It’s been a busy year for William “Bill” Powell, director of the department of transportation at Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (ISD) in Houston. As he shares here, he moved into a new transportation facility, dealt with the impacts of Hurricane Harvey, and became president of the Texas Association for Pupil Transportation (TAPT).
1. Tell us about how your operation responded to Hurricane Harvey.
Prior to the storm, we secured our facilities and designated buses to be utilized by our local volunteer fire department. When the storm engulfed our community, the fire department needed our assistance, and we had several technicians and drivers eager to help evacuate those with rising water in their homes.
2. Are there ongoing impacts of the storm for school transportation?
Several school districts in our area have campuses that have been devastated and will not be operational for months to come. We have an elementary campus that we have had to house out of another facility and have had to reroute those buses.
Other districts are being very creative with their bell schedules and routing to get students back to school and some sense of normalcy. Humble ISD was forced to have their two high schools share one building, causing students to only attend either morning or afternoon classes. Other districts are utilizing community colleges and other local facilities.
3. Tell us about TAPT’s role in the recovery process.
We are attempting to assess the needs of all districts impacted by the flooding and provide any assistance we can. We have asked all our member school districts to assess their fleets to determine if they may even be able to provide a bus or two if the need arises, as initial reports were that some districts had several buses that were flooded. We have also provided some helpful reminders from Brian Weisinger [former technician and transportation director] of what needs to be checked on vehicles that have taken on water.
4. You moved into a new facility earlier this year. How is that working out so far?
Our four facilities were overcrowded, and we needed a new transportation center due to our growth. We were very fortunate to have the fifth facility included in our 2014 bond program, which has allowed us to utilize our current buildings at their designed capacities. Starting this school year, we are almost at capacity as projected, and we anticipate we will need our sixth center by 2020.
We built a second floor at the new center to include our global transportation administrative team and added our second body shop that has a full paint booth for buses. We also opened our doors to assist our school district police department to operate a substation in the southwest portion of our district for about 25 officers. That was not part of our original plans.
5. Do you see a need for mentoring new people in the industry?
Every industry would be remiss if mentors were not at least accessible to those entering the vocation of their choice. A formal mentorship program takes an abundant amount of time, effort, and resources. Without an abundant amount of time and resources, I believe our industry has created an effective alternative through our state and national certification programs and through the relationships developed in our workshops and conferences. However, I would also encourage leaders in school districts and our state and national organizations to consider having some type of succession plan if they have not done so already.
The primary objective of any succession plan should include identifying individuals that model those characteristics that further our mission to safely and efficiently transport our schoolchildren, and then help prepare and grow them through our professional certification programs. I believe this is essential not only on a local level, but also state and national levels, to continue the success of our industry.
Learning from those who began our TAPT professional certification program, and becoming a part of that program in 2002, has afforded me the opportunity to share my experiences and the knowledge I have gained since I started driving a school bus 29 years ago while attending college. Being on the TAPT executive committee has also allowed me to help identify those who have the same passion for transportation that my mentors instilled in me and encourage them to become more involved with their district and with TAPT.