as the food we eat, and that the ideas we embrace are as important as the actions we take, we snap to attention and listen up.

Ronald Reagan was an effective communicator.

So is Robert Chapman, the transportation director for the South Panola School District in Batesville, Miss.

A former junior high school principal, Chapman has served as the district’s transportation director for the past 14 years. Located just east of the Mississippi Delta, the district services approximately 484 square miles of rural terrain boasting both hills and lowland with temperatures ranging from 25 to 100 degrees. The district’s 88-person, 67-bus transportation department almost-seamlessly shuttles 4,000 of the district’s 5,000 students to and from eight schools.

The key to the district’s smooth, virtually problem-free operation? The man at the helm.

A humble man, Chapman brings fresh ideas to the mix and forges invaluable partnerships. His genuine love for his community and job manifests itself as innovative solutions to age-old problems.

For example, Chapman’s very low turnover rate can be attributed to his decision to place drivers within the specific communities they reside. Most of his drivers know the students they transport, not to mention their parents.

The placement of drivers in their communities also led to more effective behavioral management policies. “The driver hands the written report to the parent, the parent disciplines the child and the majority of the problems are resolved,” says Chapman.

A further incentive fueling appropriate bus behavior is that all students with a perfect year-end record receive wristbands, pencils and rulers with bus rules. Drivers with a disciplinary- and accident-free year receive the coveted inscribed South Panola yellow jacket.

But Chapman’s “mutually-beneficial” incentive programs are not limited to students and his drivers. Many drivers hold traditional 9-to-5 jobs. As such, Chapman created what is akin to a business or employee exchange. Drivers work for Chapman, and in return, they can use their buses for transportation to their day jobs.

To ensure a healthy fleet, Chapman’s shop foreman runs a tight preventative maintenance program, incorporating a thorough 10-point system.

Each bus is checked over by two fuel mechanics daily, and mid-way through the daily runs, Chapman himself personally inspects every vehicle in operation. Additionally, the all-diesel fleet undergoes a 26-point inspection quarterly and 10 percent of the fleet is updated annually.

As such, at the end of the day, Chapman leaves the office with the knowledge of a job well done by all. “I love my job. I get to serve the entire district,” says Chapman. “But I also miss the one-on-one interaction with the students I had when I was principal. That was special, too.”


Fleet Facts
Buses: 67
Students transported daily: 4,000
Total students in district: 5,000
Schools served: 8
Transportation staff: 88
Area of service: 484 square miles
Average driver wage: $9/hour


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