MESA, Ariz. — Jeanne Vandemark has taken over the role of director of transportation at Mesa Public Schools, which runs the largest public school bus operation in Arizona.

Vandemark succeeds Ron Latko, who retired from the position in May.

Vandemark worked closely with Latko before he retired. Her career in transportation at Mesa Public Schools stretches back 23 years and covers numerous positions.

“I started with driving a special-education school bus,” Vandemark told SBF. “I have worked in nearly every part of transportation.”

Mesa transports about 34,899 students daily with 430 route buses. The district has an overall vehicle inventory of 543 school buses and 467 white fleet vehicles.

The transportation department has three satellite sites, each of which has its own vehicle maintenance department. In all, Mesa has about 891 transportation employees.

Vandemark originally hails from Davenport, Iowa. She moved to Arizona in the late 1980s. Before joining Mesa Public Schools, she was a flight attendant for America West Airlines.

“I loved the people and the travel, but I worked a lot of weekends and holidays,” she said.

A friend suggested that Vandemark apply to a school district for a Monday-to-Friday job as a bus driver. She was “shocked at the idea,” she recalled, but figured if she qualified to work on several different series of aircraft, she might be able to drive a school bus. She called Mesa Public Schools and found that it was hiring drivers for special-education routes as well as general education.

“I was well versed with special-needs passengers at the airlines, and I thought I would really love working with children,” Vandemark said.

Vandemark ended up driving a special-education route for 10 years. She has also served as a support supervisor for five years and a satellite supervisor for the largest yard in the district for eight years.

She said of her new position: “I am learning every day. I love working for Mesa Public Schools, and I look forward to the future.”

A recent initiative that took place on Vandemark’s watch was car seat donations to the district from the local police and fire department. The departments also worked with Mesa Public Schools and the local news outlet on a back-to-school safety awareness video.