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October 24, 2013  |   Comments (7)   |   Post a comment

14 phenomenal women in school transportation

In this new feature, we spotlight dedicated women from around the nation ranging from school bus drivers, trainers and administrative assistants to bus company executives, directors of transportation and state directors whose work helps to keep students safe.

by SBF staff

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Linda Burtwistle says overseeing First Student and giving its employees tools to help them grow has been energizing and rewarding.

Linda Burtwistle says overseeing First Student and giving its employees tools to help them grow has been energizing and rewarding.

Linda Burtwistle
First Student Inc.

How did you get your start in the industry?
In 2008, I joined FirstGroup America and took on my first general management role as president of First Transit and Services [after working in financial positions at several bus and rail companies since 1996]. In 2009, I became president of First Student.

What are your current job duties?
I oversee all aspects of running our division’s 50,000-plus vehicles and 600-plus locations. In addition, I have oversight of FirstGroup America functions where we share resources with First Transit and Greyhound divisions, such as legal, risk management, engineering, labor relations, payroll and benefits.

What are your top professional achievements?
Firstly, the successful transition from finance to general management, and secondly, the transformation of First Student and creation of what we call the “New First Student Way.” For the last three years, we have focused on creating our own culture and giving our people the tools to help them grow and succeed. This has been massively energizing and thoroughly rewarding.

What are some of your outside interests?
I love to ride horses and have two absolutely beautiful dressage horses that I try to show as much as I can. Also, I enjoy a good workout at the gym as often as possible.

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
Throughout my career, I have spent more time living outside of my home country of Scotland than I have living there.

What is the best advice someone has given you?
A plan will never work unless the people who actually deliver it, own it.

Have you noticed growth in the number of women in leadership positions in the industry?
I think there are still relatively few female executives in the industry, and I am not really sure why. The transportation industry has given me a wonderful career with plenty of opportunity and scope. I hope women today can see these opportunities and run with them.

What do you find most interesting about working in school transportation?
The constant challenge of making sure that, while meeting the expectations of our parent company and shareholders, we never lose sight of the fact that we are 600 local businesses operating as a team to safely deliver our 6 million passengers to and from school every day.


For Wilma Crabtree, the best achievement of her career is knowing that students are safer now than when she started in the industry in the 1970s.
<p>For Wilma Crabtree, the best achievement of her career is knowing that students are safer now than when she started in the industry in the 1970s.</p>

Wilma Crabtree
Senior Administrative Assistant
Kansas State Department of Education, School Bus Safety Unit
Topeka, Kan.

How did you get your start in the industry?
I started in 1970 in the safety department of the Kansas State Department of Transportation. The division transferred to the Department of Education in 1994. I have been in this position for my entire career, dedicating my life to kids that ride the school bus.

What are your current job duties?
in addition to the annual loading/unloading survey, I am responsible for maintaining a vast “lending library” of safety videos for schools in Kansas; compiling and maintaining a Listserv for dissemination of school transportation information to Kansas schools, including the annual School Bus Safety Poster Contest; working with the Kansas State Pupil Transportation Association for its conferences and events; and more.

Tell us about how and when you began working on the national school bus loading/unloading survey.
The loading/unloading statistics have been collected since the 1970-71 school year. In the early '80s, I took over the national survey. I strive to make the survey report both accurate and easy to understand, and I take it very seriously. Each time I receive a report of a student fatality, it breaks my heart.

How would you describe the impact that the survey has had on the industry over the years?
The impact has been huge. For example, let’s look at the federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) applicable to the school bus, particularly FMVSS 111 that regulates school bus mirrors. In the ’70s, they only asked for one exterior mirror on the right front fender. Then in 1992, they changed it basically to what we are using today. The survey has been cited in several court proceedings, driver training seminars and finds its way to the National Congress on School Transportation every five years to assist with safety designs for future school buses. I would say the survey has made the industry more aware of the problems.

What are your top professional achievements?
The best achievement is knowing that student transportation is safer now than when I started in this job.

What do you find most interesting about working in school transportation?
I like communicating with the different people in the school transportation field, from bus drivers to local transportation directors to the state and national transportation officials.

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Read more about: First Student Inc., NAPT, NSTA

Finally, recognition for the fabulous women making student transportation customer friendly and improving safety. It's about time First Student has a female leader

Anonymous    |    Dec 28, 2013 08:36 AM

Congrats to all the well-deserving and hard working women recognized in your article. I have had the personal honor of working for Mrs. Kathy Houck and can categorically state that above her gender, she is a phenomenal leader of people.

Lionel Pinn    |    Dec 12, 2013 03:43 PM

I am very proud to tell folks I am a school bus driver, I live in a small community and have 36-50 student on my bus. Thank you ladies for being great role models to us and for going that extra mile. Keep up the great work! Our transportation supervisor is Mr. Todd Naylor and though he is a male I feel extremely safe and confident that our buses and routes are safe. I teach bus safety at our school so any new ideas you have to share is always appreciated. So proud to be in this bus family in Davie County NC.

Susan athey    |    Dec 10, 2013 07:40 PM

Congratulations to Wilma Crabtree, Kansas is indeed lucky to have her. She is always willing and beyond able to assist anyone who asked. She is one of the greatest in the school bus industry.

Kim Grandon    |    Dec 10, 2013 12:57 PM

@ Miss Diana Hollander, Let me answer that.... It is your love and passion for the industry, your down to earth qualities when communicating with others. You wear these qualities on your sleeve. Perhaps these make you a Phenomenal Woman!

Victoria DeCarlo    |    Nov 07, 2013 07:40 AM

Thank you for naming me one of the 14 Phenomenal Women in School Transportation in your November issue. I'm not sure what I've done to receive such an honor! Although I don't know all these women, some of them I do and feel honored to be considered one of them! Thanks for the nomination and nice article and for recognizing all the fabulous women who work in school transportation every day!

Diana Hollander    |    Nov 05, 2013 02:53 PM


Ralph Knight    |    Oct 24, 2013 08:13 AM

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