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January 08, 2013  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

A day in the life of a transportation director

At Shelby County Schools, enhanced driver training and partnerships with school staff have led to drastic improvements in student behavior on the bus. Here, we spend a day with Director of Transportation Debbie Rike to see how she steers the operation toward success.

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author

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9:45 a.m.: De-escalating tension
Rike makes a phone call, and then her secretary, Karen Moxley, comes in with a question.

Rike notes that when there’s an angry parent, she prefers to be the one to talk to him or her.

“I think I’ve devised a way that’s pretty effective in de-escalating those situations. They could nearly forgive anything if you’re just listening — ‘I can’t fix what already happened, but what can I do right now?’” she explains. “Ninety percent of my job is PR — communication and relationship development.”

Rike and two of her transportation supervisors, Michelle Beasley (center) and Veronica Norfleet (far right), hold a meeting with a group of new drivers.
<p>Rike and two of her transportation supervisors, Michelle Beasley (center) and Veronica Norfleet (far right), hold a meeting with a group of new drivers.</p>
10 a.m.: Guidance for new drivers
Rike and two of her transportation supervisors, Michelle Beasley and Veronica Norfleet, hold a meeting with a group of new drivers in which they get to know each other and explain policies and expectations.

As Rike addresses the group, she stresses three points:

1. No cell phone use while operating the bus.
2. Check the bus every time to make sure no children are left behind. (“That won’t happen here, because you’re going to follow the rules,” Rike says firmly.)
3. Make sure that the children wait for your signal before they cross the road.

Combined, Rike, Beasley and Norfleet have more than 80 years of experience with Shelby County Schools, and not just in transportation. Rike and Beasley have both taught special-ed. Beasley and Norfleet have both served as assistant principals. Their backgrounds seem to have prepared them particularly well to equip their drivers for behavior management. Beasley hands out to the new drivers a sheet with tips on behavior management.

Beasley then passes out the bus rules.

“We revise them every year,” she says. “Our mantra is that the school bus is an extension of the school day. ... If you can’t do it in the classroom, you can’t do it on the bus.”

All drivers get a logbook, and Beasley emphasizes the importance of writing down and reporting any problems that come up — “Billy had a bloody nose,” for example.

The meeting continues with more talk of student discipline and questions from the new drivers. They get another handout on the topic of how to respond to fights on the bus.

11:30 a.m.: Routing review
Rike meets with her two routers to review bus counts and updates to routes. In one case, they discuss changes that could be made to make sure a student gets to school on time. In another case, a driver has reported a stop where students hadn’t been boarding, so that stop is being eliminated.

Rike says that she keeps up-to-date on these types of details because “I need to understand the changes that are made in case a parent or a school is unhappy.”

She notes that she loves her job, although she does miss working more closely with the students, as she did when she was a teacher.

“I’ve been an administrator for more than 20 years. I miss the kids,” she says, noting that she does occasionally get to interact with them by riding a bus or operating Buster the School Bus for training. “But I have to be proud of what I do. I make a difference for 23,000 kids.”

11:57 a.m: More e-mail
Rike stops back into her office to answer some e-mails before heading out to lunch after noon.

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