In “Hired to Reinvent the Wheel? A Roundtable Discussion for New Directors,” one of the first sessions to kick off the Summit on Monday morning, seasoned transportation directors shared resources and words of wisdom with an audience of mostly green transportation directors.
Four school transportation directors — Barry Sudduth at Stafford County (Va.) Schools; Steve Simmons from Columbus (Ohio) City Schools; Keith Henry at Lee’s Summit (Mo.) R-7 Schools; and Steve Kalmes, now at JSK Consulting and formerly with Anchorage (Alaska) School District — opened the session with a quick introduction before the audience discussed the hurdles they have come up against as new directors.
Sudduth emphasized that even after some time in, the job constantly presents new challenges.
“I have been a director for 15 years, and every day is still a learning experience,” he said.
Longtime directors all agreed that it’s important to use resources available to keep learning and to reach out to peers for help when needed, since not every director gets thorough training when they start.
Sudduth shared a story about his first day on the job as a transportation director. He was told that his predecessor would train him for two weeks. What actually happened was the director dropped off the keys and phone, and said, “Good luck with this one,” Sudduth recalled.
Directors also agreed that, in addition to using the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) members directory, “there isn’t a transportation director in the industry that you can’t call.”
“I learned that [if I have] a problem, one thousand other directors have had it,” Simmons said.
“There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, because we’ve already done it,” Sudduth added.
Kalmes also recommended the NAPT’s PDS courses to get basic skills.
Another recommendation for gaining much-needed support is to turn board members into allies by letting them join the directors for a day of work to witness firsthand all the factors involved.
“Educate them in everything you do and they will be your cheerleaders in the community,” Kalmes advised.
Sudduth pointed out that school board members will then likely understand why it’s so difficult to fulfill the many individual requests that come in.
Kalmes added that one good way to do this is to offer for school board members to hold their meetings in your office so they can easily see what a director deals with on a day-to-day basis.
The issue of school choice and lack of staffing to accommodate it was a hot button for many attendees.
Simmons, who said that his district has 21 different bell times for charter schools alone, suggested what he referred to as “marketing bell times.” He explained to the charter schools that if more of the bell times could be consolidated, the transportation department could offer a higher level of service.
One audience member mentioned that principals in her district offered to purchase new activity buses with newly available grant money, but she doesn’t have the drivers for them. Kalmes suggested outlining the true costs of the bus, which would include maintenance, insurance and drivers. Simmons agreed that presenting an argument with the data to back it up is essential, saying that he uses key performance indicators when presenting data to the school board.
One attendee asked about time management, saying he puts in over 12 hours a day on most days. Kalmes recommended delegating tasks to a lead driver, and all longtime directors agreed that it has to be communicated to staff and supervisors that school transportation isn’t a place where many eight-hour-a-day jobs can be found.