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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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Third-grade teacher Brianna Gould keeps bus passengers on their best behavior as part of the Rough Riders program.
<p>Third-grade teacher Brianna Gould keeps bus passengers on their best behavior as part of the Rough Riders program.</p>

3:15 p.m.: Ensuring a smooth ride
After returning to her office and checking e-mail, Rike heads out to Southwind Elementary, another school that had bus discipline problems but came up with an innovative solution: the Rough Riders program, which was implemented in the previous school year.

As Assistant Principal Elissa Stratton explains, the Rough Riders are a group of teachers who volunteer their time after school to ride the buses, making sure the kids get in their assigned seats and maintain good behavior. While the teachers aren’t paid for that time, they do get incentives, like being allowed to wear jeans, having a reserved parking spot right in front of the school and occasionally getting a free lunch.

“There has been a drastic decline in discipline problems in the afternoon” since the program started, Stratton says. “The kids look forward to it. They’ll say, ‘Which Rough Rider is riding with us today?’”

After a wave of elementary students file out and board their buses, Rike and I hop on bus 91 with one of the Rough Riders, third-grade teacher Brianna Gould.

Despite being nearly full with children, the bus is almost eerily quiet. Every once in a while, Gould has to gently shush a youngster or remind another to stay in his seat and out of the aisle.

After all the children have been dropped off, the bus heads back to Southwind Elementary to pick up another round of students for a second run.

Gould serves as a Rough Rider usually four and sometimes five days a week. She says that the extra work is tiring but has clearly made a difference.

“It was a big change,” Gould says. “The kids expected to be able to talk and play. At first, they were having a bit of trouble with it, but now they expect it. It’s better for the bus drivers, because now they’re not having to deal with those [misbehavior] situations on the bus.”

4:25 p.m.: A quiet ending
As Rike drives me back to downtown Memphis, she reflects on her career.

“I’ve been with Shelby County Schools all of my adult life — 33 years,” she says. “We do have that family commitment here. After college, this is what you do. How great is that?”

The district’s buses will continue to run until around 5:30 p.m. Rike’s radio, which she still has with her in the car, remains mostly quiet.

“We had a pretty great day today,” Rike says. “We usually have good days, but we try to prepare in case things happen.”

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