Pete Meslin (far right), director of transportation at California’s Newport-Mesa Unified School District, moderated a session at the NAPT Summit in which panelists (from left) Michael and Judith Ann Benedict and their son, Michael Jr., discussed how relationship-building is critical to good customer service when transporting special-needs students.
Customer service, travel training in special-needs busing
An engaging session at the NAPT Summit explored parent and client perspectives in transporting students with special needs, and what it takes to deliver good customer service.
Panelists Michael Benedict Jr. and his parents, Judith Ann and Michael Sr., provided insight on this issue, speaking from their personal experiences. Pete Meslin, director of transportation at Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, Calif., moderated.
Michael Benedict Jr. rode special-needs school buses as a student; he now serves as a bus attendant for Provo (Utah) City School District, a role he has held since 2006. He applied for the position with encouragement from one of his first school bus drivers, Una Hebner, who Michael Benedict Sr. said “saw something in Michael and took time to nurture that.”
When Meslin asked Michael Jr. what good customer service looks like, he spoke of Una Hebner.
“My driver would make sure to listen to me and any needs or concerns I had,” Michael Jr. said.
And now, in discussing customer service as a bus attendant, he said, “The key ingredient is taking the time to care about the students.”
Judith Ann Benedict said that for her, good customer service meant knowing that the bus drivers were caring for her son in the same way that she would have.
Michael Jr. also talked about the importance of communication between parents, school officials and transportation officials in providing good customer service. He said that parents can’t feel rushed when providing information about their children’s needs and how those needs may impact their ride on the school bus, and he said transportation personnel have to be willing to “meet them half way” by asking questions, where appropriate, about students’ needs. In addition, transportation officials should make a point to share information about their special-needs passengers with parents and school officials if they have concerns about their passengers.
Meslin asked Michael Jr. what information he shares with parents, and he said he first talks with the student to try to determine what the issue is, and he then talks with school officials about the situation so that they and the student’s parents can work with him or her.
Meslin co-presented another session at the Summit with Judy Shanley, director of student engagement and mobility management for the Easter Seals Transportation Group.
The two discussed the importance of travel instruction for students with disabilities, noting that education about public transportation helps in providing these students with skills necessary for living as independently as possible after they have completed school.
As part of the session, Meslin and Shanley offered strategies for integrating transportation content into students’ educational experience. Shanley urged attendees to think of the school bus as a place to teach students about travel training.
Subjects that can be taught on the bus include math, geography and reading. For example, students could be given bus schedules to help them learn addition and subtraction, and they could be given bus safety materials to promote reading. Identifying landmarks can help students develop their knowledge of geography.
Meslin also noted the need to “break the ‘short bus syndrome’” when transporting students with disabilities. Where possible, he encouraged attendees to use larger buses to transport these students because they are more similar in size to public transit buses, and they have a larger wheelchair and ambulatory capacity.
Tools for tracking KPIs
Using a speed-dating-style discussion format in a session on key performance indicators (KPIs), moderators led groups in sharing information on collecting data for KPIs and how to use them.
The moderators were Michael Shields, director of transportation and auxiliary services at Oregon’s Salem-Keizer Public Schools; Dayna Oehm (pictured at left in the photo), managing partner at The Oehm Group; and Tim Calabrese, manager, operations analysis, at the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Pupil Transportation.
Groups at three tables focused on tools to use to collect data, where to find data sources when getting started, and research on how others use KPIs.
Steve Simmons, NAPT Region 3 director and director of transportation at Columbus (Ohio) City Schools, said the objective of the session was to bring together people at different levels of expertise to share knowledge and help create national standardized KPIs.
Oehm led a discussion at her table on how to standardize and measure data. Attendees discussed how to create surveys and track and identify KPIs for different service types, such as urban and rural.
At Shields’ table, he discussed how to use KPIs to help employees measure their work performance.
“You can empower employees to be self-accounting and set their own goals, but you have to coach them,” Shields said.
Calabrese’s group discussed helpful software programs to collect and manage data, and how to efficiently extract relevant data for district reporting to the board of directors and public.