After retiring from a long career in the banking industry, Allen Connor became a school bus driver and later moved up to director of transportation at Columbia County School District in Evans, Georgia. Here, he discusses his background and the changes he has brought to his department.
1. What led you to become a school bus driver after your career in banking?
Growing up, my next-door neighbor was my school bus driver for 10 years, and she made such a positive difference in my life. I am 56 years old, and I still remember all the safety rules that Ms. Hardaway taught us. Every day, she encouraged all the students on her bus to succeed during our school years. After retirement, I wanted a part-time job so that I could give back to the community and make a difference as well. I felt being a Columbia County School District bus driver would be the right opportunity. Unbelievably, I ended up driving the same route that Ms. Hardaway drove for many years.
2. How did your time as a driver help prepare you to become director of transportation?
Becoming a school bus driver introduced me on a more personal level to the students and parents in our community. I have worked 30 years in the corporate world and dealt with mostly people in the same profession. After receiving my training and obtaining my CDL, I became part of a flex pool of drivers and drove 52 different buses/routes in 90 days in various areas of Columbia County. This was a great way for a new driver to learn the roads of this county and to experience dealing with students in all areas of our school system. I soon realized that being a bus driver involves much more than just driving skills. You have to provide good customer service to all parents and schools, and be an effective partner with the school administration. More importantly, on the bus you have to set expectations for your students and expertly manage and hold them accountable for their actions. Everything I do as the transportation director and all expectations set forth with my team are around safety, customer service to our parents, and partnerships with our schools.
3. How has your banking background come into play?
I was able to transfer my leadership skills and training to my job as transportation director. The first thing on my agenda was to move our department from a bus shop to a bus company. Having the experience in the banking industry, leading a team around customer service and sales, and dealing with the public allowed me to more easily make changes in the transportation department and guide them to have stronger and safer routines.
4. Tell us about some of the changes you’ve made.
As the new director, I immediately realized that safety starts with proper training. I made major changes to the training department. The first change was [increasing] the classroom training time from 12 hours to 32 hours, and we now train all our new employees on an actual Columbia County School District bus. Our new training gives them hands-on experience and will help them to understand more fully the fundamentals of operating the equipment.
One of the other changes that I have made in the department is around customer service protocol. Our office staff uses a telephone script to ensure all calls will be answered in the same manner. We also use tracking logs and notes to record information from parents and partners concerning our service levels. We have a set time to return calls once they are received from our messaging system. I then took our customer service expectations to the drivers and taught them how to interact with parents, partners, and most of all students.
I also established monthly partner meetings with all key people in this organization to ensure we are working together for the benefit of our students and parents. I have daily operations meetings with my assistant director and weekly operations meetings with the assistant superintendent.
The biggest change that I have made thus far is a complete office realignment. We now have three new front-line bus managers and a new bookkeeper. In just a short time, the efficiency of the office has improved, and that has improved the overall flow of our business at all levels.
5. Why do you call your operation a school bus company?
We transport 25,000 students daily on 220 buses, accumulating 3,014,074 miles annually, collaborating and serving 32 schools in one of the fastest-growing counties in the state of Georgia. We are part of such a large school system, and the transportation director is accountable for safety, budget, operations, customer service, training, teamwork, and human resources. All aspects of this job are indicators that we are a business. I see Columbia County Transportation as a bus company, and our goal will be to operate professionally and become the best service business in the entire state.