All across the country year after year, school districts face school bus driver staffing challenges. One of the most important jobs in any district is that of the professional school bus driver, who transports our most precious cargo: our children.
If it is such an important component to the daily academic success of our students, then why is it that there is seemingly little value placed on this role? The lower salary, split schedule, and responsibility of this position can all create difficulty in the staffing process.
For us here at the Florence (Ariz.) Unified School District #1 (FUSD), there are a few steps that we feel are critical to the successful recruitment and retention of our transportation staff.
1. Be Inviting.
At the first step of hiring, we work closely with the Human Resources department to ensure it is a timely, smooth, and seamless process. We are committed to providing a welcoming culture to new staff members, and focusing on pride in our work and dedication to excellence.
2. Create a Theme.
We come up with a theme each July for the upcoming school year to support a fun way to remind everyone why we do what we do. These are words we live by all year and we work to make the theme part of our language and decision-making.
This year, we are working with the theme “Make the shift,” focusing on utilizing our new bus management system, rewarding success of riders’ improvements no matter how small, and supporting new procedures and processes in our department to drive consistency.
3. Provide Training and Tools for Success.
Offering the minimum Department of Public Safety requirements is the expectation; offering tools and training above and beyond to ensure success is our commitment to our staff and their student transportation career.
Leadership staff members watch the drivers’ bus video footage with them and offer suggestions. Drivers can see what they missed behind the wheel and make their own adjustments. A trainer may accompany a new driver during the first few days to help arrange seating and answer any questions that come up on the route. After that, staff checks in again on the route at the end of a few weeks. This can help new drivers feel they are not on their own.
In addition to mirror grid training, we conduct role playing in evacuation, behavior, and medical emergency scenarios, offering tricks and tips to reduce complacency.
4. Support Student Management.
Knowing your students, enforcing their seating arrangement, and building relationships are all critical to optimal safety and success. We provide bus management tools and incentives, such as positive bus tickets, which earn students on-campus privileges and prizes.
Sometimes even a little friendly competition between routes — for the lowest percentage of referrals, or 100% participation in ID checks — creates a fun and positive refresh on our buses.
One of the things we do very well is celebrate the victories, such as accident-free miles, successful safety inspections, and reduced student referrals. This is a little thing that brings big results.
Accident-free miles are celebrated with a luncheon, or by leadership doing a job for a driver, such as sweeping the bus or cleaning the windshield. Successful safety inspections may garner a special snack or trinket, like a lanyard or mug. Reduced referrals may warrant a department breakfast or sweet treat.
I also share these successes with district leaders, governing board members, and the community via social media. We celebrate birthdays monthly, and National School Bus Safety Week and Love the Bus with activities and refresher training.
Although we can’t control factors such as hourly pay or split shifts, if we make the experience positive, professional, and valuable, we are creating a culture of commitment to safety and students. Having a little fun along the way makes it enjoyable. We are committed to growing our own experts and making student transportation in our district the best it can be.