MEMPHIS, Tenn. — From security awareness to routing strategies to innovative facilities, speakers at the state directors conference here shared numerous ideas and resources for enhancing school bus service and training.
At the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) gathering, held Oct. 19 to 22, a mix of federal agency officials, district-level transportation directors, vendors, consultants and researchers gave presentations, many of which challenged the status quo.
To view a variety of shots from the conference, see our photo gallery here.
In one session, Monica Coburn of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. in Columbus, Ind., and Tim Parker of Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools shared details on their districts’ innovative driver training facilities.
The Bartholomew facility includes a bus on its side so drivers can practice emergency evacuations through the roof hatches.
“Opening a roof hatch for air and opening it to escape are completely different things,” Coburn said of the need for the training.
Fairfax's facility has a special-needs training area that looks like the inside of a bus and includes a wheelchair lift, mannequins and different types of restraints. There are also stations to practice putting on tire chains, getting fuel, using the radio and more.
“We encourage practice and play,” Parker said.
In another session, Judy Shanley of Easter Seals Project ACTION, Pete Meslin of Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa, Calif., and Greg Akin of Volusia County (Fla.) Schools highlighted the benefits of transition planning — helping special-needs students to prepare for using public transit and to become more independent.
According to Meslin, “We have to break the habit of every [special-needs] kid getting picked up at the curb.”
Transitioning these students to school bus stops away from their house helps prepare them for the real world and reduces transportation costs, Meslin said.
At Akin’s district, transition planning and community-based instruction have made a significant impact on students and on the transportation system.
“Eight years ago, we had over 1,200 curbside [directly in front of the student’s home] stops,” Akin said. “Now, we have about 200.”
The NASDPTS membership has been undergoing change in recent years, with numerous longtime state directors retiring. Ohio’s Pete Japikse and Kansas’ Larry Bluthardt both stepped down within the past few months.
Now, Colorado state director Bruce Little announced that he will retire in September 2013. Greta Bleau, who has been an equally ranked senior transportation consultant at the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) with Little, has now taken on the state director designation (which Little relinquished in August).
Bleau, who had already been attending recent NASDPTS conferences, is a former Air Force crew chief in aircraft maintenance. In the 1990s, she became a school bus driver and later moved up the ranks to driver trainer and transportation manager. She joined the CDE in 2007.
Bleau told SBF at the conference in Memphis that when she was a driver, “I felt like I could affect the safe transportation of students on my bus. Then I moved up, and I felt like I could affect it for the district.”
Her safety influence expanded to the state level when she joined the CDE. Now, with the state director designation, Bleau said that she hopes to find “ways that we can do things more efficiently. I think you can get stuck in the rut of always doing things the same way. We need to look outside the box.”
An in-depth report on the NASDPTS conference will appear in the January issue of SBF.