Barry Sudduth is an NAPT board member and the director of transportation at Stafford County (Va.) Public Schools.

Barry Sudduth is an NAPT board member and the director of transportation at Stafford County (Va.) Public Schools.

My wife and I enjoy gardening, and every Saturday during the growing season we sell produce at a neighborhood farmers’ market. The popularity of these markets is growing because people enjoy the social aspect and “farm-to-table” over “store bought.”

However, even in the relatively simple world of tomatoes, cucumbers and beans, there’s lots of competition, and meeting customer expectations is critical. Organic growing is the hot ticket these days, so we’re in the process of getting our organic certification.

Our hobbyist produce business is a small operation, but the fundamentals are no different from a trade association like NAPT — achieving customer satisfaction and adapting quickly to changes in the wants and needs of those customers.

That’s the whole idea behind NAPT’s School Bus eXchange (SBX), a new, creative learning experience for members. We just concluded the first SBX. A casual discussion in the hotel lobby afterward captured perfectly why we inaugurated this new membership benefit, as well as why we also have the annual Summit and offer webinars throughout the year, along with many other information resources for members.

Commenting on the myriad challenges facing school transportation professionals and why she found SBX valuable, an attendee said her expectation was pretty basic: “I was hoping to find people that could help me solve some of my problems.”

This NAPT member explained further that she wants her NAPT membership to be about bringing together the professionals she needs to learn from: peers in other states facing the same obstacles and suppliers with innovative products that will make the job easier. SBX did just that, pioneering a “fast casual” learning experience where the meeting is short and intense and gives members targeted attention from the best experts in our industry.

The two-day event in the Dallas area, sponsored jointly by NAPT and School Bus Fleet, included a keynote by Mark Aesch of TransPro Consulting, followed by a series of roundtable discussions and one-on-one consultations. Participants discussed data-driven decision making, brainstormed ideas and sought advice about unique operational problems.

The common vein in discussions was that most face the same challenges: replacing aging buses; driver shortages; keeping up with technology; and addressing state and federal requirements, all in a climate of restricted resources.

Every detail of the Dallas meeting venue was thought out carefully by the NAPT and School Bus Fleet staffs to create a standout professional opportunity with a good balance of professional presentations and social opportunities for networking. The hotel, food and other hospitality were intentionally kicked up a few notches.

Future SBXs will be tailored to the needs of each new class of attendees. Indeed, that’s the strength and value of the SBX approach — it’s a flexible and fun professional learning experience, with emphasis on problem-solving.

If you would like to be included in the next SBX (date TBD), I recommend you get your name in the hat now. A call or email to NAPT is all it takes.

The next NAPT learning experience is our annual Summit, Nov. 6-10 in Richmond, Virginia, my home state. It’s an opportunity to learn and network with colleagues from all over the country, with top-tier expert speakers and federal safety officials prepared to share their latest perspectives on our industry. Among the speakers slated for the Summit are:

• Dr. Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency that regulates yellow school buses.
• Christopher A. Hart, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
• Scott Burrows, a Florida State football wide receiver who was involved in an automobile crash that left him a quadriplegic. Scott will show you how to stand up to challenges, even in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.
• Siphiwe Baleka, a Yale University graduate and first African-American named to the All-Ivy-League Swim Team, who is currently the driver health and fitness coach at transportation carrier Prime Inc. One of the most provocative speakers in his field will explain why the health and fitness of your drivers should be among your highest priorities.

My experience at the many NAPT Summits I have attended is that I continue to make connections to a worldwide network of professional pupil transportation resources that prove invaluable in my professional endeavors.

Also, there is a lot to do and see in Richmond, Virginia’s vibrant capital city, just two hours south of Washington, D.C. History buffs will be interested to know that Colonial Williamsburg is an easy hour drive to the east.

There will be five days full of professional sessions covering just about every topic of interest to those in our industry, plus our trade show, and social opportunities to meet and mingle with others in the industry. Make plans to attend. Your perspectives are a valuable part of the meeting!

Get all the details and the registration packet at Register by Aug. 1 and get a $100 early bird discount.