SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Donna Anderson, who has been a school transportation consultant for the state for the last seven years and held several other positions in pupil transportation — including bus driver — has retired.
Anderson had no idea she was embarking on a long, fulfilling career in the field when she took a job as a school bus driver in her small northern California town over three decades ago.
It was what her mother did, and she recommended the job to Anderson, who was a homemaker with small children at the time. She decided to give it a try.
“We tend to do what our moms tell us,” she said. “[I thought] the hours and summers would work great with my kids.”
After a couple of years at Southern Humboldt Unified School District, Anderson was working year-round, and went on to hold numerous transportation positions there, including coordinator for transportation, instructor, supervisor of transportation, and director of maintenance, operations, and transportation. While in that position, her department successfully introduced two significant changes of California law to the local community: utilizing red flashing lights at all school bus stops, and lap-shoulder belts on the district’s new school buses. She worked at that same district for 24 years.
“I knew everybody and watched a whole group of kids grow up and graduate during my time there,” Anderson recalled. “Then, I made the choice toward the end of my career to leave that to go somewhere else.”
As she worked her way up the ranks at her school district, Anderson became active in the California Association of School Transportation Officials (CASTO), serving as a chapter president for several years and, eventually, state secretary.
Meanwhile, she was also attending training programs at the California Department of Education, and thought a job there would be a good fit.
"I thought that I would really enjoy being a part of that team where you create the curriculum, certify instructional staff, and provide education to instructors and drivers throughout the state of California,” Anderson said.
In 2010, she became a transportation programs consultant for the Office of School Transportation within the California Department of Education. She was also the lead consultant for courses on instructor certification and transporting students with disabilities, and was the consultant for the Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, San Diego, and Imperial counties, where she assisted instructional personnel, transportation directors, and parents with transportation concerns.
Anderson also has often spoken at CASTO's annual conferences, providing updates on laws governing seat belt and restraint use for special-needs students.
Over the years, Anderson has seen significant changes for the better regarding safety standards. In particular, she noted the requirement to have lap-shoulder belts on new school buses in the state, and the recent passing of the Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law, which requires all school buses in California to be equipped with child-check reminder systems by the start of the 2018-19 school year.
Anderson’s various positions at the school district prepared her for a job with the state, she said. The aspect of the job that she enjoyed the most has been the opportunity to conduct research that impacted school transportation safety in California.
“It was enjoyable to have the opportunity to conduct research to determine appropriate education as we move forward, and to discern how we got to where we are in California and made appropriate changes [in response to] tragedies to try to ensure that those things do not [happen again].”
She is very proud of being from California, she added, because the state has often taken the leap to do things that were not popular at the time, but that addressed safety, which will “always be the biggest area of need.”
“Donna contributed her knowledge and expertise in multiple areas of the transportation profession,” said Anna Borges, California’s state director of pupil transportation, and Anderson’s supervisor. “Her ability to communicate and provide vital information to the transportation industry was delivered with respect and clarity. Her commitment to the safe transportation of children is second to none. She is a leader. We will deeply miss Donna and her sense of humor, but we are so excited for her to enjoy retirement — she has earned it. The transportation industry was very lucky and blessed to have had her for 31 years.”
Anderson officially retired on Nov. 30.
Although her priority in retirement is to spend more time with her family, Anderson said she is open to continuing her involvement in pupil transportation.
“I have had conversations about continuing to do my part in assisting in an industry that I pretty much grew up in and seeing what I can do to provide ongoing education and/or safety assistance.”