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August 09, 2011  |   Comments (1)   |   Post a comment

Case study: Revamping a transportation department

A year ago, Jeff Walker became transportation director at Litchfield Elementary School District #79 in Phoenix. The department has since cut costs, reduced the number of student disciplinary incidents on its buses and improved its safety record.

by Brittany-Marie Swanson

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Student Transporter Juan Ramirez. 
<p>Student Transporter Juan Ramirez. </p>
Not just bus drivers
The department, which now has a total of 80 employees, also created a well-qualified pool of bus driver applicants by bringing hopefuls into the department as bus aides.

“The only staffing change that we made that was not office related is that people who want to become a driver — unless they come to us certified from another district — start off as aides on the buses,” Walker explains.

This change has made the department’s hiring process much easier, according to Walker.

“It’s working out very, very well for us because at the same time that they are learning how to drive the bus they’re also riding along, they’re seeing what it’s like to work with the kids if they’ve never driven before and they’re seeing what our district is like,” he says. “Overall, that’s been an absolute win-win for us.”

Last year, the department proposed another change: to switch the “bus driver” title to “student transporter.”

“I don’t like the bus driver stereotype of being ‘just’ a bus driver. Like I tell my staff, you are not just a bus driver, because a bus driver simply drives the bus,” Walker explains. “You are required to manage your students while safely operating your vehicle; you are a psychologist, a teacher, a social worker, a babysitter and more.”

Walker says his department’s student transporters are proud of their new title, which is especially poignant, considering the sharp drop in student discipline reports since Walker started implementing changes.

“We provided them with a number of different training sessions on student management, and because of that, our number of student discipline reports dropped from 1,400 in the 2009-10 school year to 198 this last school year,” Walker says.

The department has also seen an improvement in its safety record, with an average of only one accident per 196,000 miles.

Changes increase staff morale
Walker has striven to motivate his staff with a number of new measures, such as quarterly meetings and events put on by the department’s new social committee.

Thanks to the committee, the department now holds monthly potlucks, birthday celebrations and an end-ofthe-year festival in which “we recognized all of our drivers and our staff for a number of different things. In total, we ended up passing out 157 awards that night, ranging from certificates to trophies and plaques,” Walker says.

Drivers and staff are happy to chip in $10 at the start of the year to get things going. The activities are then subsidized by the profits from candy and bake sales.

“I looked forward to the changes [in the department] and am welcoming them,” Susan Garcia, a student transporter, says. “Just coming to work in our new environment makes you feel better. I am very pleased … with the social committee, and all of our staff working as a team.”

Bus aide Joanne Fryer adds, “I truly enjoy the direction that this department is going in.”

Walker says the new quarterly meetings, which occur in three sessions since the department does not yet have a big enough space to hold them, have been a great addition.

“It’s not a complaining session by any means. [We provide] updates as to what’s going on around here, what changes are coming up now and what’s going on in the calendar,” Walker says. “It’s my chance at least once a quarter to get my whole staff together … to keep them informed. I’ve had very good feedback from the staff; they appreciate knowing what is going on around here.”

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Read more about: behavior management, cutting costs, driver training, efficiency, morale, routing, software systems

Mr. Walker, I read this article and wish other transportation people could see us the way you do . I like "student transporter" it does give you better title for the job we do . I have been in transportation for over 25 years your ideas are some of the fresh's yet simpliest actions I have seen. I wish you continue and hope other transportation departments notice the pro-active changes you have accomplished. Thanks.

brian s.    |    Aug 13, 2011 11:08 AM

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