Peter Lawrence (inset) of Fairport (N.Y.) Central School District completed his doctorate last week. In the binders and yellow bags pictured here are the books he used in writing his dissertation.
FAIRPORT, N.Y. — After four years and countless hours of academic work, Peter Lawrence of Fairport Central School District has achieved the title doctor of education.
Lawrence, Fairport’s director of transportation, told SBF that he began working on his doctorate in 2010 at nearby University of Rochester. The degree is in educational leadership, specializing in K-12.
For his dissertation, Lawrence targeted a pertinent pupil transportation topic: ways to achieve cost savings in bus maintenance. He identified four options for his district:
1. Maintain the status quo
2. Move to regionalized maintenance with a board of cooperative educational services (BOCES)
3. Build a new maintenance facility
4. Contract out bus maintenance
Lawrence collected data on the different options through interviews, focus groups and literature reviews. He said he learned quickly that the community was not in support of contracting, and the BOCES option was also not well received.
Lawrence said that removing his own bias was essential (“I would love a new facility,” he noted). In the end, the option that worked out the best was No. 1, to maintain the status quo. However, Lawrence acknowledged that that option doesn’t address some of the problems with Fairport’s current facility, including an inefficient layout, parking concerns and high costs for building repair.
Beyond the findings of the dissertation, Lawrence said that the doctorate program helped him build his skills in decision making, critical thinking and problem solving.
“I’m more apt to ask what problem we are trying to solve,” he said. “Someone might say to you, ‘We need to get this technology on the bus; it’s great.’ But is there really a problem? If you don’t have a problem to solve, you have the potential to throw money away.”
Learning more about different types of educational systems was another key benefit of the doctorate program. One assignment that Lawrence said was particularly insightful was shadowing a principal at a rural school for a day.
The workload was heavy: Lawrence estimated that he put in about 1,000 hours in just the last year as he worked on his dissertation. That was in addition to continuing his full-time job as director of transportation (although he made use of vacation days when major deadlines drew near). At the peak, he was averaging 10 hours a day at the university and operating on about four hours of sleep per night.
“I will say I grossly underestimated how much work goes into writing the dissertation,” Lawrence said.
Having successfully defended his dissertation last week, Lawrence said that he now feels a huge sense of relief as well as a strong sense of accomplishment.
In addition to the array of knowledge he gained and the skills he built in the doctorate program, Lawrence said that he expects the degree to benefit his career path.
“I’m sure that, down the road, it will open doors that might not have been available to me,” he said.
While it is not clear how many pupil transportation directors have earned a doctorate, Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), said that Lawrence is “certainly one of the few, if any.”
“In any event, it is certainly a tremendous accomplishment, especially when you consider that he did it while working full time,” Martin said.
Lawrence, who describes himself as a “lifelong learner,” achieved another educational milestone not long ago: In 2011, he became the first person to finish all of NAPT's Professional Development Series courses.