Regarding pupil transportation in New York City, Alex Robinson says that "driving, routing and picking up within huge, complex traffic patterns is difficult. But we do it very safely."
Photo by Jaime Gallego
In the last few months of 2011, Alex Robinson began tenures in two of the most high-profile positions in the school bus industry: president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and executive director of the Office of Pupil Transportation at the New York City (NYC) Department of Education.
The latter job brought Robinson, previously a longtime director of transportation in California, back to the East Coast, where she began her career in pupil transportation.
With the NYC Office of Pupil Transportation, she oversees a vast urban system of more than 8,000 school buses (all contractor owned) that transport a highly diverse population of about 171,000 students daily.
Now in the second of her two-year term as president of NAPT, Robinson says that the association has been branching out to be “more in the realm of being connected to the classroom than we were before.”
SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon recently spoke with Robinson about her noteworthy efforts in both roles.
SBF: When you started in New York City as executive director of the Office of Pupil Transportation, what were your first orders of business?
ALEX ROBINSON: The first piece was to make sure that people who weren’t traditionally in the business got to the point where they understood school transportation. Not that many people here had actually worked for a bus company or driven a bus.
So it’s a lot different than the way people come up the ranks in other districts. Because it’s completely contracted, it’s removed from that daily operation piece that I was used to.
Then there was making sure that people not only understood how transportation impacts students — especially all of the students with disabilities we transport — but also how it’s connected to the classroom. And we needed to provide training for that.
So we went full force here, and everybody was on board, with training, training, training: everything from special education 101 to routing 101 to customer service to everything else. Everybody is always putting out fires here, so training hadn’t been a big piece of what they did on a daily basis.
Were you doing most of that training yourself, or did you bring in other people?
We brought in some, and I’ve done a lot of it myself. We brought in Bill Arrington from the Department of Homeland Security. Everybody here has had First Observer and has been trained on security issues.
Since you started?
Yes. I also brought in Sue Shutrump [Trumbull County (Ohio) Educational Service Center] to certify all of our inspectors in NHTSA child passenger safety for car seat training. They went through the eight-hour class.
We brought in Joe Scesny, who used to be with the New York Department of Transportation. He came in and gave our investigators and our inspectors an all-day safety and inspection training class.
We brought in Bill Tousley from Michigan [Farmington Public Schools], who did a routing/get-to-know-the-city challenge with all of our borough directors and all of our borough operation routers.
We’ve done psychological first-aid training with all of our customer service and operations people.
How many hours would you say have gone into it?
So far we’ve had definitely more than 40 hours of training. Since January .